Podcast Episode #1 producer / engineer Henry Hirsch (Part 1)

My guest today is multi-platinum award winning producer/enginner Henry Hirsch best known for his collaboration with Lenny Kravitz. In part one of this interview we talk about:

  • The different iterations of Waterfront Studios, New York
  • Working with Lenny Kravitz
  • Getting sounds on the first three Lenny records
  • Switching to digital


Links and Show Notes:


Guest: Henry Hirsch

Host: Clemens Schleiwies

The Podcast Website:

Schleiwies Studio:

Analog Online Mastering:


00:00:12 - 00:00:36
Clemens: Hello and welcome to the recording studio. My name is Clemens Schleiwies. I'm a mix and mastering engineer based in Munich, Germany. And I have the great honor today sitting with Henry Hirsch, multi-platinum, award winning producer, engineer, most known for his work with Lenny Kravitz. So, Henry, hello. Welcome to the podcast.

00:00:36 - 00:00:39
Henry: Thank you, Clemens, very much. I'm glad to be here.

00:00:40 - 00:00:45
Clemens: So let's start with where did you grow up and how did music come into your life?

00:00:45 - 00:01:46
Henry: Well, like most young children at the age of nine, I heard the Beatles play on Ed Sullivan Show and it was so striking and so different and just so amazing that I was like, Oh, okay. I'd already known at a very, very young age that music was something that I could do very well because I could pretty much hear a piece of music and then just play it as I heard it without reading music. And so even though I was not formally given piano lessons or trained, I was able to start music. And basically the inspiration, as I said, is, is the music that the Beatles made. And I knew that watching them and seeing how they were on that stage made me believe that this is what my life's work was going to be. And it turned out to be what my life's work was.

00:01:47 - 00:01:50
Clemens: Hmm. How was the way to your waterfront studios?

