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Drew Parsons Of American Hi-Fi by Tony Boissaye Boston, 12/04/08 Drew kindly accepted my invitation to chat about his experience in the music recording industry. In this exclusive interview, he talks about the music scene in Boston, the future of the music industry, tells us of what it’s like to work with mega-producer Bob Rock, and of course gives us the latest news about American Hi-Fi and their much anticipated new album. So what’s the last show you’ve seen in Boston? You know, the past couple of years, I’ve kind of stayed out of it, I don’t really know what’s going on locally with bands, and I haven’t really put in the effort of going out and finding out who’s good and who’s not, but I’m starting to get the itch again to go back out and see shows. I just saw Kings of Leon at the Orpheum. It was pretty good. I like their first record better than their last two. The production is very different Yeah a bit more sonic and I liked it better when it was more southern rock, so they were pretty boring, they seemed kind of tired on stage. I think if you’re gonna be that kind of sonic band, you have to have a little bit more energy. I was getting bored towards the middle of the set but there’s still a lot of songs on those records that I like. I also saw Nada Surf Tuesday night At the Paradise? Yeah, I’m a huge fan of theirs It must have been cool seeing them in a small venue Yeah it’s way more rock in there, I’ve seen them at Avalon before, and it was great too but it’s nice to see them in a smaller place. I Like the Paradise Yeah me too, one of my favorites in town. What would you say is the best show you’ve seen? One that’s blown you away? Wow, it’s tough to narrow it down to one, well the Flaming Lips any time I’ve seen them have always stood out as a pretty special show, the entire experience is pretty amazing, and I love their music too, they push the boundaries, they’re pretty talented guys, and just as a performance you never know what you’re gonna get with that band. The Pixies when they first started their reunion tour, before they played Coachella. I got to go to a secret show to Northern California, in a small club about the size of TT the Bears, maybe 300 people, and it was all kids really at the show and some rockers my age that got in on it, but it was like a ticket giveaway and I was really surprised at the age of the kids that were there, and they all knew the songs and they were all singing along, and even the band was shocked, you could see it on their face. They hadn’t played together in a while My friend who’s a drummer is a good friend of the guitarist, Joey Santiago and he was saying that they had no clue that anybody would care who their band was anymore, and I think they didn’t realize the impact of Kurt Cobain saying that basically Nirvana was just a Pixies cover band. So that was a cool thing to see my favorite band, especially a Boston-based band, come back and how excited they were. But they’ve broken up since Yeah I didn’t think it was gonna last very long, at least it was a little bit. Do you remember the last album you bought? I never download CDs, I always like to have the actual product, I got the latest Nada Surf, but that’s not too new, I got the last Stephen Malkmus album which is ok, I usually wait a little bit to get the records To hear if it’s any good or not? Yeah, and then go get it The best album you think you’ve ever bought? My favorite album is a weird one, have you heard of the band Sloan? From Canada? They’re a pop band, they’ve gotten a little more 70s rock on the last couple of records, but the second record they made which was on Geffen, called Twice Removed, was kind of their big chance at being a big band, and they and the label kind of blew it in getting that record out, but it’s one of those records that when it’s over I can just turn back on and keep playing it. Is there another that you’ve listened to so much as a kid that the names have faded on the cassette? (laughs) Yeah growing up, a lot of early Van Halen and Zeppelin You say you’re buying a lot of your music as opposed to downloading it, what do you think of the fact that the biggest format people listen to nowadays is mp3? It has its blessings and curses, it’s great how easy it is to get the music out there, especially for smaller bands, that aren’t affected so much by record sales, that make most of their money touring and selling t-shirts, that money is generally going more to the bands. Also, I like that it’s made labels reshape the way they run their business because it’s been a horrible industry and they’ve been robbing musicians for a long time, so it’s nice to see them panicking. It’s already changed. Now the move is to go smaller labels, either indie labels or even subsidiaries of major labels, like the new label that we’re going with, which is a subsidiary. A lot of labels are offering bands 50/50 splits on record sales, thats huge! That makes you think “wow we could make some money just on record sales, not just on publishing, t-shirts and touring”. So that’s kind of exciting. What do you think of big companies like Ticketmaster and Livenation growing as a result of that? I’m not a big fan of that and I’m not a big fan of Clear Channel covering the market because you have no option on setting your ticket prices. Take the Nada Surf show I went to the other night. I checked the night before and they were still tickets online on Live Nation. It was a $10 ticket and there was a $7 surcharge and I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t give that company that much money. Then I went down there and of course the show was sold out and luckily I got a ticket for free so I still didn’t give the band any money (laughs). They just don’t give any options and it binds all the bands, I mean look at how many clubs Clear Channel owns , if you don’t agree with them on one of their