Written by: David Bowie
Recorded: April, August 1996
Producers: David Bowie, Reeves Gabrels, Mark Plati
Released: 11 September 1996
Reeves Gabrels: guitars, Roland VG-8, programming, samples
Mike Garson: keyboards
Gail Ann Dorsey: bass guitar
Mark Plati: keyboards, synthesizer, programming, samples
Zachary Alford: drums
‘Telling Lies’ was the lead single from Earthling, David Bowie’s 21st studio album.
In the downtime between the Outside Tour and the Summer Festivals Tour, David Bowie worked on ‘Telling Lies’ alone in Montreux, Switzerland. The song was written just before the first tour, but Bowie had struggled to find a form that fitted.
‘Telling Lies’ was a song that I actually started writing just before we started out on tour, because I wanted to work on it more thoroughly in that medium. We changed the arrangement all the time and tried new ideas on it. By the time we’d gotten it finished, we really found that how we structured this particular kind of music worked well and integrated it with what we do, which, fundamentally, was hybriding a very aggressive rock sound with drum and bass.
Bowie was experimenting heavily with cutting up samples of guitars and keyboards, manipulating the sounds into new forms. This process began on 1.Outside, was further refined on ‘Telling Lies’, and subsequently became the template for Earthling.
The making of the album that would become Earthling grew out of David wanting to finish up a song he had begun in Switzerland, called ‘Telling Lies’. The first thing we did was add more parts to what already existed. Zach Alford came in to do drums, Reeves added guitars, I did some programming, and David did more vocals and had some keyboard ideas. I then mixed this version at Electric Lady Studios. I also did my own remix at the time, which would become known as the ‘Feelgood’ mix when it was released as part of an internet-only single. After this, he said he wanted to do an album, with me involved, after they finished their summer ’96 festival tour. I didn’t really believe him – you hear that sort of thing all the time in this industry, and most promises don’t materialize in the end. I went to see them play in Leipzig, Germany during that tour, while I was working in Berlin. This was the first time I met Gail Ann Dorsey and Mike Garson. David continued to go on about making a record. I still wasn’t sure whether or not to believe him, but sure enough when they got off the road, two days later they showed up at the studio.
Interview for Strange Fascination, David Buckley
‘Telling Lies’ was the first indication of Bowie’s burgeoning interest in drum and bass, which he had become fascinated by since 1993, when a friend sent him a tape of “the original Caribbean London guys like General Levy”. Drum and bass had reached the mainstream by the mid-90s, most notably with Goldie’s first studio album, 1995’s Timeless.
This record owes a debt to drum and bass in the use of rhythm, but I don’t have much interest in the top information; what we are doing is a million light-years away from what, say, Goldie or any number of other drum and bass or purist artists would be doing. Groups like Storm Trooper are fantastic, but it’s not what we’re doing at all.
Modern Drummer, July 1997
Bowie’s early version of ‘Telling Lies’ was brought to Looking Glass Studios in New York City, where it was worked on by his touring band – by then reduced to guitarist Reeves Gabrels, keyboard player Mike Garson, bass guitarist Gail Ann Dorsey, and drummer Zachary Alford – plus co-producer Mark Plati.
‘Telling Lies’ came out months before the record. It was the remix culture at the time. I think it was misrepresented at the time as being a drum and bass record, which was another piece of lint that stuck to our sweater. That was something else that came along in the time. We were way into it all. My template for it was Who’s Next – the best example of a rock band with electronics where the band retained its power.
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)
The chorus of ‘Telling Lies’ alternated the title words with “starting fires”. This was most likely a nod to the Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’ – the band’s first number one UK single was released in March 1996 when Bowie was working on ‘Telling Lies’.