Producer Behind Fiona Apple’s ‘Scary, Beautiful’ GRAMMY Album Revealed

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Charley Drayton wants you to know he produced Fiona Apple’s latest album, The Idler Wheel….

The Brooklyn-born drummer assumes you weren’t aware of this, given the fact that his name doesn’t appear anywhere on the album cover. It was mysteriously left off the liner notes when the album went to print. After Apple received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Alternative Album some publications even named her as the sole producer, which she called to apologize about.

But Drayton isn’t speaking out now to brag or boast about the role he played on Apple’s fourth album. Instead he wants fans to know the full story behind the making of the singer’s “crazy, beautiful” album.

Drayton actually hadn’t heard a single piece of Apple’s music until 2005, right after she released Extraordinary Machine. A friend told him he needed to take a listen so he started with “O Sailor,” and never stopped listening. Drayton had previously worked with Mike Elizondo, the producer of Apple’s record, and by happenstance Elizondo called him asking if he wanted to join Apple’s band for an appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman. During rehearsal Drayton didn’t speak much. “We played music and we connected and we came to New York and we did the show,” he said. But the following day he received a phone call from her management who told him, “She won’t let you go.” 

After Apple’s year-long tour in support of Extraordinary Machine ended, Drayton stayed in touch with the singer. It wasn’t until 2010 that he got an opportunity to play with her again. She had been working on a few new songs, all of which now appear on the album, and she wanted him to come up with a few ideas on how to incorporate rhythm.

“It was a lot deeper, more involved in her playing the piano, and the stories were of course intense,” Drayton explained. “At first listen, I thought, honestly, this could be a solo record. This could just be piano and vocal. But the question she asked was, how would I incorporate some rhythm to it.”

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He continued, “At home I would work out some rhythms that I thought would be interesting to her, but she didn’t give me any clues, that’s what makes it a little bit of a challenge. I like to hear melody or something, something.” Apple left her directions wide open: she asked that it be from A to Z whatever you’re feeling, any tempo.

After listening to the songs for two weeks Drayton went to California to share some of the unconventional ideas that had been stirring in his head. He wasn’t sure if he’d be able to recreate the sounds he had been toying with, but on the first day he realized she was willing to be a little weird. The first song they worked on was “Regret,” which features Apple mimicking the sound of a drum using just the pedals of her upright piano. From that moment on the two swore they would make Apple’s vocals the focus on every song, but punch up the percussion with unusual objects. They wanted fans to listen to each and every song over and over again, just trying to decipher what object they used.

“We walked around for months tapping on anything,” he explained. “Picking something up off the street, seeing if it makes a sound you like, just being conscious to everything.”

When talking about the percussion-filled “Periphery,” Drayton has to take a second to recount every weird object they incorporated. There were the metal plant holders, the couch pillow, the bag of microwave popcorn he happened to be snacking on and the pick-up truck Fiona’s brother owned. “Fiona got up on the hood of the truck and went to town,” he said. 

The scratching sound that dominates the song was just Drayton and Fiona dancing on the sidewalk in front of the studio. “We did the dance one morning beginning at five am and realized that is the right sound,” he said. “Some people say it’s so minimal, but I don’t think you have to hear a big drumbeat all the time to know that the right rhythm is there.”

After ten days of just playing around in the studio the two decided they were going to make a record, but thought it would be best to keep that news to themselves. The duo finished the album in three months without every letting her record label know.

“We almost felt like we were chosen to be in this bubble,” he said. “To go on this little journey and lock ourselves away and be on a certain path. She wanted to be more hands on this time around and you can tell that was necessary in order to get the results that we did.”

Whether or not The Idler Wheel… takes home the GRAMMY, Drayton says  will take pride in the album that he made with Apple.

“There’s nothing, not a moment on that record that I wished I had done something different,” he said. “I don’t have to live with regret, it’s all there.”

Watch the GRAMMYs this Sunday on CBS to see if Fiona Apple and Charley Drayton can take home the prize for Best Alternative Album.

- Shannon Carlin, Radio.com

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