Michael Cavacini

An award-winning arts and culture blog.

Archive for the month “May, 2013”

Ace Frehley – Fox On The Run

Ace FrehleyAce Frehley is one of the greatest rock and roll guitarists of all time. Not only was he amazing during his time as the lead guitarist of KISS, but his solo work was quite impressive too. Ace’s most recent solo album, Anomaly, features one of my favorite cover songs: “Fox On The Run.” Check it out below.

Pandora’s Temple Wins International Book Award

Pandora's TempleJon Land, the bestselling author of over 25 novels, just won an International Book Award for his latest Blaine McCracken thriller: Pandora’s Temple. His acclaimed novel, which is on my list of books to read, won for being the best Thriller/Adventure novel. To learn more about this book, check out the the BookTrib Live Chat below that Jon did late last year.

A Conversation With Dick Hill

Dick Hill HeadshotOver the past year I’ve become obsessed with audiobooks. They’re a great way for someone with a busy schedule (i.e., me) to enjoy books on the go. Whether I’m walking around town or brushing my teeth, I’m almost always listening to an audiobook on my iPhone or Kindle Fire HD, through the Audible or Overdrive apps.

Audiobooks are a magical form of entertainment because of the narrators that read them. These men and women are legitimate actors that breath life into the stories they read with a variety of intricate character voices, accents and dialects. The right audiobook narrator can make a mediocre book good and a great book excellent.

One of my favorite audiobook narrators is Dick Hill. Most famous for being the voice of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, Hill has nearly 500 audiobooks on Audible – including classics, sci-fi and fantasy, mysteries and thrillers, you name it. Hill is one of the most prolific audiobook narrators in the business and his ability to turn words into theater for the ears is impressive.

I recently had the honor of interviewing Dick Hill, and I hope the questions and answers below provide you with a greater understanding of this interesting profession. Enjoy!

How did you get involved in narrating books?

A friend of mine, Brit actor, was narrating for Brilliance Audio. They were looking to cast a WWII combat novel, and he suggested I get in touch. I did, recorded a couple pages of something similar I got off the supermarket shelf on a crappy little recorder and sent it to them. (They weren’t looking for audio quality, they’d provide that, they wanted to hear me read). Booked the gig, and knew I’d found my niche. Never looked back.

On average, how many hours does it take to record a book?

Depends on the length of the book, type of text etc. Generally I finish an hour of recorded book in around 75 minutes.

Do you read chapters straight through, or do you stop and start and edit the pieces together later to establish a seamless sound?

Susie is upstairs engineering and directing, and whenever I stumble or miss a word, we stop, roll back to a likely spot, then do a punch edit. She plays back for me to hear a lead in, then does an on the spot edit and I come right in and do it right. Generally.

How many audiobooks do you narrate each year?

I’d guess around 40 a year now, give or take a dozen.

From a business standpoint, do you have long-term contracts with publishers where you have to narrate a certain number of books a year, or are you hired on a book-by-book basis?

I’m paid per finished hour.

How are audiobook narrators compensated? Is there an upfront payment, a monthly retainer, royalties based on sales, or a combination of all three?

There are some works being done through ACX on royalty share, but I work strictly for fee. If Lee wanted to do a royalty share, or Stephen King, I’d be happy to, but those are not the kind of authors hoping to get someone to narrate their book on spec.

How do you make sure your recordings don’t include any background noise from inside the studio, like turning pages?

I’m quiet. I’ve developed a technique for moving from one page to the next that’s mostly soundless. If I do screw up, we just do an edit.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job and what is the most rewarding?

I find all the aspects I deal with challenging, but in a very good way. I relish the challenge of presenting the listener with the best, most compelling delivery I can achieve. It’s of the moment work, which I love doing. I don’t pre-read things, with a few exceptions. Susie preps the books, makes a vocabulary list to check, and gives me a character sheet noting gender, age, any accents mentioned or implied, etc. I use those to guide my performance. Since she’s prepped the book, she can alert me to any potential traps (e.g., don’t make the mystery caller too this or that) so the voice seems reasonable to fit the character it turns out to be. She generally doesn’t tell me just who those people are, or really, anything beyond performance guidance. I like to discover what happens right along with the listener. I love flying by the seat of my pants, doing cold reads. I’m good at them, and I think the sense of discovery helps with my work. Most rewarding?…pretty much all of it. Plus the checks. Getting paid to have fun, in large part.

