Last week, David Bowie stunned the music world by releasing ‘Where Are We Now?’, the first single from his first album in a decade The Next Day, without any forewarning from music media or press outlets hinting that the music master was even working on new material, with the global consensus being he’d finished touring, fallen to health scares, and had quietly retired.
Following the release of ‘Where Are We Now?’, Bowie’s long-term musical collaborators – producer Tony Visconti and guitarist Earl Slick – have revealed in a feature interview with The Guardian how Bowie managed to pull of a major coup in the current music industry landscape, by keeping a two-year long music project from one of the world’s most iconic musicians an absolute secret.
One factor that Bowie was able to keep his comeback a surprise, was that there was fewer people involved in the keeping the secret. The musician’s inner-circle is a close knit unit of friends and families, while his business representatives consist of an unusually small crew which, as Tony Visconti points out, is a long-standing reaction to his early 70s period where he “had about 45 people looking after him” from management company Mainman.
These days, Bowie’s business crew consists of New York business manager Bill Zysblat, and his loyal PA Corrine ‘Coco’ Schwab, both figures who have worked with Bowie for decades without the outside interference of label people, publicity, bookers, and other hangers-on in the business chain.
As a Bowie insider tells The Guardian, “it means you can react to things very quickly, you can do things incredibly secretively, which you couldn’t do if it was one of those situations where there are 20 different managers involved… [Bowie]’s very good at being low-key. How many times over the last 10 years have you seen pictures of him?” Adding, “He’s not a recluse, but he’s seen when he wants to be seen.”“[Bowie] said ‘what about the PR campaign?’ And David said, ‘there is no PR campaign. We’re just going to drop it on 8 January. That’s it.'” – Tony Visconti, Producer
Visconti, who tweeted that he was relieved that he could finally talk about Bowie’s latest, said that not even Rob Stringer, president of Sony Music Label Group was only aware of the new album when he was invited to a studio in New York only a month ago. “We still haven’t given him a copy of the album,” says Visconti. “He came to the studio. He was thrilled. He said ‘what about the PR campaign?’ And David said, ‘there is no PR campaign. We’re just going to drop it on 8 January. That’s it.'”
This same covert attitude, with fewer people in the know – the bigger the impact, extended to those in the studio, including long-time collaborators, guitarist Earl Slick and Jerry Leonard, and drummer Sterling Campbell, who all singed non-disclosure agreements. “We were long-time Bowie people,” says Visconti, “if he’d just said keep it a secret and don’t tell a soul, we would have done that without signing – but later on, as the crew on the album got bigger, the NDAs were necessary because we didn’t know everyone that well.”
Earl Slick in particular found the tight-lipped approach difficult. “I was on the cover of Guitar Player magazine… It was the Christmas issue, the one you want to be on the cover of, the one that’s on the newsstands twice as long. And I’m making a new Bowie album and I can’t tell them anything,” remembers Slick.“If [Bowie said] keep it a secret and don’t tell a soul, we would have done that without signing [Non-Disclosure Agreements] – but later on, as the crew on the album got bigger, the NDAs were necessary.” – Tony Visconti
Bowie and crew also left a number of studios that threatened to sink Bowie’s secretive ambitions with their loose lips. “We told them to keep it a secret and they blew it within 24 hours,” says Visconti, with Bowie and co. eventually ‘getting lucky’ with SoHo’s The Magic Shop in New York City.
“Normally there are interns at studios, but whenever we were there, they gave their interns time off,” says Visconti. “They didn’t want them to witness it. When we were working there, they had a skeleton staff of two, which is not normal.”
Now free from restrictions, Visconti has happily divulged some more details regarding The Next Day, saying that ‘Where Are We Now?’ is not strictly indicative of what to expect from the record. “[It’s] eclectic, it’s got five really blistering rock tracks. The rest is really mid-tempo, mysterious and evocative,” says Visconti.
“The subject matter he choses to write about is amazing… the album’s got is a lot of substance. You’re going to have to listen to it many times, because the lyrical content’s going to take a long time to absorb,” he adds.
Considering Bowie himself is remaining typically elusive about the new record, its been left to his producer to act as a spokesman for Bowie, including having to clarify a recent Pitchfork that claimed Bowie was done with touring.
I never said Bowie would never perform live again.Pitchfork made that up.He won’t tour for this album — that’s all I said.
— Tony Visconti (@Tonuspomus) January 11, 2013
Instead, Visconti tells The Guardian that The Next Day is a new chapter in Bowie’s career than his swan song, telling the British paper they ended up recording 29 songs, of which only 17 are featured on the deluxe edition of the album to drop on March 8.
“We have tracks left over that are really great, that just didn’t fit with this batch, so I know we have the makings of another album. And I know he wants to keep recording,” says Visconti. “I’m not sure when, but I think he’ll be back in the studio later this year.”
If Bowie does indeed return for a quick follow-up, chances are that no one will know about, except of course those that Bowie wants to.