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Interview with producer and mix engineer Fabrizio Grossi

Fabrizio Grossi is an Italian-American producer/mixer and music consultant. Musically broken in the New York City scene of the early 90’s, he started his career as US representative, developer and A&R associate for several European and Latin American record and entertainment companies, such as East/West-Warner Italy, Self Spa, Frontiers Records, Edel, EMI Italy and Silverlight Records USA/Mexico. As the first Italian born bass player to successfully enter the international rock scene he was officially introduced to the masses by punk icon Nina Hagen and by guitar virtuoso Steve Vai. He then used these experiences, as a launching pad for a series of very lucky collaborations that resulted with his bass plucking landing on tracks featuring Neal Schon, Steve Lukather, Michael Landau, Frank Gambale, John 5, Ritchie Kotzen, Slash, Eric Gales, Tracii Guns, Gilby Clarke, and more mainstream international acts such as, Tina Arena, George Clinton, Ice T, Sean Dogg and Cypress Hill, Glenn Hughes, Alice Cooper, Billy F. Gibbons, Leslie West etc.

This year Fabrizio brings his band in Supersonic Blues Machine for their first UK outing at Ramblin Man Fair in July. Fabrizio called over whilst sat in traffic in Los Angeles to tell us all about it and talk production, working with artists and what fulfills his day...

Being a well established bass player, what inspired you to become a producer/mixer?
“I started off playing in Italy, but back then things were not the way they are now, as in there was a very different musical cultural trend in Italy to that of the UK and America. When you’re 16/17 years old and you have band trying to record demos, you bring records to show the engineer what you want to do and there was nobody in Italy that could get near what I wanted to achieve as a musician. They would just want to go in the opposite direction to the music I loved as it was a very pop based market, so I realized that I was gonna have to go my own way. So, I got more and more involved in the production side of things and moved over to New York ,I joined a band and the guitarist and i shared the same passion for recording. We bought some gear, started to record our own music and then some local bands wanted us to record them so it went from there. I’ve always had a producing type of mind and it helps being a bass player as it’s a glue which binds things together.”

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You’ve worked in both analogue and digital, what’s you feelings of production in the 21st century?
“The digital world to analogue is amazing in that you can carry around a record on a memory stick, go into somebody's house, open it up and be able to work on it without having to carry 100 pounds of weight in tape, that’s fantastic. Using any kind of digital recording system that allows you to jump from point to point without wasting time is very useful, although I kind of miss the sound of tape being rewound and forwarded! Working in digital, it gives you a total different spectrum of possibilities that just weren’t there before and it makes it a lot easier to create quickly. I’m using the system in a creative way, in other words it allows me to move things around and change things. It’s funny as when you consider The Beatles did everything on 4 track when they wrote a song and now we have almost unlimited tracks, you kind of feel the big idiot! Digital has given us more tools to refine and define our ideas without being geniuses like Paul McCartney and Sir George Martin. But for me it was always more important what you record then how you record. We need to make sure we do not become lazy by relying upon the technology to do our jobs for us so that’s why I like to use some of the new world, but have roots in the old world too as that’s where I came from.”

Can you tell us about your studio, the recording gear and processes that you use?
“I’m a very unorthodox type of person. I didn’t study at any music college to learn music or recording techniques, I kind of figured things out on my own, and by learning from others, not that I am knocking education here, as I consult and collaborate with lost of schools worldwide and host panels and workshops, however you could say I’ve learnt from the school of hard knocks! I’m more comfortable in situations that are like guerrilla style instead of a very posh studio with nice couches, nice decorations, snack bars...those are all a distraction for me. My studio is now in north Hollywood, next door to Kenny Aronoff as it made sense to move closer together for our work with Supersonic Blues Machine. It’s kind of like re-creating a room that I like, more like someone's living room but with gear everywhere! It isn't a place that you can just rent for a couple of hours, certainly not a commercial facility - it’s for my music or the production of others that I am working on. I’m using Pro Tools, but not even the latest version. I use a lot of outboard gear and in kind of like a hybrid system of my own creation where I am going out of the box, using two different summing mixers, to a patch bay and from there into traditional pieces of outboard gear and it works great for me. I do use some plugins, I love them, now days they are so good you might need anything else, but I like to have several outboard pieces plugged and patched in, which brings the sound alive. Sure, some of them are always is use, while some other just once in while, just to correct a few things , but really if I dont have the sound recorded first, then I have a problem.”

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“I’ve worked on a lot of records and nobody from Steve Vai to Alice Cooper to Eric Gales has ever had a complaint that I am not using the latest version of whatever. I’ve used SSL boards and Neves in their entirely, but at my place I just get away using modules in the mixdown of some of these blazoned brands. Something else that is particular about my studio is that as I am a very hands on type of person, I have a way of listening to the room and to get to know what the room is telling me. That developed my own way of recording and has made me very proud in that I almost never use EQ whilst recording, but go flat into the preamps and just move microphones around for sweet spots. Really, whatever works best for what I am doing is cool with me, I don’t have preconceived notions , but I try to deal with real sounds and feel as much as I can.”

