One day in the mid-1990’s, Jason and I went by The Coconut Teaszer for something, I think to see a friend’s band play. We had been playing there somewhat regularly with the band we were in. There was a band opening, to a mostly empty room, and we stopped to give a listen. The singer had long, afro-curly hair, that was parted sharply down the middle, and sticking suspended out on the sides. That, with the ancient Egyptian eye-makeup he had on, made quite an impression. The bass player was way cool looking, and had a sound that was straight off of a Cure or Cocteau Twins record. Lots of chorus and treble. The drums were simple and awesome, the guitarist playing lush sonic scapes and pretty melodic lines…I was thinking, “Who are these kids? How do they know of the bands that they’re getting these sounds and stuff from?” They seemed too young to have grown up with that very specific segment of the early 80’s thing. They were also deftly mixing it with early 90’s Britband stuff. It was surprising, especially since everyone else on the planet seemed to be doing post-Grunge, Hardcore, or goofy Punk.
Anyways, I loved it, and told the singer so. Surprisingly, he knew who I was already, and when I suggested we work together somehow, he agreed as if he had already considered it. They had recorded two EPs that were released on cassette (I still have them), and wanted to make another. So I started going to their rehearsals, and we arranged to record that EP at the Green Room. They wanted to see if I was the right guy for them, and I was happy to work with a band that actually had a clear vision and sonic roots in music that I respected and loved. I was bummed, because there was a song on the cassette EP I really wanted to record, but they were “saving it for the full-length”. Regardless, the resultant EP (Suicide At Strell Park) was great stuff, with the song “Pale Trembles A Gale” being the first 24-track tape recorded mix I had done that I actually could stand.
Working with this band perfectly exemplified what I think to be my best role as a Producer/Engineer: they had a clear vision, well-written songs, and knew all their parts, but needed an extra outside opinion to help decide things, clean up messes, and someone to record it that liked cool guitar sounds and lots of effects and such. Since things went well, we repeated the process for the full-length album “The Angel Pool“. They had a record deal, and a small budget, but we managed to squeeze the tracking all in at the Green Room, spending lots and lots of late hours trying to make something beyond the means.
They had simple guitar rigs, Matt (Telecaster) having his Boss ME-5 plugged into a silverface Fender Bandmaster, and Frank (Les Paul) using an Alesis Quadraverb GT into the front of a 2-channel Marshall JCM800 half stack. I believe Jon used a Rickenbaker bass (if I’m not mistaken), and had a pedal situation of his own for compression and chorus and stuff. His amp had a tweeter, which was necessary to be mic’d up, in order to get the sound they liked. I don’t remember what kind of drums Eric had, but, it was a nice kit, and he was very specific about the sounds and the cymbals he used. They didn’t need a Producer to change them. They just needed someone to capture them as best as possible, and help them get what they heard in their heads. Let’s just say I enjoyed the mission, and tried as hard as a human can.
I was happy to be able to finally record ‘The Garden Ends‘, because that really was the song that leveled me at the Teaszer. I was still relatively new to being an ‘Engineer’ (or, Recordist), so it challenged me the whole time. We did this on tape, so when two songs blend together like ‘Sunblush‘ and ‘Juniper Hill‘, you had to actually record them that way, spacing them just right, and make sure all the blending sounds are on tracks that don’t tape over stuff from the other song, etc. If we hadn’t just done that a few years earlier on a couple songs in my own band, I would have been lost. It was also very tough to get the stark transition in the song ‘The Angel Pool’ right. We didn’t leave it to the mix, we had to print it that way. The super quiet tiny guitar drone was one of the hardest things to get right on the whole album. This is how we used to make records, though. No computers. No tape edits. No auto-tuner. Just people playing it ’til they got it right, some old-fashioned comping, and recording things how you actually wanted them to be, minus the reverb and delay added for lushness at mixdown. And since this was recorded at the Green Room, people were always around, and I had my friends Frank and Eric to lean on, so much so that they are credited as additional producers. I needed it. I was 26 and engaged to be married. I had my share of breaking points during this. To wrap it all up, Jason ended up doing the artwork, which I think fits the story well.
These guys were also the first band I worked with that had masterfully planned arpeggio-based guitar parts. I had to keep track of it to make sure, but Matt always planned carefully that he wasn’t playing some wacky crap notes that didn’t mesh with Frank’s more melodic parts. The orchestration they had already figured out amazed me. Even with all that, I still managed to sneak my guitar in there (by their request, of course) and lay down a couple parts that helped “finish” things a bit on the choruses of ‘Juniper Hill’ and ‘Eskimo Swin‘. That second song, in particular, is a favorite. Very Tears For Fears in some way, and a great guitar solo section.
We talked a lot about everything during this record. We shared an enjoyment of many things, and brought new things to each other (like The Jerky Boys tapes, and the like). I had seen Twin Peaks when it was on TV originally, but they watched the VHS tapes quite a bit, and reawakened my appreciation. The last two songs are quite a tribute to the David Lynch aesthetic. Like all great bands, these guys were a bit polarizing in their scene, some people loving them for how serious they were about what they did, and some thinking they took themselves a bit too seriously. I experienced them as friends and musical/philosophical compatriots, and in many ways they taught me everything I didn’t know about the life I thought I knew everything about. I can’t separate myself from this record, and find myself an emotional wreck by the end of listening to it because it means too much.
Gene mixed it, up at Front Page in LA on a vintage Neve console. I wasn’t around for the mix, I was busy, and thought that it would probably serve the record better if I didn’t try to micro manage the mix. I had become too close to the whole thing to “hear it” anymore. I remember Gene coming back after it all and just laughingly saying, “They just kept saying ‘MORE REVERB’, so that’s all I did.”
Which was fine by me, that’s for sure.