HOUSTON, Tx, February 17, 2011 — Larry Klein has produced some of the most phenomenal female singer-songwriters in modern music: Joni Mitchell, Madeleine Peyroux, Tracy Chapmen, his lovely wife Luciana Souza, and two of my favorite artists of all time, Melody Gardot and Vienna Teng.
In fact, several tracks from his recent project with Herbie Hancock, The Imagine Project, just won the 2011 Grammy Awards for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals and Best Improvised Jazz Solo, and were nominated for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s).
I recently had the honor of chatting with Mr. Klein about his experience, his current projects, and his future ambitions. Here is our conversation in black and white.
GRASSMAN: Hi Larry! Congrats on the Grammy wins. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat. First off, despite the diversity of the artists you’ve worked with, I can’t help but feel there’s a consistency throughout all your work, in that I always get the sensation that the artist isn’t merely captured on a CD, but could be right there in the room performing a private concert. What’s your creative philosophy?
KLEIN: Well, one thread that certainly runs through my work is that I am genuinely passionate about the artists that I work with, and about what they do musically. I’ve been incredibly lucky to be able to work exclusively with people who excite me. The only philosophy that I have is that I try to break the palette that I work with on each record that I do. The process of discovery and the excitement of finding new ways to do things is one of my favorite things about the job of producing records.
Regarding your kind words about the intimacy of what I do, I think that I see my job as being one of distilling what it is that I feel touched by and excited by in what a person does lyrically and musically; then bringing it to the forefront of the record song-wise, vocally and arrangement-wise.
GRASSMAN: Well, you definitely do a wonderful job of it! Last year you released a world music album and film project with Herbie Hancock called The Imagine Project, which involves an assembly of diverse and eclectic artists; Dave Matthews, Jeff Beck, The Chieftains, John Legend, India Arie, Seal and Pink, just to name a few. This must have been an extraordinary album to produce! Can you tell me a little more about this project and what your aspirations are for it?
KLEIN: The Imagine Project developed out of a desire on Herbie Hancock’s part to follow up the success of the preceding record that we did (River: The Joni Letters) with something that really stretched us; something that went beyond being just another record. So, the idea came organically out of who he is as a person; an effort to express in music some of the positive aspects of globalism.
Herbie is a Buddhist and is a relentlessly positive person; he wanted to do something that might help people come out of whatever box they sit in. It was a very big idea that we were trying to broach with the record and we weren’t able to really explore the entire scope of it in the end.
GRASSMAN: Herbie reminisced in a video teaser for The Imagine Project about his original inspiration for the work. He said he had wondered, “What can help us to design the human orchestra of life?” and it was then that he came up with the concept of this grand work. How would you define The Imagine Project’s higher purpose?
KLEIN: I think that Herbie would say that the driving purpose is to inspire hope and the idea that world peace can be a reality. When we began working together he showed me a PBS program called The Path of Man. It was a documentary about a geneticist trying to genetically trace the migrations of man coming out of The Ice Age. It showed quite conclusively that we all descended from one tribe of Bushmen in Africa. It had us both in tears when we watched it and we wondered whether we could express this idea musically without being didactic about it.
We had some very grand ideas about collaborations that had to be condensed down in the end, as it would have taken us 10 years and a lot of money to do what we were thinking of. Still, we ended up with something quite beautiful, braiding together musicians, vocalists, writers and poets from around the world, and putting them together, with Herbie as the common link in all of the pieces. We wanted to do something that would show that it’s possible to bring music that was made across the world together, and for it to sound quite organic and natural.
GRASSMAN: I think you definitely achieved that, and in a very artistic and moving way. Changing tracks a bit here, you recently started your own imprint* through Decca/Universal called Strange Cargo, signing Norwegian singer-songwriter, Thomas Dybdahl. Listening to his music, I hear some of The Beatle’s ingenuity, a hint of Dave Matthew’s melancholy, Paul Simon’s sentimentalism, and an inexplicable jazz energy. What first attracted you to Mr. Dybdahl’s music and how did you discover him?
KLEIN: A good friend of mine sent me an MP3 file of a song of Thomas’ about 2 years ago. I loved it and would listen to it periodically over the ensuing years. Then, when my deal with Universal was finalized, I said to myself, “Okay, now what do you want to do?” This song of Thomas’ immediately popped into my head! This happens in my life quite a bit; I’ll meet someone, or hear something, and I’ll realize that it is very special and that I want to keep it in mind, but I won’t realize how it fits into my life yet. Then months or years later I’ll say, “Oh, that’s what I need to do with this!”
I started listening to more of Thomas’ work, found out who managed him, got in touch with him, and it all came together quite serendipitously. Before I knew it, I was on a plane to Oslo to see him play a concert.
GRASSMAN: Wow! What a fortuitous turn of events! And I’m sure Mr. Dybdahl is just thrilled to be working with you. So, what is your vision for Strange Cargo, and what sort of creative projects do you hope to undertake beneath its banner?
KLEIN: The only through-line will be that the artists and music will all be people and music that I absolutely love and am passionate about. I’m writing some music with a great Israeli artist named Idan Raichel now (who I came together with in a quite serendipitous way) that may end up as an album on the imprint. We’re still working on the shape of it. Whatever I sign, it will be something that I really love. Life’s too short to do anything else, and I’ve discovered that when I follow my heart in things, it leads me in the right direction. The things that I like all lie in the cracks between things; things that don’t sit neatly in one box or another.
GRASSMAN: Well it sounds like an absolutely wonderful artistic endeavor, and I’m so excited to see where you take it. Again, congratulations on the recent Imagine Project Grammy wins and nominations, and thank you so much for your time.
*An imprint is a record label that is strictly a trademark or brand, not a company, sometimes marketed as being projects or divisions within a record label company.
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About the Author:
Singer, songwriter and pianist, Jennifer Grassman is an award-winning recording artist based in Houston, Texas. Subscribe by RSS feed and read more from Jennifer at www.JenniferGrassman.com. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter or Facebook.
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