Having started off as an intern at Electric Lady Studios in the mid 90s, Steven Mandel went on to become the longtime engineer for Questlove and The Roots, and later joined their late-night team on Jimmy Fallon’s shows. Through a series of social media messages, I was able to connect with Steven and request an interview where we covered his early days working on D’Angelo’s “Voodoo“, producing a joint album for Elvis Costello and The Roots, and his work with his own label, J.M.I.
– Hi Steven. Thanks for taking time to speak with me about your career. I believe you attended the University of Maryland College Park in 1987 for a Journalism major in advertising. What was the plan for that degree?
The plan was to go into advertising, specifically jingles. I thought I’d be good at it because of my fascination with magazine ads and music, but the classes ended up being a struggle. Once I finally graduated, someone told me the advertising industry was cut-throat, and I knew that wasn’t for me, so I put that pursuit behind me and later went to audio engineering school. Upon graduation, I was offered an internship at both Electric Lady Studios and JSM Music, a prominent jingle house. So I had to choose between cleaning toilets and working all night at the studio for little pay, versus the great salary, benefits and normal hours of JSM. I chose Electric Lady because I ultimately wanted to make records, and I’m happy I did because meeting Questlove was a blessing that kept me working for the last 25 years.
– Wasn’t there a time prior to audio school where you worked odd jobs like delivering chicken?
Who told you about that? (laughs). Yes, it’s true. That was a time when I didn’t have much direction and just took jobs to pay the rent. I moved to Manhattan with a friend right after college and worked for three years at two debt collection agencies. It was the opposite of what I wanted to do, but I learnt a lot about how to communicate effectively on the phone and conduct businesses. After the three years was over, I got a job delivering chicken wings for an uptown sports bar in 1995.
– Is it also true you met an old acquaintance who advised you to go to audio school?
Yes, that happened outside the sports bar when I bumped into the Musical Director from my old summer camp; his name was David Goldstein. He asked what I was up to and I said, “Delivering chicken wings…“. He then asked me something that I now ask to other young people. He said “What kind of building do you want to work in for the rest of your life? A bank, a hospital, a court house? “. I’d been songwriting for seven years at that point, so I said, “I’d like to spend my career in a recording studio. But that’s something you only see in movies “. He responded, “No it’s not. You could become an audio engineer. There are schools in Manhattan for that, like the The Institute of Audio Research “. I looked through the Yellow Pages when I got home and found the school. They had a nine-month program that I enrolled in despite being the oldest student by a mile. I was 25 at the time, but the age gap didn’t really matter because the institute was full of people like me who could’ve been doing something more lucrative, but chose to enroll because of their love of music.
He usually laughs it off, but I send David Goldstein a message every year on his birthday, thanking him for changing my life. We hadn’t seen each other in ten years and I’d forgotten about him before we crossed paths randomly at the sports bar. He set me on the right path with his advice, for which I’ve always been grateful.
– That’s a great story. Audio schools can be a varying experience; some are able to launch their careers from it, whilst other students learn very little. Did you pick up any important lessons when you were there?
One of my teachers was called Mario, and I remember him saying that being a good engineer was 75% people skills and 25% technical skills. That made me feel good because I was never very technically versed in using audio equipment. I just plugged my stereo into the wall and hoped it worked, as opposed to some of my peers who’d take them apart. I eventually became good at the technical stuff, but my original goal was to use engineering as a means to be around artists and eventually make my own records.
– You thereafter become an intern at Electric Lady, which led to an assistant engineer position. How did that transition happen and how long did it take?
I was hired as an assistant because the studio manager and I were from the same town and I was willing to accept the meager pay. That said, it took me a long time to go from intern to assistant engineer. I didn’t have any natural inclination for the technology, and I had to relearn a lot when things switched from analog to digital. So it took a few years to become an assistant.
I became Chief Engineer around 2002 because of a deal I made with the manager. I did her a favor and got promoted as one of my rewards, which was great because I got to make business cards with “Chief Engineer” on them (laughs). However, when people ask about my engineering career, I always stress that I was at the right place at the right time. I’d never compare myself to other Chief Engineers at Electric Lady, like Eddie Kramer, or someone like Russell Elevado who’s among the greats. I’m just a lucky music fan who got to watch some our greatest artists record their albums.
– I’m sure you’ve made your share of great albums too. Do you know the history of Electric Lady after Jimi Hendrix died? I believe his estate sold it in 1977. Did it stay open throughout the 80s and 90s?
