Fulfilling artists visions by producing records out of Nashville with Amphion One18
Award winning American/Canadian producer and composer, Fred Mollin, on the creation and launch of “Every Star Above” – performed by acclaimed singer, songwriter, and actress Mandy Barnett, and with music arranged for orchestra by the legendary Sammy Nestico.
Nashville, USA – Regarded as one of the USA’s most talented vocalists in contemporary music, Mandy Barnett’s new release “Every Star Above” enters that illustrious Great American Songbook sphere with her tribute to Billie Holiday’s 1958 “Lady in Satin” – considered one of Billie’s greatest albums. With a 60-piece orchestra made up of some of Nashville’s finest musicians, performing the arrangements of one of America’s most renowned composers, the late-great Sammy Nestico, Amphion had the opportunity and honour to talk to its iconic producer, Fred Mollin – an Amphion devotee as well as a prolific composer, songwriter, and artist in his own right. Fred gave us a deeper look into the production and creative team by sharing the project’s mini documentary; providing insights on his special relationship with the artist and arranger; and recognising key engineers and artists who also collaborated to produce this lush soundscape. This recording can be appreciated by both the pro-audio specialist for its enormous musical/engineering talent, as well as the music connoisseur and audiophile looking for an absolutely sublime audio experience. And Amphion is very proud to celebrate its small contribution in the production of this wonderful work.
The “Every Star Above” mini documentary is fabulous. Are there any additional backstories or insights you’d like to share that didn’t make it into this video ? More on the 60-piece orchestra and conductor ? How many days to record the album ? Any tracks that are particular favourites of yours ? How long was this project in-the-making – from inception to release ?
We recorded the album in September 2019, and it was slated for a release in the spring of 2020, but CoVid-19 changed our release date. Sammy Nestico, one of the most legendary orchestral and big band arrangers, was kind enough to take on this project at age 94. Initially, Sammy was going to only do one or two charts, but once he got started, he called me and said, “I think I can do two more”. He then said after those two, “I think I can do two more”, and then he finally said, “I think I can arrange all of the songs”! We convened at Ocean Way Studios in Nashville, which is a re-converted church that has an extraordinary room for a large orchestra and probably the biggest Neve console in North America. I brought Bill Schnee on to record and mix the album, and Scott Lavender, who works with Johnny Mathis, to conduct the orchestra.
Our orchestra comprised a great deal of the Nashville Symphony players, as well as other top notch session musicians. My rhythm section was Paul Leim, Kerry Marx, Danny Olannerghty, and Pat Coil. It only took two days in the studio working from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM each day to record all of the tracks, and Mandy sang live with the orchestra – and a great deal of her live vocals were so amazing that we used them as finals! Mandy and I had talked a lot about the album when I first signed Mandy to the label, and being it was going to be the first project of its kind for my label, Melody Place, I did take my time to organize everything, as there was a lot of strategy and careful budgeting needed. It took a good four months from inception to recording.
It’s funny but I really don’t have any favourite tracks because they’re all my favourites. Probably, if I had to draw one that seems to get to me more because of its emotion, it would be “The End of a Love Affair”. Every song is a classic from “The Great American Songbook”.
About Mandy Barnett … Active since 1994, Mandy is an American singer, songwriter, and stage performer. Now with nine album credits since 1996, she is regarded as a Nashville musical treasure. Her vocal versatility across music genres of country, jazz, pop, rock, soul, and R&B, and her ability to express the music with her voice and not simply offer a derivative/copy of what went before, makes her especially stand out from her peers. Her praises are sung by many – entertainment media and artists alike – however, this quote from USA Today is a true reflection of her essence – one of Nashville’s “finest classic country and torch singers.”
About Sammy Nestico … From Basie to Bublé, and so many other artists in between, Sammy Nestico was the arranger-of-choice for iconic performers such as Bing Crosby, Phil Collins, Stan Kenton, Patti Austin, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Sarah Vaughan, and even became chief arranger and director of the White House orchestra under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. His writing credits and orchestrations include the music for many major films and television shows – Mission : Impossible, Mannix, M*A*S*H, and Charlie’s Angels, to name a few. His recent passing at age 96 distinguishes this album as his final work but was released posthumously.
About Fred Mollin … With a long and successful career as a Film & Television composer on award-winning movies and TV series for CBS, Paramount, TriStar, Fox, MGM, and the Disney Channel followed by re-locating to Nashville, he is immersed in what he loves most “Fulfilling artists’ visions by producing records out of Nashville”. His numerous album credits include working with artists Lamont Dozier, Johnny Mathis, Jimmy Webb, Kris Kristofferson, America, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, Natalie Cole, Gloria Estefan, Mark Knopfler, Chris Cornell, Lyle Lovett, Gregory Porter, Sir Cliff Richard, Graham Nash, Todd Rundgren, Rumer and so many others.
YouTube: This behind-the-scenes video, directed by Mark Voss and John Dykas, showcases the voice of Mandy Barnett, the arrangements of Sammy Nestico, and album production skills of Fred Mollin.
Regarding “The Great American Songbook”, what was the song selection criteria – given there’s such a huge catalogue to draw from eg. Hollywood films, Broadway musicals, and Tin Pan Alley ? Was there a thread connecting the tracks ? Vocalist’s favourites ? Your call ?
There was a concept right from the beginning which was to do the songs that Billie Holiday had done on her 1958 album “Lady in Satin” which was Billie’s last-released album before her death. It was an album she had always wanted to do with a large, sumptuous orchestra. For some unusual reason, that album connected very deeply to Mandy and I early-on in our lives. I mentioned revisiting that album as a tribute to Holiday and to her record. Mandy was thrilled. It felt like destiny. All the songs on the album are the songs from the 1958 cult classic.
Tell us about some of the joys and experiences working with Mandy Barnett and the late-Sammy Nestico. How was the chemistry ? Do you see a “Volume 2” ?
Sadly, Sammy passed away a few months back, so I don’t see how there can be a volume 2 without him.
Working with Mandy is a delight. She is such an incredibly gifted singer that we used a great deal of her live vocals! We are based in Nashville and Sammy was living in Southern California. He did his arrangements with his assistant and then would send us the charts one by one. I finally had the ability, after we finished the album, to bring Mandy to California to meet Sammy, and they just loved each other and the chemistry could not have been more profound. It was a dream come true.
As the producer of this epic album, how does this compare with the large number of works you have created in the past ?
Well, this is a very big project. I’ve done a few albums like this in my career with a large live orchestra and I produced one album for Frank Stallone in 1986, which Sammy did the arrangements for, and we used a large orchestra as well. That’s where I met Sammy and that’s where my friendship with Sammy began. I’m very proud of so much of the work that I’ve done, but this one has a special meaning to me because it was Sammy’s last project, and for that reason alone, it will always mean so much to me.
Primary recording was at the iconic Ocean Way Recording Studios, Nashville. How big a part did Amphion One18s play in the production ie. mix/mastering ? Amphion talks about its sonic-powers of “translation, definition, neutrality etc” – but what were yours, and associated engineers’, impressions of their capacity to deliver the vocal and instrumental nuances, timbre, and detail ?
Amphion monitors are an integral part of the work I do at home in my home studio. The recording of this project involved different studios and multiple monitoring scenarios, but so much of the work that was done in our final colour overdubs, Mandy’s vocal overdub passes, and the judging and closing mixes, was reliant on the Amphion One18’s.
★★★ “Mandy Barnett is, quite simply, one of the finest American singers you haven’t heard nearly enough of” ~ Josh Getlin at Medium
★★★ “Barnett makes these songs her own, and her versions stand alone as performances destined to become classics” ~ Henry Carrigan at No Depression
★★★ “While Barnett produces reads that are more polished than “legit” sounding than Holiday, she succeeds in serving as a strong salute without losing her identity or trying to imitate her in the process” ~ George Harris at Jazz Weekly
Mandy Barnett’s Every Star Above is available on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, and wherever music is sold/streamed https://fanlink.to/MandyBarnett_EveryStarAbove