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The Daily Adventures of Mixerman: Week 5
Day 21: Film At 11
My first thought of the day, after realizing that I was going to have to go to another Bitch Slap session, was, Why am I going to another Bitch Slap session today? I was trying to explain to myself precisely for what purpose we would be recording today. It has now been established (to me anyway) that we will not be keeping any of Cotton's drums. Both Willy and I know that a new, yet to be named, drummer will be laying down these drum tracks. Did Willy think that we were going to record the music and then lay the drums to the preexisting music? I've done that before, and in my experience that methodology is, at best, a hit-or-miss proposition, so long as there's a clik. In this case there was no clik, and to lay down a decent drum performance over an existing track with no clik is exceptionally difficult to do well.
Perhaps our purpose in recording today was in order to further propagate the myth that Dumb Ass was actually being given a chance to prove himself before he was shit-canned. Perhaps it was to give Willy enough ammunition to convince the band that Dumb Ass sucked ass. I looked at the situation from every angle and nothing made sense to me. Logically speaking, there was absolutely no reason for me to be at a Bitch Slap session today. But logic has nothing to do with a Bitch Slap session, so I certainly couldn't rely on that. Being a willing participant in the madness, I went to my session.
When I arrived at the studio, two huge plain white trucks and a generator were crowding the lot. This configuration of vehicles could only mean one thing.
"They must be filming in the other room," I said to myself out loud. Then I saw what appeared to be a temporary makeshift valet station, so I pulled up to it and handed my car keys over to a small Latino man in a red coat. He could have easily been a con man, preying on people in a hurry, but I gave him my keys just the same.
From the generator came a bundle of cables that were now holding ajar the main entrance to the building. I figured the heavy lines would be heading toward the other room in the facility, but they weren't. The cables ran down the hall toward the Bitch Slap session. All I could think to myself was, Please don't let this be for my session, please don't let this be for my session. Of course this wasn't for my session! I considered for a moment that this might be some sort of news-related event. Perhaps a recurring daydream of mine, in which Yore chokes the shit out of Dumb Ass, actually happened. But the trucks had no television affiliate markings, and there were no police or ambulances, so that couldn't be it.
I was passed by a burly fellow carrying camera tracks toward the Womb. Determined to put an end to the speculation, I attempted to stop the man.
"What are you guys filming?" I asked.
"Fuck if I know," the burly man responded. "I stopped keeping track years ago," he continued as he kept walking.
I accelerated my little mantra, as if I were the little engine that could. Please don't let this be for my session, please don't let this be for my session.
I followed the cable straight into the Womb, which was now infested with strangers setting up cameras, lights, cables, and tracks. The tracks and the cabling ran right through the control room through a double door air lock that just days ago provided safe haven and isolation from very loud drums and guitars.
I searched through the many strangers now infesting both the Womb and the room, in the hopes of finding Lance, but he was nowhere to be found. I picked up the phone and called the front desk.
"Find. Lance. Now!" I said, as if I were saying three distinct sentences.
"Okay," the voice quivered.
Then I decided I'd better go into the room and make sure my mics weren't being touched. As I entered, I realized that I was being followed by a tall, skinny dude with pants that were entirely too slim in the pant leg to be fashionable, carrying a camera on his shoulders.
"What do you think you're doing?" I asked, imagining that I must have looked like some dude who'd gotten busted by 60 Minutes. The guy didn't respond; he just kept the camera focused on me. I kept on walking, and the skinny camera dude was following me.
"Who's in charge?" I asked a guy who was setting up the tracks to weave through the Apartments we had set up in the room.
"Fuck if I know," the guy responded, and upon closer inspection I saw it was my new burly acquaintance whom I had met moments earlier in the hall. I felt like I was in a bad cartoon. Then Dumb Ass walked in, and I really felt like I was in a bad cartoon.
"You wouldn't happen to know what the fuck is going on here, would you?" I asked Dumb Ass, abandoning the usual exchange of niceties that occur before such statements.
"I think they're going to film the session," Dumb Ass replied, in his usual insightful manner. To which I raised my hands in disgust, as that was exactly the answer I should have expected from Dumb Ass. So I responded in song.
"Yes! But what are they filming, dear Henry, dear Henry, but what are they filming, dear Henry, but what?!" I sang to a melody that I remembered from decades ago in a skit on Sesame Street.
I was without a doubt becoming unglued where Dumb Ass was concerned. I was beginning to behave like Lieutenant Dreyfus who was literally driven mad by Inspector Clouseau in one of the Pink Panther sequels.
"My name's not Henry," replied Dumb Ass, who was now reaching new heights of stupidity.
As I turned to walk out of the room, I almost hit my face on the camera that the skinny dude was carrying. I stood there staring at him with my arms crossed and a look that could kill. Then I saw the formation of a tiny little smirk on his face.
I considered my options. I could threaten him bodily harm, but if he called my bluff, I'd be loath to actually do anything to him, as he would have actual proof that I attacked him. I considered the old Pied Piper trick of luring him outside and then, when his guard was down, running back in, closing the door and locking it. But that would only serve as a temporary fix, as people were constantly coming and going. As I pondered my options, through the control room window I saw Fingaz walking through to his shitter. In my mind I could smell the urine that I had sprayed on his parka just days before. I even think I could see the little stain from my position some forty feet away.
"If you don't turn off the camera and get away from me, I'm going to pee on your shoes, and if you don't believe that I will, just ask the guy with the pee-stained parka in there," I said pointing toward the control room and looking the skinny dude straight in the camera with an expression that would have easily won me a large pot in the World Series of Poker.
Wisely, he decided to put the camera down, and finally, I spotted Lance in the control room, so I went there.
"What the fuck is going on, and who's in charge?" I asked Lance, who was looking mildly uncomfortable as he looked past me in an odd sort of way.
A familiar voice came from behind me. "That would be me," the voice said.
It was Jeramiah! I have met Jeramiah Weasel many times before, so I knew his voice. As I turned to face him, I couldn't help but think to myself that he was not a particularly handsome fellow. He stood there sipping his Starbucks Venti double soy mocha latte, with his supposedly stylish greasy hair, chicken pox scars, and a schnoz I could park a car in. Upon his nose he balanced a pair of lime-green tinted sunglasses, which he wore regardless of the fact that he was inside. He wore blue jeans that were most likely purchased at Fred Segal, (one of the more expensive places to purchase blue jeans) and a Dixie Beer T-shirt, which I could only assume was some sort of collector's item.
"Hello, Jeramiah," I said, taken aback that he was in the Womb. Then I went to shake his hand, not the least bit embarrassed by what he had overheard me say, as it was a perfectly legitimate question.
I explained to Jeramiah that no one had informed me of the film shoot, that I couldn't find anyone in the film crew who knew what the hell was going on, and that there were some definite problems with the way things had been set up. I went into detail about the problems with tracks going through isolation doors, and bright lights making the tracking room so hot that the air-conditioning wouldn't be able to keep up, and the need to threaten camera men who wouldn't get out of my face. Jeramiah listened to every word without interrupting. Of course, much of it went in one ear and out the other.
"Well, you guys are just going to have to work around it," Jeramiah said, peering over his sunglasses with no empathy for my situation whatsoever.
"I see," I said, attempting to restrain myself. "Do you know how long they'll be here?" I asked as politely as one can after being snubbed so blatantly.
"As long as it takes," replied Jeramiah.
Great! Having Jeramiah on this session was going to be about as welcome as a case of the clap. I excused myself for my chocolate muffin of the day, but as I made my way down the hall, I ran into Willy, who was carrying two muffins, one in each hand. He was looking down at the cables and following them, much like I had when I first arrived. Willy spotted me and handed over one of the muffins without saying a word as he continued following the cables to the Womb. Jeramiah stood in the exact spot I'd left him, still sipping his latte and peering over his eyeglasses.
