APPETITE FOR DISCUSSION
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APPETITE FOR DISCUSSION
Welcome to Appetite for Discussion -- a Guns N' Roses fan forum!

Please feel free to look around the forum as a guest, I hope you will find something of interest. If you want to join the discussions or contribute in other ways then you need to become a member. We especially welcome anyone who wants to share documents for our archive or would be interested in translating or transcribing articles and interviews.

Registering is free and easy.

Cheers!
SoulMonster

2017.08.14 - Rock Talk With Mitch Lafon - Interview with Steve Thompson

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2017.08.14 - Rock Talk With Mitch Lafon - Interview with Steve Thompson Empty 2017.08.14 - Rock Talk With Mitch Lafon - Interview with Steve Thompson

Post by Blackstar Sat Feb 10, 2024 2:40 am

Our first interview this episode is with Geoff Downes of Yes. He discusses the band's current Yestival tour dates, RUSH's Geddy Lee, The Buggles, the future of ASIA and more.
Next up is our first in a series of GUNS N' ROSES interviews. Producer and mixer, Steve Thompson, details his work on classic album, Appetite For Destruction. We also explore his work on Metallica's ...And Justice For All.
The episode ends with an in-depth chat with former Rainbow vocalist, Graham Bonnet. We look back at his history and discuss his new Live...Here Comes The Night CD/DVD.
Talking Metal's Mark Strigl join us for a quick Rock Talk.


The interview with Steve Thompson starts at 40:50 minute mark.



Transcription of the GN'R parts:
--------------------------------------

Mitch Lafon: Appetite for Destruction came out in July 30 years ago. So it's it's Guns N' Roses celebration time. First up will be Steve Thompson who mixed the Appetite for Destruction album. He's worked, of course on many, many great projects over the years including for Korn, Mick Jagger Mechanical Resonance by Tesla, one of the greatest debut albums ever, … And Justice for All and more. But enough of me and my rambling. Here is, without further ado, producer, musician, and all- around good guy, Steve Thompson.

Mitch Lafon: We are speaking with record producer, mixer, and all kinds of great things, Steve Thompson. Steve, great pleasure to have you today. We've done one career spanning interview in the past, but this one we are going to focus on one very, very special album. But always a pleasure to talk to you, Steve.

Steve Thompson: Same here, Mitch. How's everything going?

Mitch Lafon: Good. Absolutely wonderful. Well listen, I've got two Guns N' Roses shows coming up in August, so yeah, things are great. Whenever I talk Guns N' Roses or I see Guns N' Roses, things are great. So let's talk about this album here, Appetite for Destruction. It just had its 30th anniversary. Talk to me about when you come into the process. Is the album completely done? Everything's done and it's just put to you and you do the final mixes? Or were you involved with the process throughout where you're going, “Oh, I think we need to do this and we need to do that”? And talk to me about how it came together and how you were involved with it.

