The ubiquitous producer Danger Mouse, a.k.a. Brian Burton (above right), specializes in unexpected pairings, from his 2004 Beatles-Jay-Z mash-up, The Grey Album, to his groups with Cee Lo Green (Gnarls Barkley) and The Shins' James Mercer (Broken Bells)—not to mention production for Gorillaz, the Black Keys, and, soon, U2. Now he's teamed with Daniele Luppi, the Italian music producer (John Legend) and film composer (Nine). The duo's album, Rome, named after the city where it was recorded, is their take on Ennio Morricone's spaghetti Western scores, with vocals by Jack White and Norah Jones. Here, the pair explain their process.
Danger Mouse: "We met in Los Angeles. Daniele had released an album called An Italian Story, which I was a fan of. We hung out and I showed him a bunch of my film soundtracks, so we had something to talk about."
Luppi: "Whenever you go with a retro sound, it's easier to make a replica than to make something of your own. We wanted to build a bridge between that music and the present."
Danger Mouse: "It wasn't about just trying to keep some concept alive. It was about the songs. There were a lot of elements in those songs that we didn't use—even the whistling. We had the whistler on the album, but she didn't whistle. It wasn't something that was going to help the songs."
Luppi: "The common denominator of all the Italian soundtracks done in the sixties and the seventies is the session musicians. They're all in their mid-seventies and eighties now, and I thought it was a great idea to have them play our songs."
Danger Mouse: "I don't think they knew anything I had done up to that point, but it was better that way."
Luppi: "The other cool thing was hunting for the vintage equipment. There was this Vespa mechanic who's also a fanatic collector of specifically Italian instruments. We went to his garage and he showed us a mic and said, 'I stole it from a Beatles concert back in '67.'"
Danger Mouse: "When I first got to Rome, I wasn't much of a gearhead. I was mostly interested in the songs and the melodies. Daniele knew much more than I did when it came to the recording side of things. We spent the whole first day just setting things up. All I wanted was to hear some music. The next thing you know, I'm going around taking notes, taking pictures."
Luppi: "The songs came first. And just as we were open to dressing up our songs with those sixties sounds, we were also open to contemporary singers like Jack White and Norah Jones."
Danger Mouse: "I met Jack on tour and played him some of the music, but I never played it in an attempt to get him to sing on it. A year later we were thinking of people for vocals and I said, 'I played it for Jack and he really liked it.' Norah was someone we'd talked about early on."
Luppi: "Brian reminds me of Quentin Tarantino. They both just go for something that's not necessarily hip at that moment—that includes involving somebody like me. We come from different backgrounds, but we were really tight. I never collaborated with anyone on that level."