00:01:51 - 00:10:31
Henry: Okay, well, you have to separate the Waterfront studios into a couple of studios. Basically, I've had in my career three recording studios that I worked out of. The first recording studio that I worked out was in Hoboken, New Jersey, which is a town right across from New York City where they have a path train where you can you can go back and forth. And at the time, which is in the middle eighties, I decided that I had an apartment that I was doing a lot of my my recordings. And I had gotten an eight track recorder. I started actually with a four track in my apartment in New York City. And then I figured I need more space to do this. So I moved to Hoboken, which was at the time a lot cheaper. And then I had an apartment there that I set up a track recording studio in my house, in my apartment with no isolation, going to the outside. And people would come over. I had clients that would give me a few hundred dollars to do the session. And I started really a career, but I started as a musician. So by the time I wanted to get into the engineering side of music, it wasn't until I was in Germany actually, ironically, that I got interested in engineering because when I would do sessions as a studio piano player in Germany, mainly working out of Berlin but also in Hamburg, and I did a lot of live television broadcasts and radio broadcasts, and I worked with artists in Germany like Juergen from the Lip and did a song called Kreutzberger Nesta. That was in 1978. So it goes back quite a long ways when the the wall was still separating east and west in Berlin. But anyway, I was in these studios and I would get hired to play, and if there was any written music, I would always have to sort of wait and hear what everybody else was playing and sort of like fake it because I couldn't read the music, but with my ear I was able to do it and everyone hired me. But I would go into the control rooms and listen to the records that I enjoyed at the time and say, Why doesn't it? Why does it sound so bad? Why is it sound so strange? I don't understand. Why is that different? I couldn't understand it. And the engineers were like, Oh my God, do I have to listen to this anymore? So they said, Look, if you got such a big problem with this, why don't you just do it yourself? And I was like, Oh, okay, that's an idea. So when I got back from Berlin in 1980, that's when I started and I got my first for track and I said, Oh, got my eight track. And then finally we moved to studio. I found a real estate company in Hoboken, and I asked for a space that was inexpensive but big, that could have a live room in it, and they could put a control room in it. And they took me to a space that we. Is completely open to the outside. There were no walls, there was trucks going by, there was no floor. It was his roar, as you could possibly imagine, a room. So I'm like, I can't believe that I could ever put a studio in this. But the builders, the owners of the building, they did fix all of that. And we did build rooms within rooms. There were a lot of issues with that, but we finally got it. But actually, the first Waterfront Studios was never done with with testing and any. Anything to do with what the room reproduced like or the control room. There was none of that. I was just starting in 1985 and I had only done these these eight tracks and 24 tracks finally at this little house studio. So I went into Waterfront and I was like, okay, well, let me just try. So I remember the first couple of bands would come in. There was a time where you were sitting up and doing drums, and I was just trying to figure out how to use the board and and I could hear on the talkback that the people in the band going, Wow, he doesn't really know what he's doing. And I was like, Oh man, I'm really in for it now. But it started to work once I was able to understand some degree how signal flowed through the console and into the speakers. And once I realized how that worked, I was like, Oh, okay, this isn't such a difficult thing. And then I was like, Wow, it really is a difficult thing. So any any people growing up, as you go into, you know, audio and you go into it, one thing I could recommend is that don't go in with a preconceived notion of what the rules are because that doesn't necessarily follow in terms of what makes a really great recording. So getting back to my studio in in Hoboken, New Jersey, I was doing sessions there. I had nobody else. I met my wife there very early on. We were both completely broke and the studio was $25 an hour and clients would come in and it was like we advertised on paper called the Village Voice in New York, which was a paper that, unlike the Internet, you put your ad in the back of the The Village Voice, and you said what gear you had and then what clients you have. So that sort of thing. So in walked one day young men, very aggressive. I was in the middle of a session and he was going to be a meeting after the session and he walked in and he walked into the control room and he barged in. He goes, Am I supposed to be here? And I was like, Well, I'm in the middle of a session. Why don't you just sit out in the quote unquote lounge, which was barely a lounge, and and I'll be with you after another session because I thought, we're doing it now. I'm like, No, no, Lenny or not. But actually it wasn't Lenny. I said, What is your name? He says, My name is Romeo Blue. And I'm like, Oh, okay. Interesting name. All right, why don't you sit down on the lounge? So then after I did my session, Lenny came in the control room and he brought in a cassette that he'd been working on in Los Angeles. And he said, You put it in. And I had eight or nine speakers at the time, not eight, 11 speakers or any of the other speakers eventually got the 0809 is a smaller Yuri speaker and Lenny put his cassette in and he was like, This sounds like complete utter trash and shit. Sorry. You know, your studio. I don't know if this is going to work out and like, look, why don't you come on in and bring your band in and let's see what we can do. Let's see what happens. So then Lenny decided, okay, we'll give it a shot. So his band comes in and there are a bunch of musicians, and he is not the singer. As a matter of fact, I didn't even know what he was in the band and we were doing everything was digital in the sense that it was still going to tape. But we were using drum machines. We actually set up cymbals in a room to overdub symbols, which at the time I was like, Oh my God, this is another one of these types of sessions. And it was just like, just a joke. But we had an MSI 24 track tape machine and I was quite good at punching. And I think that when Lenny saw that I could get these really tight punches, he was like something like going off in his brain that maybe this guy is is pretty good at what he does. And then Lenny said, okay, I'm going to go out and I'm going to sing. So stop me if you feel that I'm out of tune. And so I had a partner at the time and we were in and he goes out to the microphone and we kept stopping him after the first line, Well, you're out of tune. I mean, you're you're definitely sharp and then you're flat and you're sharp and you're flat. And Lenny did an entire night. We got less than one line. That was the start of Lenny Kravitz, his recording career with me. So I thought, well, this is this is over. It's ending. It's like. This experience was not what you want to do with a budding thing. But he had picked up a bass and he played the bass. He started slapping the bass like real funk style slapping. And it's like, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. And I was like, You play bass? He goes, Yeah, it's just fool around with it. I'm like. Man, Oh, man, you can really do this well. So anyway, so he left, and I didn't hear from him for a couple of years. And then. Then it all happened, and then I'll get into that and we can talk about that.

00:10:31 - 00:10:36
Clemens: Yeah, let's. Let's do it. Let's dive right into like, how did you get all the sounds on the classic Lenny Kravitz alsbums?