Willy looked at Jeramiah and then looked at the tracks that ran through the isolation doors, which once allowed us to monitor instruments through speakers, rather than through open doors. This made about as much sense as opening all the windows in the middle of winter and cranking up the furnace. Willy entered the Womb, stepping over the tracks, and sat down, still not saying a word as he pulled out a fatty. Once seated, Willy sparked up the fatty, dragged upon it, and swiveled his chair so as to look squarely at Jeramiah.
"Filming, are we?" Willy said.
The verbal thrashing and name-calling that transpired after this initial question was too personal and possibly too salty even for this diary. Willy, suffice it to say, was not ecstatic about the film crew being there and displayed considerably less elation at Jeramiah's presence. I've never seen a producer tear an A&R rep a new asshole as readily as Willy did Jeramiah. But given Willy's relationship with Marv Ellis, and given that Jeramiah "is the most miserable shit to ever walk the planet" (according to Willy) and was "nothing short of a figurehead" where Bitch Slap was concerned, it was certainly understandable.
Willy attempted to call Marv's office, but apparently Marv would be in Europe for the next two weeks and unavailable other than for absolute emergencies. I suppose Marv's secretary felt this situation didn't qualify.
Even with the reaming, Jeramiah was unfazed. He had no intention of removing the crew, and I'm not sure if Willy had any authority to actually remove the crew himself. So now it was merely a case of negotiation.
Fortunately, Willy did successfully convince Jeramiah that the cables and tracks couldn't go through our isolation doors, and that the lights could only be turned on when the crew were actually filming. The biggest point of contention in our negotiations was having the cameras in the control room. I didn't want cameras in the Womb for any reason. But Jeramiah was adamant.
Apparently, Jeramiah had hired a director and film crew to make a documentary of the Bitch Slap sessions. Jeramiah went on and on about the importance of "capturing what goes on in the trenches" for his documentary. To which I could only think to myself, Document what? Does he really think that anyone wants a documentary about a band that's been in the studio for twenty-one days and hasn't gotten shit done?
We didn't do any recording today, as the film crew was in need of its own setup day. They still hadn't cleared the iso doors by the time I left (which was early), but they promised they'd have them unobstructed by tomorrow. I'm not sure we ever came to an agreement regarding filming inside the Womb, and tomorrow we were to start recording each song with a film crew present at all times-the ramifications of which did not escape me. For every conversation, every slipped fart, every insult cast out of range of its intended mark would be captured on film.
That gig in October is starting to look better and better.
Since there was no way around the fact that I was going to be on film, I decided I should at the very least dress for the occasion. I considered a variety of different looks, including the slovenly engineer complete with stained and holey concert T-shirt, stained jeans that were too big in the rear, much like plumbers enjoy wearing, and bright red canvas Keds sneakers. While I found the boldness of such an outfit inviting, I was concerned that people might misconstrue the intended satire of my garb.
Another concept was the well-dressed, suave, white-collar stylized engineer-complete with mint-condition Levi's Red Tag Jeans, my best Donna Karen sports jacket over a Wilke Rodriguez button-down shirt, finished with a polished black leather Hugo Boss belt and slip-on leather shoes from Italy that I fear might actually be from Ireland. Still, I liked the shoes. While this outfit was also appealing, I was afraid that Johnny might faint at the sight of my vintage jeans, or worse yet, try to steal them somehow. I also considered that my shoes might become a point of discussion causing great embarrassment, so I abandoned that ensemble. After debating for some time the exact look that would be best for appearing in a film, I settled on something familiar.
I decided to wear a god-awful Hawaiian button-down shirt for my film debut, as that is what Ed Cherney wore for his cameo on the Bette Midler Show. I know, because I watched it. After all, I figured that was just the way engineers dressed for this sort of occasion. Who was I to argue with success? Of course, the Bette Midler Show didn't last long, but I really don't think that had anything whatsoever to do with Ed's shirt.
It seems I was the only person treating this filming as a farce, but I wasn't the only person to select my look carefully. Dumb Ass was looking very cliché, wearing shorts and no shirt. Harmon Neenot was the sharp-dressed man with a very nice pair of black dress pants, black leather shoes, and a black dress shirt unbuttoned and untucked over a bloodred T-shirt. Paulie Yore wore a Nirvana concert T-shirt and a pair of stonewashed jeans that I suspect he wore just to piss off Johnny, who has proven himself to be nothing more than a jeans snob.
Johnny was dressed in circa 1955 Levi's 501 jeans, which he claimed were not reissues, but the original jeans recently discovered in a large time capsule of a warehouse. His jeans were perfectly pressed without a crease down the leg, never washed, and never shrunk. If he even stood next to a glass of water, he'd get nervous. On his torso he wore what was a modern modification on the short-sleeved polo shirt. The shirt was made out of polyester and viscose (I checked, and, no, I have no clue what viscose is) and is designed to be worn two sizes too small. Johnny Buff suddenly looked as though he had large muscles with this shirt on, which I assumed was the intended result.
For all I know, Willy was wearing a silk robe, because he didn't even show up today. Perhaps he's boycotting the session. I couldn't say I blame him-I considered doing the same.
Seeing as the film crew was in full effect, the lights were blazing, and I was being followed by men with cameras recording my every deliberate move, I decided to play up to the part.
When I arrived at the studio, the band was already there. I had never seen them so pumped up to record. Dumb Ass wanted to start with a particular song and had actually selected the drums and everything. I was floored, as he was usually asking me to select his drums for him. Yore had brought in a guitar tech to change out his strings and intonate the guitars. Johnny was warming up, as if we were actually going to keep vocals that had excessive amounts of drum bleed on them. Harmon Neenot was warming up by playing classic Yes bass lines from the album Fragile. Chris Squire he was not.
When I walked into the room, Lance started laughing at my shirt, but fuck him, this was the shirt that engineers wore on film shoots! Although, I must admit, the humor in that was only apparent to those who saw that particular episode of the Bette Midler Show. Considering the show had been canceled, and considering I felt like an idiot in a Hawaiian shirt, I decided to consider another look for tomorrow.
Figuring that Willy would make an appearance sooner or later, and not wanting to appear on camera as if we sit around all day and get nothing accomplished, I decided to get the ball rolling. Dumb Ass was in the room and on the throne.
"Kik," I yelled into the talkback with authority and zeal. I was going to play the part of an engineer who could quickly fire through every instrument, further propagating the common myth that engineering is done in the control room.
"What?" Dumb Ass replied.
So I smiled for the camera.
"Kik!" I repeated through the talkback, while smiling for the camera.
"What about it?" Dumb Ass yelled out.
He was ruining my little scene.
"Play the kik," I said patiently.
"What for?" Dumb Ass replied.
I swear to God, this guy could fuck up a wet dream. My scene in which I get drum sounds in less than three minutes flat, like some Greek god–like engineer, came to a screeching halt. I was looking to perpetuate the image that this was a well-run session, and he was intent on keeping it real. And real is what the cameramen captured as I went around the same stupid-ass conversation I always have with Dumb Ass where getting drum sounds was concerned-all caught on digital film for the world to see one day. With that thought, I was beginning to regret my decision to wear a Hawaiian shirt, regardless of the precedent that had been set before me.
Once I finally assimilated Dumb Ass to the groundbreaking concept of checking drum sounds before making takes, I was able to proceed with that process and thereby temporarily leave behind the awkwardness and self-consciousness that had been plaguing me. After getting sounds for the whole band, I had them make a take.
