The story of the Marius de Vries Survive remix
by Brendan Gallagher (of Karma County)
Brendan Gallagher is the guitarist and member of Australian band Karma County. In October 1999, after finishing up an album, Brendan happened to be introduced to Marius de Vries who was about to embark on the remix of Bowie's Survive track for the Survive single. Read on for the full story from Brendan.
I was at the after show party for the ARIA awards (read antipodean GRAMMYs) in Sydney in october '99. Aboriginal music legend Jimmy Little had just picked up two gongs for his album 'Messenger' which is a left-field collection of seminal Australian compositions from the last 20 years e.g. Nick Cave, Crowded House, the Church, Paul Kelly etc. Jimmy is an amazing singer who has been making records since 1956 and at 63 has made a serious comeback. He is considered very cool over here right now.
I was feeling pretty pleased with myself since I produced and recorded the album at my place at Bondi Beach. So I was having a large one or three. Also feeling very happy with himself was Jeremy Allom who had mixed 'Messenger', as well as two albums for my band Karma County. Jeremy's claim to fame, amongst others, is that he mixed most of Massive Attack's 'Blue Lines' album including "Unfinished Sympathy". Killer sound man.
Jeremy bails me up, Crown Lager (the king of beers) in hand and says I have to come and meet Maz. That's Marius de Vries to you. They're old mates from Blighty. Maz is out here as musical director for 'Moulin Rouge' a film by Baz Luhrman ('Romeo and Juliet' etc.). So, Jeremy introduces me to Maz and commends me to him as a guitarist for some project he's working on. And what would that be? Oh, I'm doing a re-mix for a Bowie single. Who, Fred Bowie? No, David Bowie!
This is at 3 am and several hours into a serious lager frenzy under the southern cross. Incredulous is too soft a word. But it all checked out in the clear light of the next day and a fortnight later I found myself in the studio with all my guitars and Maz behind the desk.
Maz had a great idea of re-introducing several of db's music periods into his production of Survive. A bit of Space Oddity acoustic guitar, some Mick Ronson electric rhythm circa Jean Genie and a bit of angular Adrian Belew kind of stuff as well. So we got out the old albums and did some research. Then we isolated all the original guitar parts (sorry Reeves) and started from scratch.
Maz is a very good producer in that he is very relaxed and has a kind of non specific directional approach i.e. he doesn't tell you so much which notes to play but more how to play them. While I was in the studio putting down the acoustic parts he was in the control room bouncing a tennis ball from one hand to the other while motioning through the glass at appropriate times where and when to accent. Very amusing. He has a very good ear, though, and at one point pulled me up on a bit of dodgy chord phrasing. Well spotted. I'm a slide player and I got to double db's horn line. I had a very big, seriously over-distorted sound and I just kept going on over the outro with this big slide harmonic feedback until they came in and woke me up. Maz then got me to reference the spiralling high end squeals at the end of Space Oddity with the slide up the neck of the guitar and I was done. Maz laid down some very Aladdin Sane piano chops to finish off. All in one take might I add. Guitar buffs might like to note that all my parts are played in 'vastopol' tuning i.e. D A D F# A D low to high.
I got to sit in on the mix at Sydney's 301 a couple of weeks later with Jeremy and Maz at the controls. It was quite an historic occasion as the techs were standing by to pull the studio apart and move to a new location. 301 has been host to all manner of great Australian artists and internationals like Prince, Duran Duran and lots more. This was the last mix.
I love how Maz reworked Survive. I think it has great drama and a quite ethereal quality. It's also big and fat and warm. That's Jeremy's trademark. I haven't heard it since then so I'm drawing heavily from memory. It's not being released in Australia so I'm waiting for my import copy from Virgin. I bumped into Jeremy recently and he said there was a problem with the 301 mix and so he and Maz did it again not long after at Dodgy Sound. Oh to be a fly on the wall at Virgin HQ when the master came in from the colonies with THAT stamped on it.
Anyway, that's my story. Let me tell you, it was a great honour to be sitting in that studio listening to the Duke's voice in my cans while I played along. Outstanding!