Definition of Anal Retentive=Steely Dan (Fagen & Becker)
Small excerpt from an interview with Roger Nichols. May be of interest.
BS: Was Donald and Walter's contribution equal?
RN: It was always Donald and Walter together. They're both equally talented and it really was a fifty-fifty operation. Either one of them could've done the records alone, but you can tell there is a difference when both of them bounce ideas off each other. They get fine-tuned that much more. Walter's a great guitar player. The only thing is, he takes a long time to do solos, about an hour a bar, so it takes us a day to do an eight-bar solo. When we started using studio musicians, Walter would show 'em what he wanted, so the later guitar parts were very much influenced by him.
BS: How did Fagen and Becker get so much out of jaded session musicians?
RN: It's like the musical Olympics. Here's a musician whose style and capability they know, and they'll push him to ten percent beyond his limits. Just the chords they've written and the things they have in their mind; maybe Larry Carlton's not used to playing these scales over these chords. Another big factor is that we don't care how long it takes. The musicians will say, 'Hey, I'm really sorry it's taking so long. It's a great idea, I'm trying to execute it,' and we say, 'We don't care how long you take.' It's all constructively done, and it just takes a long time to do it. But every time somebody comes out, they say they've never played that well in their lives. And then they always want to come back.
BS: What's the story behind the solo in "Peg," which apparently frustrated an awful lot of guitarists?
RN: There were only eight guitarists who tried that tune, not thirty. It was just that everyone had their own idea of what the solo should be, and it just didn't match up to what Donald and Walter expected of it. Jay Graydon was their last ditch effort -- it became the Jay Graydon solo by default. It came out pretty much the way they had in mind, though. Usually they'd put a band together for the rhythm sections based on the tune and the style of the musicians: 'These three guys will work together on this tune, let's put 'em together and try it.' Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn't quite work out, so you'd put together another rhythm date later with a different combination. But it wasn't like there were ten tunes to cut and you tried to cut five different bands on all ten, and then picked the best one. It sort of got blown all out of proportion by the times the rumors started spreading around 'Eighty-five bands tried that tune!'
BS: How were the duties of Gary Katz and yourself divided?
RN: It worked out pretty well. Once in a while I'd have to slam him against the wall, keep him in line. 'I'm not doing that! Kerrump!' But it's just one of those things that clicks. The musicians pretty much know what they want. They're in charge of that, I'm in charge of getting it on tape and making it sound great.
BS: And Gary Katz's specialty?
RN: Hiring and firing musicians. (Roger laughs) No, Gary's good at getting the most out of Donald when he's doing his vocals. The rest of the time it was pretty much Donald and Walter leading the musicians down the right path, and then Gary Katz more or less the executive producer.
BS: As Steely Dan's records grew more mature, the complaint began to be heard that they were too perfect, that the raw edges had been homogenized out. How do you feel about that?
RN: We achieved perfection and abandoned it on the second album all in one evening. I remember mixing "King of the World." Everyone else went home; Gary Katz fell asleep on the floor and Denny Dias and I stayed until seven in the morning, doing it in little sections, getting the balance between all the instruments perfect, then on to the next section, all of it perfect. Then we spliced the 2-track master sections together, which is how we used to mix down before we got the Necam digital mixing system. The next afternoon we came to the studio and played it back; the song started, and then the fade came. We went, 'Wait a minute. Did we leave something out? What's going on here?' And we played it back again and we had to really concentrate to realize the song was going by. You could hear everything, but you couldn't hear anything, like sonic wallpa-per- really strange. We ended up using the mix we'd done ten hours before which had more three-dimensionality to it.
BS: Tell us about Wendel, the drum machine you designed.
RN: We found that there were certain feels that we couldn't get out of real drummers -- they weren't steady enough. So we had to design something that would do it perfectly, but with some human feeling, the right amount of layback. Instead of just one high-hat sound that repeats machine-like over and over, we had sixteen different ones, so it had the inflections. Wendel can play exactly what the drummer plays -- if he plays a little early or a little hard, Wendel plays it a little early or a little hard. Play it once, Wendel memorizes the song, then you play it again and it repeats what it hears.