Without naming it, have you ever had to narrate an awful book? If so, did you have to work harder or approach it differently than a book of higher quality?

Yes. Harder work. A couple were so bad I felt like a five dollar whore faking passion. I turned down any more work from those authors. Pretty lucky now, the publishers I work with most often have a very clear idea of the sort of things I like to do, and I’m seldom offered work I’d find offensive.

I’ve noticed that some of your books feature interesting audio effects to immerse the listener in the story. For example, Jack Reacher might be talking to someone on the phone and the voice on the other end is altered to sound as if it’s coming through a phone line. How is this done?

Those were probably earlier books. I prefer eschewing that sort of thing myself. If you’re gonna’ have a phone effect, then how about ambient noise, traffic, door slams, gunshots? I don’t include any effects or ask for any. I’m not aware of any publishers adding them any longer, though I’m not sure. I don’t listen to audiobooks myself, my own or anyone else’s. It’s immensely pleasurable to record books, but once I’ve done that why would I want to listen to them? Been there, done that.

What kind of personal preparation goes into getting to record an audiobook and how do you preserve your voice?

Occasionally if Susie gives me a heads up about a particular accent, I may go online to find samples of 15-year-old Malaysian girls with lisps raised in Irish Catholic orphanages till age ten then indentured as servants to a family of Germans with a Spanish head of the household. Other than that, I pretty much have a handle on how I approach accents, etc. Might not be Meryl Streepalicious, but then she has to perfect an accent for several hundred lines in a few projects per year. I do many more characters, many more books, so while I do try to do a good job with accents and dialects, my primary concern is to create characters and narrators that feel well motivated and interesting and further the author’s intent.

Recently, three of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books, Die Trying, Tripwire and Running Blind, were rerecorded by another audiobook narrator, Jonathan McClain, and released on Audible. There was a backlash from fans for you not being the narrator. Do you know why your versions of these books were replaced and will you continue to be the voice of future Jack Reacher audiobooks, including Never Go Back, which comes out in the fall?

Yes, I’ve heard from a number of concerned folks. I think what that is, audio rights for the UK are issued separately, and Mr. McClain has been doing those. I will be doing the latest Reacher, and unless something happens I expect to continue doing so. Folks just have to look carefully to ensure they’re getting the reader they prefer, I guess.

Aside from narrating books, what other kinds of acting have you done?

I’ve worked regionally in live theatre, onstage. No film, some commercial video, ads and the like.

You and your wife have extensive experience in the audiobook industry. How did you two meet, and have you had the opportunity to collaborate on a project?

We met when she played Guinevere and I played Arthur in a production of Camelot. In addition to our work onstage, once we entered the audio world I directed her several times, she’s engineered and directed me on lord knows how many projects, and we’ve recorded a number of dual reads, one of which won us both Audies, the audiobook equivalent of an Oscar or a Tony. Or a Westchester Kennel Club best in show I suppose.

What projects are you currently working on that fans should look out for in the months to come?

Expecting that Reacher script soon, think there’s a fall release. Doing the last of the Stephen White series about Dr. Alan Gregory, which is heartbreaking for us. Love his writing and character insight, and one supporting character, Det. Sam Purdy, is one of the characters nearest and dearest to my heart. Susie’s prepping it this week, and is raving about how good it is and wailing about the fact that it is the last.

A Conversation With Michael Des Barres – Part 2

Michael Des Barres 1Below is part two of my interview with Michael Des Barres. You can read part one here. Stay tuned for part three, and check out the live clips at the end of this post from Michael Des Barres’ concert in New York City on March 7, 2013 at the Bowery Electric.

So, the song “Obsession” came out of your experiences with drugs?

