During the week of the anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death, when fans are gathering in Los Angeles to remember their idol, Westlake Recording Studio offers guided tours in its two buildings where the iconic albums Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad were recorded. This year, on June 27, 2015, the studio will once again welcome fans in its historic rooms. For those who haven’t been there and curious to know what it’s like, here is a story about one of the first studio tours organized in the summer of 2012.
In 2012, on the third anniversary of Michael’s passing, Westlake recording studio opened its doors for the public and fans for the very first time. The 3-hour tour that included viewing of the two studio buildings in Los Angeles was quite pricy, but it was one of those things that, as a fan, you just can’t miss. For a long time I had been curious to peek into those seemingly unremarkable buildings – because that was the place where history had been made. At Westlake, Michael recorded his three most iconic albums: Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad. And so, on June 26 at 7:30 am, I found myself on the back parking lot of Westlake Studio D on Santa Monica boulevard.
With the wave of posthumous interest in Michael Jackson subsiding, books about his life and legacy are becoming sparse – but also, on average, more carefully put together. New book “Xscape Origins” by Damien Shields deservs to be reviewed as it is dedicated to the subject that has long been almost elite in the realm of MJ-related press – Michael’s music.
In the Michael Jackson world, year 2014 was marked by the release of a collection, named Xscape, of eight previously unreleased Michael Jackson songs remixed by modern producers. The release was heavily promoted in the media and enjoyed commercial success.
We are in a small studio located at a musical instruments rental center on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles. The room is crammed with people sitting in rows of chairs in front of a low stage. On stage, Brad Sundberg, Michael Jackson’s assistant engineer and the organizer of this event, and his friend, sound engineer Brian Vibberts, are occupying two tall bar chairs. Brad Buxer, Michael long-time musical director is sitting behind a keyboard. MJ’s engineer of later years Michael Prince is looking at the screen of his MacBook. Michael’s touring bass guitarist Sam Simms has not yet arrived; he would join us a little bit later. With that, a trip to the past, full of stories and music, begins.
A small but cozy room inside the underground-style Fish Fabrique club in St. Petersburg is almost dark. The only light is coming from a laptop screen. The beat-up walls are decorated with the portraits of the most famous man on the planet, and there’s his cardboard lifesize silhouette standing in the corner near the stage. The room is filled with the achingly beautiful clear tenor supported by nothing but a guitar and a drum machine. It floods the room up to the roof, and the walls seem to disappear leaving everybody one on one with this voice and the sparkling magic granted to the singer by Mother Nature. Sixty people from all corners of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine greedily hang on every sound coming from large powerful speakers. Tears are running down the girls’ cheeks, some cover their faces with their hands to muff their sobs a little. Twenty four years later, we’re witnessing the birth of a masterpiece. This is just one of many special moments happening at In the Studio with MJ, a Brad Sundberg seminar, and the voice coming from the speakers belongs to Michael Jackson.
I’ve dreamt about attending this seminar since the very first day I heard about it. Partly it was because of rare demos and videos, and partly because I always wanted to talk to the person who worked with Michael so close for so long. So, when Elena Zelikova announced that Brad Sundberg was coming to St. Petersburg, I knew I could not miss the chance. What I did not know then was that the heavens prepared another surprise for me – I would not just be a guest of the seminar. I would be Brad’s translator.