February 2015 (skype)
When thinking of the most under-rated people in the music world the joke usually turns to rock keyboardists or maybe bassists, both suffering with non-glamorous instruments usually out of the spotlight. But, when it comes to the most under-rated we really need to move beyond the musicians themselves, which then offers up the question: can you name a famous engineer? Don't spend too much time thinking about that, which you probably will, instead know that when you finish reading this interview you'll have an answer. Seven, formerly known as Alan Scott Plotkin, has spent his entire life in the music industry, now over 4 decades. He has played in numerous bands as a guitarist & drummer, while also composing, but his legacy largely rests on his under-rated behind the scenes work as an engineer & co-producer working for all the top NYC studios. His credits are countless & include a diverse array of musicians as Public Enemy, Vanessa Williams, Busta Rhymes, Virgin Steele, actor Philip Michael Thomas of the original Miami Vice & he was heavily involved in the pre-gangsta' rap scene. Since taking a normal day job some years ago & working through health problems, Seven hasn't spent as much time in the studio but instead refocused his energy on spreading the zaniness of his extroverted personality. He can be found via crazy youtube videos, radio interviews & live video broadcasts via his own Seven's Nuts. More importantly, in 2010 he published Exile In Rosedale: The Musical Life Of Seven 1963-2009 an 800 plus page no-holds bar look at his life covering everything from trying to make it as a musician, working in studios as an engineer, drugs, family life, ups & downs, pleasures & discoveries. This interview focuses primarily on his work as an author & response to the book, leaving his musical legacy to the book & its accompanying online virtual box set of over 300 songs & memorabilia, which is one of the first of its kind.
I love reading music biographies. I've even read biographies on musicians I didn't know, who I came to become a fan of. I met Seven through a friend & ordered his book & couldn't put it down. Because I read so much I've become somewhat critical of music biographies books, seeing too many musicians throw away an opportunity to share their innermost thoughts or answer fan questions or discuss making music, to instead focus on how much sex they have or shallow party stories which is as clichéd as writing a rock ballad about sex. After struggling through an 800 page book, which I never do outside of Ayn Rand novels, its easy to say it was a good read, just in honor of the effort. But, those who have read my other reviews blog know I'm not good at bluffing. Thus, I mean it when I say this really is a good read. This is the book I've wanted to see from far more famous writers who I have had higher expectations for. Seven writes the cliched rock stories, but then goes the next step & discusses his feelings & the experience of a struggling musician & industry professional. Its one of the best books I've read about the music business, away from the million dollar limo rides & MTV, about what life was like for many of those working in music. It's honest & scandalous, apologetic yet celebratory. It took awhile, but it was a pleasure to finally sit down with Seven over a few hours via Skype between Maine & NYC to discuss the book.
This interview is dedicated to Seven's father Mitchell Plotkin, an under-rated engineer in his own right, who died before this could be posted.
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AJ: Let me start with the basics. What does your name, Seven, mean? Why did you choose Seven?
SEVEN: I never liked my name. Besides the fact that I just never felt comfortable with the name Alan. I would always fuck with it. I was Alan Scott. The rappers used to call me Money Al or A.P.. I've had all these different names through out time, but it was always like a glove that never fit. When I wrote the book I said I'd make the change. So, I was working for a computer company at the time. I never thought about what I was going to change my name to. That's the funny part about it. I thought the first thing I have to do is go to work & I have to tell them that I'm going to change my name. So, I walked into the HR lady's office. She asked if I lost my name badge again. I told her I was changing my name. She thought it was a joke, because I'm always horsing around. She said "What are you changing your name to?" Then I just thought: Seven. I just pulled it out of thin air. She said to me "You can't fuck around with the name database. If you don't stop horsing around, you're probably going to get fired, no matter how many computers you sell or no matter how much you've accomplished here." I said okay. But, it was just like that. It was Seven. I didn't even flinch. So, it went into the database. I just wanted it to be Seven. No last name, no middle name, no first name. At first it wouldn't let me, so I was Seven Plotkin. Then when facebook came along I didn't have a last name, but it also wouldn't let me not have a last name, so I picked Istheman [note: pronounced 'is the man']. It's so funny because people look at Seven Istheman and ask what the origin of that name is. I tell them it's Nordic.
AJ: I always thought it was Viking. Jewish Viking.
SEVEN: Jewish Viking? I don't think there were any Jews that were Vikings.
AJ: That's why nobody else has that name. You're the first, or the seventh.
SEVEN: They say we're going to conquer with gefilte fish ... So, it's from that day at work I became Seven. The funny thing is, of all the things I am - everything is based on this wacky history of music, my father, Mitch, and all this stuff - the name has no meaning whatsoever. But, it makes me feel so good when people use that name. Almost nobody except some family members & a few old friends refuse to go along with the program. A couple of times my girlfriend will slip & then she gets a look, but she's cool with it.
AJ: It's easy to play with, too. You can do so much with Seven.
SEVEN: It's great when I talk to people. They'll ask what's your name & I'll go Seven. They'll go 'Okay, Steven'. Also, the reason I wanted to change my name, besides not liking it, is if you look on all my album credits on the internet it'll take years, because they could never spell Alan Scott Plotkin right.
AJ: Then you get your bands like J.J./SCOTT with a variation on your name.
SEVEN: That was named after J.J. [Jennifer Jean], who was the singer, & Alan Scott, who didn't have a good name at the time.
AJ: That's your name & it doesn't mean anything.
AJ: Even before getting a better name, you have over 30 years of professional music work.
SEVEN: Officially, I started at Mediasound Recording in 1981. But, I was doing it longer than that. I was editing tape at 7 years old. It wasn't professional, but I was doing recording.
AJ: Stuff for your dad, like you share in the book, & having your own little bands. The question is ... suddenly after so long, you change your name. Did you wonder how people were going to relate to this person who has 30 years of music under a very different name and with a reputation under that name?
