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Mark Hornsby: Why Cover a Classic When You Can
Remake the Entire Album?

Interview by: Derek Davodowich
Forward by: Scott Kahn


 
   


In the studio with Nick D'Virgilio and Mark Hornsby.

Back in 1974, the British prog rock band, Genesis, recorded their final album with then-front-man Peter Gabriel, — a double-LP concept album entitled The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Although it wasn’t one of the most popular releases in their catalog at the time, The Lamb achieved Gold status in the United States. But more important than its popularity in the Seventies, it subsequently went on to be regarded today as a classic concept album from the period, up there with other essential concept albums like The Wall or Tales From Topographic Oceans. Today, you’ll find The Lamb routinely cited by modern prog musicians as an influential body of music.

It’s not surprising to find musicians remaking classic songs from their early influences, but remaking an entire album? Or, in this case, a double album? Who would have the audacity to do something so unimaginable to such a venerable classic?

Enter Nashville-based producer, Mark Hornsby, and musician Nick D’Virgilio, the extraordinary drummer and vocalist from progressive rock band, Spock’s Beard (not to mention a few thousand other studio and touring credits). A casual NAMM-show conversation about the classic record led to the idea of recording one song, which then morphed into a much larger thing. “Mark suggested, jokingly I think, that we record ‘Slippermen’ in a bluegrass or country kind of style,” explained Nick. “I was going out to Nashville for a session with Mark and he said if there was time we should try it just because we could. Sometime between that conversation and when I got out there, he and John Hinchey had written charts for the whole record!”

The rest was history. Together with a band of top Nashville session players, some of who had never heard the original recording until beginning the Lamb sessions, they reinterpreted the classic album, infusing it with a healthy does of Nashville-ness featuring lots of acoustic instruments instead of classic synthesizers. The results are a fresh and exciting new album that pays appropriate homage to the classic album, performed in a way that is tributary much more than it is emulative. Fans new and old will each enjoy this fabulous collection of music.

We had the opportunity to meet up with Mark Hornsby at Java Jive Studio, a fantastic recording studio located just outside of Nashville, Tennessee that Mark calls home. Although a man behind-the-scenes and unfamiliar by name to many of our readers, Mark Hornsby is no stranger within the industry (and thus you should get to know him). His credits include work with such diverse artists as The Judds and Jon Anderson, Travis Tritt and Jerry Marotta, The Jordanaires (they backed Elvis) and Danny Gottlieb.

Mark Hornsby spoke with us about his career in music production and engineering as well as his work on this groundbreaking project, Rewiring Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Just as Alan Parsons never played a note on the classic Alan Parsons Project records, Mark was just as instrumental in the creation of this special recording while not actually performing on it. Could he be following in the footsteps of that luminary producer/engineer?

If you haven’t listened to Rewiring Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway yet, you can read our album review here.

“If you make it in a rock band, you have your time at the top —
and then that goes away.”

MPc: It’s always interesting to hear how musicians came into their role and what inspired them. Tell us what sparked your passion.

MH: I started playing guitar when I was thirteen years old. By sixteen, I was playing in rock bands in bars and touring around doing classic rock and southern rock in the east Tennessee area. I was also exposed to the sound element in church. The church I grew up in, in Johnson City, was broadcast on television. At 12 years old, I was doing sound, cameras, and lighting for the broadcast. At a very early age I was exposed to the music side and technical side of the business.

Somewhere between there and the end of high school, I decided I wanted to work around music and sound and started learning a little bit about what goes on in recording studios. I figured if I’m on the production end of things, maybe I could make a career of this and actually make some money. The role of a musician in my eyes at that point was that if you make it in a rock band, you have your time at the top — and then that goes away. If you don’t get that far, what are your options?

MPc: What was your first real job out of high school?

