Madonna Tribe had the chance to meet Mark Saunders,
the multi-platinum English record producer who has worked
with some of the most influential artists and writers of the
21th century and who had a close encounter with the sound
of Madonna working on the still unreleased 12"
Mix of Now I'm Following You from
the "I'm Breathless" album that you can listen to
in its original cut at www.marksaunders.com.
Now living and working in the Big Apple, with a unique understanding
of rock music, electronic dance floor etiquette and everything
in between Mark also shares his thoughts on the sound of the
80's and the 90's, and pays homage to Madonna's ability to
pick the right people to work with to produce something that's
just ahead of the curve.
Hello Mark and welcome to Madonna Tribe.
Your life seems to have always been filled by sound and music.
Can you tell us about how did all that start?
Mark Saunders: Music became an important
part of my life when I saw Deep Purple on TV when I was about
9 years old. They'd been booked really inappropriately on
a early evening live summer TV show in the UK alongside bad
comedy acts, dance routines and extremely middle-of-the-
road solo musical acts. I was watching with my parents and
as they complained about the raucous, raw rock sound of Deep
Purple, I was blown away by it. I hadn't heard or seen anything
like it and I was extremely impressed when they proceeded
to smash their equipment up at the end of their set (no doubt
in disgust at their booking agent for getting them such a
crappy gig). The Who had already been doing this probably
but this was my first exposure to real rock n' roll behaviour.
a sort of striking "timeline similarity" between
your career and the one of Madonna, especially in the early
You both started playing drums in bands and you got your first
engineering credit in the mid eighties, at the same time when
Madonna was making her way into stardome.
How was it like for you in the beginning?
MS: Ha ha! I wish my time line had kept up
with Madonna's! I'm sure my
accountant would be really happy.
I lived about 50 miles outside of London in a rural area until
I was 25. I was playing drums in (mostly crappy) local covers
bands hoping that someone like George Martin or some other
hit producer or record company executive would be happen to
be in one the lame clubs that I was playing in and I'd be
"discovered". This of course didn't happen but eventually
I got into a band in London which was playing original music
and things got a lot more exciting. The singer and writer
In the band was a Guinness, of the fabulously wealthy drink
family. The band, Panic, played at all the london dive bars
and small venues including the famous Marquee. We weren't
bad and we had quite a bit of record company interest but
ultimately Valentine Guinness didn't really need to take the
band that seriously. He already lived a rock star lifestyle
with the help of his trust fund money and I left the band.
But contacts made whilst in that band led to me getting a
short stint as a professional drummer playing for Carlene
Carter (Johnny Cash's step daughter). This enabled me to quit
my job as a truck driver so I was happy about that. After
that ended I was just wondering how I was going to make enough
money out of playing music to avoid going back to "real"
work when I was offered a job as a sort of odd job man at
Elvis Costello's management office.
At that time, I'd started recording demos on an 8 track
reel to reel tape recorder and played them to guy at Elvis's
office called Lew Difford (Chris Difford from Squeeze's brother).
He played them to Jake Riviera, Elvis's manager and a while
later Jake summoned me to his office. He told me he liked
what he'd heard and said "You've got to decide whether
you want to be a drummer or a record producer... if you want
to be a record producer I can help you". I sensibly opted
for record producer and Jake picked a song demo cassette off
his desk, played a few seconds of the song and said "Ok,
I want you to produce this song and I'm going to get Paul
Carrack to come and sing on it". Paul is a phenomenal
singer and keyboard player who sang on one of Squeeze's biggest
hits "Tempted about a year before. Needless to say I
was terrified at the prospect. I said to Jake "Where
do you want me to do it' and he replied "Wherever you
did your other demos." I didn't have the guts to tell
him that I did those in an old cow shed on my dad's farm in
the middle of nowhere about 50 miles from London! There was
still dried cow shit on the walls and broken windows covered
with plastic bags. But sure enough, Paul Carrack drove out
from London to sing a demo for someone (a nobody!) he'd never
met and it turned out really well. It made me realize what
a difference having a really good singer meant.