SEVEN: I didn't care. I can just tell you if you ask what have I done & I always say the same thing: PUBLIC ENEMY, AEROSMITH, Vanessa Williams, Ice Cube, all that stuff. In a professional setting no one will question it. But, I don't care, because people spelled it wrong so many times it's like I'm a guy who worked on 3 albums his whole life. So, it really doesn't matter. For those 3 albums I'd rather be something I like. It's like, if people believe about what I've done, then they believe me; if they don't, then it doesn't matter.
AJ: If they really want to know your music you can tell them where to go to find it.
SEVEN: They can buy the big fat book.
AJ: Then they can actually read the thing, which you know I did, though it took awhile.
SEVEN: They can also smack an intruder with it.
AJ: Multi-purpose publishing! Or, they can look at your online box set, the Exile Box Set, which might be the only online box set in existence.
SEVEN: There's other people that have done it since I've done it.
AJ: But, it looks like you have nearly everything in it.
SEVEN: It's got a lot, but it's not everything. In my house there's a wall of digital back-ups, multi-tracks, craziness. I've worked on so many projects over the years you couldn't put them all in. It's like Mitch Diamond, a guitarist I've worked with a lot, he thought the book was 25% of the excitement in my life. When you tell a person you wrote a book they ask how long is it. I say it's 819 pages. Again, I get the same look as when I say my name is Seven. 'Oh, Steven wrote a 619 page book.' No, Seven wrote a 819 page book.
AJ: Mitch has been with you forever, too. He's one of your all time guitar buddies.
SEVEN: He's one of my favorite guitar players in the world. He was a client, then he became a best friend. We do almost everything together.
AJ: So, if he says it's 25% he's the expert. I have to ask, you spent all your life writing music. You have composed music & written lyrics. Now you attempt an 800 page book.
AJ: This means you've gone from writing a song lyric that takes up a notebook page to 800 notebook pages. That's 2 different forms of writing and 2 different approaches. My first thought is: what went through your mind? Here you are stepping out of your comfort zone to experiment with this new form of writing & you even finish the project & its massive no less. Many people never finish their projects, let alone 819 pages.
SEVEN: The way the book started wasn't as a book. When my daughter, Lindsay, was born in 1994 I was so fed up with music & I had my ex-wife breathing down my back. We were split up for the 1st or 2nd time. My ex-wife wanted more money & I was done. I needed to get a regular job. I mention this in the book. I thought, before I get a regular job why don't I take all this music that I've worked on, or the favorite parts of my music, & put it into a box set. I'll give it to my friends & family & I'll have closure. So, once I decided that, I assembled all the music. Then I was like, I can't just hand this stuff to people. Some people won't know the history of the music. So, let me start writing some notes. I started writing some notes about some of the songs & then it started to look like a book. Then I thought I'd horse around with this. But, I never wrote anything but songs. English was the only thing in school I passed. I failed gym.
AJ: Do you really want to say you failed gym in public?
SEVEN: I wouldn't wear gym sweats, so the teacher would fail me. He's the only guy who would really call me Alan. He would call me Al Plotkin. I'd say rockers don't wear gym shorts. He'd go 'Rockers don't pass gym either.' I was like fuck it then. But, what was the original point I was making?
AJ: You were writing the song descriptions essentially.
SEVEN: So, I'm writing these little things & then it started to take shape as a book. I wrote about 8 chapters. Then, you know from the book, I got back with my ex-wife & ... I don't know, something happened. My ex-wife would suck all the creativity out of the room. So, I put the book away for a number of years. Then, I think about 8 years later I'd separated from my wife for the final time & I took it out & tried to write, but it wasn't right & it went back in the drawer. In 2009 my pancreas broke. Basically, I was out for year. Actually, right before I broke my pancreas I'd pulled the book out & was like 'Wow, this actually reads kinda cool.' So, when I worked at the computer store one of my associates was a very brilliant woman named Laura Leitman. I had said to Laura, 'I wrote something a long time ago. Would you take a look at it? It's just a gift to my friends & family, along with some music, but I want to see what you think. It's nothing I'm going to sell. No one is going to put this on the market. It'll never be public. It's going to be short & simple.' She read it & came back to me the next week. She looked at me & said 'You're out of your fucking mind. You can't give this away.' I asked if it was that bad. She said it was that good. She said it was fucking brilliant & I had to finish it. She said 'You have to sell this. Your speaking voice comes out in the book. I can't believe it. You said you didn't go to college.' I said a got a very high score G.E.D. So, that's it. I worked on the book. I finished the book. It was an incredible process. I was in an apartment that had a load bearing beams. You know, those beams in the basement? So, I put sticky notes on the beams to create the chapters, which gave me the framing of the story. The entire book was written with about 3000 sticky notes.
AJ: How was this writing process for someone who was going from a lyric writer to a non-fiction writer?
SEVEN: Just imagine, if you will, I put up sticky notes asking myself what are the main things I want to talk about. Then I wrote down about my life. I just wrote. I wrote my story, so it wasn't hard. I wasn't going to gloss it up or make it any more crazier. You couldn't make the story any crazier.
AJ: That's true.
SEVEN: I couldn't imagine it any crazier without being psycho. I just wrote my story & framed it with these sticky notes on this beam. My biggest problem was time frame, what sequence things happened it. Luckily, I still have a lot of my friends still around who I could call to kinda double check time frames. I did the best that I could. I mention at the beginning of the book that if something wasn't correct or that my memory wasn't clear on I would change it. I did plan on doing an appendum.
AJ: It is your life history, a vivid life history, but on some level it also feels like its more than that. It feels like there's an apology to some people underneath it all. It's a confessional more than a glamorous story at times.
SEVEN: It's definitely a confessional, an apology. Not only did I use this book to apologize to people for my behavior ... I think in life we don't get a chance ... Look, nobody is perfect & I'm certainly as far from it as you can imagine. By telling my story I have the chance to kinda say I'm sorry, you know. At times when I was so young & working with my dad in the studio I fucked up. It was a chance for me to not only ask forgiveness from others, but it was an opportunity to forgive myself.