MH: When I got out of high school, my first job was working for the CBS affiliate in my hometown. I was doing all aspects of production from commercial production to audio and camera. I worked there for about a year and the people I was working with were graduates of the local university with degrees in Communications and they were making the same amount of money I was out of high school. It occurred to me, this isn’t paying a whole lot of money! Maybe I want to take a new direction. From there I started researching recording and audio engineering from an educational point of view.

MPc: Did you attend a college or university for formal training at that point?

MH: Well, this was before Full Sail, SAE and all the other schools that have popped up for that. Middle Tennessee State University was one of the top three I kept coming up with: Middle Tennessee State, Berklee and the University of Miami. Being as I lived in Tennessee, Middle Tennessee State was the cheaper choice and I had family in the Nashville area, so it made sense to go try that out and see if I liked it. Once I started enrollment, I didn’t stop for three and a half years and graduated with a degree in Audio Production.

MPc: How did you balance going to school and supporting yourself?

MH: When I went to college, I started my own live sound, DJ, and karaoke entertainment company out of my dorm room. It took off very quickly where I was working 12 to 15 hours a week. I made really good money doing it and it allowed me to take a lot more hours at school.

As the business grew, I hired people and bought more equipment. As I got into the core of the recording program at Middle Tennessee State, having other people working in that company gave me the opportunity to spend more time to hang out, spend time in studios and start networking.  I eventually sold that business after graduating. But having spent time in studios, I landed a job at Seventeen Grand Recording working for Dave Klein in 1995/6. It was the first room in Nashville to put in a 5.1 room. It gave me the opportunity to work as an assistant engineer, editor, and sometimes just the kid doing the overdubs. Plus, I met a lot of cool artists like Travis Tritt, The Judd’s, Garth [Brooks], and Allison Kraus. I filtered in and worked on little bits and pieces of those projects and learned a lot. It was really cool.

MPc: That was a really good time for Nashville. Things were booming, which had to present a lot of opportunities.

MH: Yeah, that was right before it started to crash. At that point, Shania Twain started to ride high and all the labels were playing catch up to that. They started this trend of putting out the next Shania. So all these pop female artists started to emerge and they were all sounding the same. AOL was starting to boom, the Internet was starting to boom and album sales started to go down.

I think in ’99 I remember working sixty hours a week every week the first half of the year, and then sixty hours total for the entire second half of that year! Nobody was calling anymore — it was like it just all disappeared.

“Hurricane Wilma came through, ripped the roof off,
flooded and absolutely destroyed the entire place!”

MPc: So how did you survive the downturn? What happened next?

MH: During that time, I was working for a producer/engineer named Dave Martin whom I met when I was going to Middle Tennessee State. He was looking for someone to come over and help engineer and fill in for sessions at his studio located in his house. Dave is not only an engineer and a producer, but he’s also a musician and gets called in to do sessions. He was looking for ways to not turn down sessions in Nashville and still keep sessions in his studio going. So I started working for him doing overdub sessions when he couldn’t make it.

In ’99 he moved out to the property we’re at now and built this 2,000 square foot building shell, which became Java Jive Studio. Dave, myself, another gentleman built the inner structure of the studio. Working for Dave, at that point in my life, was just one account as we called them. The rest of my accounts were pretty much gone.

MPc: It sounds like another turning point for you.

MH: Well, Darren Chambly who worked for BASF at the time called me an asked if I would be interested in moving to Florida. I said, “Well no, not really.” He said, “we’ve got this sales rep job working for BASF,” which was [then] changing their name to M-Tech Multimedia. “We want you to move to South Florida, travel around the islands and rep tape. We’ll give you a salary, expense account and a car.” For a twenty-four year old at the time, that was a pretty good gig! So I went down there and found a house that already had a studio built into it. The couple living there wanted to move to Vegas, so I rented their house.

I moved all my recording gear into it, worked BASF as my day job and started networking South Florida and acquiring clients. A couple of years into that, BASF ended up eliminating their North America sales team. We saw that coming — when Pro Tools really started to hit, the writing was on the wall and it was just a matter of time. At that point, I had already agreed to partner in on buying a studio that was already in business in Ft. Lauderdale called Ridenour Studios. It was a collaboration of an entertainment attorney and two guys I went to college with.

