Ron Nevison Ė Uncle Ronís Recording 101!

By Jeb Wright

Ron Nevison has worked with everyone from Eric Clapton to the Rolling Stones to the Who to Led Zeppelin.  He has produced over 75 albums, many going platinum.  His latest effort sees him back in the studio doing what he does best… producing music.  While being in the booth may be Ron’s comfort zone, his latest project, however, brings new challenges he never could have never seen coming.

Ron is producing the band V2 (pronounced V Squared), which consists of eleven-year-old twin brothers Vittorio (guitar) and Vincenzo (drums).  These kids are the real deal.  They have co-written nine songs and thrown in a remake of the classic AC/DC song “High Voltage” for good measure. 

In December of 2014, the band attended and played at the LA Music Awards and took home awards in all seven categories.  The video (below) for “Long Live Rock and Roll” has over one million views on YouTube. 

The band actually started three years ago when the boys performed the AC/DC song “Back in Black” for their Catholic school talent show.  Now, at the ripe old age of 11, they are attempting to take things to the next level. 

In the interview that follows Nevison opens up about working with children and what this experience has meant to him. 

Jeb: I got the press release about two 11 year old twins playing like AC/DC and I am like, “WHAT?” Then I see produced by Ron Nevison and I am like, “WHAT?” 

Ron: That peaked your interest?

Jeb: It did.  It made me want to click over and hear it.  They are pretty good. 

Ron: They are not just pretty good.  They are great!

Jeb: How did they come to your attention?

Ron: Their dad realized their potential and he wanted to look for someone in Classic Rock who knew their stuff.  They contacted my manager Michael Lippman, who still manages Rob Thomas and George Michael and a bunch of other people.  They contacted me and it turns out that I live in Marin County, which is just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, and they are like 40 miles up the road in Santa Rosa, California. 

Jeb: What was your initial reaction when you heard them play?

Ron: I will tell you what happened.  They invited me up to this rehearsal place that they had.  The dad had this warehouse where they were rehearsing, and they had a stage and lights and all of these Marshall amps.  They were kind of like an AC/DC 11-year old rock band.  I was absolutely blown away.  I sat there and I thought, “I can’t believe this is happening.” 

Jeb: You have been in that situation many times with bands… only these are children. 

Ron: You have bands say, “Come up and hear us.”  I walked in and they started playing and I was like, “Holy Cow.”  After that, we talked about it and I found a studio in the local area where we could work.  We had to do it at times conducive to them, as they are eleven.  They had to be back in school in August.  The family had no idea we couldn’t do it all in four days.  I did a whole lot of recordings and then I edited it all together in ProTools later on.  We did what we called Comping, which does not mean I falsified anything.  We just comped it all together and it worked out great. 

Before we got to the studio, I went up to the warehouse ten or fifteen times to rehearse them.  I usually don’t do that for a rock band.  When I walked into that room the kid on drums blew me away.  I had to put earplugs in he was so loud. 

I had to do a whole lot more upfront stuff than I would usually do.  I have worked with young people before, but never their age.  It was really great.  They were, of course, youngsters.  With young people there are days where you’re not going to get everything you want.  They pout, or they are not into it.  They don’t realize the whole day is wasted if they do that.  There were very few days like that with these kids.  They are very well tutored.  Their guitar coach played bass on the album.  His name is Cameron Peterson.  He is the guitar teacher.  He is really the musical director of the band.  He taught Vittorio how to play guitar. 

They have a guitar coach and a drum coach. We got a vocal coach for them.  The first thing that I did was that I tried to get the guitar player brother, who had not been singing that many songs, to start singing more.  It was a good deal to get him to start singing more.  We’ve now done two albums.  One in August that went into September and one in December that went into January. I was told we had 13 days to do the album as they were off school.  It worked out great.  I think I did 21 songs from August to January.

Jeb: The vocals are the one thing where you know they are little kids.

Ron: You’re not going to get away from that.  I told them that they are still 11 and that is not going to change.  I can get them to sing as well as I can get anybody to sing, but they are still going to sound like kids.  I think they thought that perhaps I could get them to sound more mature.  There are lot of things you can finagle and you can mess around with, but when it comes to vocals you can’t do that much.  They sound great, but they still sound like sopranos. 