AJ: The stories you tell about you & your dad & just about fucking up as much as you can ... not deliberately, not always deliberately, that is ... in the book you're really just super humble about all that.
SEVEN: You got to remember I was in a recording studio as a child. I was 3 machine mixing with analog tape when I was 9 years old. I mean, I could edit with a razor blade pretty good at 9. I was doing it on my own at 7. I was stealing my dad's razor blade late at night, because he wouldn't let me use a razor blade at 7 years old. But, I could do it, so once he wasn't around ... I started editing on my own & then dad taught me how to do it correctly at 8 years old. I wasn't a spoiled child. I earned every bit of it. I fucked up in school. I went to summer school. But, even being 16 years old ... You're not a man at 16 years old, but I was pushing around microphones for the ROMANTICS. I was around when SOFT CELL was in the studio & the GRATEFUL DEAD were in the studio. I was hanging out, right before I got hired, when I was 15 or whatever it was, & Peter Frampton was working on Breaking All The Rules with producer Harvey Goldberg at Mediasound. I'm hanging out at the studio & I'm sitting there & Peter Frampton just sits down right next to me. I had my Sony cassette walkman on. He's like "What are you listening to?" "Oh, a song I'm working on." "Kid, can I listen?" Just imagine Peter Frampton takes my headphones & he's listening to my song all the way through from beginning to end. It was that kinda of ... it was too much too soon for a young person. Even though I started washing toilets & stuff like that, I was assisting sessions the whole time. My first session was with Art Garfunkel & he was a scumbag, by the way, just for the record.
AJ: I've heard that before.
SEVEN: My dad worked with Paul Simon. He was the nice guy. I got the scumbag.
AJ: You were young. You had to start from the bottom.
SEVEN: That's another thing. People were very tough on me, so I reacted very cordially to them. Tough love. My father was out of control. He would lean on me so hard. I couldn't call him dad. I had to call him Mitch. Even if I fucked that up he'd look at me. You know what I mean? He was very hard on me & showed me no favoritism, which was a good thing. I worked very hard, but it was just a lot. I was too young. I was too immature. I was too A.D.D., at an age where they didn't know what A.D.D. was. So, yeah, there were a lot of screw-ups in the beginning. Then, of course, you know from reading the book, there was drugs later on & all that stuff.
AJ: You detail quite a few falls from drugs, alcohol, depression & all those good things.
SEVEN: I write about it real honestly.
AJ: Incredibly so. You detail that almost too well. But, I want to ask, you've put these details out there & there's nothing bad with it. You're not like trying to shit on people. You're very honest & confessional & it's not like one of these tell all pointy finger books.
SEVEN: In the book I'm way more hard on myself than I am with anybody else. Even the people that really legitimately fucked me over. A lot of times it was just the music industry being the music industry. So, what happens is your reaction creates another bad reaction on the other end, so all I was doing was setting the domino effect.
AJ: You add to that the drugs, the money & all that & it's just one long domino effect. But, being so honest & printing this book up & selling it, is there any point where you said to yourself that maybe it was too much & maybe you didn't want to share this much? That it's too public? You know what I'm saying?
SEVEN: I've always said, I get a zit on my ass just like everybody else, but I'll show it to you & we can pop it together. ... I'll tell you the truth. It's like, I don't know, there was something very liberating about telling the pure exact truth & putting it out there. Was I worried about what people were going to think? For about 10 minutes. Then I was like fuck them. I'm not that person anymore. I grew up & changed.
AJ: While maybe you hope some people have grown & changed enough, too, so they don't care anymore.
SEVEN: The people I wrote about in the book ... like producer & songwriter Jerry Ragovoy. I discussed it with Jerry & got to kinda make up with him before he died. Who else? Jenny, the singer J.J./SCOTT, my ex-fiancee. I talk about that brutally in that book. You know what she said to me? She said, "Thanks for not painting me in a bad light." I told her, I'm sorry, I just wanted to tell the truth. She's a psychologist now, a social worker, & she said it was very honest & she wouldn't change a thing.
AJ: Did your daughter or your ex-wife read the book?
SEVEN: My ex-wife read it. Actually, she stole my first printed copy of it from my possession. She changed the cover. She scotch-taped a different cover on the front & back. She actually re-wrote a good portion of the book. She made changes. She x'd things out. She said where things were true & things weren't true or things like 'I didn't know that' or stuff like that. Yeah, she certainly read the book!
AJ: Wow. She doesn't necessarily get painted in the best light. It's not the happiest point in your life.
SEVEN: I definitely paint her out as the devil. Basically, a wart remover.
AJ: Pretty much.
SEVEN: Right in the picture section.
AJ: There's not a good picture of her in there.
SEVEN: There is actually a picture ...
AJ: I'm not saying she's an ugly woman. She's actually very attractive, but the pictures you have of her are dark & moody.
SEVEN: She's a very attractive woman with a big nose & I didn't mind the big nose. But, under our picture it says: 'the day the music died.' That's really true. 10 minutes after we were married she looked at me straight in the face & basically asked if I was going to get a real job now. As for my daughter, she has not read it yet. I told her she wasn't allowed to read it as a child. But, now as an adult she's so busy with college. She's just glossed through it. My father read it.
AJ: What did he think?
SEVEN: He was destroyed in his trust. He didn't know a lot of stuff that was going on. I talk about in the book how I desperately wanted to tell my father how fucked I was on drugs. But, every chance that I had to say 'Dad, I'm fucked up, I need to go to rehab or something,' I couldn't do it. So, with the book, you know, he said 'Holy shit, you did a lot of drugs.' Then he cried. A lot of it made him cry. Like when I said I would have followed my dad through anything. If he was a baker I would have made croissants for a living.
AJ: How old is dad now?
SEVEN: He is going to be 80. [Note: He died in 2016.]
AJ: So, I guess from what you're saying there's nothing in the book you regret putting in there.
SEVEN: Believe it or not, in the editing process only 2 stories got cut out. One was a very very dark story with a famous person & the other was just a sex story with some girl.
