Trevor Horn Interview
Go to: Trevor Horn artist's page.
Trevor Horn rose to fame with his hit Video Killed The Radio Star. He talks to Pluto Media about his life, being the first artist played on MTV, working with artists and why The Buggles were never a serious band.
You realized from an early age you wanted to be a musician - do you remember what was the catalyst for making this decision? I think it was my love for records and listening to records my father played when I was at home. When I was young I got a recorder for a present and I played it and loved it. I was hooked from then on. We lived in Durham, England on a dairy farm - there were plenty of open spaces to practice and make noise.
Tell me how you learnt your craft. I would imagine guitar lessons were too expensive back then? I worked it out, I practised and practised, dad showed me a few things but mostly I taught myself. I became a pro when I was 18, but I had pretty much been playing since I was 16. Back then I was really gifted at sight reading music for the bass guitar, which was very rare as the bass was not that common. I arrived in London when I was 21 and lived in a bed sit with a lot of Aussies. We called the place Kangaroo Valley. A famous Australian lived there with us but I would prefer to not mention his name.
You started out as a session musician. What were some of the biggest lessons you learnt from doing this? I learnt how to get a good bass guitar sound and you get a good understanding of what people like and what they don't like. I think it taught me to really value music and at the age of 25 I built a recording studio in Leicester. Doing that taught me that I really wanted to be a producer.
You worked through two of the most influential decades in music, the 70's and 80's - why do you think this period produced some of the most famous albums and tracks of all time? What made this era different? There was a lot of variety at the time, everything was going on. There was so much talent. Then in the 80's, you had this explosion of technology and people could experiment more. It was this merging of variety and technology that came together and really exploded in the 80's. Everyone had a different way of consuming music back then: there was a sense of discovery.
You're a producer, you have worked with a wide range of artists from all over the globe, all with different personalities and egos. What makes a good producer? Dedication, ownership, you have to be self-effacing, it's not about you. Also, I truly don't think you can call yourself a producer until you have produced a hit song.
Creativity is hard to define, when do you know you have achieved something special in the recording studio? Ha, after a lot of hard work, late nights and frustration and then bang!! all of a sudden something happens in the studio and you realise you have something special. Creativity is just another word for hard work.
The Buggles broke out on the back of Video Killed The Radio Star. Did you have any idea the song would be a massive hit when you wrote it? I always thought it would be a hit. My New Years resolution at the beginning of 1980 was that I would have a hit song and then, after listening to Video Killed The Radio Star again, I knew this song was the one.
I'm curious - did MTV inform you they were going to open their first broadcast with Video Killed the Radio Star? I was never informed by the guys at MTV that they were going to play the song. I think a friend told me later that the song was the very first song ever played on MTV. Interestingly, since the song has been played and re-played I think in total all I've ever been paid from MTV is less then $500. You have to remember that the guys at Warner Music in the States passed on the song. Imagine being in that room, being told the song was never going to sell by the music execs, even though you knew you had a hit. I do have to thank MTV though - having my song played made sure it reached a much larger audience. It gave people in America the chance to hear the song and discover me as an artist.
The name “The Buggles”; you have mentioned in the past you have never been happy with it. After all these years have you gotten used to it? If not “The Buggles” what else would you have called the band? People have to realise that “The Buggles” was never a serious band, it was always a bit of a piss-take. We never really expected that we would have such fame, so I came up with the worst possible name I could think of. The band only ever did two albums and then I went on to join Yes.
You have won numerous awards: BRIT Awards, Grammys a CBE – which, if any, are you most proud of? That my music has reached a global audience. I was out the other day and there was a concert setting up. The band was singing and playing “Video Killed The Radio Star” to tune their equipment. That's what makes me most proud.
You started up the record label Perfect Songs - with an ethos for innovation and artist development. For everyone starting out, what do you look for, when you are wishing to sign or work with an artist? A great voice, drive, physically and mentally strong. You would be surprised the amount of artists that I have seen collapse when they get some notoriety, you have to be mentally strong to be able to handle fame. You have to have charisma. All these things are important but most importantly you have to have drive. Seal is great example of someone who worked and worked and was driven to achieve fame.
The video clip for Video Killed The Radio Star - tell me how that came about. The label said we needed to do a video clip for the song and they threw us a bunch of directors to pick to create and film the clip. We chose an Australian director called Russell Mulcahy. The idea and creative concept was all his. We let him do his thing and were very happy with the result. If you pick someone in a role of influence you have to back them to get the result you want.
Your story is wonderful, full of ups and downs and determination. Have you any plans to release a movie or memoirs? Ha, not as yet!
What's coming up next for Trevor Horn? Producing, and hopefully making great music, working with great artists.