For a band that typically sucked ass, they were displaying an actual ability to play. If I didn't know better, I'd say they were playing close to-dare I say it-great. Dumb Ass was finally laying into the drums with some authority, and he wasn't forgetting his cues. A few times I caught him twirling his sticks and even saw him throw a stick into the air once. Of course, he dropped it. Harmon was grooving like mad in his duds. Paulie Yore was doing windmills and goofing on Pete Townshend's two-legged hop move. He was laughing hysterically, as if Pete Townshend were somehow "cheese" (as Yore puts it). To date, I can't really recall ever having seen Yore laugh. For that matter, I can't recall ever meeting anyone who thought Pete Townshend was cheese.
As the band was making takes, I sat at the console and bopped my head around, as if I were thoroughly enjoying the playing. Occasionally, I'd get up and dance around a little, as Lance danced through my little area between the console and the counter, pretending to write down notes and enjoy himself. Even Fingaz was getting into the act, wearing his parka and dancing all hip-hop to rock tunes. At one point he disconnected the Radar controller and brought it into the control room. He began frantically hitting buttons, pretending to be editing and yelling like a mofo-"Aw shit! That's it, baby! Now we got dat bad boy down, Wiggah!"
Between takes, I would talk to the band, telling them things like, "You're on fire!" and giving them advice like, "Make it a bit more steamy in the bridge!" and "The last chorus is a bit flat-sharpen it up!" I even threw in the obligatory "It needs to be more green! Give me green!" The band looked at me strangely and said nothing. I was starting to regret my miserable little satire caught on film, and I now realize that this was a mistake. As much as I thought it would be funny for me to play the caricature of an engineer on a rock session, I had finally realized that I already was that caricature of an engineer on a rock session. And so my act was similar to feeding a pig pig. Not a good idea.
Since I could no longer enjoy myself with my new revelation that my life had been reduced to nothing short of trite, I decided to confess to Fingaz on camera that I might have gotten a little bit of pee on his parka. To add insult to injury, I explained to him that he was starting to smell a bit like urine and that it was becoming a bit of a problem. He just stared at me with a look that could kill, and I was doing everything in my power not to laugh.
"Aw man, why you be tellin' me this now?" he blurted.
Fingaz picked up his Radar controller and took it to the shitter. I followed him and begged for forgiveness, as I realized that my goofing around had gone overboard. After all, I'm only human-I make mistakes just like anyone and feel badly about them afterwards. I even offered a public apology to Fingaz on camera for the whole world to hear.
"I want everyone to know that I did not actually pee on Fingaz's parka. A parka with pee on it subjected to ninety-five-degree weather would start to stink like hell. I am here to tell you that his parka smells wonderful, and I will prove it to you now," I said to the camera in my staged apology. Then I took a deep breath from his parka and fell to the ground, as if I had passed out from the smell. For the first time since his arrival, I had discovered humor that even Fingaz could relate to, as he started laughing at my slapstick antics.
"You a freak, Yo," Fingaz said, laughing and pointing at me like I was a chimp taking a shit at the zoo.
There was no way around it. Cameras are no different from strangers in the studio. I can't actually feel comfortable about myself when there is someone present who has nothing to do with the session. Even if I could get past the actual person holding the camera, the thought that someone might one day watch this footage and judge my actions was just too weird for me. There is no question about it-I hate cameras in the Womb.
The director, whom I've dubbed Haired Director, was so uptight he could shit a diamond. He was not in the least bit pleased with my behavior. I believe he called Jeramiah Weasel on more than one occasion, but Jeramiah didn't bother to come by today, which I can't for the life of me figure out. This was his shindig, and he wasn't making an appearance? Haired Director was vibing me out, as if I were somehow ruining his production. One small part of me desperately wanted Haired Director to actually come right out and tell me that I was ruining his production so that I might have the opportunity to point out that he was in fact fucking up our production. Furthermore, if we make a record that has no chance of selling, he can be assured to have directed a documentary with no chance of selling. The film crew was the intruder here-not me. I'm trying to make a record. If it makes the band play better, then great, I'm all for it. But personally, I would be content to be out of it.
As far as recording was concerned (the unfortunate subplot of this debacle), we actually recorded three songs today. I didn't spend excessive amounts of time trying to dial in the exact sound. That's not to say I sloughed it off. Quite the contrary: I am very happy with the sounds we got today. Sometimes working on a guttural basis and not overthinking every decision is a very effective way of recording. It's actually my most preferred way of recording. Unfortunately, it's the least-used method of recording these days.
The way I figure it, the cameras are there to capture Dumb Ass's footage more than anything else. Since he was on his way out, this was their only opportunity to get shots of him playing, as opposed to the ghost45 drummer they would likely bring in.
My feeling is this-if the band is going to play as well as they did today, then I'm all for the cameras. As far as the actual recordings are concerned, their presence has been positive. I suspect once the band gets used to the cameras, the playing will go downhill again, but for now, at least we were making progress. Not that it matters.
We're just biding our time.
Having learned my lesson on how not to act during a filming session, I decided to wear my normal studio clothes, which were basically jeans and a T-shirt. I typically bring a sweatshirt for when the air-conditioning becomes a bit overbearing. Of course, with all the film equipment in the control room, the sweatshirt was nothing short of superfluous. Between a large frame console, enormous lights, massive amounts of outboard gear, and excessive bodies, the room never got below eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit.
I called Willy this morning to make sure that he would be coming today. He assured me that he would, but that he might be late. As usual, I filled him in on our progress. I told him of the band's newfound energy owing to the presence of cameras. He was obviously pleased with this news, but his pleasure was displayed only briefly, as he had important information to dispense. Willy began to warn me that Jeramiah would be coming today, and that I was not to change anything based on his recommendations.
Great! I thought to myself, another political hornet's nest. Just what I needed with cameras rolling.
Willy obviously had some inside information, because not only did Jeramiah show up, he was there before me. The second part of Willy's prediction came true just minutes after the session began. It seems Jeramiah was uncomfortable with my recording drums to just six tracks.
"That's two tracks too many," I replied, hoping he would drop it at that.
Then he began to tell me about how the "world-renowned" mixer Sir Arthur Conan Mixallot has become upset with him upon receiving so few drum tracks.
"Do the drums sound good to you?" I asked innocently.
"Well, yeah, I just think there should be more tracks," he replied, ignoring the logic that I had set forth in my question. I tried to just ignore his objections, but Jeramiah was a Mook's Mook, and he wasn't going to drop the subject. I tried to educate him, but he felt that Sir Arthur's opinion outranked mine. The expression of that sentiment did nothing toward his cause.
"Are you saying that Sir Arthur doesn't know what he's talking about? He is a highly respected engineer!" he replied, and so I abandoned that tack.
To discuss this subject further would only prove to be a complete waste of time. Jeramiah was being filmed, and he was not to be denied. Willy had warned me not to change anything. Even without such warning, I wouldn't likely change the way I had everything set up just to appease some A&R Mook's concerns that a mixer might be upset at having his hands tied later. After all, tying hands was my intention. Seeing as Jeramiah was pressing me so hard to change the drums, I had no choice but to give Jeramiah an audio placebo.
Jeramiah wanted twelve drum tracks, and I was printing six drum tracks. I didn't require an abacus to figure out that if I bussed46 the identical set of drum mics to the next six tracks in line, I'd then have a full twelve tracks of drums. This exercise does nothing to change the sound of the drums. Two identical recorded signals summed together reproduce identically, save for a three-decibel jump in level. In other words, recording the identical six tracks of drums twice was nothing short of superfluous. All I was actually doing was making the drums louder. As far as Jeramiah was concerned, when I opened the other six tracks, the drums sounded much stronger, which they did, because they were louder.
