An Interview With The Songwriter Extraordinaire, LARRY KLEIN on Working With JONI Mitchell, His Latest Projects and More!
Posted On 26 Feb 2016
Tag: #JDMcPherson, All Access, All Access Music Group, Allison Anders, American Song Book, Ana Moura, Aretha Franklin, Artist Interview, Blue Note, Bo Goldsen, Bob Dylan, Both Sides Now, Charlie Parker, Corinne Bailey Rae, Freddie Hubbard, Grace Of My Heart, Grammy, Herbie Hancock, Impulse, JD Souther, Joe Henderson, Joni Mitchell, Kandace Springs, Kandance Springs, Lang Lang, Larry Klein, Lemar, Leonard Cohen, Lizz Wright, Luciana Souza, Martin Scorsese, Melody Gardot, Norah Jones, Peter Gabriel, Producer of the Year, Raging Bull, Randy Newman, River: The Joni Mitchell Letters, Robbie Robertson, Roberta Flack, Speaking In Tongues, Strange Cargo, The Capitol Group, The King of Comedy, Tina Turner, Toy Story, Turbulent Indigo, Universal Music, Walter W. Millsap, Warren Zevon, Wayne Shorter, Willie Nelson, Wim Wenders, Wim Winders, Zach Horowitz
Larry Klein was one of this year’s Grammy nominees for Producer of the Year. He is most widely known for his prolific work with Joni Mitchell, as well as championing idiosyncratic talent, and bypassing trends in favor of collaborations with gifted and unique voices.
As a record producer, songwriter and musician, Larry has been honored with four Grammy-awards: Best Pop Album for Joni Mitchell’s Turbulent Indigo (1995), Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now (2001), Album of the Year and Best Contemporary Jazz Album for Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Mitchell Letters (2008) featuring vocals from stars including Norah Jones, Corinne Bailey Rae, Tina Turner, Luciana Souza, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell.
Currently, Larry has his own imprint under The Capitol Group and Universal Music called Strange Cargo, under which he signs, produces and releases an eclectic group of records. You can see his vast, diverse and impressive discography here http://www.allmusic.com/artist/larry-klein-mn0000131616/credits
Larry is also a talented film composer and musician. He has composed for the Martin Scorsese produced Grace Of My Heart, and also played on numerous distinctive film scores including Toy Story and Scorsese’s The King of Comedy and Raging Bull.
2016 sees a continuation of Larry’s prolific pace. He is producing a new cross-over album for the great concert pianist Lang Lang, completing an album for the new Blue Note artist Kandance Springs, and working on an Impulse/Universal tribute to Charlie Parker.
Learn more about Larry in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! Where does this interview find you today?
I’m in the studio, working on completing a album project with the concert pianist Lang Lang. It’s a crossover project that will be thematically based around New York City, and what it has represented, symbolized, and served as for the last hundreds of years; a second chance, an artistic and creative center-point, and a new beginning.
I think that I loved the idea of being a musician from a very early age. My parents had a good eclectic record collection, and music became a way for me to articulate what I felt from about 6 years old on. As the years went on, music was my driving wheel. I went at it obsessively. Whether it was practicing an instrument, studying composition and theory, assimilating songs and knowledge in various genres, or playing with my heroes, it was the biggest force in my life. Now I have a 7 year-old son, so I have to balance my life between family and music, but it still is the source of never-ending curiosity, excitement and inspiration for me.
What were some of the highlights for you last year and what are you most excited about for this year?
Last year was a year where I stretched myself in more directions musically than I have for quite a while. I worked on a new album with Melody Gardot, who is an artist that I had made an album with before, and that meant going through a lengthy process of distilling where the fresh new territory was that we would explore, getting the right songs to complete what we were intent on doing with the album, and then finding our way to the best way to execute the ideas that we had. I wrote most of the album that I did with Lizz Wright, which took her coming to LA for a few writing jags and pre-production runs, then making the album. Lizz is a phenomenal blend of someone grounded in gospel music, but also jazz-conversant, and we incorporated more soul and pop elements than she had explored before. I made a very ambitious album with my wife Luciana Souza called Speaking In Tongues, on which we explored wordless poetry and imagery with a group of the most gifted young talents in the jazz world now. I also did an album with one of my big songwriting heroes, JD Souther. A children’s album, a fado album with the great Portuguese singer Ana Moura, an album for UK soul singer Lemar, and a couple of other things, and you get a picture of how busy I was.
