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Test Pressing

An Interview With Wally Badarou / Part Two

Enjoy the second part of our Wally Badarou interview as we discuss first sessions, ‘Echoes’, Island Records and Badarou’s favourite Compass Point moments. Take a look at Badarou’s official website for more great photos and insight.

What was the first record you played on at Compass Point and what do you remember of the session?

Grace Jones ‘Warm Leatherette’, officially; with ‘Nightclubbing’ starters in reality. It all started unpretentiously, with the title song and a couple other tracks. Only when we cut ‘Private Life’, we realised something serious was in the making. Sly, Robbie, Sticky and Mickey’s ominous groove, Barry’s rock-solid pulse and hard-edged solo, Grace’s eerie combination of talked verses and sung choruses, it all triggered the melodic hook and the spacious swells I came up with. This was a very special night for all of us, as we suddenly realise each one of us key role in the sonic outcome; genuine mutual respect grew between ourselves ever since.

That experience paved the way to the more substantial ‘Nightclubbing’ album, making us more confident in what was setting us apart. Joe Cocker, Gwen Guthrie and others benefited from that momentum.

The Compass Point All Stars made me specialise in melodic hooks and counterpoints. Or perhaps vice-versa: it made more obvious what I had within. I’ve always been a melody man. My sounds always came from that quest. Given the right surrounding and groove, hooks like the hi-pitched intro to Grace’s “I’ve seen that face before” would come fast and easy to me.

It wasn’t just you guys working at Compass Point. Who else did you bump into? What accidental benefit did people like Iron Maiden or other non-funky Nassau people bring?

Befriended Paul and Linda McCartney, The Thompson Twins, ex-Kraftwerk member Emil Schult. Also met Ringo Starr, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Carly Simon, and quite a few movie people too, like Elia Kazan, 007 and ‘Thunderball’ author/producer Kevin McClory, ‘Spiderwoman’ Sonia Braga, Dennis Hopper.

The list goes on, of people who felt like either enjoying a bit of that unconventional chemistry, or simply vacationing in Blackwell’s land. Looking back, they made Compass Point the more legendary.

Was there anything specific about the technology you were using, or anything else you created or accidentally invented at this point?

I had my first go at an S.C.I. Prophet V during the first sessions. It was the dream machine I could hear on seminal albums by Hancock, Weather Report and the likes, so I asked for a rented one. Waiting for the rest of the team to arrive, I had more than sufficient time to study it, so I could be fast at getting just the sound I needed by the time Sly & Robbie were “ready to burn” later on. I was so fast and productive with that single machine, I eventually got nicknamed ‘Prophet’.

Funny enough, I never owned one: when I finally could afford it, I directly went for the Synclavier, a multi-fold groundbreaking monster at the time. That latter system made me one of the first tapeless producers ever. But again, as technically impressive as my fully computerized and speech-controllable ‘Studio-W’ room might have looked, I was not too concerned by technical achievements. Here I was with the best sampling machine in decades, and yet I always kept a very minimal sample library. What mattered to me was philosophy behind the architecture, the music it allowed me to create, yielding in my most favorite solo work, ‘Words of a Mountain’.

As technically sophisticated as we did sound sometimes, the Compass Point All Stars as such only had a very few pieces of gear to deal with otherwise, apart from Sly’s Simmons and Oberheim DMX drum-machine snippets. No extensive programming time allowed anyway: we’ve always focused on the performance, to keep the momentum going. The chemistry was augmented with Alex Sadkin, Steven Stanley or Andy Lyden’s interactions; the performance made the sound.

How did you feel about the way the Compass Point All Stars were used/favoured by disco, specifically Larry Levan and FK?

Or Bill Laswell. All good friends of mine. Yet, as clever and remarkable as remixes might have sounded from the day they were invented, they never matter to me much, as long as people could get the originals. Call it ego or self-respect, I believe any genuine musician still wants one’s performance released un-manipulated, and views the remix phenomenon as a flattering tribute to one’s original idea.

It may feel disturbing when the remix proves way more successful than the original, specially when the original was meant to compete in remix territory, i.e. the disco. This was hardly our case. But if ever existing, frustrations could only be short-lived: at the end of the day, the remix is still a tribute to the original idea, and the composer remains the winner on both accounts anyway.

When you were making ‘Echoes’, do you remember what other music you were listening to at the time?

Well I was listening to everything everybody was listening at that time but, quite honestly, I never wanted ‘Echoes’ to be inspired by any of the ongoing chart of the time. I really wanted it to be apart, driven by past memories rather. ‘Echoes’ were musical tales, based of forceful moments in my childhood, my teen days, my life in Africa, in Europe, everywhere and everything I had been. Hence the apparent ecclecticism throughout the album.

Are there other outtakes from ‘Echoes’? It would be amazing to hear alternative or extended versions of the tracks.