You’ve worked with a great deal of well known and respected artists in a variety of genres over the years. Who has been your favorite to work with and why?
“First of all, I’m extremely thankful and grateful to be able to work with all the artists I have ,and will always do whether they are young or very established ,it allows me to make a living doing what I love the best and there’s not much better in life than that. There is always something to learn from working with anybody so I don’t dismiss a young band from someone like Toto as sometimes you’re picking up tricks and solutions that you would never of thought of. All of my buddies in Supersonic (Kenny Aronoff, Lance Lopez and guests in Billy Gibbons, Robben Ford, Eric Gales) who are amazing musicians, super friends, they all give me something which goes beyond the actual recording of the music. The people I got the most out of recording, obviously my godfather Steve Vai who’s a musical encyclopedia. Steve appreciates what I do even though it’s different to how he would do some things. A few years ago I was traveling with Steve's cuz I was co-producing his tour and subsequent recordings with a Romanian orchestra. We were on the plane and talking about it his new record and mixes, when Steve gave me his iPod to listen to some of them, and I was like ‘Wow, this sounds great’ and Steve replied ‘Yeah, well it should as I used your work with Leslie West as a reference’. He started asking me what I did and what I used and that was like ‘Ah come on man!’ as he uses all top of the line gear and I’m using basic Pro Tools, my custom goodies, and a don’t even own half of his outboard gear! I learnt a lot about the mental and spiritual approach from Steve more than the actual technical side of things which is cool. I’m very proud of the work I did with my brother Steve Lukather (Toto, guitarist who played rhythm parts on Michael Jackson's Beat It) and with Leslie West. Glenn Hughes (Trapeze, Deep Purple, Black Country Communion and solo) for me is my big daddy. I was big fan of him when I started playing and to work with him was a dream come true. Glenn has so much soul and the thing that amazes me is such an artist can park their ego or personality aside. Mixing is my favourite part of the process but when I cut vocals with Glenn it’s a great back and forth between us in our own language. We use references from old R&B records, from 70’s rock and it becomes so much fun that it fulfills your day.”

“At a base level, I gave up working with any artist that needs to have their vocal totally autotuned and drums completely re-alligned,as if that’s your level, you have no place in music and you should be on the Kardashian TV show if you want to be famous for doing nothing and having no talent.”

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Tell us about the new Eric Gales album and your work with him...
“Ah man, this was such a joy. I met Eric about 17 years ago when I was working with George Clinton on a project Eric was playing on also. I was so impressed by his playing but unfortunately it was kind of a dark time for him although his playing never suffered. When we were about to start on the first Supersonic album of all the people we were talking about it was Eric that I really wanted to work with as I felt bad that I hadn’t kept in touch with him. Lance calls Eric up, we hook up at NAMM and have been inseparable since. This album is kind of like the rebirth of Eric in that he has been through so much in his life, but never stopped playing and is at his best right now. I got on to Eric when the label guys were asking me if there was anybody out there that I would recommend and told them that I would love nothing more than to produce his album. I told Eric immediately ‘Listen. You don’t have to tell me about or sell me your guitar playing ‘cos everybody knows how good you are. I want to make a record of an artist that happens to play guitar, not a guitarist record, OK?’. Eric was down for that right away.”


“At the end of June 2016 we were putting the demos together and I took him down to The Baked Potato (club in Los Angeles) to a surpise-jam at an event, this was where Eric had just gotten his mind set about getting clean for good, and he blew everyone away where he silenced the whole club as everyone knew they were witnessing something very, very special. He said to me after ‘Dude, you know that was the first time I’ve been on stage and played sober? This is the best high I have ever had.’. With that night in mind when we came to recording, he arrived on the Monday and on the Thursday we were done. Everybody involved played great, Eric even played on the bass on all of the songs where he’s not known for that - people thought I was out of my mind, but I fired myself first from the role and Eric’s older bassplayer (who’s a monster in his own right) as he was SO good! It moved really fast where we were cutting vocals whilst putting down scratches, using an old mic in the control room and all of a sudden we had this sound that was modern yet old fashioned and it was all done very naturally, super organic. It took me 3 days to mix the record and it felt so good. I’m really pleased for my brother Eric how it’s turned out.”

What attributes do you believe contribute to being a successful producer?
“Who you know! But seriously, that is unfortunately a key point. You need to learn that you are not making your records, you are trying to amplify the voice of the artist. If you’re more of a Moby, David Guetta guy then you produce yourself but feed off of other people's music so you should know who you are and what you want being you! A great part of it is in good communication, social and people skills. I try to not impose myself but find out what the artist is all about and I’m always making sure who the artist is before I am working with them. Not as in their name, but who are they, what do they feel, what do they believe in, what do they like, what do they want to do? Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of an artist and always push them to do something, to not stay in a comfortable place as they will stay stuck where they are. I also like to limit some artists, have them work in more of the old way of doing things as this can bring out something special in someone. Being able to be a bit of a therapist can help as the better an artist is, usually they are more complicated!”


Tell us about your band Supersonic Blues Machine, the people involved and plans for the future…
“We are so super excited to be coming to the UK this summer! Our agent called us up and said ‘Hey, Fab, we have an invitation for you guys to play Ramblin Man Fair right before ZZ Top headlines on the final night’. I was like ‘OK, cool, very funny man’ but it was real! On the Ramblin Man social media channels, people were asking for us and their number was huge, it was overwhelming. It’s great to be able to come and play in the country which has given us so much love for our album ‘West of Flushing, South of Frisco’. Our faourite bands are from the UK as you have this incredible legacy of bands from over the years so to play at such a festival and with our friends and godfathers is an honor and a privilege. I’m just hoping I can make it to the stage without collapsing for the excitement and joy. Maybe I can bring the band in to meet students in the future as you guys have a friend in me…”

FIND OUT MORE
http://fabriziogrossi.com

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