It’s interesting you mention Led Zeppelin because when I talked to bassist John Paul Jones a few years ago, he told me the secret to it all was his watching and following John Bonham’s foot, and that opened up yet another world of listening to that music for me. I got something else out of a song like “When the Levee Breaks,” a song that I’d already heard hundreds upon hundreds of times by then.
Not only are those guys great songwriters, they’re a band that just sounds very cool. They know how to make great songs, and they don’t have to question it. If you’re good enough, you can simply say, “Let’s play it this way.” There are MP3s floating around out there of Led Zeppelin rehearsals where you can hear them doing other takes of these songs that you’ve heard a million times — but they’re not as great! They picked the right versions to release. And you can see why they picked this one over that one. Why? Because they knew how to listen.
Some people think there’s some veil you pull away to reveal this great secret world you didn’t know about, but sometimes there isn’t one. By listening, you can catch something that’s happening and say, “Damn, that’s cool.” Maybe it’s something you already knew, but you weren’t aware of how important it was to listen to be able to rediscover it.
The simple joy of listening for enlightenment or eliciting an emotion is sometimes forgotten. You hear people say, “I’ve got 10,000 songs on my hard drive.” Okay, great, but can you tell me which of those songs moves you? Which songs affect you?
You’re exactly right. There’s only so much time in your life. Songs are analogous to eating meals. You can have 10,000 meals in front of you, but you can only really eat a couple of them a day and enjoy them. Sometimes it’s having the same one over and over — and sharing the same experiences with your friends over and over — that gives life meaning. Variety is great, but sometimes you want to continue to experience the thing that speaks to you. There’s nothing wrong with that. The idea that you must always be grabbing and listening to new music — hey, if that appeals to you, do it. But if not, who cares? If you’re not enjoying what you’re listening to, what a ridiculous notion to think that you’re missing the point of it.
I had this experience just the other night. A group of us were driving back from a restaurant, and we were listening to music very loudly. I was out with my wife and some friends. And we decided that we weren’t going to talk — that we were going to crank the music up as loud as we could and simply listen. I was reminded that it isn’t just “listening” because you’re listening; sometimes having people there and listening to music with you, and knowing that they’re absorbed in it and feeling it and liking it, adds to the overall experience.
See, we had to decide that we weren’t going to talk, and we weren’t going to listen and talk. We were gonna turn the music up so loud that we couldn’t talk over it, so that we’d just be listening to music for a while. And it was great. As abstract as music can be, it requires someone to say, “Here are the qualities, and here’s why it matters.” And that makes all the difference. There have been times I haven’t really cared much about what I’d just heard until someone told me, “Dude, here’s why you should listen to this." There are reasons and meaning to what you’re hearing, and that can change everything. A lot of times it’s the presenter who’s giving the music all this power.
Now that some time has passed since you've put out a surround-sound audio disc, what do you think about the three 5.1 releases the Lips did?
Those 5.1s that we did with Dave Fridmann — either they’re too much, or they’re just right. [laughs] We have a lot going on there. Sometimes we just had to do something to see what it would be like. We’d think, “Oh, that’s ridiculous.” But sometimes that would be the point. We already have it “the other way” [stereo]. The other way will always be there. But now you have this thing, and if you like it, good for you, and if you don’t, you don’t have to play it. The choice is still yours.
Yoshimi was the first 5.1 we did, and we felt completely at the forefront of it. We did it thinking, “Well, when they do Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and all these other things, they’ll be doing it this way.” But not that many people took that approach we’ve been talking about. Oh, there’s stuff in the front, stuff in the back, and a wider dynamic — though not wider by much. It’s a subtle dynamic. But we felt, “Why be subtle? F--- it. You want to hear something diff erent, it’s not going to be subtle.” So we went for it.
Obviously, doing The Soft Bulletin in 5.1 wasn’t an option at the time we recorded it; we had to go back and do all of it. At War with the Mystics was the first time we recorded a song and then immediately did the 5.1 for it as well. You never know how many songs you’re going to release that way. There were a lot of songs we didn’t use that were mixed in 5.1. Well, I’d love to hear that material. You know, we once talked about Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue being too subtle in surround. I would actually like to hear Kind of Blue again if somebody did something “different” to it. We have Kind of Blue already. I don’t need something subtle in the back channels for that album. Otherwise, it’s not an extreme enough reason to relisten to it again in a different format.
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