1/14/2016 Award-winning producer Scott Sherratt brings musical touch to audiobooks

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Scott Sherratt and Elvis Costello (Courtesy of Scott Sherratt)

If it’s Grammy season, it’s a given that Scott Sherratt has a vested interest.

High on the list of “first call” producers/directors of audio and video specializing in the publishing industry, Sherratt has helmed seven Grammy-nominated titles, including this year’s Best Spoken Word nominee Yes Please by Amy Poehler. His productions have won over 20 Audio Publishers Association Audie Awards and more than 60 Audiofile Magazine Earphones Awards for Excellence.

Since commencing his audiobook production career, Sherratt has worked on over 600 titles, written and/or recited by the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Billy Crystal, Rachel Maddow, Elizabeth Warren, Kim Kardashian, Gene Simmons, Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling, Colin Powell, Mitt Romney, Ted Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, Michael Chabon, Harper Lee, John Waters, Robert Ludlum, Poehler and most recently, Carly Simon, Chrissie Hynde and Elvis Costello.

“I work with people for days and it’s a very personal experience for them,” says Sherratt of his award-winning methods. “I take their trust and confidence very seriously: It’s all about showing a side of them that’s best in telling their story.”

He distinguishes between the “producer” and “director” credit as applied to his niche in the recording industry.

“As they relate to standard music recording terminology they are essentially the same,” says Sherratt. “There is a lot of overlap and blurred lines between these job descriptions—meaning that the director is the person in the recording sessions guiding the performance just as a producer does in music sessions. I am most often producer and director–booking studios, contracting talent, directing sessions, and supervising edit, mix, mastering and delivery.”

Each project is unique and presents it’s own challenges and opportunities, he notes.

“It often comes down to communication. I am very comfortable speaking with performers, actors, narrators, and authors and helping to develop a vibrant, energetic, comfortable, and collaborative environment in which to create something amazing. I absolutely love working with creative people–brilliant actors, personalities, and fabulous writers. It is really thrilling and I find the whole process to be tremendously rewarding.”

Sherratt says he always looks to bring added value to his productions, “so each audiobook I produce can stand on it’s own as it’s own creative work rather than simply being a companion to or alternative way of consuming the printed version of a book.”

The audiobook, actually, “often kicks the crap out of the print version,” he adds.

Making it all work is a post-production team made up of editors and other crafts people around the country.

“We live in an exciting time where transferring large files is easy and fast, allowing me to hire the absolute best people in the business regardless of where they live,” Sherratt explains. “I am a bit of an audio nerd, and it is truly important to me that everything sounds great. The mastering legend Bob Ludwig recently complimented some of my productions, and that in itself makes all the extra effort feel worthwhile.”

Being an “audio nerd” comes natural to Sherratt, who brings his extensive background as a musician to his audiobook projects. A guitarist, bassist, vocalist and composer—as well as studio engineer and producer—Sherratt has also acted on stage, film and TV; he has managed stages and tours, and produced live shows in addition to albums and audio books. And he’s toured and recorded with various rock bands for years before settling into his current vocation: He toured with and produced three albums of music for experimental theater playwright/director Richard Maxwell, and produced The Lonesome High album with Willem Dafoe.

Sherratt has since composed and performed music on many of his audiobook productions.

“It’s the most fun when I can call upon some of my favorite musician friends to help out with music for a particular project,” he says. “Last year Rodney Crowell—for whom I produced the audiobook for [his 2011 memoir] Chinaberry Sidewalks–gathered some musicians together in Nashville and wrote and performed some terrific music for Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, which I produced in L.A. with narrator Reese Witherspoon. Rodney also wrote and performed a perfect guitar piece for Sissy Spacek’s memoir [My Extraordinary Ordinary Life] that I produced a few years ago.”

Music artists frequently provide or perform exclusive material for their audiobook projects with Sherratt.

“[Sonic Youth’s] Kim Gordon gave me a track I loved for her book Girl in a Band and I was thrilled to record Elvis Costello playing guitar for [his new memoir] Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink. It is, of course, perfect, and we also recorded some pieces for a track we included on the companion soundtrack album released by Universal Records.”

Observing that it’s a “golden age for audiobooks” in that “more audio is being produced than ever before,” Sherratt has a hard time naming favorites.

