Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas, Porno for Pyros guitarist Peter DiStefano, Joy Division/New Order bassist Peter Hook, Flea and John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, former Peppers and Pearl Jam drummer Jack Irons — all are lending their talents to the new album. However, it is the song “Woman in the Window” that is drawing most of the attention, thanks to portions of two-spoken word poems featuring the late Jim Morrison that “may have been” the last ever recordings of his voice. At least, that’s what Farrell claims.
“The only thing I can tell you about it is I have been granted permission by the Morrison estate to produce these two poems that may have been Jim’s last recordings as far as anyone knows,” he recently stated. “It comes in at an amazing time. When you hear these poems, it sounds as though Jim Morrison were watching us today and commenting on the world today. I’m very reluctant to call him a prophet, because I don’t want to go that far. That would be really putting myself on the line. But the words he is speaking about are so speaking about the world today. It leaves a person almost dumbstruck. Why would this song surface today, and how would he know about what’s going on in the world now?”
According to Farrell, Morrison’s posthumous contribution is something of a dream come true.
“You could count on one hand the people who were important in my life, as far as musicians and singers,” he says, “and he might be the middle finger. I loved his spirit and I loved his refusal to allow anybody to even suggest that he didn’t own the world. And if nothing else, I feel that spirit has got to be preserved, and we have to consider it and never let it fall from our thoughts.”
Farrell composed the music that complements Morrison’s voice on the song, commencing with him intoning, “I am the woman in the window,” and later singing the refrain, “Just try and stop us, we’re going to love” . . . which kind of fits with Farrell’s Satellite Party concept of a lavish extraterrestrial bash.
“Let’s make believe we’re going to be shot into space for the weekend,” he suggested. “What would we be looking at? The Earth, from the vantage point of a satellite. We’d be dressed to the nines. We would have these great hors d’oeuvres. The music would be deep and soulful and sensual, and the interior decoration would be comfortable and slightly weightless and ecstatic and luxurious, because this would be a luxury flight.”
Farrell produced the Satellite Party album, with former Extreme axe-man Nuno Bettencourt engineering at each of their home studios, mixing at The Village in L.A., and also playing guitar, bass and keyboards. In addition, there were sessions at other places, such as Henson (the former A&M Studios) in Hollywood.
“We worked for nearly three years on this project and I mixed largely as we went along, with everything being done in Pro Tools,” Bettencourt says. “In the case of ‘Woman in the Window,’ Jim Morrison’s vocal was great, like you’d expect. And as it was recorded at Sunset Sound in L.A., the tape was in very good shape. Not that I know where the tape is — we got his part as a sound file. Anyway, Perry went with Jim’s melody and took that as the lead. He did some programming, we added guitar, bass, and drums, I played piano, Perry recorded his vocal with a [Neumann] U87, he and I did the backing vocals, and Harry Gregson-Williams came up with the 30-piece string arrangement.”
THE RESTA ACCOUNT
Meanwhile, in order to help realize Farrell’s otherworldly vision for the album, Bettencourt enlisted the services of his friend and sometime-collaborator, Anthony J. Resta. A self-described “sci-fi mambo poet,” Resta has utilized his production, engineering, multi-instrumental, and programming skills to craft unique soundscapes for anyone from Duran Duran, Blondie, and Sir Elton John to Megadeth and Shawn Mullins, often melding obscure vinyl samples and twisted vintage analog synth sounds with the artists’ performances. In this case, Farrell and Bettencourt sent some tracks to Resta’s 4,000-square-foot Studio Bopnique Musique facility in Boston, and basically let him get on with it.
“I love pushing the boundaries and that’s what Perry’s all about,” Resta says. “I gravitate towards sounds from my childhood, and I just love mixing futuristic sounds with the sounds of classic rock: Tube Wurlitzers, Rhodes 88s, you name it. All of this virtual stuff is okay if you haven’t heard the real thing, but to me there’s nothing like real instruments. Anyway, Perry and Nuno would send me a slave mix with vocals and music, and I’d then just load up the tracks, sometimes sending them as much as 48 tracks of really non-generic homemade soundscapes.”
“I have these circuit bent drum machines,” Resta discloses, “like the [Yamaha] DD110 from the early ’80s that a guy in England modified for me — he basically added a patchbay and all these switches that make it malfunction in an infinite number of ways to create some really unusual beats. So, I used that, along with lots of analog keyboards, and I’d also run guitars through modular synths to create really unusual soundscapes. Then again, among the main tools that I’m excited about right now are the revolutionary Crowley & Tripp ribbon mics. They are really different.”
