Larrabee was a real state-of-the-art studio. I’d never even worked on an automated desk before. It wasn’t so much a learning curve as a learning cliff. I realised right away that my equipment was really superannuated, like my old Atari 1040, held together with gaffer tape. It caught fire twice on the sessions.
One minor hazard was that Lola (Lourdes) would come in every day and, like any toddler, she’d make a beeline for the knobs and buttons. We’d look away and the whole sound had changed. We had to keep an eye on her.
There weren’t a lot cf musicians around. Mostly it was just me, Madonna, Pat McCarthy, who was a brilliant engineer, and a tape-op called Matt. On Ray Of Light every guitar you hear is me. On a lot of tracks I did everything.
Most of the tracks pre-existed, so Madonna would work on vocals and lyrics at home, or driving around in her car. It’s Important to point out that I wasn’t the only producer working on the LP. Patrick Leonard did some great work…
Madonna: As a classically trained musician, Patrick brought a whole other element to the mix, particularly his string arrangements…
William Orbit: About a third of the way through, I thought I was going to get fired. Madonna was used to working with super-slick producers, whereas I’m very lateral which she saw as being disorganized.
I went to her house to playback Power Of Goodbye. We’d taken the wrong DAT with us and she was not amused. I ended up saying “Gimme a week and I’ll turn this one round”.
I virtually lived in the studio for that week, and from then on, it was great. She became confident that I knew what I was doing.
15 July 1997
Gianni Versace is shot dead outside his home in Miami Beach, Florida.
William Orbit: We were recording Swim on the day Versace was murdered. Madonna was very friendly with him and his sister, Donatella, who was in the street, distraught, on her cellphone to Madonna. But she did the vocal, which is probably why it has such an emotional impact.
Madonna: Ray Of Light (the track) is a mystical look at the universe and how small we are…
Christine Leach: My uncle, Clive Muldoon, and his partner, Dave Curtiss wrote a song in the 70s called Sepheryn, which became Ray Of Light. I’d been working with William one fateful night in 1996, in London. and he played me a backing track that fitted so well with the lyric to Sepheran that I just started singing it.
William Orbit: It was excellent, and I said so. I thought she’d written it, and she didn’t say she hadn’t. So that was among the tracks on the original DAT I sent to Madonna.
Christine Leach: Later, I was sent a cassette in the post, of Madonna’s version of the track and I nearly fainted. She must have loved the track – even her ad libs are the same as mine.
William Orbit: The final track, Mer Girl was another crucial point for me. I was very proud of it, but there was outside pressure to change it, and she just said, “No, It’s a piece of art. Don’t touch it.” I thought “I’m in good hands here.” I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about the music being trampled on by A&R interventions.
Madonna: It’s a song about dealing with death. There’s the obvious thing about my mother’s death but also Princess Diana’s and Versace’s death. There seemed to be so much death actually around the time that I had written it.
3 March 1998
Ray Of Light is released.
Dave Curtiss: I didn’t even know Ray Of Light had been recorded. A friend heard about it on the radio and told me. I was a bit annoyed at first because Madonna wanted 30 per cent just for changing a couple of lines, but then I realized that 15 per cent of millions is a lot better than 100 per cent of nothing. I did very well out of it. It’s been a life-changing experience. I’d say I’m financially secure for at least the next five to 10 years as a result of 15 per cent of one track by Madonna.
© Q Magazine