Monday, May 12, 2008

Notes From RixMix...Markus, Meet Don

Goddamn! It has been a busy spring for me and I finally have some time to write. Many great stories, thousands of miles traveled and two fun projects signed, sealed and delivered. I've just delivered the masters for the ConFused5 album "Out of Confusion" which Ron Hitchcock and I mixed at RixMix here in the LA area. Man, what a great room. The place belongs to our pal Rick Ruggieri, a phenomenal studio designer and a fine engineer as well. As a matter of fact, Rick's latest Grammy award arrived during the time we were working. He placed it on a pedestal between the Mastering Lab monitors so we had to stare at the damn thing 12 to 15 hours at a stretch. I'm really happy for him, but that was just too cruel.

Working in Rick's room was a godsend for us. First of all, he doesn't let a lot of projects in to begin with because it means that either he can't work, or he has to go rent another room somewhere else. Secondly, he designed and hand built the place...and any studio that Rick has a hand in is always dead-nuts on the money when it comes to mixing accuracy. What you hear is exactly what you recorded and there is not a decibel of bullshit in the room. I know that when I take a mix out of RixMix there simply will be no surprises. Plenty of rooms can make a mix sound amazing, great bottom end...sizzling highs etc. But when you take the project for mastering you realize you've been fooling yourself. Ron and I were confident that whatever we took out of the place was accurate and exactly how we intended it to sound prior to putting the final mastering touches on.

Another point in the room's favor is that, being a relatively private facility, there is not the usual parade of clowns walking through the control room to tell you how they would have dialed in the Fairchild or panned the vocals. Although Rick made himself available whenever we had need of his expertise, Ron and I could work in peace and give the sessions our full concentration. Ron had his granola bars, I had my new espresso machine and we just hunkered down and got to it.

We did have one visit with a notable musician that turned out to be fruitful. Ron has a boutique record label of his own and one of his artists is the well-known jazz guitarist Don Peak. For the unaware, Don gained notoriety as the guitarist with the Everly Brothers and now composes TV scores as well as continuing to play his ass off. Don had some business with Ron so we took a short break and visited a while. As Don was telling us how little time he had and how he had to rush off he made the oldest mistake in the book. He asked us to play him a bit of what we were working on. Everyone knows that this always results in at least an hour's worth of "dig, check this out...what do you think of this?" And whatever Don was in a rush to do went right out the window.

We had just been working on a ConFused5 song that had gone through some heavy changes during the recording process in Austria. The vocal had been transposed down an octave ala Henri Salvador, and the rock band that played the rest of the album had been replaced by a well-worn New Orleans jazz/blues combo. was still the same guys, just a completely different approach. At that moment we were listening to the guitar solo which had originally been played with a solidbody PRS and a high gain boutique amp. The band's guitarist, Markus Melms had acquired a lovely vintage ES345 recently and I had been dying to prove to him what a fantastic guitar it was. I plugged the beautiful thing into an old Fender Twin Reverb amp and we proceeded to spend the better part of a day creating a whole new vibe for the solo.

As we played the take for Don he looked up and said, "I thought you said you were doing a rock album... this is really interesting." And I have to say it really is...interesting. Playing a substantial guitar like the 345 through a clean vintage amp was something Markus had probably not done in a good long while. A rig like that doesn't play itself, you have to pull the music out with your bare hands. But once we got into it, Markus really put together a nice solo. It had interesting content, beautiful tone and most importantly, it was played with conviction. This is what caught Don's ear...and he spent the next 20 minutes or so showing us what effects and equalization he would use on the track. You see, when you get a performance like that on a recording, you want to make damned sure that the intentions of the player reach through the speakers and tap you on the shoulder as if to say, "Hey man, lend me an ear, I've got a story to tell you."

So Markus, meet Don. If you don't like the sound of your solo, it's all his fault. If you dig it, just remember, it was all my idea in the first place. The public can decide what they think when "Out Of Confusion" is released on the Sellaband label on July 4th.

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