Not that many outakes, reason being that I only had 24 tracks and limited studio time to deal with. So, apart from ‘Endless Race’, everything had been carefully demoed beforehand. To tell you the truth, demos are even more interesting than outtakes, as one can hear were it all came from, stage by stage, discarded directions et all. One must remember: midi sequencers did not exist yet, total recall and automation were a rarity. Apart from the drum-machine, everything had to be manually played from scratch, for good. Hard decisions were to be made before entering the studio, unless you were a million-seller before.

Why such big gaps between your artist albums? ‘Echoes’ was released in 1983, with ‘Words Of A Mountain’ following in 1989.

Several reasons: I had a busy life sessioning all over the world, co-writing and producing Level 42 in the UK, film-scoring in L.A., finishing ‘Studio-W’ in Nassau, all the while re-immersing myself in symphonic works, for the new direction Chris Blackwell and I decided my next record should aim at was classical. Moreover, with what still looked like a symbolic succes for ‘Echoes’ back in those years, I lacked the self-confidence and thrive that would have urged me to deliver sooner. That been said, I am still not quick at following those two with a new one …

Going a little more general now – what made Island Records so special as a label?

To the risk of repeating myself, just one and only one person. It was all down to Chris’ visions and intuitions, and the Compass Point All Stars were just one in many. As an artist, you could only respect the way he could bet on something he really likes, regardless of the moods and the losses. He could make mistakes, huge ones sometimes. But you wanted to be part of it, because it never was business as usual. Think of it: who else could have had Bob Marley and U2, or Steve Winwood and Salif Keita under the same logo without looking like just another closed-department company? There was style and dedication behind everything he approached.

I know you are modest man when it comes to pin pointing certain eras but when you look back to that time of Compass Point what are you most proud of?

I honestly feel more privileged and honoured than proud. As I said, there I went, unaware of what I was to deal with. And before I could realise it, I had been part of quite a few pages. I never was striving for it, things just happened. Friends of mine keep on telling me it had to do with talents I unknowingly had too. Perhaps, but there we are: I was not aware of them, at least not to the extent they are nowadays.

We honestly thought that more important things were being achieved elsewhere, in the US, in the UK. This is no modesty, it is a fact. Like everybody, we had heroes; James Brown, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Sly & Family Stone, Herbie Hancock, Weather Report. The air was filled with ubiquitous smash hits by the Michael Jackson, Eurythmics, Lionel Ritchie, Kool & The Gang, etc, who seemed to leave little room for our ‘uniqueness’ back then.

As time goes by, it’s only now that all the Grace Jones legacy, augmented by Tom Tom Club’s ‘Genius of Love’, and Gregory Isaacs’ ‘Night Nurse’, and Black Uhuru ‘Chill Out’, Gwen Guthrie, Ian Dury, etc, sort of build a long line of albums with legendary impact, that people started to inter-connect them with the Compass Point All Stars. But looking back, we did stick to the style that was ours, not because we were brave at resisting the mainstream, but because it was the only thing we knew how to do best collectively.

How is that history being taken forward?

That, only you-know-who knows. I can’t make plans regarding the Compass Point All Stars.

What are you doing over the coming year? About time for a new album perhaps? The world would be a better place Wally….

Don’t you worry. I am working on that.

What are you aware of that has been influenced by you?

Difficult to say, despite all the feeds an comments I get on my site, myspace and facebook walls. It really depends on what part of what I did we are talking about. For instance, Andy Lyden recently told me that, with Massive Attack rendering of ‘Mambo’ through ‘Daydreaming’, I had been (both him and I had been) like pioneering that trip-hop sound. Perhaps. But then, were we looking at achieving what I understand trip-hop has been trying to achieve ? Were we looking in the same direction? Does it matter if we weren’t? The same goes to how ‘Hi-Life’ seemingly influenced both zouk music of the french Antilles and African music at the same time. Influence is a whole phenomenon yet to be rationally investigated.

If you were to suggest someone listen – really listen – to one thing you did at Compass Point, what would it be and why?

As the Compass Point All Stars, ‘Private Life’. It is, like Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ or Weather Report’s ‘Birdland’, without pretending to sum a whole career through just one song, yet the kind of piece that tells best what the artist really stood for, what set him/her fully apart, what makes his/her planet such a vibrant yet distinct world on its own. ‘Private Life’ had all the grits and the meat, the colors and the fragrance, the rawness and the sophistication the Compass Point All Stars were capable of, right from the early days.

Finally, as I get older and move through music and genres I find myself being drawn to the music of classical composers such as Debussy and the like. If you had to give three pieces or albums of classical modern music to start me off what would they be?

I would start listening to:Holst ‘The Planets’Debussy ‘Images’Stravinsky ‘Petrushka’

Then I’d go on listening to:Ravel ‘Daphnis & Chloe’ / ‘Tombeau de Couperin’Fauré ‘Dolly suite’ / ‘Pavane’Stravinsky ‘Firebird’ and ‘Rite of Spring’

To further get a sense of how they all keep on influencing major film composers today, I would also give a listen to Benjamin Britten’s work. Then I would move to more contemporary composers like Bela Bartok, Gyorgy Ligeti and Arvo Part.

That’s it. Cheers Wally.

You are welcome.

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