I’m not a definitive source, but it stayed open as far as I know. Hendrix did some recordings before passing away in Europe soon after the studio’s opening party. Eddie Kramer kept it open for a few years and recorded some notable names there, but it was Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book“ and “Music of My Mind” that drew other artists to work at Electric Lady, which helped keep it open. A lot of rock bands recorded there in the mid-70s, with jazz artists showing up in the late 70s, followed by 80s acts like Patti Smith and Hall & Oates.
Electric Studio is like a mom and pop shop that’s never had corporate ownership, and it’s the one studio in New York that’s still open from back in the day, which is very uncommon.
– Who was the owner when you arrived?
– Lee Foster had a three-month internship at Electric Lady in 2002 before later becoming the manager. Did you run into him at that time?
Yes I did, but I wasn’t there when he returned and became manager in 2004. I’d left New York and moved to Philadelphia to work with The Roots from 2004 to 2012, and I didn’t visit Electric Lady at all during that time, with an exception of some gigs in 2009.
– Many studios fell on tough times in the 2000s due to the decline of the record business. Was Electric Lady affected by that?
Yes, we were. Whether because of home recording, the analog-to-digital transition or the rise of Napster, the industry had to readjust and studios were in the middle of it. One of their main income sources was selling tape to clients, and I remember when ours stopped buying tape from us because digital recording had progressed far enough. We suddenly went broke and had weeks without bookings that forced us to lay off half the staff each time it happened.
– Let’s talk about Electric Lady’s gear. Do you remember what consoles were there during your time of 1996 – 2003?
“Studio A” had a Focusrite Forte. I hardly knew anything about engineering when I started yet had to figure out that board. It had Neve components that sounded great but it was difficult to use. There would always be a broken channel strip that needed fixing, and when the desk malfunctioned in the middle of the night I’d be the only one around to improvise a solution. It eventually got replaced with an SSL 9000. “Studio B” had an SSL G series when I started but it got replaced with a purple SSL 9000. Upstairs in “Studio C” is where things went awry – it had a SSL G series, but in trying to stay current with digital technology, someone in the early 2000s put a digital SSL Axiom in there. As a result, “Studio C” became known as the “Pro Tools room” and no-one wanted to use it. They eventually took away the Axiom and put an SSL9000 back in.
– What tape machines did they have?
There were two 24-tracks Studer A80s in all three rooms. Most sessions wanted 48-tracks, so we had to link two machines together. My first four years at the studio saw me working a lot with those machines. Whenever Russell Elevado would mix, I was usually the assistant who handled the splicing and printing of tape. Even if the reels were heavy and slow to work with, the editing process was never as fun when Pro Tools took over.
– The Soulquarians period was roughly from 1996 to 2002, during which time you got to work on their projects. How did you first run into D’Angelo?
The first thing I worked on with D’Angelo was “She’s Always In My Hair“, from the “Scream 2” soundtrack. I didn’t know who D’Angelo was at the time, nor did I know it was a Prince cover, but I thought the song was great and I got to assist Russ on the mix.
– How did you end up working on “Voodoo”?
Russ kept requesting me, so I ended up assisting whenever he worked with The Roots or D’Angelo, Common, Bilal or Erykah Badu. I think I was the fourth assistant on “Voodoo” because the others either burned out or kept getting fired. Prior to that, I only worked on gigs that lasted a day or two, so this was my first long-term project that lasted years. To be honest, I was under-qualified to work with Russ Elevado at the time, and it doesn’t take an engineer long to see when an assistant doesn’t know what he’s doing. So he was very patient with me and taught me a lot.
– It’s been said that the initial “Voodoo” recordings were based on jam sessions inspired by Prince’s live shows and D’Angelo’s vinyl collection. What were those sessions were like?
Unfortunately, I missed the first year of jam sessions. Most of those recordings were completed by the time I got involved and had progressed to vocals, overdubs and mixing. But I was there for the Roy Hargrove recordings and songs done at the end, like “Devil’s Pie“, “Untitled” and “Left & Right“.
– When talking about the “Voodoo” sessions, Questlove said that D’Angelo stayed attached to his ASR-10. Did you see him use it much?
Yes I did. It’s what D’Angelo started with and all the sounds he loves are on his floppy disks. I think “One Mo’Gin” features it prominently, and there’s a wah patch on there that I remember got used a lot on different songs.
– In a Red Bull interview, Bilal said, “One of the engineers, Steve Mandel, was a genius. If you had a sound in your head, he would spend all day trying to find it “. Can you talk about working with Bilal and what came of that relationship?