AJ: You know, I've read a lot of music autobiographies & many are just 'look at how many chicks I banged.' That's the whole point of the book it seems. Bragging rights. You don't write about your excursions like that, which is the difference & makes your book more interesting. You're not showing off. You're like 'I had a good time, but that was a really bad mistake.' You don't hide from sharing these private moments, but you're not bragging or taking joy in them, but showing how they don't mean anything.
SEVEN: I definetly talk about my mistakes in the book, especially with women.
AJ: You don't glorify, like 'I was a musician & I had this & I partied & I had fun & did this great thing or that great thing.'
SEVEN: A lot of people said, as I'm so in your face as a person, that they thought the book was going to be a look at how cool my life has been. Even with my dad. It wasn't a look how cool my dad is, but it was more like 'isn't my dad cool?' I share him. One of my focus groups said she loved how I shared my father with the world in the book. The big part of the book is you can see that thread of respect & love. I worshiped my father.
AJ: Is there anything looking back, being its been a couple years since you wrote it, is there anything you wish you hadn't put in?
SEVEN: Yes, yes. The one thing I regret putting in it is I accidentally outed one of my lesbian friends. She read the book & I get a phone call & I'm like 'Hey, what's going on?' She goes 'I couldn't believe what you did.' I'm like 'What did I do now?' 'You outed me.' I'm like holy shit & 'You're not out?'
AJ: My next question is, what did Seven learn about himself after he wrote the book & after people started reading about his life?
SEVEN: I really thought a lot more people were angry. My life was like a snowball going down a mountain. A mix between a snowball & the Pied Piper, where I had no problem rallying people for my cause to do things with me that we wanted to do. You see in the book I've always been pretty much a team player. I've always enjoyed & loved team play. So, that was in the book that in that team play when things didn't go right people got hurt. I thought people were a lot more angry than they were. I think the one thing is that the people that I talked about in the book really appreciated the journey more than I thought they did, if that makes sense. It's like taking people on a trip with you. Sometimes you don't know if they wanted to go with you through that journey or not.
AJ: Exactly. You bristle people the wrong way but not deliberately & they don't understand your best intentions are there. I understand. Is there any surprise response you got that was negative? Other than your ex-wife? That's very interesting how she did her own version. Is there anyone who responded who really blew you away?
SEVEN: Recently someone told me there were a couple of things that were different, but other than outing my lesbian friend, no there wasn't. Like I said, I really didn't bash too many people in the book that hard. I bashed Busta Rhymes in the book, but I don't even know if he can read a book. I bashed him pretty hard, but I just told the story. Then there was an engineer who I kinda took a shot at because he was such a jerk. But, other than that I really haven't had anyone come out & attack me about the book. Even JAY & THE AMERICANS, who I slammed pretty hard. I didn't even hear from them. One guy who I wasn't writing about threatened me with a lawsuit if I wrote about him at all in the book. Johnny Blaze from SCARECROW, the hair metal band founded by TWISTED SISTER guitarist Eddie Ojeda. I was like 'Don't flatter yourself Johnny. You're not in the book.'
AJ: Sorry, buddy, & that threat isn't going to get you your own chapter, either.
SEVEN: In the food chain of people who took a bite out of my ass he didn't even take a bite. So, he didn't make it into the book. So, no, no one attacked me.
AJ: I ask only because attacking is a typical response when you get very personal like you did.
SEVEN: It's a valid question. One of the other people in my focus group was my friend Terry Collura Van Bellinghen who I wrote about in the book. An ex-girlfriend. She said she felt like she was reading my most intimate diaries & there where times when she felt embarrassed a little bit for me. I said it's okay. If I wrote it in the book I felt like I had to talk about it.
AJ: I totally agree with her. There were times when I was reading that I felt I shouldn't be privvy to what you were sharing. There were other times, particularly when I was reading about your ex-wife, when I couldn't read fast enough because I wanted to know what was happening next. I wanted to make sure you were okay.
SEVEN: How do you like that sword fight? She was coming at me with a knife. I was like Sparticus.
AJ: I'm sure her version is very different. I literally read parts of it wanting to know if you got out okay. It's like a novel at times. You forget that it's a real person. It's just so gripping & you're so honest & its all so crazy that it almost doesn't seem real.
SEVEN: The funny thing about it ... There was one thing I thought when I finished the book. I thought people wouldn't believe the story. But, because I was so honest ... you can't make this shit up. People don't say things about themselves, like they don't paint themselves in that type of picture. So, no one ever question the veracity of the book.
AJ: It's too honest to be faked. You mentioned in the book & you've mentioned a few times here about this focus group. Can you clarify what you are referencing?
SEVEN: Absolutely. When I wrote the book I wanted there to be people who were reading it. I wanted instant feedback. In the digital age I can do that. As I wrote a few chapters or if I wrote a big heavy duty chapter I would send it out to the people I had in a focus group. They would read it & get back to me. Most of the time, I'd say 99% of the time, all I got was 'holy shit.' It was great. It was almost like having a support group. It was supposed to be a sounding board group, you know, instead it was basically like an at the moment audience for the book.
AJ: Were these friends or strangers or writers?
SEVEN: Some of them were acquaintances & some of them were ... like my editor. She didn't edit till the book was done. The first editor didn't really work out, so I didn't really end up using her edits. Then the second editor was fantastic, but it wasn't very thorough. The third editor was just quick on-the-fly help at the end. So, the book could actually use one more editing to be tighter. I'll probably update the book sometime. There's a couple of things that I would change time frame-wise. For example, the one chapter about the kid who inspired me to play who was actually younger than me & remembers how I got thrown out of my first band. ... Its interesting, later on when I worked with his group I thought he knew about my drug addiction and I write that. After he read the book he said he never knew. We were kinda mad at each other for a long time for no reason other than the fact that he didn't know I was sick, but I thought he did. Believe me, I was sick from the drugs.
AJ: I do believe you, from first hand observation of drug addicts & just normal medical drug usage.
