It is almost impossible to find the words to describe the talent of Linda’s Musical Director, Billy Stein – he does it all! Suffice it to say that musicians of his caliber are a rare gem. In this interview, you will get a glimpse into his multi-faceted career, and if Linda is correct in her quote about him, Billy will be turning out music for many, many more years to come.
In addition to his musical talent, Billy is a wonderful person… humble, down-to-earth, fun to be around, and very gracious… evidenced in the fact that he took the time out of his extremely busy schedule to do this interview for THE VOICE – all while preparing to be the “captain of the ship” for Linda’s LIVE recording on June 21! Thank you Billy!
We hope you will enjoy getting to know more about Billy Stein.
VOICE: This is the third interview you’ve done for THE VOICE, the previous ones being in 2004 and 2008. Has time flown by as fast for you as it has for us?
BILLY: Superfast- can’t believe it!
VOICE: In 2008, we interviewed you in your Strange Cranium Studios on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, but you have since moved to a fabulous new location. Please tell us about your new studio and the latest equipment you now have room enough to accommodate.
BILLY: My studio is located next to the old Limelight Club in the Flatiron district in Manhattan. It has a Large Live room with 14-foot ceilings, Large Vocal/ISO booth, Small B room editing facility, and a large Control Room with a fantastic view of the Empire State Building. It’s been great to have room for all of my equipment and outfitting it with new equipment as well. I currently have 85 unique and rare keyboards, and a bunch of vintage and analog recording equipment.
VOICE: What is your favorite new “toy” and what does it enable you to do that you weren’t able to do in your smaller location?
BILLY: I have so many “toys”- it would be hard to choose a favorite! But there are 2 standouts currently - my Arp 2600 from 1973 that was originally played by Stevie Wonder on “I Wish” from SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE and my Yamaha CS80 that I obtained from Billy Payne from Little Feat. Having this larger space allows me to have all my instruments set up and ready to play whenever I am inspired.
VOICE: It’s been about a year since you recorded CHRISTMAS WHERE YOU ARE with Linda and her choir. What was that experience like?
BILLY: That was fantastic! The band was great and Lisa Gwsada put together an amazing bunch of singers. We recorded everyone at my studio. I also was able to record my kids with the choir on one of the songs, which was a blast (“Grown Up Christmas List”).
VOICE: You recently recorded the cast album for BEAUTIFUL THE MUSICAL at Strange Cranium. Please tell us a little about working with that amazing cast.
BILLY: Working with the cast was fantastic. Jessie Mueller is a truly amazing talent and a pleasure to record. She is a consummate professional and a superb musician. The other principals, Jake, Annika, and Jarrod, are all so incredibly talented as well, which made the experience so enjoyable.
VOICE: During your work on BEAUTIFUL, did you have the opportunity to meet Carole King? If so, can you tell us about that experience?
BILLY: Never met her personally, although she emailed comments throughout the production and mix.
VOICE: Would you like to share some other highlights from the work you’ve done at the new Strange Cranium Studios location?
BILLY: I’ve had a great many wonderful musicians and vocalists in and out of here…. It is a dream to have my own space in which to work with them.
VOICE: You’ve accomplished so many incredible things in your career since our last interview, one of which is your involvement with the Broadway production of SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK. What was it like being involved in a show that had to struggle so hard to survive all the difficulties it encountered along the way to its eventual successful run?
BILLY: SPIDER-MAN was a unique experience to say the least. I was the Electronic Music Designer, Keyboardist and Assistant Conductor. I was involved from the early stages of the musical, working directly with Bono and Edge of U2. That was amazing; they are both truly exceptional musicians. There was so much excitement and creativity flowing around - it was fantastic. As the creative process progressed, I developed an extremely large cutting edge synthesizer and computer system. I also created my own proprietary computer software called MainBrain, which synched the music to the flying action onstage. Integrating this system with the incredibly complex technologies from all departments was a challenge, but ultimately the system was stable and powerful. We went through some really dark and low moments, but we pulled through and ran for three years!
VOICE: Your main role in the show was as keyboardist, but you were also the assistant conductor. If you had to choose between conducting and playing keyboards, what would you choose and why?
BILLY: I actually love conducting. Conducting a Broadway show is challenging and rewarding. When playing the piano and music directing with Linda, I am also conducting, but with my head!
VOICE: We know you’ve been very involved in projects for TV. Can you tell Linda’s fans a little about that aspect of your career?
