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Exclusive Q&A with Tony Visconti

August 11th, 2020 | by admin
Exclusive Q&A with Tony Visconti
Interviews
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Tony Visconti has been described as one of the most important producers in the history of rock. Here are just a few of the classic musical moments Visconti helped to create. “Get It On (Bang A Gong)” and “Cosmic Dancer” by T. Rex are true cornerstones of rock and roll. David Bowie’s “Young Americans,” “Heroes” and “The Man Who Sold The World” are masterpieces. The Moody Blues’ “Your Wildest Dreams” and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” are indelibly etched into our collective memory. And there are so many more.

The week of 12 February 2017 has become a milestone in Tony’s life: On Sunday night, 12 February, at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards, Tony received two Grammys for David Bowie’s Blackstar as Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical and Best Alternative Music Album. Visconti as co-producer and co-mixer. On Thursday night, 16 February, Tony received three MPG Awards in London for Outstanding Contribution to UK Music, International Producer of the Year and as producer on the UK Album of the Year for Blackstar.

In October of 2016, Lazarus-The Original Broadway Cast album, was released and features three more David Bowie songs “No Plan,” “Killing A Little Time,” and “When I Met You” all co-produced by Tony and David.

Earlier in 2016, Tony co-produced the final David Bowie album entitled Blackstar (★ )   The debut single, “Blackstar (★ ),” is also the theme for the British television crime series The Last Panthers.*

Last month we announced that Tony had very kindly agreed to doing an exclusive Q&A for us. Thanks to everyone who sent in questions. See them along with Tony’s answers below…

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Q/ Hi Tony, what’s your favourite Bowie song/album that you didn’t produce?

John Blandford

TV/ It would have to be Life On Mars.  I play this in my band, Holy Holy, with Glenn Gregory singing it.  It makes me quite emotional.  Mick Ronson did such a great job with the string arrangement too.


Above, Tony, Woody and Glenn Gregory on stage, Holy Holy.

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Q/ Hi Tony I’m sure I read somewhere at a possible surround sound version of Blackstar? Any news on this?

Thanks Bob.

TV/ There is a surround sound version of Blackstar.  I mixed it for a theatre showing, a debut of the video.  I sat next to the label head who was knocked out by it and he said the entire album should be mixed in surround.  I’m still waiting.

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Q/ Hi Tony

Did you ever share a joke with David and get the giggles.. ?

Thank you so much for answering my question and sharing a bit of your life with him, with us xx

Elizabeth Harris.

TV/ David Bowie didn’t get the giggles.

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Q (a) / Which of the albums that you didn’t produce is your favourite and/ or rate as the best produced?

TV/ Station To Station is brilliant. It isn’t over produced. It has lots of impact.

 

 

Q/ (b) Is there an album you didn’t produce that you would have liked to have produced, maybe because you thought the production was off?

TV/ I have to admit I’m not a fan of Ziggy Stardust. The drums sound terrible.  Woody Woodmansey is quite vociferous about the drums.  The songs and performances are great.

Thanks to DB news,

Brian McQ.

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Hi Tony, Blackstar always gets me emotionally.  The great production and overall personal feelings come through loud and clear.

TV/ Thank you.

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Q/ I especially love how you kept David’s breathing in the production between tracks Blackstar and ‘Tis a Pity, it is raw and delicate.

TV/ Thank you.  When I was mixing ‘Tis… I loved the sound of David’s breathing and I asked his approval to make it loud and he loved it.

Q/ How did you feel, knowing this was likely to be David’s final work.

TV/ Neither David or I thought that Blackstar was going to be his final album.  At the end of it he was talking to me about making a new album.

Thank you

Michelle Watson.

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Q/ Hi Tony,

Firstly i’d like to thank you for taking the time out to do this q&a and i hope you are safe & well, from all the amazing albums that you produced with David over the years i would like to know which album you are most proud of and why.

Best regards

Steven Price.

TV/ I always say Scary Monsters.  It was the culmination of us working for 10 years and by that time we knew exactly how to get what we wanted from the musicians and in the mixing stage.  He was on fire during the making of it too.

