Zoot Woman – Music as fashion critique
Interview with Stuart Price in Belgian glossy “Weekend” (September 3, 2003).
Madonna hired you as musical director for the Drowned World Tour at a time when Zoot Woman still had to finish 50 concerts.
Zoot Woman had been having problems for a while. I already had quite some live experience with Les Rythmes Digitales, Johnny and Adam didn’t. The chemistry between the three of us was ok in studio, but on stage it didn’t really work. The Madonna tour was the best choice I could make at that moment. For it meant Johnny and Adam were obliged to explore their potential – without me. It made Johnny a better singer and Adam a better musician. There was this physical distance between us : the US was my runway, England theirs. When we got back together eventually, our friendship wasn’t damaged. We immediately started working on the new record. After the long separation we had a fresh point of view. That first day we wrote Grey Day. It just rolled out. We immediately knew what the album was gonna be about.
Is it a challenge artistically to work with one of the biggest pop stars ?
I was guaranteed I could collaborate with Madonna on a direct basis. She has the reputation of being tough, strict and demanding, but that’s just because she’s honest in her working relationships. If she didn’t like something I did, she just said so without further ado, and I did the same. It was just like working in that little studio in that small English town with my two friends. Moreover, seeing how stadium shows work on that level gives you a new perspective when you come back home and start a new record. You realise you don’t have to waste an entire afternoon looking for the right sound of a snaredrum. Your first worry should be whether the song works. When a song is finished, give it a rest.
What kind of job is “musical director” ?
The term is a bit old-fashioned. In the case of Whitney Houston or Jennifer Lopez, the musical director decides which musicians join the tour. He tells them in detail what they have to play, draws every note. Madonna, on the other hand, gives it a less traditional interpretation. My assignment was : how do we get these 25 songs (including old stuff like Holiday) to sound fresh and exciting ? A few years before, there was this bootleg circulating in Ibiza that mixed Holiday with Stardust’s Music sounds better with you. I told Madonna about the existence of that bootleg and suggested we could use it. Her reaction : “Do it !” I can’t imagine any other superstar giving permission to integrate a bootleg into a megashow. If I had pursued my own ideas, it probably would have evolved too much towards dance. Madonna counteracted, she kept the overview. My job was mostly making sure we didn’t fall into the trap of cheesiness.
Madonna always works with the hottest producers and remixers. Is she herself so well informed about the new trends in dance or does she have good advisors?
Both, I think. She got my name from Mirwais, her producer. She really does listen to everything that’s being released. She’s looking for people with whom things might happen creatively. It is not important how cool a musician is – the question is whether he has something original to offer to the world.
Did you never feel silly putting those white [?] costumes on every night ?
You gotta be kidding me. That’s the fun part about this job. I always find it exciting to dress up for a show. I like fancy dress parties. Precisely because it’s so uncanny and because it’s different from what you do every day. That’s why it’s fun. When I’m part of an audience myself, I want to see a band that does something, not one that is just acting cool.
Is Madonna a genius in insulting ?
Yes. Well, she didn’t say : “That is shit.” Rather she used wack. Or she said : “Your beats are lame.” She definitely wasn’t holding back. I think such an attitude is rare for artists who are that big. Which is the most important reason why I jumped into the adventure.
(translated from Dutch by Wietse Marievoet)