"We producers are pretty much selling finished goods now."

SKIN IN THE GAME

Producer David Kahne on Developing Artists From Laptop to Final Mix

David Kahne doesn’t like to dwell on the past, so it’s up to us to sketch out his impressive résumé. After making his bones as A&R guy and house producer with innovative Bay Area indie 415, developing artists like Romeo Void and Translator, he served as A&R exec at Columbia and Warner Bros.; produced Tony Bennett’s Grammy-winning MTV Unplugged set; and has in the ensuing years helmed albums by Paul McCartney, The Bangles, Fishbone, Stevie Nicks, New Order, Lana Del Rey, Regina Spektor, Ingrid Michaelson, The Strokes and many more. He focused mostly on his current and future endeavors when fielding questions from us, though our questions probably had him yearning for his "mute" button.

Let’s talk about some of the projects you’ve been developing—such as The Rubens.
I did a seminar in France, and one of the students had a demo that he’d made of that band. I heard it, and it was head and shoulders above anything anybody else was playing. It turned out there were three brothers, and they just worked off laptops. The initial recordings I made with Sam, the singer, were sounding great, so we got the rest of the band over here and cut everything. The record came out in AU and went platinum. Then everybody here was into them and they got their deal at Warners.

So they had a sales story.
And sometimes I have more to do with the shopping of it than others. In this case, the lawyer got it around and got it to some managers, and the managers over at Vector really loved it. So they came in on it, which was really helpful, and they sort of took it from there.

I like to work on the music most, if I can. Having worked at record companies a lot, I do know some of the sensibility and how to work my way. But it’s kind of an intimidating atmosphere when you’re shopping stuff that you make. "Hey, do you like this?

Tell me about Basic Vacation.
I’d been writing with and working on demos with Josh Moran, who’s now with Pulse. He brought me this band that he had been developing, a trio with some really good song ideas who could all play their asses off. They’re part pop band, but with solos and big chorus chants. We just worked on it for a long time until it was perfect. We producers are pretty much selling finished goods now. They ended up getting signed on Capitol. As I did with The Rubens, I invested studio time and my time.

So you put your own skin in the game.
I have to take that chance. Like with Romeo Void at the beginning of my career, I was doing the same thing then that I’m doing now. I was answering the phones at Heider Recording so that I could get free studio time, and teaching myself to engineer. I had been a musician and actually was signed to Capitol. But I would go out and find bands and bring them to the studio. I was being an entrepreneur in a sense, and I was making finished records and trying to sell them. I’ve got about seven artists that I’m developing that way now. One is an Australian named Mossy, and he came over with Dean Tuza, the same guy who brought The Rubens. We are about to finish up three songs and start shopping it around. It’s really cool soul stuff. And there’s this brilliant girl who I found at the Manhattan School of Music, a world-class bass player named Kate Davis. Her songs are just gorgeous. A couple of A&R people came over to listen and one guy started sobbing. But he didn’t sign her.

Well, crying and making money aren’t always the same thing.
They cry more when they don’t make money. But we’re getting ready to start another round of her stuff. She’s a really special artist for me.

It seems like you have even very recently been dealing with all kinds of different genres.
I’ve always worked in different areas, and I love that. I just scored a film about Lance Armstrong directed by Alex Gibney, who did the Enron movie. And I love scoring, I love orchestral stuff. I’ve been writing ballet music for about 20 years. I just had a performance of the one I did of Peter Pan. It was a rather small company in New York, but it was wonderful to watch.

Can you say a little bit about working with Paul McCartney?
I love working with him. The last full album I did with him was Memory Almost Full. It wasn’t a pop record per se, but it had that whole medley about his life. He was really reflecting. There’s a song on there called "You Tell Me" that’s one of my favorite songs he’s ever written. He is very diligent, and he works as hard as he ever did.

Is there anything that you’ve been working on that we didn’t cover?
Well, I really am into this band 1991; they’re now called Prelow. They are really such diligent writers and programmers. Their songwriting is in the style of a top-line writer, but they write whole songs. They’re writing in this new genre, combining hip-hop and old-school soul. You meet people like that and you just want to make it work, to help create a place for somebody to hear some new music.

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