00:10:36 - 00:19:05
Henry: Okay, well, let's start with Lenny's first record with Let Love Rule. Let Rule of Rule was done. It was first done to an MCI 24 track machine, which is my first 24 track that I owned. And and then during the process of making the record, I received a3m tape machine, a 16 track, and I was in my office and it wasn't really an office, but it was a room called The Office. And I listened to the tape machine in there just with with headphones, and I couldn't believe the quality coming off the tape compared to what I'd been using with the MCI. It was it was like my voice sounded like like it was so perfect. And so I was like, okay, this is what I have to I have to use here. So it had an MCI to start with, and Lenny and I started using that. We actually started before 1989. He came out, he called me from Los Angeles. He said, Look, I want to make you I want you to make my record my first record. I think that that's what I want to do. And I said, okay, well, let's let's book some time. You come on in, we'll figure out how we're going to do it. This is local. Okay, well, how much is your price? I'm like, Well, we're like $25 an hour. He's like, Well, everyone in LA is going to do it for spec, right? Okay, well, I'm not going to be able to eat off of spec, so you're going to have to do that. Is that all right? All right. So $25. Okay, great. So Lenny flies out and he comes in with this young girl, and it turned out that it was Lisa Bonet. And the first day at the studio, Lisa slept on the couch while Lenny and I were getting set up. We started the first record by doing a rehearsal in my little drum booth while there were sessions going on in the back behind the control room, and Lenny hired a studio guy to come and play the drums, and I was on a Fender Rhodes, and Lenny was playing some bass, and this guy was playing the drums, and we were playing just a piece of a first song that Lenny had written, I believe it was called Rosemary, one of the cuts that's on Let Love Rule. And we also were doing a song called I Build This Garden For US, which Lenny had just the chorus of. So we're jamming basically with this drummer to see how it's going to go for the recording. So the drummer left and Lenny said, That went pretty well. I think that was that, you know, how. What do you think? I'm like, No, it's like, you know, the strangest thing, Lenny, is like when you sat down with the drums to show him what you wanted it to be, I thought the drums sounded amazing, but when he sat down, it just sounded really ordinary. He said, You you play drums, right? He goes, Yeah, I can. I have a drum kit. But, you know, I've never made professional drum recordings. But yeah, I can play drums. I said, Sounds like you can play more than the drums. Just sort of like as as an amateur. You sound pretty. Pretty good. So why don't you consider to play the drums on the record? He's like, Really? You think that's what we should do? I said, Yeah, I think we should do that. He goes, Well, what about doing it as a band? And I was like, No, no, why not? Why don't you say I could see you play great bass? And since I play the piano and I play the B3 and I play the Wurlitzer and I play the Fender Rhodes and I also play bass, I said, Why don't we just do it together, you and I? And he's like, Okay, we'll try it. So now we get to the real fun part, which is after we had done some of the pre work on love rule, we started getting serious about, okay, we got to make the record. So we set up and we, we did drum sounds on the first record at the very beginning. My partner was an engineer, worked a studio called Adventure Sound, which was owned by a man named Tony Camillo, who had come from Detroit for Motown Studios. And Dave Dominic was a recording engineer, professional recording engineer. I was just been a musician, so I was new at it. But Dave Dominic was not. But I was the one who was more finicky and aggressive towards getting sounds. But we did this first very session. Dave Dominic was sitting behind the board and he was using like API equipment. And then we had this, this Trident console, the series 75 board, which was awful sounding console, but we had it nevertheless. And so he was doing the drum sounds and Lenny and I were live in the little studio room. And then you understand that this is a, a little room that has a white carpet on the floor, basically some deadening material on the wall. There was no diffusion. There was nothing there was nothing about that room that sounded good or that was anything special. It was only that what I could afford. So we start recording this and I'm playing a Rhodes and we're playing Fear was the first song that we do, which is the first song that opens up side two with Lenny's record. And we played it together and I played a Fender Rhodes track and Lenny played the drums. And I as we were doing it, I was just comping along and playing some licks here and there, and Lenny was playing the drums. We just did that as a as the start. I went back to the control room. I listen to the drums and I'm like, I don't know. I don't really like the sound of these drums. It's just me. This is how I do things. And and so we went in and we cut another track with the same drum sound, and we finally finished three, three basic tracks. I build this garden front and is there anyone out there and is there anyone out there? I had composed the front of the piece of the music and had it, and he had just had the chorus. And so we married the two together and we did these three, three pieces. But what happened was, is when we were doing I built this garden for us. It was the last part of the multi-track tape, and I didn't know that we were near the end of the tape and like tape, not in today's world in computers. I was like, Oh, wow. I don't know if we have enough tape here to do this. And we didn't have any more tape. We couldn't afford to buy tape. The tape that we used had come from Tony Miller's studio, but we. Used tape. It wasn't even pristine new tape. We didn't have enough money to actually use a real roll of tape. It was actually recorded on tape that had been used over and over again and it had been erased. And there were actually things still on the multitrack that I'd have to erase, amazingly enough. So there was no technical process in any of this. And the funny story is that when we did, I build this garden for us. At the very end of the tape rolled off. But as it was rolling off, he's playing the drums that the drumsticks splintered and a piece of the drumstick went in his eye and it was like, Oh my God. And he's like, in pain and screaming and screaming and screaming. And there was a hospital in in Hoboken. So my partner, guy, Dave Dominick, and my wife, I believe, took him to the hospital. And Lenny was like in agony from this and said, I'm going to lose my eye and this is my career and all this stuff. And of course, what I do while they're in the hospital, I'm working on the drums and working on the sound. And this became the template of how it went. My partner would end up taking care of setting up cables and I would do all the sounds. And occasionally, if I was sick, my partner would come in and do Sounds great Recording engineer and I was the inexperienced one, but I had the tenaciousness. And I think that again for young people is something that you have to have. Settling on sound is not the way you do it. If this is your career, you don't do that. So Lenny went to the hospital and to the story is we started the record that way is I was fine, no problem. But the funny part was like he had to wait in the wait and he's like, Wait, I don't want to wait. I can't. I just did my eyes like I want to be first online. So even in the hospital, Lenny was Lenny, which was very aggressive, But he wasn't Lenny. He was Romeo. Never called him Lenny until the end of the record. Or if not the start of the next one, it will always Romeo. It's Rome, Romeo, Romeo, Blue. And that's how we started. That's how we did it nice.

