Tag Archives: bass

My Beach Road Studios Workshop Experience :)

Since the beginning of time, (okay LOL!), since I can’t remember when, I’ve been aching to go to a Beach Road Studios workshop. After stalking/befriending JUNO award winning producer Siegfried Meier for many years on Facebook, the timing suddenly became RIGHT earlier this year. He announced he would be running the final ever Beach Road workshop this autumn and I knew, this was it! It was like the stars had alligned for me as it was happening on my week off! Within minutes (yes, I made the decision that fast) I had flights and accomodation booked, Canada, here I come!!!!

But how does a random audio girl from a sleepy, Irish countryside Nowhereness, find out about a mega, award winning, from Germany but living in Canada most of his life, music producer and his private, super-amazing-awesome studio?

Through Kittie.

When Kittie blasted onto Irish TV screens via the kick-ass medium that was (still is? is it? I don’t know!) MTV2 with the even more bad-ass video for their second single, “Charlotte” in 2000, I was hooked. Four kick-ass girls my age absolutely knocking it out of the park with a savage tune, how could I resist? Back then it was actually pretty hard to find out much about anything, even though we had electricity (LOL, Internet was dial-up and I wasn’t really allowed use it), I did my best to find magazine clippings about the girls. Metal Edge was the only place I could find anything about them and even then, I only ever got my hands on like, 2 copies, cos Nowhereness is in the middle of Nowhere, you know?! I got my hands on their debut Spit (produced by Garth “GGGarth” Richardson, 2000) when I went stateside that summer and it didn’t seem too long after that, their 2nd album Oracle (also produced by GGGarth, 2001) was released. That I did buy here in Ireland. The band developed and progressed over the years and while I kept an eye on them, Facebook brought them back into my world in 2010 and that’s when I discovered Siegfried Meier.

Kittie, circa 2000. Source: https://www.stereogum.com/1989753/heres-to-20-years-of-kittie/franchises/sounding-board/
Kittie “Charlotte” music video still, 2000.

So Siegfried worked on their Oracle album back in the day (credited in the album notes as Siegfried “Private Dancer” Meier!) as an assistant in Emac Studios (London, Ontario) and then became their producer for their 5th In the Black (2009) and their 6th, I’ve Failed You (2011), producing the band in his Beach Road Studios . Cue a new style, sound and sonic force of awesomeness for the band. Kittie has been a highly creative and unique metal band from the get-go but the Sig albums are f**king HUUUUGE.

Kittie In the Black, 2009
Kittie I’ve Failed You, 2011

Their 2018 Origins/Evolutions 20th anniversary release, which documented the band’s career, cemented my personal opinion that Siegfried was one seriously cool guy (I could discern from the Internet that he’s a musician, producer, songwriter, audio engineer, mastering engineer, cat lover, and all-round super dude). But the footage on that documentary simply blew my mind and I ached for the chance to visit. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to wait too long!!

Source: http://www.siegfriedmeier.com/about-2/

Fast forward a few months and I find myself driving an automatic VW Golf (black, shiny and sexy as hell!) on a 5-lane highway in Toronto, on the opposite side of the road. Huge trucks zooming by me and the setting sun in my eyes, my heart races with trepidation, I’M HERE CANADA! Immediately charmed by the picture perfect towns I drive through, hours out of busy Toronto, I just knew, this was a slice of Heaven right here and this was exactly where I needed to be (you know, you do kind of doubt yourself- am I mad to go to Canada for a couple of days?! How will I handle driving in another country? Will my Irish awkwardness ruin the vibe?! Am I still rock n roll enough to handle this?!).

The excitement!

I need not have worried. I may have been shaking in my runners driving down the magical road to the studio, parking the car after confirming I had indeed found the location and not some random persons house (imagine if I did that though LOL!), spotting drums through a window but the very second I opened the door and let myself inside (let’s face it, I still don’t even let myself into my fiances house 14 years on! I have to ring the doorbell and text prior to my arrival- that’s my own awkwardness, not their house rules!), I felt this absolute WAVE of love. Everyone smiled at me (walking into a room of 10 guys is a little bit scary!) and I was enveloped in Siegfried’s welcoming arms instantly. I actually didn’t feel shy!!! From the get-go I felt like I knew Sig forever and that it wasn’t my first time meeting him. It struck me it was a special connection and all my suspicions about him were confirmed- this guy IS the coolest person EVER! Larger than life itself, his warmth, genuineness, humourous wit, easy-going, relaxed, bubbly, passionate and humble personality shone like a white light. Just being around him made me feel an excitement and joy I haven’t felt in years. I probably looked goofy and starry-eyed as I openly gazed at him but that wasn’t for his incredible awe-inspiring career, it was for him as a human being. He’s the kind of person that you only find once or twice in your life and you recognise instantly he’s making the world a better place by just being in it.

Walking into his control room, my breath left me. What a beautiful room! Surrounded with a mix of vintage and modern equipment, yet with a vibe of home, I can see why musicians come to make music here. His welcoming personality is mirrored by his creative space. If I was a musician in a band, I would be extremely excited about making records there!

