April 20-Mid-May 1993: Blue Wave Studios, Barbados
July 9-August 6, 1993: Sandymount Studios, Ron Wood's home, St. Kildare, Ireland
Early September-September 29, 1993: Sandymount Studios, Ron Wood's home, St. Kildare, Ireland
November 3-December 11, 1993: Windmill Lane Recording Studio, Dublin, Ireland
January 15-February 28, 1994: Don Was' private studio, Los Angeles, USA
March 1-30, 1994: A&M Recording Studios, Los Angeles, USA
April 10-24, 1994: A&M Recording Studios, Los Angeles, USA
Late April 1994: Right Track Studios, New York City
Was & The Glimmer Twins
Chief engineer: Don Smith
Mixer: Don Smith
Released: July 1994
Original label: Virgin Records
Contributing musicians: Mick
Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood, Darryl Jones, Chuck Leavell,
Bernard Fowler, Ivan Neville, Benmont Tench, Lenny Castro, Luis Jardim,
David McMurray, Mark Isham, Phil Jones, Flaco Jimenez, Max Baca, Frankie
Gavin, Pierre de Beauport, Bobby Womack, David Campbell (arranger).
Love Is Strong
You Got Me Rocking
Sparks Will Fly
Moon Is Up
Out of Tears
I Go Wild
Brand New Car
Suck on the Jugular
Blinded By Rainbows
Baby Break It Down
Thru and Thru
(The title comes f)rom the granny flat that I built for my mum. Immediately Keith moved in he did this hand-drawn sign, Doc's Office and Voodoo Lounge, and stuck it in the window.
The record company's screaming at us, We need a title, an angle, artwork. Then, suddenly, Mick turns around and says, Your sign.
I'm the doc. It's like a ritual, a fetish... We agonized over (the title). And it was staring us in the face. Finally, it was Mick who said, What about Voodoo Lounge? Why not? Kind of like Beggars Banquet. Right number of syllables. I was really pissed with myself, though, after painting the sign and all. I'm usually the one with the cheap ideas, not Mick. His are usually real expensive.
I was ready to kill Bill Wyman. How dare you? NOBODY leaves. Especially from that end of the band. I kind of appreciated Bill in a way, later. He was being true to himself. He really didn't want to do it. And it was a chance to put a new engine in down there.
(T)he kindest light I can put on it is that Bill bowed out gracefully because he couldn't guarantee that 100% anymore. And on top of that I know that he - I don't know, to me, idiotically - developed an incredible fear of flying.
I sat down with Mick in New York in February of '93 and said, What are we going to do? We sort of had a glass of wine in his kitchen, and the only word - and the word that counted - was FOCUSED. We said, If we can look down the same telescope, I think we've got a good one here. That was the real word, to get everybody focused on the same thing... (Then we came up with this broad album.) (Laughs) You say one thing and it's always another. But maybe THAT was the focus - maybe the lens was broad enough that everyone can see it.
I feel like I've been here before because everytime I say these things I read in an article where Keith says, Oh, it just happened, man!... And I look like a complete twit! Because I say all these kind of, like, Well this is why it was this or... At the risk of that, Keith and I DID actually sit down, and I also sat down with Charlie, we did actually sit down and say, Well what do you...? You know, I think the record should be like this. Or And it shouldn't be like this. So we did actually talk intellectually about it. We wanted it to be more direct. We wanted it to be more interesting rhythmically. We said we wanted to... keep sort of quirky things if they happened... to keep them in the album rather than say Well, that's very interesting but, you know, no one's going to like it.
I went straight off that (solo) tour and went into writing songs with Mick and Charlie down in Barbados, with maybe a week off. I really had no time to discern the difference between the Winos and the Stones. I was just doing what I was doing. I knew that I didn't have to do any practising; I was already on a roll.
I did go from work on my solo album straight into work on the Stones album. So yes, I was already in the groove, as it were. But the other side of that is that I just wrote a bunch of songs and now I have to write another whole bunch (laughs). I did have a few things left over that I hadn't finished, like Brand New Car, but I didn't have an awful lot else. So I went to Barbados and sat there at first thinking, What am I going to do?