00:19:05 - 00:19:09
Clemens: And later on, I think it changed to digital, right?

00:19:09 - 00:29:54
Henry: Like what's Oh, as well. Okay, well, what happened was this is that the first three Lenny records was all analog recording. I mean, both of us insisted on it. We were big fans of Stevie Wonder. And and as far as Stevie Wonder goes, just to touch back on what I said before about the carpet is that Lenny is associated with the dry sounds in in the in the room. And he used to say, make the drums sound like carpet and like carpet. He he's like, yeah, like really dead. I'm like, okay, well, that's good. No reverb. I like that these records didn't have a lot of reverb. And so we did that. So we did the first three records all on the first two without anybody else. And then something on the third record happened where he called me from Los Angeles, where he was, and he said, I've met this guitar player named Craig Ross and this bass player named Tony Bright. I want to bring him to the studio. I think I found the guitar player in the bass player and I'm like, Well, I don't know about that. It's just been him and I up to that point playing all the instruments and it was always one instrument at a time which relates to the studio, which we'll talk about here later. So anyway, so are you going to go My Way was done. We also work with Vanessa Paradis at the time. Basically the sessions overlapped and it was like just a great thing having a band playing finally that could play. I mean, Craig Ross is the most underrated guitar player in the world. He can play anything by ear. Remarkable musician. I can't say that enough about Craig Ross, and he's still working with Lenny as of now. And Tony Bright was just incredible. Just he could play, you know, amazing, beautiful passages on the bass. And between the two of them with Lenny on the drums, it was like, Wow, I could just engineer now. And it's like, But I also still played. I played the piano and I played a lot of instruments on those records, right? So then we got to Circus, and that was the fourth Lenny record, and things were starting to now get pressured because Lenny had a big hit with you going to go my way, right? And we never thought it was going to be a big hit. It was done in 20 minutes, literally at the end of a session as a throwaway, I had microphones that had been set up in the room. This became a theme moving on, where the microphones weren't really set up. I had no time, 20 minutes, and the famous track to away the entire basic track was recorded in 20 minutes. That's what happens in the music industry and in recording if you get it. Well, the rest world might like it, which it did. We didn't know it was going to. At the time, I'm like, Oh, this is ever going to work. And he went in there, he sung it. So we had all the success of DiCenzo. All of a sudden, there's a lot of pressure to make our going to go away again. So the next record, Lenny, is like, okay, I really want to make this a rock record. You know, we got the band Craig plays, you know, let's do some Zeppelin type of stuff and let's like really get live and let's get hard hitting the Zeppelin vibe. So I'm like, Good, let's do that. So the problem was at this point, Lenny was like always in New York and always not coming to the studio and be waiting and waiting and waiting, and he's doing interviews and he was like, you know, up and coming and all this. And I'm just. Henry still trying to get sound. So Craig Ross would play the drums and we get drum sounds that way. And it was turning into like a circus. It was like, Where's Lenny? And so Lenny would finally come in and he'd sit behind the drums. And you just hope that when he played, you'd have to quickly readjust the sounds. And did it work? Not. And, you know, we always knew if Lenny walked in the room, he gave me a look and I go, Yeah, I know the drums sound like bowtie, which means the two big in the speakers, they don't fit. You know, we had all these terms and all this stuff, and Lenny was highly critical, which was great, because so was I. I mean, yeah, they suck. You're right. Let's do it again. I don't want to do it again. You say it sucks, but you fix them. I don't want to do it again. Why don't you try one more time? Suzanne. All right. All right. So you go out and play it. He'd be brilliant and we would get to take some tracks were done on eight tracks and we're done on the three M 16 track. So the 24 track then that was on the first record, turn it into an Atari machine. And that became a slave machine where we bounced to the Atari. And I always hated the sound of that machine. And that led then to even more success. And that led to Lenny now becoming a superstar. And all of this with music that no one expected was going to be. And then we started to do the five record, and that's when it really started to after it was a circus, it started to become not a circus, but started to become further than a circus. And at the end of circus, there was sounds and noises and all the mixes from grounding problems. And so we went in and there was a studio called Clinton Studios in New York, and