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Q/ Hi Tony, my one question to you is…..which was the very last song that David recorded with you..

BIG THANK  YOU if you reply….

Billy Cubbon

TV/ It was probably I Can’t Give Everything Away.  We seemed to have recorded the vocals in the order of the album.

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Q/ Hi Tony, my question is, What future Bowie recordings can we expect to surface over the next few years?

Regards

Adrian Clamp

TV/ I have no idea.  That is in the hands of David’s management.

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Q/ Do you remember the very first song you played with David, like we all remember the first song we heard played ‘live’?

Cliff Masters

TV/ I think it was Let Me Sleep Beside You in a Folk club.

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Q/ Hi, are there other unreleased tracks from the Blackstar sessions?

Thx and greetings from Brazil.

Stefano Vuoto

TV/ Maybe.

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Q/  Could David drive? Cars?

Thanks,

Dave Hodgson.

TV/ Of course he could drive.  When I met him in 1967 he was driving his father’s Riley.  In Berlin he drove a Mercedes convertible.

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Q/ Hi Tony!

How involved was David generally in the technical aspects of his music?  Did he get involved in decisions about panning, amplitude, EQ, overall balance of instruments?  Or did he tend to let you do your thing and give his approval or disapproval on the overall sound?   Thank you!

Joel Justice

TV/ He’d let me make all the sonic decisions and then he would get involved at the very end of a mix and make suggestions.  Sometimes he would say such and such needs a wild effect, but he wouldn’t give it a name, he would describe it. Often what I would come up with wasn’t exactly what he wanted but he liked it anyway if it was new and different.

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Above, Tony Visconti, David Bowie, and Brian Thorn at The Magic Shop Recording Studio, during recording The Next Day. By Kabir Hermon

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Q/ Is there anything you can tell us about The Next Day sessions, particularly about the secrecy and recording process?

Thanks,

John Costello

TV/ No, that’s why it’s a secret.  But I can tell you that the band was terrific and David let them do their thing most of the time.  After basic tracks were laid down David often played some guitar or keyboards in the sanctity of my private studio.  It was not really different from any other way we worked together.

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Above, David Bowie during recording of The Next Day, by Tony Visconti.

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Q/ Favourite track of his from the Space Oddity album?

TV/ Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud.  It was also David’s favourite track too.

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Q/ Will Tony do a tour of his album (It’s A Selfie) next year?

Many Thanks. Wendy Woo!

TV/ Hi Wendy Woo! I am thinking about it. I’m writing a new one right now and it would be better to combine both of them, the best songs, and do an hour set in medium sized clubs.  But we have to wait until is safe, health-wise, to even consider it.

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Q/ What is your favorite moment with DB in the studio???

Eduardo Méndez.

TV/ Honestly, there are too many.  There was a point during Low when I finished a rough mix of the whole album and handed him a cassette to listen to.  He held it over his head and yelled, “It’s an album!” That made me very happy, because it was such a radical idea, that album.

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Q/ As a producer, working with someone like Bowie, where did your inspiration and certainty come from to shape and influence such iconic albums?

Simon Pearson

TV/ We always had a preproduction talk and made notes.  We were always in a very back and forth conversation.  Over the years we built a music vocabulary that verged on telepathic in the studio.  We always shared a penchant for Outsider music and was inspired by that. We never had a conflict, thingsjust flowed so well once we’d get started.

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Q/ How fabulous to be able to ask a question…so many questions it’s hard to know which one to choose, but I have settled on this one,

I wondered how long  it took David  to come up with lyrics and if he still used his ‘cut up’ method in the later years you worked together?

Carole Sayers – Hammoon, Dorset.

TV/ Lyrics didn’t come easy to David. He never committed early on albums.  We always used working titles like “People Are Turning To Gold,” which he never even sang, as that song became “Ashes To Ashes”. He’d love to work on the music first and get an intuitive sense of what was in the air at the time. He’d read newspapers on sessions and get ideas from articles.  He did use the cut up technique now and then, but not for the last two albums we made (unless he did that at home).