Charlie has a whole new energy this time out. I think it has a lot to do with doing his own stuff. He was working all the time the Stones were off, and he made a very good record with Bernard Fowler.
(Steel Wheels and Voodoo Lounge) were different from most Stones albums because both times on both albums we went to an island called Barbados. It could have been anywhere, but it happened to be Eddy Grant's place in Barbados on both counts. We spent three months (sic) there. Mick and Keith were there first and then I joined them and we just played. So by the time we got into the recording studio, we could play something and you'd go, Oh, I remember that... I did this and that on it. You're already a third of a way to getting it together by doing that.
(T)his album is different in that we spent a lot of time writing the songs and playing before we went into the studio. Much more than we had probably done for years and years. We started in April (1993) in Barbados, with nothing more than week off here and there. And then we went to Ireland - Ronnie's house, where he has a little studio. We were there from June until (September), and then we went into the studio in Dublin. And I think it's paid off, that the band is really playing together.
We did a lot of writing. In Barbados, Keith and I did a lot... We wrote some more in Ireland, at Ronnie's house, and then we had a break and wrote more. While you're writing - you can do anything. To write regular songs - rock songs and blues songs - I would sit around with Charlie, playing house music on the keyboards - sort of mad sounds. I'll play Balinese music for a few hours, drive everyone crazy. That's the only stage you get to do that, which is really the fun part of it.
We promised not to scare the horses. So Keith (was) only playing on Volume 8.
We talked about the record, and we wanted to be focused and direct and to keep it simple. That's all well and good, but we still had to write the songs! We took a long time to write them - which is good, because I hate to rush that part - and we got a lot of good things, so we didn't waste a lot of time in the studio.
A lot (of the arrangements) were worked out before (we went into the studio). We would revise them also in the studio; we would change them, shorten them. I know in my own mind what I think should be happening, but I leave them open just in case someone comes along with a really good idea. I don't want to be close-minded, because sometimes people come up with really good ideas. If you think, Oh, it's going to go this way, you've closed your mind up to them.
The only cloud on the horizon last year, putting all this together, was changing the bass playing. You know, 30 years, the same rhythm section - this is a major upheaval. But in actual fact, it went smooth. We played with a lot of great guys, and eventually I said to Charlie, You decide... And he said, You bastard, you put me in the hot seat! And I said, Yeah, for ONCE, Charlie, once in 30 years, you're going to be the supreme judge on this. Mick and I will say what we think. Because they were all such good players and hey, you're playing a couple of hours with a guy and then another. It's so difficult to tell... So to get to that question - why Darryl (Jones) - I think that 5 years (playing) with Miles Davis didn't hurt as far as Charlie Watts is concerned! Because Charlie, being a jazz drummer himself, you know... I mean, to Charlie, rock and roll is part of jazz, and it still has to swing. So in a way one of the best decisions I made last year was to leave the actual choice up to Charlie.
A few hours before I auditioned, a friend who worked with the Stones called and said, Okay, they are probably going to play through this and this. So I just brushed up on those tunes a little bit, and I went in and played. Even from the beginning, though, I didn't go in thinking, Hey, play this like Bill Wyman played. I just learned the songs and played what I thought should be in those places. When I arrived, all of the guys were very, very nice. They really made me feel comfortable from the beginning.
Someone as talented as Darryl (Jones) could play anything... With us, he's very quick to pick things up, very much a rhythm section within a rhythm section. He doesn't play on top of the rhythm; he's underneath it, which is what we need, really. Foundation. You can't have someone playing over the top, because there's no room then. There's nothing at the bottom and no room for anybody else. So I actually find him very comfortable to play with.
I knew Mick a bit but I'd never met Keith before. I went to an audition in New York, where they were trying out bass players. My interview for the job was listening to Keith tell me why he doesn't need a producer.
