With Madonna’s ‘Confessions’ due for release, we chatted to the man who made it significantly better than it would have been without his involvement…
Stuart Price has always been brilliant.
He was brilliant as Les Rythmes Digitales and as him out of Zoot Woman and as Thin White Duke and as Pour Homme and as Paper Faces and as Man With Guitar and as (that’s enough of that – Pseudonyms Ed.)
Anyway, now he is brilliant as the producer on Madonna’s best ever dance album, which also happens to be her best pop album since the 1980s.
She did it round his house, you know…
Questions: Peter Robinson
Answers: Stuart Price (obviously)
Stuart, to get to the bottom of the creative process that brought ‘Confessions On A Dancefloor’ to life, we need to know one thing: does Madge wash up after herself when she’s made a cup of tea?
She’s the perfect guest – but she did spill coffee on my white carpet by knocking a mug off a keyboard. I was amazed at just how well, using only a kitchen towel, she could draw the coffee out of the white carpet. The technique she had was to never rub, just to gently pad the carpet with the kitchen towel.
Madge: not a scrubber.
No, she’s more of a ‘padder.’
Now, we know how it is when you’re working late. Did Madonna ever stay the night at your flat?
There’s no room! My flat basically consists of a couch, a mixing desk, an Apple computer, as many vintage keyboards I could fit into one room, and a kettle. And a toothbrush.
It’s not the same flat we came round to four years ago, is it?
It is! It’s the same flat.
For the last four years we’ve been plagued by the guilt of leaning back a little too far in one of your ‘cool’ retro chairs and breaking the back. At the time, you were very polite about it. Were you secretly furious?
Well, here’s some honesty for you – it was kind of broken already, and had been ineptly repaired. So it wasn’t so much that you broke the chair, just that you blundered the repair job slightly. You can buy me another one if you like.
At this stage in our respective careers it rather seems the case that you can afford ‘cool’ retro chairs more than we can, Stuart.
Do you still have the chair?
In fact, Madonna recorded her vocals sitting in the chair that you broke! But the chair that you broke has now had that plastic bit removed from it and is now just a stool. So I suppose in breaking that chair you indirectly influenced the vocal sound of the album.
Let’s talk ‘music’! The two Pet Shop Boys references on the album are amazing. Do you hold your hands up to loving the Boys?
I do, yes. I mean, who can not love the Pet Shop Boys? That’s the thing. They were the first ever pop act I ever listened to. All of Chris Lowe’s parts. When I very first sat there with ‘My First Keyboard’ I was trying to work out how they did it, how they made those rhythms, how they got those sounds. I love the ‘Disco’ album with all the 12″ mixes and I suppose it’s not surprising fifteen years later that when it all pops up on the record I think ‘oh, this sounds like the Pet Shop Boys.’ I’m not going to try and disguise that, they’re a big influence.
So it’s fair to say that Madonna wouldn’t be where she is today without the Pet Shop Boys?
She really loves them as well. Because they worked with Bobby Orlando in New York really early on, and I’m guessing she would’ve been around there at that same period. So I think there’s a huge kind of cross-over there. It’s funny because when we were doing ‘Jump’ I didn’t think she’d know who the Pet Shop Boys were but she was the one who was screaming ‘Pet Shop Boys! I fucking love them!’
Is there anything you could have done to ‘Hung Up’ to make it sound any more gay?
A lot of people are saying this. I don’t know, it doesn’t strike me as being that gay. Is it the Abba sample that makes it like that? It’s got a bit of a strut hasn’t it? When you put that record on your hips just start doing… Well, I I was going to say unnatural movements, but unfortunately they’re very natural movements, aren’t they? I’m not sure how we could have sprinkled any more glitter on that track, though.
Could you do a Stuart Price Christmas album in a sort of Phil Spector fashion and get lots of people to sing on it, please?
Would you like that? Ooh, shall we pencil that in for… What – Christmas 2009?
Oh, come on, you could bang one out for next Christmas.
That’s the problem with bloody popstars, by the time you get round to doing anything it’s way after the event, anyway.
But the event of Christmas comes once a year – that’s the beauty of it all.
I’ve always wanted to make the ultimate Christmas record and actually I recently bought the perfect Christmas instrument at an auction. Do you know Lots Road in Chelsea?
THAT’S WHERE POPJUSTICE HQ IS!!!
You’re kidding! (We’re deadly serious – Ed) Well, you know very well what I’m talking about then. I went to an auction down there, looking for a chair actually but don’t feel guilty, and then I saw this harpsichord and picked it up for Â£400. I took it home, started playing it and realised that a harpsichord is basically an instant Phil Spector Christmas hit. And I’ve had this song sitting here, which is the perfect Christmas song… So watch this space.
(Ludicrous section follows in which we end up agreeing to ‘sort out’ the greatest collaboration of the century.)
Now to the important stuff. What do you think of Girl Aloud?
