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Jack Douglas and Jay Messina (bonus)
As I sat and listened to Jack Douglas and Jay Messina in Jay's living room, one of the first things I noticed was their friendship.I felt like I was sitting with two brothers - the respect and admiration between these guys was clear. But then I started to see something else. I started to see how they strengthen each other, working side-by-side towards a common goal. These two seamlessly complement one another, encouraging and promoting each other's ideas and creative output. If you weren't paying close attention, I doubt you'd notice any of it taking place - it all happens without pause or fanfare. Obviously, part of it comes from their shared love and passion for their job; thirty-some-odd years of working together doesn't hurt either. But I think the powerful part comes from the trust that exists between them. And, honestly, with such an influential body of work - Aerosmith, John Lennon, Lou Reed, Supertramp, Cheap Trick, Patti Smith Group, and the New York Dolls - you can't really argue with their dynamic. True to their philosophy of keeping their sessions fun, both of these guys are enjoyable to be around - easy going and quick with a laugh.
I took a listen to the new Aerosmith tune, "Legendary Child." Sounding great!
JD: Yeah! Actually, that song was written some years ago and put in a can, and then I re-recorded it. I liked the song, but it really was written in the late '80s, early '90s and just never used. We changed some lyrics and then recorded it from the ground up with a slightly different arrangement. We made it sound like it would fit on a record done today. It represents a little bit of what the album is, but not quite. The album is very, very raw, you really hear the band in the room together, which is very cool.
Just like Rocks.
JD: Yeah, all the leakage. All but three tracks were recorded in Boston - [the others] we recorded at Swing House Studios in L.A. I started the record exactly one year ago today, on the 26th of June, 2011. I drove to Boston, and the band was scattered all over the place. I looked at their room, the main studio at Pandora's Box, and it hadn't been used in six years. The first thing I had to do was go in and wipe out the cobwebs. The room was a mess - I had to dust off everything. The board had to be totally redone. I had to go find equipment that had been scattered all over the place. I brought up a bunch of my equipment. I got theatrical curtains. This guy John Shipman and I, we're there by ourselves for a week going, "How are we gonna make this work?" I got four big patio umbrellas and I made clouds out of them that you could lower or raise, I filled them with foam and felt. They were huge, and I could hang them over the drums, over the bass area, and over the two guitar areas.
You hung them from the ceiling?
JD: Yeah. These are 20-foot ceilings. I got theatrical curtains from a high school that was being torn down. I had to go there myself with John and take them down from the assembly room and they were covered with dust. I had to carpet some of the walls ...and after two weeks time, the room started to work.
Sounds exactly like how you prepared the room for Rocks. How much of these songs were written before you went into preproduction?
JD: The band had no material. I know Brendan O'Brien had started a record with them there and it lasted two weeks. The label said, "We want a record of original material. We want you to work with Brendan O'Brien." Brendan went in and it was not a good fit what-so-ever. It just didn't happen, so they put the record on hold. And then finally I got call and they said, "Hey, you know what? We could probably do this with you, but we're not talking to each other. We all hate each other." It was just a mess, they were looking for another singer - it was all this publicity. So not only did they not have material, they didn't even have each other. But the thing is, they're like a family - they're really brothers. So it's just a matter of convincing them again. "Hey, what are you guys? Nuts? This is America's greatest rock band. And you guys really love each other, but you can't stand to be around each other right now?"
Do you feel like you facilitated them coming together?
JD: Oh yeah, absolutely, I did. But it was a slow start. The first thing we did was have a meeting about how we should try to make this record art. You know, we used to make art. Don't think about commerce, because that will kill us. If we think of the art of Aerosmith, vis-à-vis Rocks or Toys..., we could make some good music. This was the first time the guys had been in a room together for a long time. Next was, "Who's got what?" I had a decent size office set up, and each guy would come in with an acoustic guitar, or an acoustic bass, and play me little bits and pieces. And I had my little cassette recorder, and I'd record their little bits and pieces. I had a collection of bits and pieces. And I'd start to think, "That guy's little bits and pieces could connect to this guy's little bits and pieces. Just gotta change the key." So we started putting things together. First thing I wanted to do was to get the band to write. Then I looked at some semi-existing material and we would work that up acoustically. When it started to sound like something we would take it into this rehearsal area across the hall, in a bigger room. We had little amps in that room, and Steven could set up the electric piano, he could sing loud enough to be heard in that room, and there was a little electric drum kit. We'd start to work it up in there. As soon as it started to sound like something we'd record it right away. Sometimes those recordings would stand, sometimes they would just be point A - most of the time they would just be point A. And we continued that process through July, August, September, and into October. And at that point I had about 16 basic tracks, all recorded through CLASP, through two Studer A800s. One with a 16-track headstack on it, recording at 15 ips, that was just drums, and the other 24-track running at 30 ips, which carried everything else. That was how I spent the summer and early fall of 2011. By the end of the process, it started to be a love-fest again. We started to laugh and have fun - I like to have fun when I record, and it's pretty contagious. I know those guys so well, I know what's at the heart of it. It's not only about working, but it's about socializing. When the thing's over, "Let's go to the movies. Let's go into Boston. Let's go out to dinner. Let's go over to Steven's house. Let's go over to Joe's house." So when the session ended, our time together didn't end. I mean I had nowhere to go anyway - Warren Huart [recording engineer] and I were living there. So by the time it was ready for them to do this little tour of South America and Japan, they were a band again. That tour was the first time in I don't know how many years that the guys weren't separated. They were traveling in the same plane, they were in the same hotel, they were getting together and huddling up before the show, and they were having a great time after the show.
And probably sounding great.
JD: They were. It was the best sounding tour in years. So when they came back, we moved the whole operation out to L.A. It was time for lyrics, vocals, and a little guitar overdubbing.
So all basic tracks were finished in Boston?
JD: Well, no. We discovered there were a few more ideas that we wanted to take further. There were a couple of tracks we wanted to re-cut, so we recorded three or four more new tracks at Swing House.