shows, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to play anywhere in the country pretty soon, you know? What about the downside of mp3s? Soundwise it drives me nuts, and people that don’t know any better don’t notice. I think I’ve ruined it for somebody that didn’t notice before by telling him, so now I’ve decided not to tell people. One of the things that really annoys me are the cymbals and seeing what happens during the compression. It stands out in my ear as the worst sounding cymbal I’ve ever heard. It’s really the only thing I can hear on an mp3. It’s also frustrating when recording. You usually spend more time in getting the sound then getting the actual performance. All this time you spend in making it sound so good and then to just have people download your record sounding nowhere near the quality that you recorded it at is frustrating. Have you thought about putting American Hi-Fi’s albums on vinyls? Our first record had a limited release vinyl. I don’t know if we would ever do it, it would be more of a promotional thing I think. iT seems to be what most labels do, they’ll have 1000 or 2000 and put them out there. If people stop paying for the medium, how will bands make their money? It’s tough, it depends on the type of band you are, maybe it won’t change that much. There are a lot of bands that still don’t get a lot of radio play and are mainly touring bands; thats how they make their money, you know, like Dave Matthews. Obviously he gets a lot of radio play but at the beginning he was one of those bands that tour, like Phish , for whom it’s not about record sales, but all about getting out there and playing to as many college kids as you can, selling them t-shirts. And that’s tough for our band. As much as we love touring, we’ve always lived by radio just because of the type of music that we’re playing. It’s pop rock, it’s pretty radio friendly, that’s really the market that we need to be going after. Either it hits the radio or it doesn’t and we’ll go back and make another record. And I don’t know if that’ll change so much. A couple of years ago, we were speculating, and it seems like it’s already starting to happen, that a lot of companies would take over for labels and start hiring bands: Myspace has a label, Coca Cola, car companies, etc. are promoting artists. Although that generally would be more the Britney Spears, the Christina Aguileras, the Paul Mc Cartneys, the pretty large icon kind of people. What do you think of the Boston music scene? It seems like there are a lot of venues that are either shutting down or reformatting? Avalon and Axis are morphing into the House of Blues, The Abbey Lounge just shut down That’s a shame, you have 300 seaters and from there where’s the next place to go right now? I guess the Orpheum, but there’s nothing in between. Axis and Avalon used to fill that void. House of Blues, as vibeless as they usually are, are some of the best sounding venues that I’ve played in the country. They always have great sound systems, always have great amenities, but they’re not the coolest places. Although not a great sounding room, I’ve always enjoyed playing Avalon. I have great memories of playing there. Same thing with Axis, once they redesigned it, I thought it was great too. You Know the Lyons Brothers are another one of those groups that control a little bit too much in town and get to call the shots and it’s a shame. The music scene I don’t know as well as I used to. When I moved up here in the 90s it was such a friendly atmosphere, there was no competition between bands, everybody really helped each other out and we were all friends. Everybody was just hanging out together and having a great time, supporting each other’s bands. It was at a time after the grunge period, when labels were signing a lot of bands out of Boston and I was playing with this girl Tracy Bonham that was from Boston. At that time most of my friends were in bands that had gotten signed to major labels just around the same time: Letters to Cleo, Juliana Hatfield, the Gigilo Aunts. It seemed like nobody had a day job, it was just this community of musicians that were getting paid at being musicians and hanging out. It was a pretty special time. Do you think the recording industry consciously goes to different towns around the country to find out talents like they did in Seattle for instance? Yeah, I think they definitely do, I mean there aren’t a lot of people in the music industry that are willing to take chances. There are some really bright sparks in the industry that find the bands and do the research, and then it seems that a lot of the other old school people just go “ok now we need this, let’s go find a band that sounds like that”, which is tough on bands because you’re always compared to somebody’s sound. So were you signed because you’re a good band or because you sound like the hot act right now? I feel like that’s what happened with Tracy Bonham. Alanis Morissette got huge, and soon after all these "angry" rock girls were getting signed. We had played 3 shows literally with Tracy Bonham and hadn’t recorded a note except for her demos, and she signed a major deal with Island Records. That was kind of the end of those giant deals, but that was how the industry worked: they figured out “we need our Alanis Morissette” so we’ll give her the money and see what happens. And how does Boston compare to the L.A. music scene since you’re familiar with it? L.A. is full of hipsters and everybody is trying to one up each other in style and fashion. Although I don’t know the town deeply, some of the bands I’ve seen seemed a little ridiculous to me: not really good musicians but more worried about their style and looks, and that’s all they have going on. But there are a lot of good bands there, a lot of them having moved from Boston. A lot of the friends I have in L.A. come from Boston, it’s almost like being in Boston when I’m over there. Do you think that what hurts Boston