Danny Saber is a Los Angeles, California musician, audio engineer, record producer, and remixer. A former member of Black Grape and Agent Provocateur, Danny plays guitar, bass, organ, and keyboards and is a prominent Los Angeles DJ.
Saber has earned a reputation for diversity in his production and remixing talents, as the genres of the artists with whom he has worked have included pop (Madonna, Seal), rock (David Bowie, U2, The Rolling Stones, The Charlatans), heavy metal (Ozzy Osbourne, Korn, Marilyn Manson), hip-hop (Busta Rhymes, Public Enemy, Jadakiss), and more. He has also scored and contributed music to a vast range of studios and films (Blade II, Moulin Rouge, Dallas 362, The Limey, Played). Danny recently had a chat with XS Noize about his involvement in an unreleased Michael Hutchence track he finished off and is soon to be released through Pledgemusic.
How did you get involved with Shaun Ryder and Black Grape?
"I had gone to England to do some writing, and I met with a management company called SOS Management; at the time, they managed a lot of producers, but in particular, they managed Butch Vig. Garbage was getting together then; Shirley wasn’t in the band yet. At the time, Butch Vig was the hottest producer in the world, so pretty much any record that needed a guitar, they would call Butch Vig. For everything, he did he probably said no to twenty other things. That is what led us to Black Grape; in retrospect imagining Butch Vig and Shaun Ryder together is pretty funny (Laughs), but for me, it was perfect because Shaun and I hit it off".
"Shaun is like a brother to me; it’s a special relationship for me because ‘It's Great When You're Straight. . . Yeah' it was my first hit record, and Shaun was like my big brother; he showed me the ropes. I don’t think people realise how smart and intelligent Shaun Ryder is; he is a smart mother fucker! And we have an excellent relationship to this day. When we see each other, we pick up where we left off. I’m glad he is back out doing stuff. I’m also good friends with Alan McGee; I can’t think of 2 better people putting their heads together than Shaun Ryder and Alan McGee. It’s a cool combination. Shaun has always been generous with me. I went out and played big gigs with Black Grape on the road back in the day, and it was awesome. I’m sure at some point I will be back out there with them, when the planets align".
I hear there will be another Black Grape album.
"Yeah, we are talking about it, it’s all in the works, and Shaun has a lot of stuff going on. There is an idea of maybe re-releasing ‘It's Great When You're Straight. . . Yeah' ", with some new tracks, or maybe doing a whole new record, whatever Shaun wants to do when it all makes sense and things start to happen, I’ll be there when I’m supposed to be there".
It’s hard to believe that it has been 20 years since ‘It's Great When You're Straight. . . Yeah' it was released; I recently watched ‘The Grape Tapes’ on YouTube.
"Oh yeah? (Laughs) Unfortunately, we could have had the cameras there on the first record; I haven’t watched that in years, it was cool. We had so much fun working on that fucking record that if somehow that could translate through the speakers, we knew we would have something. I want to mention that I was watching something about Bez; I know he was running for MP; this guy was interviewing him, and he was pretty condescending. When you get Bez in a room when you’re creating shit, if Bez is fucking bopping his head and rolling a spliff, you know you are cool. He had a big influence on the record; just his presence in the room energised everybody. I think he needs some credit for that because people seem to think that he was just some clown dancing around, and that’s far from the truth; he had a value".
Bez is a legend in his own right, certainly from the fans point of view.
"He is a special guy, especially around that time; you can see in ‘The Grape Tapes’ that we laugh. It was fucking awesome!"
Michael Hutchence heard ‘It's Great When You're Straight. . . Yeah,' and I loved it. Is that how you got to work with him?
"Yes, that’s exactly right. Not only did he like it from what I understand from the stories I’ve been told, is the same thing happened when he first heard Beck, but he would also find a record, and that's all he would listen to for 30 days straight. I’ve been told stories by some of the U2 guys and Chris Blackwell. They all had houses in the South of France, and Michael had this Jeep; they could hear him from 2 miles away blasting the album. They knew when they heard a Black Grape song that Michael was coming up the hill (Laughs)". "He turned a lot of people on to the Black Grape record too, and what was cool was he called me and invited me to come and work with them. I heard some of the stuff that he and Andy Gill had been doing, and it was cool. He was the kind of guy you would fall in love with after spending 5 minutes on the phone with him."
