The proliferation of rock music in Nashville has been well documented.
However, that musical migration hasn’t been limited to songwriters and musicians. Over the years, it has included multiplatinum record producers Michael Wagener, who’s been in Music City since 1996, and Bob Ezrin, who moved to town seven years ago.
Wagener, whose projects have sold more than a combined 90 million albums, has produced or engineered everyone from Dokken and Motley Crue to Ozzy Osbourne and Skid Row, while Ezrin has most famously worked with the likes of Alice Cooper, KISS and Pink Floyd.
More recently, Ezrin has worked with U2, Jay-Z, will.i.am and Taylor Swift.
While neither has turned to Nashville’s customary country music landscape for work, both have cited the city’s rich musical heritage and laid-back Southern hospitality as appealing qualities.
“When I moved here, first thing, the good ol’ boys sat me down and said, ‘You’re not going to do any country, right?’ ” recalled Wagener with a laugh. “I said, ‘No, as long as you’re not going to do any rock ‘n’ roll.’ I stuck to my word so far with that. I haven’t, but country’s also not my thing. I wouldn’t be good at it. There’s better people than me doing it here — a ton of them.”
“Honestly, there’s so much going on here and so much work and so many talented people, I’m not a threat to anybody,” Ezrin said. “I didn’t come here to get involved in the country business.
“My interest has always been really broad. I do everything from classical to hip-hop to heavy rock to pop, so, for me, it was interesting because it is Music City.”
Ezrin first came to Nashville in the late 1960s to see a taping of “The Johnny Cash Show,” which was directed by his friend Allan Angus and taped at the Ryman Auditorium. At the time, he was just a teenager from Toronto.
“I had never seen anything like it,” said Ezrin. “On one hand, I was scared, and on the other, I was completely entranced by the music community and all this amazing music that was surrounding the show.”
He returned again in the mid-1970s to record a gospel choir. “I thought, ‘Man, I need to do a lot more work here.’ ”
At the time, it never materialized.
Ezrin’s mainstream career — he co-produced “The Wall” (1979) and “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” (1987) for Pink Floyd, among numerous other multiplatinum-selling artists — took him from Toronto to Los Angeles, New York and Europe.
‘For music, this is the place to be’
Wagener, who grew up in Germany and moved to Los Angeles in 1984, made his first trip to Nashville in 1995 when he produced an album for Accept. He had been a founding guitarist of the German-based rock band, but left the group after going into the Army and being stationed several hundred miles away.
After serving his country, Wagener began working as an engineer, and by the early 1990s he had worked as a producer, engineer and mixer for everyone from Metallica and Megadeth to Queen and Warrant. His accomplishments include producing Skid Row’s breakthrough self-titled debut in 1989 and its follow-up, “Slave to the Grind,” in 1991.
Wolf Hoffmann, who replaced Wagener years earlier in Accept, moved to Nashville in 1995 and enlisted Wagener to produce another in a mounting catalog of Accept albums.
“I came here and I was like, ‘This is really cool,’ ” said Wagener, who had been living in Los Angeles for 12 years. “It’s all about music, the cost of living is way down and I like the people. The people are really nice.”
In addition, Nashville is “filled with amazing musicians,” he said. “We have the best musicians in the world and the best studios, more studios than anywhere in the world. For music, this is the place to be. You don’t find that in New York or L.A., and recording there would be much more expensive, too.”
The Accept album was recorded in a small room upstairs from 16th Avenue Sound. A year later, in 1996, Wagener permanently relocated to Nashville.
He and Hoffmann built a studio on Hoffmann’s farm near Gallatin, and in 2007 Wagener bought a house in Mt. Juliet. A year later, he began the process of building Wire World Studios.
It took 10 months before he could begin producing bands, even though the studio “was by no means finished” at that point. It took well over a year to complete.
Wagener said it’s not uncommon for him to go as long as six months without driving into town.
“I go into town and I’m like, ‘Where did that high-rise come from,’ ” he joked. “Nashville has changed a lot — a lot.”
Ezrin was the chairman of Live Nation Artists Recordings in 2007 when he was introduced to Michael W. Smith. Soon after, he discovered Zac Brown, and eventually his work with Live Nation evolved into starting a company called Bigger Picture Group.
“The more time I spent here, the more friends I made,” Ezrin said, “and the more I enjoyed the town.”
In 2009, it was his wife’s idea to move to Nashville full-time.
“My wife is a proper English lady,” Ezrin said, “so all I could hear was the theme to ‘Green Acres’ in my head. I’m thinking, ‘This is not going to work,’ but turns out we came, she loved the place, she loved the politeness and the gentility of the people, and she loved the fact that there’s a lot of English influence here. This is very much an ex-English colony. You can feel it.”
Ezrin — who recently finished a project with Phish and is currently working on a secret project involving several mainstream artists — and Wagener are both bringing projects to Nashville that would not ordinarily take place in town.
Wagener said 90 percent of his work involves European groups.
He recently finished work on an album with the German band WolveSpirit and is preparing for Sergeant Steel from Austria, who will be in Nashville beginning in February. The Finnish band Lordi has been to Nashville twice, while another German group, Lion Twin, was so taken by its experience that it named its 2012 album “Nashville.”
The members of WolveSpirit said that in addition to working with Wagener, who is a legend in his home country, they universally agreed that Nashville is the total package of people and culture.
“This is where I am and this is where I work,” said Wagener, who feels the artists who come to his studio are inspired by the creativity and culture that Nashville has to offer.
Ezrin has had the same experiences.
“When I say we’re going to record in Nashville,” Ezrin said, “more often than not, the reaction I get is, ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to work there’ or ‘I’ve worked there before and I love it.’ You can’t say that about a lot of cities. When you say to people, ‘Let’s go work in L.A.,’ most people say, ‘OK.’ You don’t hear a huge amount of excitement.
“If you’re in the music business, there’s no place on Earth that’s more conducive and convenient and as well equipped and has as much talent as this town. I think there are more musical geniuses here per square mile than any place on Earth. … Nobody else quite lives like this. It’s a special, unique place.”
A HISTORY OF HITS
Deep Purple, “Now What?!,” 2013 (producer, mixing)
Taylor Swift, “World Tour Live: Speak Now,” 2011 (mixing)
Michael W. Smith, “A New Hallelujah,” 2008 (producer, engineer)
30 Seconds to Mars, “30 Seconds to Mars,” 2002 (producer)
Pink Floyd, “Momentary Lapse of Reason,” 1987 (producer)
Hanoi Rocks, “Two Steps from the Move,” 1984 (producer, engineer)
Pink Floyd, “The Wall,” 1979 (producer)
Peter Gabriel, “Peter Gabriel,” 1977 (producer)}
KISS, “Destroyer,” 1976 (producer)
Alice Cooper, “School’s Out,” 1972 (producer)
Tesla, “Simplicity,” 2014 (mixing)
Lordi, “To Beast or Not to Beast,” 2013 (producer, mixing)
Ozzy Osbourne, “No More Tears,” 1991 (mixing)
Skid Row, “Slave to the Grind,” 1991 (producer, engineer, mixing)
Extreme, “Extreme II: Pornograffitti,” 1990 (producer)
Skid Row, “Skid Row,” 1989 (producer, engineer, mixing)
Megadeth, “So Far, So Good…So What!,” 1988 (mixing)
Metallica, “Master of Puppets,” 1986 (mixing)
Dokken, “Breaking the Chains,” 1982 (producer, engineer, mixing)
Motley Crue, “Too Fast for Love,” 1981 (mixing)