It came out of drug use, yeah. But I turned and mutated that, in a literary sense, into a romance about a man who was determined to get this woman. But it could be donuts, or Prada, or guitars, or whatever you collect, man. It could be whatever you want. It will collect and capture you. It’s about ownership, taking something hostage – obsession. 

How was it working with Holly Knight on the song?

Oh, she’s brilliant! Just an extraordinary writer. She’s a classically trained pianist. I must have written that lyric in 10 minutes. I’ve found all the best stuff comes that way. It just flows, there it is and you don’t touch it. When you start tinkering with it – at least for me – that’s when it loses its potency. It was a great experience working with Holly. 

I think the new recording of “Obsession” is the definitive version. Do you prefer it to the others?

I love the new one. I think that it’s very relaxed, and I love singing in that Bowie-esque baritone. And I love the girl singer, she’s fantastic – Teal; she’s a great singer from Austin. We just got lucky with it. I played it on acoustic guitar, we sang it and turned it over to a new mixer, Kyle Moorman, who turned it into what you hear, which I think is terrific. It’s a movie almost. It’s got a great story with a good chorus. 

You recently hinted that a live album is in the works. Do you have a sense of when it will be released?

It’s done and ready to go, I just have to pull the trigger whenever I want. But first I wanted “Obsession” to come out so people could see what I wanted it to be in the first place. I’m following no rules here. I’m off to do this radio show now, and I’m going to put out the live album within the next several months. It’s all ready to go. It’s called Hot ‘n Sticky. 

When I saw you live, you did a few cover songs. In addition to music from Carnaby Street, what covers are going to be featured on the live album?

It’s a rocking record. It starts with a medley of “Little Latin Lover,” “My Baby Saved My Ass,” “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” “Get It On,” and “Long Tall Sally.” It was so rockin’ and so satisfying. You’re gonna’ love it!

Did you have to spend a lot of time in the studio on the live album, making sure everything sounded just right?

No, I didn’t change a fucking thing on it. I just went in and heard it. I did take out some of my conversation with the audience in between the songs because that had a lot to do with what was happening in the room at the moment. But other than that, I didn’t touch it. 

Michael Des Barres - RoseMany bands – KISS, for example – go into the studio and heavily tinker with live recordings, and sometimes fans are upset by this. Is this something you were trying to avoid?

Most of the time bands will do some audio tuning or one of the musicians missed a chord. But to me, that’s rock and roll! When you do fuck up and the microphone falls over, I like it. When I was a kid and I would listen to a recording and a tambourine would hit the floor it made me feel like I was there. It puts you in that room, it puts you in that club, it makes you part of it. If everything is so perfect, there’s no soul to it. I think that the greatest things that have ever happened to me have been by mistake. I turned a corner, bumped into somebody and my life changed. It’s the same thing with rock and roll. 

When you’re writing music, do you first think of a lyric or does a melody come to you while strumming the guitar?

The way it happens is I get a title and I see how it goes and where it fits. I love up-tempo rock and roll and I love ballads. I don’t know what’s going to happen, really. But I write so much every day that lines pop in and pop out. I’ll sit around and watch the news or hang out with my friends and somebody will say something and I’ll grab it, I’ll just grab it out of the air. I’ll say it and write it down. And the next morning I get up at dawn, drink a gallon of coffee, I go to the gym, I come back, I pick up my Les Paul, I plug in, and I write. 

Musically, you’ve done quite a bit. But as of right now, what would you say is your proudest accomplishment?

My proudest accomplishment has nothing to do with having any band members in the room or music. The highlight of my life is talking to you right now … because this is all I’ve got right now. Today is what’s important to me. There’s an immediacy to what I do. People sense it. It’s intense and it’s urgent, and it’s what keeps you alive. Enthusiasm is what’s important. I just don’t want to go backwards. I don’t even want to go forwards. I just want to go! (laughs)

Is it true that it only took you 10 days to record the Carnaby Street album?