is the amount of students who eventually leave and make it difficult to establish a fan base? I don’t know if that hurts it, I always thought that it would help but the problem is that nobody taps into it! I mean there are almost 300,000 students that are here every year and I don’t understand why an 18+ show on a Tuesday night at TT the Bear isn’t packed! If I was 18 and I was in college, I’d think what a great thing to do at night, go out and see music and kind of find your college band to be fans of and follow around and grow with. But I haven’t seen any Boston bands tap into that. I don’t understand why. It happens in other college towns. Maybe it’s because there’s more to this city than the colleges, the whole city isn’t supported by the colleges. Do you think bands give up on Boston, preferring New York or the West Coast? Yeah it seems like New York is really close. What happens a lot in Boston, I was talking to Christopher (Myers from Radius) and asking him why there aren’t a lot of cool bars in town, and he said “well there are cool bars, there’s just not enough cool people to fill the bars to keep them cool, they just turn into standard bars” ,because all those people move to NY or LA. Let’s talk a little bit about American Hi-Fi Sure Do you remember the first AHF demo that you recorded? A ctually I wasn’t a part of the first demo. The first demo was recorded on a tape, on an 8 track, and it was called BMX Girl at the time, because that was our singer’s e-mail address. It stuck as the name of our band for a while until we were making our first record. How we lost that name is actually a funny story: we were never happy with it to begin with, people were saying “Hey the girls are here”, so we thought, “this is a silly name, it’s not working”. We were trying to think of something better, but it’s so hard to come up with band names, so we thought screw it we’ll stick with it. But when we were working with Bob Rock, he was on the phone at one point with James Hetfield and he was telling him who he was working with, and Bob said” Yeah so I was talking to James and I was kind of embarrassed to say the name of the band I was working with”. “What did James say? “, we asked. “He kind of grunted”, Bob said, so we said “alright that’s it! we gotta change the name.” So after the 8 track, the first official demo we made as a band, with the four guys that are in it right now, we recorded partly at the old Q Division studios, and we did some overdubs in that studio above the Ramrod over on Boylston street. That demo was recorded on 2 inch tape. Did you ever think your demo would land in Bob Rock’s hands? That was actually our dream to work with him when we were wondering which producer we were going to do our first record with. So we started listening to records and comparing people. We just wanted a really big sounding rock record, and every record that we pitted against, Bob Rock’s albums always won. So we thought “wow, it would be awesome if it was Bob Rock”. When Nina Gordon (from Veruca Salt) started working with him, the possibility was looking pretty good. Your best show so far as a band? The first time we headlined in Japan would probably be the top of the list, to narrow it down. We went to Tokyo and we played a venue of 2000-2500 kids and had no idea what to expect from Japanese crowds . Our singer had been there before in the 90s, back when kids still sat down and would politely not make any noise, then cheers in between songs and sit right down. But that had obviously changed since then, and the whole trip we just felt like the Beatles! They know everything about you and they follow you everywhere and they’re great fans! We were lucky enough that it was filmed, and we made a live record from a show there, which sounded amazing. Any chance of a DVD? We keep trying to get it. They did it for an MTV thing and it looked great, the production was great, we just have a hard time getting rights to it, it’s just too much of a hassle. Hopefully we can talk them into doing it. The guy that was our A&R rep there back in the day became a good friend of ours, and he’s now one of the VPs at the label, so we’re probably more likely to get the rights to that now. You released Hearts on Parade in Japan almost a year before the U.S., did you feel you got a better reception there? We’ve always had a better audience in Japan. England, as well. We didn’t have a record label at the time, and we decided that we wanted to make the record on our own. We wanted to have the whole product done, and then present it to labels in the States and say “here, this is what it is, do you want it or not?” And the best thing to do was to sign a deal in Japan and get the record out quickly, and use the advance from them to fund the record. It worked out great! I wish we spent more time in Japan , unfortunately we had some touring conflicts, but it was a nice way to do it because we had total control over what the record was going to be. Is that how you’re approaching the new album? A little bit of both, we started this way but now we’re shifting gears. We’ve actually been working on this new record off and on for about a year and a half now. I’d go out to L.A. for a couple weeks, with the singer, who also drums, and the guitar player. The three of us would go out there writing songs and recording. We’d go out and do basics, then I’d come back home, while they finished doing overdubs. I’d come back a couple months later, maybe patch up some stuff, record some new stuff. And about a year later, our original drummer decided he wanted to get back in the band Did you have to redo the drum tracks? No, we kept the ones we had so far. We had 6 or 7 songs, so we did a batch of about 7 more songs with him and did the same kind of thing: go out there for 3 weeks, bang it out, get the basics done, then have overdubs done a couple months after that when everybody had time. As we were mixing a couple months