“I’ve always liked sounds with character,” legendary keyboardist and producer Mitchell Froom tells me via phone from Los Angeles, California. The sonic spelunker, known for his work with iconic artists such as Randy Newman and Crowded House, has staked his storied reputation on sound design that is anything but pedestrian. From churning tonewheel organs and snarky electric pianos to quirky, homegrown synth patches, the pop producer avoids the factory preset at all costs. “The more colorful the sound, the better it seems to work in the music,” Froom explains. “I just started looking around for things, and I haven’t stopped.”
A native of Northern California, Froom moved to Los Angeles in the early 1980s to try his luck in the music business. “When I first moved here after graduating from UC Berkeley, I actually got work as a synth programmer,” he says. “I had a bunch of analog synths, and an E-mu Emulator II sampler. Then MIDI came out, and I had everything hooked together. I think having those skills gave me an early advantage because while there were and are a ton of great players out there, in those days, people were really looking for someone who could program and arrange. So that’s how it all began.”
Froom’s breakout success would come in the form of what some might call non-traditional cinema. “I did the soundtrack to a movie called Café Flesh, which started out as an R-rated movie but ended up being X-rated,” Froom explains. “Strangely enough, that movie became a sort of midnight cult sensation in Los Angeles. I had done the whole soundtrack on an eight-track tape machine with a couple of synths and a drummer. It was like Henry Mancini-inspired, synthesized bebop. Later, it found its way to a guy named Bob Biggs, who had a label called Slash Records. Bob loved the soundtrack and put it out as a record in its own right. That led to my gig producing the Del Fuegos and later to working with Crowded House. And the rest is history.”
These days, Froom is busy playing on and producing a myriad of projects, from piano patriarch Randy Newman’s latest Songbook installment to the genre-smashing band Burlap to Cashmere, who Froom describes as “Simon and Garfunkel meets Greek music.” Rest assured, no matter what the musical style, Froom is still on the prowl for instruments and textures that depart from the beaten path. What are his latest acquisitions? “I’m always changing,” he says. “I just got a vintage Yamaha CP60 [electro-acoustic] upright piano, which I really like. I also bought a rare instrument called a dolceola, which is sort of like three mandolins with a keyboard on it.” Why are we not surprised?