In the studio

The recording sessions for The Next Day were spread over a three-year period, from 2010 to 2012.

Bowie started by recording demos, with no certainty that they would result in an album. One of these recordings, known simply as 067 on his digital recorder, caught the ear of guitarist Gerry Leonard.

He had those chords on his keyboard and I remember getting him to slowly play the chords and writing them down, transposing them onto the guitar and making the guitar part sticking to his original architecture. It was really fun.
Gerry Leonard
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

The backing track for ‘Where Are We Now?’ was recorded on 13 September 2011 at the Magic Shop studio in New York. The key musicians were David Bowie on keyboards, guitarist Gerry Leonard, bassist Tony Levin, and drummer Zachary Alford.

I did think, ‘He’s going to add a lot more to this stuff, there’s going to be all kinds of synths and loops and things’, and that never happened. When I heard the final mixes I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is still bare bones almost, the way we did it.’
Zachary Alford
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

Bowie’s vocals were recorded on 22 October at Human World Wide, the New York studio owned by Tony Visconti’s son Morgan.

More overdubs followed at the Magic Shop and Human. These included Henry Hey’s piano part. Bowie was impressed enough by Hey’s work to invite him to become the musical director of Lazarus, his 2015 stage musical.

I worked with Tony on a few records, and when he was working on The Next Day he brought me in and David and I hit it off. He was a very disarming, casual and nice gentleman. This was on purpose. You didn’t get the impression that you were in the presence of a lifetime art-rock icon; he didn’t want that feeling in the room. He knew that it would just interfere with the work.

I did one or two sessions at The Magic Shop. The first session was ‘Where Are We Now?’. He and Tony asked me to just play first – I played and they said, ‘Well, we like that, maybe a little more…’ Little nudges. That’s a lot of how David works. He wouldn’t tell people what to do, he would guide them. He realised that would bring out the best of what people would have to offer and give them some space to bring their own voice into it and make it a more creative project…

It’s a great song and the video is appropriately strange. It’s right in line with all of his best work. I’m honoured and still incredibly flattered to have gotten to play it.

Henry Hey
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

‘Where Are We Now?’ was one of the songs that featured in Lazarus. It was performed by Michael C Hall, who also recorded it for the Original Cast Recording album the following year.

Cover artwork

‘Where Are We Now?’ came with artwork by Jonathan Barnbrook, who had previously worked with Bowie on Heathen and Reality. It featured a live shot of Bowie taken at New York’s Radio City in 1974, rotated 180°.

Where Are We Now? single artwork

We went through many different designs for the album cover, but the starting point was an image he had of this concert he did at Radio City. He was telling me about how isolated he felt at that time, and that was the basis of the feeling he wanted. We tried out every single Bowie cover there’s been, but it ended up as “Heroes” because it’s such an iconic album, and the image on the front has the right kind of distance. Originally the album was going to be called Love Is Lost, which is one of the other tracks. But The Next Day, in combination with the “Heroes” image, and what the album is saying about somebody who’s looking back at his age… it just felt appropriate.
Jonathan Barnbrook
NME