Unfortunately, by appeasing Jeramiah, I'd allowed him to believe he could just push me around. So Jeramiah began to pick on other things that he felt weren't right. He felt that the snare drum really needed to "soar" more. I could tell that Jeramiah was a very persistent lad, and what he wanted, he was going to get. So I ripped a small piece of whiteboard tape that we use for labeling gear, and I wrote on it, "snare," and then I wrote, "soar," on another piece of tape. I carefully placed the "snare" label on an unused Pultec (the thirty-five-year-old analog EQ that I used on the drums), as that particular piece of equipment has very large knobs. The implementation of an audio placebo works best when done with large knobs, because the person being duped really feels that he's making a difference. Pultecs are also great for this because they have plenty of room for labeling, so I put the "soar" label directly above one of the large knobs.
"Turn this knob slowly-make sure you turn it slowly, because if you add too much soar, you could blow out my speakers," I told him as if I were telling a ghost story at a campfire.
"That's the soar knob?" he asked excitedly.
No, Jeramiah, it only becomes a sore knob if you play with it too much, I thought to myself. Unfortunately, had I answered in this manner my ruse would have been over before it began, as he surely would have concluded that I had set him up purely for that line.
"Yes, if you turn that knob, the snare will soar," I answered. "But for God's sake, be careful!" I exclaimed.
"How does it work?" he asked.
At this particular question, I was momentarily taken aback. How does the soar knob work? Was he looking for a detailed technical explanation that he wouldn't understand as to why the knob works? I considered saying that it worked through the power of suggestion, but that would have given away the ruse. So I told him how it worked.
"It sends a harmonized signal through the flux capacitor chamber, which is then blended back in to the original signal using a time stretch mechanism," I explained, pulling from my genetically passed-on ability to spew phenomenal amounts of bullshit on the spot and actually sound credible.
"Whoa!" Jeramiah exclaimed, in awe of my expertise in such things.
And so Jeramiah ever so carefully toyed with his soar knob. I'd be surprised if he actually turned the knob more than a millimeter at a time. With each millimeter, I could see the expression on his face change at the obvious results. He kept adding the tiniest amount of soar at a time, until such time that he realized he had added too much, and he backed it down a notch. When he had settled on just the right amount of "soar," he smiled, as if he could hear a difference. And I nodded enthusiastically.
"You know what?" I said, acting shocked and simultaneously impressed, "I thought it had enough soar, but it's better now. You really have good ears!"
Lance, being privy to the entire episode of audio placebo, concluded that he deserved to be in on the fun. "I think you should add ‘thump' to the kik drum," he interjected. So I made a "thump" label.
This sort of fun went on for the better part of an hour. As Jeramiah continued to turn knobs, he was obviously convinced that he was actually making a difference. There was an abundance of handwritten labels scattered over the knobs of unconnected gear. I was running out of knobs as the control room began to look like an elementary classroom with words taped up everywhere. Words such as "sheen," "warmth," "crack," "heat," "brass"-don't ask me, Jeramiah wanted the guitar to sound more "brass." Who am I to disagree?
Finally, Willy arrived, and he immediately began scanning the gear rack. The band was playing a take, and Jeramiah was standing in front of the console with this smug little grin on his face, as if he'd actually made a difference. Willy began to further inspect all of the labels, and I grew concerned that he might blow the gag.
"Jeramiah made some improvements to my sounds," I said. "Do you like how the snare soars now?" I said, as I pointed to the "soar" label on the Pultec.
Willy looked at me and smiled.
"I think it's soaring a bit too much," he replied as he reached to tone it down a notch.
Jeramiah questioned the validity of such an adjustment and expressed a slight concern with making such a move in the middle of a take. But Willy insisted it would be fine and that he'd only moved the knob a little.
"But the tiniest adjustment on that knob makes a big difference!" Jeramiah professed.
I kid you not.
Willy was obviously very pleased with the results. He listened as he smoked a fatty, at one point slightly confused at my double tracking of the drums. He looked at me in confusion, and I shook my head as I rolled my eyes in the direction of Jeramiah. Willy caught my meaning and said nothing of it. He felt the drum playing had improved enormously, which it had. So much so that Willy was now prepared to abandon the ghost drummer concept. I warned him that we'd better keep the cameras here, and that we'd better get down the songs as quickly as possible before Dumb Ass turns to shit again. He concurred.
We recorded another three songs today. Fingaz was editing the first three very lightly, mostly by taking sections of the songs and cutting them together. We now have six songs in the bag and in which the drums are pretty good, certainly acceptable. We would likely fire through another three tomorrow (knock on wood). There is a total of seventeen songs to record, which in my opinion is seven too many, given the process of recording this band so far.
Even with the progress that we were making, I still have to make a decision on my October session. I was only booked on this session for two months' time, and that is the full extent of my commitment. If the record goes over the allotted time budget and I'm booked, then it is bad planning on their part. I should not be expected to leave my schedule open-ended in order to accommodate lack of efficiency. Leaving is not a problem. I won't get a rep as a quitter, as I will have accomplished what I was contracted for. Typically, I prefer to see a project through. It's better for the continuity of the project and it's often better for me. I prefer to stay on a project as long as possible, because I might very well get the opportunity to mix it, seeing as I have the track record for that. If I leave now, I'm guaranteed not to mix it.
As much as this diary has been a great outlet, I cannot make a decision to continue with the most dysfunctional gig in my career purely for the opportunity to document it. To further complicate matters, I am highly suspicious that this journal may be getting into the wrong hands. While many have predicted the likely end of my career with such brash disregard for the sanctity of a private session, the pundits have failed to take one fact into account.
There's no such thing as bad press.
Today's session was canceled, so I spent the day with my family. It was great to spend the day with them, as I wasn't so wiped out that I was just trying to do my best to put the old game face on. My son, at the age of six, has an insanely intelligent grasp on humor. Today, as he was doing everything in his power to suppress a smirk, he said to me, "Daddy, when I grow up I'm going to become an expert on not being funny."
I'm not sure whether that line translates in print, but live, it was nothing short of hilarious. I call my son "The King of Funny." My son calls me "The King of Daddy"-and it's true.
Having a day like I had yesterday makes me want to quit the business of making major label records. Why should I spend twelve hours a day working with a bunch of shitheads, making a record that has no chance of ever being heard by anyone, when I could spend eight hours a day with gracious, appreciative people making a record that has no chance of being heard by anyone? Oh yes, the money. But honestly, the money isn't worth it. In California, it's not as if you get to keep any of it. So what's the point?
The best albums that I have mixed in the past two years have been made by unsigned artists who paid for their own record to be made, very small indie label artists and major label international artists with small budgets. I take on these records because they inspire me musically, and that is why I got into this business. I do records like these for a fraction of what I charge a major label, although in the greater scheme of things, it's still not cheap. But I'm happier doing these types of records. I'm sure a large part of the reason is that I choose the project, rather than the project choosing me. Plus, the people are generally nicer to work with.
Making music is sort of like dating. If you see a girl that you think is drop-dead gorgeous, but then you go and talk to her and she is obvious trash, her appearance changes for the worse. Music is similar in that you can love the music, but once the people who make the music turn out to be shitty or uninspiring, the music quickly follows suit.
Apparently, Willy was refusing to record until the film crew was gone (or so he says). He was trying to reach Marv Ellis in Europe. I guess we're on strike.
I wonder if I'm getting paid.
