September 21, 2020
Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, aka Wendy and Lisa, are composers, song writers and recording artists who literally grew up in the music business. Both of their fathers were part of the famed "Wrecking Crew", who were the group of LA studio musicians responsible for an amazing array of hits and movie/TV soundtrack pieces in the 60s and 70s.
Most famously, Wendy & Lisa were indispensable members of Prince's Revolution band in the 80s, and provided musical backing, songs and inspiration for some of his most major and ground-breaking albums, including 1999, Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day, and Parade. They also contributed to the aborted album Dream Factory, a revised version of which was released as Sign O' the Times in 1987. This week sees the release of the Super Deluxe Edition of Sign O' the Times, which includes some of the tracks Wendy & Lisa contributed for Dream Factory, as well as a host of other material.
Since the late 80s, the duo have been very active and have released a plethora of music, including the albums Eroica, Girl Bros, and White Flags of Winter Chimneys (all favorites at Audeze HQ). They also regularly contribute soundtrack and score music for TV and film projects (see the interview for more on that). They have worked with Audeze artists Tchad Blake, Tony Berg, and Susan Rogers.
Here is our email exchange with Wendy and Lisa:
Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of? Everyone should know your work with Prince and the Revolution, but not everyone knows about all your other amazing projects.
Lisa: Wendy and I have made Five solo albums together, and have scored many cool films and TV Shows. We won an Emmy for our main title to Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, and were nominated for our main title to FOX’s “TOUCH”. We also enjoyed working on HEROES, and were trusted by the producers to come up with what still remains one of the most unique and beautiful scores to be on a network show. I’m still very proud of that work, and of many of the scores we’ve been lucky enough to compose.
I released a solo piano record last year that you can find on BANDCAMP. It's called Collage, by Lisa Coleman.
Wendy: Yeah, so Lisa and I have been at this thing called Music Business for a really long time.
Not to mention the fact that we both grew up in Los Angeles with Fathers that were very important to the L.A Music Community, we both learned how to work our way around some of the most Legendary Recording Studios at a very young age. We Have worked with, and for, some Amazing Artists in our Careers. I'm proud of it all. I find it very hard to narrow down Favorites. Hum… Off the top of my Head working with Neil Finn was a Highlight. the Album “ONE NIL” is a standout.
How would you define your main roles on most of the projects you work on?
L: Wendy and I work almost exclusively together as writers, producers, and performers. We are able to do many of the scores we do because we play everything ourselves, and we write and record to picture in real time. Sometimes we feel like the pit band for a silent movie and we play along together and tell stories with music. Unless it's an orchestral score in which case we play samples!
W: I get asked to play on people’s Records all the time which I love to do. People call me to play Bass/Drums/Guitars… anything really. When I Work with people like Jon Brion, He and I are a full Rhythm section. I love that.
Lisa gets asked to do the same, and it's always to achieve a certain vibe.. She is a Secret Weapon.
I personally love to produce for songwriters. I'm good at putting a Frame around their work.
How did you get started in music/audio production?
L: I was born into art and music. My mother was a singer and an artist, and my father was a studio musician and part of the now called "wrecking crew”. So I always knew I would have a life in music. When I was 19 I got the opportunity, after having many bands of my own with my friends and siblings, to play with Prince, who was just recording “Dirty Mind”, and I ended up spending the greater part of my 20’s recording and touring with Prince and the Revolution. Since then I’ve played with many artists, and have become mainly a composer for TV and film which I enjoy very much.
W: Like I mentioned earlier. Growing up in this Business gave me an opportunity at a young age to watch Sessions/Producers/Engineers/Artists at close range. I developed a Love of the Craft.
I was obsessed with all of it. Learning all I could was paramount to me becoming the musician I am now. To this Day being in a recording Studio makes me feel whole. I feel like the Artist I want to be.
Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?
L: I have been fired from a couple of gigs in television where I REALLY believed that justice would prevail and they would change their minds because they were just simply wrong in their thinking. What I didn’t realize was how expendable one can be at any given time. The trick is to not lose your sense of sincerity, but also not invest so much of yourself emotionally that you’re not separated from the work. It can really hurt. I know how to love my work without expectations emotionally. Professionally, I still push hard, but I also push hard for collaboration with whoever hired me, as to keep everyone honest.
W: This is a difficult one to answer. so much of a Musicians Process is rife with frustration.
The Tools it takes to overcome those Roadblocks aren’t necessarily related to the Business of Music, it's more to do with the Process of Music. What I mean is that it's much more important to keep your Musical Minds Eye on your Craft than the outcome of what you want to accomplish. Both are important, it's just that leading with the desired result can keep you from enjoying the work you’re doing to get there. Stay focused on the Art first. What you're doing. Only after should you Hitch your desire/need for the Outcome.
Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently? Do you still use the instruments you played when working with Prince?
L: I still have a couple of Oberheims from my days with Prince, and I try to at least turn them on every day to ‘warm them up’'. I have an OBSX and a MATRIX 12. They need that. I still turn to them for certain sounds, and of course, I got the plug-ins to take on the road in recent years when The Revolution got together and toured a little bit. The OBXD, and The OPXPRO are really great!
W: Easy. My Ears first. I have A lot of Gear I love to use. Old Pultecs/Neve mic pre’s/an Old API Board. 2 inch tape. The list is endless. But really when it comes down to it, I rely on my Ears, and sensibilities... I can take that anywhere.
I have a slew of Musical Instruments I cherish and use all the time, too much to mention.
Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire to a similar path for their own careers?
L: I guess the only words of wisdom I can impart would be………. Learn the difference between Art and Craft. I consider art to be the more organic process of creating, and Craft is the technique of creating. Usually when you get hired by somebody to accomplish a task, you will need to use your craft. If you’re any good at it the art will shine through because its just who you are!
W: My advice? Yes.. Learn your Craft. Your choice of Instrument first. Learn to Love the Good and bad of it.
Please don’t Brand yourself first before you have the goods. Again, Learn Your Craft.
How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?
L: I’ve been working with headphones most of my life! I was in a band in the studio at age 11, and I learned about headphone balances and ear fatigue pretty quick.
I’m in the studio almost every day, so at some point whether it's recording or mixing, I have to reach for headphones I can trust!
I’m really Impressed with the Audeze LCD-1 headphones! Total ear candy!
Thank you Audeze!
W: I’ve been working with Headphones for a few years.
I got more fascinated after my 2 Dear Friends Andrew Scheps and Tchad Blake showed me the results they got from using them.
I Love to use them when I mix in my Small Room. Lisa and I have a second Production Suite in our Studio that's Acoustically Challenged. A terrible mix room. But it's a necessary evil when it comes to getting certain Projects done. Using Headphones instead of relying on good Near-Fields in a Shitty room has worked Beautifully. The End results have sounded Amazing.
I’ve been using the Audeze LCD-MX4 Open backs during the Quarantine on a Netflix show Lisa and have composed remotely. I can’t believe how Detailed and well balanced they sound. My Mixes have maintained Sonic Integrity, Balance, Energy.
Wendy and Lisa were kind enough to shoot a short video about their experiences with the LCD-1 and LCD-MX4 headphones. You can see the video here.