“The first Van Halen album makes Johnny Rotten out to be what he really was and still is: a hairdresser.” –Henry Rollins
I remember waking up on the 8th day (5th day recording) and finally having the feeling. The feeling that I no longer had any sense of what a normal structured week was like. I’ve told friends in the past that recording is my favorite activity as far as being in a band. Don’t get me wrong: I love playing a good show but for me, the making of the record really resonates with me. It’s like a giant puzzle. You work at fitting the pieces all together with a group of people, and even though you know what the picture on the box looked like, it always ends up different. More often than not, better.
I also enjoy the sense of dissociation, as you wade your way through world outside the studio. The people at stores. The people with jobs. People just running around doing their general day to day things. It feels like you have a secret and are operating outside of a normal timeframe and the paradigms of what you might ordinarily be experiencing.
On that 8th day, I was tired. I had no idea what day it was. I literally forgot I had a job. I couldn’t remember what I needed to take care of after the recording was done. I kept checking what day and time I was scheduled to fly out of Chicago. It was a wonderful feeling. But I was also aware it was temporary, which I was also glad for. Too much of that feeling takes away its allure. It’s best in doses. Basically when most people describe their trips on a beach, and how the real world melts away for them. Well, that’s me when I’m recording. Being crammed into a small studio space with 4-5 other doods listening to the bones of songs slowly take on more flesh and form. That’s a holiday for me.
It’s not for everyone.
When arrived at the studio that day. I brought up the electric 12 string that Allen had suggested when we were discussing the demos. He told us, he had a friend that had an electric 12 string Rickenbacker (the same model that George Harrison made famous on the A Hard Day’s Night album) we could borrow for a day. Joe offered to go over and pick it up.
After Joe left the studio. John took his place in the recording room and began laying down the bass tracks for ‘In The Other Room’. We figured it being one of the faster songs it would be a great way to start that day’s sessions. John got it done in about 3 passes. I figured I would take longer, which would give Joe time to get back with the 12 string. I was about halfway through my second pass of ‘In The Other Room’, when Joe stuck his head around the corner. I finished my pass and excitedly went into the control room to see the new toy. It was a beautiful instrument.
We all just looked at it and tried to get our heads wrapped around how it would translate (amazing) or who should play it (Joe), and on which songs (pretty much all of them, as it ended up). We listened back to my passes and thought they could be better. Went back into the recording room and took another swing at my tracks. ‘In The Other Room’ is not a hard song in regards to the rhythm guitar but about 80% of it is a fast, relentless, down stroked picking style. After playing an intro, verse and chorus of that style, you begin to wear down. You begin to second guess the pace of your hand with the click. Once that happens you feel as though you’re skating on very thin ice, and about to fall off the tracks. I held it together and got my tracks down.
Once I was done it was Joe’s turn. We decided it best to just hop into the fire with the Rickenbacker. I can remember standing in the room with Joe, both of us silently looking at each other and then to the Rickey, and then back to each other. Finally I blurted out “Well, I’m not fucking tuning it!” Joe flashed his now famous look of disapproval that suggested “Well, what are you good for then?” and shook his head. He began the 9 minute task of tuning the guitar. This ritual quickly became a nuisance during the sessions. Once he had it all in tune, he plugged it into his pedal board. Every head in the room snapped to attention, and a chorus of “Ohhhh shit! That sounds sweet” began.
Joe tore his way through ‘In The Other Room’. The 12 string gave the lead line a weight that had been lacking. We didn’t realize it going into the sessions but once he played it on that Rickenbacker it became “A Thing”.
We all sat in the control room and listened back to the tracks. Eric and Allen kept coming back to the chorus of that song. They said there was something off or weird about the relationship between the lead guitar line and the bass line. Having spent the last few months listening to the demos, I began to realize I had long since lost perspective, and that they might be right. Any reservations I had about changing it, died moments later when John pointed out to Eric, “Ya! I know, it’s always bugged me. It’s the NBC theme.” It all clicked into place. He was right. I never heard it until he gave it that reference. I felt defeated. I had no ideas about how to replace it. I was too caught up in the notion that I ripped off NBC. I said: “Ok. Have at it. I got nothing.” So Joe, John and Allen crafted a new line. Everyone loved it. I will admit (in hindsight) that up until about 2 weeks ago, the new line never sat right with me. I was too used to hearing the old shitty lead. But the new line finally clicked for me. I have to give credit to my bandmates for not backing down and saying it’s the best part of the song now. They stood up, and weathered to my stubbornness and it paid off. I like to think of myself as the type of musician that allows a large amount of freedom and expression, but from time to time, like anyone else, I can sometimes get stubborn and not see the forest.
Next up was the song ‘Suckerpunch’. Again John went into the room and flew through the bass passes. I went into The Control Room and sat down with Allen’s Tele. My part in that song is an odd single note, almost baroque cycle (almost). I got my tracks down and we all listened back to them. In the demo versions of that song there are about 4 tracks of the same part. Which gave it a thickness that wasn’t there when we listened back. We all sat and took in the performance, all the while the Rickenbacker just sat and waited for someone to say: “Hey, what about if we did it on the Rickey?” I was the one who ended up saying it. The inside joke soon became “Well, just run a pass of it with the Rickey…”
Joe was the sole player of the 12 string throughout the entire record. So what was once my part became his. This was not the only time this occurred during the making of this record. The suggestion was the perfect fit. The Rickey immediately brought the part back to life. The Rickenbacker gained its complete and utter foothold. It went from: “We’ll use it to colour the record” to “Fuck, who’s gonna buy an electric 12 string for live shows!?”