JD: From scratch. By then, I had all my equipment out there, my mics, etc. It's funny, I just got a call from Peluso [Microphones] saying, "Hey, what do you think of...", I used their 67s and his special 47 that really sounds great. But of course Warren had a 48, that's the Beatle mic. It's a 47 that has a figure 8 in it. It's the one they used at Abbey Road when you see them singing on both sides. It was a 1954. It was gorgeous. I mastered with Steve Marcussen. I'm actually mastering the whole Aerosmith catalog right now, 24 bit for iTunes, at Sterling with Ryan Smith, George Marino's assistant. He took over for George. [George, sadly, passed away in June 2012]. It's really weird, because I'm going back up there and we're using all of George's original notes, and they still hold true.
The timing is probably nice, to have that as a way of reconnecting to him again.
JD: Yeah, it is.
I remember when we originally spoke, Steven was just about to go off and do American Idol, which you thought was going to kill any hope of you guys making another record together.
JD: Well, when it happened that summer, I went out to Jones Beach to talk with him, and he said to me, "Look, since this happened we're not even talking. But I think it's a good thing for the band. Can you go talk to the other guys in the band?" So I spoke to Joey [Kramer] and Tom [Hamilton] and Brad [Whitford] and I said, "Look, it's [American Idol] just going to expose the band to a new audience." And Joe Perry wouldn't even talk to me about it. "No. We're not talking about it. It sucks. It's a sellout. It's Ninja Turtles." He was just, "No. No. No. It sucks." Meanwhile the catalog went up 250%. Once they got used to it, it became fun and a non-issue.
I'd like to talk about the label a little bit.
And this is brand new? Very new?
JD: It's brand new. We're looking to sign artists that major labels have let go, that have sold 100,000 units or more, even 80,000. If you've sold 100,000 and you can go on the road, then we want you. That's not enough for a major.
So what are you guys bringing to the table?
JD: Two studios and two producers, right now. And we can do a record on the cheap, because we own the studios. We double their royalty rates and give them a fair shake and let them participate completely in every part of it.
A very different relationship.
JD: A totally different relationship. And we can give a decent advance to a band, market value.
And how many people are involved with the label so far?
JD: Just Warren and myself, but we have distribution ready to go, in place. We have a lot of people ready to move when we're ready to move. And there'll be a number of labels under this banner. So we're not talking about just classic rock, or just pop, we want to go in every direction. We don't want to be a major, we want to be a community. That Michael Monroe [vocalist for the glam punk band Hanoi Rocks] album that I did [Sensory Overdrive], did really well - it did phenomenal. Rock album of the year in England. In Europe is was the iTunes, rock song of the year. It was gold in I don't know how many countries. It's his first number one record in Europe. It cost, not counting me, in studio time, $8,000.
JD: Yeah. So when you have to, you can do it, and you can make quality. I mean it wasn't recorded in my home. It was recorded in a real studio with real equipment.
So I'm curious about your concept behind the label, since obviously starting a label in this environment is not most people's first thought.
JD: Well, it's not like a label ... though we will sell hard goods, because the rest of the world still loves hard goods. We like Latin music. Latin music is catalog music. You make Latin music, and if people like it, they'll come back to that artist over and over again, and they buy hard goods.
And I'm sure you'll be distributing online as well, not just physical CDs.
JD: Yeah. That's the easy part [online distribution]. Physical distribution is the thing that's tough in the market right now. Because most distributors don't want to touch you, they're not interested in distributing small companies.
But you feel it's important?
JD: Absolutely. It's still 70% of the business, around the world, hard goods.
Do you have thoughts about marketing?
JD: Yeah. I have people that I'm talking to about it. People who are experts in that field, we've started this dialogue.
And of course the truth is, you don't need to spend a ton of money on marketing these days, I feel it's more about creativity.
JD: That's right. Do I care about radio? If we make a good record, and we get some plays on radio because of who we are, then we'll get radio. Some artists will need it, some won't.
All bets are off as far as the old model.
JD: Oh, forget the old model, it's a mess. If we make a record and it sells 20,000 units, we're in the black - the artist is in the black.
So you worked on an Eddie Palmieri record recently?
JM: I did a record with him in the '70s called Harlem River Drive  that was a good one for him that he had lots of fond memories about. And just recently he was going to go in and do some more recording, three songs for a documentary about street basketball in NY [Doin' it in the Park]. He wanted to fashion it after that [previous] record. So he had a couple of the same players - though not many of them - Ronnie Cuber played on it. It was exciting for me, I hadn't seen him for many years, and if you know his music, he plays with lots of fire. And he had a great, killer band. Ronnie played baritone sax on one tune, and Joe Locke played vibes on another. And he had a killer rhythm section, Obed Calvaire was playing traps, Anthony Carrillo playing bongos, cowbell and güiro, Little Johnny Rivero on conga, Luis Quintero on timbales - he was a mother, just amazing - and Luques Curtis on bass. I set all of the drummers up in the same room. I went to their rehearsal before the session and they played so well together that I wanted to keep that same vibe happening. Eddie was separated, he had his own room, and the sax and the vibes were in separate rooms - this is at Avatar. They were super tight. And they liked the way it came out so much that we're going back in in just a couple weeks to record some more, and he'll come up with a CD.
Were those new tunes that you were recording?
JM: They were, they were originals - all Eddie's.
And the band was smokin'.
JM: Oh man, just on fire! If you don't move while you're listening... It was really a special treat for me, because growing up when I used to play in a band, I used to play opposite a lot of Latin bands, you know Tito Puente... I'm a big fan of that music.
So have you been doing much tracking lately or mostly mixing at your place?
JM: Well I did a couple of Japanese projects. One of them was for a producer friend of mine who lives in Nagoya (Japan) who came to my studio to mix a jazz record. And then I recorded another Japanese artist who plays shamisen. It's a three stringed instrument and you play it with a hard pick [called a bachi], It's mostly a solo instrument, a real traditional Japanese instrument. But he wanted to play with a band. It was a great band, Will Lee played bass, Richard Stoltzman played clarinet on it - an amazing player. It was not your usual band, by any means.
