Producer Salaam Remi has been working on music with Amy Winehouse since she first landed stateside. He’s been with her every step of the way musically. From her debut album Frank to her upcoming posthumous album Lioness: Hidden Treasures (Slated for release on Dec. 6), Salaam has helped Amy craft the music that continues to captivate listeners. Before the Lioness listening session at Quad Studios in New York City, VIBE sat down with the producer for the stories and insight on how Amy’s upcoming release came to fruition. Click on each song title for Salaam’s commentary.
The Stories Behind Songs From Lioness: Hidden Treasures
Nas recorded this really recently. Yeah, that was super recently. The song itself, Amy wrote that during the Back To Black period. They were planning to do songs together. She actually sang on songs of his that we never released and things like that but we were actually looking at doing some new stuff. So you know I had reached out to him because Amy would always say ‘I have a Nas record on this album, she had “In My Bed” on my first album, had “Me and Mr. Jones” on the second album. I hear a Nas record every album. So it made sense for him to do it as she was a fan of his–then he became a fan of hers as well.
I had “Smoke” in pieces and she had written the rest of the songs for her next album but just never got a chance to record them. But the story with this record is really Nas saw Amy as “one of us” basically, and I’m really close friends with both of them. They shared the same birthdays. We were all just super cool. He’d be in the studio with me and she’d call me on Skype, then we would all be sitting there talking or whatever. We were already part of the semi-circle through me ‘cause those are the two artists that I’ve worked with the most in the last 10 years.
‘Between The Cheats’
It’s for the cheaters, which you know is a part of Amy’s comedic play on words, which she always had as a person, in general. She talks a lot of whatever she wants to talk about and jokes. This is her take on the cheaters, ‘between the sheets?,’ no, ‘between the cheats.’ That song was recorded right after May of 2000, almost after the time she was supposed to do the James Bond thing that didn’t pan out. She was a little pissed off that day ‘cause she was like why is it being made if I don’t like the song. So as I arrived at the studio to where she was in the English countryside, I was like, ‘So what do you wanna do?’ She’s like ‘Well I have a song.’ So she told me the lyrics and I was like, ‘What chord you thinking?’ So she played me the first chord, an idea of where she wanted to go with it.
She played the guitar and this is one of the things that people don’t know, the reason why this album exists. All of these songs were written by Amy on a guitar and then produced. Amy wrote the chords to the majority of her songs. You know we have “Love Is A Losing Game,” “Unholy War,” all of those are 100% Amy. That’s the reason why I really felt it was really necessary to have this record is because there’s a musical legacy and a musical genius that people didn’t actually realize was driving her.
People think you got some beats with all the cool people and you know you’re just the girl that sings and is making a train wreck out of yourself. But she was actually a creator of situations and the person that made it all happen. But with that song, she kind of gave me an idea of where she wanted to go with it. I went in and played the bass drums, guitar, and piano. And later on that night, Glen Lewis, the R&B singer and her background singers came by the studio and she was like, ‘Yup, I want all male background vocalists on my album just like I have on stage.’ And they went in and did some backgrounds and that’s pretty much what you hear right now.
‘Tears Dry On Their Own’
She actually wrote that for the Back To Black album. It was written as a ballad. And then I listened to it but at the time we had so many songs for Black To Black like “Love Is A Losing Game,” and “Wake Up Alone.” There were so many songs that were down tempos that I was like ‘you know what? We need another up-tempo.’ I came with the idea to put it on Back To Black, a multi-track to the song at the time. I was listening to it and we played it all over and we created it. Amy loved the idea of incorporating Motown ‘cause it was another one of her major influences.
‘The Girl From Ipanema’
That’s the song that she sang the first day I ever met her. May 27th, 2002. I just moved to Miami. I was really in chill-out mode. I’m sitting there retired. I’m going to the beach everyday. I get a call ‘Some girl wants to sing, coming from England. Ok what does she sound like?’
She didn’t have a deal. She just went to BMI Publishing I think because she liked the record I did for Left Eye called “Block Party” and ended up getting signed there. They asked me to meet with her. I was like ‘I just moved to Miami, it’s my 30th birthday, leave me alone. I’m sitting retired, this better be good.’ I wasn’t really looking to do anything.
I was producing since I was 14 so I had a 16-year career at 30. I was ready to stop. So she walks in and I didn’t even know what she looked like. She pulls out a guitar and starts singing “Girl From Ipanema” and it lit up the whole room and I was like, ‘Oh, you can sing!’ It was a situation where I looked at her and I was like wow, ok this is something special so we started on our journey from that day.
The title is really just about halftime as far as musically speaking, like when you’re playing something fast and you break it down halftime, time to slow it down and the music was really a metaphor for musical terminology. You know the melody strokes went hard and beat’s real souful. It was never on a record. It was a song that she wrote. She was writing that the same time that I met her. But that was something that we had from early on. She wanted to do a super group with Questlove and — kinda like a jazzy thing. that’s what she wanted to do. And so I approached Quest about doing what was spoken about and made it happen.
‘Song For You’
I recorded her singing the Donnie Hathaway song in her house. She just looked on the computer and was reading the tabs and then just singing. It wasn’t even like a proper studio mic. She just had a mic near her and started singing and I caught some of it from the drums being mic’d across the room. For this album I really pulled it together, not to clink, not to a beat, she was just singing at home barefoot. She really emotionally took on the lyrics and started weeping while she was doing it
She felt the song. ‘Cause she felt Hathaway and at the end of it, she made a comment about him, which actually closes the album.It was a moment for me to watch and at the time, I wish I had video cameras in my eyes but also it was actually something that she really felt. She felt like Donny Hathaway spoke to her. She mentioned him in “Rehab” and she sings a lot of his songs live.
That song actually has all the emotion she could pour out but also all the chord changes that she did and the way she sang it towards him.Then I put the music around it and after she passed and edited–that’s the way it worked but that’s just what she did.