Steve Thompson: Well, at the time I was producing Tesla's first record, Mechanical Resonance, and Tom Zutaut, A&R for Geffen Records, started sending me demos of Guns N' Roses. And I'm listening to him saying, “Damn, I love this band, I love the energy, I love the rawness, I love Axl's voice”, everything was great. And he kept sending me demos and I'm listening and I said, “We've got to do this band”. So the only thing bad was, we were doing projects back to back to back to back, and they wanted to go in right away, and we were just finishing up with Tesla and we were just totally burnt - and when I say “we”, me and my partner at the time, Michael Barbiero. So they wanted it done right away. And I just felt if I'm gonna go into a band, I gotta be 1000%. And we were just toast. So I said, “Zoot, why don't you go get somebody to produce it and then we'll mix it”. And so we agreed to do that. And everybody says, “Are you nuts?” I knew it was gonna be a big record. Obviously, I didn't think it was gonna be as big as it did, but I knew it was gonna be a big record. I thought it was very important that if we're gonna get involved, we gotta be there 1000%. So we're going through all the process and everything like that, we get the tracks. Zoot says, “Okay, we're ready to mix the record”. They brought obviously Mike Clink to produce it. And we go to New York, we did the mix at Media Sound in New York City. And at the mix was Axl, Slash, and Izzy, and Tom Zutaut. Adler and Duff, I believe, were out on the West Coast at the time. So again, you have to understand the technology we had back then. There was no computers. We did it on an analog console, all hands on mixing on that one computer which I absolutely love, because to me that's how you feel music, that's how you can get the energy out of it. You know with today's style - again, I've worked on every technology you could think in the world - things have a tendency to become over analyzed. And what was good about Guns N' Roses, we just went for the gut, the jugular and over the top. It was funny, I was reading an interview of Tom Zutaut about the record and he was mentioning how Mike Barbiero, my partner, was conservative like Mike Clink, and Steve Thompson was the guy, there was no rules and he wanted to blow up the world, which I thought was kind of funny. Because yeah, there is truth to that because I just wanted to take no prisoners, no rules and just go for the most aggressive dynamic sound we can go for. So obviously the chemistry went great. I think the first song we mixed was It's So Easy and I remember we put the tracks up, there's an intro, and then the guitars come slamming in. So I basically took the guitar tracks when they came in and I put them on 12, not even 11, 12, just to like slam it to death, right? And I'm playing back the song, and I think I blew out about four sets of speakers on playback after the mix. I said, “This mix is right”. And I remember Slash came in to listen to the mix, and there was an old Memorex tape commercial where there's a guy sitting in a chair, and he's listening to music and his hair is blowing back. That was the kind of thing that I think the image I got was when Slash listened to the mix. You know, he basically goes, “Holy fucking shit”. And it was great. So we took it from there. We did do some light overdubs on the mixing. But the tracks were great. We just basically blew it up, you know, the approach to mixing it.

Mitch Lafon: Talk to me a little bit about the sound, because at that time there was a lot of Bon Jovi, a lot of Def Leppard. I don't want to say music was fluffy, but it certainly wasn't in your face like this album. Was there any pressure from the record company to soften out the edges, if you know what I mean, and make it a little more radio friendly?

Steve Thompson: Oh, hell no.

Mitch Lafon: No.

Steve Thompson: Well, you have to understand, David Geffen is amazing, you know? What I loved about David Geffen [was that] he left it up to his people to make those decisions. You know, David Geffen would be happy to listen to Laura Nyro and Cher, okay, that was his… I remember we had the platinum party, I’m in Geffen’s office, and David goes, “Steve, great job. I'm really happy with this record. I'm sure you know this is not my type of music I listen to, but I trust my people to come up with bands like that.” You know, Zoot and Teresa Ensenat, who found that band, obviously, Vicky Hamilton first came in on it managing them, then Alan Niven came in, I'm not sure how that worked. But what I loved about David is David had loyalty and trust of his employees, which is a lost art nowadays. He was pointing, “Hey, see that guy over there?” He's pointing this guy and he says, “Yeah, he hasn't done anything, he hasn't signed anything great in two years, but I believe in him”.  And that always resonated to me. About six months later, he signs Nirvana, the guy who did nothing, okay? So he believes in his employees. Now, I think that's the best way how you could be creative when you get the right people around you and trust them and let them do their thing. Obviously, in all businesses, once the suits get involved, they want to marginize it, they don't want to take any risks in this and that, but Geffen was great in leaving it up to the team to do what they needed to do. And as you know, it took about a year and a half for this album to break. I'm sure you know the story.

Mitch Lafon: Oh yeah.

Steve Thompson: I mean, you know, we went with Welcome to the Jungle three times and MTV wouldn't play Welcome to the Jungle. Just like they wouldn't play Michael Jackson at one point. And I think Zoot had a meeting with Geffen, they pulled some pressure. MTV wound up playing it once at like 4:00 in the morning, their phones lit up and that started the process. And, obviously, once Sweet Child O’ Mine came out, that was the one that took it over the top.