Source: http://www.siegfriedmeier.com/studio/

After a short introduction where everyone (Sig, the students and the rock band, Breaching Vista) got up and said a little something about who they were and confirmed they were indeed cat-lovers also, Sig dived into audio theory and concepts to ensure everyone was on a similar level. Notes were passed around and we were invited to jot down as much as we like. Standing on a footstool behind his amazing rare Amek/TAC Magnum console, Siegfried explained higher level educational audio concepts in a logical and exciting format. Hanging onto every word he said, my mind raced to keep up.

After coffee breaks and lunch, the fun really kicked off.  The importance of preproduction was explained and a guide track was loaded into Pro Tools. Track tempo was discussed and experimented with and yes, I even learned a new thing. Sig gave us a golden nugget concerning click track headphone bleed (I admit I actually made that f**k up on my own most recent recording and even kicked myself afterwards for not paying enough attention). Drummer Micheal Sferrazza (also a talented pilot, no less) was invited to take up his sticks and we all ushered into Sig’s, huge live room. I momentarily got starstruck as I recognised the wall of guitars and the placement of the drums, for I had seen this room on Kittie documentaries and photographs before (imagine being starstruck by a room! NERD!). My jaw dropped at the sheer size of the converted barn (Sig built and designed the entire studio in 2006, with the help of his colleague Lee While, acoustics professor from Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology), again, huge but welcoming! The room was chock-full of equipment, instruments, consoles, computers, microphones, amps, cables and more. I do believe in that moment that I died and went to Heaven.

There we experimented with a dedicated Pro Tools 6 rig and Sig explained the importance of gain structure, what exact signal flow he was implementing and set up the Glyn Johns drum recording method. A method I’ve read about and listened to all about since the beginning of my audio schooling, but one I’ve never actually witnessed for myself. Well wasn’t my mind blown?! A great kit in a great room played by a great drummer with only 3 (also great) mikes equalled MAGIC. Hell, that was a drum sound I would killed to have gotten in my production projects in college.

Drum miking techniques with Siegfried Meier

After that the room was set up for the actual recording of the single for Breaching Vista. 20+ mikes were set up- close mikes, room mikes and even bulls***t mikes. Each mike was explained in fine detail and I got to meet many of which I had only read about in my studies and some of course, I had never even heard of before. Jet-lagged like never before, I think I was probably swaying standing up, I wondered was anyone noticing I was ready to start sleep walking! But that wasn’t going to last for long because before I knew it, we were back in the control room, listening to the sounds of the drums and setting up appropriate levels. Snapped awake by the exciting sounds, my heart raced as Sig explained what he was going to do next: track the drums in the digital domain AND on analogue 2 inch tape! WOW! Tape!! I remember I was asked in an interview in Derry in 2014 which I preferred, analogue or digital? and I fobbed off a bulls**t answer. How could I answer such a question when I had basically zero experience of analogue? I think I said I liked the idea of analogue but really all I knew was digital and therefore I liked the good things it had to offer. Maybe that wasn’t a bulls**t answer afterall, but I always thought about it afterwards, feeling like a twat that I couldn’t actually REALLY give an opinion about that subject. Sig gave us a highly detailed history and informative block of information which detailed tape anomalies, machine care, and so much more. Brand new stuff for me. Please let my brain absorb all of this!!!

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This. Place.

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A very small (surprisingly small- there have been sessions where I pushed 12 takes out of my drummer, the poor unfortunate soul) number of takes later, along with the band for guides, the drums were recorded. It was already getting close to midnight and Sig bounced the analogue drums back into Pro Tools, using the Studer tape machine as an audio processor to get a very different sonic character. There we ajorned for the night, for tomorrow there would be more- drum editing, bass recording, guitar recording, vocal recording, editing, mixing and mastering. I left Sigs close to 1am and drove back to his local town, my mind racing and my heart bursting. I fell into my bed thinking I’d probably never sleep but boom, I was out like a light.

Feeling surprisingly refreshed, the next morning there was a beautiful spread in my B&B. The sun was shining and with a spring in my step, I drove to Beach Road, feeling confident about driving on the correct side of the road and feeling like a local because I knew the roads already. I practically skipped in the studio door, proclaiming I was not jet-lagged and took my seat behind Sig’s racks. He kicked off swiftly, explaining he was up since crazy AM, editing last nights drums and showed us swiftly exactly what he did and how he did it. We A/B-ed the Pro Tools, digital drums with the tape, analogue drums, understanding the sonic differences between the two and the benefits/downfalls of both.

With the drums edited, it was time to get really serious. Bass guitar (Mike Chhangur) was up and there, Sig explained that he was not going to use just one mike on his bass amp (hang on, you can use more than one?) but four AND run more sources (okay this bit went a little bit over my head, studio routing is not an easy thing to get initially) but there, the audio concepts discussed yesterday came back into play and yes, it made sense. The importance of using the same tuner for the entire band (the very same tuner, not the same brand, but the same actual device) was explained and boom, we were away! Again, a few takes later, we had a phenomenal bass track recorded and edited.