I would imagine not! So did you produce this project? I ask because I know you're connected up with Will.
JM: No. Actually there's a Japanese producer that produced the project. We had a meeting ahead of time, and I shot some names out for her and kind of guided her - she does movie scores, mostly. I recommended a studio that we could use and some players and guided her in how I thought the best way to do it was. So I officially didn't produce it, she did, but I was there helping her. And then I mixed it on my own at my place and sent her MP3s as I finished each mix.
Very cool. Sounds like you like to keep exploring and expanding your horizons.
JM: Yeah. I just finished a Greek band, I think I was working with them last time we talked - and I sent them their last mix and he sends me an email back saying that they got a deal. I was really happy for them. I also did some mixing for another film. I don't know if you know who Krishna Das is? He does kirtans - it's like call and response. I've been working with him for many years, he's like the number one guy - in the States anyhow - who does it. When he does these concerts, he'll hold them in a big church - there's a church on 86th and West End that he's held them at. And the energy in the room is just electric. When people get into the chants, it's just... it's not something I can easily explain. So there's someone doing a documentary on his life and he needed about 15 or 20 minutes of music from one of his concerts, which I mixed.
So it's call and response between him and the audience. How big are these events?
JM: Maybe about a thousand people, I'm really not sure. But it's wild and it's great to be there. And they hand out the sheets, because it's in Hindi, it's not generally in English, most of the people are hip to the language. It's something different. This is what's really getting me excited about what I do - getting involved in all kinds of different genres of music. Doing the different styles of music, has number one, really kept me interested in what I do and it's taken me to lots of cool places. I also just mixed and mastered with another Indian project, which was recorded mostly in India. These guys play their asses off! Just a really burnin' rhythm section - really exciting stuff! Lot's of percussion, tabla, and I got Lou Marini [sax payer who played with the original SNL band, plus countless records] to play on one of these things. He was totally knocked out with the rhythm section, and Lou plays with really the top guys over here. The artist's name is Chandrika Tandon. I just finished up mastering it at Sterling. I've also been doing a couple of mastering projects here at my studio
What kind of tools are you mastering with at your place?
JM: I've got some analog outboard gear that I'll use sometimes, but the Universal Audio [UAD-2] software that I have is killer. I use a combination of the ATR, their Precision Limiter, the Maximizer, and the Massive Passive [modeled after the Manley EQ]. Once in a while I'll use Waves L2, but mostly the Universal Audio stuff - it's really top notch. You know what else is really cool is the iZotope Ozone mastering bundle. I've got [version] 4. They have a four band multi-band compressor, EQ. It does some cool stuff, but you have to take your time and play with it a little bit, you know, really tweak every single parameter in there to get it so that it's not so drastic that you almost change the whole mix. It introduces quite a bit of delay, but if you use it on the stereo bus, you're okay.
JM: I've also been doing some workshops for Universal Audio, demoing their plug-ins. I've done one at Tekserve, another at Dale Pro Audio, and I just did one a couple of weeks ago at Sam Ash.
Are you doing much teaching these days?
JM: Not too much. Since I saw you, I did a couple of workshops at SAE in town here. But I haven't been out to San Francisco, or really Emeryville [at Ex'pression College for Digital Arts, http://www.expression.edu]. Not since last year, anyway.
That's right, I remember you were doing some teaching there.
JM: Yeah, at the same place where Jack teaches. I'll go out for a week at a time.
Do you like teaching?
JM: Yeah, it's pretty cool. And I like doing these clinics, demoing the Universal Audio. It's nice to have that stuff.
JD: ... and I brought in my Ramsa, that's why I told you to stick your head in the center there, because I have a Ramsa Phantom Speaker Synthesizer. [To Jay] Should we play it for him?
What is that?
JD: I'll show you. Ah, you're gonna have a listen.
So what is the effect called again?
JD: A Ramsa Phantom Speaker Synthesizer. And what they did was, they made eight inputs, eight outputs, and there's six 360 degree pan pots, and two very wide stereos. And what you can do, you can put it in there, and psychoacoustically with phase, you can put it wherever you put that joystick. You don't want to use it very much, just in one place - and so far, we scared one person with it. When Yoko [Ono] was listening, very concentrated, she jumped and thought John was in the room with her sneaking up behind her. Some places, it's phenomenal... in my car, he's in the back seat of my car.
It's a piece of outboard gear?
JD: Yeah. They made it in '78 or '79, maybe a little later than that. They gave me the prototype to use on Aerosmith's album, Rock in a Hard Place . I would try stuff with it, run it down to George [Marino] in the mastering room, and the cutter head would lift. "You can't do that." I knew phase was going to fuck up the cutter head. I'd go back, try something else, run back, cutter head would jump. The only thing I did was on "Joanie's Butterfly." I put some percussion back there that people freaked out about. I got letters saying, "I was listening to this and I thought someone was behind my couch. What the hell are you guys smokin' up there?!" They had no idea what it was.
So no one else had one of these?
JD: No. So, Ramsa called me up and said, "What do you think of our machine?" I said, "It's great if you want to just play with it, but you can't put it on a record because the cutterhead doesn't want to deal with it." "Oh, then I guess it's not good then, is it?" So I said, "Not so good. You want to come by and pick it up?" They said, "Yeah, don't worry about it, we'll come pick it up." So now CDs come along, they still haven't come and picked the thing up. I'm over in Germany and I see the CDs before they get over here, from Philips. I think, "This thing is going to be great. I can do whatever I want with it." I called them up and I was ready to give them $10,000 for it. I said, "Get back to me with a price, will ya." I wanted this thing. It was the only one. They called me back and said, "Just keep it. We don't really have any use for it." It's got this thing with a little head where it shows the little face. And it's got a little console and pan pots. It's really funny.
I'd be tempted to make things just go around and around.
JD: You can do that.
JM: We did that on [Aerosmith's] "Round and Round."
JD: On the 5.1 mixes.
JM: But we also did that on the two tracks.
