New Jack Swing apprentice Elliot Straite a.k.a. Dr. Freeze has recently dropped by and conducted an interview with MJFrance founder Quagmire about working with his idol Michael Jackson. They spent a good deal on the phone talking about everything from being called to drafting a few tracks-even goofin' around together. And before I let the dialog take over, here are a few tidbits about Mr. Freeze.
During the Invincible Sessions, he helped string together Break of Dawn. Blue Gangsta, and A Place With No Name were album outtakes recorded around the same time. But I'll save the rest for the interview.
take it away guys...
An Interview With Dr. FreezeQuagmire: I'm eager to hear how you began working with Michael Jackson and how he contacted you.
Dr. Freeze: I knew his manager, John McClain, and I was working on an album with my partners, Spydermann. After completing the album, it did not go as planned and we had to cancel the project. I was very upset. And then John McClain said, "Do not worry Freeze. I have another project for you. You'll be in business with Michael." I said: "Michael ... who?" And he said: "Michael Jackson!" I did not believe it at first and I thought it was crazy. And then one day I was on the phone with my father and someone called me on the other line...And it was Michael! That's how it all began. I had some songs that I made for Michael. He adored them! Because Michael and I, we have a knack for melody. So every time I proposed something, it was easy for him to study the song because it was as if he already knew. I gave him some songs that he adored. He cherished them. That's how we met.
Q: Speaking of "Break Of Dawn", which is a great song. I think that's one of the most sensual songs he has ever made and that's what I wanted to hear from Michael. I do not know if you knew, this is the first time he talks about making love in a song. I do not know if you had addressed this very issue with him?
F: (laughs) Yeah, thank you. It was his favorite song. That was his baby!
Q: Do you remember the exact number of songs that you have presented?
F: I introduced him to many songs. The main songs on which we worked are "Break Of Dawn", "A Place With No Name" and "Blue Gangsta". These three songs were our priorities. "Break Of Dawn" is one of the songs that have been finalized. Others have been released later. They are kept in reserve.
Q: So you suggest songs hmm...No doubt Michael adores most of his work. As I understand, he loved every bit of "Break Of Dawn", and from there he decided to focus on this particular song. What happened next?
F: We were recording, went studio hopping, re-registered, and recorded more songs. You know, "A Place With No Name" and "Gangsta Blue" were recorded at the same time. There are also some others I can not speak of now. But other songs were recorded. We saved a lot but these three songs were our three main objectives.
Q: What was your mindset in the first day in the studio with him? How did you feel?
F: It was pretty scary for me! I felt like I was back in primary school and not knowing anything about the production! With Michael I relearned everything. The other producers and I were as students facing a teacher. With Michael, it was as if we knew nothing more to the business: we had to start over and relearn everything. He taught us to do everything the best way possible: Michael was a perfectionist and we had to start from scratch to produce the music the best possible way. I was very nervous, very nervous but very honored! Anyway, Michael was more nervous with me than I were with him. He was simply the most wonderful person with whom you could never dream of working with. It was great! He knew all about the music industry, everything about everything, nothing was foreign to him, and he taught me a lot. Finally, he was very humble and creative. It was really great to work with him.
Q: You have therefore proposed his "Break Of Dawn", and then you had to redo the song in full by following his advice?
F: No, he just had to record vocals...and add his magic! It was like flowers and trees grew in the song! He touched her and it became magical! I was shocked!
Q: So all the musical parts and the lyrics were made in advance?
F: Yes, he loved the song! He wanted to leave it as is! All of it was me on this piece, no one had the right to change anything. Because it sounded like he had heard it for the first time we had a dream, a vision, and he wanted to recreate this dream in song to the last detail. He did not want to change anything, he wanted to keep the magic of the song absolutely intact. What you hear on Invincible is exactly the version I've given him before he raises his voice there.
Q: How long did it take him to record the song?
F: It took him time because he wanted a lot of momentum in the voice, especially the harmony you hear in the chorus. It took time. The process was in the studio as long as if we were filming a movie!
Q: At that time, he also worked on other songs for Invincible?
Q: So he was taken to record his voice, listen to it, arrange it, working on other songs, then he returned a few days later to make additional catches...right?
