In the studio

Lodger was recorded in Switzerland and New York City, where the itinerant Bowie mostly split his time at the end of the 1970s when not on the road.

The spirit of the crew was mostly good because, well, we were making the new David Bowie record! Montreux is not sexy, at least it wasn’t back then. It seemed like a conservative small town with no hip neighbourhood. If millionaire British rock stars lived there you never saw them. It was a place where you lived well, if you were well off, but not necessarily a stimulating place to create.
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town book

The first set of sessions took place in September 1978 at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland. David Bowie and Tony Visconti co-produced the sessions, with assistance from the studio’s in-house engineers Dave Richards and Eugene Chaplin.

They worked in a small upstairs studio normally used for recording overdubs, and to record concerts in the large auditorium below. The studio control room was situated on an upper floor, with a camera in the recording room to allow Bowie, Visconti and Brian Eno to view the musicians at work.

The cramped sessions continued for two weeks, often in oppressive temperatures. “It was a constant battle with the air conditioner, which usually won,” Visconti later said. “The musicians often recorded shirtless in stifling heat.”

We were assigned the small studio attached to the control room, meant to accommodate small groups. It was very dead acoustically and barely adequate to accommodate the six piece live band expanded from the previous line up of the Berlin trilogy. Carlos Alomar, George Murray and Dennis Davis were back as the solid rhythm section they always were. Newcomers were Sean Mayes on piano, Roger Powell on synthesizer, Simon House on electric violin and Adrian Belew on lead guitar. The studio was not only dead sounding – the walls were carpeted – the air conditioning was barely adequate for six musicians, plus the times when it was increased to eight, when David and Brian were in the room. It was recorded in summer and some musicians chose to play shirtless at times, often running outside for fresh air in between takes.
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town book

Once the backing tracks were complete, Alomar, Murray and Davis flew home to New York, with the other musicians staying behind to add overdubs.

Sean Mayes was a very steady influence. He was so happy to be playing on this album he completed the rhythm with his pulsating piano and wonderfully executed piano arpeggios and flourishes. Having Simon House on electric violin and Adrian Belew on guitar were like having a dual lead guitar sound, only freakier and wilder. Roger Powell played full and punctuated synth lines throughout, especially noticeable on ‘Red Money’ and other songs when you think you’re hearing guitar but it is really a bendy, growly synth. There are mandolins on ‘Fantastic Voyage’ – Carlos, Adrian and I sat like three Italian barbers playing rapid tremolo throughout the song – and one on ‘Yassassin’ – posing as an Arabic oud courtesy of Simon House.
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town book

Adrian Belew’s lead guitar lines were often recorded multiple times for each song, to be compiled by Bowie into a single, composite take.

In a radical way, David was certain of which three tracks he wanted to alternatively switch to but he found the conventional buttons on the recording console too slow to respond. A clever technician in the studio, Andre, built a little switching box with three toggle switches in no time at all. It took David some time to get used to it, but you can hear the effect on the guitar solo of ‘Red Sails’ and ‘DJ’ very well. The tell tale jumps in pitch and style give it away.
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town book