Popklikk has talked to one of our favorite producers, John Agnello, about, hold your breath: MUSIC! About his latest work with Dyveke Kuløy and Luke Elliot, highlights from his career, musical influences and Athletic Sound Studio in Halden, Norway.
– How did you meet Dyveke?
– Well, I believe an old friend of mine, Frode from Madrugada was responsible for connecting me with Dyveke. If my memory serves me well, Dyveke approached Frode about working together and he maybe said she should talk to me.
– It was very bold of her. We spoke a bunch and then she came to the States and we recorded two songs together. That was magical. Considering she was new to the environment and playing with some top musicians, like Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth and William Wittman, who was my mentor and still works a bunch with Cyndi Lauper, she fit right in.
– What is it about her music that you like?
– What was there NOT to like? I mean, she is the complete package. Let’s do a checklist..
– Songwriting, great!
– Voice, beautiful.
– Singing, wonderful
– Piano playing, top notch
– Personality, the best.
– If only she was good looking too! Hahahahahaha, oh wait, she’s beautiful also!!
– But seriously, she writes wonderful songs. She has a way with melody which is classic. And classy. She has a lot of training, but it doesn’t get in the way of her talent. She’s very good at writing lyrics. I could go on and on.
– How would did describe her voice?
– As I have said before, her voice is like the sound of the sirens, luring boats onto the reefs and rocky coastlines. It is so compelling, I find it hard to not listen to her. Whether a ballad or uptempo song, her voice is always pure and beautiful.
– What is the best thing about her album?
– The best thing about her record is her! Hahahahahaha. Her record is a great accomplishment considering she really had to put it together herself. I’m glad I got to help out. I feel like she is a daughter to me or at least a niece.
– She shows so many levels of talent. And so many sides. Whether it’s the beauty of «Father» or bounciness of «Grattitude» or the epic splendor of «Gabriel»
– Was it hard to get her songs together?
– Umm, not particularly. I know we had some phone calls about the songs and arrangements. I seem to remember calling her from my car driving down a highway one morning and I thought, «This is a dangerous time for pre production.» but I didn’t wreck and we made the record together.
– Pick two songs from the album that shows what Dyveke is all about.
– As I said earlier, «Father» is a beautifully written, introspective song. The lyrics are very heartfelt and deep and she delivers the vocal with beauty, style and grace. And when she breaks out the choir in the song, it makes my skin tingle.
– And then we have «Gratitude», which is a beautiful pop song. I love the vibe of the song. And she sings the shit out of it. Damn it. She is something else.
– How was it to work in Athletic Sound, and how do you rate the studio?
– One of my favorite studios to work at. I love the building, the team, the equipment and the city. I felt super comfortable the first day I walked in there. And I immediately saw the Madrugada gold record for «Industrial Silence» which Kai, the owner of Athletic recorded and I mixed in NY. So there was already a connection.
– I loved being able to record analogue and then move over to digital. Such a wonderful combination of old school and new school. I love the old school analogue because it just sounds more «real» than purely digital. More «warm» and «inviting». Don’t get me wrong, I record to digital a bunch, but the magic is in the analogue!
– Did the wooden walls inspire you, or did you find them a bit scary?
– I found Athletic to be inspiring. I loved both my trips there. I would record there anytime. Trust me. Any excuse to go back to Athletic. I’m there.
– What about Halden, do you feel like moving there when you retire?
– Well, you’ll have to convince my wife and daughters about that. I had such a blast there. Made a bunch of friends. The locals were all the best. Yeah, I could deal with that easily!
– What is the best thing about Luke Elliot’s music?
– Luke brings a fire to whatever he does. He’s always on the edge, and it’s great watching him perform. Man when goes off, he goes off! Part of why I think him and Dyveke work great together is because they are polar opposites. She is sweet. He has edge.
– But yeah, Luke is a beast. And a great talent in his own right. So much fun working with him on his record at Athletic. He’s amazingly gifted but you know what? As talented as he is, he’s smart enough to be open to outside opinions. I would make suggestions and he would take them to the next level.
– You have worked with a lot of great artist. Give us a few highlights and describe why you picked them.
– Whoa, now! I don’t necessarily pick them. I hope they pick me! 80’s highlight was assisting on the first Cyndi Lauper record. My first successful record.
– 90’s highlight was working with the Screaming Trees and Dinosaur Jr, back to back. Those two records were so important for the grunge movement, that it made me very popular amongst the flannel bearded men!!
– The 00’s were a strange decade. My two records with The Hold Steady were mutually beneficial to the band and to myself. I wish they would have let me do the third one. We were poised for something even greater, but I guess they had other ideas. And of course the 10’s were awesome because of the «indie» rock door swinging open with great artists like Phosphorescent, Kurt Vile, The Thermals, Okkervil River, Alvvays, Cymbals Eat Guitars, Hop Along and of course Dyveke and Luke.
– What kind of music did you listen to as a teenager?
– I was a hippie and then into prog rock. So my favorite bands as a kid were, The Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead, Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and pretty much more like that.
– I was a stoner kid, but also hard working in school. I was working summer jobs since I was 16, notably at Eventide Clockworks, a company that made effect gear for recording studios and live sound. So at 17, I had the massive stereo set up. I used to drive my parents and neighbors nuts!
– Pick three albums that have inspired you and describe what it is about them that you like.
– “Queen 2” was the first record I listen to and was blown away by the production. Roy Thomas Baker was a mad genius and they did stuff on that record that made me wonder, «How?» Backwards drums into forward drums. Reverse reverbs. Stacked vocals. Crossfades between songs. In fact the whole «black» side crossfades together into one long song. That’s the big one for me.
– David Bowie’s «Ziggy Stardust» record made me sit up and listen to songs. I love the common theme of the record and how every song works together. And the mood of the entire record. Whether it’s sad or angry or in between, every song has a distinct mood to it.
– And then, My Bloody Valentine’s, «Loveless» is another inspiration to noise and volume. I love the sounds they went for and the shoegazer vibe. I love the cool melodies. I love the songs. I just think that record is a tour de noise.
– Pick between the following artists:
– Bob Dylan or Neil Young?
– That’s impossible. They are both my favorites and my favorite curmudgeons!
Brian Eno or Phil Spector?
– Phil Spector because “All Things Must Pass” is my favorite post Beatle, Beatle record. I’m not into his shooting women in the face thing of course. Not cool.
– Grateful Dead or Patti Smith?
Those are two different beasts. Grew up a big fan of both. I got to work with Patti and she yelled at me so I feel honored.
– Elvis Costello or Nick Lowe?
– Respect both of course. They are so intertwined it would be silly to pick one.
– Dolly Parton or Emmylou Harris?
– Emmylou just because of her work with Graham Parsons…
– Big Star or Teenage Fanclub?
– That’s unfair! I love both! I almost got to work on “Thirteen”! That was a crusher when it didn’t happen. This segment of the interview is opening up old wounds… But really, maybe Big Star because they started it all.
– Nirvana or The Replacements?
– Nirvana for starting grunge and keeping me working in the 90’s!!
– Alice Cooper or Aerosmith?
– That’s a toss up! Alice Cooper and Aerosmith were huge growing up. I ended up working with both. Alice was awesome to do vocals with. Steven Tyler gave me some pills to take and I woke up 6 hours later on the bathroom floor. I’ll take Alice Cooper!
– Nick Cave or Scott Walker?
– Nick Cave because there is a total prick named Scott Walker running for president. He’s such a right wing, conservative prick, if he’s elected president, I will move to Halden!
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