When it comes to re-recording classic hits, music producer Adam Anders has all but turned it into a science.
As “Glee’s” in-house maestro of sound (along with partner Peer Åström), Anders is tasked with reimagining songs by the likes of uber-cool artists Florence and the Machine, Fun. and Gotye, but his latest project finds him firmly in hair metal territory. Whitesnake, Night Ranger, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi are just some of the artists featured on the “Rock of Ages” soundtrack, their songs performed by the movie’s stars including Tom Cruise, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, Malin Ackerman, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Julianne Hough, among others.
As executive music producer for the film and album, Anders worked closely with each of the actors, some of whom had zero previous singing experience — unless you count Cruise’s mock rendition of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” in “Top Gun.” Whose talents came as a pleasant surprise to the seasoned pop producer? Did anyone need auto-tune? How did he re-approach Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “ROA’s” big finale number? Read on for a Q&A with the soft-spoken Swede.
The Hollywood Reporter: How did you approach these songs from the 80s? Were you basically trying to mimick the originals?
Adam Anders: We wanted to be true to the originals, yet I wanted it to be even bigger. In a theater, it’s like that you have a whole new arena to play these songs in. Obviously we added some of our own flavor to it, depending on who was singing it, the context, if it was live or if it was in a club. It’s a little more modern sonically.
THR: Where did you record?
Anders: All over the place. I did a lot of it in my studio, we did the cast vocals in Miami, where they shot the film, using Lenny Kravitz’s studio in the Setai Hotel in South Beach.
THR: Some of the actors had never been in musicals before. Like Tom Cruise, how would you rate his vocal skills on a scale of one to 10?
Anders: Now he’s like a seven, but he started off at a one. He had never sung in his life. He was like, “I need to know that I can do this before I sign on.” So I went to his house to hear him sing and even though he was completely green as a singer, his vocal cords were amazing. He had this voice that blew me away. It was the most powerful voice I had ever heard. So loud. He could do anything and go as high as we wanted. It was like a kid discovering he had a new toy. It was pretty amazing and I left there super-pumped knowing that not only could we make him pass as a singer in the movie, but we were going to be able to blow people away with what he could do.
THR: Was Tom nervous at all or was he confident that he could do it?
Anders: His confidence kept growing as we worked together. I think he started off a little nervous, as anybody would who has never done this, but he just bought it 110%. He works harder than anybody I’ve ever met in my life. By the end of this movie, the guy was just phenomenal. I remember telling him, ‘You’re a singer!’
THR: What kind of direction did you give the actors in terms of the singing?
Anders: My approach was, ‘Let’s find the voice for this character in the movie. And not worry so much about how Axl Rose sings “Paradise City,” let’s worry about how Stacee Jaxx sings it. That’s what we went after. We did the same with Julianne Hough, who’s a country artist or Diego [Boneta] who was in a boy band. How do we now change you to a rock singer? Nobody can replicate Axl Rose or Jon Bon Jovi.
THR: Besides Tom, who else on the cast impressed you?
Anders: Diego did with how well he transitioned from pop to rock. He really sounds amazing in this movie. And Russell Brand — he puts so much energy and so much fun into his performances. He sounds like Mick Jagger in the opening sequence! He’s another guy who came in the studio and you literally thought the roof was going to come off because he brought so much energy and so much comedy. When Russsell was in the studio with Alec Baldwin singing “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” at the same time, it was one of the funniest and biggest highlights of my career.
THR: How do you think people in the industry will react to Tom’s vocal talents?
Anders: Catherine Zeta-Jones was able to win for Chicago and I definitely think he would deserve at least a nod for this role. It’s that good.
THR: An Oscar nod?
Anders:Yeah, for supporting actor. Musicals are tough usually, but there’s already buzz around him. People have been in his corner since the movie. He transformed himself.
THR: You recorded “Don’t Stop Believin'” for a second time. And it’s worth noting that there has been some debate as to who had the idea to turn it into an ensemble performance first – “Glee” or the “Rock of Ages” workshop that preceded the Broadway show?
Anders:I recorded it again, yes. It was hard to have to reinvent it again and make sure it’s nothing like the Glee version. And it was a challenge because “Don’t Stop Believin” is kind of a huge part of Rock of Ages. It kind of brings it all home – especially in the movie. But Glee became synonymous with that song, so how do we combat that? I think we were able to. We came up with a whole new version that’s epic and sounds huge. It’s way more rock than the Glee version and even a little bit more rock than the original.
THR: It has to be asked, was there auto-tuning or vocal sweetening?
Anders:You have to have the voice to begin with otherwise there’s nothing I can do. There was no autotune, but we definitely do a lot of takes and put together all the best pieces of everything. That’s normal with any record, but I I wanted it to sound as natural as possible. I think we achieved that. Every now and then, if there’s one line that’s a little pitchy out of a perfect performance, I correct that, but not using autotune — I can fix that in other ways.
THR: What is it about these songs from 30 years ago that make them so timeless?
Anders:There wasn’t really fad-chasing as much then. It wasn’t like, “Hey let’s write a radio single,” they made entire albums back then. And I think of Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet,” as a kid, I would listen to that whole album nonstop. I think that’s something that’s gone away a bit, unfortunately. And where did the guitar solo go? As a musician, I just absolutely loved it, so I said “We’ve got to keep guitar solos in this movie, please.”
THR: Were there a lot of cooks were in the kitchen in terms of signing off on the cover versions?
Anders:It was pretty much me and Adam Shankman, the director, and Matt Sullivan, the music supervisor. We just kind of got in the trenches and did it. The beauty of Adam is he’s very musical and he grew up in the studio and we could actually talk in musical terms. There was no barrier between us. He could really explain what he wanted. There wasn’t a committee of 15 people that got to vote on things, which is always a nightmare for a producer because you end up diluting everything by compromising to make 15 people happy. And I don’t think great art ever comes out of that.