Once ‘Suckerpunch’ was in the can, we decided to switch it up and put John on the guitar and Joe on bass. We went with ‘Moving The Needle’. Being a slower number, we thought it best to get through it in the middle of the day and then break for dinner.
It was also a good transition for Joe to get off the 12 string and play bass. After some debate (with himself) about playing the bass line with fingers or pick, Joe decided to go with the pick. He nailed the bassline in 3 takes. I had an easy job with the rhythm guitar parts of the song, so I managed to do my takes fast. John began to set up for his leads, I went outside to see daylight and have some time with a bunch of cigarettes. When I came back into the room, I could hear that John was on the bridge lead part of the song. Allen and Joe were in the room with him. I recognized the part he was playing but it sounded like it was being played through a royally screwed up Wah pedal. I knew that Allen didn’t have one or either of the guys. So I went into investigate what was producing this sound. Allen was hunched over changing the dials on his Line 6 Delay pedal. It was creating this amazing washed out delay, almost phase type effect. This is what about I like about the studio, letting other people do their thing, and running with their own inspiration. I would have never thought to create a texture like that for the part. But once I heard what they had put together, I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
After, we broke for dinner. The next song we tackled was ‘In Shreds’. This ended up being one those songs that takes on a whole new direction in the studio. In its demo form, ‘In Shreds’ was an uptempo, quasi-epic rock song. It was once described to me as a Manchesteresque Prog Rock-N-Roll song. In hindsight, that’s a lot to fit into one song. I’ve no doubt what became of it in the studio was for the best. As a band we each tracked our parts rather quickly. But when we listened back, something wasn’t sitting right. We all sat in the control room, bouncing between concerned (all the normal, balanced, people in the room) and completely dejected (me). It was Allen that suggested maybe play the whole rhythm guitar part on an acoustic. At first I had trouble conceptualizing it. I always considered it a “rock” song. Allen’s point was, it can be a rock song, but it can still be rocking without loud distorted guitars. Joe and I sat with acoustics as the song played back. Allen would tell us “Just play the root chords. Just fill it up with lust shimmering acoustic guitar.”
Thus began the sidebar lecture of Allen telling me (*and he’s right) to learn the basic guitar fundamentals (e.g. basic chords and their relationship across the guitar). It got quickly exposed, that even though I can write and play some cool shit, because I was a transplanted drummer. I had inadvertently taken the long way to learning guitar (self taught). If I had taken lessons and understood what I was actually doing, I’d have an easier time in moments like that one, to quickly identify the chord structure of a song and fill it out with the root chords. That being said, I quickly found the basic progression and began playing it. In stepped our guitar Ace of the band, Joe. Even though I had found a basic premise, I knew I was playing it like shit. Joe who was sitting with me, also playing along, looked at what I was doing, picked it up and immediately made it 100 times better. For what I think was the 10th time that day, John and I in unison said: “OK, Joe, you play it…” Joe would always just slowly, in a disapproving manner shake his head at us. All the while I knew Joe loved to have this burden heaped on him. As much as he may have feigned disgust, he knew it was in all our best interests he play the really challenging parts, and instruments, e.g. Rickenbacker.
Joe went into the recording room with the acoustic and ran a pass of it through the whole song. I remember thinking for the other room “That sounds pretty cool…” He then did another second track and came back into the control room to hear what we had. As soon as Eric brought up the levels we all knew we stumbled into something really cool. It still had it’s odd epic rock spirit but the lust acoustics brought out some ELO, or even Fleetwood Mac (think the beginning of ‘You Can Go Your Own Way’ with the strumming acoustic off the top) vibe. It was super cool. We would have never thought (or maybe even had the guts) to try something like that. Another check mark in the “Why you should work with Allen and Eric at Electronical” column.
We listened to that song about 4 more times. Joe was the most pleased. I could tell it was one of the studio game changer moments for him. Sometimes there are moments in the studio where you listen back to what you’ve been capturing, and you find yourself able to step back and hear something for the first time again. You may have heard it hundreds of times before, and in different incarnations. But in one special instance, it is brand new. All of a sudden what was an old pair of comfy jeans, are now a brand suit, and it looks killer.
After that, we knew we’d get nothing else done. We had 2 songs left: ‘Little Creatures’ and ‘Your Ex Knife set’. Both were heavily dependent on a keyboard and piano lines. So we thought it best to set up the keys within the guitar and bass station in the morning and finish them up, and transition to the rest of the keys and piano’s through the rest of the day.
I remember thinking as we were driving back to the condo: “we are past the halfway point”. This thought made me sad and excited all at the same time. I found it odd that not 10 hours ago I felt like we were in the middle of something, and I barely had any sense of what day it was. Then 10 hours later, I could see the end of the tunnel, and was very much thus back into counting and cherishing every remaining minute.