Mitch Lafon: That was the game changer. Now you mentioned the Zutaut interview which was done for L.A. Weekly by Art Tavana. He had talked about November Rain being ready at that time and Don't Cry, he said Reckless Life should be on this… Were you involved in mixing any of those songs in any kind of format? Were they prepared at all for the album?

Steve Thompson: Well, I remember November Rain, love the song, but I think the direction with this record was to be more punk rock in your face. And November Rain, I felt wasn't quite there yet, developed. And it wasn't. Great song, I thought it had great potential. Obviously, when it came on Use Your Illusion, Axl did what he had to do to complete his vision on where it went, I thought it was great. You know, again, it's even amazing that we had Sweet Child O’ Mine on the record, knowing that we were kind of going for that punk rock thing, so I think it was a good thing. The only nightmare we had was, I forgot, was this song about six minutes long? Something like that? And we got a call from the record company and they said, “Guys, we need you to edit it down to about 3 minutes and 20 seconds. I said, “Oh shit, how are we going to do this?” So we wound up editing it down to single and Slash fucking hated it, because we had to take someone's guitar parts out. So I sat down and I said, “Slash, this is just a radio promotion tool, okay? We have the ultimate version of Sweet Child O’ Mine on the album. You know, singles have a time span of whatever. Don't worry it's being bastardized. This is what they need as a tool”. So he kind of (?). I can't blame him. If I was a guitar player, I'd be pretty pissed off too. But there was nothing we could do. I mean, how do you edit down a 6-minute song? It's like editing down, was it Eleanor Rigby? What was the song that Beatles did that was like 10 minutes long? Was it Eleanor-

Mitch Lafon: Well, Hey Jude was pretty long, wasn't it?

Steve Thompson: Yeah, maybe it was Hey Jude or something like that.

Mitch Lafon: How does that story end then? Was there, I mean, you know, record companies and their songs. As a producer yourself, having done Mechanical Resonance, which I will state for the record, is one of the greatest debut albums ever. I mean, that Tesla album is fantastic. I mean, you did not miss anything. What was it like in terms of hearing Mike Clink's productions? How does he stack up for you in terms of production and the job he did on this one?

Steve Thompson: Again, I got the demos of the songs and for the most part, demos tempo wise are a lot slower than what came out. So I believe it was him, and Guns N' Roses obviously did a lot of production on the work. I thought it was great. I had no complaints whatsoever how they recorded this record. It was great, I thought - you know, again, as a producer, you have to learn when to sit back and let things happen and, if there's trouble, then interject. It's not a question that you need to be the dictator and this is how it's got to be. You have to work with your talent and come out with the best interpretation of the music you're working on. And for me, it was flawless. It was great. I have no complaints.

[…]

Steve Thompson: So, again, with Guns N' Roses, you had, like you said - you know the history of the stuff we worked on, you had Cinderella out there, you had Motley Crue, you had Poison, you had Warrant, Dokken, Def Leppard, you had all these bands blowing up, but Guns N' Roses stood out because they were dangerous. And to me, that was the most amazing lineup of musicians, having Axl as an amazing singer, I mean, you know, this guy knows what he wants. Slash, great guitar player. Izzy, the unsung hero of the band, you know, he's a great songwriter. Adler, which I absolutely love as a drum because he was loose. He had swagger and was perfect vibe for it. Duff, a great bass player. So the chemistry and the guys are great, the songwriting was amazing. I mean, you know, I remember when I did that record and we finished the record, I said, “You know what? This is what I feel rock and roll should be at this time and place”. I mean, that's what - you know, I didn't say it was going to be the biggest rock and roll record ever. But I said, “This is where rock and roll needs to be in this time and place. And if it doesn't break, I'm going to be so freaking disappointed”. And you know, I have witnesses who will witness that. I said, “This is a perfect record, you know, it’s just… it's what we need. It was a wake-up call, I think, you know?

[…]

Mitch Lafon: Let's get back to Guns and we'll wrap up on this, because I know you've got tons of stuff, but here we are 30 years later. The album is still celebrated. It has sold more copies than you can even fathom. What was it about that specific album that just resonated, that just hit the mark? I mean, why is Appetite for Destruction such an important album in rock history?