To me, (Don Was is) very much like working with Jimmy Miller, who's a producer but also a musician. To the Stones, it's a real extra plus to have a guy that knows how things are played, what's done. And Don's real contribution was, You've got a hundred songs here. We have to choose! (Laughs). You know, Let's cut this list down by half to start with, and then eliminate, because there was just songs coming up. We had more and more stuff, you know, and we were in danger of just being buried in an avalanche of material. And it was his job to hone down that. Also I had Don Smith engineering, the guy that did the two Winos records, as well. So I had a team going there that was very well used to working with each other. Don Was, the new guy, slotted in beautifully and handled the personal stuff really well. Just keep your mind on what you're doing, you know. The atmosphere was very much Exile On Main Street, actually. I can't think of sessions since where things were quite that loose and free, and ideas were popping up.
Chris (Kimsey) and Steve (Lillywhite) would always put in their twopennyworth, whatever they could do, but they were operating much more under the orders of Mick and Keith, who would be telling them, Right, we're going to do this this way, and we want you to handle it this way, whereas they tend to give Don more of an open hand in what he is doing, more of his own choice about the direction he wants the song to go in.
Working in Dublin, we weren't disturbed. If somebody did come into the studio, it was a funny character and they weren't going to hang any proceedings up. That is a big clue in the way that the album flows - it's that comfort. Everybody was happy in playing.
We did so much writing - that took so long - and the actual recording time wasn't very long. That's a better way of doing it, because then you know what you're doing to do when you go into the studios, whereas if you only half-write the songs, you don't have time to get it right.
For me, most of this record was done laying tracks down with everybody playing. Everybody played, we learned the song, and we cut it. We'd come in the next day and see if we could beat the take we did yesterday. By this time everyone is learning the song better, and different things start to happen when we play it.
(With Voodoo Lounge, we tried to make) a more human record, (and get away from) the slick sound of the '80s. At the moment, it's more fashionable to be like that, to be human.
We deliberately kept (the album) in the broadest styles. Normally, we would have perhaps thrown a lot of things out that were on the edge of being included. On some of our recent records, we'd do things that would be quite interesting, but then leave them off of the albums because we felt they were off the beaten path of rock & roll, so to speak. I felt like we were getting into a hard rock-only thing. We wouldn't have done something like Moon Is Up. The funny thing is that 15 or 20 years ago, we would have included them.
Innovations. A willingness to experiment. That's what FEELS like the Stones. It wasn't like the other periods where - like everybody else - we were trying to sound like the Stones. We had to get over that. We already ARE the Stones.
You're... aware that you're making a record once every 3 years, so you've got to do what you want in 11 or 12 songs, which doesn't give you a lot of room to maneuver. So you feel obliged to come up with a certain material that is "Stones" material. I think we've been freed up a little bit from that in a way that we were freer in the earlier years. Back then we didn't care where a piece of music came from; if we liked it, we'd do it. Now we feel we can pull some more styles together.
(The goal was to) not just sound like the Stones, but BE them. Like I told Mick, You gotta play a lot of harp. Because with the Stones, that was one of the original instruments. And his phrasing is so uncanny on the harp. If that can roll over onto the vocals... After all (laughs), it's just pushing air out of your mouth.
(T)he more that (Mick) plays (the harmonica), the more differently he sings. Suddenly he starts to sing the way he's playing the harp, phrasing differently, instead of thinking of it as two separate entities, you know... And he played all year. He would do 2 hours a day with Charlie, just playing harp, before we'd even come into rehearsal or whatever. And I can hear it paying off a lot in his singing too... I think by getting him to play harp, we're back, because I love the way he's singing now. I'd say, Wow! The man's back. He's got confidence, you know.
I did a lot of playing along with blues bands (on record for this album) - mostly dead, unfortunately. You know, old records. I would come to the rehearsals in Ireland and for an hour I would just put up CDs of old, like, Muddy (Waters) records and stuff, and play with them. And if they had harmonicas on them, I'd play along with that. If they didn't I'd still play and get a really good sound.
Probably the thing that surprised me the most was how deeply rooted (Mick) is musically in the blues and how well he can sit down and play the harp and the slide guitar and sing these things with genuine authenticity. He doesn't sound like some white boy singing the thing; he's a true inheritor of the Chess Records tradition, I think.