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Q/ Hi Tony,

Thank you for all the stellar work you have done with Bowie!

Since I know you guys went way back, perhaps you can answer this question. As an avid fan from the 70s, I was a member of the official Bowie Fan Club in England back then…and they sent me things about Bowie’s plans. Included in that was press that he was going to play Egon Schiele in the film to be titled “Vally” (Schiele’s nickname for one of his muses). That never happened, apparently, and I thought perhaps it got shelved.

So, my question is:

Did you ever hear David mention doing the film, and what might have happened???

TV/ We talked about Egan Schiele a lot, even went to an exhibition together in Berlin, but I have no knowledge of this film project.

THANK YOU AGAIN FOR YOUR INCREDIBLE MUSIC!!!

Sandra Crespo.

TV/ You’re very welcome.

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Q/ My question for Tony is a bit of an odd one, but I always wondered if it’s him doing the yelling ‘whoops’ let’s call them at about 7 minutes into The Width of a Circle.

David Emerson.

TV/ It’s mostly me, but Ronno is in there too.  We did those during the backing vocal takes, “Turn Around, Go Back”, etc.

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Q/ Hi Tony

My question is why do you think David Bowie never worked with the likes of Talking Heads or Roxy Music ? After all you all seemed to inhabit the same hemisphere?

Renato in Edinburgh.

TV/ Well, he worked with Brian Eno, didn’t he?  Maybe the others were too close for comfort.

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Q/ Dear, dear Tony Visconti:

I have a bit of a selfish question: once live touring is viable again, whenever that is, would Holy Holy ever consider doing a show in Western Canada?

Charles Martin

Victoria, BC.

TV/ Probably not, but I’d like to play more in Canada.  It’s so expensive to fly the group to the USA and Canada and hire a tour bus.  The visas are $1k each.  I’d like to do another one though.

Thank you so much for all of your contributions across your diverse career, but in particular it means a lot to me that you have been such a friend to David in keeping his albums sounding great and new.

 

TV/ Thank you.

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Q/ Hey Tony,

Hope you’re doing well amongst the chaos of 2020! After much thought my question is.. Can you give us one piece of wisdom or quote you learnt or heard from David that you believe is worth remembering?

Thanks!

Stowe.

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TV/ During the making of Heathen I looked at my friend from 1967, who by then was quite a wealthy man.  I seriously asked him if I should invest money in the stock market.  He said absolutely not.  He said you might just as well flush your money down the toilet.  I think that was great advice.  I never played the stock market.

Q/ Hello Tony and DB News! I hope all is well during this challenging year. Thank you for your time. My question:

Is there enough material in the vaults to create deluxe editions of Bowie’s albums? Throughout the years, there has been mention of tracks like “Running Scared” (an early version of “Scary Monsters” from the Diamond Dogs sessions) and the longer/complete version of “Blackstar.” It would be extremely fascinating and inspiring to listen to his creative process/the evolution of his music.

Many thanks! Best wishes…

Michael DeStefano.

 

TV/ There must be many items in the ‘vault’ that should see the light of day.  But I am not in charge of what is released.

 

TV/ By the way, the first band I was in, in Brooklyn, had a sax player called Mike DeStefano.  Any relation of yours?

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Q/ The question I have for Visconti is: T. Visconti loves to talk about the recording sessions for the Scary Monsters album and would like to know if there is any project for this unreleased material to be released as a special edition or in a boxset?

Marcio Gosch.

TV/ I’m not in charge of that.  I have no answer.

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Q/ Hi Tony,

You have done the most amazing job doing the remixes on David’s albums so far. Just stunning.

Are you planning on doing any more and if so, which albums do you think you’ll do?

Kind regards

Chris Wooden ⚡️⚡️👨🏻‍🎤👨🏻‍🎤

TV/ I might remix more albums as their anniversaries  come up.  David has always wanted the original producers to remix their productions, if they are still alive.  So far he’s been true to his word with me.

Above, Bowie and Bolan in 1977.

Below, Tony and Marc.

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Q/ Everyone knows that David and Marc Bolan were friends. Did you introduce them or was it a coincidence that you produced them both?