JD: Oh yeah, we did.
JM: We did that simulation of it going around and around.
You guys worked with Miles Davis.
JD: I assisted on one date he did [motioning to Jay].
JM: I did a couple of weeks of recording for the album, Star People.
What was he like to work with?
JM: He was great. I used to go to Japan a lot, like I mentioned, and I used to bring back these sneakers that were really comfortable. A lot of musicians had them, they were just cheap sneakers, but they were really comfortable to have around in the studio. So he saw that I had a pair on - and I always used to bring back different sizes, I'd give them to my friends, and I would bring like a half a dozen extras for myself - they didn't last that long because they didn't have any support. So he said [in his best Miles Davis voice], "Wow, where'd you get those sneakers, man?" [laugher] So I said, "You can only get them in Japan. What size to do you wear?" And it was my size. So I said, "I'll bring you a pair tomorrow." And I just told him you can only get them in Japan. So he says [back in his Miles voice], "Don't jerk me off." So next day I walked in, I gave him the sneakers, and he put them right on. So we were good friends then. But, his interior decorator was a good friend of mine, he did his apartment right here on 77th Street when he [Miles] lived here. So that was also another in for me, that was the introduction. So we got along really well.
He was a good guy?
JM: Yeah, he was great.
JM: A character. A good boxer.
A good boxer?
JM: I don't know if he ever did that [seriously] or not, but you could see when he would just play around in the studio, he could handle himself.
Who produced Star People?
JM: Teo Macero.
JD: I had a great encounter a few months ago with Paul Shaffer. Every once in a while - you probably do it too [to Jay] - I go down to the Letterman show to rehearsal.
Just to hang out with the guys?
JD: Yeah. Everybody knows everybody. Like Will Lee, you know? I go down to rehearsal and sit in rehearsal and then go upstairs for the show, and they always come out and sit with me in-between. So Paul comes down and sits with me, he says, "Jack, how long have we known each other?" I said, "I don't know. Thirty years I think, Paul. Since you came to N.Y., and Saturday Night Live and all that stuff in the studios." He says, "No. I just realized I've known you a lot longer than that." I said, "How's this?" He goes, "You were in my favorite band." Turns out he's from Thunder Bay, Ontario. I played in a band in Canada called The Liverpool Set. They were touring the States and the bass player got deported, so they needed a bass player and I ended up in the band. We had moderate hits, but only in Canada. And the one place we'd always have a hit was Thunder Bay, Ontario. I mean the middle of nowhere. So we would go up to Thunder Bay and play in this curling arena at least once a year. And Paul Shaffer was one of the biggest fans of this band. He was maybe four years younger than me. So I was probably 20 and he was 16, in the audience, watching this. I said, "You gotta be kidding me, Paul." He goes, "Nope. I'll even describe the bass amp you had, the bass, and what your hair looked like, because you were my favorite player." [laughter] He knew exactly what bass I had. He knew the amp. Amazing.
JD: And when I look back at the pictures now, when he described what my hair looked like, he said, "It looked like you ironed your hair so that you had a box around your head!" [laughter] Yup! That's what it looked like. But anyway, I've been playing in bands since the early '60s.
Jack, I read that you have a tape of you, Pete Townshend, Mick Jagger, John Lennon and Leslie West jamming?
JD: Yeah! Well, Leslie plays it all the time. [Singing] "Baby don't do it. Don't you break my heart, please. Don't do it."
Does that exist anywhere?
JD: Yeah, Leslie has it.
I mean does it exist anywhere ...
JD: I don't think anywhere else. I may have a tape somewhere.
But it's not online?
JD: Oh, I don't know if it is or not. I'm sure Leslie's "leaked" it.
What's it called?
JD: "Baby Don't You Do It" [by Holland-Dozier-Holland, made famous by Marvin Gaye]
I guess we'll leave it up to the Tape Op readers to see what they can turn up. Who was playing drums?
JD: Probably [Jim] Keltner.
Not too bad.
JD: You know, I looked the other day in my garage and I found two boxes of tapes, and a lot of 7 1/2" reels - a lot of really old stuff.
JD: I mean those Stu Daye tapes alone have gotta be great. [To Jay] I found Stu Daye masters. It's the only rock album I think, that Tony Levin and Steve Gadd played on. It was on Columbia. Very good stuff. To have that as your rhythm section? Stu Daye on guitar, and it was a trio with Tony Levin and Steve Gadd.
Some serious players.
JD: It's a rock band. It was like Cream.
And probably beyond tight.
JD: Tight. It was tight. They were rockin'.
JD: I like the Dolls album we did. [One Day it Will Please Us to Remember Even This, from 2006.]
The bass player passed away shortly after that?
JD: Before we even got in the studio. There's a great movie about Arthur Kane called New York Doll. It's a documentary that was being shot without anyone knowing that he was going to be asked to come back [into the band]. He worked in the Mormon church library. Talk about his life being totally different. He would tell these old ladies that worked in the library, "You know, I used to be a very different person. I played in this band the New York Dolls and we were transsexual." And they'd go, "Oh Arthur, you're so crazy. That's not true." [laughter] Then he would go back to his little crummy room he had in West Hollywood and he would tell the filmmaker, "My dream is that someday the Dolls get back together and I get to go join them." Which seemed like it would never happen. And then Morrissey had this idea, because Morrissey was the president of the New York Dolls fan club, and he worshipped them. Morrissey talked to David [Johansson], he said, "Please. I'll help you get a deal. I know this can happen. But you gotta come to England and do a big show, and that will get your career started again." And this guy has a camera doing a movie about this lonely guy, Arthur, in this room - the irony of it - and the phone rings and it's Syl Sylvain.
The filmmaker captured the phone conversation?
