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Old 09-11-2017, 08:05 PM   #2
Minion of Satan
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Location: if drumming was a contest we'd've all already lost - JC - 10/22/16
Posts: 6,613

The studio we are working in is about 20+ minutes outside of Atlanta proper, a distance that escapes us as being too far to have any kind of social life…our first thought of course is to where we would be able to hang out on a nightly basis, and with Atlanta looming just over the horizon, we figured fun was a sure bet (wrong!)…little did we know we were in the beehive of the very white deep south, Marietta, Georgia…we are set up in one of those temporary living communities, where people rent month to month in case they have to leave suddenly…James and D’arcy share one apartment, while Jimmy, Vince, and I share other…James and D’arcy’s place is about a 3 minute drive from ours, which adds to the sense of isolation between the two camps and insures that outside of work, we will almost never see each other…our roommate Vince is one of James’ high school buddies turned employee, and his job is to take care of whatever (whatever breaks, whatever needs to get done---prompting the infamous jam/rant song “where’s vince?”)…

In order to save some money, our first order of business is to spend some quality time with Butch Vig (our producer) in an Atlanta rehearsal space, to go over all the songs and weed out what is in or out…Butch sets up a portable make-shift studio to record us for later reference, and we get to work for a few days in earnest…this is pretty much a repeat of how we work at home, just doing a lot of chopping and cutting and last second lyric scribbling…to add a little something to the sense of urgency, we have booked 4 shows at a local club, hoping that the combo of working with Butch first and the concerts second will get us in gear and over the final hump to fully prepare the songs to be recorded…James and D’arcy are much more comfortable with Butch around because they feel that there is someone new to pay attention to them and heed any of their concerns…this is something Jimmy and I silently find amusing, because there is a bit of a show to the whole thing that we are long bored with…behind the scenes, there is one way we do business, but in front of anyone else, it’s just a charade that I tolerate…

Because we have been cooped up for so long, the shows go fairly well energetically but are a bit of a train wreck musically…without forethought, we have transferred our normal practice set-ups to the stage, which means we are using the Big Muff fuzz pedals live…this proves to be a fatal mistake, because without the density of a small room around us, our guitars sound very thin and undefined rendering us sloppy and loose…jumpy nerves add to muddled arrangements, missed opportunities, and to top it all off, most of the songs do not have any lyrics…I skate by by singing my normal in-practice pig-latin, which to someone not paying much attention sounds relatively close to the actual English language…

The recording studio itself sits coyly in a very normal office complex…built by total vintage gearheads, our attraction to the place is simple: away from Chicago, able to make the ‘old’ tube sound…the control room is about standard size, which means it fits about 4 people comfortably, 5 is a stretch…the actual tracking room is a prolonged concrete rectangle, acoustically designed for maximum volume and deadly booming drums (for those interested, you can see this studio fairly well in our home video ‘vieuphoria’)…we spend a few days moving the drums around from wall to wall, hoping to find the optimal sonic spot for Jimmy to play in…we end up opting for a back corner, and from that point on, he never moves…for the tracking, we set-up in a variation of our circle, with me in front of Jimmy, and James and D’arcy off to my left and Jimmy’s right…our amps sit in small isolation booths to keep the sound from bleeding in on the drums, and we all have to wear headphones…standard procedure is to pick a song, and focus on arrangement and drum tones…for Jimmy, the snare he uses on a particular song is a big deal, so he and Butch spend a lot of time going back and forth about this head or that cymbal…then we’ll play for a bit, go and listen to the takes, and then make last-second verbal changes…once we all agree upon a ‘final’ arrangement, we play together until one of 3 things happens: we get the take all playing together, we don’t get the take all playing together, or Jimmy complains to me that James and D’arcy’s playing is throwing him off and asks me to remove them from playing along at all…there are various incarnations of the third option, which could be Jimmy asking Butch to town them down in the headphones, or asking me to lose James but keep D’arcy or the other way around...because this is a new album and a fresh opportunity, there is a sense in the air that this time around the recording and the associated processes will be different…any variation in the beginning of the album of the ‘let’s all do it together’ concept causes immediate tension, and Butch is squarely placed in the middle...this is something I bristle at, but at the same time realize that it is possibly a means to an end…James has a very good memory, and the recording issues with him normally center around timing and tightness…D’arcy on the other hand commonly gets completely lost, which throws off Jimmy’s concentration, blowing the take…in addition, he hates her sense of timing, and the way it makes his drum takes fly all over (we know as we record that we will not keep anything that the 3 of us record, we are simply there to assist Jimmy to play with the right ‘feel’)...I try to keep the peace, but quickly realize that the old way, which is essentially me and Jimmy, is still the easiest way across…I privately express to Jimmy that I understand his growing frustration, but to pace himself because it is going to be a long recording process…

After a lot of discussion, Butch and I agree that the best way to save time is to get all of Jimmy’s drum parts done first, before we start to zero in on the bass, guitars, and vocals…Butch, coming off the huge sales of Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ album, has become even more obsessed with perfectionism as a means to success...where on our first album ‘Gish’, because of time and money, many of Jimmy’s drums were done in just one take, now Butch wants more...with the stakes and budget being much higher, he now pushes Jimmy to a level of idealism that he has never asked of any other drummer...being a drummer himself, Butch picks up on subtle nuances that would escape me, and therefore doesn’t allow Jimmy to get by with less than his first, it becomes a gentle ribbing contest between the two, with Butch tweaking Jimmy that he can do better, and Jimmy pushing back by saying Butch couldn’t even attempt half of what he (Jimmy) is doing...even when Jimmy does a great take, Butch takes the 24 track master and slices it up with a razor blade to create an even more perfect version that no human could accomplish...this sets such a high standard for Jimmy that he begins to lose confidence in himself, and this translates into him making mental errors in arrangements, so focused is he now on perfect timing...because Jimmy is a total savant on the drums, he has never had to examine his playing to this degree before, because drums have come so readily to him...Jimmy starts communicating to me that he cannot handle the pressure, and this adds to his lack of patience with James and D’arcy...whereupon, they start complaining to Butch...and this is the way the circle starts to go round...

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