Bass, bass, bass

Next up were guitars, rhythm (John Maksym) and lead (Al Malnar), I’m not going to go into any sort of detail but it was more mind blowing stuffs! Definitely the kind of stuffs this guitar girl loved. Again, epic players using using gear in an epic room, produced by epic ears. More editing tricks, beautiful recording methods and tactics, next up it was vocals. Vox were a sheer delight to watch. Using a mike I actually own myself but never ever use, I was enthralled. Sig’s vocal chain was delicious. I’ve never been so gear hungry in my life! After editing and comping and a host of processing, I was delighted to be affirmed that what I do myself is actually correct and I learned a few little extra things too.

Shortly after that, dinner was up and can I say right here, that Sig’s wife Rachel is the most talented cook I’ve ever met, as well as a fantastic studio momma and all round lovely, lovely person?! Her food was out of this world and she looked after all of us like her own. Her presence added more love, light and sparkle to an already sparkly, beautiful, heavenly place. I didn’t realise so much joy was possible in one space and I was sent to pick up my fiance who was invited for the party. Brotherly “I know you!”s were exchanged as I watched the love of my life meet the inspiration of my life, and Sig swept him up into his world, a world he knows just enough about to be floored by what he saw. That’s when I saw Sig has a huge salt lamp upstairs near his mastering suite, of course! Good energy huh!!! After all of that, the class resumed and the final touches of the workshop were completed, mixing and mastering to quarter inch analogue tape- SHREDDER!

Slay indeed bae

We partied until an absolutely crazy hour, how Sig wasn’t totally crashing out (for he was up at the crack of dawn to edit drums, remember?) I’ll never know. Maybe it was the amazing maple syrup we ate raw from a dessert spoon?! Or the giant bag of those peanut butter M&Ms John brought and we all devoured?! The sheer joy of 14 like-minded people in the same room, simply enjoying each others company, exchanging thoughts, ideas, stories and culture, I suspect is what kept us all on Cloud 9.

My experience at Beach Road studios was simply second to none. I left Ireland thinking I might learn a little thing or two but instead I learned a brick tonne, felt joy and love like never before, got swept off my feet and felt a whole-ness I never felt before. I’ve definitely left a piece of my heart in Canada for I can never bear to say goodbye. Poor Sig had to get Rachel to pull me off his leg as I wept “Don’t make me go home!” I’m kidding of course but inside I was dying.

What an honour it was that I was allowed into Sig’s very special creative space, into the amazing building he built on a foundation of pure love and light. No wonder Beach Road has housed amazing musicians from so many genres, it’s the kind of place you gravitate towards and it wraps you up in a big cuddly blanket of passion for music. How lucky I am to have walked around those famous rooms and to have studied under the most passionate, intelligent, talented, skilled, witty, loveable and humble human I’ve ever met in my life. I’m so very grateful. Siegfried Meier is the producer I aspire to become one day. I can see why he makes brilliant records. Brilliant artists, brilliant gear, brilliant rooms, brilliant ears, brilliant skills, brilliant home. I haven’t even remotely touched on his history as a music producer- I urge you to visit his website Siegfried Meier and to pop his name into a Google search, you’ll be blown away by what you read and understand why I literally jumped onto a plane to visit a country I’ve never been to before, a journey of 5366kms each way. I’d do it again in a heartbeat and I hope I see my friends Sig and Rach and the rest of the class group again in the near future.

I believe if everyone met Siegfried Meier, even for just 5 minutes,  the world would be a much better place.

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10 Years After Black Daisy: Happy Anniversary to the “Disturbing New Fashion” EP

It’s not often (never before actually) that I blog about my old band, Black Daisy, though I have mentioned in my bio that I was lead guitarist and backing vocalist for the all female rock band. If you’re a first-time reader on this blog, I parted ways from the band in early 2009. The band was formed by myself and LA Halvey from the ashes of a band we found ourselves in which formed in autumn 2002. That band was named Ali, yes we all hated the name, but we couldn’t think of anything better so we ran with it (it was hoped we would get Bono’s attention! pfffff, as if!). We had high hopes and we actually did a few very cool gigs (Mountjoy Prison Christmas party 2003, MTV’s Breaking Point, a couple of appearances on RTE’s You’re a Star). The band eventually burned out but myself and the singer still had faith and we continued writing, recording, auditioning musicians and gigging. We eventually found the other half of the band circa mid-2007 (Nicki Billings from Wicklow on rhythm guitar and Asta Mileriene from Lithuania on drums) and became the last incarnation of Black Daisy. Well, until I was out of the picture but that’s a different story.

Newspaper clipping from the Ali Mountjoy gig. It was a blast. Apart from me being called Avril Lavigne all night long LOL. Kinda deserved that though.

 

Stuffs from the early Black Daisy days.

So the reason I’m blogging is because on this day 10 years ago, Black Daisy independently released our debut EP “Disturbing New Fashion”. It was available through downloadmusic.ie and a small number of Irish HMV and record shops.