These comprise the Soundstage Image, the Proscenium, and C&T’s flagship model, the Studio Vocalist, a large ribbon mic with a figure-eight pattern that has been specially built for voice recording applications. Providing the highest output signal of any natural ribbon microphone, the Studio Vocalist keeps a low noise floor, offers increased fullness via a smooth proximity effect, and has a symmetric frequency response well suited for minimizing off-axis coloration.
“It has a lot more output and a lot of natural brightness, which is not really characteristic of traditional ribbon microphones,” Resta says. “That’s been one of my secret weapons — I’ll put it on a Matchless guitar amp and run a keyboard through it. I like the saturation that you get with analog, and I try to put that into the digital world.”
“For ‘Dark Star,’ I ran a lot of analog synths through various guitar pedals, miked them with the Crowley & Tripps, and got some really unique textures,” Resta says. “With a lot of my stuff, you can’t tell if it’s a guitar or a keyboard, and with the circuit bent drum machines I make these really unusual beats that glitch but also groove. It’s sort of like an MPC style. Having worked with a lot of hip-hop artists, my music is beat-driven . . . it’s definitely electronica, but there are lots of human elements too, like a real drummer on top of the machine stuff.
“Nuno would send me a stereo mix of music and beats in Pro Tools, and then I would just start experimenting and cutting things up. I don’t really use MIDI — years ago I did, but I don’t quantize anything. I just play everything in real time and then edit it in Pro Tools, because I find there’s so much more of a human aspect to that. I might quantize things slightly by moving the audio around, but I gave up on MIDI because I found the timing lag really annoying. Instead, I prefer to use CV [control voltage-based gear] because it’s instantaneous — when you have those things sync up, it’s just beautiful to hear it where you want it right now. I was first and foremost a drummer when I started out, and so everything for me is about the rhythm.
“In this case, as with everything else, I’d just go by my gut instinct. I’d start plugging things in and trying things, like the circuit bent drum machines and Suzuki Omnichords. I’ve got quite a collection of those, and I would run them through various guitar FX pedals. I have a collection of hand-built pedals by Pete Cornish — he built me these sustain pedals that are to die for. It’s a tone that you only hear on something like ‘Revolution’ by The Beatles. It’s incredibly saturated and analog and complex and wonderful. So, I run things through those and they take on this otherworldly quality.”
MAKING THE HARD LIFE EASY
Constantly requesting feedback, Resta would overnight Farrell and Bettencourt the files he’d been working on via FedEx, and they in turn would call him to express their likes and dislikes.
“I left Nuno’s tracks alone,” Resta says. “He does his own thing and I do mine. My stuff is more programming, playing keyboards, and coming up with various transitional noises. I’ll even take some stuff off vinyl, like the swell of an orchestra, and then run it through processors like [TC Electronic] FireworX or Eventide’s DSP4000 to create those really interesting, haunting textures that might go into the last chorus.
“On a track like ‘Dark Star’ I also used my Roger Linn MPC 3000, which I call the drum machine with a soul. That’s really the sound of pretty much everything I do. I swear there’s something about the way the clock works in that thing — it has just a wonderful feel that is a widely imitated groove template. In my case I use the real thing, and I take a lot of my own samples off old vinyl records, like single snare hits and single kicks, because even though they’re samples they do have that character. The way a speaker moves when you put an analog signal into it is unmistakable — a real sine wave is not jagged, and it definitely moves speakers in a different way.
“The most enjoyable Satellite Party song I worked on was one called ‘Awesome.’ Perry just keeps singing that word over and over again, almost like he’s looking at a picture of stars and different galaxies. It’s so floaty and beautiful — I love atmospheric sounds that make you feel like you’re floating, and so for that track I did lots of ambient keyboards; analog stuff from my [Roland] MKS-880, which has 16 oscillators. I also have another thing called the Freeman Symphonizer which has 40 oscillators in it, and it produces that sort of rich analog string texture, which is another of the sounds that I put in there, along with various percussion loops. I make my own loops, like bongo loops and tom loops, and I run those through guitar pedals as well. Then, after I record them I re-amp them — a lot of my percussion stuff made it onto this record.”
When asked which was the most difficult track, Resta is non-committal, insisting that all of the songs were nothing less than a pleasure to work on.
“It was a dream come true for me to have a guy who’s into pioneering and always pushing the boundaries,” he remarks. “That’s the ultimate client. I mean, what could be better?”