Steve Thompson: I can only go by what I feel. I feel it was one of a kind. There was an energy there. There was a danger there. It's just like when the gods come together and everything is lined up perfectly, that's what that record is. It's just… I mean, what's kind of interesting, you know, if I go to a football game or something like that and 70,000 people are in a stadium and kick off playing Welcome to the Jungle, I get goosebumps. Because to me, Welcome to the Jungle is such an anthem. They still play it in sports today. I mean, you know, what can you compare it to? I mean, it just had the perfect everything, you know? If you like hard rock, it's, you know, there's great rock albums, okay? You can go back to Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon. Totally different spectrum, okay? You can go AC/DC, Back in Black, if you want. I mean, I love Bon Scott days, don't get me wrong, that's my favorite. But you can pick certain albums. I mean, The Beatles. What do you choose with The Beatles? Do you choose the White Album? I mean, you know, that's subjective. Do you choose Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper? What album do you choose from The Stones? Okay? I personally like when they did the covers, Around And Around and stuff like that way back in the day. But that album, I mean, what do you compare it to? What can you compare it to?

Mitch Lafon: Nothing. You compare other albums to it, that's what you actually have to do.

Steve Thompson: Yeah, it was just like one of those albums you could play from top to bottom and not get bored and just be adrenalized, I think it’s the proper way to put it. I mean, my wife to this day, I could play Welcome to the Jungle 5,000 times and she would not get bored. So it resonates. I mean, the songs are memorable, people will remember the lyrics on them, so, you know.

Mitch Lafon: And it was also refreshing because when - and I mean no disrespect to any band, but when you started getting into those B-level hair metal bands and C-level hair metal bands and D-level and you're down to sleaze B’s and all, it's like, “Oh, god help us”. And then Guns N' Roses comes out and you go, “Oh thank God”, “Oh, fresh air”, you know?

Steve Thompson: Yeah, that's the experience I had in the late ‘80s. I was getting calls, and no disrespect to Poison and Warrant and those bands - obviously Tesla opened up for Poison many times. But that's the kind of bands that my managers were getting calls for me to do. And I told my managers, “Andy, if this is where music is in this time and place, I'm done. Just not me”. I mean, you know what saved me from not quitting? I get a call from Steve Grabowski, who was A&R at A&M. Now Steve and I had a long relationship, we worked on David Bowie together, we worked on Talk Talk when he was at EMI. I loved him. And he says, “Steve, I just signed this band. They're from Seattle and I love them. Would you be interested in working on them?” And he sends in a band, Soundgarden. Blown away, absolutely blown away. When I heard that, I said - you know, to me, it was a little reminiscent of early Ozzy and, you know, Black Sabbath and everything like that. And that, like, in the early ‘90s, bands like that and even Smashing Pumpkins. See, I always want something new and different. I don't like to stay the same. My taste’s still like 16 years old, okay? I need to be fed new shit, okay? I want new stuff. I mean, what I've done in the past is meaningless to me today. I just like moving ahead and creating the next thing. But, you know, that's it in a nutshell. I mean, to this day I don't think there's any album out there that can compare to Guns N' Roses, that first album. Obviously, people say “We love Use Your Illusion”. You know, it was obviously a slicker, more produced type vibe because that's where they were in that time and place. Everybody says, “Well, how come they didn't do Appetite II?” I said “Artists like to grow, okay? They want to expand their palette. You can't fault them for that”, you know? I'm sure most of the guys in the band would have been happy to do Appetite II, but Axl had a vision and he wanted to… And you know, you gotta respect that.

Mitch Lafon: And they also changed a couple of members, you know, with Gilby coming in and Matt coming in. It would have been difficult because Steven Adler is sort of an unsung hero. That swing style, that…

Steve Thompson: Right.

Mitch Lafon: And, you know, I love Matt, but Matt can't do that swing style. He's more of your in-the-pocket kind of guy. And so you couldn't do Appetite II. Not with a different lineup.