Disturbing New Fashion album artwork

We recorded it in Donabate (Fastlane Studio) with producer Stephen Brett (now CEO of InMusik), who said our drummer Asta, was a “machine” (she actually was though! you’ll never find a drummer who was on the beat like her). We had a lot of fun recording it and it happened very quickly. His studio was really cool, at the time I was interested in production but it was all a massive mystery to me. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what DAW he used (probably Pro Tools) or anything like that but I remember how I felt and that’s always the important thing. We had such great giggles, I remember we all got on really well, Stephen was a lot of fun to work with, we felt at ease, he “got” us, he let us do what we wanted to do and he pushed us to try out new ideas. It was a cosy space to work in, not small but not massive. Perfect for us.

Blink and you’ll miss me! This grainy footage of an acoustic song we were working on at the time is still on YouTube. This was shot in Fastlane and aired on Channel Six.

So before we went to studio and before we even started rehearsals, the songs were all demo-ed by myself. I had just discovered Apple’s Garageband and I put together all the tracks using drum loops, my recordings of guitars, basses and LAs vocals. We had lots of fun recording in my bedroom and at the time, we suddenly felt empowered with cheap recording gear. In fact I wrote “Disturbing New Fashion” by putting together a bunch of Apple drum loops, recording them onto my Boss Loop Station and overdubbing guitars and vox over and over. I wrote most of the lyrics too, inspired by a documentary about festivals- I remember they were talking in particular about Lollapalooza, and the phenomenon of people losing their **** in the pit at the gigs. How disturbed the audience seemed to the onlookers. I thought that was seriously cool, so that’s actually what the song’s about! I still have some of those demos knocking around, not the session files (I suffered a massive hard drive crash in 2010 and lost all my digital memories from Black Daisy- photos, music, videos- all gone to digital heaven), but I still have some of the stereo bounces on mini discs.

Taking selfies before it was cool. Camera on timer and GO! Strike a pose! – random hotel room in Limerick, 2007 (we were playing Dolans that night).

So anyways, our preproduction was really important, we spent a lot of time as a band in our rehearsal space (Monster Music in Blanchardstown was the BEST place ever), going over each and every detail of the songs. We were very mindful of our limited recording time and wanted to maximise whatever time we had by sorting out the nitty gritty in rehearsals. It wasn’t always fun but we learned how to play as a band and we actually gelled really well during that time.

I was always happy with the finished product and I’m still proud of it. However my role with the band at this stage was on borrowed time, as I didn’t forsee the Eurovision fiasco at this point and I had every faith that the band was moving forward in a healthy way. We were playing great gigs on the back of RTE’s You’re a Star series 6, writing new songs and getting on like a house on fire. 6 short months later, it all would change.

We took ourselves awfully seriously- backstage in a random stairwell in the Helix before our last You’re a Star live performance.
Larking around in The Late Late Show’s green room, we were having quite a giggle taking these pictures but we didn’t think they’d end up in the paper! I still like that photo.

I suppose it’s only fitting that 10 years on, I’m in the middle of my music masters. It all seems like a lifetime ago, I suppose it was. I’m ever the sentimentalist. Being in Black Daisy was a huge part of my life infact, it was my way of life. Everything revolved around the band- my jobs, work hours, my clothes, what I spent my money on, getting up and down to Dublin, countless hours on Myspace plugging the band. I even put college on hold in 2002, and never thought I would get there until I had my BCFE interview in 2009.

Part of me still thinks: I shouldn’t have bothered, I should have went straight to college in 2002, I should have spent more time focusing on an actual proper job, what’s to show for all the politics and drama anyway?

But then, I’d have never experienced so many cool things: the epic recording studios, the knowledgeable music producers, the experienced session musicians, gigging all over the country, the road trips, the late night sleepover giggles, the tense photo shoots, the fun video shoots, the nerve-wrecking radio interviews, the exciting TV shows, doing each other’s hair and makeup, swopping outfits, the car breakdowns halfways down the country, the parties, the clubbing in Cork city, going to Galway for the craic because the show was postponed 24 hours and we didn’t want to go home, the saucy jokes, the dodgey rehearsal rooms in Temple Bar, the serious songwriting sessions, the hunt for band members, the excited fans kissing my biker boots at gigs, the people dancing to our music, blowing away skeptical men with crossed arms at gigs, making our home demos and of course, the girls. I’ve probably forgotten half of the shenanigans. Feck, I’ve actually played the Ambassador in Dublin! So yeah, it was a good thing. It was a life experience and I wouldn’t understand band politics and musician’s emotions as well as I do now, only for it. Maybe it’ll stand to me when I produce a new band in the future or when I engineer my next gig or when I become a teacher.

There’s still one or two CDs knocking around on Discogs and eBay if you’re at all interested. I still think it sounds effing awesome and believe we were something unique. I also think we were a band at the wrong time of the industry, when everything was up in chaos and no-one dared (or cared) to invest in talent. The EP is no longer available on iTunes but the “Disturbing New Fashion” video (directed by Zoe Kavanagh) is still on YouTube if you want a quick peak.

“Disturbing New Fashion” CD package. That font still offends me though.

 

Words That Burn Release New Single “Before The Fall”

Attention metal heads! Dundalk-based metallers Words That Burn released their new single “Before The Fall” via BandCamp over the weekend. And it kicks serious ass.

