Sound
and Vision












an interview
with
Tony & Morgan Visconti

 

 

“I will sit right down
Waiting for the gift of sound and vision
And I will sing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision”

– David Bowie, 1977

 

 

 

Tony Visconti is one of the most important and celebrated music producers in the world. As well as overseeing recordings by artists including T. Rex, Iggy Pop, and Thin Lizzy, he famously produced the most revered albums of David Bowie’s career, including the greatest swan song in the history of popular music, Blackstar. Most recently, he has been touring with Holy Holy, a supergroup he formed with Spiders from Mars drummer Woody Woodmansey in order to play Bowie songs.
Morgan Visconti first collaborated with his father aged four, the three notes he was playing on a piano inspired Warszawa, from 1977’s classic LP, Low. With beginnings like that, it’s little surprise that he’s now a multi-instrumentalist, composer, songwriter, singer and recording engineer. As well as his critically acclaimed 2014 album Ride, he has produced You Look Familiar with his mother, Mary Hopkin and co-produced the album I am Not by his sister, Jessica Lee Morgan, who also tours as part of the Holy Holy band.

 

Simon and his brother, Barnaby, caught up with the pair of them after they had finished working on their joint project, T. Rex Regeneration. It was a venture that saw them chiselling new songs out of old recordings from studio tapes of Marc Bolan to incredible effect. The result provides an insight into what could have been, and also gives us an intriguing insight to the working relationship of two men who share not just DNA, but also a deep and profound respect for each other’s work.
BH: How did the T. Rex Regeneration project come about?

Tony: I did a BBC TV interview about 10 years ago and they wanted me to sit at a console and move the individual faders of a T. Rex classic and speak about the separate parts on tape. When they went, they left the copy master behind. A few years ago I discovered it and gave to Morgan to just fool around with it.

Morgan:
Dad loaned me a couple of multitrack sessions (“Ride a White Swan” and “Jeepster”, and I started making sampler instruments out of them and came up with a new groove and chord pattern. I felt like I had done something sacrilegious, but I played it to Tony and he said, “We have to do something with this!”
Tony: I was very impressed, but then I wondered whether Marc (Bolan) would use that chord, that turn of melody, that guitar lick  — then I was involved and it became an official project.
BH: How did/do you find the process of working together?
Tony: We worked seamlessly and enthusiastically.
Morgan: It’s been a blast.
BH: How do you feel that your approaches complimented each other on the project?
Morgan: Well, my dad practically created glam rock, and his approach originated from that school, however he’s perfectly proficient in modern approaches to recording too. I suppose this was the perfect project for our methods to meet in the middle.
Tony: Because it was all originally recorded in the 70s and Morgan is very much a ‘now’ composer, we complimented each other with his ability to make it sound like T. Rex just walked into the studio last week and I was in the producer’s chair – still!
BH: How do you produce an artist who isn’t physically in the studio? What challenges did it throw up for you as producers?
Morgan: Not only absent from the studio but on another spiritual plane altogether. Dad knew Marc Bolan very well so each time I started to push the sound to something more modern, I would always ask, “Would Marc be okay with this?”
Tony: Regeneration needed to sound natural, not doctored.  We went back to the drawing board many times.  We knew we had something when T. Rex fans of all ages thought it was a ‘lost track’.  In the end, it sounded so natural and real we actually performed it live with the tribute group, T. Rextasy, and a string quartet at a Marc Bolan tribute/charity show in London this past September, to a few thousand fans. They loved it.
BH: What is your favourite piece of music that your father/son has worked on?
Morgan: For me, the Bowie albums, Low, Heroes and Lodger are defining moments of my childhood and musical DNA.
Tony: Morgan has blown my mind over the years.  I love the music he’s created for his mother (Mary Hopkin) and his sister (Jessica Lee Morgan).  He released a single recently composed and sung by him, called “Could You”.  It’s so beautiful.
BH: What are your first memories associated with music?
Tony: Listening to my father and his friends sing four-part harmony in our family kitchen when I was about two years old.  It was a Barbershop Quartet. I learned harmony from this. My mother had a beautiful voice and would sing in Italian in that very same kitchen. I grew up in a very musical environment.
Morgan: There was a moment when I was about two or three when Phil Collins was over to play drums. I remember hearing this BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! through the floor.
BH: Was there a key moment that made you realise you wanted to work in music? If so, what was it?
Tony: Briefly I wanted to be an astronomer, but I played guitar in a three-piece band I was in at a Brooklyn wedding when I was 12, and we were paid $5 each!  It was a no-brainer after that.
Morgan: Hearing Kraftwerk’s Trans Europe Express on cassette in the car. Then, later that year (I guess I was five), Dad was recording a new song and they needed the sound of a car starting up. So they ran a mic out to the car, let the tape roll and let me start the engine! I think something clicked then. I realised, music gets made this way and it can be as creative as you want it to be. I was hooked!
BH: Who is your biggest influence?
Tony: My high school music teacher was my biggest influence. Although he was a straight-up classical music person, he could see that I would do well in popular music. He signed me up for every music class my high school would allow.
Morgan: Other than Mum and Dad… I’d have to go with David Bowie. As both a songwriter and also a pusher of sonic possibilities.
BH: Is there a particular piece of music or project you’ve worked on that stands out for you? That you’re particularly proud of?
Morgan: Not to self promote too much, but I’m really happy with the way my first album, Ride, turned out. It feels like a diary of my life up till that point. The songs took many different forms over about 10 years where I was unsure of my own sound – lots of half-finished songs trying to be too many things. Working on so many different artistic projects with collaborators and clients, you never have to put the magnifying glass on yourself. Finally, I was able to impose some discipline, put a producers hat on and say, “Morgan. Your record should sound like THIS. Now go and fucking finish it.”
Tony: My production work with T. Rex and David Bowie are recordings I’m particularly proud of, especially Scary Monsters, the album by Bowie.
BH: Thank you both for taking the time out to talk to us.

Photographed by Simon Harsent
Interview by Barnaby Harsent