ago, putting it all together, nobody was happy with the vibe because it was just so pieced together. There was nobody there to push us. Our guitar player would be doing tracks on his ProTools rig at his house by himself, so there was no one there to help him and say “that’s cool” or not, to press him, to make him play better. The same thing happened when we were doing basics. When it was just the three of us recording, we kind of settled a little bit easier, there wasn’t that person there pushing us. So we decided to look at those as our demos, and go back in January to Sunset Sound for a couple of weeks and do basics there. Then our singer has a ProTools studio so we’ll do the overdubs there. So have you selected the songs that you’re going to record? Yeah, we’ve got it narrowed down to the 12 or 14 songs that we’ll do. Every record that we’ve done we usually have at least 20 songs, sometimes more, and it gets narrowed down. The cool thing is you always manage to sell those extra songs later to soundtracks Yeah it’s always good to have that stuff. Soundtracks have been a big reason why our band’s been able to continue to do what we do, they’ve paid a lot of the bills. The great thing about publishing companies is having them go out there and find that kind of stuff for you. And often the outtakes is what fans like hearing the most I agree. As a fan, I always like to hear that stuff too. Sometimes stuff just doesn’t fit in the theme of a record. Our band can have a pretty wide range. We can go from heavier rock to more indie, Sonic Youth kind of stuff, to more Brit Pop Oasis kind of thing. We’ve always had to keep some songs off, out of focus for the album, so it’s nice to have an outlet for these songs. Do you have any idea who will release your album? You said you found a label? Yeah it looks like it’s going to be a label called Original Signal. Our singer is working A&R for them right now so I don’t see how it’s not gonna come out on that. It would be a little bizarre not to. They had everything that we wanted and they gave us the deal that we wanted. We were thinking about shopping around for other people but it just seemed silly, given that Stacy was already working at the company, not to support the company and have the company support him. It feels good. Any ideas as to when that album might come out? We’re hoping the spring or summer. It’s a small label, they only have a couple of acts, so it’s pretty easy to get it out. You usually only need 3 or 4 months to set it up. Who’s been writing the songs for the new album? Stacy mainly writes the songs. We come in and help with arrangements, sometimes we’ll write a chorus or a verse but as far as lyrics and melody, it’s strictly him. A re you producing the album yourselves or did you find a producer to work with? We’re debating that. We may stick with just producing it ourselves. We’re gonna hire a friend of ours to engineer, a guy called Paul Hager, who’s from Boston. He’s been working with Goo Goo Dolls lately. He’s toured with us, we kind of roped him into touring with us for a year so it kept him out of the studio. He’s an amazing studio engineer and an amazing tour engineer. He engineered our last record and we’re psyched to work with him again. It’s good to be able to have friends in the studio that you’re comfortable working with. I initially thought that Bob Rock was going to do this record, I was supposed to go to Maui in January to record with him again, and it didn’t work out. I think he’s doing a 311 record right now or something. Whatever he’s working on right now, it’s running long. Every record you work on with Bob always runs long so it just didn’t work out timingwise unfortunately. It would have been pretty cool, butmaybe the next one. What did you think of all the fans that petitioned that he part with Metallica, did you agree with them? Yeah, it’s time. It feels for most bands sticking with the same producer for that long, there comes a time to part ways and do something new. Maybe they just fall into that same pattern making records with him. It definitely seems right now that Bob is doing a lot more work than the band is. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think they’d be around anymore and they wouldn’t be as large as they are, that’s for sure. I mean what he did with the black album is amazing, and when you go in and see the tracks that were actually recorded and you hear stories about how they were recorded, you realize that they couldn’t have done it. The cuts that are on that tape are insane! I don’t know who he had cutting tape but it’s a talented job, needless to say. It happened before ProTools too. Razorblades We were there for that symphony record too. When we were doing our record, they were ProTooling the Symphony record and they had 2 or 3 ProTools guys all day and night working on that. They had to line up every instrument that was in the orchestra in PT because it was all out of time. All of it. I’d hear stuff in the studio downstairs and I’d think: “that can’t be what was on that show!” and they just got it all lined up, it was painstaking. Not a strong drummer, you gotta have a strong drummer in the band. (laughs) So now Brian is back in the band Yeah speaking of strong drummers. Brian is back in the band, which we’re all really excited about. We’ve kept in touch a lot. He got married and had a kid and just wanted to be home. In Wisconsin? Yeah he moved to Wisconsin, that’s where his wife and her family are from. I think he just realized that working the 9 to 5 job is just not as fun. The fact that our band has changed, Stacy’s married and I’m married, we’re getting a little older, the idea of touring 11 months out of the year is not gonna happen. It’s gonna be select tours and keeping it short, trying to make a record every year, putting it out, touring it for 2 months and then calling it so we can do other stuff the rest of the year. I saw that you and Brian