For me personally, the song brings the likes of Primordial to mind. The excellent production showcases the band as a mature and highly-polished unit with plenty of edge and energy expertly performed. Catchy guitar hooks, tight as hell bass and drums, excellent lyrics and a savage vocal performance make this latest release the bands finest output to date. I love the fabulous contrasting middle eight for the well-considered, layered vocal harmonies- the lower register of Ronan’s vocal gets me every time.

Download the song at the link here: BEFORE THE FALL | Words That Burn. Name your price! It’s free if you want it to be!

The accompanying video was released this evening on YouTube- excellent work! Check it out below:

 

Their previous album Praey is also available on BandCamp to download- name your price: PRAEY | Words That Burn. Also awesome merch is available here: Home / Words That Burn Shop.

The band’s next major gig is at PhilFest 2014 in Fibbers, Parnell St, Dublin (Sunday the 29th of June)- a 2-day heavy metal event with a fantastic lineup for a mere €5 per day- you’d be bonkers to miss it!

Get liking Words That Burn on Facebook.

Get following @words_that_burn on Twitter.

Rock out!!! \m/

WTB

1st Annual Final Year Showcase of BA Music and Audio Production

Tomorrow night is a big night for us Third Year Music and Audio Production students at DkIT. We are presenting our major production projects in the Spirit Store and we’re very excited about it!

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We were the first ever intake of Music and Audio Production (2011) and our production  projects combine everything we have studied over the last three years.

We have worked with teams of musicians from the BA Music Applied plus other courses in DkIT as well as musicians outside of the college on our individual projects.

There will be something for everyone at this event- our songs range from Folk to Rock, Pop to Dance and Celtic New Age to Metalcore!

We are looking forward to celebrating our hard work and hearing each others final mixes.

Entry is free and doors are at 7.30pm, do come along!

More info: 1st Annual Final Year Showcase of BA Music and Audio Production | Dundalk Institute of Technology.

For course details please visit: BA (Hons) Production of Music and Audio | Dundalk Institute of Technology.

New Song: “Close Your Eyes” feat. Fiona McErlane and Keith Caffrey

Today I’m sharing my latest music production project “Close Your Eyes” which features my guest vocalists Fiona McErlane and Keith Caffrey.

I talked about the creative and recording process in my previous blog post.

I finished the mix last night and I’m delighted with the response already to the song. This was yet another very personal and emotional project. I hope you enjoy it!

“Close Your Eyes” was composed by Stephanie Caffrey and the lyrics and vocal were written by Keith Caffrey.

Female vocals: Fiona McErlane
Male vocals: Keith Caffrey
Acoustic drums: Craig Sullivan
Traditional harp: Fiona McErlane
Acoustic piano: Stephanie Caffrey
Electric guitars: Stephanie Caffrey
Synths: Stephanie Caffrey.

Recorded, produced and mixed by Stephanie Caffrey.
Special thanks to studio assistant Gavin Clarke.

Recorded in Dundalk Institute of Technology Feb-May 2013.
Copyright Stephanie Caffrey.

My Music Production Project Recording is Complete!

Party over here! I have completed my 3 recording sessions for my music production project “December”, written and composed by Keith Caffrey and myself, featuring Shane Taaffe on cajon and Ciarán O’Brien on double bass.

Monday morning was my last 3 hour studio session, I had 3 blocks of 3 hour sessions over a 6 week period to record the song. Time was extremely valuable and every minute counted in these sessions (especially when the song itself is 5:02 long, one take alone eats up 5 minutes…).

In this final studio session we recorded the lead vocal (Keith Caffrey), my backing vocal (thanks to my assistant Shauna Kearney for engineering for me here!) and a rainmaker. The session was the most relaxed (for me at least!) and though we kept a sharp watch on the clock, we were not under as much time pressure as the previous sessions.

Although it wasn’t ideal to record vocals at 9am, it had to be done and Keith was warming up his voice from 6.30am. The set up was simple- a Neumann U87 with pop shield and reflection filter going through the Audient ASP 8024 to Pro Tools. It would have been ideal to record with compression because there is a broad dynamic range in the vocal performance but as we’re still in early days, the compressor wasn’t patched in. We recorded some takes adjusting the gain for the loud and soft parts and also recorded the contrasting sections separately. It did occur to me after the session that I could have set up an AKG C414 right up beside the U87 on a separate track and adjust the gains of each microphone, so one would have a lower gain than the other. Hindsight! Every day is a school day…

Keith in studio
Keith in studio

Nonetheless I got what I needed committed to Pro Tools. Using the same set up with a tad extra gain I laid down my backing vocal, taking care to double up. Backing vocals are not a requirement of this project but one of the defining sounds of Shock Sorrow (myself and Keith) is our vocal blending. My sweet, soft voice is a nice contrast to Keith’s powerful and deep rock voice.

The rainmaker was the next recording- we set up 2 AKG C414s (mono tracks, cardioid pattern, no filter), and recorded the gentle sway of the falling beads during the intro and outro, this is a nice falling rain-like sound as opposed to a rhythm. I have two rainmakers, one bamboo and one plastic, the bamboo one was the rainmaker of choice as it sounded much more organic and watery! The plastic one sounded like a hail storm!