Yeah, I recorded it in one week, and I mixed it in three days. Everything you’re hearing on that album was done in no more than two takes. And I fixed nothing, vocally. We went in and did some backups here and there and maybe added a tambourine. There were no solos that were put on there, not one. Mixed it. Put it out. And people went crazy for it. I played it in the clubs – Atlanta, Austin, you name it, LA. Came back, we were red hot, we went in and cut it. Everybody’s laughing and we’re looking at each other. We were all in one room, with the earphones on – just smiling and enjoying each other’s work, if you can call it work. We enjoyed each other’s taste and execution. Took a smoke in between songs and set up the next tune. 

Do you have a favorite song from that album or does it change for you all the time?

I don’t have a favorite. Lyrically, I think “Carnaby Street” because it’s an autobiographical narrative. But “Please Stay,” I think, is the most accomplished song. I just got lucky one day and wrote that thing. And it says everything I mean to say about heartache. You can’t have a blues-based information pool from which to choose and not write these soulful ballads. That would be like no wearing trousers on your first date. (laughs) There’s nothing on that album that I don’t like playing. I love “Route 69,” all of it. 

Were any tracks left off the album?

No, I just went in with the set that we worked on and shuffled around live and recorded the songs that we knew. There’s many more that I wrote and rehearsed. I just wanted a collection of songs that worked as a whole. But I always have 10 or 20 songs completed and ready to go – the others were just not right for what I wanted for that album. And I could only find that out in rehearsal, singing them live. And those were the ones I liked singing the best – the ones that wound up on Carnaby Street.

Do you have any new songs coming out soon?

Yeah, I’m always creating new music. For my radio show for the David Lynch Foundation, I provided them with “Life Is Always Right.” It’s a beautiful acoustic ballad that came out of the slew of songs I wrote during my time in Texas, including “My Baby Saved My Ass” and “From Cloud 9 To Heartache.” While many of these songs weren’t included on Carnaby Street, they will see the light of day.

Movie Review – Behind the Candelabra

Behind the Candelabra

Behind the Candelabra is the best film I’ve seen this year. Going into it I knew practically nothing about Liberace other than that he was a campy, closeted pianist from years gone by. The moment I saw one of my favorite actors – Scott Bakula – in the beginning of the movie, I knew I was in for something special. Behind the Candelabra is filled with shocking moments that I don’t want to spoil. But at its focal point is a love story between Liberace and Scott Thorson.

The music in the film was outstanding. While he may be remembered for his over-the-top outfits and larger-than-life personality, Liberace was a tremendous pianist. Michael Douglas, who should win an award for his role in this movie, did a fantastic job of portraying Liberace’s musicals talents and passion for the business. The songs that appear in the movie run the gamut, everything from “Begin the Beguine” to “The Impossible Dream.” It’s a musical feast for the ears.

Behind the Candelabra SoundtrackDouglas was also phenomenal when it came to conveying how insecure and self-centered Liberace was. Matt Damon, who played Liberace’s love interest, Scott Thorson, was equally compelling. His emotional – and physical – transformation from the start of the film to the end was both shocking and heartbreaking.

The stellar supporting cast included Rob Lowe as a frightening doctor, Dan Aykroyd as Liberace’s manager and an unidentifiable Debbie Reynolds as Liberace’s mother, Frances. The chemistry between all of these actors and actresses helped bring this fascinating story to life in a way that kept me glued to the screen the entire time.

Behind the Candelabra - Entertainment WeeklyVisually, Behind the Candelabra was a gorgeous movie. Steven Soderbergh’s skillful direction resulted in a film filled with vibrancy. Not only did it do a wonderful job of highlighting the different years of the story through visuals and music, but having the chance to see Liberace’s opulent lifestyle was breathtaking.

I can’t say enough good things about this movie. It opened my eyes to Liberace’s musical talent, as well as his infatuation with young men and himself. But despite all his flaws, I wound up caring about his fate at the end of the film. The most moving interaction involved Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in the final 15 minutes of movie; it was so good that I watched the scene a second time before finishing the film. And what made it so good was the fact that the feelings these two individuals had for each other was palpable. In a cinematic world filled with superficial dialogue and paper-thin characters, this was no small feat.