He’s probably referring to a series of sessions that mostly weren’t released, though some were leaked on the Internet. The Bilal sessions were some of my favorites because he gave me a lot of freedom, which helped me develop my approach as an engineer. I’d come in early the day after recording to do rough mixes before the next session started. Bilal would also encourage me to experiment and come up with new sounds. For example, I fed his vocals through the leslie of the Hammond B3, which gave it a nice effect that he liked. It’s a shame the album didn’t come out; it’s a great lost record that no-one got to hear.
– What was your all-time favorite session?
The sessions for Roy Hargroove’s “Hard Groove” were my favorite as an assistant at Electric Lady. I tracked Renée Neufville’s vocals for “Juicy” in “Studio C” and ended up contributing a line that was kept in the final lyrics, which felt surreal. I later got a call from Roy’s manager, Larry Clothier, who said I had to register with BMI as a songwriter to get my publishing. That obviously came in handy later on.
Even if “Voodoo” got all the attention, “Like Water For Chocolate” was the album at the heart of it all, in my opinion. It was a beautiful combination of J Dilla and Questlove as the producers, with Russ mixing Questlove’s tracks and Bob Power mixing the Dilla stuff. So you got the best of both worlds – one part of the album has the Soultronics vibe with live drums, and the other has the Dilla-meets-A Tribe called Quest sound.
– In the Red Bull interview, Russ said concerning the multiple Soulquarian recordings: “Over the years, I don’t know where everybody’s tapes went…a lot of these tapes you can’t even find anymore.” Why did those tapes end up getting lost?
I’ve never considered them lost. They were at Electric Lady for a long time and I was involved in getting them to the right people, so I believe someone’s tending to them. They certainly weren’t involved in the fire at Universal (laughs). I recently surrendered all my Voodoo recall sheets, notes, rough mixes and tapes to the person at Universal who’s keeping it all, so I imagine they’re in the right hands.
Me and Questlove have multiple DATs of demos from that time, as well as two-inch recordings of the “Voodoo” tour. There was even supposed to be a “Voodoo” live album since we had trucks of gear follow us around with Russ recording the whole thing. He later mixed half the album, but either money ran out or the idea was dropped, so the album never came out.
– Let’s talk about your work with The Roots. The first album you’re credited on is “Phrenology“, but was that the first one you actually worked on?
I remember assisting Axel Niehaus on “Things Fall Apart” and “” prior to “Phrenology”. I’m only credited on the latter album but I helped on both. For “Phrenology”, I probably assisted Russ on the mixes and engineering.
– You worked on every Roots album after that except “The Tipping Point“. Why weren’t you on that one?
The Roots moved to Philly and got their own studios to record that album whilst I stayed in New York to work on “Black Messiah”. That’s why I was absent on it.
– What are your favorite Roots albums?
– What’s the status of the next Roots album, “End Game”? It was announced in 2016, but we haven’t heard much since.
That album is still around and sounds great, though there’s enough material recorded for five albums, so it has to be sorted out. Questlove and Black Thought had other activities ongoing, like “Summer of Soul” and “Black No More“. With each year that it doesn’t come out, thoughts on what songs to include could also change, but hopefully it’ll come out this year.
– I’d like to read a quote of yours from another interview some years back. You said, “The first ten years of my career was really hard. I was on track, but was really broke “. How were you broke if you’d gone from being Chief Engineer at Electric Lady to making albums with The Roots?
Because there’s very little money in all of that, and living in New York is expensive (laughs). I didn’t have any money until I turned 40; “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” was the first time I ever worked for a big company that offered a steady salary with benefits. I’d been a freelancer prior to that, so my income depended on how many hours I put in, and there wasn’t any steady money until I got a day job.
– Speaking of Jimmy Fallon, what was your role on the “Late Night” show?
Questlove invented my job as a new position within late-night television. It’s called “Roots Music Supervisor”. Late-night bands always had rehearsal rooms but none were known to have their own recording setup. When The Roots wanted to record their rehearsals, Questlove told NBC he needed a full-time engineer and invented a new job for me, which was very generous of him.
– As you moved from “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” to the “Tonight Show”, did your role change?
Not really. My role has been the same since day one. I do many different things and interact with most of the show’s staff, but it’s all based on creating a set list for the band, both on paper and as a playlist. The setlist has to be ready by showtime because it contains all the music cues The Roots have to play, which includes commercial bumpers, game themes, walk-on music and incidental music. The cues have to be in the same order as the events happen so the band can rehearse everything beforehand. That’s at the heart of what I do, though I’m responsible for some other things too, like recording and mixing in the rehearsal room, which we have access to it 24/7. It’s free for us to use, so we spend a lot of time in there.
