William Orbit on Madonna, working on MDNA album
People got so excited when they knew you were involved in Madonna’s MDNA. How different was it to collaborate with her on these two different projects ?
I knew people were excited, they ask me about a new Ray Of Light every minute of the day. Think of it this way: Ray Of Light came about very spontaneously. We were in this studio in a rather unfashionable part of LA where nobody came. The record company guy came down only once and made some comments and I do remember Madonna telling him “This is art. This is how we are doing it. We’ll let you come and have a good listen but we’ll see you in two months when it’s done.” It was a very pure experience; it was all about making that record and nothing else. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out at the very beginning but the moment I saw her jumping into the tracks in such an artistic way, I instantly thought how great it was going to be. She’s an amazing person, producer and it was a true collaboration. It’s important to get this across; I don’t like it when people assume that I was the clever one doing the whole job. It has been a bit of a curse and I’d feel mortified if I was her because on the album there is written “produced by Madonna and William Orbit” and that’s what happened! She didn’t put her name there out of vanity, she was fucking in there with me and it wouldn’t have happened without the two of us. As for MDNA it’s important to say that I jumped on the project later; she had already started it. She had a lot of stuff going on, I honestly don’t know how any human being could cope with making an album, directing and producing a movie, launching products and everything that comes with just being her. I mean, I had to cancel a couple of appointments this morning because I was overbooked! She’s so organized and such an incredible time manager, just like a general. Anyway, we were just not really able to lock the door and everybody out for MDNA. She was having such a great time at first but it somehow became very complex for everybody. I would have mixed it myself if I could, or only together with Madonna in front of the mixing desk because she’s a great mixer. We have spirited debates about things but we both always end up in the same direction because we’re good at mixing. Moreover, I should have told her that technically I did more album than she did and even though there’s nothing I can ever do to even come close to what she achieved, I know she can trust me on the technical side of things. Just let me fucking be in charge of the technical, it’s so important! I would have dropped three of the six tracks that she had already made with the other guys. They were not good enough in my opinion; too puerile. As for the remaining three I would have suggested to put more depth and make them more special. I had the best team and other brilliant songs and this is why I am still a bit puzzled to these days. It’s not that I ever give it a second thought; I’m only talking about this because you’ve asked of course. Life is too busy to worry about stuff, you have to move on. Any saying I had on my part are down to me, so if I have made some mistakes then it’s my fault.
Actually the six tracks you produced are unquestionably the most powerful ones. I guess Madonna was in a different emotional place during the Ray of Light era…
It was definitely an important time when a lot of things happened. The day we were recording Swim in the studio, Madonna got a call from her friend Donatella, informing her about that terrible thing that happened to her brother. We kept on recording and of course it had some effects on the song. On a more positive side she had a daughter, her first child, this tiny little thing. What a perfect time to be writing and recording! What she does in the studio is fantastic and as I’ve said, her involvement in that album is much greater than what she has ever been given credit for. We did not have a plan but she’s good in driving things along, in fact when we finished Ray Of Light she immediately set up a listening party for the people at Warner. As we were waiting outside in a little sitting room, picking on strawberries and biting our nails, I realized “shit, Madonna has no idea about how they’re going to respond! She’s nervous! Madonna does no nervous!” I did not expect her to feel that way because she never shows it. As it turned out everybody loved it and started jumping and to me it was a really great example on how making a really good record. I mean, that woman has never lost any money even on a bad year but still… It’s different with Britney for instance, because Madonna is a different kind of artist of course, but nevertheless she deserves to be given a chance and I wish I had the possibility to do what I can do for her. Maybe let’s talk about this in ten years, I’m here to stay. I feel reborn and excited so don’t look at me as a seasoned producer because I am ready to go with the same zeal I had for the first record. If you manage to live on music for 35 years, it means that you’re a hard worker, smart and that you’ll definitely carry on until your death. It’s a long horizon, there’s no rush.