Sometimes Mick winds me up just to get me going, because he needs a bit of fire. And then I'll yell and he'll get angry, I'll make him pissed off, and then we got the blood flowing. We kind of play with it in a way. Almost as much as we play the instruments, we play each other. Mick goes through his things. But to me Mick seemed to be ten times happier than I'd seen him in years. He was comfortable within the band and with what he was doing, and really into it. On Voodoo Lounge Mick and I were still getting used to actually enjoying working together again.
(Laughs) Yeah, there were a few intense moments. I don't particularly enjoy intense moments. People get very wound up about their songs. I do. Very precious. Very proprietorial. Everyone's playing them wrong. Play it faster, Keith, for Christ's sake, we can't play it this slow, everyone is falling fucking asleep! That was the source of some interesting discussions with Keith. Because if it doesn't get me up on to my feet then I get bored. But Keith just like things too slow and sometimes I have to give in and let him have his... slow things.
Mick likes things too fast. He's always been like that. He wants it all to be like it is live. If he had his way, our albums would be over in seconds. Zzzzzp! I like to have that buzz from the tempo. I hate things going too fast. But tempo isn't such a bad thing to argue about. I reckon with 95% of things to do with the Stones, Mick and I agree.
And Charlie Watts (was) moving his drums, which is unheard of... He would work (in) the staircase, you know. And that's something that Charlie hasn't done, I think, since Beggars Banquet or maybe Exile. It's been that long since I've had that much input from Charlie. That was amazing. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that he's been doing his own thing with Bernard Fowler, you know. He's taken that jazz band around... So he came back with a whole new perspective on what it's like when the buck stops here.
The Edge's guitar man, Dallas Schoo, gave my roadie Church a big compliment yesterday. He rang up and said, Oh, man, who's playing that (pedal) steel on the album? Did you get someone in from Nashville?... Didn't sound like Nashville to me, but he thought they brought a pro in, you know, who just does that... Don Was is very encouraging, he'd suggest, Hey, how about a pedal on this one? How about a lap? I would be thinking it, but I thought, No, it wouldn't get used. Don would say it once, and everyone goes along with it. He's so easy to work with.
(Keith is similar to Miles Davis)... (A) lot of times I would want to go back and redo stuff with Miles, and he just would trust the integrity of the first thing that I played. He just wouldn't allow you to do things, even when you were so sure you were right about wanting to change that. He would be against you. Keith is similar. He just decides, Well, no. We're gonna do that a different way. It's a kind of visionary thing. Miles and Keith could see past the neatness of the track into how all of those little quirks really make a difference. They make it looser and wilder and more human, in a way.
(There's more separation between the guitars then there's been lately.) I think just more direction, really. That came from Don Was and Don Smith, and also me working with the Winos, working with Waddy (Wachtel). In actual fact, there's quite a lot of guitars on those tracks, but the separation... There may be 6 guitars on some of those tracks, but they're not on all the time. You know, they'll be shifting. Two of them will be almost identical, but one will just do better for a certain lick in one place, and we just pull it up. So there's a lot of that. It's just a very well disciplined album, sound-wise. And I think in the '80s, too, it was very difficult. A lot of the stuff, the material that Mick wanted to do, was not particularly guitar-oriented.
You just try to find what feels natural for the song... Just lay the guitars down and do as many parts as you like. In the mix you can use a bar of it here, a bar of it there. When you're listening to basic tracks, you're listening to what's not there and for SHOULD be there. You're following some little picture in your mind or in the ear that says That's funky, but it needs something that rings a little bit at the top. If you've the songs, you can overdub as much as you like. You have to be judicious in your editing and mixing.
I don't know if people get the jokes. Maybe some people don't listen to the lyrics at all. Maybe some only listen to the choruses. If you don't write it, people get disappointed, but I don't write for that. I write what I feel, and if people don't get it, that's too bad. I get annoyed sometimes when they get it all wrong, when the controversy goes in the wrong corner from what you expect. Then when you go throw in a few literary allusions, no one ever gets them. At least no one ever says anything about them. On Steel Wheels, there were lots of them, but I didn't hear one thing about those!
We went through a whole thing: Let's make 11, 12 tracks, the normal length of an album. When we did that, there was always a great moan from somebody, You can't take that off. So it went back to 15. Well, why not? We haven't put a new record out since '89. It's five years, for Chrissake. So there's 15 on there and everybody's happy.