(Below: Steven doing a skit on The Tonight show)
– Are you also the one who mixes The Roots’ live feed for TV?
No, that’s handled by Lawrence Manchester, who’s been around from the start. He also has an incredible engineering career away from the show. I don’t handle the audience feed or The Roots’ in-ear mixes either – those are done by another department. Some of what I record in the rehearsal room ends up on air, but I usually send it to the broadcast engineer to make decisions on the mix.
– You’ve mentioned the rehearsal room several times. Can you describe the setup in there?
There’s nothing expensive in there – it’s just a tiny rehearsal room with a Pro Tools rig, a Digi 003 console and some mics. You can hardly call it a “studio”, but at least it’s close to the stage, which is where NBC wants us. We temporarily renamed it Feliz Habitat Studios when working on “Wise Up Ghost“, although funnily enough, Elvis Costello would always talk trash about that room because of it’s size (laughs).
– Speaking of “Wise Up Ghost”, how did that album come about and where was it recorded?
“Wise Up Ghost” came about when Elvis was asked to play with The Roots on Late Night in 2009. Questlove put me in charge of what songs to play and how the arrangements should be. The first appearance was a big success and started us on the road to make the album, which was recorded in three places: our rehearsal room at 30 Rock, at Crew Studios in Vancouver, and at A House Called Quest in Philly.
Jake was part of a jazz label called Brown Brothers Recordings and I engineered their two albums. For whatever reason, each release took a long time and Jake wanted a label that moved quicker, so he asked me to be part of J.M.I. He also pitched me on recording everything with analog equipment. The idea was inspired by our love of obscure jazz vinyl, and despite there being no money in that sort of thing, Jake seemed to be doing it for his love of music, and that made me want to join in.
It’s funny how I was the one with the analog recording background, yet my friend was more of a purist that me; you’d think the engineer would have to convince the lawyer to start an analog record label, but it was the other way around. It actually helped me improve as a producer since I don’t engineer anything with this label. We used David Slitzky for the first few albums and thereafter Ben Kane, who was one of the engineers on “Black Messiah” and owns a studio called Electric Garden. But we record most of our albums at Reservoir Studios, which is a great place on 37th street where James Yost is the Head Engineer.
– How did David Slitzky become a part of the label?
He reached out to me on Twitter to do an interview about “Wise Up Ghost” for his college radio station. Once he graduated, he moved to New York and we ended up becoming friends. I hired him as an assistant on a lot of Roots project and live events, and he helped with the Questlove Supreme podcast too. All of that spilled over into J.M.I, as I knew he was a great engineer with a love for analog recording.
– I’d like to ask about your production and recording techniques. Questlove is famous for his drum sound, so as the guy who’s recorded him for decades, how are you achieving those results?
It starts with how Questlove tunes and plays his drums; that’s 99% of my “secret”. The remaining 1% could be as simple as turning up the volume, whether it’s making the kick louder than you think it should be or using compression to make it pop. It’s something I learnt from the “Voodoo” sessions – I was used to rock music where drums are prominent but not loud, yet on “Voodoo” the drums were the loudest I’d ever heard. Prior to hip-hop, drums were never the loudest sound in the mix. They were in the back or part of the rhythm section. The origin of drums in modern music was primarily to keep time, which is why drums on old jazz records are so far away you can barely hear them. But when you have one of the best drummers on the planet, you want them front and center.
In terms of production philosophy, I do try to record my drums to tape. You can’t really capture acoustic drums in the fullest way possible on digital because you to lose the natural feel of the sound, so you’re already screwed if you’re going straight into Pro Tools. .
– What’s the recording process like when you’re working with Questlove?
Whether putting a mic behind a door or placing an iPhone on the floor next to him, Questlove is just as experimental with recording as I am. Most of the time he wants the dirtiest drum sound possible, so we’re always trying things like sticking a mic in another room, having it face the wrong direction or hanging it from the ceiling. When it comes to mic selection, you could record them in multiple positions to narrow down the best ones, or you could stick multiple mics in different places and record them all, which is what we do. In the end you might only use one and discard the rest, something Questlove does a lot. He’ll even mix the drums himself, and is just as experimental with plugins as with mics.