“I’ve had so many wonderful opportunities and recorded many amazing people in their homes, most notably Oprah,” he says. “She drove us around her unbelievable California estate in a golf cart and had her private chef prepare delicious meals. I even got her to sing on the recording—and yes, she can really sing! I also recorded Jennifer Lopez at her house last year—also fun.”

Poehler’s Yes Please was “a true production standout” in that Sherratt not only recorded Poehler in Los Angeles along with Michael Schur, but Carol Burnett in Santa Barbara, Patrick Stewart in New York, Poehler’s parents in Boston, and Poehler with Seth Meyers and Kathleen Turner at Saturday Night Live.

“I also produced and recorded a live show with Amy at The Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater in Hollywood, which we included on the audiobook. Add to that terrific music by Freddie Khaw, and a track from Steve Albini, and it’s a one-of-a-kind, fabulous item.”

But working with Costello “really was a dream come true,” says Sherratt. “I have been a fan for so many years, and it was such a treat to go to Canada and lock myself in the studio with Elvis for a week. He is every bit as brilliant as I knew him to be.”

Besides working with all the major publishers and numerous independents, Sherratt is additional dialogue replacement (ADR) and casting director for the U.S. version of the animated U.K. TV series Chuggington, and produces and directs other TV and video projects.

Sherratt will stay in Los Angeles after the Grammy Awards to produce a project with X’s John Doe and music publisher/former A & R rep Tom DeSavia. “They’ve written a fabulous personal history of the L.A. punk scene called Under the Big Black Sun—named after an early hit by X.”

But he now laments the one that got away.

“My ‘Great White Whale,’ the long-rumored autobiography by David Bowie!” says Sherratt. “But even if it happened now it wouldn’t be the same: Every author should narrate their own memoirs while they can, because every autobiography that is not read by the subject is less than it might have been.”

Concert Highlights–Sandra Bernhard at Joe’s Pub, 12/31/2015

It was open-ended, but even Sandra Bernhard’s opening remark at her New Year’s Eve Joe’s Pub late show–the last of her annual year-end week-long run–was good for a hearty laugh: “As the years go on, you think, ‘Why?'”

The rest of the Sandyland gig–named for her new SiriusXM daily talk show–was the usual Sandyland roller coaster: a lot smoother than the first one on Dec. 26, but no less threatening in terms of going where no other performer dares.

“Be on your toes,” she cautioned. Not that she says stuff we’re all thinking—like they stupidly say of Trump—she says things you aren’t expecting, as she then urged, “Take the law in your own hands!” And who could expect that Sandy would then side with the NRA?

Face the facts, she said. There will never be gun control in this country. There was reason for guns in the old, Wild West, she explained, when all you had was bag of flour and a tin of lard. And now, all women need to carry a Lady Derringer in their purse, find a spot in the room where you can see everything, and “if you see someone sweaty and carrying a backpack, blow him away and slide out the back!”

(Editor’s note: She wasn’t seriously urging any of the above, but in this day and age, for everyone’s protection and to block any needless misinterpretation of Miss Bernhard’s humor–as has so often been the case by idiots in the past–let there be no mistake.)

(And no, there was nothing bigoted in her observation, in reference to her girlfriend, that “WASPs blow like a water main [whereas] we Jews release a little [pent-up anger and frustration] each day!”)

(And no, too, slight on plumbers or electricians in Sandy’s rant about the trauma of applying for college for her daughter–who even though we’ve never seen her, we’ve kind of watched grow up, what with her mom’s brief mentions over the years during these shows—and finally blurting, in reference to plumbing and wiring, “Get a skill, little lady!”)

As ever, deserving celebrities were skewered, with Taylor Swift this year taking the well-earned cake.

“Miss Swift, don’t swift-boat me, girl!” Sandy admonished in her “Sandyland Squad” bit, wherein she rattled off Swift’s girl squadettes with appropriate cracks (“It’s back to school time, Karlie Kloss!” and, in hushed voice, “There’s Lorde in the corner, writing a song”). Cut to, “‘You’re So Vain’ was about Warren Beatty after all? You’re about 80 years too late for that one, Carly. We no longer care!”

