The War of The Worlds
The Producers | Jeff Wayne
We wish Wayne's Wells world war well: Richard 'Way With The Words' Elen interviews Jeff 'War Of The Worlds' Wayne.
By the time I got to see Jeff Wayne, the War Of The Worlds double-album had already gone silver, and was creeping alienly up the album charts. The first single, Forever Autumn, had also got into the charts, partly because it was appropriate for the British weather this summer, but primarily 'cos Justin Hayward sings good songs well enough for thousands of people to go out and buy singles. The album's now gone gold, of course. When I arrived in his office just off one-time siege-ridden Balcombe Street, Jeff was going through the practicalities involved in getting Justin Hayward to sound halfway decent on Top Of The Pops (which has always been run by Martians, except for Johnny Pearson). He very kindly spared an hour or so to have a natter about the project.
War Of The Worlds has fascinated me in all its previous incarnations, from the H G Wells original (1904), through the Orson Welles radio freakout (1938), via the movie (1953), to the BBC six-part dramatisation in the late Sixties (which was brilliant). Having also been involved in projects involving dialogue and music, I was interested in finding out exactly why Jeff had produced his version the way he had: it was totally different to the way I would have done it myself, and it thus took some time to come to terms with the album. But perseverance was repaid by entertainment. The point was that Jeff had gone for a musical version rather than the dramatisation with music that I would have envisaged. Why was this, I queried. Why had he gone for a musical interpretation?
JW: Well, I think you've said it yourself, when you said that the album cover says: The musical version of... It's a record, a musical record, and it has to stand the test like any other record. If one was to do a 'talking album' with Richard Burton, he's done several before, and if you check they've had a few sales. They're not market killers. I am a composer, I'm a producer, therefore I think music. A painter thinks images, and it really is as simple as that. I wanted to produce a record that hopefully would stand up on its musical content, and basically would entertain people, hold their attention. I know, myself, if I was to buy somebody's double album, I would have to have a pretty damn good reason to do it, because it's a lot to expect of any listener. So if one has actually had the success of getting people to listen to two full albums, and walk away entertained at the end of it, then I feel like everything I wanted to do has come about.
RE: I gather from the blurb that your father gave you the idea.
JW: That's it. I'd been working with David Essex for about, at that point, three or four years, working in the capacity of being his producer and orchestrator. Yet my background is really in composition; I'm a composer who orchestrates and produces. It was tremendous fun working with David, and we're still great mates, but my father knew that I really wanted to start composing again, something of some length, so he just kept feeding me with ideas; books, short stories, and things like that. War Of The Worlds was, from my point of view, the first one that really stuck in my mind, and made me think: 'That could really be unusual.'
RE: Apart from taking your cue direct from the book, did you feel any influence, say, from the Orson Welles version rather than the movie?
JW: I was impressed by the Orson Welles thing, I thought it was tremendous. I had listened to Orson Welles, and seen the '53 feature film, which I didn't like.
I thought that was over the top, cheap science-fiction, which was, in a way, a visual version of Orson Welles. But I thought the radio broadcast succeeded tremendously, because radio was the medium of the day, there was no television. What I think fantasy is all about is the fact that the listener, in this case, or the reader of a book, can start using his own mind, and you don't have to be told it in visual terms.
RE: With a sound-only medium, the listener can construct a personal vision of the scene, far better than any set-designer on any budget... I suppose the single, Forever Autumn, was an obvious choice: a song that can stand up by itself, with no visible lyrical connection to War Of The Worlds. Yet in context with the album, it represents the narrator's thoughts at the particular part of the plot.
JW: Well that's good. In fact, when they were being written, none of the pieces were written with the thought: 'Ah. We've got to have a single, and this is the right place.' Because first and foremost it had to stand up as itself, as the two-album thing, and succeed at that level. The fact that we've now been able to get six different singles from it — the second one is in the charts now, an instrumental piece of my own, The Eve Of The War, which is the theme that opens the album...
RE: That first theme permeates most of the first record, doesn't it; it must have been very hard to fit the dialogue into the music, without losing one or the other. Obviously Burton is a great choice, combining the 'authoritative' Narrator and Journalist roles, but his very authoritativeness must have presented problems.
JW: When the music was written, there was already a script, which although when we had finally finished recording, we had almost the equivalent of three albums, we knew throughout what Burton was going to have to say and when. Well, we didn't know it was going to be Burton at that stage, when the music was written... So the concept was there to make the Narrator talk most of the time with music, to music: about 95% of the time he's on. So the music was written with specific timings, with specific pieces of music. And it's always music that you hear in the foreground. You say that the first theme recurs. In fact every time it recurs, with one exception, throughout the album, it is with Burton. It's orchestrated differently. So whenever there's narration, or acting, whatever, it's always music that's been 'in the clear' first, as a theme, as a song, as a sound-oriented thing. You never hear anything behind our spoken bits that hasn't appeared first. So that's where that came from.