Willy called this morning and put the green light on the session. It seems that some middle ground had been reached between Willy and Jeramiah. For the time being, the cameras were only to be permitted in the room. The Womb was now considered a camera-free zone, which made it feel considerably more Womb-like. I was grateful for that compromise as cameras in the control room were exceedingly obtrusive. In the tracking room, however, they were somehow providing the necessary inspiration for Dumb Ass to play like a man.
Today, and for reasons that are not entirely clear, I took a different route to the Womb. It is not uncommon throughout the course of my day to walk through the tracking room on my way to and from the Womb. But it is an unusual path for the beginning of the day.
You see, there are two ways to get into the Womb. I can enter from the hall, which extends the length of the complex, turns to the right, and runs past the lounge. Or I can enter through the room, weave my way through the Apartments, and cut through one of the iso booths. That is the path that I chose today.
Walking through the room allows me to make sure the Apartments are tidy for the guys, that the mics haven't obviously been bumped, and that the mic lines haven't excessively tangled. There are other potential hazards, but you get the gist. My walk-through would be much akin to a pilot's walk-around before actually flying the plane, save for the fact that I typically can't actually kill the entire band by performing a poor inspection. I suppose I just wanted to make sure that everything was the same as I had left it, since the film crew still had access to the room.
Willy and Jeramiah were in the Womb. They were in front of the console, an area that can be plainly seen through the glass from just about any vantage point in the room. It would have been nearly impossible for me not to notice them, as they were quite obviously engaged in an animated and heated debate, about what, I still don't know. An argument between Jeramiah and Willy in and of itself was not an unusual event given the contentious nature of their relationship. What I found peculiar was how blatantly and abruptly the argument had ended upon Jeramiah's notice of me.
When I entered the Womb, Jeramiah seemed cold toward me, and Willy was obviously quite irritated. Willy proceeded to spark up a fatty, which he seems to keep an endless supply of, as I rarely see him actually roll them. He offered me a hit, but I was already paranoid enough as it was, and I declined-although, in actuality, Willy's fatties don't make me paranoid. What makes me paranoid are heated conversations ending at the sight of me.
Jeramiah hung around uncomfortably, as if he didn't know what to do with himself. He tried to strike up conversations with me that were awkward at best, and I certainly didn't attempt to make them any less awkward. All of my audio placebo labels had been taken down, and I couldn't help but wonder if this is what Jeramiah was arguing with Willy about. I found out later that Willy had curtly asked Lance to pull them down with no explanation. But why?
The only member of the band who was in the studio was Dumb Ass, and he was in the room playing his drums. Since everyone in the Womb felt this compelling and annoying need to talk without having a single thing to actually say, I chose to break up the awkwardness with a quick listen to Dumb Ass playing the drums. The drum heads were shot.
I wandered into the room and offered to call the drum tech, but Dumb Ass didn't seem too thrilled with that concept, as he silently stared toward me, cautiously shaking his head.
"What do you mean, no? Dude, your drum heads are shot; we need to get the drum tech in here."
"Naw, naw, I don't need that. I tech my own drums," he replied, sounding like a kid who didn't want to admit that his mom picked out his clothes for him.
I was astounded by this statement. You do? I was thinking to myself. Then I almost ran into a cameraman standing next to me. With that near miss, I was provided with the insight which explained his resistance. How could I forget? We were being filmed. If only George Orwell could see us now. We were like in some sort of 1984 biosphere. Just what we needed.
There could be no doubt the cameras provided unbridled inspiration for the band, but they also pushed the bullshit meter off the charts. God forbid Dumb Ass actually admits on camera that he uses a tech to either replace or tune his drum heads. Every great drummer I've ever worked with, save one, has a drum tech. That's not to say the greats can't tune their own drums-quite the contrary, they can. But the greats do typically use drum techs. Was it too much to admit that the not so great drummers use drum techs?
Since the bullshit meter was clicking like a Geiger counter in Chernobyl, I pointed out to Dumb Ass that we needed to change all the heads and that he was needed for going over arrangement details.
"Well, okay. You can hire a guy to put my heads on, and I'll fine-tune them after he gets them on there," Dumb Ass replied, like a caricature of Cliff Claven from the television show Cheers, who I can only assume was his childhood hero.
"Indeed," I countered, in my best Art Bell impersonation. I immediately regretted having said that, as that comment would, without a doubt, make the fucking film-a fact that had me reeling inside as I would never want anyone to actually think I say the word indeed with any semblance of sincerity.
This would have probably bothered me for longer had I not caught Willy and Jeramiah squabbling again in the Womb-a squabble that also ended abruptly as I made my way back toward them.
Ignoring the fact that this kept happening, I informed Willy and Lance that we couldn't record until we replaced the drum heads. Lance left to call the tech, and I went to the couch to lie down for a while. The way I figured it, if Willy and Jeramiah wanted to argue, they could go somewhere else. But they stayed, and Jeramiah sat down on the outboard counter, where he could have a discussion with me as I lay on the couch.
"I was wondering, what are your plans as far as this session is concerned?" Jeramiah asked.
What an odd question. What are my plans? Uh, gee, I don't know. You'd think I was about to date his daughter or something. In which case the answer would be, I intend to fuck her, Weasel. Come to think of it, change the "her" to "it" and I had an answer that would have been a brutally appropriate reply to his question.
As much as I would have loved to respond to him in that manner, I knew I had to be cautious with how I answered this question. I certainly wouldn't want to give the impression that there was no way in hell I wanted to be working on this session anymore. This is L.A., and that would be too honest for anyone in L.A. to handle.
"I've kind of agreed to work on a session in October," I replied.
"With who?" he asked. Whom! I thought to myself, as if that was any of his fucking business.
"I wouldn't want to jinx it."
"So you're not committed?"
I preferred to be the one asking the questions.
"Why do you ask?" I said coyly.
Then Jeramiah proceeded to tell me that they liked the job I was doing and that he wanted me to stay on. I told him that I was pretty much committed to this gig in October, but Jeramiah wasn't satisfied, and he actually asked me if I had a deposit.
"No," I foolishly replied to Jeramiah's nosy inquiry.
I had played this conversation so well to that point, why the hell I answered "no" to that question is beyond me. I should have said, "Of course," and I laid there wanting to punch myself repeatedly for such a stupid response. I was even half tempted to say, "Did I say no? I meant yes." But he wouldn't have bought it.
Jeramiah spent the next ten minutes lecturing me on the risks of this business, pointing out that it would be in my best interest to stay on a guaranteed gig, as opposed to a gig that could possibly fall through. Then he went into how this record was of the highest priority at the label, and that it was going to be a huge-selling album and would be a high-profile gig for me. Then he moved into telling me that I should be more responsible with my scheduling, and that I should expect these sorts of sessions to go over in time, etc. . . .etc. . . . blah, blah, fucking blah.
My kingdom for a clothespin! The room was starting to reek from all the bullshit that was being thrown about. Does this guy think I was born yesterday? Finally he wrapped up his monologue.
". . . and I think it would be in your best interest to see this project to its completion," he concluded.
I lay there on the couch contemplating that phrase. "To its completion." What a concept. And then I started thinking about how rare it is these days to have the opportunity to record and mix an album in its entirety. Sure it happens, and I've done it myself. Too often, however, the mixes are sent out for the purposes of stamping a mixer's name on the product. This project surely was not going to be an exception to that trend.
Mixers are hired to supply one of the following: their time, their mixes, or their name. When an engineer is first starting out, he is usually charging for his time and that includes his time for mixing. If an engineer starts to attempt to specialize in mixing, as I did for so many years, then he is hired for his mixes. In that case, the mixer is paid for his mixes and is charging for a certain quality of work, attention to detail, approach, and fresh perspective.