Jeb: Talk about that guitar player.  Hes good.  For his age he is something else… 

Ron: I think that guitar-wise the kid is phenomenal.  It is hard to know if he is going to keep his focus and stick with it and be the phenom he can be.  That is not up to me, it’s up to him.  He might go into something else as he grows up.  The drummer, Vincenzo, is great too, but he really wants to be a baseball player.  It is hard to know where these kids are going to go.  I think the family is steering them.  You can steer them at 11, but can you steer them at 14 and 15?  I don’t know. 

Jeb: The kids seem to have a good attitude about what they are doing.  They seem passionate. 

Ron: They are.  It’s pretty stunning to watch.  I sat in the studio and I am at the console listening through the speakers and I am stunned at what is coming out of this guy.  He is not Eric Clapton or anything, but considering his age, he could be.  It’s the same thing with the drummer.  He hit the drums so hard.  It was the first time of my career of 75 albums where a drummer broke the bottom head of a snare drum, not the top, he broke the bottom from how hard he was hitting it.  All of the sudden the snare stopped and I stopped everything and went out there and the bottom head was broken.

Jeb: Whose idea was it to remake AC/DCs “High Voltage”?

Ron: Family decision. They are big AC/DC fans.  He likes the early stuff with Bon Scott.  I tried to talk him out of doing “High Voltage.”  If you’re going to do a cover then do a cover that has more cover.  As far as I’m concerned, you do a cover to put a song on the album where people know a tune to get them more involved and engaged.  I said to do a cover that was more known and not so obscure, as only the hardcore fans know that song.  They had grown up on the album High Voltage, they wanted that. 

I wanted to do something off of Black in Black.  They do that song on stage and I wanted them to do that, but it wasn’t going to happen.  On the new album we did “Long Way to the Top” which meant bringing in bagpipes.  It turned out great.  It is less commercial but is sounds great.  We also did a version of “The Star Spangled Banner” ala Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock.  I put an orchestra on it.  I didn’t want just a guitar feedback thing.  I wanted people to stand up and put their hand over their heart when they hear it.  It accomplishes that. 

Jeb: Did the kids write the rest of the album?

Ron: They wrote all of  them with the a little help from Cameron.  I

Jeb: There are kids who are doing amazing stuff with YouTube, and now it is much easier to learn the guitar.  A lot of it is just kids copying technical stuff.  I think its cool that these kids are coming up with solos and they are writing songs… that is pretty cool.

Ron:  There is only so much that kids can sing about.  They can sing about school and church and kid stuff. There was a song where Vittorio, the guitar player wanted to sing this line like, “Girls are hot.”  The drummer went, “No way.  Girls are not hot!”  It puts you right back that these kids are very young. 

There are a lot of rock and roll lyrics.  There is a song “Hard and Fast” that is meant to be rocking hard and playing fast, and not about sex.  It will be interesting to see how these boys develop and if they stay focused and centered.  The attention they are getting has been there many times, with many bands.  I was there with Bad Company and they were kind of a little super group.  The first album we did in like ten days.  By the third album we couldn’t even record in England because they couldn’t afford to stay there due to the taxes, so we went to a little villa in the south of France.  It’s hard to say what will happen with these kids.  Right now they have the talent and the energy.  I hope they can keep it going. 

Jeb: You have dealt with some difficult guys.  Eddie Money, Kiss, Meat Loaf, Michael Schenker….

Ron:  We can start with Quadrophenia and Tommy.  I did the Baby’s and four UFO albums.  Kiss and Ozzy… you left Ozzy off the list.  Meat Loaf.  Thin Lizzy.  I did a couple of big Chicago records.  I didn’t have a difficult time with a lot of these people.  The only two people I had a difficult time with… If you asked me if there was anyone you wouldn’t work with again it would be Eddie Money and John Waite. 

Jeb: You quit Shooting Star in the middle of the project!

Ron: They were okay.  I had a couple of rock bands, Triumph and Shooting Star, where I quit in the middle of the project because we didn’t see eye-to-eye on the project.  It was not like Eddie Money and John Waite, who were total jerks.  I just quit because of artistic differences.  In the case of Triumph, I went to Toronto to record an album with them.  We had an understanding that there would only be one singer on the album and that it wouldn’t be the drummer.  When I got there we recorded the tracks and everything changed.  I went back to my hotel and left them a message that I was on a plane back to LA.  I had Mike Clink come and finish it who at that time was my assistant. 

