The book of contemporary rock music has had many authors, since the first scratches in the 1960s by Chuck Berry and the Beatles. Certainly in the past decades a band like Metallica has been writing a few crucial chapters of it, and their soon to come next work, in partnership with other pivotal writer Lou Reed, could become another important one. Someone could recall the 2009 appearance of Mr Reed and the band at the Madison Square garden. There was then enough time to play "mary jane", and give the world a taste of what we could hear in few days, after the issue of Lulu.
In that lucky period I had the chance to meet Metallica's much acclaimed producer Fleming Rasmussen. He was just back from Cleveland, where he'd been a special guest at the induction ceremony at the House Of Blues, where Metallica were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in March 2009.
Flemming is a Danish producer from Copenhagen, class 58. His reputation is nowadays unquestionably legendary. He started some years ago as a sound engineer and producer of many renowned rock bands, such as Rainbow, Blind Guardian or Morbid Angles. However the real tale begins when, back to early 80s, four guys from the Bay Area choseto record their second studio-album in Europe. An emerging metal band named Metallica. A bunch of records followed: "Ride", "Master" and "Justice". There is no need to mentionmore titles: the majority of rock guitarists have spent half of their teenage years learning the riffs recorded at the Danish Sweet Silence Studios.
I had the pleasure to hook up with Flemming in Berlin for a talk. Flemming likes Berlin and its music scene quite a lot. It's an honor for us to have him in town.
UG: How was it being in Cleveland at the Rock 'n' Roll of Fame ceremony? I noticed the Master of Puppets giant cover, right there on stage..
Flemming: It was amazing. Metallica, invited 150 people who had been important for their career, and have been working for them for the last 25 years, to be part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I flew directly from Denmark together with Ken Anthony(Lars' heavy metal mentor and lead singer from Switchblade). The location was the famous House of Blues, rented for the special occasion. There was a private party, then the induction ceremony the following day, where the band played, it was so great being there.
You are not new to music awards, there was a Grammy few years ago, right?
Yes exactly, I got a Grammy Award in 1989 for the "...and Justice for All " album, recorded in the summer of 1988, in Copenhagen.
I was wondering how you and Metallica initially made contact with each-other?
I worked on an album with Richie Blackmore's Rainbow, "Difficult to Cure". Metallica had their first record out "Kill 'em All". They wanted to try out something different and record in Europe. The dollar at that time was so strong that they thought they could spend more time in a studio based in Europe than they could do in the U.S. They decided to call me up, to ask if I was interested. I did not know them at all, I did not know who they were at that time.
Particularly at the beginning of their career, not many people trusted them..
In the studio, the people who came from a jazz background were a bit skeptical. I listened to their previous stuff and I thought it was the best thing I had ever heard. I was definitely impressed by the energy and I loved the power and the attitude in their tracks, not much to add. I thought to myself, "what the hell.. these guys are great". We started then to work on "Ride the Lightning" album, released in 1984.
Now..we can say that you were right ..and lots of people grew up listening to that guitar sound, which amps did they like to use?
Just before "Ride", during "Kill 'em All", James was really satisfied with his guitar sound, he modified his Marshall amp. Unfortunately that was stolen then he wasn't able to get the sound that he wanted. We decided to call up every metal band in Denmark in order to try out every Marshall that was in available at that time. He tried them all out and chose what he liked the most. Then, a few years later, Metallica's guitar sound shifted gradually from the Marshall to the Mesa boogie amps in the end of the 80s. I personally liked the Marshall more.
How was the studio time with them?
In our studio sessions we worked pretty hard, at the same time having some really magical and inspiring moments: for example songs like "For Whom the Bell Tolls" were fully composed at the Sweet Silence studio. "Master of Puppets" was totally composed when they came into the studio. They used to produce really good demos before going into the recording sessions. I really appreciated that. Their first idea was to start in the States looking for a pro-studio, but then they decided to continue at Sweet Silence again. On that record everything flowed easily. "Master" took about 4 months to be finished, "Ride" 2 months. For "Justice" we recorded 4 months in a row, with no days off! Its production was a bit more hard as compared to the others, Cliff Burton had already died, and the situation was a bit strange at that time.
In your opinion, which record which you engineered/ produced, do you consider to be the most influential for the scene?
"...and Justice for All" was very inspiring for lots of metal bands that came afterwards, and for the death metal scene as well. So many musicians were also inspired by that one.
A classic question, what made that time so special? Do you think it was a combination of several factors?
Yes it was a mix of elements, they were just starting to become known, going up, getting better and better as musicians and composers. They were really enthusiastic about what they had achieved.
How did you start the studios in Copenhagen?
I was 18 when I built the Sweet Silence, training myself as I went. It was basically a learning-by-doing approach. There are so many good music schools today, but kids get a lot of theory, somebody tells them when it sounds good and when it doesn't. In Denmark there are a lot of good music schools anyway, lots of classes where you can play rock. Actually Sweet Silence Studios are now closed, but the plan is to re-build them as soon as I find the right location.
Your professional experience allowed you to range between analogue and the latest digital technology. What is basically your basic sonic approach?
I still use and like a lot of analogue stuff. I still have a couple of channels of the old Trident desk that I use to record. I am not using tape recorders anymore because it takes too much time to set up everything. I could use them sometimes to record drums, but basically my main tool is Digidesign Protools.
Lastly, are you happy about the volume-war in records, particularly what we have been listening to in the last years?
Not really, nowadays the dynamic aspect is a major issue, it is totally gone. We really should take care of what's happening. Some recent records sound as if they have been produced exclusively to be listened to on headphones.
Interview by Gianluigi D'Autilia