Steve Thompson: Matt is the human drum machine, I call him. And I love Matt. You know? There's such a difference between Steven’s style and Matt’s style. And, you know, at that time when they got Matt, they said, you know, “We need somebody that’s gonna be reliable and nail it” and Matt was there for that, you know, so that was great. But I agree, Adler was the perfect drummer for that Appetite vibe.

Mitch Lafon: You can't beat that swing. If folks are interested in contacting you, you know, to produce music, is that something you still do?

Steve Thompson: Oh, obviously I do. I mean, I'm always looking for new talent.

Mitch Lafon: Okay. And you have, of course, stevethompsonproductions dot com. Is that still the site where they should go check out and contact?

Steve Thompson: Yeah. My manager is Doug Goldstein, who managed Guns N' Roses for all these years. So on my website there is contact info or bands can reach me on my email address. It's thompsonsmusic53 at gmail dot com. Obviously, I don’t work for free and I am busy, but I always love to hear new stuff, you know? I mean, I get 50 million artists a week approaching me, you know, and I look forward to it. And, again, I'm into the new school and starting something new, you know?

[...]

Steve Thompson: I really feel that for rock to survive, it needs to evolve. I mean, again, in my career, you know, Guns N' Roses made a statement. Metallica made a statement. Soundgarden made a statement. I think Korn made a statement. So right now my energy is bringing the new school of rock. […] And musically, what I love about music is you can -  you know, I've worked on rock, dance, R&B, hip hop, reggae, pop, Whitney Houston, Madonna. And what was great about working with all those genres of music, I like to put those styles together in new music. You know, what are the rules? There is no rules. And you know, a lot of people get stuck and they do one thing and they keep rehashing it and rehashing it. There's no growth there. I get bored and that's why I've worked on a lot of different types of music, because I would get bored, you know? It's simple as that.

Mitch Lafon: Yeah, well, though that formula seems to have worked for AC/DC. I guess I'll finish on that. What did you think of Axl in AC/DC?

Steve Thompson: Knowing that he was a fan, I was shocked and I said “Go for it”, you know? Why not? Again, AC/DC to me was Bon Scott.

Mitch Lafon: Right.

Steve Thompson: I am such a fan. I remember when we were working on Appetite, I'd have Slash come over and he'd stay over my house, and we were going to go to the beach the next morning. He's passed out on my couch. I wanted to get him up and he wouldn't get up. So I put two big ass speakers right by his head, and I think I blasted Down Payment Blues or something like that, and it was on 11. That woke his ass up. I mean, you know, if you talk about a formula that works with the same three chords, AC/DC's got it down. I mean, KISS does that, I know there's a lot of KISS fans and everything like that, but nobody does it better than AC/DC because you know why? It's in your face, it's attitude, it's energy. You don't really have to change much to the formula. It works.

Mitch Lafon: Yeah. And it's worked for what, going on what now? Forty some years? Anyway. Steve, always an absolute pleasure and thank you. Thank you for the insight into one of rock's greatest records, Appetite for Destruction.

Steve Thompson: Yeah, like I said, we had a… What was really great about working on that record, when I talk about chemistry, the chemistry was perfect between Axl, Slash, Izzy, ourselves and Zutaut. We all had the same goal of what we wanted to achieve. When you get that chemistry in the studio, it's great. You know, obviously it's good that you butt heads at times and things like that. We have, but there was one story I think I'll tell you on Paradise City. We did a goof with Axl. There's a spot in the song towards the end in the vamp where Axl's going, [sings] “Take me home…” that part before it builds into the outro. And so we were cutting tape and I told Barbiero, “Let's double up that part just as a goof”, right? So it goes, [sings the music] “…take me home”. Then we hit the edit, [sings the music] “…take me home” again. This is all tape, there's no digital anything when we're doing this stuff. And we did it as a goof. So we played it back to the band and it comes up to that section, I'm waiting there everybody to go nuts. Axl hears it, he listened to it and he goes, “Stop the tape!” He goes, “What was that?” “Ah, we got you, Axl”. He goes, “I fucking loved that”. And we wound up leaving it into it. With that I mean, you would never think that that was actually left in there. But he loved it. So that wound up being in the mix.