The cheap crappy mic that I owned sounded a whole lot better
with Paul singing on it than any of the mediocre local singers
Jake heard the result and he introduced
me to Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, a production team
who produced all the Madness records, Elvis Costello and Dexy's
Midnight Runners. Dexy's "Come On Eileen" had been
a huge worldwide hit for them and they'd just finished building
a state of the art big recording studio in West London. I
got the job as the engineer assistant's assistant... in other
words "teaboy". I absolutely loved it there. I was
paid £1 an hour at first but it didn't matter to me,
I was just happy to be in a professional studio. In fact the
first week I worked, I clocked up 109 hours in 6 days so I
earned enough money to live off. I never had time to spend
any either.....in two years at the studio I think I averaged
a 90 hour week. In the first month, I was witnessing sessions
with The Kink's Ray Davies, The Human League and a mix of
a Duran Duran live album. It was a great start for me. it
was July 1984.
Relevant trivia: Alan and Clive, before I met them, had been
approached as potential producers for Madonna. They went to
a showcase of hers and turned her down!!
A year and one day after I started at West Side Studios I
got an engineering credit on Mick Jagger and David Bowie's
"Dancing In The Street". That was an amazing feeling.
A year later I went freelance and within a couple of years
had my first hit as a co-producer. The song was "Buffalo
Stance" by Neneh Cherry and I co-produced with Tim Simenon
from Bomb The Bass. After that, the phone kept ringing!
MT: What are your best memories of
the sound of the 80's and the 90's, that are so close but
are also so strong that had been revisited already by the
MS: My favourite
80's sound in the eighties was the Human League's "Dare"
album. Particularly the remix version of the album (named
"Love And Dancing" by the League Unlimited Orchestra).
When I first heard the remixes in clubs it blew everyone away.
The remix album was probably one of the first remix albums
ever made and I think it greatly changed the face of dance
music forever. A lot of the synth sounds used by the Human
League have come back in fashion in recent years... by Jacques
Lu Cont for example.
The 90's... err... I can't think of a particular sound that
captures the 90's for me. I don't think the 90's was such
a great decade for music, particularly the second half and
especially in America. "Ray Of Light" is probably
one of my favourite albums of the 90's and I'm not just saying
that because this is a Madonna site! The Tricky album "Maxinquaye"
that I worked on in '94 was pretty cool and ground breaking
but I think a lot of stuff hasn't stood the test of time and
sounds dated. Other favourites from this era are the Belgium
band K's Choice and Fiona Apple. I'm enjoying the music of
the 2000's a lot more than the 90's so far.
MT: Madonna's fans are familiar with your
name for your remix of "Now I'm Following You",
a song linked to the "Dick Tracy" project and featured
on Madonna's "I'm Breathless" album. Probably not
the most conventional track to receive a remix treatment.
Do you remember how you were approached for the job? Was there
any special request or suggestion about how the final product
should have sounded like?
MS: I was approached
by an A&R man from Madonna's label in the States. He wanted
a modern "hip' version of the song. I thought that it
would be really hard to make a "hip" version of
a 40's sounding song, especially with the technology available
back then. Nowadays audio material can be manipulated and
mangled a lot more. I thought he was nuts and at first my
initial reaction was to turn the project down.
But then I thought "how can I say no to Madonna?!".
Then I found out there was another more modern version of
it already made (Part II) and I would have both versions to
work from... so I agreed.
MT: Right, "Now I'm Following You"
as featured on the "I'm breathless" album is actually
composed of two tracks - Part I and Part II - the first one
with a '40s feel and the second more on the beats of a classic
'90s club mix. I always thought this was interesting because
it worked as a link between the "Dick Tracy" mood
and the image Madonna was preparing for her Blond Ambition
So are those two parts the starting point of your work for
the 12" mix?
MS: Yes, I incorporated
both parts in my remix.
MT: "Now I'm Following You" was
originally meant to be a single from the "I'm Breathless"
album but it ended up being a promo single only. In your remix
you used some bits and voice overs from the movie. How did
the idea come to life?
MS: Some of
the voice overs were already used in Part II version so I
had access to them. I was also given tapes of other songs
from the "Dick
Tracy" album so I seem to remember taking a few bits
of Madonna speaking from some of those other songs. I think
on Part II there was an odd combination Madonna saying "Dick",
"Dick" and then from another song the line "my
bottom hurts just thinking about it". I remember thinking
"how did they get away with this?".
MT: There are quite a few different takes of the
song listed on Madonna's remixography and I wanted to take
this opportunity to ask you to shed some lights about them
- like are those all genuine mixes completed by you, how were
the meant to be used (clubs, promos, white label, etc) and
so on. The most frequently mentioned ones are five different
7' Mixes, a "Tiny Little Circles Mix", a "Mark
Saunders Dub" and some "Primary Red, Blue and Yellow"
MS: I'm sorry,
I had no idea that my mix ever saw the light of day and have
no idea about any of these mixes. I'd love a copy of my mix
if someone has a spare one!?
