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Music Etc. – Huey Lewis and the News Deliver ‘Weather’ Report

Steve Harvey talks with Johnny Colla, founding member and longtime producer of Huey Lewis & the News, about their latest album, Weather; mixing with Bob Clearmountain; and how highpoint “One of the Boys” came together.

The latest—and possibly last—Huey Lewis and the News album is Weather.
The latest—and possibly last—Huey Lewis and the News album is Weather. Deanne Fitzmaurice

 

Huey Lewis and the News hardly need an introduction. They first burst onto the scene in 1982 with “Do You Believe in Love,” the band’s first chart-topping single, but it was their third album, 1983’s Sports, that thrust them center stage. Certified platinum many times over, Sports generated four of the band’s career 19 top-10 singles, thanks to heavy rotation on MTV and radio. “The Power of Love,” written at the invitation of director Robert Zemeckis for his 1985 film Back to the Future, further cemented the band’s popularity, and was nominated for an Oscar.

In all, Huey Lewis and the News have sold an estimated 30 million records—but while they have continued to tour regularly, their recordings have come less frequently. In February, the band released Weather, its first collection of original songs since 2001’s Plan B. The album was recorded over the last several years, during which time Lewis was diagnosed with severe hearing loss from Meniere’s disease, forcing him off the road in 2018.

Founding member and multi-instrumentalist Johnny Colla, a principal songwriter, once again assumed the lion’s share of production and engineering roles.
Founding member and multi-instrumentalist Johnny Colla, a principal songwriter, once again assumed the lion’s share of production and engineering roles.

As with almost all of the band’s recordings, the new album was self-produced. Alongside Lewis, founding member and multi-instrumentalist Johnny Colla, a principal songwriter, once again assumed the lion’s share of production and engineering roles. Weather was recorded in Marin County, CA, at both Colla’s Morningside Studios and the band’s Trout Farm Studios, and on the road. Bob Clearmountain, who has long worked with Huey Lewis and the News, mixed the album, which was then mastered by Bob Ludwig.

Colla offered some insights into the making of Weather:

On the Genesis of Weather:

We discussed putting out a record, but we were just waiting to come up with the songs. Guys were writing demos on their own and sending mp3s around. Geographically, we’re so scattered now. Sean Hopper, our keyboard player, is in Minnesota. Huey is bouncing between Montana, the Bay Area and San Diego. Our bass player, John Pierce, is in Los Angeles. And the drummer, Bill Gibson, and I hold down the fort in Marin at the Trout Farm clubhouse.

We’d get together in different groups, and what started it for me was this charming two-part demo that Huey and Pierce had worked on. It was fresh, different than anything we’d ever done, and was a great direction for Huey and the News after all these years.

Music, Etc. – Rob Graves – Creating an Atmospheric Solstice

It probably took me close to a year to come up with what I thought was the correct third part for the tune. I took their verse and moved it to the B section, created a new verse and that became “While We’re Young.” I started overdubbing and singing on it, to make it something the band could put their teeth into. There’s a lot of editing and processing these days that can be done in the confines of your home studio with no one else around. At some point, somebody said, “This already sounds like a record.” We had a start and a direction.

On Producing and Recording:

Certain songs do call for a few of us to be in the same room at the same time, so we did get together a few times at Trout Farm. We probably only cut a few basics as four, five or six guys playing at once. Trout Farm is also where we do all of Huey’s vocals. A lot of times, I don’t play on the basic tracks. I’m trying to get the sound as both the engineering and producer roles I embrace.

We rent Trout Farm from Bob Weir [Grateful Dead]. I do like to get a room sound we can use in the final mix rather than create something later. I thought the room was too big for the type of room sound I like, so I moved Bill’s kit to a corner where the ceiling is dropped, where I could get an EMT-type plate sound from the room mics. That worked out well.

On Recording “One of the Boys”:

Huey got a call from producer Dave Cobb, who suggested we come up with a tune for Willie Nelson. Huey rattled off these lyrics and one day on the road at sound check, James Harrah, our guitar player at the time, and I really made some progress on it.

I have a travelling ‘studio in a box,’ as I like to call it; a setup with little [IK Multimedia] iLoud speakers and an interface. We pull into a town and the first thing I do is set the studio up. We had two hours to kill after sound check at one show, so I said, let’s get a drum track. The next town, I get John to lay down a bass. The next town, I get James to put a proper-sounding guitar on it in my room. I got Huey to sing a scratch vocal. I put a two-part harmony on it. We mix it and send it to Willie’s camp. Crickets.

We came home and I started to rework the song. We brought in John McFee from the Doobie Brothers and Clover [Lewis’ first band] to play pedal steel. Huey re-sang it with new lyrics, I sang my two-part and brought in another guy to sing the high part. It got real good real fast; it came together in all the right ways in all the right moments and turned out to be a very heartfelt tune on the record.

Huey Lewis and the News
Huey Lewis and the News Deanne Fitzmaurice

On Mixing with Bob Clearmountain:

When we start on a mix, I always give Bob my best, final mix-ready rough; then all my ideas are there for him to refer to. Over the years, I have grown to wear a bigger ‘hat’ on the production side, creating special moments that one hears throughout this record, and nowadays I actually track those production moments and effects, rather than try and re-create them at mixdown. Bob always has the option to ‘use ’em or lose ’em,’ and he keeps most of my production ideas, so I guess I’m doing alright.

I don’t want to fake it and make it sound like we were all in the same room, but while tracking and overdubbing, I try and give a song its own cohesiveness. There is a certain clarity—“space and air” you could say—that I aspire to, and I believe it’s also Bob’s natural style in a mix. We know we’ve done a good job when Bob says, “This record really sounds good.” That’s about as excited as Clearmountain gets!

Huey Lewis and the News • http://www.hueylewisandthenews.com/

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