A very select few mixers become name mixers, and they are hired specifically for the purpose of having their names placed on an album. Labels want the name mixer because he is associated with "big hits." The thinking is if the Program Director (PD) of a radio station sees that Sir Arthur Conan Mixallot mixed the album, the PD could be more likely to listen to the song or possibly even to select the song. The competition to get on radio is so fierce that labels will do anything they must do in order to gain an edge.
There is no real evidence that Program Directors actually care who mixed a song. The fact of the matter is, if the song and production are great, then the PD will spin it and see what the reaction is. If the reaction is strong, it gets more spins. Unfortunately, if the mix is weak, then the production is weakened, and the song likely won't get played. That's why the mix is so important.
As a consequence, name mixers are typically guys who have put out a significant amount of successful work. Unfortunately, what happens is that the name mixer becomes like a factory, partly because he is so in demand all he does is mix day in and day out. Because of this, rather than approaching each record as a separate work of art, the name mixer tends to stamp a particular "sound" on the record by using such things as sample replacements.48 Worse yet, the processing chains (EQs, compressors, effects, etc.) tend to remain constant so as to maintain a certain consistency. This means that every instrument goes through a certain channel on the module at a certain level with a certain processing chain, and each instrument for each project gets the identical treatment. Unfortunately, this consistency usually provides good-but not necessarily great-results. That's because there is no one way to mix that works for every production, yet this is often the approach of the name mixer. I suppose good work (as opposed to great) along with the name often causes the Mooks to believe that the mix is somehow great.
Now, judging whether a mix is great or not is subjective, and one can only truly judge whether the mix was brought to its maximum potential if one is intimate with the raw tracks. Even then it's just an opinion, which is what makes this business so difficult. All decisions must be based on opinion. Yet an A&R representative keeps or loses his job based on facts-sales numbers are facts.
I have recorded several albums in the past two years that have been mixed by the biggest names in the business, and I have always been sadly disappointed with how homogenized everything sounded in the end. It's as if a name mixer goes out of his way to stamp every bit of uniqueness out of a production. There is nothing more aggravating than recording an album to have a certain sound that works with the songs and the production, only to have someone come in to make it sound like everything else on the radio. Jeramiah's phrase "to its completion" intrigued me, as it suggested that I might actually be able to negotiate for the mix. This concept was nothing short of appealing to me.
What I had to determine was whether I really wanted to record this project to its completion. Mixes can only rise to the maximum potential of the production. At the moment, that potential was not as high as I would have hoped, although since the cameras had arrived, the drum tracks have been remarkably usable. I could only assume the quality would improve tremendously with a drummer-for-hire. The way I see it, it's feasible for an excellent album to come out of this, mostly because the songs are good.
After some time of processing these thoughts, out of nowhere, I came to a decision. I marvel at the brain's ability to do this. It's much like how a woman's egg will immediately refuse penetration from any other sperm once the first sperm makes contact. My brain had hardened and made a rash decision, allowing for no negotiation. There was no way I was going to record this album to completion. To me, it just wasn't worth it. There was no reason for me to stay on this project. The project in October was a good one, and I should take that.
"I'm pretty much committed to the session in October," I repeated.
I might have been better off telling him I'd think about it, but there was no point in stringing him along, since I was so sure of my decision to move on.
Willy, who had been silently leaning in his chair with his legs up on the console, leaned his head back and to the side as he spoke.
"Perhaps the label would be willing to up your pay," he said, looking at me sideways, as he was likely too comfortable to actually turn around completely to look at me.
I lay there silently on the couch, with my hands behind my head, fingers linked. First I glanced at Willy and then intently watched Jeramiah, who looked incredibly uncomfortable and was obviously taking some time to think about this.
"Yes," Jeramiah said slowly, while looking at Willy. "Perhaps we would. What would make it worth your while to turn down your October gig?"
I stared at Jeramiah, who was staring nervously back at me. I lay there, not knowing for certain why Jeramiah was making such an offer. I also knew the price I wanted, but I really didn't know whether I should say it. It wasn't so much that I was worried he'd say no. I was worried he'd say yes.
As I processed all of this, I was interrupted by what I can only describe as one of the loudest crashes I've ever heard in my life. It came from the tracking room.
Jeramiah whipped around, and both Willy and I stood up. We all stood there in absolute amazement with our mouths wide open. One of the large slabs of glass that separates the control room from the tracking room had been completely shattered. There are actually two separate panes of solid inch-and-a-half-thick glass with about a foot of space between them. That's because the best isolation occurs when there is space between two hard surfaces. That isolation was now compromised.
We all ran into the tracking room to investigate what had happened. Dumb Ass was lying on the floor, writhing in pain and holding his wrist. He was covered in glass, and we helped him up carefully dusting him off. On the floor was a massive light that moments earlier had been precariously perched in the air on a huge lighting stand.
Lance took Dumb Ass to the emergency room, where it was later determined that he'd broken his wrist in two places. Exactly what happened still hasn't been entirely sorted out. At the time of incident, the cameramen were on a break. Their timing was impeccable, as cameras are sure to be in my face during my lame attempts at sarcasm, yet are nowhere to be found during what had to be one of the more spectacular falls in studio history. Since Dumb Ass had gone to the ER, we only had the eyewitness account of the drum tech, which was incomplete at best, as he hadn't seen the entire sequence of events.
What we've pieced together is that Dumb Ass was lighting candles in the guitar area and got his foot caught in one of the lighting cables, causing him to trip and fall backwards rather violently into the stand that held one of the big lights. The light was a bit top heavy, and Dumb Ass was no Jack LaLanne, which proved to be a bad combination. Dumb Ass somehow managed to land on his wrist with the full weight of his body, causing great trauma. He's lucky that's all that happened with all the glass that was everywhere. I've never seen an inch-and-a-half piece of glass shatter like this. It was un-fucking-real!
If I weren't convinced before, I am now. This session is cursed. It's time to bring in the sage weed for burning in an attempt to shoo out the evil spirits, because this session is an endless string of bad scenes. At every turn, there is a new setback, disaster, or inconvenience. Actually, my kingdom for an inconvenience! While the idea of having a ghost drummer has been nothing short of appealing, Dumb Ass has finally been playing well enough to keep the gig. So what does the poor schmuck do? He goes and breaks his wrist.
I told Jeramiah I'd think about my plans where Bitch Slap's recording was concerned over the weekend. Given all the commotion, he accepted this without attempting to close me. Now I must spend the weekend considering exactly what my soul is worth, albeit with a limited-use clause.
I suppose that makes it worth considering.
There have been events over the course of this diary that I have found to be suspicious. While I have no lack of confidence where my personal likeability is concerned, I felt Marv Ellis's enjoyment of me and his overt vote of approval for my role in this recording process to be slightly overstated. In fact, I couldn't help but get the feeling that our entire dinner was staged. And what of Willy discussing the importance of discretion, post our dinner with Marv? Was that some sort of warning? I found that discussion to be nothing short of odd.
Then there was the sudden and inexplicable removal of the audio placebo labels: soar, thump, and the like. In and of itself this wouldn't have been nearly as suspicious had I not witnessed those heated arguments between Willy and Jeramiah. What of Jeramiah's sudden coldness toward me? Surely he was aware that I'd played him for the fool. But how did he find out?
As if that wasn't enough to pique my paranoia, there was the "name your price" game. I've been negotiating with record companies for over a decade. To date, I have never seen the recordist get to name his price. Why was it so important to Jeramiah that I stay on the session? I'm just the recordist. There are many, many qualified engineers with whom Jeramiah has worked over the years who could easily come in and take over. It's not like there's some sort of flow going here. Quite the opposite, really.