I think Girls Aloud are the right side of the line. I think a bit like the Sugababes, they seem to pick great writers. One of my biggest gripes with modern pop music is that I think a lot of albums sound like compilation records – when you have multiple producers there’s no continuity. With the Madonna record she did work with other people – Mirwais and Bloodshy and Avant – but still, ultimately most of those tracks all ended up at my house. At some point you sort of stand back and look at the record as a whole instead of looking it as twelve songs. And that’s what gives credit to people like Girls Aloud in that they’re quite focused in what they do. The only thing with Girls Aloud, though, is that I can never remember who’s who. They should be called Girls Sort-Of Aloud, or Girls Permitted But Not Really Encouraged.
If you’d been approached to work on a new Dannii Minogue album, how different would it have ended up sounding to ‘Confessions’?
Well, it’s hard to say without knowing how Dannii works, but the thing is is that you don’t produce Madonna, you collaborate with her. She’s a really good producer herself and obviously a great writer too. I don’t want to belittle Dannii or say that she couldn’t hope to be as creative as Madonna because, well, maybe she is. But on a more general note, I’ve never worked with anyone before who is as genuine and as hands on as an artist as Madonna is. She’s has her vision and knows how to get it but at the same time will be the first person to say ‘I can’t make records without my collaborators.’ And what’s interesting with this one is that she’s picked a DJ to make dance tunes for her to make songs, which is exactly what she’s been doing since 1983 – hanging out with DJ’s and making records.
Can you make a cutting edge dance album if you don’t go out all the time and get off your box everynight?
Well, when I was aged 19 or 20, I’d get so off my box then. I think I did so much ecstasy in that period that I’ll always be able to work out how to get back there, even today. The problem with, as you put it, getting off your box every night, is that you can be standing in a nightclub feeling super-inspired and thinking ‘I know exactly what I want to do when I get into the studio tomorrow’, and then by 8am the following day you’re coming down hard, your inspiration has gone and you’ve forgotten the bloody ideas you had anyway.
I’ve got to be honest, I haven’t done drugs in the last five years or so because… Well, I was going to say I haven’t had the time, but that’s obviously not true. I just find I can get into the zone without them. A lot of this record was done because I wanted to make a record which I could put in my record box and play at the weekend. Also, with this record it’s very poppy too. Although I suppose with someone like Madonna you can’t not make that kind of record!
Having said that, the last Madge album was a bit of a dancefloor clearer, in spite of being officially the best Madonna album of all time.
I couldn’t agree more and I think if it had been done by an artist other than Madonna it would have been a lot more of a revered record because the song writing is so great and it’s such a defiant record. The thing with Madonna is that when people think of her they think of the records she used to do – they have a certain voice in their head and they kind of want that from her. Everyone wants Madonna to be the ultimate, cool, strong, fun girl. That’s what they want her to do and that’s why they embrace her so much when she does do it. The problem is that she’s just way too enthusiastic and intellectual to stay doing ‘one type of music throughout the whole of her career. With ‘American Life’, she kind of said how it was at the time – and with this record I think she was more, ‘fuck it, let’s make a record and have a good time.’ She always tells it like it is.
Amazing. Now let’s talk about Juliet, because you did her album and it was amazing and, frustratingly, literally nobody was interested. What went wrong?
It is frustrating and unfortunately – and it’s the bit of it you never get to see – a complete staff change at Virgin with whole teams getting fired means that artists just seem to evaporate. Jules is a bonafide star and she’s so real. She has all the traits of someone who deserves to be very successful because she’s totally eccentric and left of centre yet has a big heart, is an amazing performerâ?¦She has all those things. I think what she wants to do is to make another record. She should do it again. I’d work with her again if she wanted because I completely believe in her.
And ‘where next’ for Stuart Price, ie you?
I don’t know! I don’t want to get on that gravy train of producing songs for everybody else, I want to make my own record, I want to do another Les Rythmes Digitales album…
Yes! I’ve gone along a big path of doing Les Rythmes Digitales and doing Zoot Woman and I kind of had a situation with Wall Of Sound… It was basically a broken relationship with a record company, which meant that I immersed myself in remixing and DJing which then led on to working with Madonna. That was all because I had a dysfunctional record deal. Having a record deal which was broken was the best thing that happened to me because it made have to go out and explore things. I’m happy to say that it’s all been resolved now so I want to do a new Les Rhythmes Digitales record, which is what I’ll start doing over Christmas.
Excellent. Well, we were meant to have fifteen minutes and we’ve been chummering away for half an hour, so perhaps it is time to go.
Perhaps, but you know what? When you’re having fun, fuck it!
Well quite. Thank you Stuart Price for being an amazing pop ambassador.
Hey – I like that! Pop ambassador! I completely am a pop head, you know – it’s just that I’ve found that it’s only with dance music that I can do what I want to do.
Do you get it in the back door?