recorded a little project together in Wisconsin, Sun Dried Truth? Yeah Brian has a band called Sun Dried Truth with his brother in law, and another kid that bartends at his wife and her brother’s restaurant. His brother in law owns a house right next to the restaurant. It was abandoned so they started doing construction on it and they built a little studio. They would just go there after work some nights, sneak back into the bar and get drinks, then go back in the studio, write songs and just have fun. They wanted bass lines and I have a little Mbox right now. Brian would just send me the tracks and I would just drop down bass and send it back to him. That’s one of the great things about technology! I can’t believe that he can just send me the music and I can send it back to him. I actually went out and recorded too. We went out to a studio in Sonoma, that this guy owned and spent a ridiculous amount of money on. It’s up in the mountains of Sonoma and it’s this beautiful resort house that he has a studio in, which we got to use for a couple of days. We brought out an engineer friend of ours, and we had Jaime, our guitarist, come out and do a little producing on it. It sounds great Yeah, originally from the demos, I thought ” it’s fun but there wasn’t anything that was saying to me that I really liked the songs, they were ok”. But then we went and recorded and now there are some tracks on there that I really like, that came out really great. And we had Scott Riebling from Letters to Cleo who’s an engineer/producer come and mix a couple of the tunes. What recording credits do you have besides Sun Dried Truth and AHF? Tracy Bonham (The burden of being upright), I did a track with Julianna Hatfield that ended up on her Greatest Hits’ record. Brian our drummer played on that as well. I did a record with Rivers Cuomo from Weezer, that didn’t come out. But I guess it’s coming out, or parts of it at least cause I was sent a bunch of forms to fill out. I’m not really sure why I’m filling out W-2 forms for something that I’m not getting paid for (laughs) There’s a band called Quick Fix in town that I did some stuff with as well. Let’s talk about your studio experience a little, how did you track your first three albums? Tape on the first 2 records and ProTools from then on. Tape on Tracy Bonham as well, which was done at the original Fort Apache with Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade. That was a great experience for me. I was 20 at the time, I was pretty nervous about it, and they were just amazing. We still talk about a Hi-Fi record with them cause it was such a great experience. So we did our first record with Bob, a very basic set up with everybody set up in the room but we were just really going for drum tracks. Then we’d go back and do overdubs. Bob is tough, he works you really hard, he really gets the best performance out of you but he’ll grind you, he’ll grind you down pretty hard. And sometimes just to spite you, I think. He just pushes for perfection on everything. One of the things that he taught us and I still dread, is to do a tuning track whenever you’re doing a track. It’s actually a really great idea but you can get really annoyed as a bass player. Basically what you do is get a keyboard and play the notes all the way through the song with a normal piano sound so that when you’re listening back to the track, you can always bring up the tuning track and make sure that everybody’s in tune without having an output to a tuner. So as a bass player, obviously playing a lot of single notes, and low notes, there’s a lot of room for error. So if we were doing something in drop D or drop C it would really mess up the intonation of my bass. There were songs where I was literally tuning the bass to an open F to get that F that’s out of tune: not very vibey to punch in one note just to get in tune. When you get the guitars on , with all the distortion, there’s a little more room for them to be out of tune, they can work it out. So now we’ve done that on every record, a tuning track, and I’m the one that has to do it too, I have to play the tune tracks so it’s been my pain to deal with. It is a good thing to do but it can be frustrating at times. Also he would push you hard on performance that he thought could be a lot better, when it was lacking. There were times that I remember thinking that the performance wasn’t that great on something and I’d ask him to punch in and he’d say” really? I think it’s great the way it is”, but I’d insist on doing it again and of course 27 takes later he’d say ” no, still not better than the one we erased, keep going” and he’d work me and work me until I felt like he was just punishing me for ever disagreeing with him (laughs). As far as producers go, he’s a pretty tough cookie. You can win some arguments with him and some of the arguments that we lost we look back in hindsight and wish we hadn’t. But it’s the relationship that you’re signing up for and you gotta take it all when you’re working with him. So that record was done that way, over a period of about 7 months in Maui. Bob’s never rushed to make a record, and you’re certainly never in a rush when you’re in Maui to get out of there, it’s tough to leave. Plus the hours are shorter with him, you come in usually around 11 or noon until about 8 o’clock. Didn’t he let you guys use his practice space for a while? Yeah that’s how it originally started before we even made a record and he was working with Nina (Gordon). Stacy had to leave and it was December. He said “alright I’m done I gotta leave” and Bob said “where are you going”. Stacy told him” back to Boston, I just started a band and we gotta start writing songs for our record”. Bob said “why would you go to Boston and do that, isn’t it cold there right now? Why don’t you just fly the band here?” At the time houses were pretty cheap to rent there. The three of us got a house for $1800 a month, cheaper than Boston. Bob