"I was fortunate because I went from working with Shaun Ryder to Michael Hutchence. We were all in the studio; I was working with Michael and Black Grape. We were all up at Real World Studios with a band called 'Agent Provocateur'; there was so much shit going on back then it was awesome. Everyone was doing stuff on other peoples records; I was always about that. We got Joe Strummer to come in on Michael’s record because he was knocking around; it was just a cool time".
You must have felt really good being a young producer working with all these legends.
"Yeah, it was cool, especially with Michael; he was looking for a way to find his thing, and it was about relevance and credibility; he was on a real serious creative journey. He was always pushing to see where he could go, and I think that was part of the problem with INXS at that point because when a band gets that big, it’s tough. The only bands that have been able to do it are The Rolling Stones and U2, where they reinvent themselves and go in different directions with their sound; most bands get stuck in a rut when they get to that point. Michael was a true artist; he needed to grow. It wasn’t even a choice. He was just one of those kinds of people who were constantly on that mission; that drove him".
What was the mood like in the studio while recording?
"It’s a little frustrating that he has left in a lot of people’s minds this image because of the last day of his life. That’s far from who he was. He was the sweetest, most upbeat, fun guy to be around ever! He was an international rock star with a ton of money that was fun to hang with. Shaun Ryder was in his category, but Michael was the first real rock star at that level in the old days, and he’s probably the last one; he was amazing! We had so much fun together. For me, it was like an adventure because I was so young, I was starting. When I look back at it now, it’s funny how things work out because everything gets you ready for the next thing, and he prepared me to be around The Rolling Stones and U2 and David Bowie and all those guys. Maybe if I had worked with them before, I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Being around him opened me up to a lot of stuff. When you work in certain situations, there is politics and all kinds of weird shit, but there was none of that with him. It was just dealing with him directly; he was cool".
What stage of completion was the album in when Michael died?
"He started writing with a few people, he had written with Tim Simenon from Bomb the Bass, then he hooked up with Andy Gill, and they had a good solid thing going that was the foundation of the album, he was still missing something musically though. He came to me, and I started working as a producer and working out the stuff they had already been working on. I think one of Tim Simenon’s tracks was on the record, there was a great track Tim wrote called ‘All I’m Saying’, then me and Michael started writing, and that’s where we were going because when we started writing once I had the chance to work on the stuff that was there, we started going in this whole other direction, you can hear it on the record if you listen to the songs I wrote with him".
"If he hadn’t died, I'm sure we would have written at least a couple of more songs. We would have seen where we were at the time and probably peeled it down to 12. He was talking about touring and everything. When he died, what was there, it was ready to be mixed. We had already mixed a bunch of it while he was still alive in England, then I went back through it one more time and reworked it to make sure it was as good as it could be; it took about a year and a half before I could even listen to it".
I like the song ‘Possibilities’. I think it's a great track.
"I'm glad you brought that up; for me, that’s probably one of the best things I've ever co-written with anybody in my life. I'm proud of that song. The funny thing is that it was a writing session; he was so good. With Michael and Mick Jagger, and Bono, guys I have been lucky enough to work with, they are at a certain level no matter what they do. The first time I worked with Mick Jagger, when he was doing his solo record, he was making sounds for the vocals, and it was still 90% better than some other people's vocals when they were finished, there was more vibe there, and Michael was the same way".
"I always tell younger singers that those guys are almost like sculptors in a way they come in and lay their shit down then they will come back and refine it, those guys are at such another level, and Michael was one of those people and Bono is the same way, when those guys get to that level they don't waste any energy, they don't need to, they know who they are, and they know their process. When I'm working with them, they would be looking at me for feedback, and it's funny (Laughs), but at the same time, there is always room for improvement; you learn so much from what you don't say. If you're going to throw some feedback at somebody like that, you better be on your shit and know what the fuck you are talking about, rather than saying some shit for the sake of saying it; it's a beautiful thing".
Michael and Bono duet on a track on the album called ‘Slide away. Did Bono add his vocals after Michael had died?
"No, what happened with that was Andy went in with Bono and did it after".
Why was ‘Friction’ not included on the album?
"There was some material that never got finished, that song was an outline with a completed vocal, and I took the vocal and reworked it. I got my hands on some more material. I have been working on a few different things over the last few years. We were looking for the right way to release it. To throw a song out at this point didn't make any sense, so when the t-shirt thing came up with Pledge Music and Astrella, it was the perfect way to relaunch Michael".