F: Yes, it was incremental work. Sometimes he recorded the lead vocals, sometimes it was just the chorus or ad-lib...He also listened to the different mixes and changed some details around here or there. He was in full creative control. We wanted the song to be perfect, and to return to my analogy about film, it was a bit like a director looking to improve his film by changing the script or changing players. This is the type of process that was used to create this song, and overall, the album Invincible.
Q: So basically, he changed a verse, started work on another song, and a few days later, he came to you to change the song again?
F: Yes. When he returned, changes were made and ideas were proposed, he listened attentively. It also arose at times to arrange two or three things. Ultimately, all decisions were his. He was the boss. He was open to any criticism or suggestions beneficial to the song, as the tune kept its effectiveness. All that interested him was to have #1 hits.
Q: Who's idea was it to take "A Horse With No Name" from "America" unto a whole new level?
F: That's me. Again, I did all the music, and he only had to learn the lyrics. It was at the same time as "Break Of Dawn", but it was not extended and we continued to work on it later. It has improved gradually.
Q: Was it planned for the album Invincible or another project?
F: Initially it was planned for Invincible, yes. It is not out on this album and was therefore kept in reserve as was "Blue Gangsta".
Q: Compared to the extract leak on the Internet, can we expect different mixing?
F: Yes, what you heard was an old mix. One you'll soon hear is completely new.
Q: You said "soon"? I am willing to learn more!
F: "A Place With No Name" and "Blue Gangsta" will both be on the next post-humorous album of Michael Jackson. "A Place With No Name" will be different from the leak on the internet, it will be updated. For "Blue Gangsta" I've rerecorded the instrumental. So expect changes to that as well.
Q: Did you complete this song with Michael when he was alive lifetime?
F: Absolutely, it has been finalized.
Q: What were your feelings about Michael when you got to know him a little better in the studio?
F: It taught me not only to create a song correctly, but it also gave me advice on the music industry as a whole. My main feeling is that he was an absolute genius. I was fortunate to learn from one of the greatest entertainers of all time. I try to apply his advice to the projects I undertake today: I try to keep alive the artistic spirit of Michael Jackson. It's like if I graduated from the University of Michael Jackson. Anyway, getting back to your question, the word "feeling" is too low. There is no word strong enough to describe what I learned and lived with the King of Pop.
Q: Do you have any anecdotes about your studio sessions?
F: Not really. I had great fun working with him. Michael was someone who loved to make funny jokes. He really opened up about many topics, video games, etc...Then resumed his work. We were amazed at his performance. It happened like that.
Q: Did he warm up a lot vocally recording the track?
F: Anyone who is warm, either in sports or singing. We never saw him do his vocal exercises before us, but when he came into the studio to record, he stood before the microphone and set fire to the song. As he left, the studio was in ashes and our jaws on the floor. It was really impressive to see.
Quagmire: As I said earlier, "Break Of Dawn" contains very specific words. It's very sensual and it's the first time he talks about making love. How did he feel over this when you made the recordings, in what state of mind was he in? Were there any special wishes during these sessions?
Dr. Freeze: No, he just told me he loved the song. I do not give him orders, he knew exactly what to do. He took control of the plane, I'm just busy taking off.
Q: Basically, he said: "Can we do what verse again, Ell..." By the way, is what you called Elliot?
F: No, he always called me "Freeze"!
Q: And you, you immediately called him by his first name?
F: Absolutely! We were really close. In fact, to be precise, I called him by his nickname "Mike" instead of Michael.
Q: You mentioned video games earlier. Do you remember the games you played with him at the time?
F: In his house, he had plenty of video games. Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and also Flight Simulator. We spent a lot of time playing them.
Q: Were you playing in the studio or at Neverland?
F: Yes, I went to Neverland, to relax and work. We worked a lot there. He had a studio at the ranch. So I was working there and sometimes he would say: "Come on, take a break Freeze! Go and have a little fun, watch a movie, engage in an attraction or take a stroll to the zoo!" Neverland was a bit like a second home to me.
Q: I did not know you worked at Neverland! It's interesting because we do not have many details on the studio of Neverland. Was it a professional studio?
