Cliff & Harriet together in the studio.
I wanna talk about your songwriting - you've recently been in the studio with the new singer Harriet? (Harriets Soundcloud & Twitter)
Harriet is super talented and has the most fabulous voice. She is a great writer that is growing with every writing session. Every now and then a writing session comes along where everything seems to fall into place – the “Empty Shoes” writing day was one of those!
Her voice is.....well...she just has one of those voices that is like silk. That makes you stop in your tracks. How did you write songs with her and for that voice?
Talking of unique voices you've extensively worked with Leona Lewis (recently namely on her tour and the Christmas album). How did that link-up come to be?
The Christmas album was a project that Biff Stannard asked me to work on. I have worked on many albums with Biff over the last 3 years, after meeting through the X Factor TV show. Biff asked me to write string and choir arrangements for a number of tracks including the Christmas hit “One More Sleep”. The track I am most excited for people to hear is our version of “Ave Maria” which begins to reveal the full extent of Leona’s vocal ability. The tour was another Steve Anderson collaboration. He wanted to have a small section touring with Leona and between us we put together arrangements for a small group of players. With so many of Leona’s songs featuring strings it made sense to have them properly represented on the tour.
Hearing Leona sing live rehearsals or beyond - I mean I can't imagine....you could ever get use to?
Leona has a very special talent that never fails to give you goosebumps!
You were also involved in the delivery and arrangement of Flower. How was it working with on such a personal and tender song?
Working on this song for Steve and Kylie was a real privilege. It is a VERY personal song and I really wanted to do it justice. Steve had done much of the work on the arrangement before it got to me – I ‘pruned’ it here and there (wow, that’s dreadful) but the core ideas were all layed out beautifully already.
Generally speaking how was it working with a pop artist like Kylie....
Underneath every pop artist is a real person… Some artists hide behind their celebrity veil to maintain privacy (understandably) – others are more open. I love to meet and work with new people and I take them all as I find them. Kylie is one of the most disarming, naturally engaging people I have ever met.
Another Aussie singer with a voice that puts the sparkle every song she releases - Tina Arena. She is so disciplined (I wish she’d release more often though!). What was Tina like?
Love Tina! Her voice is outstanding and she is huge fun in the studio. We only had one day to write but it’s up there as one of the most enjoyable.
If I was to make a “Best of Cliff Masterson” big vocals will be the rod that runs through the wall of sound. Emeli Sande shook up the industry with her album that you worked on – Our Version of Events. I loved the intensity of the strings arranged on Heaven. It is an epic record. A brilliant first single. How did it come together with Emeli and Heaven?
Emeli’s “Heaven” was produced by Mike Spencer (who also worked on “Spinning Around” for Kylie). It was one of those ‘who you know’ moments! I had just returned from a songwriting retreat in Sweden that his wife, Liz had been attending. She kindly recommended me and the rest, as they say, is history.
Another song of yours that featured huge vocals was the song I Ain’t Gonna Cry by Spanish diva Monica Naranjo. What was it like writing with her?
I co-wrote this song with John Reid who I mentioned previously. We actually went out to Spain to record vocals on an entirely different song and ended up writing this while we were there. Monica preferred to work late in the day/overnight, so this was written in the middle of the night overlooking Barcelona Harbour (and a bottle of wine!)
Monica Naranjo fans are fascinated in this period of her career (under the guidance of David Massey). Was there any song or demo you’d done for the project that remains unreleased?
Yep! The song we went out to record (called “Liar”) never saw the light of day… and probably never will.
Actually on this area…I have to ask - of all the demos you've written that didn't quite see the light of day and where shelved which one did you think "awwww, thats a shame" and you’d absolutely love to take flight one day?
I wrote a song with Shayne Ward (X Factor) shortly after he won the competition. The song called “In My Father’s Eyes” was about a child who had grown up without his father present, subsequently meeting him and wondering whether he would find remorse, or even recognition ‘in his father’s eyes’.…I can see why it didn’t go on the album of course, but it is still a very moving song.
