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Music, Etc.: Robert Tepper — Outlasting The Rest

After a chart-topping hit on the Rocky IV soundtrack, Robert Tepper spent the next few decades in the producer/engineer chair. Now he's back with an '80s AOR-flavored new album.

Robert Tepper.
Robert Tepper.

The ’80s were good for Robert Tepper. Moving to New York City from his native New Jersey, he teamed up with Benny Mardones to co-write several songs for the singer’s 1980 Never Run, Never Hide album. One of those songs, “Into the Night,” was nominated for a Grammy and became Mardones’ only hit. In fact, the song reached the Billboard Top 20 twice, in 1980 and 1989, a rare achievement.

Tepper recorded his debut album, produced by Joe Chiccarelli and mixed by the late Csaba Petocz, with an all-star roster of musicians including Dann Huff, Alan Pasqua, Tim Landers and Myron Grombacher, in 1985. Sylvester Stallone selected the title track, “No Easy Way Out,” for Rocky IV, propelling the song into the upper reaches of the charts both on the soundtrack album and as a single.

Unfortunately, the label held up the release of Tepper’s No Easy Way Out album while the soundtrack’s success played out. A second Robert Tepper track, “Angel of the City,” was included in the soundtrack for Stallone’s next movie, Cobra.

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Tepper’s sophomore album, 1988’s Modern Madness, again produced by Chiccarelli, was also largely ignored by his label. Undeterred, Tepper, by now a resident of Los Angeles, continued to release records, working as a one-man band who to this day also engineers, produces and mixes.

He has since also ventured into music for film and TV, and works with various artists in his home studio, Addison Sound, often as a co-writer. Last year, he embraced his ’80s roots and, in collaboration with Spanish guitarist and co-writer Pablo Padilla, co-wrote and produced his fifth Robert Tepper album, Better Than the Rest, released on Germany’s AOR Heaven label.

On Early Success:

The bad news was, by the time my first album was released, nobody gave a damn. The good news was that I was part of a franchise and it put me on the map. I got a platinum record; now I had a career.

I got more into producing and mixing, but I never stopped writing. I love to write. People hire me as an engineer because I’m also writing with them and guiding them along.

On Adult-Oriented Rock:

For years, I had no interest in doing an AOR record. Classic rock stations have pretty much killed classic rock radio for us all. They play the same 10 cuts. I listened to some records people had put out and thought, you’re kind of doing what you did before, but not as well—so I didn’t do an AOR record.

On the Road to the New Album:

I wear a lot of hats. I did an acoustic rock album, New Life Story. Mark Goldenberg co-wrote one song and played guitar. Apart from that, I did everything—programmed the drums, played bass and guitar, sang all the parts, recorded and mixed it. I loved it, but the fans were, meh.

But it got me to a couple of festivals. We played a gig in England where people just flipped; they loved it. I saw there were people who still remembered what I do. I had been oblivious.

This guy, Indigo Balboa, put that band together, including Pablo Padilla, a great guitar player from Madrid. Pablo said, “I’m going to school in L.A.,” to study composition, so we got together.

Pablo and I sat and listened to all the classic songs we love. We started writing a year ago, right after the NAMM Show, and it was effortless. Before we knew it, we had a bunch of really good songs.

We had “Better Than the Rest” and four or five other songs and showed them to a couple of people. There are only a couple of labels you can go to. AOR Heaven loved them. But they said, “You must debut it at the H.E.A.T. Festival in Germany.” So I did that, about a month ago. It was amazing, really fun.

On Reviving the 80s:

I said, what would it be like it somebody did an ’80s record today? Everybody goofs on the ’80s, but the reverbs and the delays made that sound huge and cinematic. We also used loops and modern keyboard sounds. We really tried to make an ’80s AOR record with the best of what that era brought to music, and the excitement of what it would sound like if it was produced today.

On the Process:

I’m a songwriter, but I love engineering, I love mixing. Your engineering affects your writing. When I start to write and we start to arrange, that’s production to me. Are the acoustic guitars going to drive this song? Is this going to be a dead drum sound, a snare sound that doesn’t eat up a lot of real estate? What are we going to do to fill in that space?

When we did this record, we’d get a basic groove going. I worry about the drums later; I reprogram everything. But you’ve got to start by getting the best sounds you can get. If Pablo and I plug in a mic, we work on the sound a little bit. He’ll say, “Let’s do a scratch vocal.” I’ll say, “There’s no such thing.” It’s not like you’re going to go back and redo it 20 times.

I don’t even remember singing on this record. We got the sounds we wanted, the vibe, the feeling, and were on to the next thing. That’s what the home studio thing is for me. It’s the immediacy.

On the Future:

People are getting it; they’re buying the record, and we’re getting great reviews. My fans seem to be loving it. That’s making me very happy.

The plan is to play Sweden, Spain and Switzerland, possibly England and Italy, in late September. And we’ve already started writing for the new album. You’ve got to keep it going.

Robert Tepper •