MT: Oh, there must have
been someone "playing" with the cuts then...
After the Dick Tracy experience you continued working in
the music business, engineering, mixing and producing. And
this gave you the chance to collaborate with more and more
talents from the music scene.
Is there an artist you're particularly fond of?
Cherry was the nicest, most talented artist I ever worked
with (not to mention the most beautiful and sexy too!).
She should have been a huge star in my opinion. She had
a #2 single in the main US Billboard charts with her first
song "Buffalo Stance" and things looked great
for her but for one reason and another (you know who you
are!) she really didn't make it past her first big album
"Raw Like Sushi".
David Byrne is another outstanding person and artist. David
should teach classes to potential rock stars. He could show
them that being amazingly talented and creative doesn't
necessarily have to go hand in hand with being an ego manic
and a spoilt pain in the ass. He's an incredibly balanced
human being and I think it's because he has a lot of other
creative interests besides music. He doesn't have time to
be a difficult artist because he's got some many interesting
projects going on all the time. He's great to work with.
MT: Since year 2003 you upgraded the Beat360
monitoring to a 5.1 speaker system and took on the challenge
of mixing music in surround. You use to say you love working
in this format, which is also becoming more and more popular
thanks to dvd audio and double disc formats.
What is the thing you like the most of this specific format
and what's the unique result that mixing in 5.1 is able
MS: With dense,
layered material like bands like The Cure or Muse, it's
hard to squeeze all the instruments and voices into two
speakers. The more instruments and parts that get added
to a song, generally the smaller it sounds (it's always
hard to persuade bands that this is true!).
Even on stage
three piece rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Nirvana will
sound louder than 4 or 5 piece bands with exactly the same
sound system. Basically the more things playing at the same
time, whether it's through a live sound system or on a cd,
the more each part has it's power and quality compromised
to squeeze out of the speakers.
Mixing in 5.1 means I have 5 speakers plus a sub woofer to
spread the parts around so there are a lot less compromises
to be made with individual instruments and parts. The mixes
can therefore be much more powerful sounding and clearer.
When listening to old favourite albums of mine like The Eagles
"Hotel California" or "Machine Head" by
Deep Purple that have been remixed in 5.1, I hear things that
I've never noticed before... I love it!
MT: If you were asked by Madonna to produce a song
for her, which sound would you like to create for her in the
MS: Hmmm, quite honestly I wish I could have taken
over the mind and body of Jaques Lu Cont (aka Stuart Price)
while he was creating "Hung Up". To me this is the
best sounding track I've heard in a long long time.
It's a perfect pop/dance/disco song. It's a stunning production.
The first time I heard it, I saw the video too and I was floored.
The video is amazing too. Madonna looks fantastic in it and
the dancing is brilliant. Madonna's the same age as me and
I was so happy to see her return yet again with a world class
album. It's amazing how great she is at judging the state
of the music biz and picking the right people to work with
to produce something that's just ahead of the curve. She's
MT: And if you were asked to pick up a song
from Madonna's own catalogue and remix it, is there one you
would like to work on the most?
MS: "Hung Up"... no contest. Although
it would be a scary prospect to produce something to compete
with the original.
MT: What are you currently working on and
what's coming next from Mark Saunders in the near future?
MS: I'm mixing a live concert record in surround
for a wonderful artist called Ayo who's doing really well
in France and other parts of Europe. She's an amazing personalty,
singer and writer. I'm really enjoying mixing this. I'm also
mixing a new, raw rock band called The So So Glos. Three of
the band are sons of a friend of mine and I've seen them develop
as a band since the youngest was 13 years old. I always thought
they had something special going on but now they are 19-21
years old and I love what they are doing. They are the real
MT: Thanks so much Mark for this chat and
all the best for all your upcoming projects!
MS: Thank you... it's nice to know that my
mix of "Now I'm Following You" actually saw the
light of day. I had no idea!
For more info about Mark Saunders and
his work and to listen to his original and unreleased
12" Mix of Now I'm Following You
please visit www.marksaunders.com.
Catch Mark on MySpace at www.myspace.com/marksaunderssounds.
Portrait by Briana E Heard and photo of Mark in the studio in year 1991 courtesy of Mark Saunders.
This interview © 2007 Madonna Tribe.
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