By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
As he does with any performer he agrees to work with, Froom sat down with Vega and asked her what she liked to listen to; it turned out that she was not a huge fan of acoustic folk music, and that her previous records were more often than not the result of other producers trying to lead her down the path of least resistance. She was a woman, she strummed her guitar in New York coffee shops--of course she's a folkie.
"I think other producers at the time said, 'Those demos sound great, I'll just add a few touches here and there,'" Froom says. "And I was saying, 'I think you should not work with those people, and this is why, and this is where I think you should go.' It seemed to me that there were a lot of clues that weren't picked up on. It was a pretty traditional reaction to her music, and other people weren't necessarily listening to the words or getting to the bottom of the rhythm of the melodies. It all came from her. All the ideas came from what she was doing. Imean, I didn't start playing weird music and she just sang to it.
"She came in with this song 'Blood Makes Noise,' and in 10 minutes, we had a thing going on. But certainly, the words were very evocative, and it would have been stupid to make a straight rock song with it. So as she talked about different types of records she listened to, I started to understand more and more and get a better idea what to do, and a lot of things resulted." What came of it was a hypnotic record and, shortly thereafter, a married couple with child.
There have been some notable busts on Froom's dance card: Paul McCartney's 1989 Flowers in the Dirt, for which he produced four songs, was a tepid comeback at best, a sad reminder at worst; the Pretenders' 1990 Packed was indeed packed with awful songs; and the two Costello albums Froom produced, 1991's Mighty Like a Rose and '94's Brutal Youth, are among the former Declan MacManus' most lifeless, cynical offerings.
But Froom will not disparage, at least on the record, any of the artists with whom he's worked; at best, he will admit his ambivalence about the Costello albums and some of his work with Crowded House--if not most everything he did in the 1980s. But he is quick to point out that today's failure might well sound a hell of a lot better tomorrow, when the mood changes, the weather changes...something changes that makes you appreciate or understand something you once couldn't tolerate.
"A person's definition of a good song always mystifies me," he says. "I don't look at songs in terms of, like, is the bridge great or does the chorus lift? I just look at it and say, 'Does it have a cool vibe about it, or are you happy to hear it?' Sometimes a rock song can be written in five minutes and be fantastic. On the other hand, if the stuff sounds like pale versions of what a person has done before, then you're in trouble. You don't want to work with someone just because you admire them.
"I mean, I just realized I really like the American Music Club record [Mercury] that we made. But I don't usually go back. You just want to move forward. The hard thing about working in the studio is that if you're in the wrong mood, almost any music sounds terrible. I've put on some of my favorite records and had to take them right off because they sound so bad, and later, I'll put them on, and they'll sound great. So imagine sitting in the studio listening to the same song all day, the range of emotions you go through. It can be rough.