Behind the Candelabra was an excellent movie about an extremely talented man. I recommend you stop what you’re doing and watch this film right away; it’s a riveting tale that you won’t soon forget.

Below is the trailer for Behind the Candelabra and a look at how the film was made.

Movie Review – The Great Gatsby

The Great GatsbyNot remembering whether or not I had to read the book in school as a child, I decided to listen to the audiobook version of The Great Gatsby narrated by Jake Gyllenhaal. Like the recent film adaptation, the first two thirds were interesting and the last third was very good. The recently released movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is the fifth cinematic interpretation of the classic novel – the first being in 1926.

What struck me when the movie started was the almost overwhelming amount of fast cutting used by the Director, Baz Luhrmann. The constant change in direction and dramatic zooms, not to mention the overdone computer-generated imagery, made the beginning of The Great Gatsby feel more like a music video than a film. It was as if Luhrmann felt the audience would lose interest without all this dramatic flair.

And let’s talk about the music. The Great Gatsby is supposed to be set in the 1920s. I understand that the producers wanted it to appeal to the younger generations, but including music by Jay-Z and Beyonce didn’t mesh well with the subject matter. The score itself was good, and the song “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Ray was gorgeous. But when I think about the botched soundtrack, one scene in particular comes to mind: At one point in the film Gatsby and Nick Carraway are driving over a bridge and to their right is what can be best described as a pimp and a gaggle of scantily-clad “women.” Rap music is blasting from the pimp-mobile and there are countless bottles of champagne strewn about the car. Not only did this disrupt the entire scene, it was superfluous. Great composers like Michael Giacchino understand that a soundtrack isn’t supposed to overpower a scene, it’s meant to enhance it. Unfortunately, The Great Gatsby’s soundtrack served as a jarring distraction.

The acting was very good across the board. Toby Maguire turned in a solid performance, as did the rest of the supporting cast. But the star was clearly Leonardo DiCaprio, who did a terrific job of inhabiting a mysterious man of wealth. And for those who read the book, you’ll be glad to hear that the phrase “old sport” was as overused in the movie as it was in the novel. By the last third of the film the lousy music and chaotic cinematography was cast aside and the story was the focal point. This was when The Great Gatsby was at its best. I don’t want to spoil the plot for those unfamiliar with the story, but you can rest assured that the movie’s epic conclusion will leave you satisfied.

So, should you go see The Great Gatsby? Sure, just don’t expect it to be the film of the year. It’s a slightly misguided interpretation of a classic novel  that showcases one of the best leading men in the business. And if it gets you to read or re-read the book upon which its based, then that’s an even better reason to see it.

Below is an interview with Leonardo DiCaprio about the film from 60 Minutes and the music video for “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Ray.

 

Book Review – Makeup to Breakup by Peter Criss

Peter Criss - Makeup to BreakupIt’s no mystery that I’m a big KISS fan. I met the band 10 years ago, and I’m going to meet them again on KISS Kruise III in October. But a lot has changed in 10 years. The band has released two new studio albums and Peter Criss is once again no longer KISS’ drummer. Peter was always one of my favorite members of KISS, so I was eager to crack open his autobiography and learn about his wild adventures over the past 40+ years in the music business.

The autobiography started off with Peter Criss holding a gun in his mouth, ready to commit suicide. It was reminiscent of Hulk Hogan’s recent memoir, My Life Outside the Ring. Needless to say, this got my attention and the rest of the book held it up until the chapter about Peter’s religious beliefs, which I skimmed. It was fascinating reading about his career prior to KISS, how he joined the band and his opinion on the others members as the years progressed. Of course, this was a one-sided story, which I kept in mind while reading it.

The other members of KISS have accused Peter of being a whiner and out of control. This comes through in his autobiography. He did a massive amount of drugs, wasted a ton of money and didn’t do a great job of controlling his temper. Reading these stories made me feel bad for the guy. Thankfully, Peter saw the error of his ways and got his act together during KISS’ reunion tour. Unfortunately, all the bad blood he created during the band’s heyday caused Paul and Gene to never trust him again. Peter’s stories about this time period were especially interesting since this is when I became a fan of the band.