Sometimes people ruin it because I won't have any reference points on a particular song and someone will say, Doesn't that sound like Fool to Cry? And I'll be, Oh, you've fucking done it now! But there's some tracks on the new album, you can't help but notice (laughs) that sound like old ones. New Faces sounds a bit Lady Jane-ish. Maybe it's the harpsichord. And Sweethearts Together sounds a bit like Waiting on a Friend.
This album is full of things that we used to do well and have deliberately not done, because the Stones are always wary of repeating themselves obviously. We're the guys that don't play Satisfaction onstage very often, you know?
(It)'s a good one. I think it has potential to be up there with some of our best. It's got a good feel, strong ideas. Don Was was tremendous.
Well, that's nice to hear! That's what I was aiming for, you know, but that was a pretty high sight, so I didn't know if it would make it. It's nice to start hearing that. I knew it had to be a special one. The whole point of this going through Steel Wheels and getting back together, and then we have to build on that - it's like starting again, you know. Especially with Bill leaving.
I think this record has some of the good elements of the old Rolling Stones records without being too imitative of them. I was a bit worried initially about Don Smith, who loves all that old equipment, tube amplifiers, and the like. Without realizing it they can start trying to recreate albums that they heard when they were young. It's a real danger, because once you've done it, I really don't want to do it again. I'd hear them whispering, It sounds like Exile On Main Street, and I really didn't want to do that because I don't think Exile was a very good-sounding record. The performing was really good but the mix was awful. So I didn't want that, but then they said, Oh, then you want it to sound very clinical, which I didn't either.
I think the Stones found their feet making this record. Not that they've totally ever lost their footing, but they were standing on one leg a bit, I think. I can only say that at the beginning of last year, when we were starting to get songs together and make this album... well, I can't say it was planned or anything. I just feel the kind of record that came out was the one I was looking for. I can't say I had much to do with it; whatever comes out tends just to come out with the Stones. But when I listen to it now that it's finished and realize a year has gone by, it's about as close as I've gotten to the target in a while.
I don't know if Steel Wheels is better than Voodoo Lounge, actually. I don't think there's a huge difference of quality between the two albums. I wish there was, but I'm afraid, in the end, I don't think there is... Perhaps if the Voodoo Lounge album had been more successful commercially, I might have agreed (that Voodoo Lounge was better), because commercial success changes everything. It colors your opinions. If it had sold 5 million albums, I'd be saying to you, It's definitely better than Steel Wheels.
Well, I don't want to trash it because I think it's got some good sounding things. I wasn't really passionate about it. I try to be at the time, but in retrospect... I always love them when I do them. I always think they're the best thing ever.
(Don Was is) definitely anti-groove. Charlie and I worked on a lot of groove tunes that never made it on to the record. That was the one thing I was slightly disappointed by.
I'm certainly not anti-groove, just anti-groove without substance, in the context of this album. They had a number of great grooves. But it was like, OK, what goes on top of it? Where does it go? I just felt that it's not what people were looking for from the Stones. I was looking for a sign that they can great real serious about this, still play better than anybody and write better than anybody.
It's very much a kind of time-and-place album. In that way I was quite pleased with the results. But there were a lot of things that we wrote for Voodoo Lounge that Don (Was) steered us away from: groove songs, African influences and things like that. And he steered us away very clear of all that. And I think it was a mistake... He tried to remake Exile on Main Street or something like that. Plus, the engineer (Don Smith) was also trying to do the same thing. Their mind-set about it was just too retro. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it inherently, but they went over the top; they'd gone too far... I didn't really fight it in the end. I gave up because there was no point in it. I think both Charlie and I didn't really like it, but we could see that that was the direction you could go, and it might be successful. I don't think it really was that successful, because I don't think there's any point in having these over-retro references. I think it was an opportunity missed to go in another direction, which would have been more unusual, a little more radical, although it's always going to sound like the Rolling Stones.
