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Vicky Cryer: Jason Hill, An All Star Cast And A Magic Studio

Tuesday, 10 September 2013 Written by Graeme Marsh

When US post-punk outfit Louis XIV went their separate ways, frontman Jason Hill enlisted the help of a few famous friends in order to drive forward his latest project, Vicky Cryer.

Muse’s Dom Howard, The Killers’ Mark Stoermer and Jamiroquai’s Nick Fyffe all made telling contributions to Vicky Cryer’s debut, 'The Synthetic Love Of Emotional Engineering', which landed earlier this year.

Despite the all-star cast the project has retained a low profile, especially in the UK, and that’s a shame as it’s something of an overlooked gem. As contributors come and go the album charts a number of different styles, with the result an eclectic mix that needs to be sought out by anyone with any vague interest in rock music.

Hill is also a renowned producer and has worked with acts as diverse as New York Dolls and Macy Gray, while following the break-up of Louis XIV he built a unique studio in the Hollywood Hills to use as a base for his many projects. Despite being inundated with work, Hill took time out to talk to Stereoboard about Louis XIV, Vicky Cryer and his musical journey in general.

Tell us about Louis XIV. How did it all begin?

Louis XIV started back in April of 2003. I was in another band called Convoy with Mark (Maigaard) and Brian (Karscig) and I was ready to move on and I think they were too. We had made a record where we worked with a producer - very nice guy but not a musician - and we just sort of butted heads constantly. It didn't make much sense to me and it’s the only time I’ve ever worked with another producer on my own material. It wasn't all his fault, he was just doing his thing but we wanted to go other places and we were pressured by the record company to re-record songs that we originally recorded in this isolated mountain house on an 8-track reel to reel.

I loved the original versions and it was a big lesson to me; record it once and move on, because recording music is about capturing periods of time. By the time we got around to recording the last Convoy record we had moved past that and wanted to work on new material. So by 2003, I wanted to do something different and it started one morning when I woke up and had an idea to write an album about an emotionally and physically abused boy who begins to think he's Louis XIV. I saw it like a movie and Brian and Mark got into the idea as well. The more famous Louis XIV music didn't go along to that theme, but it was the starting point.

You have a unique recording studio in the Hollywood Hills, 'Ulysses', built inside an old hunting lodge - how did you end up finding it?

When Louis XIV broke up I decided I wanted to move to LA, and after being locked in by bands since I was 14 it was nice for the first time to have the freedom to do anything I wanted. So I thought, if I’m moving to LA let’s: a) move near Jack Nicholson and b) move to Laurel Canyon where there’s a vibration sort of happening in the hills. So I went on Craigslist and it was literally the first place I saw.

Most people would probably not have seen the vision, as a studio especially, because you have to walk up these long steep winding steps to get to the house - just horrible for furnishing with pianos, big Neve console and plate reverbs, etc. First day I showed up to check it out there was a deer eating flowers in the garden area. I took one look and said I would take it. Then it took months to get everything into the studio, which was incredibly difficult but the place is pure magic.

The Vicky Cryer collaboration involves a lot of performers - did they all have creative input into the album or did you mainly stick to your original blueprint for each song?

Mostly to my blueprints, but I leave room in the studio for creation always. Nothing is sacred, everything that is made can and should often be deconstructed and put back together again, sometimes radically. To me the fun in recording is always the part where you don't know what is around the corner, documenting things that I know how it should sound is mostly boring to me. I'm an explorer. It probably stems from the mischievous kid that I was. Everyone that worked on the record was incredible to work with, they are all my friends so it was a great time.

The album must have been great fun to make, what with so many mates involved. What are the greatest memories you will take away from the experience?

Dom and Alex [Carapetis] recording double drums on I'll Take The Pain was fun. There are so many really, just the late nights recording ‘til the sun came up. In general it was an unhealthy time because of all the late nights but I think we came out with a great record. The Synthetic Love Of Emotional Engineering is very fond to me. I had originally recorded the synthesizers backstage on the last Louis XIV tour in Cologne, Germany but never knew what the lyrics were until years later when one night they just poured out of me and I sang them right on the spot, then with Sam Gendell laying those beautiful saxes at the end, I still listen to that track and it floors me when they come in.