JD: He captures the phone conversation. Then follows Arthur to New York where they rehearse for the show. It's just the biggest thrill in Arthur's life. He can't believe this is happening. Then to London for this gigantic show, and Arthur's a big star again. Now it's on the table that they're going to start recording again. They tell Arthur, "Go back to Los Angeles, pack up your stuff, and we're gonna move you to New York. We're gonna get you an apartment, give you a salary, go back into the studio and start making records again. This whole thing's gonna start up again." He goes back to Los Angeles, the camera's still on him, he turns around to the camera man like a day after they get back to L.A. and says, "I don't feel good." He goes into the hospital, they follow him to the hospital, and he never comes out. Two days later he passes away. The whole time he was dying of leukemia and never knew it. He just thought, "Oh, I feel lousy and sluggish because that's just the way I feel." But he got to live his dream. He went off, did the show and everything else, [imitating a fan] "Oh, Arthur's great!" The love he gets from David Johansson and the guys, it's just phenomenal. So you know... live your life, life your dream.
JD: If you could use it for something... maybe slap. I did a record with the Scorpions near Hannover, Germany, and we had a studio in the drummer's house. The drummer had an indoor pool that he turned into a chamber that was great. We actually put the kit down there one day and it had an automatic closing - [to Jay] you know those guys, right, Herman [Rarebell]?
JD: He had a thing you could close over the top of the pool. So I told him to get his kit down there... I hit that button. [laughter] I convinced him the sound would be better if it was closed. I just dropped one mic down there, I said, "Don't worry, that's all we need." [more laughter]
Which record was that?
JD: I don't remember. Something for a European release probably. I was supposed to go over there and write with them because they had writer's block. We recorded maybe four or five tracks.
What was their big hit in the '80s?
JD: [singing] "Here I am! Rock me like a hurricane!" They sure get a lot of mileage out of that at sporting events. A lot of ball players use it. ESPN uses it.
I remember the video. They were in a cage or something.
JD: Oh, it was as corny as corny could get.
JD: Well, it was the '80s. I slept through the '80s. I avoided the '80s as much as I could. Actually, I made some good records. I did Zebra.
JM: I was making a lot of trips to Japan in the '80s, doing a lot of Japanese productions of jazz kind of stuff.
JD: Jay does a lot of jazz dates.
JM: Steve Gadd! Just did a new one with him. It's a live recording done in Phoenix with his new band with Joey DeFrancesco, organ player. Incredible, a monster player.
It's a three piece?
JM: Baritone sax, Ronnie Cuber and Paul Bollenback, guitar player. A live performance in a club in Phoenix.
And you brought it back here to your studio and mixed it?
JM: Yup. And it was just released, just came out.
You've known Steve Gadd for years?
JD: Yeah. We were working dates when he first came to town. He was a sub.
JM: When he came from Rochester.
Oh yeah? When he was first trying to make it happen?
JD: Yeah, he thought he would never make it. He was so depressed. He thought, "Oh man, I'll never make it in this town." I used to go to Smiths with him and he'd be all depressed. And meanwhile, everyone in the control room would be like, "Who is this guy? He's unbelievable!" He used to sub for Donald McDonald sometimes on jingle dates. Tony Levin was friends with Steve, they're both from Rochester, so Tony knew in advance that this guy was a monster. But he blew us away right from the start.
JM: He's just a genius at getting in the groove and laying down a groove - he's the guy. Have you heard his early records, The Gadd Gang? If you can find them, especially the first one, it's great. With Richard Tee and Cornell Dupree.
When you were both working on Lou Reed's Berlin, did you know you were working on a brilliant piece of music?
JM: Sure, sure.
JD: A masterpiece.
Do you feel you usually know that?
JD: Not on my records. By the time I'm finished with my records, I can barely listen to them.
I know your first engineering job was with The Who, recording "Won't Get Fooled Again." When you heard that for the first time, did you know it was brilliant?
JD: From Who's Next. Absolutely. But I'm talking about stuff I produced. When I was working on Imagine, I was editing the pieces of tape for them to overdub on. I brought that album home to listen to on my tape machine - the stuff that came over from England - and I knew that it was just unbelievably amazing. I knew it was a masterpiece. But my stuff? By the time I finished Toys in the Attic, I could barely listen to it. I was like, "Uhhh, this is the worst piece of shit."
How long was that process?
JD: It was months! Two months of pre-production with Aerosmith, and then months in the studio. I remember the fun thing was, while we were doing that in studio A, in studio B was Bruce Springsteen doing Born to Run, the whole time. And we shared a lounge - that was fun. We were always running back and forth. I knew that these songs we were doing were really good. But when you're finished, you're so, "Oh my god." It's like a painting, "Is it good? Well I don't know. I don't even know what it is anymore."
You feel like you lose perspective?
JD: Absolutely. And I remember Bruce Lundvall [A&R for Columbia Records at the time] used to come down and visit us. He only had to come to one studio. He had two doors, one here and one here. His two big budding artists, Bruce Springsteen and Aerosmith. The future of Columbia Records was right there and he could come by and listen to them both. When we finished with Toys in the Attic, he came down for playback of the album. He sat in there, and I left the room because I couldn't bear it anymore, he came out and he was just knocked out. He said, "It's a masterpiece!"
What was your reaction to the tunes during pre-production?
JD: There were no tunes in pre-production! There never were. There was always just a line or a lick, or a [sings a riff], we came up from bare bones. It always was that with them.
When you hear songs that are complete, do you feel that you know when they're hits?
JD: Oh yeah. Not as good as Jimmy Iovine. Jimmy Iovine used to be my assistant, he was the tape op. You'd say, "Jimmy, we're going to punch on this second chorus, on this word... Jimmy, you missed the punch." "Oh, oh, sorry Jack." You'd do it again. "Jimmy, you missed the punch again, what's going on?" He goes, "I won't miss it again, but I was listening to the song, and I have to tell you, this is the single." Jimmy was all about that.
And he was always right?
JD: He was right? He's a billionaire now! [laughter]
JM: I'll tell you - [looking at Jack] I thought you felt the same way - when we first did Aerosmith, we both felt that they were going to take off.
JD: Oh yeah, we did. Plus the personality. Steven Tyler was already iconic at that point - he was a star.
JM: He had that charisma, you could see right away.
