David Bowie: the making of ★

The inside story of David Bowie's final studio album

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The first time we got together to record, we planned four or five days of rehearsal, then a week of recording. But things got busier on his end. The timetable got pushed back. Then it was just, “Let’s record for six days.” That was January this year. At that point, I thought it was going to be a few songs. David said, “I have no idea how this is going to go, let’s just go for it and see what happens.” He’d sent me, say, six or seven songs. He had written out some parts, I transcribed and orchestrated some things that were on the demos, I added other parts to what he had written.


We’d arrive at the studio around 10 or 10.30, tune up and listen to what we’d done the day before. David would arrive at 11 and we would usually work until about 4pm. The Magic Shop, the studio where we recorded, is in the SoHo neighbourhood in New York. It has a very unassuming front door. You walk in, there’s a desk on the right, a very narrow hallway and at the end a set of big doors leads into the control room where they have this vintage [Neve] console. Then you go into the studio itself. It’s not a huge room. We had Mark’s drums set up at the far end of the room. Then next to Mark was Jason Linder and his keyboards. On bass, Tim Lefebvre was closest to the control room, with his back to it, facing Mark who’s at the other end of the room with Jason on his left. Then David was to Tim’s right where he had some guitars set up and a vocal mic. I was set up in a booth next to David. We were working as a live band and David was recording with us. It was all very intimate. That was good, because you can hear that it’s recorded in a live room. It makes it feel real.


We recorded two songs a day and maybe only one on the last day. I remember Tony and David both saying, “Wow, this is going so fast. You’re doing a great job.” David took everything we did during the day home at night and listened intently to it, trying to figure out what he wanted and so on and so forth. His attention to detail that way was eye-opening. By the end of the week, as we had got more momentum going, David said, “OK, I want to go back and record this one and this one again.” We celebrated his birthday in the middle of the sessions. Because it was New York City, we had sushi. Really fancy sushi.

(Photo by Jimmy King)
(Photo by Jimmy King)

On a typical day, David would come in and we’d listen to what we’d done the day before. He might say, “Let’s try this or let’s try that.” Or “Let’s try this song.” We’d rehearse a little, then just roll tape. Usually within the first two or three takes, we’d go back and listen and he’d say, “OK, we’d got it.” Then maybe he would go in and refine the vocal, and maybe Tim or Mark might fix something. Then I would go in and do the rest of the woodwind in addition to the basic track. David would say, “How do you guys feel?” He was very democratic, always soliciting our opinions. He’s taking in the whole thing. Maybe I’d play a solo and say, “What do you think, David. How is that feeling?” He was usually super-positive. The way he would give feedback was cool. Again, it was kind of conceptual. It wasn’t “Well, on bar 4 instead of playing B flat play B natural.” It wasn’t that kind of thing. I guess the week went pretty well, because at the end of it David said, “Let’s do this again.”


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