Production Notes: The Lassie Foundation – California EP
While our previous band folded, bassist Eric and drummer Wayne pushed forward as a songwriting team, calling themselves The Lassie Foundation. They were making demos of their songs on a 4-track cassette machine (as you should), and asked for my help in bringing things to fruition. I had the notion of building a mini-studio of my own, based on 8-track analog tape machines, and so we embarked together on a journey that is one of my favorite bits of music I’ve ever been a part of.
I noticed something about their music right away: it had an upbeat feeling, almost a child-like joy, mixed with a nasty sonic fuzziness, and yet a smooth vocal sound that created a great batch of paradoxes. So, there was an attempt to exaggerate everything as much as possible to increase the level of paradox. We started tracking things on the Tascam 8-track, in places like living rooms and rehearsal rooms, and I aquired more gear as we went along. Gradually, we bounced things over, mixing as we went, to the MCI 8-track. This bouncing process was a whole production in and of itself, turning eight tracks from one machine into 2 or 3 on the other. Decisions were made. Planning ahead was necessary, to say the least. We had to make sure we left enough room on the new machine to record the rest of what the song needed, and yet have enough control over the other tracks to make mixing in the end reasonable. We made lots of charts, and they were all in pencil. I was adamant at the time about doing things this way, because it was good enough for all the bands in the 60’s, and through that process they were forced to be selective and inventive.
Wayne was a drummer, who was also a good singer (and guitar player as well). However, he was pretty shy about being a lead singer. In the end, the low-ish vocal level in the mixes is a reflection of that, I think, even though it was also stylistically correct for the genre. His knack for a lush melody and California harmonies outweighed any hesitations, though. Eric was a great bass player who was playing guitar for the first time in a long time, being produced by the guitar player of his former band. So, he was sometimes shy about his playing. But the way he plays, and the parts he writes have a charm that is unique to him, and necessary for the band’s sound, so I insisted on capturing it. Not to mention, his cheap Strat, DOD delay, Big Muff, and Peavey Classic 20 made a sound that was better and more appropriate than any other stuff we tried.
We played most of the instruments ourselves (minus a stellar turn on the drums for “Laid With Cool” by J.Wood), and worked as a team, helping each other, encouraging each other, hurting each other’s feelings, and pushing each other to betterness. We really didn’t know any other way, since that was how we worked in our previous band as well, and had learned from our producer. We all did the final mix together in the hands-on fashion, through the new Eurodesk, down to tape on the old AMPEX (which was only barely functional). Mistakes and surprises (which happen when you tape over another recording, like at the end of the last song), mixed with creative use of outboard effects made eight tracks sound better than I think any of us expected. We were all in our mid-20’s, had lived and died together for the last five years, toured and traveled the world together, made records, and yet, here we were, starting over. Doing it ourselves. However we could.
I still enjoy listening to it.