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Kyle Lehning Interview

Q. We've heard that with you, it's all about the artist and not the production. Is that accurate?

Kyle: Yes. You know, I'm a really bad songwriter. If I write a song, it's just sort of goofing around. It doesn't have anything to do with anything serious. I don't do that very much, so I'm at the mercy of really great songwriters. I think I have good instinct for material, and I think I'm a good, objective guy when it comes to helping an artist. It's hard for an artist to see their backside, so I try to make sure they're getting a 360 degree view of what's going on.

What a great life - it's been so much fun.

Q. How much control do you generally have over song selections?

Kyle: Any artist I work with would tell you this: There's no such thing as a "tie". The artist will win - always win. But I will do everything that I can to convince an artist that something I feel strongly about is something we ought to try. It's been sort of the "benefit of the doubt" clause - to try to go in and at least give it a good shot, because sometimes they don't hear it the way I hear it. That always works one way or another. It either shows us something we didn't know before, or it tells us that it really was a bad idea. That's a very free and open way to be with an artist.

Q. Are you a songwriter at all?

Kyle: No. I wouldn't consider myself a songwriter under any circumstances.

Q. When you were President of Asylum Records in Nashville, how did those responsibilities differ from what you had done before? Was it too far from the creative aspects of the business?

Kyle: It was an incredible opportunity and something that I have no regrets doing. I mean, it was just a great experience for me to be able to do that - to start a record company essentially from ground zero with major label support and to work with a guy named Bob Krasnow, who was chairman of Electra Entertainment at the time, and who's a fascinating music business character. It was very humbling to finally be in a position of "ultimate power" and to find out that just because I could now direct the energies of a record company, it didn't have anything to do with whether the record would be successful or not. There's always another element, which is the public. They have the ultimate and the biggest vote. It doesn't matter how much money you spent or how much marketing you want to plug in there, or how hard you want to pound an artist into the public consciousness, if people don't connect to it, there's not much you can do. The other side of that coin is that we've had records that we put out with very little promotion and very little marketing that were incredibly successful, and tells you that if people do want it, there's very little you can do to keep them from getting it.

It's an amazing relationship, and there's a great dynamic between that - offering up something and whether the public responds or not.

Q. One of the roles of a producer is similar to a movie director - get the best performance out of the artist. Obviously, there can be the potential for clashes relating to interpretation, phrasing, egos, etc. How do you think the musicians and artists who've worked with you describe your approach? Are you a tyrant in the studio?

Kyle: Well, you'd have to ask them, but if I were to guess, I'd have to say that I doubt they'd consider me tyrannical in any way. Everybody has their styles, and I don't think there's a right or wrong way to do it. When I walk in the studio, at the end of the day, I want to feel that I gave my best, and the way in which I feel that I've given my best isn't necessarily always the way another guy feels like he's given his best.

One of the great things about getting to be a recording engineer before I was actually a producer was getting to work with lots of different people and seeing different styles, and getting to see that they all work. If the song's great and the artist is great, there's a lot of ways to do this. I got to see it work in every conceivable way.

Today, the record business -- if your not a producer-engineer-artist-writer - you're sort of not in it. There are a lot of people who do all of it, and the technology is available, and I think it's sort of a natural progression.

In earlier days, there were record producers who were more like "snake oil" salesman than they were musicians, but that was a fascinating way to make music because they were really more like the public than the people who are making music now. So, you had this guy in the studio who didn't know anything about what anybody else was doing except that it wasn't working. The producer would go "No. This is not good! Do something better." and it put an energy and tension in the room that's very different than saying "Don't play an E flat in the bass, play a B flat". You don't see that much anymore, and there's part of me that misses it at some level - but not a big part.

Q. Is there anything in the works that you could tell us about?

Kyle: I'm making a record that I'm paying for out of my own pocket for Joy Lynn White who's a singer/songwriter, been in town for awhile, and she did a couple of records for Sony and she's been kind of quiet lately and I just love her music, love her singing. We've got a really neat record that we're just about finished with, and I have no idea what's going to happen with it - whether we'll be putting it out ourselves, or I'll find a label in town that might be interested in it or some label out of town. We're about to finish it and we're about to see if we can find a partner somewhere. It's a really good record, and I'm very proud of it.

Q. Are you doing anything with Randy Travis in the future?

Kyle: We're going to be recording after the first of the year. I'm not sure exactly when or what, but it'll be classic Randy.

I'm also making a jazz "B3" record with Moe Dehnam which is great fun.

Paul Worley and I are co-producing a young artist on Warner Brothers. She's just phenomenal, and it was sweet of Paul to invite me in on the project - a young lady by the name of Alexis Ebert. She's thirteen years old, from Oregon. When you talk about how the business has changed, she is really a wonderful singer-songwriter. She writes really well - it's astounding. She plays piano and guitar. She's a terrific singer. Very supportive parents. The record is really good. We're in the process of mixing that right now. It should be done right after the first of the year.

( note: Kyle played a track for us from an Alexis Ebert demo. Phenomenal! Remember the name -- she's definitely headed to the top.)

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Last modified Monday, June 11, 2007