Long story short: we had 5,000 square feet, a sound stage, rehearsal rooms and recording studios. It was the biggest game in town for a one-stop shop recording and rehearsal facility. Around that time, the 9/11 tragedy had affected everything, but as it started to recover, we were just getting involved in this business, so it was good timing. We went through the hurricane issues for a couple years where we kept getting hit. It wasn’t that there was all this physical damage going on, but it was knocking out power, prevented people from going to work, businesses were suffering and the music scene wasn’t that strong to begin with in South Florida. So if we didn’t have major artist like Foreigner and Ricky Martin coming through while getting ready to go on tour, the rest of the business was dying off because people didn’t have the available cash to spend.

The housing market started to turn, and we were still doing okay, just not as good as several years prior. But then coincidentally, Hurricane Wilma came through, ripped the roof off, flooded and absolutely destroyed the entire place! So… that was in 2005.

I was back in Nashville day one, 2006. That whole time, I was still going back and fourth to Nashville. There were projects I was producing where I knew I wanted Nashville players on it. So we would cut in Nashville and I would go back to Florida and finish it. Ridenour Studio had a pretty good run. New Found Glory had their start at our studio. Vanilla Fudge was in there, getting back together to go on tour.  Joey Kramer from Aerosmith would come in there and practice when they weren’t on tour. There were a lot of interesting people — neat characters.

“We can’t keep recreating 1980’s drum sounds.”

When I moved back to Nashville, Java Jive studios had a B room that was never built out. So I moved my whole suite of mixing gear that was located in my house in Florida to that room in Java Jive. I brought in some mics and outboard gear and just made it my home. And in that time there were a whole bunch of other things I was involved in. 

When I was in Florida, I got involved in producing music software for IK Multimedia and Sonic Reality. So I produced a lot of the content that went into their sound library. And I’ve consulted on some of their products and plug-ins.

I became a freelance writer for Recording Magazine and also [wrote] several other pieces for other magazines. Digidesign also certified me as a Pro Tools Expert. There are only a handful of us that carry that title. And I lecture on a regular basis for Pro Media Training, which is ProToolsTraining.com, and also at recording schools including Berklee, Middle Tennessee State, Full Sail and SAE.

Artist-wise, lately I’ve gotten into this nitch were I work on a lot of contemporary Christian stuff and progressive rock stuff… a mismatch of Rock, Christian, and Country. I do it all. (laughs)

MPc: It sounds like a great run with a lot of great opportunities.

MH: Well, you know, diversity’s the key. There are a lot of people out there looking for work. Everyday, we have to keep looking ahead to see what we’re going to do. But a lot of the old school engineer mentality was to lock in with one or two artists or one specific genre of music for a long period of time, and all gigs come to an end, so whenever that closed out and you have a reputation of just working on ‘80s heavy metal, you’re not going to find additional work easily in 2009. We can’t keep recreating 1980’s drum sounds. So that’s it in a nutshell.

MPc: What was your first major production from a complexity standpoint?

MH: I had to produce a We Are The World track for a client in Brazil once. I remember we had two HD systems locked up and this thing had to have been 200 tracks — choir on top of orchestra on top of all this stuff. I ended up get credited as producer on that album, but it didn’t start out that way. There’s a lot of jive in South Florida where projects get started and then people figure out halfway through that they shouldn’t have done things the way they did or maybe they shouldn’t have listened to somebody that took them down this path. So these people walked in and literally dumped this project on us and we had to finish it out. It had a full orchestra, multiple choirs, and an entire steel drum section from Jamaica — all this stuff that had to go through editing to make it right. When it was over and done with, you ‘re so happy it was over. But then you think, wow, that was pretty big!