Julie Bruce.

TV/ They were kind of friends before I met them.  What’s a coincidence here, though?  I did meet them independently, in the same month.  Neither of them spoke of each other.

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Q/ Hi Tony

Most long time DB fans are desperate to know what unreleased studio recording projects from the 70’s really are in the DB vaults/archive as potential future releases . Are you able to at least divulge one gem that you hope personally will get a release at some point. MWFTE soundtrack?  1984 musical ?

Keep Well

Damon.

TV/ I can’t say.  I don’t know what David’s management’s plans for future releases are.

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Q/ I’m sure I remember reading somewhere that David would have liked to ‘redo’ The Man Who Sold the World – I certainly think it’s his most underrated album, I think it’s brilliant – but would it have benefitted from a different production/mix in your view? Or is this story even true??

Regards

Chris Mears.

TV/ I never read that and he never said that to me.  If anything we wanted to remix it. The performances were great!

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Q/ Hello Tony.

Can we expect have a big/rich boxset with Next Day/Blackstar outtakes, alternates, demos?

Thanks for your answer Tony. God bless you.

Pascal et Sophie de France.

 

TV/ I don’t know.  It is up to David’s management.

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Q/ Hey Tony

Mega respect to you.

I’ve often wondered who’s whistling at the end of the track ‘Golden Years’ on the album ‘Station to Station’ ?

Was that David ?

It’s a lovely nonchalant touch, yet of course perfectly in tune. . .

CR x.

TV/ It probably is David.  I didn’t produce that album so I don’t know.

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Q/ Great work! Very excited! My Q:

I adore the original Conversation Piece, such incredible songwriting, and at that tender age. What’s your favourite tucked-away album track, and why?

Nick Griffiths.

TV/ I love the first part of Memory Of A Free Festival.  David’s singing and Organ playing are just fabulous.  It gets me choked up.  I don’t like part two that much.

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Q/ There were (conflicting) rumours about many songs left over from the “Blackstar” sessions that have yet to see the light of day.

One, in particular, was called “Blaze”. How true are these rumours, and if true, when are we likely to hear them?

Cheers, David Hegarty

TV/ I can’t comment on this as I don’t know what plans David’s management will do.  There is a song called Blaze, but there are not ‘many’ songs left over. Just rumours, I’m afraid.

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Q/ Last year, you perfected Space Oddity using technology to fulfill what wasn’t possible in 1969. If you could do another full-album remix to ‘fix’ the sound of an album you’ve produced (or wish you had), what would it be?

Ethan Paquet.

TV/ The Man Who Sold The World.  I already started but some of the masters are missing, so it won’t be a complete album in the sense of modern remixing.

 

Q/ What is your favorite memory of working with David Bowie?

Amy Steinberg.

TV/ How kind, sharp and humourous he was.

 

Above, Tony with David in 1970.

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Q/ Hi Tony,

What is close to your heart in a new project for yourself, we would love to hear about it.

Thank you for answering our questions 😊🎶🎶

Viv Jackowski

TV/ I’m working on a new solo album.  These are all new songs written since January 2020.  It’s A Selfie had songs written as early as 12 years ago, but I had to clear them from my brain to start writing again.  I’m trying for a November release.

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Q/ Hi Tony

A basic question / why don’t we have DB releases in HQ (Blu-ray audio) and 5.1? Did you do some remix 5.1 still waiting to be released?

BTw I love Sparks / indiscreet

Thank you.

Take care

Eric.

 

TV/ That’s up to the labels and David’s management.  The only 5.1 mix unheard by the public is one of Blackstar, the song, for a theatrical debut for the press.  It sounds great!

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Q/ For Tony:

On Young Americans album,  strings or Solina Strings Ensemble?

Thanks.

Michael Stimson.

 

TV/ Real strings! I wrote them and recorded them in London after the album was finished.

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Q/ Hi! Here is my question to Tony Visconti:

You worked with Bowie in different periods and when he was developing different styles, how did you prepare to the vision that could come from his mind?

Verónica Cuevas.

TV/ We always had a good long talk before each album.  We’ve knew each other for years.  It was almost telepathic the way we worked together.