SEVEN: It's all about survival when you get down to it. It's really a book about survival. Can I survive myself?
AJ: Speaking of surviving, how's your health?
SEVEN: I injured a disc in my back. They operated on it. It's day to day. I may need some additional surgery.
AJ: That's laid you up for awhile.
SEVEN: For over a year.
AJ: Let's talk about what Seven is doing these days post-writing. That is, what Seven does best ... making music.
SEVEN: Yeah, it's making music. It's so funny. My favorite instrument is the guitar. No, I go back & forth between guitar & drums. But, I think my best instrument really is the console.
AJ: You started as an engineer & that's what you always come back to. I met you via singer Maxx Mann, formerly of TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA & 12/24, as you were doing some things with him.
SEVEN: Maxx was singing on my album The End Of The World. Unfortunately, other things got in the way of finishing it.
AJ: Where are you now with music? That may not be the best question given your health & restricted activity.
SEVEN: It's a good question.
AJ: Where are you about to go might be the better question.
SEVEN: I have my album The End Of The World. I also have a movie I've been working on called The End Of The World. Most of it kinda got put on the shelf, not because of my health so much as I've been trying to find a singer for the album. It just seems for one reason or another I can't find a singer. So, I'm probably just going to wind up singing it myself. It's too bad, as I'm not a good singer.
AJ: Tell me about the album.
SEVEN: I can't find a singer for the album. It's hilarious. It's just a wacky place I'm in. I've gotten good feedback on the album. I had a major label listen & tell me to get a singer. I said to the guy from the record label 'You're a powerful player. Why don't you help me get a singer. I'm having trouble.' He said they didn't do that. There's no more A&R in the industry. There's no more artist development. It's over. They basically want it ready to go & they want to be able to put it out or they'll mix it for you & then put it out. So, I may end up singing it myself, then finishing it & mixing it. After the vocals are done I'm going to finish the overdubs. Some additional guitars & keyboards & production. Then mix it & put it out.
AJ: So it's all written?
SEVEN: I left some of it open for a singer. I'd say it's 80% written. The music is there for the entire album, just lyrically there's stuff that needs to be done.
AJ: You've got 3 or 4 songs up on youtube with Maxx singing so folks can get a preview. What's the story behind the making of this album?
SEVEN: That's a great question. About 3 years ago my daughter & my ex-wife just worked me over one weekend really bad. My daughter was about 17 years old & she was just in a real ... you know how kids hit that fuck you stage. She was leaning on me. My ex-wife was leaning on me. Plus my health was wacky.
AJ: I think we should clarify about your ex-wife that she was doing what she does best to you.
SEVEN: Basically, yes, giving me brain tumors, effectively. So, after they worked over me one weekend I wrote a tune called "Enough Of Me". It felt so good to be writing again I started writing more. I was in a car accident. I passed out from diabetes, not knowing I had it. I guess it wasn't my time as I turned & hit a tree instead of going on to the parkway & getting struck dead. I wrote a song called "Medicine". That song was written in 45 minutes.
AJ: So is it a biographical album?
SEVEN: I think it's me getting my anger out. It's a pretty angry record. It's me purging.
AJ: Listening to the tracks on youtube I saw that both you & Maxx are singing, but also you're not doing all the instruments. You have folks like Mitch Diamond contributing.
SEVEN: Mitch Diamond plays lead guitar on some tracks & some rhythm. He's my go-to guy for most of my leads. I've got a bunch of great musicians: Joe Cortese, Tommy "Thunder" Semioli, Anthony Lombardo.
AJ: You've got a movie that's going with this, too.
SEVEN: A mockumentary. It includes a lot of my history & stuff like that. Like in one part of the movie I show all the different locations I had my studios in. I visit like 12 different places. It's very funny & crazy, like me. It shows the recording of the album, writing & producing it & stuff like that.
AJ: So that movie won't be finished until the album is?
SEVEN: It can't be.
AJ: What else do you have in the mix?
SEVEN: A second book. I look forward to writing the next book.
AJ: Do you mean an update to your autobiography or a true second book?
SEVEN: A true second book.
AJ: About what?
SEVEN: The continuation. Filling in the holes. There's a lot of stuff I didn't discuss in the first book.
AJ: You say that having written 800 pages.
SEVEN: The next one won't be so long. But, you never know with me. I involve so many people. I have 5-6 pages of special thanks to all the people who were a part of my life. I don't think I have to thank them all in the second book, do I?
AJ: I don't think so.
SEVEN: I think being associated with me once is enough.
AJ: Depends who you're talking to. Your ex-wife might say that's too much.
SEVEN: Right, exactly. I think she probably deserves special thanks.
AJ: She deserves something for all the stories she spawned. She also gave you a daughter. She did something good for you.
SEVEN: Yeah, she did. What am I going to say? She gave me my daughter. You're right.
AJ: Was there any musical heritage that continued down?
SEVEN: She tried a little music, but it wasn't her path. I discouraged her as much as possible.
AJ: For someone not related to you who might want to pursue music, would you discourage them also or encourage them? What advice would you give?
SEVEN: I always think of this kid when I worked at the computer store. This kid came in with his family to buy a computer. This kid was 6'2", good looking, real smart. He said he was looking for a Mac for a music set-up. I could just tell this kid was as bright as anything. I looked at him & said 'How are your grades?' I just knew it when he said straight A's, 4.0 kinda stuff. I said 'You want to go into music?' He said yeah. I looked at him & said 'You know, kid, I'll make you a deal. I'll tell you, my father was in the music business & I have been in it since I was a baby. The day I was born was my father's first day in recording. I had every opportunity possible in the music business to make it & it's super tough & it's super unforgiving. Why don't you go to medical school? Why don't you just take a day or 2 & really think about this purchase, because I'm 46 years old & I work in a computer store, yet I engineered one of 'Rolling Stone' magazine's top 500 albums of all time. So, why don't you go home & think about that & if you want to still be in the music business I'll sell you a computer.' He never came back.
AJ: There goes that commission, but you may have done better, in another way.