If you could recommend one track to a Vicky Cryer newcomer what would it be and why?

That’s hard because the album is very eclectic, intentionally because it was recorded over a couple of years. Smut is just dirty sonically and rough in such a great way but then there’s Touch You and Girls with their unique experimentation and grooves, and then of course Synthetic Love is magical.

How do you juggle your producing commitments with giving time for your own writing and material to develop?

I’ve been focusing on just writing and producing lately, it's been a busy and very creative period this last year. The music I'm making right now is my favourite stuff I've done in a long time. Some will make it on to other people’s records, some I may release myself, we shall see, but my main focus has been on producing and writing for other people lately. I love to wake up every morning and spend all day and night in the studio creating.

That's my playground, where I'm most comfortable and where I think I’m at my best. I feel like I'm now soaring in a way in the studio like I never have been before - at the risk of sounding very self involved - but I'm feeling like I am really hitting a stride. It’s an understanding in the studio and in recording and writing like I’ve never had before, even though since I was 14 my mind has been pretty much focused solely on recording.

As well as producing a New York Dolls album you've also performed live with them - what were they like to work with and did you find yourself in awe of them at any stage?

I love them, in fact I still talk to David Johansen on a fairly regular basis, every couple of months one of us will call the other to talk about doing more music. We have had plans in the works for a while now to do a new record together in some fashion. They were a blast to work with, Sylvain and David complement each other very well and by about day two or three of the recording they relaxed and just let me produce it. Up until the moment I finally got the drum sound on the song Kids Like You, which was the first song we wrote and recorded, they were a bit nervous I think or at least not as trusting, but once it came together everyone in the studio was like: "OK now let’s make a record".

I think it became less like trying to protect what they were doing and from that moment it became, “Jason knows what he's doing, now I should focus on what I need to do”. They were wonderful to work with, and they were amazing because they just let me do my thing and produce the record. Syl and I at first got into it a little regarding amp sounds and things like that but once he relaxed and realised how important it was to me to make an incredible record everything was a blast from there on out. It was written, recorded and mixed in a whirlwind four weeks in Newcastle, England. We had, I think, just two days off.

Who would you say have been your greatest influences in music?

That's tough because it depends on what years in my life. To me, I consumed music growing up like I was eating candy on Hallowe’en. So there’s only so much of any one artist that you can listen to before you explore some more. Growing up I loved Generation X and the Buzzcocks and then I got really into T.Rex and the Rolling Stones and then into Bowie and Chic, Earth Wind and Fire and Serge Gainsbourg - and a million other artists.

These days I have an enormous record collection, mostly from my early years when I was an avid collector. If I listen to a record these days it’s often Roxy Music with a few glasses of wine or I'll put on the record player I have next to the drum kit and play along with ‘70s soul music like Barry White or African music like Jingo.

The underwater shooting of The Synthetic Love Of Emotional Engineering video looked challenging to say the least - where was it shot, whose idea was it and how many people were involved?

The song to me is about feeling like you’re underwater in a relationship with someone, unable to breathe and at the point where you're ready to come up for air so it was natural to film it underwater. It was my idea and shot in three pools, first we went to Dom’s pool and did tests, Tom Kirk and I trying to figure out what was possible and developing the ideas - how to lip-sync underwater and what it would look like.

Then we shot the synchronized swimmers and my lip sync at Tom’s pool because he has this big old square and deep pool. Then we did another shoot at my friend Chris Cester’s, the drummer of Jet’s, house, just down the street from my place. Chris is actually the one who is playing the drums in the video as well - Dom and Alex were both off touring.  It was very involved as I edited most of it myself and with a few friends, Geoff Boyton and then Carlos Pena, and then I brought in my friend Joe Rupalcabra to help finish it, who did a fantastic job.

At that point I was going stir crazy with it because I'm just not that advanced on the film cutting software so it was frustrating. I initially wanted to do it to get creative outside of music, and make a short film not a video for a single because I was burned out on music for a bit after the Vicky Cryer record was finished but by the time the video was done I was champing at the bit to get back to the studio where it’s easy for me to navigate. I love the video though. And I'm very glad I went through with it.  I didn't swallow too much water.

 





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