This year already is an exciting one for me. I just completed an album for an amazing new artist on Blue Note named Kandace Springs. She is like a post-modern Roberta Flack, and then some! I’m finishing the Lang Lang project, which has been more like making a film than an album. It’s a puzzle with a ton of moving parts, but I think and hope that it will be different, and more cohesive and interesting than any classical crossover album that has been done.
You’ve worked with many incredible artists. What’s been a favorite musician to work with so far?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with people in so many areas that I consider to be of Olympian stature. I’ve written with Warren Zevon, Joni, JD Souther, and Walter Becker. I’ve played with Bob Dylan, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Randy Newman, Robbie Robertson, Booker T. Jones, Joe Henderson, Peter Gabriel and many others. It would be very hard for me to select one, but if I had to I would have to say that it would be Joni. I can’t imagine the trajectory of my life without the time that we spent together, and the work that we did together. She took me forward at the speed of light.
I’d love to learn more about your work with Joni Mitchell. What was the experience like?
Well, like most long relationships, it was both great and difficult. We started out as friends and musical soulmates, and that is what we came back to. I’ve never shared music more intensely, learned more from, had more intense philosophical and aesthetic debates with, or made more beautiful music with anyone. I was 24 when we met, and I had never met anyone with more artistic energy than her, and I still haven’t.
Can you talk about the Charlie Parker tribute album that you are working on now? Where did the idea for it come from initially?
It actually started when I was approached by Bo Goldsen and Zach Horowitz from Universal Music with the idea of doing a project about Charlie Parker as a writer and composer. I thought that it was an exciting idea. It has gotten back-burnered for a while by other projects, but I am excited to be getting going on it again.
How exactly different is composing music for a film as opposed to music with an artist for their album?
In some ways they are the same. With songwriting I am always hoping that the music springs directly out of the poetry of the lyrics, or vice versa. With film however, one is working with many more elements, and in a much more elongated medium. You are always trying to find the right music that offsets the physical and emotional parts of what is happening, as well as something that works in the overall chronological development of the plot and film. It’s more complex in some ways, although one can often think of an album as a film as well. I love composing for film. The high that I get from finding the right solutions to creating the right underscore for a scene is beyond compare.
Can you talk about starting Strange Cargo? What gave you the idea to create this company?
I was searching for a home-base of sorts. A place that I could bring projects that came to me via serendipity, or that I came up with. I thought that it would save me having to run around shopping things. It was also a way that I could get involved in every facet of the business side of projects that fit into the label situation. Honestly, it has been tough to make it work the way that I envisioned, but I haven’t given up.
Who are your all-time favorite musicians? Is there anyone that you would love to still work with in the future?
Oh, there are so many! I’d love to make a record with Bob Dylan. I’d love to make a record with Leonard Cohen. I’d love to work with Willie Nelson, Wim Wenders, Aretha Franklin. I’d love to work with Martin Scorsese again (He produced Grace Of My Heart, an Allison Anders film that I scored and produced the songs for). Too many to enumerate here, and plenty that I wouldn’t think of in one setting. I’m a musical and cultural omnivore, so there a multitude of artists in many genres that I would be thrilled to work with.
What advice would you give to a young person looking to get started in the music business? What was the best piece of advice that someone gave you?
I would say that the most important thing is to find great teachers, and to cleave to them. The value of apprenticeship is rapidly becoming lost on young people who want to become artists, producers, or engineers. While the digital revolution has given us so many great new tools to work with, and so much information and art at our fingertips, it has also made people more insular, and scattered many structures that were the environments where an artist could form an approach, hone his craft, and fail over and over, before he set out to work on his or her own. The result is that we have a preponderance of young artists who are arrogant because of naivete, just plain deluded in regard to the level that they are working at, or more concerned with branding themselves than actually creating something that is undeniably new or different.
I think that the most important lesson that I learned early on in producing records is that you don’t get any points for making something that is simply “correct” or “precise”. You get points for making something that makes people feel something; that changes them, even if it’s just for 4 minutes.