(I don't think we met all our expectations for this album, n)ot completely. But maybe we should list the positive things rather than the negative. I think there is a really good feeling of the band on it - that the band is playing very much as a band, even though it's got one new member. There's a good variety of songs. It's not over elaborate. You get a feeling of really being there, and it's quite intimate in nature. The ballads are rather nice, and then the rock & roll numbers kick quite well and sound enthusiastic - like we're into it. I think it's a good frame of reference of what the Rolling Stones were about during that quite limited time in Ireland in that year.
The reality is, you don't compare it to Beggars Banquet. That's not what it's about. You're setting the precedent for what happens to a band after 30 years.
I don't have (a favourite Stones album). Some I like more than others - Tattoo You, Voodoo Lounge, Beggars Banquet, Sticky Fingers, Some Girls - because they've got the consistently best-performed songs on them, i.e. more than two or three that are playable onstage.
Steel Wheels, you know, that was the miracle that it ever came back together, you know. Cause that was the hump that a band goes through. I guess Voodoo Lounge... consolidated that.
Voodoo Lounge I really enjoyed making. It's a good record... Steel Wheels was a good beginning and Voodoo Lounge came up from there.
World's greatest roots-rock band (Brand New Car, New Faces).
Puffed up as a return to greatness by its producer Don Was, Voodoo Lounge, the Stones' follow-up to 1989's Steel Wheels, has a fair old crack, but runs out of breath and whirs to a standstill like those poor rabbits supplied with ordinary batteries in the Duracell advert... It's not raw. It's not overblown... Musically, these 15 songs represent the Stones at their all-time least newsworthy. A trio of rockers open the bidding... Mick Jagger's atrocious lyrics aside, they are exuberant and on the warm side. Then, for four songs, the album gets extremely good... But the lengthy final straight is an inconsistent grab-bag of lowdown, sleazy, horn-infested swamp rock... Voodoo Lounge is no classic, but nor is it the resounding houd it could have been. And with Our of Tears they prove there are still tantalising glimmers of genius. (3/5 STARS)
It isn't the second (or 19th) coming of Their Satanic Majesties. The now-scorned Steel Wheels (1989), which vaulted stylistic barriers, was in fact the riskier bid. But Voodoo Lounge exults in the Stones' reason for being: transcendent, fundamental rock & roll. Keith Richards' solo trips and, particularly, the return to committed singing Jagger demonstrated with his own Wandering Spirit in 1992 factor into this disc's heat. But better, this is the Stones, even with new bassist Darryl Jones, playing as a band. The Richards/Ron Wood guitar interplay is peerless, Charlie Watts swings easier than any other rock drummer, and the leanly muscled material flexes deep attitude. It's on formula pieces (You Got Me Rocking, Brand New Car), rather than on experiments like Blinded by Rainbows, that the boys kick fiercest, realizing an essential truth: rock & roll - like its revered forebears, blues and country - soars higher off blessed authenticity than off original expression. And no band has ever rocked more authentically than these old – and more live than you'll ever be – soldiers. (RS 698/699)
Funny that the much-touted "reunion/comeback" album Steel Wheels followed Dirty Work by just three years, while it took the Stones five years to turn out its sequel, Voodoo Lounge - a time frame that seems much more appropriate for a "comeback." To pile on the irony, Voodoo Lounge feels more like a return to form than its predecessor, even if it's every bit as calculated and Bill Wyman has flown the coup. With Don Was, a neo-classic rock producer who always attempts to reclaim his artist's original claim to greatness, helming the boards with the Glimmer Twins, the Stones strip their sound back to its spare, hard-rocking basics. The Stones act in kind, turning out a set of songs that are pretty traditionalist. There are no new twists or turns in either the rockers or ballads (apart maybe from the quiet menace of Thru and Thru, later used to great effect on The Sopranos), even if they revive some of the English folk and acoustic country-blues that was on Beggars Banquet. Still, this approach works because they are turning out songs that may not be classics but are first-rate examples of the value of craft. If this was released ten years, even five years earlier, this would be a near-triumph of classicist rock, but since Voodoo Loungecame out in the CD age, it's padded out to 15 tracks, five of which could have been chopped to make the album much stronger. Instead, it runs on for nearly an hour, an ironically bloated length for an album whose greatest strengths are its lean, concentrated classic sound and songcraft. Still, it makes for a stronger record than its predecessor. (3.5/5)
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