Vocals and other overdubs
As with many of David Bowie’s albums, the backing tracks for Heathen were recorded with often little or no top-line melodies or lyrics. Rather than write these away from the studio and overdub vocals at later sessions, Bowie wrote lyrics and recorded his vocals at Allaire.
After dinner David would usually spend the rest of the evening trying to write melodies and lyrics while Matt and I either watched a DVD or got to sleep early. This certainly wasn’t a rock and roll life, by any stretch of the imagination.
Bowie, Bolan And The Brooklyn Boy
Visconti joined Bowie for recording the vocals. On tracks such as ‘Sunday’ and ‘I Would Be Your Slave’, the producer revived the microphone technique he had deployed on “Heroes” in Berlin in 1977.
Recording his vocals was a joy. I set up the “Heroes” mic technique, capturing David’s vocals from three microphones that only switch on when he sings loud enough. As Allaire has a very big room, the reverberation was wonderful! Soon after a lead vocal was completed (usually just two takes) David would often want to sing his back ups with me immediately afterwards. One of my passions is singing in a counter-tenor voice, or falsetto. My name, when I sing falsetto, is Shirley, because I copied the voice of Shirley in Shirley and Lee (‘Let The Good Times Roll’). On ‘Sunday’ I got to sing in my newly acquired throat singing technique. That buzzy synth sound in the instrumental passage is actually me singing overtones.
Bowie often delegated to other musicians when recording his albums, but on Heathen he played many of the instruments himself. In addition to several guitar parts he also played keyboards, saxophone, Stylophone, Theremin, and drums. One instrument used was the EMS AKS which Brian Eno had given Bowie in 1999, and which had been used on Low.
Finally it was time to do some serious overdubbing by David and myself plus, of course, the vocals. I was suddenly impressed when David started playing electric guitar one day. I knew he played simple groove stuff like ‘Rebel Rebel’ before, but he was now more than competently wailing on some lead and sounding really awesome. It was a good idea to make the album this way, because David was much more present as a musician, on guitar, keyboards, sax and even the Theremin.
Among the other musicians contributing to the Allaire sessions were guitarist Gerry Leonard, who had played guitar on the unreleased Toy album. Leonard subsequently played on Reality and The Next Day, and toured with Bowie on the Heathen and Reality tours.
Other contributors to Heathen were singer and pianist Kristeen Young, and keyboard player Jordan Rudess.
After Torn left us Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater joined us. Ironically, despite the keyboard wizard he is, we used his talents mostly on acoustic piano and Hammond organ. David B. played a lot of keyboard work already on all the songs and Jordan’s additional synthesizer work was obscuring some of the simplicity of David’s parts. You can hear Jordan at his best on ‘Slip Away’ and ‘5:15 The Angels Have Gone’.
Rudess, who had previously worked with Tony Visconti, later recounted how he came to work on Heathen.
When Tony was asked to produce Bowie’s next album he called me up and asked if I’d be interested, as he knows he can rely on me. David Bowie doesn’t like a lot of options. He has a good idea of how he wants the end result to sound, so practically what’s on his demo is close to what he wants. The first day I recorded some Hammond parts and the second day I recorded some Fender Rhodes and some acoustic piano. What happened was that they had two pianos in the room, one Steinway grand and one old upright piano. Mikes were put in and around that old upright piano whilst the foot pedal was clamped down. I played the Steinway grand but we got resonance from the upright. It was an original experiment, but this once again created new sounds, and you know me and my constant search for new, innovative and interesting sounds!
Towards the end of the Allaire sessions, the Scorchio Quartet – violinists Greg Kitzis and Meg Okura, viola player Martha Mooke, and cellist Mary Wooten – were brought in to record Heathen‘s string parts. The overdub session took place a few days after the 9/11 attacks.
After a few days we called for our string quartet, the Scorchio quartet to see if they felt like recording. We had very little left to do. Of course, it was the best thing to do, to try doing something to make life seem normal again. They braved all the checkpoints out of the city crammed into violist Martha Mooke’s car and arrived a little shaken but anxious to make music. I had already spent a few days writing scores for Scorchio and David and I had this wacky idea to give each string player in the quartet a guitar amp to play through. It all worked so well. We had a great day, a much-needed day.
On the weekend of September 15th, we packed up and went back to our respective homes, to take a break and then to resume Heathen at Looking Glass Studios in Manhattan.