Do you feel that with Pro Tools, where we can revisit our mixes, ad nauseum, that it can be tricky to recreate that feeling of immediacy? The frame of mind where, "This is it, there's no going back" when you're mixing from tape using outboard gear?
JM: I love it [Pro Tools]. Especially with the online stuff that I've been doing. I send a mix to these bands in another country, if they want the chorus vocals up a bit - if I couldn't get back to just where I was when I sent it to them, then their comments aren't going to make sense. I like it. Before I get to that point is where I have all the fun. But the fact that it's that precise, I'm happy for it.
It's usually minor adjustments that you're tweaking?
JM: If it's this online stuff, that's why they come to me in the first place, because they have an idea of what it's going to sound like. So they're just minor adjustments. And I'm thankful for the total-ness of the recall that I can get with Pro Tools for those reasons.
JD: When I'm mixing, which is on occasion, particularly in Los Angeles where I'll engineer, mix, produce, do everything with a good assistant. And at Swing House the Neve has no automation, no Flying Faders, so all the automation has to be done in Pro Tools. And then I leave four faders for myself, usually guitars, sometimes it's a vocal or a backing vocal, and I won't even think about automation on those things - and as I'm going to tape, I go for it on the fly. It used to be all hands on board when we were mixing Aerosmith albums - I miss that so much - but when it's just me, I do that. And if I hit a gem, I just edit it into the piece. It's very different from what Jay does here, because it's not an old Neve board.
JM: My ideal situation is to have an old Neve board and Pro Tools.
I'm sure you've seen those Neve summing mixers?
JM: Oh yeah.
JD: SSL has one too. By the time you get to that though, you might as well just go into the studio, because when we're doing mixes like that, we do have that option and we sometimes do it. If you saw Swing House studio, you'd understand - it's where you want to do that kind of stuff. And the projects that I get to do there just call for it - there's no pressure on them. I mean I won't be mixing the Mike Monroe stuff, I'll engineer it, but I'll bring it back. It's too serious. I'll really want Jay to be onboard on this one. But a lot of stuff I do out there, I do for fun. I did Yoko's stuff like that and she loves it, her singles.
Jay, have you thought about getting a summing mixer or something similar?
JM: No. I've always lived by not spending a massive amount of money on technology, just because in a couple of months you're going to be spending that much again on something else. They'll be something a little better. This is where I draw the line. I've invested a fair amount of money on this setup, and then when the budget allows, I go to a regular studio, and I've got all the latest stuff there.
So you're happy with the results you're getting here?
JM: Oh yeah, I love it.
What kind of stuff do you have?
JM: I have Mytek converters. Eight channels of A to Ds and D to As. I opted for that over the Digi interface because it's newer technology and I just liked the way it sounds better. I've got a Compex stereo limiter, which is analog. Sometimes I'll send the whole mix, or a portion of the mix to that and then add that back into the mix, so I'm getting some analog stuff in there. And I've got an API lunch box, the two 560 EQs - it's a little different than the software version of them. And I've got a couple of other things, the SPL Transient Designer, a rack of that.
JD: That's great.
What kind of plug-ins do you use or do you like?
JM: I've got lots of them. I've got the Waves, their APIs. I've got a thing called the Decapitator.
I love that thing.
JM: Isn't it great, I love it. I've got the Sound Toys bundle. EchoBoy, FilterFreak.
Is their other stuff as good as the Decapitator?
JM: Yeah. The panner is good [the PanMan]. It comes with the Decapitator if you already have the bundle, when you order the Decapitator, they throw that in.
You didn't use plug-ins on the Double Fantasy remix did you?
JD: No. Except we did use the Decapitator.
JM: Yeah, we used some, to get that vocal sound. We ended up using the Decapitator on one snare drum.
Which tune was that?
JD: "Hard Times Are Over".
JM: Oh yeah, I think so.
JD: Just on the snare drum.
JM: I've used it here [Jay's home studio] on snare, kick, and vocals. It's cool if you're very subtle with it. Guitars are great.
So do you have any other modern secrets that you'd like to reveal?
I'm into the new [Thermionic Culture] Culture Vulture, the anniversary edition. I've got one of the 80 that they made. I'm crazy about it. We actually used the Culture Vulture in the [Double Fantasy] mix, on guitars and stuff like that, to give it a little more ...
JM: ... kind of a glorified Decapitator.
The first song you played for me, "Losing You", is so powerful and so strong. It sounds modern.
JD: Yeah. We used modern mixing techniques. And we came in here, we actually had to reconstruct all of the comping that was done. It was comped in the analog realm, with clicks and pops and switches.
Did you have notes?
JD: We didn't have notes, but we had the master track. So we would listen to the master track.
How many takes of vocals were there?
JD: Sometimes there would be as many as four.
That's not too bad - if it was produced today, there would've been 30.
JD: Yeah, no, no... four. [laughs] But still, it's critical. Like I said, a lot of it was live.
And you had to figure out where all the edits were?
JD: Well, you could always hear the edit, "chikk". [laughter]
JM: Where the switch was happening.
JD: That stuff was buried in the analog world, in all the overdubs, and the echo and everything else. But this was going to be dry, close, pristine sounding. If there was a little distortion on the mic, that distortion was going to be there. All that was going to be in there.
That's brain surgery.
JD: It's exactly what it was - it was brain surgery. So here, for two and a half weeks, we sat, everyday.
Two weeks on the vocals?
JD: On everything, but mostly the vocals. And cleaning, scrubbing these things down until they sounded natural. Some vocals didn't even match. Even though the edit was made originally, the sound was totally different, maybe done a week or two later. I mean we had to make everything match.
You've got the live vocal with the guitar bleed, and then all of a sudden the bleed is gone.
How did you deal with that?
JM: Well, we knew that once we stuck the guitar in, it would forgive it. If whatever was in the leakage was not going to be used in the mix, that was going to show up. So we had to go in and clean all those spaces in-between where the vocals were.
JD: Yeah, we had to get into carving right around the very words. Because it would be like a synth overdub that was really loud in his headphones that wasn't even gonna be there anymore.