Still, after a three-day extended leave of absence from the Bitch Slap madness; after countless hours of strategizing, hypothesizing, and the like; after the relentless pursuit of playing out possible scenarios in my head, I have come to the conclusion that I should abandon my suspicions as nothing more than paranoia. For even if I were correct, no matter how I play the game in my head, it is, without a doubt, best if I ignore completely the possibility that this diary is somehow being read by the record company and continue on as if there were an elephant in the middle of the room that everyone was conveniently choosing to ignore. So that is how I shall proceed with these journal entries from this point forward.
Recording drums today was out of the question since Willy's prescheduled ghost replacement drummer wouldn't arrive in town until next Sunday. It's just as well, because the panel of glass that Dumb Ass shattered with his extraordinary grace was still missing. The sonic isolation that we once enjoyed was now compromised. Willy was considering keeping the takes that Dumb Ass had done. Apparently, he wanted to finish the productions in their entirety before actually making that decision. I suppose upon the completion of Fingaz's editing of the Dumb Ass "camera" takes, it was quite conceivable that we would have the drum tracks for half an album. Willy's plan was to try and lay down the overdubs on as many of those songs as possible.
First up was Harmon Neenot, the bass player, well established as one of the most god-awful singers on the planet, perhaps even in the universe-as I couldn't imagine an alien sounding quite so wretched. Harmon could have easily been one of the lead singers of Milli Vanilli, as he would have likely been on even par with Rob and Fab, the two non-singers of the group.
Milli Vanilli is famous for one of the biggest scandals in the history of the music business. They were like the Quiz Show of the '80s. Scandalous! The vocals on Milli Vanilli's hit album (approximately ten million units sold) were not sung, as advertised, by the two handsome front men of the group, but rather by ghost singers. Apparently, Rob and Fab wanted desperately to sing their music live as opposed to lip-synching, but, alas, weren't up to the task, and people quickly realized that these two couldn't possibly have sung the vocals as presented on the album. Upon the discovery that Rob and Fab couldn't even carry a tune, let alone sing a hit song, Milli Vanilli had their Grammy and their RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) record sales awards revoked. There was even clamoring from advocacy groups that consumers should get their money back, although I really don't know what came of that.
Apparently, the listening public finds it distasteful to buy a CD that is a misrepresentation of the truth. Personally, I don't see the difference between hiring a ghost singer who can actually sing in tune and using software to redraw the waveforms of notes, thereby putting a lousy singer in tune. Both cases are egregious misrepresentations of the truth. I suppose it's also tolerable for the drums, bass, and guitars to be played by someone else, as long as it's not the singer who is replaced. For some reason, as long as the singer is actually the true source, and technology is responsible for the manifestation of misrepresentation, this is somehow acceptable to us. Perhaps, deep down, we are comfortable with these distortions because we are all still incredibly grateful to the photographer who edited out that awful blemish from our school picture. I know I am.
I went in a little early today, as it was necessary for me to make some slaves of the edited drums. As I was driving, I was encouraged by the fact that I wouldn't have to deal with Dumb Ass anymore. It was the best drive to the studio I've had in some time. The way I felt, you'd have thought I was going up to Big Bear Mountain for a much-needed mini-vacation. I was elated. Of course, that elation was shot to hell the moment I pulled into the parking lot, as there, on the patio before me, was Dumb Ass in all his glory, picking his nose and eating his boogers with the hand that had the cast on it. I made a mental note not to sign his cast today.
As Dumb Ass followed me into the control room like he was my most loyal dog or pig, as if I were the sort of person that would own either, I felt as though I had hopped right into a pool of quicksand. I was sinking, and quickly. For what I had failed to take into account was that if Dumb Ass wasn't playing the drums, then he'd never be in the drum room. And if he was never in the drum room, then he'd often be in the Womb. The presence of Dumb Ass in the control room was similar to being in a womb with a ripped placenta-very uninviting and distressing to the occupants.
Dumb Ass was exercising his true talent in life-making the lives of those around him miserable. He wouldn't leave me alone as he yapped endlessly. I had a job to do, and I was trying desperately not to pay him any attention. But he was as irritating as a fly that had nothing better to do than buzz endlessly around my head.
In reviewing Lance's notes, which were nothing short of a thesis on the concept that too much information can be equally as debilitating as not enough, I was attempting to decipher exactly which songs had slaves, which songs didn't, and which songs Fingaz had finished editing. Dumb Ass was still firing questions at me relentlessly, and although I'd tell him that I really needed to concentrate on what I was doing, this would only buy me about a minute before regularly scheduled interruptions resumed.
At one point, Dumb Ass brought a tambourine and started playing it with his left hand as I was listening to a take.
"Hey! I can still play percussion on the album!" he proclaimed.
He could have just as easily been clenching the tambourine with his teeth and shaking his head, because that's about how fluidly he played. Finally, I just told him that he was being excused from the Womb, and he started laughing like a retard, as if I was kidding.
"Do I look like I'm kidding?" I asked him as I pointed to the door and he slunk away. Good dog.
Both Willy and Jeramiah arrived around the same time today. From the moment Jeramiah got out of his car, I could tell that he was dying to get me alone. He was surely determined to pin me down on my schedule. But after an entire weekend of pondering what staying on this gig was worth to me, I decided I wasn't going to name a price at all. Jeramiah would have to make me an offer that I could refuse.
I pulled every trick in the book to thwart his maneuvers to speak with me. Mind Tricks were proving useless, but I knew he wouldn't want to discuss my fee with any of the band members present. I even hung around Dumb Ass in order to prevent the inevitable discussion. To be sure, my desire to avoid a conversation with Jeramiah was fierce, considering I was willing to subject myself to the constant idiocies of Dumb Ass.
Once Harmon Neenot had arrived, we prepared for recording bass parts over the drums. Personally, I'd rather have a weak drummer on a record than a weak bass player, as it's really the bass that anchors the song. There are those that might argue this sentiment, but they aren't here, now are they? A great bass player can even make up for less than stellar drumming.
Unfortunately, Harmon wasn't making up for shit. I think he's been playing with Dumb Ass for too long, as Harmon has the identical, sickening rocking-back-and-forth motion in his playing. I've never heard this phenomenon in a bass player before, and I hope to God I never hear it again.
About midway into the recording process, my carpal tunnel was killing me from the number of punches I had to make. Finally I just switched to my left hand, which isn't so much of a problem, except that I couldn't face Harmon. For logistics alone, it became necessary to turn the remote around. This is nothing short of a circus act when you consider that the remote for a two-inch machine is cumbersome at best, weighing approximately fifty pounds, connected to large umbilical cord of wires that tend to get in the way. To make matters worse, the umbilical cord was just about at its limit, making maneuverability extremely poor, at best. If you've ever watched the Peanuts cartoon where Snoopy has a wrestling match with a lawn chair, you have an accurate depiction of what I was going through trying to turn around the machine controller.
The film crew managed to somehow convince Willy to film in the control room, since there was really nothing going on anywhere else, save Dumb Ass practicing his imitation of a quadriplegic percussion player (personally, I would have thought that to be more than worthwhile footage). I watched him through the one pane of glass, the other of which would not be replaced until a custom piece of glass arrived. The replacement glass had been rush-ordered, and was due to arrive sometime on Friday.
Although it was Willy who had granted permission for the film crew to enter the Womb, either he didn't want to be filmed, or he had no desire to spend the afternoon recording half a measure of bass at a time, so he exited stage left with Jeramiah. Lucky him! This left me to record Harmon with a camera in my grill.