I don’t think things require that. Personally I think it’s a waist of time for multiple layers and tracks and tracks and guitars and guitars. I think people should record what they need to convey a part and get away from, “Well that sounds cool, let’s record that. Well that sound cool, let’s record that” and so on.

I like getting the musicians and players together and saying, “What’s the bass player doing? What’s the guitar player doing? What’s the keyboard player doing? How can we come up with something creative where everyone has his or her own little piece that works together?” It may be a real subtle piece that the listener may not catch in the beginning or it may be something really dramatic that drives the song, and then finding creative ways to repeat that process. It’s more flattering for musicians by giving them one or two clever things that makes the listener say, “Wow, that’s pretty cool” as opposed to “Look at me, I can stack twenty parts which may or may not have anything to do with anything.”

That Brazilian thing was an eye opener for me. At the time it was total torture; in retrospect, very educational.  When I got into a project the size of The Lamb where some of it is eighty plus tracks, I think of that scenario. It makes me think, “Does that really need to be there or are we just bored and trying to come up with something better?” A lot of times we’re just trying to come up with something better because we’re insecure with the parts laid before hand. And if you don’t trust the musicians, you don’t trust the other people in the room, and its not a team effort with everyone working as a team, it’s going to sound like crap anyway. 

It doesn’t matter if you have three parts or ten parts or twenty-seven parts. You can hear that stuff to. Since we’re talking about The Lamb and progressive rock, if you listen to the early Genesis recording, there’s not 27 keyboard parts on there. There are not 27 guitar parts on there. There are individual, very clever, thought out parts that make those songs do what they do. And as a fan or an observer trying to recreate the record, you figure it out and respect it more because you find he’s playing off of what he’s playing; and he’s playing off of what he’s playing; and people are actually listening to one another. I’m a big fan of “Less is more.” Who would have thought?

“We put sitar on it. We put accordion on it. We put horns on it,
but it doesn’t sound corny when you listen to it.”

MPc: Going back to your “To Do” list of projects you wanted to complete, why was Rewiring Genesis on that list?

MH: The Lamb was one of those records where some people loved it and some people hated it. It was not one of my favorite records growing up. But as I got older, I kept running into groups of people that recognized that album as this challenge: you can’t just can’t go out and play that record. Nick D’Virgilio, who’s the focal point of the Rewiring project, performed The Lamb with Kevin Gilbert in ’94 at ProgFest in LA.

I’m friends with some of the other people who played on that particular show, and the way that whole thing went down was Kevin got a few people together a week or two prior. They did a couple of rehearsals and went out and played The Lamb. That’s really hard to do! That story has always stuck in the back of my mind – to say, okay, this album is a challenge. I never wanted to record the record. I considered getting some people together and playing it in a different way.

But, Nick and I were having a conversation at the NAMM show one day in L.A. He’s a monster musician. He has a well-versed history in all sorts of genres. As we talked about Motown this, R&B that, Classic Rock this (and these conversations happen periodically), when we fall into the conversation about The Lamb, it leads to: I wonder what it would sound like if that was approached from this point of view: if you played this as a shuffle instead of a straight piece or this, that, and the other. Somewhere along the way the comment was made “Wouldn’t it been funny to hear the solo from ‘The Colony of Slippermen’ played on an accordion?” which is total geek talk in a bar. Girls are walking by like, what are you talking about? But to people who know that song and the thought of the happy little solo being played on accordion, it’s funny. 

Mark Hornsby

So Nick comes out to do sessions with me a couple of times a year. While he was out here I said, “Hey, if we have some free time, how do you feel about taking a crack at that thing?” He said, “Cool.” He was totally up for it. We knew it would either be a train wreck or it would be really cool. Once we got started, we had Nick on drums, Dave Martin on bass, and Don Carr (Oak Ridge Boys) on guitar. We got everyone together and had the charts and just started to play. It just started taking on a life of its own. We had Jeff Taylor come in and drive it with a keyboard part. It’s this kind of happy part… it’s a song about a guy getting his dick cut off and a raven flying off with it (laughs). So there are all these subtle overtones of happiness — the accordion playing the solo. Once the piano and accordion parts were on it, everyone was smiling. Immediately, we thought it was going to be either really cool or be really funny.