F: Yes, completely, There was a lot of professional equipment, Pro Tools, stuff like that, you know?
Q: Did he use it alone?
F: Absolutely, as soon as Michael was talking about an unbeatable studio.
Q: In fact, we know he could not really play an instrument, so we always wondered if he was able to record anything on his own without the help of an engineer or producer.
F: He could do everything himself. You know, Michael was truly a "living instrument". He could play some chords on a keyboard, he was doing pretty good. He also knew programmed beats.
Q: Getting back to "Break of Dawn", can you tell us why Michael Jackson does not sing the chorus of this song?
F: Well, because he liked my version of the chorus. He found it very beautiful, and he wanted to leave everything as is. He liked my singing. He would not spoil the chorus, he loved how I had preserved it. My trademark is to make the chorus to every song that I produce("Poison," "I Want to Sex You Up"). I've been doing this forever, and Michael loved my singing on "Break of Dawn".
Q: Where did you get the inspiration for the songs "Break Of Dawn", "Blue Gangsta" and "A Place With No Name"? How does your creative process work?
F: "Break Of Dawn" is just a romantic ballad that I wrote one day. For "Blue Gangsta" I wanted to make a new "Smooth Criminal". Something more modern and rooted in the 2000s. That was the idea. "A Place With No Name" is itself a kind of escape, a song where you just close your eyes to find yourself instantly transported into a wonderful world. In fact, this song was inspired by "A Horse With No Name" from the group America. The lyrics of this song are very deep. I wanted to refresh it, make a version for the 2000s as well.
Q: Did you obtain the rights to the band quickly? Did you ask permission?
F: Oh absolutely, the group America loved the idea. They found this "update" absolutely terrific. They were really excited about this project. Compared to the extract leak on the internet, many wonderful items were added to the song by Michael. It's more dense, much denser. Believe me, when you hear it, you'll be taping your foot!
Q: So you did not touch it, will it emerge as you had finalized with him?
F: The song will be released in it's latest version on which we worked. It will be drastically different from the extract(July 2009) version and more enormous. In fact, this song is very cinematic in its form. It would have been a perfect song for a movie like Avatar because it reveals to us a wonderful world, where people are different, but happy. This song is like an escape from everyday life. it's a song where one is literally transported.
Q: Was "Blue Gangsta" remixed by Tempamental as "No Friend Of Mine"?
F: This is not the name of the song, it's just the chorus that contains these few words. The real title is "Blue Gangsta". When I heard this remix, I could not believe it. Many people called me because of that and I do not understand what had happened. The concern is that I do not even know who released the song! It remains a mystery. Why did they do that? Where did this rap originate? How were they taken? In fact, we knew nothing about this story, me nor Michael. We really do not understand where this leak came come...
Q: There are still a few weeks, nobody knew where this track originate, and how Michael Jackson had been involved in this project.
F: Yeah, I know it's crazy. The name of the song was not even good![Dr. Freeze humming the chorus of the song on the phone: "Your no friend of mine, what you put me through, now I'm the blue gangsta nah..."] Was just the chorus. This highlights the ignorance of people who are causing the leaks on the internet: they take the song and put it online without knowing its origin.
Q: For fans, they did not really understand how it could be proposed. It was weird. We suspected that something was amiss, but we did not know exactly what...
F: Yes, the song was not presented to the public as needed. A guy has just stolen the song, added a rap, and swung it on the net. I was not even credited, any more than Michael! She just landed here without any logical explanation...
Q: Have you done other songs with Michael Jackson, other than these three?
F: We did some other songs, I do not think we've finalized anything. I'm not sure I can tell you much more.
Q: Overall, how many songs did you write for Michael?
F: Oh, about thirty, and I had to save five or six of 'em.
Q: And you have these songs in your possession today?
F: Most of his novels are in the coffers now. We have no control over them. They keep everything in the chests.
Q: So is the hands of the Estate?
F: Yes, absolutely. John McClain is responsible for it.
Q: Is he the boss!
F: Yes, the boss!
Q: Were you able to hear new songs?
F: Yes, I could listen to most of them. But I can not say anything, sorry. I'm not allowed to disclose anything.
