In November 2010 David Bowie telephoned Tony Visconti. The pair had remained in contact since the singer’s heart surgery, but Visconti was surprised by what Bowie proposed.
I was a little scared after he had his heart condition. He had a little scare himself. I didn’t speak to him for a year after that. He was just recovering and just not talking to anybody. But I was one of the first people he emailed afterwards and we were steadily in contact since then. But he never really brought up music until two years ago. So he never said to me he retired, and every time I saw him in person, he looked in really good health.
All these rumors started going around about his health. Every time I had lunch with him, or coffee with him, I’m looking at him and my dear old friend was looking really good. But music didn’t interest him until two years ago; that’s when he made the call. He said, “How would you like to make some demos?” And I was a little shocked, quite honestly; it was just so casual. It was just the next topic in the discussion.
At the time Visconti was in London, producing the Kaiser Chiefs’ album The Future Is Medieval.
He said, “Well, when are you going to get back?” I said, “In a few days.” The next morning after I returned, I was in the studio with him playing bass. We had Sterling Campbell on drums, Gerry Leonard on guitar and David on keyboards. We were in this little studio down in the East Village doing demos for a week. I was pinching myself. I couldn’t believe it was really happening. From nothing, right into this demo situation.
Bowie had been writing songs and recording home demo, and had assembled several songs which he presented to the producer and the musicians. The sessions took place in 6/8, a studio in Manhattan’s East Village
They were quite fleshed out. He had nice bass line ideas and drum patterns. We quickly took down the names of the chords and we scribbled it out on paper. Gerry Leonard and I read from the chord sheet. The room was about eight-by-eight, which included a drum kit. We were on top of each other, gasping for air after an hour or two.
He just said, “I feel like writing again.” I don’t know long prior to that he began writing. He just came up with about eight songs.
The musicians spent five days working on the demos at 6/8, although they did not record anything until the final day.
We just kept writing down notes. On the fifth day, it was hard to try to remember what we did on the first day. But we got them down and this guy at the studio had a basic Pro Tools rig, and we got them down. This is November 2010. Then he disappeared for four months and said, “I’m gonna start writing now.” So he wrote more songs and then he fleshed those out even more. He came up with lyrics and melodies, which he didn’t have at first. But that’s typical of every record I started to work with him. Scary Monsters, every album started out with maybe one finished song and 10 ideas, so this is typical.
Guitarist Gerry Leonard, who had worked with Bowie on Heathen, Reality and the unreleased Toy album, as well as A Reality Tour, recalled how Bowie made contact before they entered the studio.
I got an e-mail from him in November of 2010. The subject line was “Schtum.” That means “keep quiet.” It was a little e-mail saying, “Are you available to come work on some new demos? I just want to get together in this little room. Please keep it to yourself. Don’t tell a soul.” It was obviously one of the most exciting e-mails I got all year. I was like, “Whoa! He’s going to do something? Amazing.”
It was myself, Tony Visconti, Sterling Campbell and David. We went into this tiny, tiny little rehearsal room downstairs in the East Village. It was like a little dungeon. We went there from Monday to Friday one week. He would pull these songs out of a hat. He’s very old-school. He had this book bag with a legal pad and a little four-track recorder where he’d cut these little scratch demos. He would pull out a song and we’d chart out the chords and try to figure it out. We’d play it through a few times, kind of extend it a bit, come up with a form, and then put it away. By the end of the week, we’d cut all these demos, just for him.
It was really exciting, but it was totally under wraps. We just went there, put our heads down and worked on the new music. I was really thankful he was writing again, and he was in great form. He was really excited as we brought all these songs to life. On the Friday, I said goodbye and he went, “See ya!” That was it until May of 2011 when I got the call saying, “Okay, we’re going into Magic Shop. Are you available these two weeks?” They did two weeks in May. I was involved in about eight days where we basically tracked live.
Rolling Stone, 20 February 2013