Burton's voice was timed out exactly, and then the backing track was orchestrated to the tone of what he was saying. So I didn't orchestrate until I'd laid his tracks on to the multitrack. So a theme that might have been used earlier on isn't orchestrated in the same way. Generally I used instruments that were very high or very low, so that he could slot into a 'hole'. You can hear all the music, that's one thing we have accomplished, you can hear all the music, but you can also hear every word without any problems about wondering what anybody's saying.
RE: It must have taken a good deal of careful planning.
JW: It was one of those things where we experimented, to see whether that idea worked, and once we knew it worked, it could be done with any voice, really. You just get the timbre of the voice and just orchestrate in frequencies that don't really relate that much. Like you'd orchestrate any instrument. You wouldn't orchestrate on top of a flute, say, another instrument in that same range, if you wanted to hear the flute. So that's how that works.
RE: All that brings up another point: you kept almost completely clear of effects, except in two places, the cylinder falling on the Parson's house, I think, and of course the cylinder unscrewing. Almost always it's an instrument, or at least a musical sound, that provides the effects. Were you tempted at all to use sound effects more widely?
JW: On the contrary, I was completely turned off by the idea. There were only those two occasions where we've used what you might call a 'true sound effect', everywhere else I've tried to do it musically. I tried everything in my power to use a musical effect first; in those two cases, a sound effect just said it quicker than trying to do it musically. It gets back to the fact that it's a musical work, and maybe, yes, the first time round it isn't as impressive as it would be with things going through the head, doors opening, creaks, explosions, and all that, but after the first time I think people get bored by that. They want to be entertained by music.
RE: The really obvious effect is the cylinder unscrewing.
JW: Well here's where I blow the whole mood of the piece for you. That was done in the studio toilet, where I was holding two saucepans in the actual bowl, with two microphones in the bowl as well. The cylinder landing on the house is done by synthesiser.
RE: There's a lot of complex synthesiser work on the album, and among the credits on the album, apart from the normal synths, there's your Thunderchild machine. What sort of machine is it?
JW: It's a monophonic synthesiser, as opposed to the polys that are now on the market, but it has a very 'thick' sound; it well outperforms other monophonic synths at little over half the price. The Thunderchild will be about £450-£500 as opposed to £1000. It has a tremendous range: a big keyboard, 49 notes C to C, compared with all but the big polys. And it was constructed for a real dummy like me. Really, that was their briefing. 'Cos I regard myself as being like the common Joe on the street; I'm a keyboard player and not an electronics player in the sense that I can pick up any form of synthesiser. I said to build it for the keyboard player who can appreciate sound, and can play electronics, but can't talk 'em. And that's what they've done. We tested it in one shop, and I'm being very honest when I tell you the results. The original design, which we've since changed, was one of the worst. We tested it at Macari's London music store for about a month, and they told us that we had a winner and a loser. A loser in the sense that it was a lousy design and we should start all over — which we did - we've also brought it up to a much more 'space-age' look; but a winner because they said we had the best musical sound of any synthesisers, other than the big polyphonics. So with that, we were very encouraged, because at the end of the day, it's the music that counts. The packaging is just something that makes it attractive to people who come and look at it. So we were originally going to be launching this on May 1st, and because we've completely redesigned since then, it'll probably be in the shops by December. (We will be reviewing the machine in the near future — Ed.)
RE: I heard the name Ken Freeman mentioned in connection with the album. He produced the first string synthesiser that I ever saw in the studio.
JW: It was the first string synth to my knowledge, and he plays all the synthesisers on War Of The Worlds. I think he's a genius in his own field and he deserves to be recognised.
RE: Did you split the keyboard playing between you?
JW: I played piano, jangle piano, and harpsichord, he played all synthesisers, and organ on one track. And electric piano.
RE: Was it as big a problem to play and produce simultaneously as it can be sometimes when you're dashing in and out of studio and control room playing and then listening back?
JW: Not really, because when I was playing, it was a basic rhythm section. The album was produced in three layers, rhythm first, synthesisers and strings; that's the total line-up. It was a seven-piece band doing all the rhythm work, so I was one of the seven. And having written all the music out, knowing all the orchestrations 'cos I'd written those as well, I knew what I was going for; so I was just one of seven musicians when we got down to playing it. And other than one track on side three called The Red Weed, a piece that has no tempo to it whatever, which I conducted, as a conductor would; everything else was rhythm-oriented. So it was quite simple to be part of the band, and then step back as the producer afterwards and listen to it and then direct the various people who were playing on it, like: Create space here, or whatever. They were all people who I'd worked with for years before so there was a good communication to start with.
