An interview with
Steve Hoffman (2015)

By Beppe Colli
May 29, 2015

Out of the blue, I got news about a soon-to-appear re-release by US "audiophile label" Audio Fidelity of a "Best Of" album by The Doors I had never heard about. Titled - no surprise here - The Best Of The Doors, the album was originally released in 1973, but in so differently from 13 - the first "Best Of" by the group released in 1970, when Jim Morrison, the group's charismatic singer, was still alive - the album appeared in the at the time pioneering format called CD-4 QuadraDisc (of course, the tag CD is not related to the CD format as it's nowadays understood, the Compact Disc being just a glimpse in the future).

This new SACD edition released by Audio Fidelity features a two-channel version mastered by ace (re)master engineer Steve Hoffman, and the original Quadraphonic version done at the time by Doors producer Paul Rothchild. Opening with the live track Who Do You Love?, by Bo Diddley, the "Best Of" features both great hits and album tracks such as Soul Kitchen, Hello, I Love You, People Are Strange, Riders On The Storm, Touch Me, Love Her Madly, Love Me Two Times, Take It As It Comes, Moonlight Drive, and Light My Fire.

It appeared as the right moment to have a relaxed chat with Steve Hoffman, who kindly answered the questions I sent him via e-mail at the start of the week.

If you don't mind, I'd like to start this conversation asking you to go back in time: Would you mind talking about how, and when, you first became familiar with the music of The Doors, and what was your first impression.

I heard Light My Fire (short version) on the radio in 1967 and really liked it. My mother would take us to the beach and everyone had their little transistor radios set to the same station and when Light My Fire came on, we would all hold our breath wondering if the station would play the edit or the long version. When they played the long one everyone cheered, believe it or not. My dad bought me their first album and I've loved them ever since.

At the time, it was definitely not uncommon for the music of many rock groups to undergo fast, abrupt changes, in terms of both the music being played and their recorded sound, and The Doors were certainly no exception. How did you see the group's trajectory, at the time?

Do you mean what did I think of how their music evolved? I enjoyed everything up until The Soft Parade and then they lost me. I came back to them with L.A. Woman and now I love The Soft Parade mainly because I'm not tired of listening to it...

It was thanks to this new Audio Fidelity release of The Best Of The Doors that I first got to know about this album. At the time of its original release (1973), I already owned all their albums, so I was not interested in a "Best Of", the only one I knew being 13 (1970), which a friend of mine had. I've read that The Best Of The Doors was originally released in Quadraphonic Sound, but of course you created this new, multi-channel layer that's featured in the new SACD. Would you mind talking about your goal in creating this new multi-channel version?

I didn't create a multi-channel version, this is the ORIGINAL quadraphonic four channel mix done by Paul Rothchild in 1973 that we are reissuing (for the first time anywhere). Audio Fidelity thought it was a great album to do for SACD and we are very excited about it. The original LP was actually quad only for many years until they issued a stereo version of it.

I assume that when it comes to the featured songs, when possible, you had access to the original tapes. Would you mind talking about this? (Is it true that in order to get the tapes you had to wear two jackets and a coat?)

We mastered all songs from the original elements, yes. The Doors Vault in Hollywood is nicely organized but very cold inside. Not a big fan of hanging around in there.

Of course, this is not the first time you've remastered the music of The Doors. If I'm not mistaken, you remastered a few titles (their first two?) for DCC, The Soft Parade and Morrison Hotel for Audio Fidelity, and now The Best Of The Doors. Has your attitude when it comes to mastering their music changed in time? (I mean, you chose two different paths when remastering Joni Mitchell's Blue, for DCC and - later - Rhino, when it came to tonality.)

I've remastered all of the Doors issued albums for DCC/Audio Fidelity. Most (if not all) other reissues both digital and LP seem to go for a hard, thin sound. I enjoy the true sound of the master tapes which are warm and full so that is the way I choose to master their music. That hasn't changed at all for me, my mastering style is the same as it was back in the 1990s...

On the Doors "Best Of" (the two-track part) I didn't tamper with much, the songs sound like Bruce Botnick wanted them to sound for the most part. I did NOT thin out the bass like other versions though. They will all sound a bit mellower than most people are used to. This is the actual sonic signature of the tapes...

Would you mind talking about a few of the songs that appear on this Best Of? As a listener, I always found it strange that the first album was talked about as sounding "live in the studio", when I could hear the (quite elaborate-sounding) engineering work on Light My Fire, particularly the drums, or what to me sounded like a drums overdub in Soul Kitchen. The more spare-sounding People Are Strange has always been one of my favourite songs. And I have a soft spot for Hello, I Love You, my first Doors single, which to me sounds quite dramatic and well-conceived (the "whooooooosh" after the line "When she moves my brain screams out this song"), despite the usual accusations of "commerciality". Your take on your favourite songs on the album?

Well, I find the track listing of this Quad “Best Of” strange all the way around, but that is what Elektra chose at the time so that is what we are going with as well. All of the songs (with the exception of the opening live track) are well known to me as I've heard them all of my life. As I discovered during mastering of this disk, I never get tired of hearing them again (and again). They are part of my life...

Talking about Bruce Botnick: Is there a side of his studio work when it comes to the music of The Doors that you regard as being especially noteworthy? (For me, one of the best sounds ever is the timbre of the guitar solo on When The Music's Over.)

Bruce was (is) an amazing engineer. His work with the Doors is always spot on, I admire his ability to get it right. The first Doors album, recorded on four-track with tubes (valves) has a unique sound that I enjoy, but by the time of Strange Days, Sunset Sound went to the eight track tape machine and a new console which changed the sound in the room, not better or worse, just different. I am fond of their first album and I think Strange Days and the third (Waiting For The Sun) are my favorites as well, having spent my childhood enjoying them. These days I play Strange Days the most.

I'm especially curious about your opinion of Morrison Hotel (which, though is often regarded as being "a return to the simplicity of their first two albums", is quite layered and "punchy", and timbrally almost congested - hope this makes sense).

Morrison Hotel is my least favorite Doors album (I know it is a favorite of many people) but it never did anything for me back then. I enjoy it now but when I'm in a Doors mood I reach for 1, 2 or 3 and top them off with L.A. Woman...

It appears to me that people have greeted and adopted a lot of technical advances when it comes to images (large screens, 3D), less so when it comes to sound, when practicality and portability seem to prevail. Do you see a future for "hi-fi sound", or have people become so accustomed to reduced dynamic range that all "advances in sound" will remain commercially unprofitable?

A future for Hi-Fi sound? Not really, just a fringe element like always, about ½% of music lovers care about how the music sounds, sad to say. But, as we old guys are dying off, the kids really don't care about holding an LP in their hand, reading the notes, etc. A few do, yes, the ones that are photographed in record stores buying up the latest vinyl but that's just a fad, I believe. I hope I'm wrong.

A more general question. It's been said that nowadays music appreciation as it was once common - i.e., sitting still in the sweet spot, with undivided attention, for a long time - is no more, in the age of multitasking. Do you think this to be mostly true - and what does it foresee for the future of appreciation of music, both old and new?

See what I wrote above, only older people can even sit still any more, music or not so, I'm pretty sure that music for the masses will be even more on the downward slide, sad to say.

© Beppe Colli 2015 | May 29, 2015