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Q/ How was your experience working with Gentle Giant on their first 2 albums? and how much did you influence them? I know you did at least for the cover inviting your friend George Underwood.

Thanks in advance if you choose my question!

Greetings from a Mexican Fan!

Jesús ROSALES SALINAS.

 

TV/ They were a very difficult band to produce because of the complicated nature of their music.  Since I’m a trained musician, the meeting of the minds was a good one.  I can actually count a 15/16 bar.  We had a great time working together.  I helped shape the sound and modified some arrangements.

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Q/ Dear Tony

Is there any truth that David has recorded a few demos of songs after Blackstar?

Thank you so much,

João Carvalho, Lisbon, Portugal.

TV/ Yes, he did.  I heard them all.

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Q/ Hi Tony

Many thanks for all the wonderful memories you have helped create for us in your work with artists such as Bowie, Bolan, Thin Lizzy and Morrissey.

TV/ You’re welcome.

Q/ Could you tell us how you felt in returning to work with David on the Heathen LP after many years since your prior work together and if you worried about how it may impact your legacy together or if it felt like you were never really apart once the sessions began?

TV/ It felt wonderful to work with him after 14 years.  Safe was the first song we recorded, Heathen came a bit later. I was never worried about anything.  We just picked up where we left off.

David Bowie – Safe (Full length version)

 

Q/ As a part b to the question :), what is your favourite song from the Heathen album and are there any gems from that time you felt should have been released that remain to see the light of day?

TV/ Wood Jackson is my favourite song.

Thanks again for all that you have done, you have a special place in our hearts and helped create a soundtrack to many of our lives

TV/ You’re welcome

 

Steve Deburca.

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Q/ Thanks for opportunity to ask a question.

Are you currently or scheduled to work on any David Bowie related project, such as a 40th anniversary version of Scary Monsters album.

Regards

Richard Foote.

TV/ No news about that yet.  I would imagine I would be very involved if there were plans.

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Q/ During the mixing of The Man Who Sold The World, did David ever say to you, “Um, Tony, I think your bass is too high in the mix”?

Samuel McAdorey.

TV/ Never!  Hah! I said my bass was too high in the mix, and Ronson was the man who wanted it pushed up.

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Q/ Hi Tony,

Massive fan, I cannot begin to express the effect that yours and David’s work has had on my life, and how grateful I am for the music.

One question I’ve been dying to ask, is about the long rumoured extended version of ‘Ashes to Ashes’ (my favourite song ever : ) )

I’ve heard rumours and discussions of an extended version with extra verses which was recorded yet have never found it. I was wondering if you could expose the truth on this matter and put the rumours to rest.

Again, thank you so so much for everything

Billy 🙂

TV/ Thank you, Billy.  As far as I know there is only one version of Ashes To Ashes.  I never recorded extra unheard verses.

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Q/ Hi, I want to ask Tony what David mumbles in Ashes to Ashes.

Thank you in advance!

Christian.

TV/ He is just speaking the same words as he is singing at that moment.  But he triple tracked the speaking so it sounds like mumbling. He is speaking very clearly on each track.

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Q In pre-digital (analog) days, which song was the most complicated to produce?

Richard MacDougall.

TV/ Hi DickMac

Teenage Wildlife, because we recorded too much backing, yet we were so attached to it we couldn’t leave anything out. I think that mix took more than two days.

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Q/ Hi Tony,

I’m sure you’ll agree that the Radiators’ Ghostown is one of those great lost albums, a record that fell through the cracks on its release but is remembered now as a post-punk classic.

Frontman Phil Chevron knew the Horslips, and their series of concept albums, inspired by Irish history and mythology, was surely one significant influence on Ghostown, a paean to the romance and squalor of Chevron’s native Dublin.

I wonder how much of an influence your work with David Bowie was on your production of Ghostown?

The production still sounds fantastic, by the way, and I still think it a shame that so few are aware of the album’s existence.

Marc O’Sullivan Vallig.

TV/ It recently had a rerelease with a big push.  I was interviewed by actor Aiden Gillen for a piece he wrote on the subject.