The vocal approach was kept very serious. The guitar, sitar and horn parts were very throw-back to R&B with response licks and stuff. And so, it was just a little bit of an experiment all the way through. Then when we got done with it, we all sat on it for a couple months and passed it around. We played it for this person and they loved – and then for this person and they loved it too, and just kept growing after that. It was just a total accident. So that began the process of – all right, we did this to “Slippermen.” We put sitar on it. We put accordion on it. We put horns on it,  but it doesn’t sound corny when you listen to it — it sounds musical. And all the parts are represented, the same parts that those guys wrote. Maybe not making it feel the same, but keeping the same parts. Then we started wondering what we could do with the rest of the album. That’s what started the whole thing.

“We had some of the best horn players in Nashville
and they were like ‘Really, I have to play this?’”

MPc: You mentioned all the instruments were actually played. What about the vocal parts?

MH: That was all live vocal parts, too. That was one of the hardest parts to do on the album. None of that stuff was recorded to a click. When you have someone just playing a Mellotron in free form, if they’re not thinking about someone trying to duplicate it later, then its not going to be easy. So in “Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats,” I started off just trying to stack that as a regular several part harmony and double it. It didn’t sound the same. I wanted it to sound like a Mellotron. So what I ended up having to do was getting three singers in a room, have them sing one note together and then stack the chord that way. And then I just doubled all of that. Each take had fifteen tracks of voices with each one having the three voices singing one note. In order to add some method to the madness, I sketched out the note transitions and had Jeff (keyboards) play those chords in time the best we could since there wasn’t a click in order to provide some kind of cue for the vocals. Once I figured that out, the rest was easy. Stacking those vocals was key.

MPc: Where there wasn’t any established time, how was everything kept together?

MH: A lot of eye contact. The studio is set up with a central control room surrounded by multiple rooms making eye contact available. I did most of the conducting. I also programmed a track to use as a guide based off of the original track. This particular section was at about 66 BPM, so I programmed something close. It took a while to get it, but once we did, it was smooth sailing.

MPc: What was the most challenging thing about the album?

MH: Those vocal parts were pretty challenging. “The Cage” was hard because there was a lot going on in the end of it. And all that fill stuff at the end definitely wasn’t easy. You put it off and put it off until you just have to get it done. The aftermath after “The Cage” which is a whole string part had to be written. All those interlude parts kind of, almost came back and bit me in the ass, but really didn’t. There were sections recorded at different times and just a lot of material to cover.

“ Slippermen” is still the most interesting. We wanted the sitar part to go left and right in the mix. When we were cutting it, it was a sitar through a Fender Deluxe with a spring reverb on it. It sounded great, but when I panned it, it would lose the presence of the reverb. So we had to make a choice on whether to use plug-ins or just come up with something creative. So what we did was record the sitar part in sections to avoid losing the effect of the verb presence during panning. So we have this weird sitar thing happening, horn sections, and vocals – it’s the most creative pallet of all the songs because it goes through so many changes. I really like how the background vocals came out on this track. They blend so well together. I’m having them do all these Beatles-esq kind of things.

Rewiring Genesis
Rewiring Genesis: Don Carr, Nick D'Virgilio, Mark Hornsby, Dave Martin, Jeff Taylor

The other cool thing was the accordion part where interval jumps using a pedal tone  – it’s just physically impossible to do because of the way the instruments work. We had to cut by interlocking or layering to get it to work. With the clarinet in “Riding the Scree,” we had the same challenge, but by the end of the session, she had it down and could play it live. We had some of the best horn players in Nashville and they were like “Really, I have to play this?”