SEVEN: I never made commission. I didn't care about commission anyway. If I had made commission I would have had 6 figures in my bank account.
AJ: So, here you go recommending to someone to not go into music & you say that as someone whose spent 5 decades working in music. You have played in bands, but many of us know you as an engineer, a producer, a composer before anything else. The old theory is that the musicians aren't making money. It's the ones behind the scenes who make money. But, that's not necessarily true either.
SEVEN: Recording engineers very rarely make money. You didn't get points on the record. You get paid by the hour.
AJ: People in your field don't really get enough credit, let alone money. Nobody ever talks about the engineer or the guy who mastered the album or numerous other console jobs. Even the cover artists suffer. People who don't know music don't know what you do. I mean, aren't you, Seven, just the guy that sets the microphone up?
SEVEN: I'm an addict. I am an addict of the music industry. My thing is, when I was a kid I was always setting goals. I wanted to be an assistant engineer & when I was there then I wanted to be an engineer, & from there I wanted to be a producer. Through that there's a sidebar where I'm a musician the whole way through. I was worst musician in the world. I really was. It was true for a long time & then something happened. A friend gave me a Strat guitar & it changed the way I played. It just created magic. I can't explain it. ... So, I was lucky & could experiment & discover, but I wouldn't recommend the music industry to anyone. Its a very unforgiving drug. It's not only cost me relationships, but it's cost me ...
SEVEN: I willingly gave up sanity.
AJ: I think part of it is when you were young & your father was still working it was a slightly different world.
SEVEN: Phil Ramone, Bob Ludwig, Elliot Scheiner, all the behind the scenes gods of NY all came from A&R Recordings, my dad's studio. It was a different world. It used to be fun. In the old days you got signed because you were different. Then the BEATLES & all that stuff kinda changed it where the music industry realized 'Fuck it, they have the BEATLES, let's get HERMAN'S HERMITS, which will be our own version of the BEATLES.' You know what I mean? That cloning. Then disco came. Disco was like 'Not only are we going to sound like the last artist that played, but we're going to do it at the exact same tempo.' Everything had to have that boring double high-hat. I hated disco. Hated it.
AJ: Disco was just a music factory churning out the exact same song over & over until trends changed.
SEVEN: Look at these new bands. Look at alternative music. How many of these are same sounding bands? By the way, why even play in tempo? Let's play behind the beat. STONE TEMPLE PILOTS were great for that shit. It's like being in the RAMONES, '1, 2, 3, rest'.
AJ: I find the RAMONES & the SEX PISTOLS obnoxious for that reason.
SEVEN: I love the SEX PISTOLS.
AJ: I grew up on YES & prog rock. After YES guitarist Steve Howe's classical weavings how can I turn to the RAMONES?
SEVEN: RUSH was a big influence in my life for many years.
AJ: Are you a music cynic, Seven? Do you believe there's no more good music? No more guitar heroes? No more Steve Howes? That the young music sucks such as folks like to say in the media?
SEVEN: Nope. I'm not like that. I will say, people say that disco really hurt the music industry & maybe it did, but it actually kept a good portion of the industry alive. Rap music was phenomenal until it lost its path. Rap music used to be a way for the people who listened to it to get information with great beats & stuff behind it. Now its just guns, fucking bitches, how much can I drink. Kanye West ... Sorry, I'm not supposed to mention him.
AJ: You created a No Kanye Zone on facebook. You can't break it now.
SEVEN: That's right, I created a No Kanye Zone. But, its unbelievable. The bad thing about hip-hop was there was no publishing. No one covers hip-hop songs, so the publishing industry took a very big hit. No muzak is hip-hop. That music rarely plays on the radio.
AJ: I never really thought of that.
SEVEN: That's why the publishing industry was in such a panic & in such a bad way. There's no covers of rap songs.
AJ: While you have contributed to countless rap albums, like PUBLIC ENEMY, so you are very familiar with that world.
SEVEN: I did PUBLIC ENEMY's Fear Of A Black Planet. I worked on Ice Cube's solo debut Ameri-ka-ka-ka's Most Wanted. I worked with ROCK MASTER SCOTT & THE DYNAMIC 3. You remember those guys? "The Roof Is On Fire."
AJ: That was the good old days of rap.
SEVEN: I did their next record or a couple of records after that. I worked with Terminator X. There were so many rap groups that I worked with. But, look at LEADERS OF THE NEW SCHOOL with Busta Rhymes. They pretty much put the nail in the coffin for me with rap music, because when they did their second & last album T.I.M.E. (The Inner Mind's Eye) it didn't make sense. The way they put the record together just wouldn't work, so they came to me & they said 'You're the guy that helped with all those inserts on the PUBLIC ENEMY album.' Yeah, I came up with a lot of shit. So, they asked if I could help them. I said, 'Okay, here's the deal. I gotta get writing credit. I want a producer credit.' He guaranteed it to me. It was the kinda thing where they were very much in a rush to do it. We shook hands on it & made a deal. Then when the album came out there was no production credit whatsoever & Charlie Brown said those were all his ideas. After that point I was pretty much fried. Then you read about what I went through with Busta Rhymes, in my book. He's a real narcissist. What can I tell you? They're the reason why rap music is so fucked up. They don't want to share the credit.
AJ: Is he the one in your book, I remember one story all too well, where this guy was listening back to the music in the studio & it was so loud it almost made your eardrums bleed?
SEVEN: That was Hank Shocklee of the BOMB SQUAD. I was doing, I think it was, "Joy & Pain" the Frankie Beverly remix. He was listening so loud. He turned the knob on the console all the way up & then kept turning it until it broke its threading. It was just spinning. So, I said to Hank, 'Listen, I gotta work in the morning. I need my ears. You're hurting me.' He just looked at me & said, 'What's your problem?' I said, 'Nothing, but you're hurting my ears. I need my ears. It's really violently loud.' He goes, 'Just keep working.' So, I actually put earplugs in & I put headphones on that weren't plugged in. It was still blasting loud. The next day Hank went to the owner of the studio & said he didn't want to work with me anymore. The owner asked why? Hank really said, 'Alan doesn't like black people.' I don't like black people? Just because I didn't want to listen so loud that my ears bleed? That's the story of hip-hop, really, when you think about it.