offered us a storage space with all this live gear from his old touring band. He set it all up and we could use it whenever we wanted. So we went for 10 weeks, and we just surfed and golfed and wrote songs. We ended up recording with his engineer because Bob had to leave to go do a Metallica thing so he gave us the studio for free and we actually played one of our first shows down there. We got Bob to come down and see it with his wife and that was the show that sold him. We had been bugging him to record our album and after seeing the show he said “alright I’ll do it” . He was very generous, he did the record pretty cheap too. He’s at a point in his life where he can pick and choose what he wants to do.He doesn’t care what the band can pay or how big they are, he just picks music that he wants to do And then the second album was with Nick Launay, who has amazing credits as well, among which Silverchair Yeah, Silverchair, really the song that sold us was Ana’s song on Neon Ballroom, which is such an amazing song, one I wish I’d written. We loved the production on it, and talking to him, we loved the idea of making a more raw rock record. Before the record with Bob, we’d played only a couple of shows, we had no experience as a band. But when we went in to make a record with Nick, we had just been on the road for 12 out of 13 months, we were a well oiled machine at that point. We wanted to really work that angle into making an aggressive rock record. So we did all the basics live on the floor, which was frustrating for our drummer but that’s the way we wanted to do it. We wanted to get 2 guitars, bass and drums done, then have the guitar and vocals overdubs and then be done. I think it made a really cool sounding record. Nick’s an interesting guy cause he’s just a music fan. He’s not a musician at all, he doesn’t play any instrument. he’s just engineered a lot of records and, because of that, he has a different way of looking at things which got him into really great situations when he was engineering PIL for instance (The first PIL session With John (AKA Rotten Sex Pistols) Lydon went very slowly due to the Engineer/co-producers inability to work the then new experimental "B" series SSL console. This resulted in Nick constant to-ing and frow-ing from His Tape operator position at the back of the mix room, to actually getting the sounds at the console. This eventually got john so pissed off he said: "Nick! For f**k sake stop acting like a fu**ing Yo-yo, you"re making me dissy. Move your chair to the console and show this pafeick wanker which knob to turn". Later that day the engineer left to go and have a pee. Lydon promptly got up and locked the door. The engineer thumped on the door then called on the intercom John told him: "Your position has been taken.. Kindly fuck off) One of the things that Nick was known for was the drum sounds he was getting at the time. He was using a lot of room mics and distorting all of them, always pushing them in the red, and everytime he was recording with someone, they’d ask him “what are you doing? That’s not how you do things”, and he’d say: “Does it sound cool? Well then it’s fine”. One of my favorite Nick stories was when we were recording the second record, we needed a really big drum fill on a song. He asked what we were looking for, we explained to him we wanted something that people would want to airdrum to, a drum fill you would think of immediately when you mentioned the song. Something like “In the air tonight” by Phil Collins, the drum fill that starts when the drums finally kick in, that kind of vibe. As soon as we said that, Nick laughed, he said “you know I worked that session”. We were wowed. Phil Collins had recorded the whole song without drums, with just a drum machine, so Phil told Nick and the other engineer to roll tape while he went to record drums. The track rolls, he’s not playing drums, they turn it up, and wait, and wait, until finally at the end of the song that fill comes in and they both blew out of their chairs cause it was so loud. And when he ended it, Phil said “alright let’s try some other takes,”, and they both said “NO, that’s it, that’s the one”. That was Nick’s drum sound, the big distorted room drum sound. And then Butch Walker on the third album Yeah we had Butch come in to do 5 or 6 songs on our record. We were just going to produce it ourselves, and have our friend Paul (Hager) engineer it, but we decided right before doing it that it would be nice to have somebody come in that could help out, mainly with lyrics and melody, just to help push it a little bit more over the top. We decided to get Butch whom we weren’t great friends with but had done stuff and hung out with when we were in Atlanta. We always liked him and got along, and thought it’d be fun to work with him. We had him come in and work on it, and I think it was the perfect record for butch to work on cause it was our pop-ier, funkier third record, it was very fitting for the style of music that he’s into. It was the cleaner sounding record and I think he did a great job. Do you remember what boards you guys recorded on? No, it’s not something I always pay attention to. Jaime is the gearhead, he remembers everything. On the third record there wasn’t a board, it was just a ProTools rig. We have an old board just for monitoring and a couple of Neve micpres. We took the money from the advance from Japan and we bought a PT HD rig, and a couple of micpres. We picked up some of the Chandlers API pres. They’re great! They sound amazing, and you can’t beat the price on them. We still use them on our demos and overdubs as well. Where is all that stuff now? In L.A., in Stacy’s studio. He has a studio with 2 other guys, the three of them bought the band out of the gear that they put in there, and they keep the studio going and they’ve been making records there. It’s very convenient when we go out there to have somewhere to track on a whim. Do