JM: But, we didn't lose any breaths or anything.
Any moments you couldn't clean hiding in there?
JD: [At almost a whisper] I only hear a couple of those, but I'm not gonna... [laughter]. There's maybe a thing here or there, but only because I know it, and maybe it's not even there. But it's really good and we've really gone over it very well, the two of us. The most amazing thing was Jay's formula for rebuilding his vocal and getting it out in front of the band.
And what was that?
JM: I made a duplicate track of John and did a lot of heavy compression on that track. Then it was just a matter of finding the right ratio of that vs. the track without the compression, to get it so that you didn't lose any words, any consonants by having too much of the compressed vocal in there. Once I got that ratio together, I pretty much locked it together, and then it was just a matter of a little more compression on that combination, and of course riding the individual vocals.
JD: ...on the flying faders.
Like a drum bus kind of thing?
What do you guys think about the current state of the industry? I'm sure you've both working with new artists who are either unsigned and putting out their records themselves, or signed to a small indie?
JD: I'm doing Michael Monroe [vocalist from Hanoi Rocks]. The only deal he has is a Japanese deal. But he excites me so much as an artist that I'll do it.
Would you say compensation for making a record is not what it once was?
With the Michael Monroe record, I'm sure that's not an Aerosmith situation?
JD: No. That's terrible money.
But if you do an Aerosmith record, they still work with a large budget?
JD: The money's great for Aerosmith records. Money's great for anything I do with the John Lennon catalog. It's phenomenal.
What about the other end of things?
JM: I'm mixing two pretty hardcore rock and roll bands now. One is from Sweden [Cirkus], and the other band is in Greece [Wild Machine]. I love it, it's great. I work by myself. I send them an MP3 when I get it close and they give me their comments. I make the changes and send it back. We go back and forth a couple of times until we like it and then I move onto the next thing.
That's great. A lot of the artists I work with, I work with the same way.
JM: I'm waiting to hear from this Japanese guy who wants me to mix four tracks on his new record. That's more like R&B.
And how are these bands getting their music out there? Are they doing it on their own or are they working with small labels?
JM: No, they're doing it on their own.
So they're paying out of pocket?
You guys feel like it's a good thing that's happening in the business, that it's going this direction?
JD: I think it's very exciting. The old model is gone. It's gone. So forget about that old model, completely. I've already washed it out of my head, I don't care to think about it. Lucky for me, I can live on royalties, so that's fine. But that's not enough for me - that doesn't fulfill the rest of my life. So I get to score movies, that's cool. I'm going out to L.A. next week to do that. And I get to do projects that I like, and it doesn't matter what the money is. But a few times a year, a big one comes along too, that can pay the regular high rates. And I teach. I teach at a college in San Francisco in the bay area called Ex'pression, College for Digital Arts. I have access to really brilliant students, hundreds of brilliant students. It's a digital arts school.
JD: I've recently been telling my students in the lectures - and I'll get their attention immediately - I promise them psychic powers. And they're like, "Seriously? Psychic powers? Yeah, we want psychic powers." I say, "If you do what I tell you, and you practice what I tell you, you will develop psychic powers." This was something that I learned when I was assisting, you could really start to concentrate on things. Like if you were working with an engineer, you start to anticipate his moves. Roy [Cicala] would telegraph with hand signals what he wanted done. So before even the hand signals you would know, he's going to want this patch, he's gonna want that. So you start thinking a few layers ahead. This artist is gonna probably do vocals on this other track because it's close to the same key so I'll get that one ready. This producer around this time is gonna want a cheeseburger and I know what he wants on it. All of a sudden you've got about five or ten things you're juggling and you're making a punch in, you're doing all this stuff. And your focus starts to get really intense, and it's blast, you're having so much fun doing all this stuff, remembering all these things that are gonna happen. It's like an exercise, you start doing it - even more so now with Pro Tools - you can just go layers in there of things you're gonna wanna do, or have done, or will do. And you can do it when you're outside your house, you're listening to things in the house, you start to do frequency analyzation, the wind, the birds, the trees, the trains going by, and you start thinking about that. So when you develop this stuff, I mean really develop it, when you get this stuff down, you can start zapping your friends and having a little fun because you can get way ahead of them. You can anticipate someone's move, mood, you can read them, you can read body language, all of this stuff from doing these things in the studio, you can have some fun with that. Really what it is is just intense focus. But your friends will think you have physic powers. And this is stuff we juggle in the studio all the time, anticipating, running through the history of all the things that we've ever done that work and won't, or could try. It's all going on, and it's really fun. I try to get the students into doing this stuff, some of them will. Because that whole thing about, "Oh Mr. Douglas, how do we get professional ears?" Go outside. You'll get professional ears. Everything that you hear in music is going to be happening out in the street, believe me. You can start to develop this.
Any studio "oversights" or slipups that you'd be willing to share?
JD: I'm sure I've made a fool of myself any number of times. [laughs]
Any stories that come to mind?
JD: I can't think of any because I don't know if I ever got caught. [laughter] And if I did, an assistant or somebody would be too afraid to say anything. I don't think you or I ever ... [looking at Jay]
JM: I don't know, but I know your eyes can fool you, especially with Pro Tools. You can be looking at a snare drum and a tambourine and say, "That tambourine doesn't look right." And that's something I always talk about in class, this is what you should use [pointing to his ears]. A CD you're going to listen to with your ears, that's really the bottom line. And I use some examples of how I've learned that lesson. One really good one was, I was doing one of these sessions that I told you about before with the strings and horns, percussion and live vocals, everything was going down all at once. And I'm saying to myself, "Man, this sounds incredible, it's amazing. Shit, the lead singer...", this was three singers, one of them was in one booth, she was singing lead, and the other two were singing background. And the lead singer sounded amazing. And I happened to look over at the LA-2A, and it's just laying there, the compression...
