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Henry Hey on the Return of Lazarus and Working with David Bowie

Matt Inman | April 25, 2018

In 2012, producer Tony Visconti contacted Henry Hey and asked him if he was free to work on a studio project. Though he didn’t divulge any details, Visconti made it clear that this wasn’t a project to be passed on. Not long after, Hey was brought into The Magic Shop studio in New York City to work with none other than David Bowie, who wanted Hey to add some piano to a couple tracks on Bowie’s album The Next Day. This welcome surprise kicked off what would become a close working relationship between Bowie and Hey, who ended up being hand-picked to act as musical director on Bowie’s musical, Lazarus.

On May 2, Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre will host a special, one-night-only multimedia performance of Lazarus, which will pair a film of the musical taped during its run at London’s Kings Cross Theatre with a live performance from the original band from Lazarus’ first run in New York, including Hey himself. The musical takes after the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth, which starred Bowie in the lead role and was itself based on the 1963 novel of the same name. Along with Bowie’s final album Blackstar—which featured lead track “Lazarus” from the musical—Lazarus was one of Bowie’s last artistic endeavors before he passed away in January 2016, but not before he was able to see a staging of his musical in person.

Before the event in Brooklyn, Hey spoke with about meeting Bowie, the professional relationship they formed, how Lazarus came to be and how he’s taken the lessons learned from working with a legend into his own artistic work.

The Lazarus film takes from the London performances of the musical. Was that one any different than the New York production?

That run was very similar to the New York one. In fact, I believe the intention was to keep the feeling similar to what happened in New York, but just in a considerably larger space. The stage is very beautiful, and the elaborate multi-camera filming in London and came out great. It looks really stellar, and they wanted to figure out the best way to show this film. They didn't want to just put it out and say, “We're releasing a DVD” or “We're going to broadcast it.” This is what it became.

You were the musical director for Lazarus, and you played with the orchestra for the performances. Were you with them throughout both runs in New York and London?

Yeah, I was very lucky to work with David directly in the development of the music and arrangements for this, and then I lead the band in New York and started the band in London. So I didn't stay with production beyond opening night, but I did start that from the very beginnings of the development in London and took it through opening night.

To get a background on how the Lazarus project came to be, let’s go back to when you first collaborated with David. You two first met when you came on for his album The Next Day, right?

That's right. Well, the first sessions that I did for David was actually on the single "Where Are We Now?,” and I played piano and some keyboards. [Producer] Tony Visconti, someone who I had worked with, brought me into the session and it was very secret, as was the case for a lot of these in David's world, especially at that time. The only indication was when Tony said, "Are you available these dates? You're gonna wanna be available. It's a good project." That was it. Then I showed up, there was David Bowie and off we went.

So you didn't know it was a David Bowie project until you literally got into the studio and saw him there?

No, I didn't. That's right. Well, nobody knew because nobody knew about that record. I don't know if you recall what a surprise that record was, because David hadn't been recording. So we recorded and then we had to keep the secret for another year. For a year! I mean, there were only a handful of people who knew.

So what were you telling people that you were working on, if anyone asked?

I didn't tell people. I didn't tell anybody—I couldn’t. It was at the Magic Shop, which was not a high-traffic studio, so it wasn’t a situation where I'd encounter a lot of people that I knew going in and out of the studio.

Anyway, I played on that track and then I ended up coming back to plan something else and then David asked for me back directly. He requested me by name for some other thing, and I feel like we developed a good rapport and we had an easy time in the studio together. After the record was finished and we had done some extended tracks together on that record, he reached out to me via his manager, who said, "Can you come to the office? I wanna talk to you about something.” So I came to the office, and he said, "David has this piece that he's developing and he feels that you're the guy to do this job." I was floored. Obviously, practically before his manager finished the sentence, I was saying, "Yes." I was elated to be involved in anything that David was doing. Then we had conversations about the concept of the piece and we started developing rough sketches of the arrangements for what would be the workshop—we had a workshop in Midtown, as is common with a lot of plays and Broadway stuff. And then the following year, we started working on the actual stuff for the play and away we went. We worked through the year in 2015 and then it opened in the fall of 2015.

Pretty quick turn around.

Yeah it was very quick. You know, because these things can take years sometimes, but everybody was working quickly and David was really excited, so we got it up and running.