If you’re recording Barbra Streisand or an orchestra, then sure, you have to rely on the science of engineering to make it perfect, but if you’re recording something with an unknown outcome, it frees you up to use unconventional techniques. Questlove and I call it “guerilla recording”, meaning things need to happen fast because maximizing the sound on every track isn’t always the priority. It’s not uncommon to have sessions where there isn’t enough time to set up all my gear. I might get asked, “Are you rolling? “, and if I say, “Yes, but I wanna check your mic “, I’ll be told, “No, it’s fine. Let’s go “. Even if I want an extra hour to work on the sound, Questlove might have to leave, so speed can determine a lot even when working in an expensive studio.
– Is it true that on “Sugar Won’t Work”, the kick mic was placed on the beater side to get extra snap?
I can’t remember all the tricks we used but that was one of them, and it created a nice blend between kick and snare also. But we’ve moved on from that trick and don’t use it anymore.
– As someone who works with an acclaimed drummer, what are your thoughts on drum bleed? Does it typically aid or hurt a recording?
It varies from song to song. Sometimes it works to your advantage and at other times it creates mix problems when you can’t solo or mute things. It’s very troublesome when doing analog recordings, and I can give an example: J.M.I did a record with a Norwegian jazz guitarist called Lage Lund. His band is a trio consisting of guitar, upright bass and drums. We isolated the guitar amp and bassist, but left the drummer and guitarist in the same room. However, a big part of the Lage’s sound came from a mic that’s stuck to the body of the guitar and picks up the string sounds. When it came time to mix, we heard that the body mic was filled with drum bleed, so I muted it to avoid having the record sound too roomy. I sent the mix to Lage and his first question was, “Where’s my body mic? “. I said “We muted it because of the drum bleed “, and he said, “But that’s 75% of my sound. We need to keep it in there “. So we had to find a way to make it sound good despite all the bleed.
– Very interesting. Thanks for that example. Let’s wrap up by talking about my favorite Roots album, “Undun“. What can you tell me about working on that?
That’s hard to answer because the guy you should talk to is no longer with us. Rich Nichols was The Roots’ manager and de facto producer of all their albums, including “Undun”. He passed away in 2014, soon after the release of their latest album, “And Then I Shot Your Cousin “. Rich was a radio DJ in Philly when the The Roots were in high school, so he basically discovered them. He became their leader and put together all their albums, both conceptually and production-wise. Most of their music started with Questlove making beats by sampling vinyl or the two of us recording drums. Rich would then bring in musicians to overdub stuff on top, mostly from the Roots’ band or inner circle. He also chose their studios and engineers like Jason Goldstein, who mixed the last two albums, and Dave Kutch who mastered them at The Mastering Palace.
– I understand. In that case, I’ll mention one track from each of the artists you’re most famous for working with, and we can look at the production behind them.
The Roots – Kool On
Sample: Questlove brought the sample. He has a room at A House Called Quest that’s separate from main studio, and it contains a record collection with some gear. It has an MPC2000, a turntable, a Rhodes, a Wurlitzer, a small synth and a drum booth with one mic. So he made the beat in the MPC and I multitracked it into Pro Tools for him to play drums on, after which we did a rough mix.
Drums: My contribution to “Undun” and “Cousin” was recording drums and doing rough mixes, but I don’t remember what drum kit we used because Questlove has a lot of them. In fact, he switches kits after every 100 episodes on the Tonight Show – he’s got a lot of them in storage and quite a few snares at 30 Rock.
Console: We used the Digi 003 at the rehearsal space for the parts I recorded. That might surprise some people since it’s an unremarkable console, but equipment is only important if you’re not working with Questlove, and I haven’t really worked with any other drummer in 25 years. Vintage gear certainly has its magic, but you’re only reliant on it if your musicians aren’t talented. I’ve been blessed with musicians who’s quality of performance are excellent, so I just put the mics up and press “record”.
Elvis Costello & The Roots – Cinco Minutos Con Vos
It’s built on a sample from Elvis and The Roots playing live at a sound check for the Tonight Show in 2009. The engineer who recorded it sent me the Pro Tools files and I used a loop from that to lay the foundation for the track.
D’Angelo – Devil’s Pie @ The VMAs in 2000
“Devil’s Pie” was the first song on the Voodoo Tour setlist and the VMA performers were the same ones from the tour, with D’Angelo and Questlove working out the live arrangement. Quest is a master of turning an album into a live show that sounds completely different; it’s one of his talents that hardly anyone mentions. The same happened with “Wise Up Ghost” – the live show was a different animal.