Me and my bamboo rainmaker :)
Me and my bamboo rainmaker 🙂

With 15 minutes to spare before wrap up time (once the clock strikes 12 we had to be out- mic’s put back into their cases, cables tidy, stands collapsed, wrap up time had to occur at 11.45), we recorded 2 lead vocal ad lib tracks for fun. I was impressed with Keith’s improvisation, counter harmonies, whispers and echoes. He gave me so much good stuff I can’t bear to edit them! 😀

Ready for your close-up Rockstar? :)
Ready for your close-up Rockstar? 🙂

Later that afternoon after my last lecture, myself and Shauna headed to our beautiful, ambient Winter Garden in the college building. The Winter Garden is probably my favourite place to hang out between classes for it’s greenery and general peace and quiet!

I had my own recording set up with me- Macbook Pro (with Pro Tools 10), Cakewalk UA25 EX audio interface, Samson S-Amp and Rode NTK microphone. I wanted to record a couple of extra tracks to see if they might work in the project- violin and small djembe drum. I wanted the massive natural reverb so I placed my microphone in the middle of the garden and stood about 8 feet away.

My on-the-go recording set up
My on-the-go recording set up

I actually didn’t play my own violin (the Chinese violin my parents bought for my 13th birthday- too long ago!!!) although it did sound really nice. One of my lecturers actually loaned me his 100 year old German violin for the recording! I’m honoured to have played this violin and even more honoured that I’m the first person ever to have actually recorded it! Not even my lecturer has recorded it! It was beautiful. Beautifully smooth and amazing tone. It was slightly smaller than my own violin (it wasn’t 3/4 size but just slightly smaller than full size) and as light as feather.

Me playing the beautiful 100 year old violin in DkIT's Winter Garden
Me playing the beautiful 100 year old violin in DkIT’s Winter Garden

I played the djembe for the first time in my life (it’s been sitting in my house for years as a decoration!), I just wanted the simple accents, “snap” sounds with that lovely reverb. It actually sounded really lovely and different! My right hand is in absolute bits, 3 lovely bruises on the insides of my fingers! But definitely worth it!

We actually spent 3 hours in the Winter Garden, it was busier than I thought it would be and most takes were spoiled by the noise of people opening doors, walking by, chatting, cleaners hoovering, you name it, I heard it through the sensitive Rode mic! I did expect such noise in the public space and it was really after 5pm that we started recording “clean” tracks.

I was absolutely shattered after all this but after 2 hours of chilling out at home I was back in Pro Tools, editing and starting the first rough mix until the small hours. Of course the point of the project is to not fix anything in the mix but I did need to comp the vocals and go through the violin takes while it was fresh in my mind. All I have left to do is some fades, an micro edit here and there and adjust the mix balance.

Then the write up… 😉

So expect to hear the final mix of “December” on my SoundCloud in… December!

Studio Session 2: A Reflection :)

I must be getting old or I must just be a hard worker! After the 3 hour session in the studio this morning, I was left absolutely exhausted for the rest of the day! Teehee! Only now, at 11pm after a long, hot shower and a couple of headache tablets do I feel like my normal self again! 😀

Studio session number 2 for “December” went fantastically well! In short I got everything I hoped to record committed to virtual tape/disk/the digital land that is Pro Tools! 😀

I recorded 3rd Year Applied Music student Ciarán O’Brien first thing this morning. Ciarán is an expert in all things bass! Armed with a double bass and a bow, Ciarán gave me unexpected goosebumps, I couldn’t help but squeal with the sheer audio-pleasure! Hehehe! I literally could have listened to that all day long. But time was precious so we had to get to business straight away and track pizzicato bass for “December”. We had to keep a very strict schedule as I only had 3 hours from the minute I entered the studio to the minute the gear is checked off when I wrap up! So working quickly, I set up a Neumann U87 about 14 inches away from the bridge of the bass. Time was ticking faster than I thought and we got 4 takes (20 minutes-the song is 5 minutes long). I will have to comp a little here and there but I’m absolutely delighted with what Ciarán played. He’s a little star, a pleasure to work with, very professional!

Ciarán O’Brien and the Neumann U87

Next was the recording of my own 12 string acoustic guitar. My assistants Shauna Kearney and Shane Taaffe were absolutely brilliant help here. They set up my microphones as I required; an AKG C414 in a corner, cardioid pattern, 1 overhead, omni-directional for some room ambience and a Shure SM57 at the 12th fret. A sparkly 12 string with some bass presence. The corner idea may seem odd but trust me, the warmth it offered works in the production.

Myself in my multi mono mic set up

In case you were wondering, Shane played the guitar in the style of the song while I monitored the sound in the control room and asked Shauna to move the mic here and there, an inch or two closer etc! Only after I was happy, did I sit down (on my cajon actually, brought it with me just to sit on it-best seat in the house for guitar playing!) while took over the recording process for me.