AJ: That was one of my favorite stories from the book. So, now I have to ask, who was the best person you worked with over the years, either as a fellow musician or engineer?
SEVEN: I worked with Ronnie Ventura, who produced the JACKSONS, Gloria Estefan. I did dance music for him & rock & pop music. He's phenomenal. He's one of my top clients. He's one of my favorite people to work with. I loved working with Chuck D. I really did love working with him. He was a lot of fun to work with back then, as he was pure art. The reason that Chuck D loved me was not only did I get everything really clean & present, but there was nothing he couldn't dream up that I couldn't bring to life sonically. My big thing in audio is depth of field. I love painting this 3 dimensional picture that comes out of 2 speakers. I'm not a 5.1 surround sound guy. I'm an old guy. I believe that if you can't make it come out of these 2 speakers then god bless you. But, a lot of people are making a lot of money remixing the music for surround sound where you need 40 speakers to listen. But, Chuck D was great. Though, when it was time to do his solo album he went to the studio I was working at & they're like 'You're gonna work with Alan, right?' He's like 'Nah, Alan is about cigarettes. He smokes too many cigarettes.' That's why he didn't want to work with me, instead of just saying 'hey, can you not smoke in the control room.' For the creative process: Ronnie Ventura, Chuck D. These are some of my favorite people that I worked with. Recently I worked for the organization C.O.P.S. or Concerns Of Police Survivors. They're doing like a tribute album for cops. But, that's been on hold since my back has been bad. The very top of the list is guitarist Mitch Diamond, as I've said. Working on his Diamond album was really incredible. I wish I hadn't been so fucked up at the time. It could have sounded a lot better.
AJ: To return to something you just said about the sound mix. The majority of people that are listening to music are not listening to it on surround sound. We're listening to music on our phones & small headphones & things as far from surround sound as you can get. So, you were mixing really for the way most people listen to music.
SEVEN: I'm so glad we work hard on these mixes so you can listen on your phone. The hard part is, & you can quote me, if I connect a positive & negative lead to my anus it'll sound just like an iphone speaker. So, I'm so glad the entire world is listening so critically to these incredible mixes through my anus.
AJ: What's even better is if the internet connection isn't good the music stops streaming midway through.
SEVEN: On youtube I click on that little icon that says HD, you know to get the better quality of the video, but I really just want to hear the audio the best it can be. Than I look at the original upload quality of some of this stuff & I just want to jump out the window. What are you going to do? There's a great story from the book I'll tell you. When I was a kid & had my vinyl records ... I still listen to vinyl, by the way. I think that its the truest, most delicious media ... You know STEELY DAN's Aja was mixed at my father's studio. Elliot Scheiner, who was a good friend of my father, mixed that album. When Aja came out in 1977 I used to lay in bed at night & listen to that album & go 'One day, I'm not going to work with STEELY DAN's producer Gary Katz & I'm going to be the guy.' When it came time to work with JAY & THE AMERICANS, sure enough, when I got there to work with the co-producer with the new Jay, Jay Black, as Jay Traynor lost his name in bankruptcy court, he said to me they were thinking of bringing Gary Katz in to work with me & would I be cool with that? Of course! It would be great to work with him. It was my dream. The first time he comes to the studio I'm giving him the tour of the big room explaining the set-up. I'm telling him how we're using Japanese wiring for the multi-tracks to get a great warm sound on digital. He just goes 'No one cares.' If Gary Katz says no one cares that hurts, you know what I mean? But, the thing is, it's true. If you guys are listening to these songs on those tiny little speakers ... there's a saying in Yiddish: go with God Or, there's fuck you.
AJ: That's the state of the record industry.
SEVEN: The music industry set itself up for failure, putting a noose around their own neck, by not investing in new artists & not adopting mp3 technology when it happened. No, they said, 'Fuck that, we're going to squash it. We're going to sue them & sue their kids & this mp3 thing will go away. We're going to keep selling our $22 CD's & keep giving the artist fuck all. We'll still be fat pigs.' What they failed to realize was you can only starve people for so long. It hurt. But, finally they figured out where the food was, that is online, & guess what, they were going to eat. But, really it hurt music sales. It hurt all the artists as they weren't getting paid all the royalties anymore. I gotta say, U2 I think is brilliant, giving away their album Songs Of Innocence on iTunes free like that. They said fuck it. They decided their fans were so awesome they were going to give them all the album for free. Let them pay for concert tickets. Right?
AJ: I haven't heard the album, as I don't have itunes, but it was actually pretty genius, I'll agree. I don't know why so many were upset. Who doesn't like free stuff? I didn't quite get the backlash.
SEVEN: You know the story of LINKIN PARK? They were getting no push from their label. They uploaded their album to mp3.com & at every gig they did they said you could go to mp3.com & download the whole album for free. They did this without the record company's permission nor knowledge. They said if you like the album than go buy the real thing. Next thing you know their album is selling really well. Brilliant. They taught the music industry a lesson & the industry still said fuck you.
AJ: The music industry didn't fix the problem or deal with it early on & now its too late. Now they can't & they are upset the problem can't be fixed their way. Even if they sue people it's still too late.
SEVEN: They're suing a lady because her kid downloaded music.
AJ: That's going to have about as much effect as Gene Simmons of KISS getting into the news & shitting on something, like he does. It'll only make more people upset, not stop the problem.
SEVEN: Talk about building a brand. Look at Gene.
AJ: I think he's a jerk & I'm not a KISS fan, but Paul & Gene created an industry & brand that is undeniably untouchable. I will give them credit for working hard for a long time to build that brand.
SEVEN: But, they've hurt the brand so badly.
AJ: It's not about the music anymore though, it's about the experience & these more-than-human participants.
SEVEN: I was a huge KISS fan as a child. Dressed To Kill was one of my favorite albums.