– Let’s end with you sharing stories of meeting the following artists:
J Dilla: I’m always telling the same Dilla story from when he worked on “Like Water For Chocolate” at Electric Lady’s “Studio A”. I’d heard of his name but didn’t know who he was at the time, and I got to see first-hand why everyone worshipped him. They were hanging over his shoulder to see how he made his beats with the MPC2000 I kept at the studio to rent out. Because of that session, I put a sticker on it that says “Used by J Dilla and Questlove“. Maybe it’ll end up in the Hip Hop Fall of Fame someday (laughs). On an aside, I recommend the book about him written by Dan Charnas, called “Dilla Time“.
Pino Palladino: What can I say about someone who played with D’Angelo, The Who and Simon & Garfunkel? Unfortunately, the only story that comes to mind is when I screwed something up: Pino and Questlove were meant to record something to tape, and I didn’t hit “record”. It was one of those embarrassing moments where the artists walk into the control room and say, “That was great. Let’s hear it back Steve “, and I had to say, “Sorry, there’s no music on the tape… “. Pino was really cool about it. He just said, “It’s no problem. We’ll just do it again “.
It’s hard not to fan out around Pino because he was already a huge session player in the mid-80s from playing on Paul Young’s “Every Time You Go Away” and Don Henley’s “Building The Perfect Beast“. Fifteen years later he’s on “Voodoo”, plus he’s in The Who, so it raises a similar question to Questlove’s of whether I get to work with the greatest bass player ever.
Prince: I have two Prince stories: Me, Questlove, Russ, Pino and others went to Paisley Park to work on Common’s “Electric Circus” album. The whole place was empty but Prince had given us the keys to record for three days. It was nuts (laughs). None of the music ended up on the final album though, probably because we were so busy geeking out over being there.
My other Prince encounter was at Electric Lady in “Studio A”. He booked a few weeks to work on “Rage Un2 The Joy Fantastic” and I was assisting his engineer, Hans-Martin Buff. One day, Hans couldn’t attend a session, so another engineer called Tom came in to replace him. Prince was in one corner of the room with his then wife and I was in the other corner. We were both behind Tom who was working on a rough mix at the console. He was a short, pudgy guy and was getting so involved in the mix that he started jumping up and down and doing corny dances. Me and Prince looked over at each other with a look that said, “This guy has got to go…“. That was the only time I met him, and I sometimes find it amazing to be credited on a Prince album, even if only as an assistant engineer.
Britney Spears: I got a phone call from Britney and she said, “Steve, I need just the right assistant engineer for my horn overdub session. Can you help? “, and I said “Ok, but what’s in it for me? “. No, I’m kidding. I’ve never met her and she wasn’t at the session. I was an assistant on a horn overdub session for one song on “Oops I Did it Again“, but somehow it’s been at the top of my Discogs page for the last 20 years, which is ridiculous.
– What happened to the Squeeze tribute album you were working on? Weren’t 20 songs mixed and mastered yet only six came out?
That’s right. Six singles came out, and then Yep Roc decided we should release the rest as a 12-track album for Record Day, but it got postponed. We did all the artwork for it, but the label got stuck somewhere in terms of clearance.
– As a final question, what are your thoughts on how your career has panned out? You’ve worked alongside famous and wealthy people for decades, yet only recently started making a consistent salary. In hindsight, do you feel you could’ve parlayed your relationships differently?
I’d say I parlayed things quite well since I’ve been working for 25 years straight (laughs). Sure, I could’ve been more aggressive about making money or taking points on albums I mixed, but ultimately, I managed things in ways that were palatable to me. Also, I can’t imagine having a more generous client than Questlove. He provides everything you need to be successful, though he leaves the execution to you. He can put you in front of your dream, but you have to take yourself over the line, and I feel he’s done that for me the whole time, so the rest is up to me and we’ll see what the future holds.
– Thanks for talking to me Steven. This has been a great conversation. What’s next for you in 2022?
We hope to have six J.M.I albums coming out in this year, which is very exciting. The highlight is David Murray, who’s a legendary sax player. Hopefully something happens with the Squeeze album too. The Questlove Supreme podcast is going great, and in my interview with Elvis Costello we talked about a song I wrote with him. I look forward to seeing how the record performs, especially since it’s the first time he’s singing lyrics I wrote. Beyond that, I just keep things moving on all fronts and hope for the best. There’s so many recordings I did 10 – 20 years ago that have come around to help my career, so I always encourage people to keep working because you never know what’ll happen. Everything that happened to me was so unexpected that I couldn’t have dreamt it up.