working with David Bowie

RETROSPECTIVE: Working with David Bowie

RETROSPECTIVE: Award-winning 301 producer/engineer, Guy Gray, recalls his experiences working with David Bowie in the early 90s.

Guy Gray started his audio production career at Studios 301 in 1981 as an assistant, when the studio was located at Castlereagh Street. Since then, he‘s worked throughout famed studios in Asia and North America, including the Hit Factory in New York, and Schtung Music in Los Angeles and Singapore. Guy has received multiple ARIA nominations and his film soundtrack work has won Asia’s highly coveted Golden Horse and Golden Melody awards. Guy re-joined us at Studios 301 in 2012.

Playing in bands as a kid, Guy recalls playing Bowie songs at fourteen years old in pubs, “we used play Suffragette City. I knew his songs at 14, and then I got to make a record with him when I was 25.

Reconnecting back to the Sydney Morning Herald article on your work with Bowie, is there anything else that you can add to that experience that maybe they didn’t cover?

Guy Gray: The SMH article was shaped around David’s love for Australia and the people of Australia. They did ask me what it was like working with David Bowie in the studio which didn’t really get covered in the article. I think it’s very important to people to know something about his creative process.

He was never afraid of experimenting in the studio. The Bass player and drummer on the album were the Sales brothers, they were actually Iggy Pop’s rhythm section and one a hell of a band.

Guitarist Reeves Gabrel’s was in the band too. One of the most important things I learnt from working with David, was appreciating how he would listen to what everyone had to say about the music they were making. It wasn’t just David controlling the session. They were a real band. The album was totally about a group of guys collaborating on how things went down on tape. He was very willing to listen, and open to others suggestions, including mine. I remember thinking, here’s David Bowie, an incredibly successful artist and he’s just ready to listen to you. A great personal time in my career. For David, at the end of the day, it was all about the music.

Always creative. Always innovative.

I heard how when he was working with Nile Rogers on Let’s Dance (the album before the one we worked together on), Nile said how excited Bowie would get about a new song idea. Apparently he’d come running out of a room, yelling and screaming with a guitar in his hand, with this idea for a song wanting it like a country tune. And then Nile would get it and totally turn it into a funk tune. His enthusiasm for making music was just immense.

Now that’s he’s passed away it’s become so evident just how important his music was. After we finished the Tin Machine album, I met with David in New York and in LA on occasion over the following years, he always had a wonderful connection with people and really cared about them. I think that’s why he had so much respect from everybody in the industry. And when he passed away everyone was gutted. David never forgot where he came from. He had a pretty humble upbringing in London and that never left him. He too was humble and straightforward. I know everybody says that, this was my experience too.

He was just a really nice human being. Here’s a good example – occasionally he’d invite people he had only just met up to the studio to listen to our work, but he’d also invite all the studio staff up too. During the recording he asked if the 301 staff to come and sing on the album. And they did! They did a big yell or something and we recorded it and it’s on the album. His creativity was so great. David always asked politely if we could stay back late to record or edit stuff. Sometimes, he wanted to sing late at night. He was very respectful of everybody. All round nice guy.

Just before he passed away I watched a movie, The Martian, and there was one of his songs, Space Oddity, and I thought, wow Bowie’s music is still so relevant , everyone’s using his music. A week later he passed away and his music was again everywhere. When he died, all his albums went back into the charts and 27 out of the top 40 in the UK were Bowie’s. That’s quite a feat. He was an innovator and fashion statement in himself. What an enigma. I was very fortunate to have known and worked with David. Everyone that worked with him, loved him.

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