MICHAEL SACKLER-BERNER TURNS THE PAGE ON A FEW SHORT STORIES By Sandra Castillo
According to Michael Sackler-Berner, it’s all there on his latest album, Short Stories, which boasts an eclectic, introspective array of songs distilled in the crystalline waters of the imagination of the one who employed a “huge list of players” to deliver the goods. A coterie of musical heavyweights, who backed the singer on the album, reads like a “Who’s Who” in the anthology of greats. Truthfully speaking, how can a recording artist ever go wrong when he’s secured the likes of Christine Ohlman from The Saturday Night Live Band, The Parkington Sisters and legendary drummer Bernard Purdie, who worked with James Brown, Herbie Mann, Miles Davis and the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin, to assist him in a labor-of-love that’s resulted in Short Stories.
Front man and lead guitarist for Brooklyn-based The Slim Kings, Sackler-Berner stepped away from the usual, obligational duties to record Short Stories. Except this time around, he was accompanied by bandmates bassist Andy Attanasio and drummer Liberty DeVitto in the studio, where the thick-as-thieves trio worked in tandem. For those who are purveyors of Sackler-Berner’s music, then one should not expect anything less than stellar from an artist who is being recognized by the industry for his cleverly constructed, provocative lyrics and mellifluous melodies woven throughout every song he brings to the writing table. By injecting rich, aural textures and multi-faceted, diverse musical genres on this record, Sackler-Berner took great poetical license to create one of the best albums of 2019.
RG Magazine recently caught up with Sackler-Berner to get the lowdown on Short Stories, the album poised to thrust the singer into the collective psyche of music lovers everywhere. Here’s what he shared with the publication…
Looking back at your career, what year did you begin recording professionally? What is the title of your very first album?
My first record was made in Montreal at a place called “Planet Studios” for a band called Hearts of Palm. I think we paid $500 and a bottle of Jack to get it done! Times have changed!
My first solo record with players, etc., was made in L.A., when I was 23 or 24-years-old. That record, Michael Sackler-Berner, ended up being licensed like crazy, which took this beyond being a hobby.
Who produced the album and where was it recorded?
Joel Hamilton. It was recorded at Studio G in Brooklyn, NY.
When did you begin recording Short Stories?
It was wrapped up about a year ago. It took a minute to get the label behind it. It was done in a bunch of three, four-day-sessions over a period of about four months.
Who were the “usual suspects” that recorded with you on this album?
Because each song was totally different, production-wise, there is a huge list of players-Moroccan chanters, rockers, string quartets, jazzers, soul legends. We had ‘em all. I provided the vocals and guitars; The Parkington Sisters handled the strings and string arrangement; Dan Rieser, Liberty DeVitto and Bernard Purdie had drum duties; Stu Brooks, Tony Maimone and Andy Attanasio grooved on bass; Pat Irwin, Joe McGinty and Dave Ogrin played piano and keyboards; Innov Gnawa worked some serious magic on the sintir, percussion and chanting; Smoota, Freddy DeBoe, Billy Austik and Mike McGinnis employed the horns and all the horn arrangements, while the “Beehive Queen” herself, Christine Ohlman, gifted the recording with her amazing vocals.
Talk a bit about the writing and recording process and what you do to fully immerse yourself in it to make an album.
Every record is different. This record was a stockpile of songs I had mostly written alone that I was saving for a complete record. There were a couple of co-writes, too, that ended up in there. I think we chose from 50 songs. Some of the songs were many years old, by the time they made it on the record. Every song comes about in a very different manner. Some happen in one, quick sitting, some are tidbits that stick together over the course of a long time. I’ve heard someone compare songwriting to surfing-you hang onto the wave for as long as you can, and then when the ride is over, you swim out and wait for the next set of waves. I think that’s a fair analogy.
Who are some of your musical influences?
Judging by what my catalog sounds like, I think the troubadours of Rock & Roll made the biggest impression in my most formative years, but the list is too long to mention here-Hip Hop, Blues, Rock, R & B, etc.
Time to break it down for us and share the 4-1-1 on the songs.
1000 Times-Scott Walker, Leonard Cohen, Springsteen. Parkington Sisters did the strings. Co-written with Bill Harvey, who has a nice solo career going and produced Charlie Mars. I assume a ballad like this might struggle on the radio, unless it is Adele, but at its core is a pop singer-songwriter ballad.
Death To The Uptight-Traveling Wilburys, Lanois-era Dylan (Farrisa is the guy from the B-52s, Patrick Irwin, Liberty DeVitto on drums).
Slip and Fall-Scott Walker-meets-hipster, World, Electro, Ambient music. Innov Gnawa are the real deal, Moroccan chanters featured here. Well-known in Morocco and now, in the Electro crowd because they are on Bonobo tracks and open his shows.
City Living-For my grandparents and my city. Rat Pack “Live At The Sands” for sounds. The guys from Losers Lounge at Joe’s Pub were the Big Band. There is a little punk side to the track, ‘cause I am not a crooner-by-trade, but in my dreams, it’s Tony Bennett, Sinatra, Dean Martin, etc. Ideally, it’d be for people who think Michael Buble is cheese but dig young guys singing new Big Band. Or some real Jazz fans. All recorded live-to-tape.
Trouble Is Fun For Me-Devo-meets-Link Wray. Came out a little like Soul Coughing with a little more booty-in-the-bass and that HOP screetchy thing. The demo/work tape for this song actually ended up being my highest earning license ever on an ABC Family Show.
Top Of The Hill-Hard garage rock. Slim Kings but more dingy. Liberty drummed on this. Bassist from Guided By Voices. More of an angry, macho thing.
On Your Own-I have carried it around with me for years “live,” and it always was impactful. Drummer was the drummer from all the Norah Jones hits, Dan Reiser.
Love Right Now-Old R & B, Daptone revival Soul stuff. This features Bernard Purdie on drums and Charles Bradley’s horn section, alongside Christine Ohlman on vocals. Dark lyrical message in pretty packaging.
Sparkling Eyes-Really don’t know who to compare this to. More pop than the others probably. Yes, my wife and daughter have pretty eyes. Kind of reminds me of the band Phosphorescent.
One Of You-More twee-pop than the others probably.
Moment To Steal-Folk/Pop ballad. Parkington Sisters did the strings. Lives in the same world as 1000 Times.
What was it personally like for you to record Short Stories?
To free yourself from style/genre constraints is amazing. You serve the song better, but when the record is so different from previous works on playback, it feels like listening to someone else’s record, which is great. You can enjoy it without being so self-critical. Plus, you get to collaborate with musicians you wouldn’t normally work with.
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