Turning around to celebrity friends, she observed, “You’re not a ‘lady of the canyon’ anymore, Joni [Mitchell]’ in relating a bit about driving with Michele Lee to visit Liza Minnelli in her new pad in the mountains in L.A., only to find spiders, Liza’s three schnauzers penned in outside, and Liza nowhere to be found inside. Surmising that Liza had probably gone into town for a meeting with management, Sandy wondered, “What about the schnauzers?”—thereby becoming the only one I’ve ever seen get a belly laugh uttering the word schnauzer.

Musically, Sandy performed the best version of “Me and Mrs. Jones” I’ve ever heard after noting that Tom Jones had recently appeared on Sandyland, long after she hysterically gave him near-head on her 1992 HBO special Sandra After Dark. By then it was near New Year.

“Fuck the countdown! Let’s have a meditation,” she said, and while it was very funny, she followed by expressing her sincere wish to make 2016 a better year–and her hope for greater thoughtfulness and patience. After her traditional mix of straight and punk rock versions of “Auld Lang Syne,” she declared, “It’s official: The holidays are over.”

But not the holiday sales.

“I slave for this shit!” Sandy said, after noting that she did’t have any corporate backing, and would come out to sign all merchandise after the show so long as the line kept moving.

“Just don’t tell me your life story!” she cautioned prospective cash-only buyers, having already instructed everyone that a cash machine was up the block at Walgreens, and that she didn’t care if anyone was mugged, beaten or bloodied on the way back from it.

(Editor’s note: She wasn’t serious here, either—at least about the getting bloodied part.)

She closed with a smart mashup of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and “Can You Feel It,” leaving listeners to head out into 2016 definitely unbloodied–and hopefully more thoughtful and patient.

The Carly Simon fallacy

Every few years, it seems, there’s a resurgence of interest in Carly Simon via her 1972 hit “You’re So Vain,” i.e., Who is it about?, and her coy handling of the so-called “mystery.”

This time it’s because she has a memoir coming out, titled after her 1978 album Boys in the Trees. In a recent interview with People she apparently confirmed that the second verse is about Warren Beatty. I say apparently because I ddin’t read the interview, just an account of it in HuffPost leading with how for years, “music and pop culture fans alike have tried to figure out who Carly Simon’s song ‘You’re So Vain’ is really about (Mick Jagger? James Taylor?). We’ve been met with cryptic clues, but we could never say with certainty who that elusive ‘you’ really is.”

It doesn’t say who “we” is, but I most certainly have never tried to figure it out, nor has anyone I know. Simon’s sex life just isn’t that interesting to me, and besides, it remains one of the dumbest songs I’ve ever heard—and that’s just the lyrics. The tune itself isn’t much and the fact that the record became so successful, I’m convinced, is because of Jagger’s uncredited backup vocal on the chorus, Jagger himself being one of the celeb names bandied about over the years as the song’s subject.

The only true mystery of the song is how people continue getting so worked up over a guy who really isn’t so vain after all. I mean, if he probably thinks the song is about him, he’s right!—hence, no vanity. The entire song is based on fallacy!

But look closer. Force yourself. Yes, the guy’s a self-absorbed dandy (“Your hat strategically dipped below one eye/Your scarf it was apricot”), but if he has “one eye in the mirror” as he watches himself gavotte, well, as Simon herself admits, “all the girls dreamed that they’d be your partner.” Conceited he may be, but no other female is put off by it in the slightest—nor was Simon, at least at one time.

Really, “You’re So Vain” is nothing more than a high-class rejection song with one memorable line (“I had some dreams they were clouds in my coffee”) that is so conceptually wrong there’s probably an arcane philosophical term to describe it.

Coincidentally comes word that another ridiculous yet immensely popular song, Lee Ann Womack’s 2001 crossover country hit “I Hope You Dance,” has been made into an inspirational documentary (I Hope You Dance: The Power and Spirit of Song featuring the likes of Womack, Graham Nash, Brian Wilson and Vince Gill) to debut on Thanksgiving on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel, with DVD and related book out on Dec. 1.

Why people were moved by this song I’ll never know. Yes the chorus line has a mother expressing her wish for her children: “And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance/I hope you dance.” But come on! Is it imaginable that anyone else–mother, father, sibling, friend, alien from outer space–would soulfully sing, “I hope you sit it out”? Not on this planet.