RE: Did you use anyone particularly special leading the strings?
JW: The leader was a man by the name of Pat Halling, who I'd also worked with for many years, and it was a very large string section, I think 48-50 strings.
RE: What was the breakdown on that?
JW: Let me see, working from the bottom it was four double basses, eight cellos, 12 violas, and 26 violins; something like that, 14 firsts and 12 seconds.
RE: The strings are very good; full, but retaining that clarity. Clarity is almost a characteristic of the album. You can hear everything that's going on. Was it a hassle working with 46-track (two 24-tracks with two tracks used for SMPTE time-code to link the machines)?
JW: Yes it was a tremendous hassle. Because, remember, it was three years ago, and to our knowledge no-one else had tried it at that point. The studio - Advision — where we recorded everything except the strings, was experimenting. They had the prototype of the Maglink, and it kept breaking down, and nobody really knew how to repair it, so they had to keep on figuring out what was wrong, and we lost literally months. We were unable to complete the bloody thing because the machine kept breaking down! Once you start on the 48-track, you can't stop. You can't say: 'Let's scrap one of the machines and start all over again,'because you've got half the orchestra on it!
RE: So you were actually using the two machines as one. Trident have done some albums like that. The other way that people use them these days is to do basic tracks on one machine, rough-mix on to one or two tracks on the other machine, do the overdubs on the second multitrack, and mix-down completed sections back on to the master. (See Talkback, with Phill Brown, in SI August and September '78.)
JW: Well it took two years to come to the realisation that that was the best way to do it. The first way is the losers' way, because it's so complex.
RE: Yes, at Trident they've ended up with a Fleximix tacked on to the end of the desk. It sounds pretty horrific. Even 24-track, with its extra echo and effects n returns, is quite a handful.
JW: Well the second method is what we'd do now. Fortunately we had plenty of group faders, and that helped considerably. The second way you described, though, is how I'd do it again. But that way, you have to know you're going to work like that. For us the tracks weren't worked out that way at the beginning so there was no way we could change it. That's the intelligent way, we just weren't that smart at the beginning. There was nobody who'd done it that way, so they couldn't tell us what to do.
RE: An interesting point about the songs on the album: they often appear to have been matched deliberately to the particular artist's style; the Justin Hayward track is a good example. Did you work with the artists on the arrangements?
JW: When I composed the music, by then I'd already arranged the backing tracks. I was also aware of the type of artist I was looking for. So if it hadn't been Justin — and I was really fortunate to get him — and he'd come into the studio and said: 'No, I don't like it', I'd have looked for someone with a similar style, open harmonies and so on; the kind of qualities that Justin has. And there aren't many artists like that around. I was looking for someone like that, and if there wasn't anyone known, I'd go for somebody who wasn't known. It didn't matter because I was looking for the right quality. With the Parson, who is someone quite crazy, I was looking for someone who had that devilish quality. I was again very fortunate that Phil (Lynott) liked what he heard. Every artist was like this. So when they'd come in and said: 'Yes, I like what I've heard', I would then finish my orchestrations with that artist in mind, always hopefully being true to the two albums, but still trying to let them bring in their own individual magic; otherwise, why work with them?
RE: How do you feel about the project now? I guess you've had the chance to get away from it a bit, and look at it more objectively than when you were heavily involved with actually doing it. Is there anything that particularly stands out in your mind?
JW: I think generally the fact that we finished it, and that I was given the opportunity to do this 'hybrid' type of project. That's what I look back on; I enjoyed it, I was very lucky to work with a lot of great people. That's all one can ever hope for, in our business, to work and be gratified through the work that you do. I don't look at an individual instance, or an individual artist - it's too big a project. I just remember the whole thing, in total.
RE: Were there any big problems?
JW: There's always problems: technical problems with the 48-track thing, frustrations with artists. For example, Phil Lynott came in the first time, and he had three days to spare before going to Canada to record an album. We were all geared up to work with Phil, I'd never worked with him before, and I'd only seen him like the two occasions he'd been down to listen. And the first time he came in to record, he had the thickest flu that you can imagine. He tried, and he tried his heart out, it was sad, his voice was going and everything, and we had to wait I think it was six weeks for him to go to Canada, record the album, and come back. So it was a lot of individual things like that. But when you step back and look at it, the bigger the production, the more problems there'll be. So now that it's passed, I look back at the finished project and I'm pleased with what we've done.
RE: Who was engineering at Advision?
