Stuart Epps Reveals Untold Stories of Elton John’s Ambitious “Ice on Fire” Album

by | May 26, 2023

In a recent interview with Stuart Epps, the renowned engineer behind Elton John’s iconic album, “Ice on Fire,” we delved into the ambitious project that was meant to become Elton’s biggest album of all time. While it didn’t achieve that milestone, it still garnered considerable success. Epps, who worked closely on the album, shared fascinating insights into the recording process and the creative dynamics between Elton John and producer Gus Dudgeon.

Epps, reflecting on Elton’s career, acknowledged the artist’s penchant for change, always venturing into new directions. However, he humorously noted that in recent years, Elton’s changes mostly involved his fashion choices rather than musical experimentation. Despite this, Epps recognized Elton’s desire for growth and how it shaped their work on “Ice on Fire.”

Recalling the early stages of the album’s production, Epps revealed an interesting twist. Initially, Gus Dudgeon wasn’t supposed to produce the record. Steve Brown was set to take the reins, much to Epps’ excitement. However, shortly before the scheduled start, a change occurred. Gus returned to the picture, and Epps, while admiring Gus, couldn’t help but feel a tinge of disappointment. Nevertheless, the project moved forward, driven by Gus’ determination to create the ultimate Elton John album.

One unique aspect of “Ice on Fire” was the decision to write and record an abundance of songs. Elton penned around 20 tracks, intending to select the best ten for the album. Epps highlighted the rarity of such an approach, as typically artists write the exact number of songs needed. Gus envisioned “Ice on Fire” as a production extravaganza, sparing no expense. The lineup of musicians was remarkable, including notable names like George Michael and Nick Kershaw.

As the recording sessions progressed, Epps sensed that the album would become a colossal endeavor. Gus’s perfectionism extended the timeline far beyond expectations. Epps humorously compared it to the never-ending song “Nikita” on the album, which seemed to go on forever. Despite his reservations, the album eventually spawned the unexpected hit single, “Nikita,” featuring Nick Kershaw’s contribution.

Epps also shared anecdotes about the presence of other notable musicians during the recording process, such as Roger Taylor from Queen. Roger found himself pushed to his limits by Gus’s meticulous demands, leading to an intense studio session that left him somewhat regretful of his decision to participate.

Throughout the interview, Epps conveyed his admiration for Gus’s unique approach to production. Gus aimed to maintain an organic feel in his recordings, often incorporating field recordings and unconventional sounds. However, the downside was that Gus’s pursuit of perfection often extended the creative process far beyond what was necessary.