Last year saw your summer consumed in the studio arranging mighty Christmas songs for the Susan Boyle album (along with Steve Anderson). How was that experience? Elvis made an appearance too! - The king of Pop!
….. and not just the summer! This was actually the first time I produced an entire album with Steve and we had a lot of fun working together. Spending almost the entire year (from March to September) in Susan Christmas mode was a little strange though, especially when my next project was Leona’s Christmas offering closely followed by December when it really was Christmas! I was hoping to work exclusively on Easter records during 2014, but it didn’t happen….
It was a huge privilege to be the first UK production team to be allowed to re-work an Elvis classic from the multi-track – with complete free reign on where we could take the production.
Susan has a voice that itself holds its own story that so many, especially in the United States, can relate to. How do you, as a producer and arranger, choose songs (along with Susan and her people) that understands this intrinsic narrative to her vocal narrative and respects it too. In short, how do you go into the a session with Susan and get that balance right?
There is an honesty about Susan’s voice that I love. She has an incredible work ethic and seemingly rises to any challenge. She truly appreciates her success and her fans and always wants to do everything she can to give them what they want. The Christmas album repertoire fell into place as we knew we wanted to cover a host of styles from the fireside, toasty “I’ll Home For Christmas”, to the Celtic tinged “I Believe In Father Christmas” to the stillness of “In The Bleak Mid Winter”.
We tried to capture the innocence and beauty of Susan’s vocals and build musical arrangements around them to give the right kind of support. And we got to work with Johnny Mathis!
You took this summer producing the follow up to Susan Christmas album....
This new album is filled with songs of hope and inspiration, which are very close to Susan’s heart. There are songs on the album that I never thought I would hear Susan sing and she performs them with joy and conviction. I actually think the album has tapped into an area of Susan’s voice that has previously been unexplored and I think the fans will find that very exciting.
With your sparkly disco conductors baton you introduced Kylie and Westlife to the Proms audience – an immense achievement (the proms). I was there. It was absolutely amazing. What was that like?
Without doubt two of the best nights of my life. Standing in front of a 45,000+ strong capacity crowd in Hyde Park conducting for Kylie was a total joy – and in a strange way ticked the performance box that I started out wanting to realise. The BBC concert orchestra played fabulously and the audience lapped it up. Can I do it again please?
Please! Talking of Westlife, from the whispers I’ve heard already I’m incredibly excited about Marks new album and its interesting direction. What are you expecting from him as he embarks on his solo album? What have you heard?
I have heard a few songs and I can’t wait to hear more. I wish I could tell you more but all I can say is it’s going to be worth waiting for!
AWWW! Can't wait! Ok so Ella Henderson’s new album! I loved Ghost. Its just gone to number one. If you pick a colour of the pop rainbow what would best describe the mood and outlook of the finished productions you’ve worked on and heard so far...
Ella is the real deal. She has an instantly recognisable voice and the songs I have heard from the album are first rate. They are all quite different from each other which I always find exciting in an album…. So I guess it’s multi-coloured…
Okay so finally…I have to ask….you co-wrote and produced "Destiny" the theme song for the "Mission : Space" attraction at Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center. Which is OMG in my book. How did that come about? Your music is at DisneyWorld! DISNEY! Amazing!
This is without doubt my proudest achievement. I was lucky enough to first visit WDW when I was 8 years old and it had a profound affect on me. I remember leaving the Magic Kingdom the very first time, clutching a copy of the “Music from the Parks” LP (yes, I’m that old) that featured all of the songs from the attractions. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would one day write a song that plays in the park.
My then publisher, Metrophonic, was affiliated with Disney and they were asked to submit a song for the attraction. Brian Rawling (the MD) knew I was a huge fan and asked me to write a song. I went with something that I thought best conveyed the inclusive concept of the ride in a style that I felt would fit into the Disney catalogue…and Disney Productions loved it. The song is still playing on a permanent loop in the attraction!
And I gotta ask...have you been there to check it out?
Yes – a few times now. You’ll find me loitering in the exit area with a Goofy grin, listening for just a bit too long for it to be considered normal behaviour.