JW: A fellow by the name of Jeff Young, who I'd again worked with for many years, a very talented fellow, who stuck with it, and with all my frustrations and screamings and everybody else's.
RE: How do you, as a producer, work with an engineer? As an engineer myself, I get on best, I think, with producers who have a good idea of what they want, and a good understanding of the artist, and can translate that into sound terms that the engineer can work with, setting up a creative dialogue and exchange of ideas.
JW: Yes; I'm not an engineer, though I understand some aspects of engineering, I wouldn't start fiddling about with them. But what I like to do, like with Jeff (Young), is to get together before the start of the project, over a meal or something, and talk through what the object of the exercise is meant to be, the concept of the sound, and the way I want the sound to be, and if my ideas work, then it'll be easy for him. If they don't work, then I can see him getting frustrated, although it's probably my idea that's wrong. Then having started again with that foundation, I leave him for a while, to get on with his own contribution. Because a lot of it has to do with how he opens up the spaces. You know, you can get the same orchestration, and I think a good engineer will place the positioning right, so that it sounds spacious when it's supposed to, and hard and aggressive when it's supposed to. If it's a good orchestration — even if it's a band, when I say orchestration, I could mean a rock'n'roll band — if the arrangements are right, they'll create their own spaces. But then the engineer takes those good spaces and makes them something really special, and uses them creatively. And that's the way I'd work with any engineer, and that's how I work with Jeff, always.
RE: That's an opportunity that few engineers get, I think, having the producer go through the work before you start. Often, especially if you're a house engineer, you just get landed with the session, and the first time you hear the band, or even meet them or the producer, is when you sit in there on the first session. You might spend hours just trying to remember the bass-player's name, with so much else going on! How much of the project did you in fact have planned-out beforehand?
JW: Oh, with about 75% of it I knew pretty exactly what I wanted. The rest is due to the contributions. There's some things you can't write out, that you can't put down as a note, you can only explain as words; and you get an artist in, and he says that he'd be able to sing it better if you changed some of the notes around, and if you're not offended by the notes — it's probably better than what you wrote in the first place — or if an artist comes up with a dynamite riff. You just say: 'Oh, that's better than what I wrote!' So you keep it.
RE: Did you write out all the arrangements and give them to the musicians, or did you give them a fair degree of freedom to interpret what was required for the piece?
JW: Well, a bit of both really, because as the producer, I know that there's certain parts that are essential to the concept of the piece, and can't be changed, where a musician won't know that. But then there are areas, like say a guitar solo, and it can be any guitar solo as long as it's good. Or again, as a keyboard player I might write a guitar riff that is really a keyboard player's interpretation of a guitar riff, and then he'll say: 'If you wrote such and such, the inversion on the fingers would come out like this, and that gives a better feel', then you change it.
RE: You put a lot of money into the project, and I guess you'll be getting it all back at least, but I imagine that gave you a fair amount of freedom to experiment.
JW: Well, it's fun to gamble a bit occasionally, that's what it's about I think. And if it's all come together and it entertains people, then it's paid off.
RE: Do you tend to consult people before a project as a matter of course?
JW: Generally, yes: it makes for a better result. And it's more fun doing it. Although there should be a bit of tension when you're recording, because it pushes you a bit. But there's a point where that should end and you should just have some enjoyment. If you know the people, you've worked with them, and you can explain articulately what you want, then they start thinking the way you're thinking. A guitarist, for instance, can look at a chart in a number of different ways. They may not all be good, so why not explain what you're going for? By the end of the day, in this case, they should be thinking 'Martian' or whatever. And in my case, I tried to direct them from a 'human' point of view in some cases, and 'Martian' in others. They were two different thought processes. The story flips back and forth from human to Martian. The way Wells wrote it, there's two different points of view. One is the story of the invasion, and the other is the human story of the Journalist and the people he meets on the way, the philosophy behind them.
RE: Like the Artilleryman?
JW: Yes, and the Parson, who thinks that they aren't Martians, they're devils. And you'd think it'd be the Parson who'd stay calm, but he's the one that flips out. It's the common soldier who actually plans for survival.
RE: Even though it's not practical.
JW: Yes, well of course we're back to fantasy, aren't we. So it was trying to get the musicians to think Martian, or to think human, depending on whether it was aggression, or human.
Finally we were interrupted, not by Martian invasion, but by a call from the aliens who co-ordinate Top Of The Pops. Jeff suddenly had to orchestrate a performance of Justin's Forever Autumn by sometime last week, and somehow get round the problems of arranging a track with harmonies and double-tracking for a live performance. I left him wrestling with the problem of producing the sound of a 50-piece string section with Johnny Pearson's eight, two and two.
Interview by Richard Elen
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