You can stream Michael Hutchence's track ‘Friction’ below:
"This is all setting the table to make a documentary about him and a bunch of stuff. There will be more to come. This is the first step to that and raising the public awareness of Michael in his own right. They did a little mini-series in Australia; it was sort of silly, if you know what I mean? It was a made for TV movie, the guy who made it had a plan. The guy who did the Kurt Cobain documentary did an excellent job giving insight about who Kurt was; that guy is an amazing director. He did the Sinatra documentary. He's a heavyweight dude. If you're going to tackle somebody like that, you need to come at it in an elevated way, and that's my real issue. It's not the actors or any of that shit. In Australia, they made it like a tabloid thing, it is what it is, it's cheesy made for television fucking drama, and as a friend and somebody who worked close to him, I knew who the guy really was".
"The people loved it, so whatever! There is a real story to tell between Bob Geldof and Paula Yates, there is a whole Shakespearian drama to it, but at the same time, you've got this amazing artist in the middle of all this who was one of a kind. You would be hard-pressed to find another singer who embodied and Emanated sexuality. There are still women to this day who are in love with the guy. He transmitted it through his singing; I don't know if anybody has done it better than that or at that level, I don't. Richard Lowenstein, the guy who directed ‘ Dogs in Space’, sent me some behind the scenes footage of Michael to look at from ‘Dogs in Space’. It just reinforced everything I remember about him. At 26 years old, the guy was so fucking elevated and so smart but at the same time chilled and laid back. It made me feel good to watch it, and that was probably ten years before I knew him, and you could see that he was at a whole other level".
It’s a pity that the British tabloids overshadowed his music with the whole Paula Yates, Bob Geldof soap opera.
"That's a good point, and I think about when I was working with him, it's not a regret, but if I could change anything, I wish I had known then what I know now, meaning I was kind of young and didn't have the scope of being in the business for 20 years or maybe I could have been of more help. I remember we had excellent talks, and I knew where he was, but at the end of the day, he was on this trajectory to go where he went, but you are right. He became famous for being famous. It's an excellent point that all the shit he was getting crucified for is now a career path; people do that shit on purpose to get famous. It was a different world back then; in some way, he was one of the first people to be in that position which I think makes the story relevant now".
It's a real pity the way the whole thing turned out.
"Absolutely. The whole thing is tragic! yeah, it ended tragically, but the guy's life wasn't tragic, far from it, you know".
He lived the life and was the ultimate rockstar.
"That’s right, and that's really what this is about, especially with the documentary which I'm talking to XS Noize about it first. The concept is about taking the excess of the period. He was the consummate frontman, and he painted the picture of what it is to be a frontman in a band because it means more than standing out front with a microphone; you've got to lead the whole thing creatively; it's almost becoming a lost art. Part of the problem is the world doesn’t lend itself to people evolving into that anymore. Everything is so temporary and disposable; you don't wake up one day and be that".
"Those guys had years on the road before anyone knew them; if you look at all the great bands up until the late 90s, there's always a story there. Everybody cut their teeth and paid their dues. They didn't go on TV for fucking three months, and the whole world knew who they were. A positive thing to come out of all this is to remind people and reawaken that shit. When I said that things are coming back around, that's part of what I'm talking about because I've noticed another generation of kids is now coming up; they are not the Napster kids. They have a different mentality to music, I think they want to support artists, but they are not suckers. They don't want to give some record company their money; I think that's where everything is going. It's getting very like custom. It's going to be all about the fan-artist relationship that direct relationship. Everybody's going to have their TV channel where they can get right to their fans and build a real relationship; you don't need the middleman; he's getting cut out".
"People who established themselves in the old model and went away are trying to re-find where they all fit in. That's where I feel like I'm at now; I feel like I've got a grip again, it was crazy for a while".
You have recently worked with The WINACHI Tribe; they are such a great band, they blew my head off when I first heard their music.
"There is no difference between them and any band I could have worked within the 90s in the sense that they have the same spirit and they are real about their shit".
How did you end up working with them?
"They contacted me and came to LA, and we did some stuff; we have had a pretty long relationship; it's been a long road, but I think that’s good for them; they have paid their dues. They have been knocking at it for a while now, it's been a few years, and they are starting to make some headway now, and I respect them for that, especially Liam. He's brilliant! He's so talented as a vocalist. He's got so many angles he can do; they are great! They are a funk revolving door, and that's what Black Grape was about; the door was always open instead of having the stupid band mentality so many bands have; that's why they fit in so well and why we work together so hard well. They are special".