Film directors have always been lionised by their industry and by fans who made household names of Ford, Hitchcock and Spielberg. On the other hand, Phil Spector notwithstanding, record producers have by-and-large laboured in near-anonymity outside the music business and the most devoted of followers. To help remedy that situation, a few years back, we instigated our Producers series, spotlighting the studio outputs of Jack Nitzsche, Jerry Ragovoy, Bert Berns, Kim Fowley, Brian Wilson, Martin Hammet and other visionaries who lived to bring the sounds in their heads to the grooves of a record. Another master of the art is John Cale.
Cale’s career has many facets. Since leaving the Velvet Underground in 1968, he has released over two-dozen solo albums – their scope ranging from minimalism, through guitar-based rock to full-scale orchestral. A tireless live performer, he is currently readying a new album for release, having not long returned from a tour of Europe. As a multi-instrumentalist who thrives on collaboration, he has contributed to recordings by William Burroughs, Nick Drake, LCD Soundsystem, La Monte Young and very many others. He has also composed the scores for several ballets, an opera and many films. In the Queen’s Birthday Honours List of 2010 he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire. On receiving his decoration from the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace that November, he commented, “Someone has decided that you have done something right, and it is your job to figure out what that is.”
Here on “Conflict & Catalysis” the focus is on Cale the producer. Spanning 40 years, the collection contains everything from the proto-punk of the Stooges and the Modern Lovers to Euro-pop princess Lio and no-wave enigma Cristina and comes with a stylish 28-page booklet which includes a 9000-word essay incorporating specially commissioned memoirs from several of the featured performers.
Noted for his unconventional and sometimes challenging working methods, Cale wrote in his autobiography that “as a producer, you’ve got to be a catalyst, an ally, a co-conspirator. Sometimes you need to introduce conflict. I always try to approach it from the point of view, what would a Zen master do in these circumstances? That is not to give the artist a direct answer to all his questions, but to suggest a solution by other means. I really love producing other artists. I love helping someone achieve his goals. You’ve got to stick to what you believe in. It might be lucrative for me to work with a particular personality, but if I don’t feel sympathetic to what he’s doing, I’m just letting myself down. You lose all your credibility if you do that.”
By Mick Patrick