Ever watchful of the ticking time, I spent exactly 30 minutes tracking my part. The only problem I had was of my own right hand on one part which decided to have a mind of its own, when I got over that, we had a few takes which I will comp together later.

Following that was Keith’s 6 string guitar parts using the same multi mono mic set up. Keith owns a gorgeous Tanglewood jumbo guitar which a lovely bass presence. His parts are complimentary to mine, filling in single strums for the chorus’s (two separate takes, one left and one right for the mix-down), an arpeggiated fill for the final chorus and of course the big solo. Keith was so in the zone he played the main rhythm and solo in the same take, much to my delight and the ticking clocks! The arpeggiated fill took the longest to record like myself, one finger refused to be told where to go! It happens to us all huh? 🙂 But Keith is also a pro and nailed it.

Keith recording in studio

Looking at the watch, 20 minutes left? Let’s record one more thing before we leave! Pop the Shure SM57 in front of the Marshall Valve-State combo (to one side of the cone), whip out that Fender American Stratocaster, plug in the Boss DD6 Digital Delay pedal and pop that bottleneck slide on your finger please Keith! Make me some noise, anything at all! Soulful cries of a Strat, yes, this is an element I wanted indeed for that final chorus.

Keith feels it out on my Strat 🙂
Excuse my mess but with minutes to spare, Keith tracked electric guitar like a pro 🙂

Ten minutes left…. tidy up, fast! All hands on deck as we backed up the project, tidied away the mic stands, leads, guitars etc!  Bang ont he stroke of midday we were ready to hand over the studio to the next session team!

Not a single minute was idle and I have to thank my production team for working so hard, they deserve a well earned drink! Thank you Keith Caffrey and Ciarán O’ Brien for your artistic skills, very creative and especially appreciated before 12 Midday! Morning studio sessions are never easy! 🙂 Thank you Shauna Kearney and Shane Taaffe for the technical side, you were both stars and complete professionals with the equipment!

So next to do on the list is some minor edits and minor comping. Then we get ready for our last session in 2 weeks time where we nail the lead vocal, harmony vocal and creative element track! 😀

And after that? A small mix and Christmas drinks! 😉

Studio Session 1: A Reflection :)

It’s only 7.30pm and I’m exhausted! I can barely keep my eyes open but it’s all good, today was a lot of fun! Session 1 of the 3 part music production project was a great success!

As I mentioned in last night’s blog, I aimed to record guide vocal, guitar and cajon in today’s 3 hour recording session. It was a busy morning and not without obstacles but we successfully recorded guide vocal, guide guitar and complete cajon.

The main problem was with the lack of sound in one of the studio monitors. No matter what we tried, no sound would come through and the studio technician said the problem was certainly not a faulty connection or lead but within the desk itself and would take time to fix! So instead of abandoning the session we carried on with one monitor and trusted our DT100’s.

Another slight obstacle but definitely one worth the trouble- the patch connections for the live room were all taken out of the patch bay! Only through setting gain levels did we figure out where exactly to plug in! Trial and error! Well worth it.

So with these minor inconveniences sorted we ploughed on! My plan was to record the cajon in the live room using two AKG-C414’s and AKG-D112 and set up the guide vocal in the control room with a Shure Beta 58 and guide guitar with a Shure Beta 57.

AKG-C414 http://www.akg.com

 

AKG-D112 http://www.akg.com
Shane Taaffe and microphone setup. Note the drum kit in the background had to be disassembled and remaining toms covered with available jackets to stop unwanted resonance.

From the above picture one can see an AKG 414 in front of the cajon to capture the snare sound, the D112 at the sound hole in the back for the bass and there is also an AKG 414 to Shane’s left capturing the room sound.

Thanks to pre-production sessions we had already settled on a tempo of 103BPM so I had a shaker track made up to serve as a click track. This actually turned out to be a hindrance and distraction so the song was played live without the click track and the second take was “the one”.

By this stage it was already 11.15am (45 minutes left already!) and we decided we would at least try to record the 12 string acoustic guitar. Initially I set up the microphones in the middle of the room (AKG 414 above the sound hole, Shure Beta 57 at the 12th fret and AKG 414 directly behind the guitar- the guitar tends to lack bass and placing the microphone here added bass).

After quick evaluation of this sound, we agreed the sound wasn’t quite warm enough. How do you get more bass from a non-bassy instrument? I suggested moving the guitar closer to a wall and mic-ing from there- my trust assistant Shauna Kearney did one better and suggested we set up in a corner! She quickly took down the makeshift bass trap of rockwool and triangular foam in a cardboard box, placed two foam panels either side of the corner and a small panel on top of these, making a cosy house for one of the 414’s. Now with the guitar facing out towards the room, the higher frequencies were allowed travel out and the bass frequencies were instantly projected into the corner, like magic, an instant warmth was apparent as well as that shimmering top end I like my Ibanez 12 string for.

Keith Caffrey and the makeshift bass capture technique!

Alas time was not on our side and with pressure mounting to get the right take in time before the next students came in for their slotted time, I was unsuccessful in getting a full track. I was not disappointed as we found a good microphone set up for the guitar that we could easily assemble again!