they had in one of the rooms downstairs had all 80, 70/8 in the studio. It ended up closing and we went downstairs to what was there like mixed room. And, you know, I said, I don't know what you can do down here. And he had some odd looking equipment and there was a computer on and I'm like, what is what is with the computer? And he says, Well, this thing I'm using, it's called sound tools. I said, You know, I don't know how it works, but, you know, I've got these clicks and pops and stuff. He said, Don't worry about that because I can get rid of them. I said, What? What do you mean you can get rid of them? So I can don't worry about it. Just I can get rid of them. So I actually left and tech that was at hand ultimately was working there. I got the listen to the recording and all of a sudden there's no clicks, there's no pops, there's nothing. It's like it's all clean. There was RF clean. I'm like, What did you do? And that's was the first introduction to digital recording. Yeah. So at the time I went out and got a small Roland eight track digital thing, which today would be considered primitive as eight bit. Hmm. Hmm. And I recorded saying, Wow, this is the cleanest thing. But something strange happened when I went to go mix these eight tracks that was done on this. I couldn't mix it. It wouldn't balance Everything just seemed like it was forward and there was no space and like, I don't get it. What's what's what am I missing here? But there was something flawed. So I'm like, okay, I'm going to just stick with my tape. But tape, you know, you have to do tape edits, You erase things. And at that point, Lenny's career that was like, I want to I don't want to do this. So we started five and then the start of five. Lenny had taken a townhouse in New York because I had shut down my studio because computers were starting to now take over the music industry. I was still sticking to analog. I wasn't. I was I knew I could never make it work. And this throughout my whole career has been a problem with me with digital recording. But back then it was much more primitive. So having said that, on the start of five, he had taken he had found this home and I brought, which was an arranged to range console into this home. It was on on the east side of New York on 36th Street, on the east side. So anyway, so we're working and he says, I want to do ProTools, you know, And he says, you know, I brought my piano there and I was like, No, I like the sound of the fake pianos. I know what's going on. So. We were having issues. And after being under so much pressure and Lenny needing to really do it the way Lenny wanted to do it, I couldn't do it anymore and be true to my art and be true to what I wanted to do. So we broke up and we had an argument and I said, I never did this for fashion. I never did this for anything. I did it because of the sound and I want to veer off of analog. I just don't want to do it. So that's it. So we broke it up and that's basically how digital came in and how and why. The first four Lenny records are all analog records. And then on the five record is where ProTools started coming in. So you can hear a different sound change between what Terry Manning was doing and what I had been doing. And between those records, he was the five record which had a huge hit with Flyaway everywhere, huge hit like everywhere. All you heard was Flyaway. And I'm like, Wow, Well, I guess he's doing okay without me. So that wasn't the case. So what happened next was, is that I get a call from Craig Ross and he said, Look, Lenny is going to call you in about half an hour. Take the call, please. And I said, All right, is he really want to do it? Does you really want to come back? If he does, it's like you've got to do it the way we we did is he really wants to do it. So see. So Lenny called me and he said, Look, I want to work with you in the future again. I said, Okay, well, maybe in a year or two we'll we'll get together and do something, figuring it was just like he had, you know, the Pro Tools and it was it wasn't going to happen, but just whatever. And then the next day, he called me in the morning. I want you to come down to the studio downtown in New York and like, the next day, like, yeah, I want you to come down. So we cut American Woman, and the first thing that I did with Lenny was on Pro Tools was doing guitar overdubs there, and it was in his digital studio and it was like all this digital Neve consoles and all this stuff. And I'm like, What is all this stuff? It's like, looks like the moon landing. So and you know, looking back, that equipment then was hundreds of thousands. Now you could give it away for junk. It's worthless. It was worthless then too. So anyway, so we're doing American Woman, and I did the guitars in America, and that's what started me coming back into the Lenny thing. And then we'll get further into the what happened after that. But so we got back and we started working with digital and that had a huge impact on on Lenny and I and the career and what happened and after that. All right.

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *