22 September 2023 (Toronto, ON) — Influential, innovative and idiosyncratic – producer Trevor Horn is credited with creating the sound of the 80s. For Echoes – Ancient & Modern, his debut album for Deutsche Grammophon, he has taken 11 iconic tracks – from that decade and beyond – and reinvented them with different vocalists and brand-new orchestral arrangements.
Horn himself sings vocals on a Roxy Music classic as well as producing Marc Almond, Tori Amos, Rick Astley, Andrea Corr, Steve Hogarth, Lady Blackbird, Jack Lukeman, Iggy Pop, Seal and Toyah Wilcox & Robert Fripp in tracks originally performed by Pat Benatar; The Cars; Depeche Mode; Frankie Goes to Hollywood; Billy Idol; Joe Jackson; Grace Jones; Kendrick Lamar; Nirvana and Yes.
Echoes – Ancient & Modern will be released on CD, vinyl and digitally on 1 December 2023, accompanied by a booklet including an interview with the producer by his long-time friend and collaborator Paul Morley. A first single – Grace Jones’s “Slave to the Rhythm” as reimagined by Lady Blackbird – comes out on 22 September.
In conversation with Morley, Trevor Horn discusses how he chose the tracks to rework – and the artists to help him transform the familiar into something magical and new. “Finding the right singers was as important as finding the songs, probably more so,” he recalls. “It’s an album by me, as a kind of auteur. I’m the artist commissioning other artists rather than them hiring me.”
Horn hasn’t just produced Echoes – Ancient & Modern, he sings backing vocals, plays keyboards, bass and/or guitar, and spins musical gold from his fellow instrumentalists, including another old friend, Lol Creme, and a string orchestra. “Building a feeling into a song is a tricky, intangible thing to do,” he says. “There are lots of technical and psychological short cuts to recording a song, but none to actually make it feel real. That remains a studio secret.”
Echoes – Ancient & Modern opens in the 21st century with Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pool (Drank)”. Its potent lyrics appealed to Horn, who worked with singer-songwriter Tori Amos to create this cinematic cover in which Amos’s vocals, underpinned by subtle string writing, totally transfigure the rap original. As the producer notes, “It sets everything up like it’s the beginning of a song cycle.”
Aware of a certain expectation that he’ll revisit his back catalogue on an album like this, he reworks three of his biggest 80s hits here. Rick Astley’s rendition of Yes’s US number one “Owner of a Lonely Heart” is newly endowed with a dance groove. Lady Blackbird successfully takes up the challenge of reinterpreting the inimitable Grace Jones’s “Slave to the Rhythm”. “She sings it on her own terms,” says Horn, “and takes the song somewhere else.” Last but by no means least, Toyah Wilcox is the vocalist in an unexpected 21st-century version of “Relax” – “The pure joy of Toyah, which also means her husband Robert Fripp and his fantastical guitar, seemed about as wonderfully distant from Frankie Goes to Hollywood as it’s possible to get.”
Staying in the early 80s, Horn pairs the “ineffable cool” of Seal with Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out” and the “wounded but undefeated” voice of Marc Almond with the Pat Benatar hit “Love is a Battlefield”. Marillion lead singer Steve Hogarth sings The Cars’ “Drive” – “It’s a sad song,” says Horn, “and I tried to make it even sadder.” Meanwhile, the “effortless” Andrea Corr is joined by fellow Irish singer Jack Lukeman to put a very different spin on Billy Idol’s “White Wedding”.
From the end of the decade we hear Iggy Pop’s version of Depeche Mode’s game-changing “Personal Jesus”. “Iggy adds another truth to whatever he does,” notes Horn. Jack Lukeman returns, this time on solo duty, for the album’s one 90s original, Nirvana’s legendary “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and Trevor Horn himself supplies lead vocals in Roxy Music’s “Avalon” of 1982. He’s chosen to end the album with this track: “It’s a little like at the end of the show I’m saying this is me – the producer, the band leader, but also the performer – signing off. For now…”