you even pay for flights anymore or do you have so many frequent flyer miles that you travel everywhere for free? (laughs) No I pay for flights, I’ll save my miles for vacations and upgrades. I’ve found out that upgrading is very important, especially after you’ve been on tour for a couple of months, and you have to fly to England or Japan. That’s when you realize you need to fly in business class so you can get some sleep. So how did you record Bass on all the albums? The first 2 were similar, we used an SVT track and a DI track, the ratio varying on every song, depending on who was mixing at the time. There was usually a distorted track as well which was done using either SansAmp or a small guitar amp if we needed a little bit of that. I’ve always hated trying to record Bass amps, they’re really hard to capture correctly. So do you like going direct better? I do now, not at the time though because usually going direct sounded horrible. On our third record, I got this piece of equipment from Tech 21 that’s called the SansAmp RBI, which I use live, in front of my amp, my old 70s SVT. The RBI comes first in the series so it colors the amp, and there’s a DI, affected and non affected out of the SansAmp. So the only thing that goes through the speakers in the club is the SansAmp, and it sounds incredible! So on the third record we used that as the dirty channel, and an Evil Twin DI for the DI channel, which, when I heard for the first time, made me realize I don’t need an amp ever. It’s an amazing DI, and if you can find one on eBay, buy one, you’ll be so psyched to always have one to record bass, because it takes a lot of the hassle out of miking out amps. And the nice thing about recording direct is that you can always mic it later. If we have a great DI signal, when we’re mixing and think the bass needs anything, we can always send it back out and remic it with the SansAmp in the mixing studio, but if you have your signal colored by bass amps, there’s only so far you can go. What bass do you use, I saw you use a Fender Precision Bass, any others? Yeah, a 76 Thunderbird was my favorite for a long time and actually Paul (Kolderie) and Sean (Slade) showed me a trick to rewire the pickups to make it sound even more thunderous, which it did. Actually, that show in Japan that was filmed was the day that the bass died, unfortunately. We hired friends of ours to follow us around and do a documentary while we were there. They picked up this huge 80s boom box at a garage sale, weighing at least 50 pounds, and they said we’d just take this on the tour with us and it’d be a theme in the documentary. For some reason it always got stuck with me, always in my hotel room, carrying it on the train. So we would bring it on stage and they would take pictures. During the encore of the last show, which was filmed, I was standing with my back to the audience on the drum riser, I couldn’t see what was happening behind me but Stacy was throwing his guitar around, acting like Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth. He decided to grab the boom box, and he’s a small kid, I’m not really sure how, it must have been adrenalin, but he hauled it up 20 feet up in the air and as I turned away from the riser, it came down and hit the head stock on the front of it! A Thunderbird is a solid piece of wood going all the way through and it knocked off the headstock! Fortunately it didn’t hit me in the head cause I wouldn’t have been very happy. Was that caught on tape? Yeah it’s caught on tape and actually in the video for a song called Hi-Fi killer’. It’s live and it’s pieces of all the video from that and in the video, you can see the bass being taken down. The cover of the live record actually has a picture of the busted up boom box. So it makes for a good story but the bass that I bought a long time ago that I loved very much is just sitting in my living room on display and I’ll never take it on the road, it’s done all the way. So I’ve stuck with my P bass since then and I’ve generally used my P bass on the records just because they’re so consistent. Actually the one we used on the first record mainly was one of my ’76 P basses, I have a ’78 as well. I also used one of Bob’s, which was an early 60s P bass, that they used on all The Cult records. It actually toured with The Cult for a while so I felt pretty good using that one. Isn’t Bob Rock a bass player? He played bass in Metallica for a little bit, he’s mainly a guitar player though, he had a band in the 80s and was the guitar player. The Payolas Yeah, and he also had one of Nikki Sixx’s bass, one of his Thunderbirds, we pulled that out a couple of times too. It had stuff written on the neck, it was pretty cool. There’s a lot of gear in there that was like that, you’d be playing this 12 string guitar, and he’d say “oh that was Pete Townshend’s guitar”, and I’d put it down “sorry, didn’t know” (cringes) Now when recording bass, do you compress to tape or in the mix? To tape Any favorite compressors? I’ll leave it up to the engineer, we’ve used Altex, Distressors, 1176. But usually it’s light compression to tape and more later if it’s needed. Do you remember how the drums were recorded with Bob? He liked to make a tunnel for the kick drum, either by adding another kick drum or building a wrap around it and extend it out another foot or so. As far as the mics go I’m not sure. Stacy did the drums on “Parade”, but Brian did the drums on the first 2 records, and on the latest it’s a mix of both. But the final product will be all Brian. Jason Sutter replaced Brian for a while, how did he fit in? He fit in great, he’s been a good friend for a long time, since I’ve lived in Boston basically. He had tried out for Tracy Bonham, didn’t get the gig unfortunately but he ended up playing for Julianna Hatfield for a while and in a band called Jack Drag that was from Boston. Jason’s a very schooled guy, he went to Florida, and Texas, was a drumline guy