“Grand Parade” is another awkward one. Nick had this idea in his head to take it down this whole percussive road, so it’s all percussion. Now this was one example where we did record a bunch of stuff and then went back and said, “This works and this doesn’t.” This is what I enjoy about this stuff. It opened up this pallet of opportunity to go “Allright, lets take a roadmap as our form… now lets rethink it.”

“Supernatural Anaesthetist” has a solo in it that we wound up turning into a duet — it was pretty cool. I like the vocals in the beginning of it, too. Some Brian May action, guitar was also a cool part. Don and I had fun working on the guitar tracks going “What if you did a duet…. by yourself?” The little overlap thing took some thinking and time. He channeled the proper guitar gods and everything worked out.

MPc: As far as resources go, you have a big advantage being in Nashville. Did it take you a while to identify who was going to participate in this project?

MH: No, not at all. The musicians on the album really fit the bill. I knew they could A) play it, and B) think and feel it was fun. I didn’t want anyone on the project that wouldn’t jump in and collaborate with it. Its not one of those things where you want someone watching their watch to be there. You want them to want to be there and understand the vision of it. It was important to get a team that can do it and was interested in doing it and would be proud of it later. And that would drive it.

MPc: Everyone talks about the “Nashville Sound” from a recording aspect.

MH: Well... This ain’t it. (laughs)

MPc: What is the “Nashville Sound” to you?

MH: Everything is loud, cut up, and processed. A lot of the country records have this hyped high end and lack of lower mid-range. It’s kind of an EQ curve that’s common. On some stuff it sounds great and some stuff it doesn’t. Being a production guy, my ear hones into who edited what and how badly did they edit it. There are certain albums from certain artist in this town that the editing on it is absolutely horrible — so much so that the artifacts of the editing have kind of become part of the sounds of those producers records. If that was their intent, I get that, but when talking with people that worked on those records, I find that they just don’t know any better. Or they think they have to go through this process or something bad might happen; some sort of paranoia.

The players here are phenomenal, but all the records coming out of here still have a team of people pocketing every beat, tuning every note of every vocal, and that’s cool. It just ain’t my thing. I like people to perform it. If we need to go back and tweak something because it interferes with something else, that’s one thing. But to edit everything just for the sake of it, why bother having great players on it? You’re going to manufacture it anyway.

Some engineers do a really good job and you can’t really hear that they did it. It sounds natural and great. Some, it’s the exact opposite and you wonder what they were thinking. And that’s not even getting into the creative choices in producing. I think both of those philosophies are well funded in this town.

MPc: What do you like personally in a recording?

MH: I like stuff that’s dry and in your face. I think reverb is dishonest but sometimes necessary. I like room effects and textures, but the big dramatic reverb sounds and burying stuff in effects isn’t necessary. I want to put on a set of headphones and feel like I’m right there. That’s my preference. I don’t apply that to everything I do – it depends on the project or genre.

MPc: So what’s next on your “To Do” list?

MH: I’m currently producing an artist named Leticia Wolf. She can best be described as a dark Americana singer/songwriter. Some people call her a female Johnny Cash. We just did a showcase with her in Florida. Nick and I were backing her up in the band. She’s getting a lot of good responses and attention and should do very well.

MPc: Anything Prog on the horizon?

MH: Oh, yeah. I just finished mixing an album, which is a collaboration between Nick D’Virgilio and Thomas Lang (a well known drummer in Europe.) The album is called Terabite. This will be the second release on the Rewiring Music label. It’s a little more of the Prog Metal thing. It’s been a collaboration of Nick and Thomas for several years. They produced it and I mixed it. It should be out in August. The guitarist is named Jacomo. He’s from Italy and cut all the parts in his house.

The last project this year for the Rewiring Music Label is Nick D’Virgilio’s solo EP. Its kind of like a singer/songwriter thing. We’ll also be doing some live Lamb shows and a few other projects to include Blues and Broadway genres.

 

   
             
             
             
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