NEW YORK Mariah Carey has worked nonstop since recording her multiplatinum debut in 1989. However, when it came time to produce the Epic bow by her backup singer and protege Trey Lorenz, it was an offer she could not refuse.
"Trey is a really good friend of mine and he's one of the funniest people I've ever met in my life. He's so much fun to be around and he's really talented, so I was really into the project," Carey says.
Because of time constraints, she opted to produce or co-produce six of the tracks rather than the whole self-titled album, which is due in stores Sept. 29. Working with her on five of the cuts was Walter Afanasieff, with whom she shared a Grammy nomination for best producer last year for her Columbia album "Emotions." Producers on the other tracks were Keith Thomas, Mark C. Rooney, Mark Morales, Glen Ballard, and BeBe Winans.
Carey went into the project high on the success of her "Unplugged" EP and video. Taken from a taping of the MTV acoustic performance program of the same name, "Unplugged" showcases Carey in a stripped-down setting and introduced the world to backup singer Lorenz, with whom she duets on "I'll Be There."
Carey and Afanasieff were in the midst of writing material for her new album when "Unplugged" bulleted up the charts. "Trey came over and it became a Trey writing session instead," Carey says. "We just made the time to go in and do it. So many people had noticed Trey from "I'll Be There" and we wanted people to remember him from that and have that excitement."
Knowledge gained from the "Unplugged" experience made her a better producer, she says. She also learned a lot while in the studio."'Unplugged' taught me a lot about myself because I tend to nit pick everything I do and make it a little too perfect because I'm a perfectionist. I also learned a lot from working with Trey because when you're working with another singer and the singer's going, 'Oh, I hate that, that sounds horrible' and you're going, 'No it's great,' that's what everyone always does to me. I'll always go over the real raw stuff and now I've gotten to the point where I understand that the raw stuff is usually better."
That understanding shows on the six-pack of songs Carey produced. The tunes are polished and radio-friendly without being too slick or formulaic. The arrangements, which Carey also oversaw in most cases, range from lean and restrained on "How Can I Say Goodbye" to lush and layered on a remake of the Commodores' "Just To Be Close To You."
There is a cohesion to the tracks that belies the fact that Carey and Afanasieff were often producing 3,000 miles apart. "Walter would start the tracks out in San Francisco and he would the send the rough skeleton of the track out to me," Carey says"in N.Y. "I would put on all the backgrounds and leads with Trey. Walter came in at the end and we did more overdubs and things together."
Surprisingly, the toughest tracks for Carey to produce were the two she had co-written. "It's almost harder to do the ones I wrote because I'm sort of writing them as we go along. When you don't have a demo to refer to and you're doing the track, it's like, 'What am I going to sing on this line and how should the background go on this one?,' as opposed to when someone else has already written it and you just do it."
Because both Carey and Lorenz are singers, Carey says they could communicate on more levels than just producer and artist. "When you're a singer and someone is producing you who's not, they don't (always) understand when you want to do things a few times or when you want to try things out a different way. The producer should really make sure they are creating a great vibe and environment for the artist. You just have to reassure them and let them know that you understand how it feels. So I think if anything qualifies me to produce, it's that. I'm coming from that singing point of view."
For Carey, vocal arranging and singing background were the best parts of producing. "I love singing background vocals; that's my favorite thing," she says. "I love doing them by myself, but it's also fun singing with a group. Both Trey and I love R&B singing and gospel vocal arrangements. It was basically an unspoken thing where we just made the vocal arrangements a really dominant part of the music."
This project was so enjoyable, Carey says she is considering some other production plans, though she's keeping names close to the vest. "I have some things in mind that I really don't want to get into only because they're totally premature, but I have plans to do some other artists that I've encountered, possibly a contemporary gospel (artist). There are so many amazing songs that I would love to do over with someone else singing."
But for now, it's time to work on her third studio album. She goes back into the studio later this month with Afanasieff with lessons learned from her latest experiences. "Sometimes when I tend to do things by myself, I tend to double (my vocals) a little too exact and make it a little too slick sounding. But with this and 'Unplugged,' it did help me realize that you can make something tight without it being too tight and that's OK." (c) BPI Communications, 1992 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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