Q: Let's play a little game instead. I'll give you the names of songs, and you tell me whether or not you've heard 'em. Have you heard "Escape"?
F: "Escape"? That tells me nothing.
Q: "Fear," "Face", does that tell you something?
F: No, nothing at all
Q: Have you listened to "Do You Know Where Your Children Are?
F: I've heard it in the studios.
Q: "Crack Kills"?
F: Never heard of that.
Q: The "gloved One"?
Q: In fact, it would be easier if you give us some names...Could you give us the name of an unreleased track that you particularly marked and talk a little?
F: There's a song we made together, but I do not know if he has completed his vocal parts. It's called "Rise Above It All". It's a song I wrote and on which we worked.
Q: What was it about?
F: It's an upbeat song. If you feel bad, if things are going wrong in the world, be positive and try to be as happy as possible, leaving aside all the negative things. Overcome negativity, go beyond the woes of the world, all wars, the starving children and all the bad things. Assemble yourselves, hold your hand, raise your hands to heaven and pass it all. It's a little theme song. I can not say whether he had recorded the song, but in any case, we worked on it. There are other songs on which they collaborated. Most of these songs are mid-tempo, but I can not say anything more.
Quagmire: Have you talked with John McClain of songs that you recorded with Michael and what he intended to do with them?
Dr. Freeze: No. It's hard to go directly into contact with John McClain, he is very busy. The subject has not yet been addressed.
Q: How do you know if "A Place With No Name" and "Blue Gangsta" will be on the next album?
F: That I know. This is confirmed.
Q: Great, we look forward to that! Do you intend to edit the song "Blue Gangsta", like a fresh remake?
F: Actually, I've already done so for "Blue Gangsta". I've updated it a bit, the song is completed, ready to go. It will be completely different from the version leaked on the net. It is perfectly calibrated to enter a nightclub. It sounds very European in style productions Kraftwerk.
Q: Will you keep the base of the song?[Quagmire he sings an excerpt]
F: Absolutely everything is the same, but it sounds more current.
Q: You've stepped up the pace?
F: No, no. Everything is exactly the same.
Q: [Confused] Okay. So to summarize, you've just added a few extra sounds and made some alterations to the "sound"?
F: Exactly. To make an analogy, it's like if you had shot a movie and then you take it out in 3D.
Q: Any shoot-up of your recording sessions?
F: No, no cameras were allowed. You know, he disliked being photographed and being filmed in the studio. Therefore, it was forbidden.
Q: Earlier in the interview, you said he was programming beats and played the keyboard in front of you. Can you tell us more?
F: Sometimes, he naturally created songs, and when he did hear me, I was stunned. Essentially, it was just ideas thrown here and there, depending on the emotion in which he stood. It was in the creative process and he loved it. From dusk till dawn, he created sounds, melodies, harmonies. It was quite an experience for me. I learned a lot from him.
Q: Which studios did you record in?
F: We recorded in several studios. Sometimes in New York, sometimes in California. We spent much time at the ranch. In fact, the choice depended mainly on the studio where it was geographically. We went through the Hit Factory in New York, and if my memory serves me right, "Record One" in Los Angeles. We also used the studio of John McClain and recorded at Neverland.
Q: Are there any catches recorded at Neverland, which were used in the final mix of a song?
F: With regard to my records, all of them are from major studios. But he has recorded songs with other producers from Neverland. Unfortunately, I can not tell you exactly what songs. Ah yes, I remember a song that is present on his latest album. It's called "Hollywood" I believe, and I remember he had worked on it at Neverland.
Q: So he worked on other projects when you were there?
F: Yes, he was working on other songs. He sometimes asked me my opinion. Sometimes I've worked a bit with him. But hey, I was not alone. There were some other producers who were with him as well.
Q: When you have finished the sessions with him, did you know that they were finished or did you expect that he'll get back to work on other songs?
F: As soon as we started recording together, I knew that I would dedicate myself totally. I only wanted to work with Michael. I had promised never to work with anyone else. It was a full time job: I worked with him for years. I was in the studio with him shortly before his death.
Q: You were in the studio with him just before his death?
