Who had fun at the Beer, Bacon, Bloodies and Blues festival last month in Hinckley MN? It sure seemed like a great way to counteract the cold weather, and it was a fine gig to cap my first year back on the road with the Special Sauce.
Anyway, now I’m enjoying a little space at home and finally got to catch up on some of the cool music and studio documentaries that have been coming out. I saw Muscle Shoals before and Twenty Feet from Stardom which I really enjoyed, especially because Mary Clayton sang on our Sugar. But I just looked at Sound City and it’s pretty cool too, though I’m not sure why they didn’t call us about our work on Philadelphonic there!
Like Muscle Shoals Studio, which is in Alabama and has a totally different story, Sound City is a somewhat mythical and famous studio in LA. Dave Grohl’s portrait of it has a nice story. Nirvana’s Nevermind was recorded there and, spoiler alert, it’s success kind of saves the studio.
We went there in, well, it must have been spring of ’99, to finish Philadelphonic. I knew at the time that it was cool, Fleetwood Mac had done Rumors there and I knew some of that story. I remember re-cutting the bass on the song Numbers in a little isolation booth inside that big room - which I thought was crazy. Its pretty cool to have recorded there, through it was one of those strange moments when I felt like the music was being pushed away from it’s origin.
We had recorded most of the tracks at a studio called Longview Farms in central Massachusetts. That was another magical spot, and more of a home to us. So when T-Ray took us out to Sound City for overdubs, I felt like things got kind of LA-ified. That’s what it is though. I’ve found you have to get over your attachments to the music and the sounds. And sometimes all you can do is do your job and trust the people around you.
In the film I really related to the experience of the Heart Breakers and the powerful emotions and pressure they related. It’s kind of like being intimidated by the place itself sometimes. I totally felt that way when we did our first record. The recording studio is a crucible. The pressure and energy can create a focus that can burn away the chaff. In some ways it’s a shame that that system is declining. But really it’s a place and some nice gear, there’s no sense fetishizing it. It’s just the tools, and they always change.
i think there are a lot of places like that really. We recorded our first record through a Neve console similar to the one celebrated in Sound City at a place called Studio 4 in Philadelphia. In those days the whole vintage gear thing was just starting and I think we had something to do with bringing back the old gear, and the tube sound. I remember listening back through that old board, with the tube compressors glowing next to me. Wow, it was like a shrine or a temple.
Oh man, one of my finest most Rock & Roll memories was in that control room. It had burlap walls with rough pine over it, the giant 24 track tape machine was rolling - playing through that console, the patch bay was tangled with wires that only our engineer could decipher, and sitting in the main chair, leaning back with a lit cigar was our A&R man Michael Caplan.
He had just thanked me for coming back - this was after G Love fired me the second time in ’96 (but then had me back to complete the ironically titled “Yea It’s that Easy”.) And it was just me and Caplan in the control room, and he says “Thanks for coming back” and I just nodded in astonishment that he actually spoke to me. The only other time he'd spoken to me up to this point was when we were playing at a Sony Music conference/meeting (at like 9am or something I’m sure) and after sound check he turns to me and says “Just don’t play any extra notes.” Anyway, I’m there in the control room listening with him, kind-of still reeling and the big old two inch tape goes on to another song. I don’t honestly remember which on but I want to say it was “You Shall See”.
After the opening riff he turns to me pulling his cigar out of his mouth without a trace of sarcasm and says, “The kids are gonna dig this.”
Portland, OR - Hibernation rain.