As I was working with David around the same time, I gave The Radiator’s the full on Bowie/Visconti treatment, but only because their songs were so clever and deserving of it.  I love that album.

——–

Q/ Hi Tony! Do you have any fond memory of David Bowie and Marc Bolan being together from the early 70’s?

Michael Bällstav.

TV/ The only times they were together with me was when we spent a day at Hermione’s parents’ home in Edenbridge, Kent. The other time was when Marc played guitar on The Prettiest Star.  Marc always acted competitive, which was a shame.  David treated him well.

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Q/ David Bowie‘s vocals on ‘Heroes’ is arguably one of the greatest vocals on any song ever. I’d heard you & David say he didn’t really love his voice. Did he recognize/appreciate how incredible his voice was on this song? Did it make him want to take more chances with his vocals?

Thanks Tony, cheers

Kara B.

TV/ I never said he didn’t love his voice.  When he was younger he wanted his voice to sound thicker, mainly for Young Americans. I found a mic that made his voice nice and warm and he ended up buying 20 of them.  For the train spotters, the mic was a Beyer M160, a small ribbon mic.

——–

Q/ Hi there Tony,

Are there any plans for remixing the brilliant Album The Man Who Sold The World in the same sense as your 2019 Mix of Space Oddity?

Best regards and have a wonderful day (Also thanks to Davidbowienews.com)

Moritz.

TV/ Yes, but we can’t find all the masters.  I’m only able to remix about 60% of the album.

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Q/ Would you be willing to share your fondest memory of your time with David?

Morgane Schmidt.

TV/ When we were recording vocals for The Next Day and Blackstar it was in my small studio in the Chelsea area of Manhattan.  We worked together, just the two of us, with Coco dropping in occasionally. It was so nice that we had lots to chat about in between work.  When I was mixing he would sit quietly behind me reading a book.  I’m so glad that we got to be close friends again.

——–

Q/ Hello!

As an artist who is very interested in observing the creative and collaborative processes of many great artists:  How did collaborating with Bowie on his albums differ from your contributions to other musicians’ albums?  Did you connect with him on a different artistic level compared to other artists you’ve worked with?

Thank you

Gwendolyn Ellis.

TV/ It’s all the same.  David is a quick thinker and so am I. I adapt to different artist’s preferences, but recently working with Perry Farrell and Damon Albarn was very much like working with David.  Kristeen Young, who duetted with David on “Saviour” and sang on Heathen for him is also a mercurial artist who is challenging to work with, but very satisfying.  I tend to work with smart artists and I need to feed my mind with challenges.  If something seems too easy to record I’m not that interested.

——–

Q/ How was David’s behavior during the recording of an albums in the studio and how did it change through the decades?

Nicole Chlouveraki.

TV/ His behaviour never changed.  He was always kind, warm and enthusiastic.  He was very funny too.

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Q/ Greetings from Cresskill, NJ!

My question for the amazing Tony Visconti regards his recollections of first working with David in 1967/1968 when Bowie was trying to produce the elusive fourth single for Decca/Deram.  Let Me Sleep Beside You/Karma Man (September 1967) and In the Heat of the Morning/London Bye Ta-Ta (March 1968) are all wonderful, anything else recorded but never released?

T Gundling.

TV/ Not that I can think of.  They were fun records to make.

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Q/ Hi Tony,

Thanks so much for doing this for DBN, so much appreciated. What are you currently working on and can we expect a follow up to your recent album ‘It’s A Selfie?

Much love & respect

Nick DBN. x

TV/ I’m working on a new solo album, all new songs written since January 2020.  I’ve mixed and partially produced a new album by a great artist called Brion Starr.  There is more than a hint of David in him and I gave the mixes the full on Bowie treatment.  I’m very proud of my work with him.

——–

Thanks so much to Tony Visconti for taking the time to do this.

© David Bowie News. 2020.

You can follow Tony via his website here

And via Facebook here and Twitter here and Instagram

source

Thanks again to all of you who sent in questions.

#TonyVisconti

 

 

 

 

 

 

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