and got his masters in percussion and drumming, he’s an amazing jazz drummer, a very technical drummer, which is a different style than Stacy and Brian, who are also very solid drummers Both Berklee grads? Yeah, and they’re metronomes too, but they’re more of the rock school and Jason was more of the jazz school, but he did a great job. He’s with Chris Cornell right now. It’s a good fit for him, he gets to play a drum solo, it’s great. H ow about you Drew, how did you discover your love for music? It’s always been in my family, my dad played drums when he was younger, my grandfather was a big band guitar player, he played with Tommy Dorsey for a little bit, he toured a lot, that’s all he did all of his life, and he taught my older brother how to play drums and guitar. I was going to take guitar lessons, I took one and hated the guy at the music store, and my brother had a band from which they kicked the bass player out so he told me to start learning bass from our grandfather and they’d get me in the band. I took lessons with him for a couple of years, but after just 3 months I was already learning the songs with my brother and played in his band all the way up until I moved up here in the 90s. He taught me the blues, he said rock n roll came from there anyway so I could figure that out on my own, and I’m really glad that he did that because my brother and I would just listen to records and figure out the songs. I’ll be amazed nowadays to see kids buy Green Day tabs. I love Green Day, but they’re 3 chord songs , you can figure it out on your own. Anytime a kid asks what they should do I tell them, “start listening to a lot of music, tons of different music and learn bass on them, listen to reggae stuff, listen to Motown stuff, it’s painstaking at first, but you’ll develop your ear, and you’ll be that much better as a player. That’s how we did it when we were kids and a lot of people don’t get that anymore. I find a lot of the tabs are wrong anyway Yeah, I’ve read the ones that were written for Tracy Bonham and Hi-Fi and some of them were wrong Pick or fingers? It depends, with Hi-Fi mainly pick, I find it’s what works best for the sound, I’m not a stickler of either one. Your favorite bass players? Lots, Bruce Thomas from Elvis Costello and the Attractions has always been big, Graham Maby, it’s hard not to say Paul Mc Cartney, he’s got to be in there somewhere, right? Geezer Butler, John Paul Jones Does he still have what it takes? I don’t know (laughs) A llegedly Jones and Page are looking for a new singer right now because Plant doesn’t want to be a part of it I s that what’s going on? I saw the Page/Plant tour when the first reunion came out, with the guitar player from The Cure, and that drummer was great, a young English kid, it was fantastic. Why did you move to Boston from Pa ? For music, I came up pretending I was going to college, my parents wanted me to get a college degree and get a job, they didn’t think it was possible to do anything with music. So I came up here and went to Boston College and dropped out after my sophomore year cause it was such a waste of money, it was so expensive and something I didn’t want to do. My drummer from Philly had moved up here to play and he said the music scene was great so I moved in with him and just started meeting people and playing. I dropped out in the spring and by summer Tracy (Bonham) was already getting signed so it was pretty quick. So Tracy is the first person you hooked up with? Yeah I played for friends all around but nothing that I liked, and I tried out for Letters to Cleo, for which Stacy was the drummer. That’s how I met him. I didn’t get the tryout but became friends with all of them. At the time Stacy and Scott Riebling who were playing with Tracy, had too leave because of Letters to Cleo, so they helped her find a drummer and a bass player. I got the tryout for it and got the gig and started playing with her. I just thought it was great music and I was psyched to have a local band to play with, but little did I know that she was going to get signed so quickly. And so you parted ways? We made an EP, then did some touring, then her first record and then extensive touring after that and she was getting ready to make a second record and just couldn’t pull the trigger. She was having trouble writing songs and was scared to take any input and trying to do it on her own and it got to the point where we parted ways. I started a band with the drummer called Quick Fix, a local band. And while I was in Quick Fix, Veruca Salt broke up, so Stacy was home and we started American Hi-Fi, which just took off. And the rest is history Exactly What song do you think turned out the best in the studio? Wall of Sound off the first record. It was a late arrival for the album and I just loved it sonically and I remember listening to the final mix in my car driving down to the studio in Maui and every night I got chills listening to it. I felt really attached to that song so it’s always been a personal favorite of mine. Do your band members agree? Stacy may, I know Jaime does. There was a song called Save Me’ on our second record that I’m a big fan of, just a quiet verse, loud chorus song. It had a good acoustic vibe in the verse, a little Zeppelin feel on it and I always loved that one, but we never once played it live because the verse is too low to sing and the verse is too high to sing. A big mistake of our production of that record. Last question, what should fans expect from the new album? It’s more like the first two. It’s harder rock, kind of Foo Fighters-ish, heavier, more riff-oriented. We’re going to record it the same way we did the second one: we’ll do live basics and do overdubs later on it, and try to keep it simple, without too many guitars or too many layers on it. On ProTools? Yeah, it’s hard not to go to ProTools nowadays because of cost and ease of use.
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