Overall, this is a great read for fans of KISS and/or classic rock autobiographies. It’s filled with humorous and heartbreaking stories that kept my rapt attention; and it gave me a behind-the-scenes look at what it was like to part of, what I consider to be, the greatest American rock band of all time. Check it out.

Movie Review – Phil Spector

Phil SpectorEarlier this year, HBO released an original film called Phil Spector about the legendary music mogul’s first trial for the alleged murder of Lana Clarkson. The movie focused on the relationship between Spector and his attorney at the time, Linda Kenney Baden. While Bette Midler was supposed to play the attorney, she couldn’t continue after three days of filming because she was ill. This role was assumed by Helen Mirren, who did a wonderful job. But Al Pacino as Phil Spector stole the show. His impassioned portrayal of this enigmatic virtuoso was spellbinding. Whenever he was on the screen, I was transfixed, especially when he delivered a stirring speech towards the end of the film. I highly recommend this movie; it’s an engrossing inside-look at the tumultuous world of a music icon that shouldn’t be missed.

Synopsis

Written and directed by David Mamet, Phil Spector is his exploration of the client-attorney relationship between legendary music producer Phil Spector (Al Pacino) and defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden (Helen Mirren), who represented Spector during his first trial for murder. Mamet serves as executive producer with Barry Levinson. The cast also includes Rebecca Pidgeon, Jeffrey Tambor and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Book Review – Gone Girl

Gone GirlI’ve been wanting to read Gone Girl for quite sometime. It was one of the best-selling books of 2012 and several people I know read it and loved it. Being a fan of thrillers, I expected this novel to be fantastic. Boy, was I disappointed. It took 140 pages for anything vaguely unpredictable or interesting to happen in Gone GirlAnd the first 140 pages made me happy the girl was gone. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a ton of free time. I’m used to excellent thrillers by authors like Harlan Coben that grab me from the first page and never let go. I’m also used to reading about characters I can relate to and therefore care about. This book failed miserably on both counts. While the last third of it was mildly compelling, it didn’t make up for the first two thirds being mediocre. And as many people have pointed out, the ending was unsatisfactory and lacked closure. While I’m glad I finished Gone Girl, I don’t plan on reading anymore novels by this author. This book, just like the girl, are better off gone.

Synopsis

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick Dunne isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but hearing from Amy through flashbacks in her diary reveal the perky perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister Margo at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was left in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

 

Movie Review – California Solo

California_SoloWhen recently speaking with Michael Des Barres, he recommended that my girlfriend and I watch his latest movie, California Solo, so we did. The film, starring Robert Carlyle, premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and went on to win several awards at other film festivals. After watching the movie, I’m not surprised it received such acclaim. It’s a terrific character study about an endearing former rock star I couldn’t help but feel for. Carlyle’s ability to convey MacAldonich’s internal and external struggles was mesmerizing. Even when he didn’t speak a word, his body language said everything. As expected, Des Barres’ role as the former manager of MacAldonich’s dissolved band was delightfully charming. And at one hour and 35 minutes, this movie doesn’t overstay its welcome. I highly recommend you check it out.

Synopsis

Lachlan MacAldonich is former Britpop rocker who has settled into a comfortably numb existence in farm country just outside Los Angeles. By day, he works on an organic farm and travels regularly to the city’s farmers’ markets to sell produce. By night, he retreats to his crummy apartment to record “Flame-Outs,” his podcast that recounts the tragic deaths of great musicians. The only spark in his humdrum existence is Beau, a lovely struggling actress and amateur chef who frequents the Silver Lake farmers’ market.

One night, Lachlan gets pulled over for a DUI, a charge that dredges up his past drug offense and threatens him with deportation. Lachlan’s only hope of staying in the U.S. is proving that his removal would cause “extreme hardship” to a U.S. citizen spouse or relative. Lachlan contacts his estranged ex-wife and daughter, raising past demons that he must finally confront.

California Solo is a human story about post-fame life and personal redemption.

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