Harmon was so flustered by the camera that I had to try to convince him that he would ultimately have approval of the final cut. I wanted to point out that it wasn't in the record company's best interest to let the world see that this band couldn't play for shit, but I decided against that tactic. Rather, I explained to him that this was the process we go through, even with the best players.
As much as I loathed going into the telling of white lies, so long as I was able to expedite the recording of bass parts, I could live with myself. Besides, appeasing Harmon was always of great importance as he was without a doubt the most vocal, and certainly the most abrasive, member in the band.
Harmon's whiny voice is so piercing and so brutally annoying that sometimes I consider purchasing a chalkboard on which I could scrape my nails in order to drown out the sound of his voice. It's that bad. Because of his unusually irritating voice, he has the unique capability of winning arguments with little to no resistance. The repelling nature of his voice was the antithesis of a Siren. In fact, I would like very much to see a battle between a Siren and Harmon Neenot, as I'm sure that he would emerge victorious, causing the Siren to run for cover.
Along with his annoying voice, Harmon has some atrocious manners. He farts constantly, which, unfortunately, is his least egregious offense on good etiquette. I absolutely refuse to ever shake his hand as he constantly picks his butt, and as if that wasn't bad enough, he will invariably smell his picking finger. If his hand isn't somewhere near his ass, then one can usually find it planted firmly in the waistband of his pants, much like the character Al Bundy from the Married With Children TV show. He is so much a caricature of disgusting habits that one can't help but focus on the humor of such blatant displays of grossness. Still, Harmon's idiosyncrasies (okay, I'm being kind here, savor the sensitive moment) are relatively harmless, as long as you don't touch him and as long as you're not a woman. It's the women who should avoid him like the plague, as proven by how he treats his girlfriend.
Harmon derives great pleasure from putting down his girlfriend. He calls her trailer trash to her face, which to me is the epitome of the pot calling the kettle black. In his defense, however, I must say she is trailer trash. I wouldn't admit that to him, though, as I could only imagine that might further encourage such statements. When she'd call him on his cell phone, he'd yell at her, calling her a bitch and telling her that he was busy. He would then proceed to tell her that she should know better than to call him when he's busy. How does someone know that you're busy when they're calling you on the phone? And why would you answer the cell phone if you're busy? But I didn't dare ask him that for fear that I might have to listen to a ten-minute explanation of how she's just a fucking whore who needs to be kept in her place. Just the thought of having to listen to him talk for that length of time is too much for me to bear.
Strangely, despite Harmon's bad manners and poor behavior toward women, which I could easily chalk up to the results of poor upbringing; despite vocal cords that could rip through steel, which I couldn't really hold him accountable for as that is the work of nature; yes, despite his many shortcomings Harmon was the member of the band I could tolerate the most. As much as it pains me to say this, all things being relative, he is without a doubt my favorite member of the band.
What I find most interesting is how someone as uncouth and as vile as Harmon could actually be such a great songwriter. In my opinion, he's hands-down the best songwriter in the band. Of course, he doesn't tend to write the sensitive songs. How could he, with his personality and a voice that would make any young femme run for cover? These sorts of songs are reserved for lead singer Johnny Hard-On. Harmon's songs tended to be the everyman, mantra-style songs. They're usually incredibly infectious, and one can't help but sing along.
I was checking our bass work on the third song by the time Jeramiah and Willy had returned. I gave up my chair to Willy and allowed him to listen to what we had done. Then I made the tactical error of sitting on the couch in the back of the room, thus giving Jeramiah the opportunity to speak to me. Still, I couldn't avoid him forever, and at least I had gotten some work done.
I can't stand discussing business bullshit before I've gotten work done. It throws off the whole day to be thinking about what someone said to you, or how someone has lied to you, when that has little to do with actually making a record.
"So have you made a decision?" he whispered to me.
The music was playing, and it was unlikely that anyone could hear us. Feeling somewhat lazy, I chose to remain on the couch.
"I've decided to let you make me an offer," I replied quietly.
Jeramiah sat there without saying a word for quite some time. I was going to allow him to take whatever amount of time he needed. The ball was now in his court. Willy had moved on to the next song before Jeramiah finally decided to speak again.
"How about if you get first shot at mixing the album," he quietly said, looking me straight in the eye.
I was floored. Getting first shot at mixing the album could quite possibly make the misery of recording Bitch Slap worth my while. At least I would know that the quality of my recordings will likely be retained in the mixes, as opposed to getting back mixes that sound nothing like the record was intended to sound. Even the producer is often disappointed when mixes return, as his hands are tied when a big-name mixer is hired.
At this level of spending, it is rare for anyone other than the biggest "names" in mixing to have the "opportunity" to mix this kind of project. I say opportunity, but really, to a name mixer, it's no opportunity at all. It's just another paycheck, and for good reason: The paychecks are quite large, anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 for one or two weeks' worth of work. Anyone fortunate enough to command that kind of money is typically profit-sharing, as well, with the usual cut being 1 percent of the MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price), paid by the artist and forced by the record company. At $17 a CD, that can add up to a nice chunk of change if the album is a hit.
The record companies will have anyone who will listen believe that a mixer commanding that kind of money (and I'm not by any stretch of the imagination complaining) has an uncanny ability or knowledge of how to mix a hit. But the reality is that these mixers actually have many more flops than they do hits. But because of the level of spending, they get considerably better opportunities for hits, thus giving them more hits, and thus charging the record companies more money.
Were I to get paid based on the high hopes of record companies, I'd be retired by now. That's because the Mooks are so accustomed to blowing smoke up people's asses, they start to believe their own hype. Oh, how many times have I gotten a record that was supposed to be an opportunity for me? Hah! Even a "sure thing" is suspect at best. No! One is only given the opportunity in this business to work on great music, or meet great people-not to mix a hit. Being given the opportunity to mix a hit would require a crystal ball, and I can assure you that the record companies have not a single crystal ball among them.
A label's desire for me to mix or to not mix a record has little to do with the quality of my work. I have a track record of mixing well-respected albums. I still do a considerable amount of mixing. It's just that these days I also do a lot of tracking as well. Really, the only reason I took this gig was because it would give me an opportunity to work with Willy Show. The more big-name producers that one can have as one's clients, the better.
I suppose from the perspective of the label, having me mix the album isn't really taking a chance. It's not like they never use alternate mixers-they do occasionally. It's not like they must use my mixes if they don't like them for some reason. They only have to pay for them. But having the first shot at the mixes gives me a leg up, as any subsequent mixes are being compared to mine rather than the other way around. Although this might not seem, on the surface, as any kind of advantage, given human nature, it is.
Jeramiah had made a reasonable offer. But if I was going to record and mix this album, then I was going to want to profit-share. So I decided to up the ante a little.
"I want my full mix rate, plus a point and I'll want it in writing," I said, staring him down like I held five aces to his pair of twos. And Jeramiah nodded unenthusiastically in agreement.
"My manager will call you in the morning to hammer out the details," I said, shaking his hand and going back to the console to see how our bass overdubs held up to the scrutiny of Willy Show.
Willy was fine with the bass parts, and wanted to lay down some guitar, so we summoned Yore from the lounge and recorded the guitar parts on one of the songs. Suddenly, mysteriously, I was beginning to enjoy life as a recordist again. And while I'm not deluding myself that this project has even the most microscopic, minuscule, infinitesimal chance of ever even being released, let alone being successful, there was still a chance. At this particular moment, I am enthusiastic, as now I have a vested interest in this project.
Funny how that works.
The remaining 24 days of the
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