JM: It's pinned. It's not coming back. [laughter] So my instinct was to go over there and back off on the threshold. So I'm in my second step and I'm saying, "Where you going? You just got finished telling yourself how great things were sounding." And I learned that lesson to trust your ears, and I left it. But the instinct was to go and change it because that's the way we were trained.
"Pinned is not good." [laughing]
JM: And I've learned it a number of times. You know one time I went to Japan to do live sound and I didn't do a lot of that, so I needed a whole crew there. And they provided me with their normal engineer - this is with Terumasa [Hino], a trumpet player - so I'm getting some drum sounds and I'm liking the snare sound, and the engineer taps me on the shoulder and says, "Look." And the overload light is pretty much Christmas time, lighting up pretty good there. So I looked for a second and then I listened again, and I said, "No, don't look. How does it sound? Listen." He was reacting to that light, so much so, that it distracted him from listening. That's something that I've learned, that you really gotta use your ears. But you could get fooled by some visual thing. You know, you think you're patched into an equalizer and that's supposed to be doing something, it's an outside influence that can fool you. I know an engineer - you probably know him too, I won't mention his name - the producer will say, "Oh, we gotta do something about this." And this guy, he'll be out of tracks or mic inputs, he'll go out and put a mic out there, made out that he plugged it in. And, "How's that?" Or he'll pretend to plug-in a Pultec, and turn the thing - I could not do that. I could not say that to someone that I did something I didn't.
I've heard stories of engineers doing that, the special "producer fader."
JD: Roy Cicala used to cover the meters.
JM: I've done that too.
JD: I've done that too, so you don't think about them. You're strictly listening. That's it.
You do that for yourself?
JD: For myself - the meters on the tape machine, meters on boards.
So tracking to the tape machine, you'll cover the meters?
JD: Yup. Listen to the playback, sounds good, everything's good.
JM: There's only one exception that I can think of that I try to adhere to and that's the stereo bus. I like to have my Pro Tools so that when I setup my console and the faders are all at zero, my mix comes back. I try to be around zero [on the stereo bus] and I try to be consistent with that, because if it's pinned, you don't know how far over you're going. And, as long as it sounds good, that's okay. But the problem is, if you take that session to another studio and there's a console that doesn't have the headroom that that one does, you put your tape up, or your Pro Tools session, and it's gonna be slamming, it's distorted. And maybe it's distorted just when A&R people are there.
Jay, you were working with an 8-track at Don Elliot's before most people even knew it existed.
JM: Well, that was my first gig, so I didn't know what an engineer was before I started working there. Though in a sense, it was easier than going to A&R and recording 50 musicians onto three track, because you have to make some decisions and get it right the first time, right away. Totally different technique.
JD: At Record Plant they trained us, the engineers who were coming up, we weren't allowed to do anything past a 4-track date, which were all of the demos that came in. I did Billy Joel's demos with Artie Ripp. Everything had to be 4-tracks, that means drums and bass on one track, etc. We had 16-track machines, but Roy Cicala would not let you move past 4-tracks until you mastered it. That was school for us. You had to learn balances and mix and bussing. You had to get it together, and it was a demo so it wasn't all that dangerous. Roy would listen to what you were doing, and you didn't move, or you were out of there if your shit was terrible. So it was about microphone placement, microphone choice. We were always learning from the staff engineers at Record Plant, who were unbelievably good. Plus for me, who ended up being a producer, I got to see the best producers, and the worst, come into that studio and do their thing. So you're sitting there with guys, and you're stealing from them what works, and your discarding everything that you see is not working, that's slowing the studio down. And your watching guys like Jay, Roy and Shelly [Yakus] deal with assholes, and how to keep the thing working and going. Especially on Jay's dates, some of them were unbearable. These jingle dates, when the clients were drunk advertising executives. It was Mad Men - they were just like that. They were drunk by the time they came in. They had no idea what was going on, and they would make critical comments about shit they didn't know about. And Jay would handle it. He would have me cracking up, because of the things he would say to them, and they would just accept it. Something he used to do, he would come in, he would limp, like something was wrong with his right leg. And then the next day he would be limping with the left leg, winking at me. [laughter] Or he'd have a bandage on one arm.
JD: Big jingle dates! [laughter]
Just to mess with people?
JM: Just for fun, mostly between us.
To keep things entertaining.
JM: Yeah [laughter]. I remember even before then at A&R, some of the other engineers would always talk about doing jingles, and obviously that wasn't where it was at, it was about doing records, that was the thing to be doing. But I didn't think that way too much, I stayed focused on what I had to do. I knew I had 2 minutes to get the drum sound, and that was the exercise, I had to do it. So if you complained for the first 30 seconds, now you only have a minute and a half to get the drum sound. [laughter] So I did what was in front of me, and did what I had to do and stayed focused. So it was always fun for me, whatever I was doing.
JD: Yeah, huge string sections, boom! Just like that. He'd open the mics, 1, 2, 3, and it sounded exactly like it did in the room, it was a great string sound.
JM: I learned so much from that. I learned how to edit really quick - it was just a great learning experience, you had to learn really fast. Of course, things don't always work exactly the way you would like them to, at times they would make some sort of comment or some sort of request, and then it's up to you to do with it what you want. You could complain about it, or you could make the best of the situation.
JD: Which helped me when I worked with a lot of rock bands, and dealing with personalities. One of the main reasons when I finally got a chance to produce, "Okay, here's your project. You're going to do this Aerosmith album. You can do anything you want. You're not engineering it, you're producing it." So most people would have thought I would have gone to Shelly Yakus, or somebody like that. But I knew exactly that I was going to ask Jay to do it with me, for a number of reasons. I wanted to get it done quickly, without any hassle. I wanted to be able to deal with very difficult personalities without having to have arguments in the studio over stupid stuff, and I wanted a very realistic sound. I didn't want what was the popular sound then. And the thing that Jay always did was he delivered a sound that was almost jazz based, or R&B based, and it was fat. And that was the direction I wanted to go with Aerosmith, right from the start.
photographer Chris Parsons: www.parsonspicture.com
Corey Folta is an independent producer/engineer based out of New York City: www.coreyfolta.com