F: In fact, we talked a lot and we were about to enter the studio. To be precise, I remember going to see him at his residence in Vegas, and there was a studio there. It was just before he leaved.
Q: Did you saved anything?
F: No, nothing was recorded, we just brainstormed. We were about to start recording sessions: one was ready and we prepared the equipment for the studio. I offered a few new songs I had written especially for him. He loved them very much, he wanted to save them, but he died.
Q: Did he talk about his upcoming album? Any launch dates?
F: No, we never discussed this issue.
Q: Returning to "Blue Gangsta", did you get the idea of the accordion and whistles to the Ennio Morricone?
F: Yes. I had the idea of ringing, it comes from the movie "The Good the Bad and the Ugly"[He whistles the melody on the phone]. As I said, I wanted to make a new "Smooth Criminal". It was our objective: "the new Smooth Criminal."
Q: Do you remember your impression when you first met? Was it as you imagined? Were you surprised or disappointed by his character?
F: I already knew that Michael was the most humble person you could meet. He was my best friend, the most beautiful meeting of my life. It's like a meeting with Captain Kirk frankly, who does not like Captain Kirk? This fictional character was cool, friendly and he was a nice guy. And although Michael was a bit like that. As you can imagine, I am a true fan of Star Trek, and that's why I speak of Captain Kirk...Meet Michael Jackson, was a bit like if I met Captain Kirk, it was just unbelievable. Today, there are more stars with the same aura. I was really amazed when I met him and my parents are very proud of me: not only have I managed to work with the King of Pop, but it was not limited to a mere professional relationship. I became his friend, his best friend. I love him to death, even today. We were like brothers, very close, so yeah, to summarize, my meeting with Michael, it was as if I had become friendly with Captain Kirk!
Q: Michael is universally recognized as the greatest artist. You met him and you became one of his friends. Do you have any anecdotes about him we would not know?
F: It was incredible, a genius. He was an angel, which is also why his name was Michael. Yeah, he was truly an angel.
Q: Were there any requests for special equipment for recording, such as microphones or instruments? Were there any special requirements?
F: No, he did not care as it sounded good. He could sing something in his notebook and save it like that, it did not bother him as it was a good melody or a tube power.
Q: Do you remember the microphone used for "Break Of Dawn"?
F: No. We were in so many studios...It's a question you should ask for sound engineers: they each had their own equipment and I do not remember exactly what they had.
Q: What engineers have participated in your recording sessions?
F: From memory, there was Prince Michael, Brad and Mike Dean Buxer. There was also Bruce Swedien, of course. I have not worked directly with him but I know him very well, it's very cool. Another genius.
Q: Did he complete some of your songs, or did you finalize everything alone, mixing included?
F: There are engineers who have reworked some songs. I do not know who made the final mixes. I would have asked John McClain...I do not know who worked on these songs with Michael, I was not there physically.
Q: What is the thing that you are most impressed with Michael, artistically speaking?
F: Michael loved his fans, he loved his music and he loved making music for his fans. He liked to give love and joy to people. It was his mission. He was very dedicated and loyal. It was something he wanted to do, or that he had to do. He loved people from the depths of his soul. And when he made this music, he did for us.
Q: What is your favorite album by Michael?
F: I love 'em all. With Michael Jackson, it is impossible to have a favorite song or album. However, when I was a kid, my favorite song was "Rock With You". I found it really amazing...Yeah, it was definitely one of my favorites.
Q: Do you remember your last discussion with Michael?
F: We were just about to record the new album and when he heard my songs he told me to send them out as quickly as possible abroad. He liked my new productions. This was our last discussion. He said "I love you" and voila, it was over.
Q: What did you mean by "abroad" just now?
F: The music I'm currently selling out abroad. I've followed Michael's instructions to the letter. He told me to take this music right now and sell it abroad, and that's what I've done. You know, he really knew something about business, so I follow his advice. And so, here is the info that I'll reveal exclusively: my new album coming soon!
Q: When will it he?
F: The first candidate for single release will be in the Spring of 2011. It's called "We Are The Robots".
Q: That's great! Thank you for your generosity and these tidbits about Michael Jackson. All our good wishes for your future projects.
F: Thank you.
Original interview in French at MJFrance.com