BILLY: I started composing music for TV in 1996. Some of my composing credits include SEX AND THE CITY, MTVs BOILING POINTS, and NURSE JACKIE. In 2008, I formed a music licensing company called STRIKE AUDIO (http://www.strikeaudio.com/what.php) with my business partner, Michael Rosen. We have grown immensely over the past six years. Strike Audio has provided music for over 200 different TV series and recently signed a partnership agreement with AETN (A&E, History, Lifetime, etc), Discovery Networks, and Viacom.
VOICE: We’d love to hear about your work for the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.
BILLY: I composed the original score for the film SISTER written by David Lascher and Todd Camhe and directed by David Lascher. The movie starred Reid Scott (VEEP) and Barbara Hershey and premiered this year at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. SISTER is about the controversial mental health diagnosis and use of psychotropic prescription drugs in today’s youth. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of scoring this movie and am very proud of the work.
VOICE: Linda’s fans are very excited about the upcoming event at the Arthur Zankel Music Center at Skidmore College. They’ve been waiting for Linda to record a “live” album for years and it will finally be happening on June 21st. Are you familiar with this venue and the capacity it has to do a recording such as this?
BILLY: The Hall is superb. Engineer Joel Moss works there often, and while working on the BEAUTIFUL cast recording he told me about it. He will be engineering the performance.
VOICE: Have you been musical director or played in a band for a “live” recording previously?
BILLY: My first recording experience was a “live” record! It was with my college rock band, The Hatters. Released in 1993 on Atlantic Records, LIVE THUNDERCHICKEN was recorded “live” at THE WETLANDS rock club.
VOICE: Is doing a “live” recording show more of a challenge than doing a studio recording? If so, how?
BILLY: “Live” recording is a whole different beast. Not more challenging, just different.
VOICE: Can you give the fans an idea of what to expect during the evening as you do this long awaited recording?
BILLY: We’re doing our current show, which has been well received over the last year across the country. Since these songs are going to be on the album, we may end up dong some songs more than once to make sure it’s a good take. The fans may actually end up getting a longer show.
VOICE: We talked about your band, The Hatters, in an earlier interview and have heard there is going to be a reunion. For those not familiar with this group, can you give us a little background and tell Linda’s fans about the upcoming reunion this summer?
BILLY: While at the University of Pennsylvania in 1989, I formed a rock band called “The Mad Hatters.” After I graduated in 1991, we changed the name to “The Hatters” and I jumped in a bus and spent five years on the road, living in the mountains of Nederland, Colorado during short breaks. The Hatters toured about 300 days a year and had the opportunity to share stages with the likes of Dave Matthews, Sheryl Crow, Buddy Guy, Blues Traveler, the Allman Brothers, King Sunny Ade, Jimmy Cliff, and A Tribe Called Quest. We released three recordings on Atlantic Records: “Live Thunderchicken” (1993), “The Madcap Adventures of the Avocado Overlord” (1994) and “You Will Be You” (1995). The Reunion is at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC on August 6, 2014, almost 20 years since our last performance together!
VOICE: Are there any other current projects that you would like to tell the fans about?
BILLY: I just finished producing a cool project called ARIA ELECTRONICA (https://www.facebook.com/AriaElectronica). It is a blend of Opera and Electronica. Look for the album and live shows in the Fall of 2014. Also, I am one half of the synth duo ALIENS with Itaal Shur. The music is a mix of Tangerine Dream, Funkadelic, and Pink Floyd. We are currently working on material to put together for an album at my studio.
VOICE: After working in the music business for so many years, what is the most invaluable thing you have learned along the way that has helped you in your career?
BILLY: “Say Yes” and then learn the gig!
VOICE: You have achieved so much in the music world up to this point. Is there one accomplishment of which you are most proud?
BILLY: I guess I am most proud of the fact that I stuck to my dream as a kid of being a record producer and having my own studio! Growing up in the early 1980s, I had a small studio in my bedroom with a Moog Source keyboard, Korg Polysix keyboard, and two Sanyo tape decks rigged together to create two track mixes. I recorded my own songs and my rock band in high school. And 30 years, I’m still playing around in the studio!
VOICE: Do you have a bucket list of things you would like do career wise that you have not already done?
BILLY: I’d like to finally finish composing the piano concerto I began writing in High School and perform it with a symphony.
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