Supergroup Goes Superheavy: Mick, Joss, Dave, Damian & A.R. Talk
Then he wanted Joss Stone to hear what they'd come up with.
And then, rather than turn to the English rock, American blues and R&B at the core of their respective sounds, Stewart hipped Stone to a group she'd never heard of: the Andrews Sisters.
The idea of discovery, of crossing into unfamiliar terrain -- like the 1930s hitmakers -- was the driving concept behind SuperHeavy: What would happen if a band of musicians from different cultures composed and recorded together? Jagger, Stewart, Stone, Damian Marley and A.R. Rahman, five musicians from different backgrounds, experiment with one another's sounds on the group's album, due Sept. 20 on Universal Republic in the United States and A&M in the rest of the world.
Marley, son of Bob, says, "For me, it was a great experience to get together and experiment with other musicians. I wasn't familiar with everyone else's music before the project." Rahman, Stewart recalls, "was a bit taken aback when I called." He'd never worked with rock bands or a reggae artist. Neither Jagger nor Stone were ever in vocal groups.
"Normally I do everything -- which I'm happy to do," Jagger says at Jim Henson Studios in Los Angeles where seven of the album's songs were premiered. "It was kind of fun. You pick your part and then get to harmonize. Joss and I would do a harmony together and then Damian comes in with his toasting thing. It was very much a group vocal. I never really worked with a vocal group before so that was a new experience." What they created has no true connection with the Andrews Sisters, but Stone says that listening to their music "created a common ground."
About a year was spent crafting an album after an initial series of jams and songwriting sessions produced more than 35 hours of music. Stewart and his engineer reviewed the recordings, which occurred in Los Angeles, looking for moments that could be shaped into songs. Jagger says they entered the first session with "ideas, a few guitar riffs and a few snippets of lyrics. Most everyone I have worked with has something [prepared], so it's not my usual sort of way of working. You always want to leave some room for improvisation, but you need to have something, some songs, when you walk into the studio.
Video: Behind the Scenes: Superheavy In The Studio
"It just evolved very quickly, getting the grooves going," Jagger continues. "We sat around with our little pads [writing] . . . but it's all coherent and arranged. We just wrote quickly." Stewart says they recorded 29 songs in 10 days. "Some are an hour and 10 minutes long, some songs are 42 minutes long," he says. "We reconvened and then sort of made it into a shape. In the last year it fell into place."
"It's a truly global project, and the nature of a record like this requires [a unique] setup -- we're tailoring campaigns in each market," says Orla Lee, the London-based managing director for A&M/Universal Music. "America takes a long time to set up, the U.K. has a short cycle, and in Europe, because of the way playlists are determined, we went to radio July 7 with the first single."
For the first single, "Miracle Worker," a video was shot June 29 and released on Vevo on Aug. 12. While most of the tracks feature Indian film music, reggae, blues and soul -- "Miracle Worker" is a straight reggae tune. In India, Lee says, the label is also promoting the Rahman track "Satyameza Jayathe," a song distinguished for being Jagger's Urdu language debut. "In Asia and in countries where it's appropriate, we'll use Asian promotional networks," Lee says. "It's a really unique part of [the album]."
Stewart says he developed the idea for SuperHeavy from hearing various sounds off in the distance near his home in Jamaica. "I love musicians from all over the world, but never liked the term 'world music.' That sounds like people knitting yogurt sweaters."
Stewart took his initial concept to Jagger -- they had worked previously on the soundtrack to the 2004 film "Alfie" -- and they decided they wanted to bring in a Jamaican performer. After Marley agreed, Stewart rang up Stone.
Among the attendees at the listening session were executives associated with the Grammy Awards and nominations telecasts. If their appetite to see the band perform live is whetted, perhaps more performances will be forthcoming. Stone intends to tour the States in early 2012 in support of her upcoming "LP1." "By then, fingers crossed, if the world likes SuperHeavy, we'll do some shows," she says.
A&M's Lee says nothing is on the books for SuperHeavy to make any appearances as a group. All of the members will be doing media interviews and appearances in connection with other projects. Beyond TV and print, Universal Music will lean heavily on the artists' individual Facebook pages to get the word out about the membership of this new band.
"It's about hitting everybody with the same message, but having it come from A.R. or the Rolling Stones," Lee says. "We have the individual musicians talking about the beauty and joy of the project."