Montreux, 1994

The backing tracks for most of 1.Outside were recorded at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland, over a ten-day period in March 1994.

Reeves Gabrels arrived in Lausanne a week before the sessions began, to spend time with David Bowie and to work up new material.

We would sit down every morning when we got in the studio, push RECORD and just play and play and play. It was a wonderful experiment and it turned into great music. There were times when David and Brian would play us tracks through the headphones; we’d be listening to a Marvin Gaye song and improvising against it, then they’d take that away and mess around with what we got from that based on how we were influenced by that piece. I thought that was brilliant.
Mike Garson
Starman, Paul Trynka

Each musician had his own corner of the studio; Bowie’s contained canvas, paper, paints, charcoals, and scissors. When not recording he worked on portraits of each of the musicians.

What I like about this music so far is its clusters of jewels that pop up during the improvisations. Also except when Brian asked for a Bo Diddley beat on something there have been no back-references to other artists or styles…

Intention – not carried out yet. To falsify a concert at a mythical venue and have it reviewed by a cooperative journo. This is strongly linked to an idea that I had while recording Buddha in August, which was to re-sample and reconstruct the ingredients on the 1976-79 Berlin albums that I produced with Visconti and create a fourth so-called ‘Lost Tapes’ album. An album, in short, that was never really made. I hope, tomorrow, that we can co-opt the track ‘Dead Against It’ from Buddha and transform it. I have done quite a few sketches and drawings so far. The one of Reeves I like best.

David Bowie, 3 March 1994

Brian Eno later said that Bowie “almost sat out the first few days of that record. He set up an easel in the studio and was just painting. We were creating musical situations and occasionally he would join in if it became interesting.”

The sessions were experimental and improvisational, with each musician given free rein to explore ideas.

We improvised those sessions on Outside. David didn’t even let us tell each other what keys we were playing in. We basically played two weeks straight, four hours a day onto tape, the improvisations. They have tons of tape. Outside is just some songs that got made and put together by Eno. Him and David would take these improvs that were all on these tapes, and then they’d hear a little hook here and a little hook there and cut it up. They would create a song like ‘Hearts Filthy Lesson’, which I wrote with him and the other guys. That ended up in the movie Seven. It must have been something that they heard, and then they formed it into a song. We were just improvising the way I was just doing it now.
Mike Garson, June 2004

No songs were written prior to the sessions, but a deluge of material emerged, including the b-sides ‘Get Real’ and ‘Nothing To Be Desired’. According to Mike Garson, “at least thirty-five hours of music” was improvised and recorded.

There’s a load of stuff that was never edited, so they have ten albums there if they want. From my viewpoint, it was better than the stuff that made 1.Outside. Every bit of it was videoed; there were cameras fixed on each of us. David had his charcoals and he had his art set up. It was one of the most creative environments I have ever been in. We would just start playing. There was no key given, no tonal centre, no form, no nothing.
Mike Garson
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

Garson later singled out Erdal Kızılçay as playing a crucial role in the creative process.

Erdal was incredible, like a one-man jazz-rock fusion ensemble, all filtered through his growing up in Turkey. He was like, ‘I don’t get this shit, what is this shit?’ He would ultimately play incredibly well.
Mike Garson
Starman, Paul Trynka

Following the initial 10 days of recording, work continued through to November 1995 on the 35 hours of music created in Montreux. Eventually it was mixed at Westside Recording Studios in Holland Park, London, and edited into two CDs’ worth of material, with the title Leon.

Taking a cue from Prince’s Black Album, Eno was eager to put the music out anonymously, without any information connecting it to Bowie.

Yet even Bowie lacked the industry clout to pull off such a move in the 1990s. He failed to convince any record labels to issue the original recordings.

Only Virgin America, an EMI subsidiary, showed an interest. They successfully persuaded Bowie to rework the album, and in early 1995 he recorded new material and refined the concept into something more palatable to consumers.