Mitch Lafon: And of course essential to the song, because the song is perfect as it is. And the other thing I'll just finish on here is, and I've said that eight times now, but when Zutaut in that interview said he would have put Reckless Life on the album, I'm like, why? It is such a perfect album. What do you take off and put that on? I mean, do you take out Anything Goes? Do you take out It’s So Easy? There's nothing to take out. It is perfect as it is. And Reckless Life was perfect coming out later where it did. So there you go.

Steve Thompson: Again, you know, they were talking about putting November Rain on this record. Again, it wasn't ready. You can always second guess yourself. And let's be realistic, ou never know. Did you make the perfect decisions? Did you make the perfect record? There has to be a point where you say, “You know what? This is the best I could do”. End it, do it, you know, just throw it out there, okay? Because you can overanalyze anything and just go nuts. You know, simple as that. Either that or maybe we would've added one more song to the record (laughs).

Mitch Lafon: Yeah, one more. God, I keep forgetting. But the infamous Rocket Queen sex tape, did you sit through hours and hours of tape to find the perfect ooh-ah for the lack of a better question?  (laughs).

Steve Thompson: Well, that was a very interesting part of the session. We're doing Rocket Queen and Axl comes up to me and says, “Steve, you know what? I need some sex noises on this”. I said, “Okay, no problem”. I think I had tapes of ‘70s porno movies that I would splice together the audio and give him the sex noises he needs and, you know, we had that covered. He goes, “No, I need real sex noises”. And I forgot her name, she was at the studio. What's her name? Adler’s girlfriend was in there. And Axl says, “Okay, let's mic it up. I'm going to fuck her in the studio and just record the moans” (laughs). So I said to myself - and Barbiero was very conservative, he was like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” And I felt kind of weird for the fact that it was Adler's girlfriend. I don't want to get involved in this shit, you know? And so Vic, our assistant engineer, wound up putting the mics together and they did their thing in the studio. I think… who the hell was it, I think Jeff Fenster was actually in the studio as the lawyer at the time, I think. And the lights were low, and Axl was doing his thing with the girl. And, you know, we got all the noises together and then we just edited in what he wanted. But… classic. You know, total classic. I mean, sex drugs and rock ‘n’ roll definitely went on that record.

Mitch Lafon: And I think that is exactly why it's classic, because everything was authentic. It's authentic drums, authentic lyrics, authentic singing. It's just not this - you know, especially in these days of Pro Tools and vocal enhancements. That's just a real rock record down to the sex noises, and that's what makes it perfect.

[...]

Mitch Lafon: [...] And I'm remembering here, I think the girl's name was Adrianna Smith on Rocket Queen.

Steve Thompson: Right.

Mitch Lafon: So there you go. What a great claim to fame. Steve, thank you. Great pleasure. Absolute pleasure.

Steve Thompson: Thank you, Mitch. Let's have a great day and hope you guys all enjoy the…

Mitch Lafon: The conversation. Thank you, sir. And please reach out to Steve and get your albums produced by him, because that's the only way it's going to sound great, right? In my opinion.

Steve Thompson: I don't like making old records. I like making new music and setting the bar for the next shit. That's what I like doing. It's always good to have influences and everything like that, but at the end of the day, if you're going to make something, make it stand out or why bother.

Mitch Lafon: And make it your own. Don't make it a copy of somebody else's.

Steve Thompson: Exactly. Yeah, that's my feeling. Well listen, Mitch, have a great one.

Mitch Lafon: Cheers, bye bye now.


Last edited by Blackstar on Wed Feb 28, 2024 11:43 pm; edited 2 times in total
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2017.08.14 - Rock Talk With Mitch Lafon - Interview with Steve Thompson Empty Re: 2017.08.14 - Rock Talk With Mitch Lafon - Interview with Steve Thompson

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