AJ: Speaking of favorite albums, when Seven the music guy likes to relax & just enjoy music, plain & simple, what does he listen to? What's his musical sweet tooth?
SEVEN: Everything from like Paul McCartney's Ram & John Lennon's Imagine. I like Mozart & Bach. I like METALLICA ... but, the later METALLICA. I'm the opposite of all the METALLICA fans that like the early stuff. For me, its the black album on.
AJ: Did you like the Lulu album with Lou Reed?
SEVEN: That was horrid. That was a really bizarre.
AJ: I'm a big Lou Reed fan, so for me it was METALLICA that failed, not him. He did what he always does. Though, his poetry was more bizarre than usual.
SEVEN: I love Lou, too, but that's a bad Lou Reed album.
AJ: He makes plenty of bad albums.
SEVEN: It's horrible. My favorite METALLICA album is S&M when they're with the symphony. Just hearing those old songs done new with that symphony orchestra just gives it so much power. It's funny. I love bands like TONIC. I think they were really great. Since I met Mitch Diamond I've been a gigantic DEEP PURPLE & RAINBOW fan, even though he would laugh at me because I'm a newer DEEP PURPLE & RAINBOW fan. My old keyboard player John Ruotolo used to beg me to listen to RAINBOW. I'd be like 'Not on your life.' I was too young. I was too into RUSH & KISS & stuff like that. It was just too above my head at the time, but now one of my favorite albums is DEEP PURPLE's Burn.
AJ: I love that album with David Coverdale & Glenn Hughes. "Stormbringer", "Burn", I love those songs.
SEVEN: I can play "Burn" on drums. It's a fun tune.
AJ: Richie Blackmore is one of my guys. He's my Hendrix. ... Seven, I have no more prepared questions. Is there any more you want to talk about that we haven't?
SEVEN: There are some things I want to express that I think are really important. I think in this day of Pro Tools every kid goes to audio school & he walks out saying he wants to be a producer. Then he takes dad's credit card & he goes to the store & buys padding for the walls & then he goes to the guitar store & buys Pro Tools & microphones, whatever. He opens up a studio & sells studio time for $10 an hour. I have a very important message. Just because you can buy a scalpel doesn't make you a surgeon. Just because you can cut open a frog & you can cut a steak, I don't think you want to remove a heart in an operating room. I think if people realize that then the music industry will come back. I truly believe the music industry can come back. The recording industry can come back when people realize they're not doing themselves any justice by making their own albums. It's cool once in awhile. I mean, BOSTON did it. The first BOSTON album was done in a house. A-HA "Take On Me" is another one. There are exceptions to the rule where people will make their own albums & it will work.
AJ: But, also many of those people kinda knew what they are doing.
SEVEN: Either that or they were just so super gifted. In this Pro Tools world bands are cheating themselves. That's something I really want to get the word out on. Don't cheat yourself. Why would you produce your own album if you can afford to hire a producer? You're really cheating your own dreams. The art of recording is in a coma. It's not dead. It's just in a coma & its waiting to wake up & its waiting to come back. There are guys like myself who are waiting. We are waiting for that time when people come back & want that craft & that art. They just want to make records for people who appreciate having records made for them. Just do what you do & get paid for it &do it right. But, that's not happening, because these guys aren't recording engineers. They went & bought ProTools & some great speakers, but do you know what it costs to build a proper studio to get a recording environment neutral so you can hear properly or track or to mix properly? People are missing that. Plug-ins. That's a great thing to talk about.
AJ: The floor is yours. Go ahead.
SEVEN: You know when you go to a bar & you get a soda, right? You notice that the ginger ale takes like Coke & the Coke tastes like 7-Up? They all have the same kind of taste? Welcome to digital recording. One of the things that made audio so incredible & special was plugging into compressors, limiters, etc. All these things had different sounds. It was almost like cooking. You know in a good Italian sauce you can taste the oregano, garlic, tomatoes, yet they work in this wonderful synchronicity where everything is working together, helping each other to tasting great. In digital everything is going in & out the same way & it all tastes the same. All these records have such a similar sound to them. People aren't using different recording consoles, different compressors, different wire. When I master with Greg Calbi - this is very important - he even uses different types of wire to see how it'll sound. Wire has a sound. Like we talk about albums & that terrific sound of vinyl. Now it's gone. Now you're listening to it through an inadequate speaker. Or, how about this, remember when you still bought records you'd put the needle down on track one & listen to the entire record. Then you'd flip it over & listen to side 2. Then you looked at the album cover & read the credits. It was all very tangible. It was a very physical experience. You invited your friends over & you all listened to this record. It was an experience. That's fucking gone. We have to bring that experience back. In the end it's a soundtrack to your life.
AJ: I remember the the first time I heard YES's Close To The Edge, I literally sat on my bed & listened to the vinyl while pouring through the liner notes & investigating the cover, which was made of a particular paper to have a unique rough feel. I was reading the lyrics & had them nearly memorized by the time I was done listening the first time through.
SEVEN: I would sit on my parents carpet with headphones on & my father would put on a record & we'd sit together & read the lyrics to BEATLES songs. I fell in love with music. That love in me is still alive. Loving music is a great engineer's life. Jay Messina ... 2 albums he did were nominated for Grammys. Jim is coming over to my house this weekend. I still see these guys. My father's studio friends come & visit every few months. I love it. It brings my childhood right back.
AJ: I'm always telling my girlfriend about liner notes & whose who. I've read liner notes like they are novels & learned so much. I want to know who is who. But, that's a lost art.
SEVEN: That's all very important to me. I think that covers it. I said what I wanted to say. It's really important that people need to realize the need to rediscover the value of an engineer & a producer & the whole process. Even going to a studio, not your home. There is a music industry that wants that, but people have to want that again. There's more to it than basements & Pro Tools. There's an art. I lean on an old school mentality as a engineer in a new digital world. I think that makes real rich & interesting productions. There is a sonic experience that is lacking. That's super important to me. I think that's my final message.