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Making music for himself after working with heroes

An Electric return for Jeff Lynne

Jeff Lynne
Jeff Lynne, who recently released a new Electric Light Orchestra album, says he makes records to please himself  

By Paul Clinton
Special to CNN

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- When asked why he titled the Electric Light Orchestra's first album in 15 years "Zoom," Jeff Lynne -- who is ELO, for all intents and purposes -- shrugs.

"I just realized how long it was since the last album, and where did the time go? You know?" asks the bushy-haired musician.

Indeed. When last heard, in 1986, the group -- composed of a core of Lynne, drummer Bev Bevan, bassist Kelly Groucutt and keyboardist Richard Tandy -- had released the album "Balance of Power." The group also was wrapping up a string of 17 hit singles, including such hits as "Evil Woman," "Telephone Line," and "Hold On Tight."

CNN's Paul Clinton talks to Jeff Lynne about getting back into the studio for the new ELO album, 'Zoom' (September 3)

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Listen to songs from "Zoom"


Its combination of Beatlesque rock 'n' roll and classical orchestration had made ELO one of the biggest bands of the late '70s and early '80s. But by the time "Balance of Power" came out, Lynne, 53, had gotten blissfully sidetracked with a different career -- producing.

"I've been working for the last 15 years producing all my heroes in rock 'n' roll," he says, relaxing in the huge studio adjacent to his Bel Air, California, mansion. "I started off producing with George Harrison on his album 'Cloud Nine,' and that sort of snowballed into The Traveling Wilburys and Tom Petty, Paul McCartney and Roy Orbison, of all people, which was the most fantastic thing.

"Now I realize that I sort of ran out of people I've always wanted to (produce), and it was about time I did some music of my own."

Natural sound

Lynne on stage
Lynne rehearses songs for "Zoom" on stage. A concert documentary on ELO is showing on PBS  

The result is "Zoom." The album was recorded over a 2 1/2-year period in Lynne's home studio and in rooms all over his large wood, stone and glass home. Each room provided its own unique acoustics.

"All the rooms in the house have got microphone lines. Eight mikes can be plugged into each room to record anything you could ever imagine -- well, within reason," he adds with a laugh.

When Lynne says "all the rooms," he's not joking. He's recorded tracks in the bathroom and kitchen, and ex-Beatle Ringo Starr laid down his drum tracks for "Zoom" in the living room.

"I like the natural sound of a room," says Lynne. "All the rooms have their own sound, so it's a matter of putting it (a microphone) where you like and seeing what it sounds like."

"Zoom" does feature Lynne's trademark use of strings, but to a much lesser degree than earlier efforts. "I thought it would be nice to get back to the original concept," he says. "Which was just like two cellos and a violin and more guitar."

One-man show

Lynne received some celebrity help recording "Zoom." Starr played drums on two tracks, and Starr's former bandmate George Harrison played slide guitar on two others. Jazzy pop-rock musician Rosie Vela provided backing vocals for a few songs (and tap-dancing for one cut, "In My Own Time"), and even Richard Tandy dropped by.

album cover

But it's mainly a one-man show. Lynne, who has never learned how to read or write music, handles lead vocals, backing vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, cello, piano, keyboards, bass and drums on "Zoom."

Despite the radio-friendly hooks and bits of star power, "Zoom" has flown into record stores under the music-biz radar. Equally low-key was the announcement that ELO would be embarking on a U.S. tour -- perhaps too low-key, since disappointing ticket sales have prompted the tour's cancellation since this interview.

PBS is airing a recent concert by the group in a program called "ELO: In The Spotlight," throughout August and September.

Perhaps the new millennium would treat ELO more kindly if Lynne were easier to pigeonhole. But the musician has always marched to his own musical drummer, even when ELO was in its heyday, going platinum with albums such as "A New World Record" and "Out of the Blue."

He'd like people to give "Zoom" a spin.

"If they get a chance, hopefully their experience will be a good one because I've worked really hard on it and I hope they like it," he says.

But, though he'd like "Zoom" to be a big hit, Lynne admits he makes his records for a tougher audience.

"At the end of the day I have to please myself," he says. "And I've made a record to please myself."

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