In the case of Shooting Star…I liked those guys.  You’re a Kansas boy.  I spent time in Olathe with those boys.  It was just a difference of opinion on something.  I don’t remember what it was.  It just happened. 

Jeb: I want to focus on the V2 kids in this interview, and then do a follow up interview on your more famous stuff, as your name is so huge and the bands are so huge it will overshadow the kids. 

Ron: I agree.  Let’s do that.

Jeb: Did you ever go, “Nevison, how do you get into these situations?”

Ron: I was stunned by this.  I could not, not do this. 

Jeb: Are you like Uncle Ron in the studio? 

Ron: Maybe.  You could characterize it like that a little bit.  Uncle Ron.  Yes.  One thing I had to do was to go through Recording 101 with the family for the first album.  They thought we could do an entire album in four days.  You are not going into the studio with me and do an album with 11-year olds in four days.  It’s just not going to happen.  If I told them how long it would take, and how much it would cost to do that they might have said, “Get out of here.”  I just let it go and we went in and it started sounding great and it went from there.

Jeb: I am used to talking about guys in their 50s and 60s and not thinking up questions about 11 years old. 

Ron: I am 70.  If you’re doing Quadrophenia in 1973 then you’ve got to be old.  In 1967 I was the sound mixer for Jefferson Airplane.  I was at Woodstock with them in 1969.  I was Traffic’s sound man and I was Derek and the Dominos monitor guy.  Later, I lived in Eric’s house in 1971 and helped him build a studio.  I go way back in this whole rock and roll thing.  I helped him build a studio in his house and I was there when the second Derek and the Dominos album collapsed.  MY friend Andy Johns, who is now deceased, was there.  I was the guitar tech for those sessions when the entire thing fell apart.  I am well invested in this whole rock thing, especially the English rock.  In 1970, ‘71 and ‘72 I was doing sessions in London, but before that I was doing live sound mixing. 

I had a situation happen twice to me in 1979. My manager, who is still my manager, called me up and said, “Go to San Francisco because Jefferson Starship and Santana are both looking for producers.  Why don’t you go up and talk to them.  A limo will pick you up at the airport and go to SIR and meet with Santana and then it will take you meet with Starship.”  I never quite got Santana.  They never had a lead singer.  They had great singers, but not a lead singer.  Carlos didn’t want to be overshadowed by a singer, as the focus was on his guitar playing.  It took Rob Thomas to bring a great lead singer with Carlos.  I love the way he played, but I never got that sort of imagery.

I go from SIR up to Paul Kantner’s house.  Mickey Thomas had just joined the band.  Ansley Dunbar was there.  It was a whole new kind of thing.  I thought, “I am not going to tell them I was their sound man ten years ago.”  They might not have hired their sound man to be their producer.  Four years later I was sitting around with some of their roadies and we were talking about something and this guy looks at me like, “What a second.”  He said, “You’re from Philly.”  I said, “Yes.”  A roadie finally figured it out.  I was afraid to tell them.

The same thing happened with Joe Cocker.  I was the soundman on the Mad Dogs and Englishman tour.  I got a call to go to London and do Joe Cocker in 1985.  That wasn’t the same as he didn’t remember yesterday let alone the ‘60s.  I have to say in the case of Airplane/Starship I looked quite different than I did in the 1960s.  It is funny how I wasn’t going to say anything. 

Jeb: Lets end with the kids.  We will do a follow up on all of this as it is fascinating.  I want to know if these kids can pull it off live. 

Ron: Look at the V2 thing that they did at the LA Music Awards.  That is un-doctored.  It is mixed and edited, but that’s what they can do.  They can do it and they can pull it off.  They need a bass player.  I’m not sure why they want to have the bass player be Frankenstein, but that’s their thing.  These guys are the real deal. 

Jeb: Do they know their music history?

Ron: Who knows?  They’re 11!  Look, I look at my little daughter and sometimes she sounds six and sometimes she sounds like she’s two.  These kids are the same way.  Sometimes they are really adult and sometimes they are really childish.  Who knows what they know.  They are in Catholic school.  They are doing baseball practice and all of this stuff that kids do.  Their family is terrific with them.  They are really great, all of them.  I am still in shock.