How Andrew W.K. and Lee “Scratch” Perry Brought Magic Into the Studio for 'Close Calls With Brick Walls'

Popular music has seen some strange, if not combustible, production collaborations, from Leonard Cohen and Phil Spector to Wyclef Jean and, well, just about everybody (including the Rock). But of all the odd pairings of the past, there are probably none stranger than the alliance of card-carrying “party hard” rocker Andrew W.K. and dub-reggae pioneer (and noted eccentric) Lee “Scratch” Perry on 2006’s Close Calls With Brick Walls [Universal].

“I don’t often bond with people creatively,” states W.K. “I recorded all my albums on my own, one track at a time using Cakewalk Sonar—mainly out of necessity. I didn’t have a band, the space, or the budget to hire people or equipment. I really liked working with Sonar, because I could have multiple regions of audio in one track, and overlap them to make this collage of waveforms. I work with Pro Tools LE, as well, because I love the speed at which I can edit. I don’t need any fancy HD versions. My friend Don Fleming is passionate about 96kHz, but I’ve done some blind listening tests, and I don’t think there’s a huge difference. So while I grew to really like the process of recording privately, I was beginning to wall myself in. By Close Calls With Brick Walls, I felt I needed to work with other musicians.”

Enter Perry. Narnack, Perry’s record company, approached W.K. after the rocker interviewed the reggae legend, and W.K. jumped at the opportunity.

“I could talk about myself forever,” says W.K. “But I could talk about Lee forever plus one. He is the first person I have met who truly uses magic in the studio.”

“Well, that is so,” says Perry from his Swiss home base. “Me is a man living in this world. I am a stranger here. I am living in the original world—the original world is a dream. Life itself is a dream. I come here by a dream to fulfill my destiny. So when I go into the studio, I don’t think. I hear exactly what I need from my dimension. I hear the words I need from my dream. I hear the music I need from my dream. All I need is some students—young men with open minds—who are ready to seek my reality. I speak and they hear. I hum the bass line, piano, and the guitar.”

Perry’s “students” for W.K.’s album were session musicians who were originally brought in to perform a collection of cover songs. Project engineer Dave Irish set up a few room mics, and let the instruments mix themselves naturally in the air.

“The priority was just to make music—not to worry about production values,” says W.K. “Lee began conducting everyone, and, soon enough, we were jamming out original songs. How we moved from playing covers to playing original songs is still a mystery to me.”

Perry, however, wasn’t amazed at the transformation in performance between the players.

“Creating music is through the thought waves,” he explains. “You clean inside, and because you are clean inside, you want the musician to play what you are hearing. You open your brain, and open his brain, and he will pick up the thought waves.”

“That’s part of his magical approach,” adds W.K. “He doesn’t have to explain things to people—they serve his will without him having to tell them. If a producer is defined by what they can bring out of other people, then he is one of the greatest. I was grateful for the chance to work with him, to live in his presence, and, ultimately, to serve him.”