Session 2 is in 2 weeks time, another 3 hour session. Of course I will have to draw up my plans again for this session as I need to make time to record the acoustic guitars as well as double bass.

Session 3 is in 4 weeks time, another 3 hour session and in this session I will record the lead vocal and additional percussion and perhaps a Yamaha upright piano.

So very tired now! But my own music production project is not the only one in my schedule, I will be assisting Shauna Kearney in her production (and playing any instruments she needs to compliment her singer/songwriter Lauren Murphy- I recorded Lauren last Christmas for a similar project!) AND I am playing violin for my classmate, hip-hop producer Scott McLoughlin!

It’s great to be busy in music! My special thanks to the wonderful musicians who made today happen- Keith Caffrey, Shane Taaffe and Shauna Kearney. And thanks to the studio tech! 🙂

 

 

Dance the Night Away With the Full Moon Boogie Band!

Rock n roll Steffy!

I’m back and I have returned with my off-white Fender Stratocaster playing good old fashioned rock n roll music with the ultimate party band: the Full Moon Boogie Band!

Full Moon Boogie Band, the name says it all – bringing you home to the land of rockabilly and rock and roll with a twist and lots of style!

We are a five piece band,made up of passionate, energetic and professional musicians, playing songs from Elvis to Rihanna, Wanda Jackson to Beyoncé, all with a full moon rock n roll flavour.

The Full Moon Boogie Band

We are currently available for bookings. Our show is fantastic entertainment for any event, from weddings to corporate events, we shall bring fun and a bop shoo wop to your event. We come with our own swingin, jivin’ and very alluring Full Moon dancers to add that extra sparkle to the show.

We have a full PA, Sound engineer and DJ that can be included. Also softer ceremony music can be included as part of the package.

For bookings and info, please contact us by email at fullmoonboogieband@gmail.com or by our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/fullmoon.boogieband 🙂

A WOP BAM A LU WOP A WOP BAM BOO!!!

NEXT SHOW: THE BURLESQUE AND CABARET SEPTEMBER SHOW!

WHERE: THE SUGAR CLUB, LEESON ST, DUBLIN.

WHEN: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21ST, 20:00-02:30

FACEBOOK EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/464840443547520/

TICKETS: http://entertainment.ticketsolve.com/shows/873485499/events

The Burlesque & Cabaret Social Club

Check out below for some samples of our sounds:

Myself performing at the Sugar Club in August 🙂
Sarah and myself 🙂
Drumming sensation Paul!
Lady of the bass, Sarah and Marc!

 

Just As Soon As I Belong, Then It’s Time I Disappear… Bob Rock And His Influence on Metallica

An essay I wrote in 2011…….

Abstract

Metallica changed the face of metal music in 1990 by working with Bob Rock on their highly successful Metallica album.

The following report discusses the influence of producer Bob Rock on Metallica using quantitive research. The report investigates the impact of the music created by Metallica before, during and after the influence of Bob Rock.

Introduction

Robert Jens Rock (born on the 19th of April 1954 in Winnipeg, Manitoba) is a Canadian musician, sound engineer and producer best known for producing bands such as Metallica, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe. His career has seen a large degree of commercial success yet not without some degree of critical acclaim. Rock was recruited by American thrash-metal band, Metallica for their eponymous 1991 album (also known as The Black Album) after producing Motley Crüe’s 1989 Dr. Feelgood album.

I intend to look at how Rock influenced the sound and musical format of Metallica compared with the four albums released prior to his involvement, the events that led to his departure as Metallica’s producer in 2006 and the following album that was released in 2008.

Bob Rock: Pre-Metallica

Bob Rock began his musical career as a guitarist playing in various bands. He achieved notable success with the Payolas who had a hit in the 80’s with “Eyes of a Stranger” which was used as part of the soundtrack of the movie Valley Girl, starring Nicolas Cage.

Rock worked as an assistant at Little Mountain Sound studio in Vancouver recording young Canadian punk bands and learning his trade which would eventually lead to working with Bon Jovi and Aerosmith.

The record that put Rock into the production spotlight was the debut album from Kingdom Come in 1989. By 1990 Rock was working with Blue Murder, Loverboy, The Cult, Motley Crüe, David Lee Roth and Cher. The highly successful Motley Crüe collaboration with Rock resulted in the number one album, Dr. Feelgood.

Metallica: Pre-Bob Rock

Ugly guys singing ugly things to ugly music.” Kirk Hammett quoted in The Frayed Ends of Metal (Crocker, 1993, p.67)

In 1983 an independent album entitled Kill ‘Em All was released. Extreme high-gain distortion, rapid-fire down-picked riffs, snarling vocals, jackhammer double-kick drum patterns, this was the raw, aggressive sound of a new metal band called Metallica. The album captured the high energy of punk fused with the muscle of heavy metal and created a sound previously unheard before-thrash metal.

Metallica consisted of founder member, drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Cliff Burton. Musically the band hailed New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands such as Judas Priest, Diamond Head, Motörhead and Iron Maiden as well as classic metal bands, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix as their main influences, as Lars Ulrich outlines in an interview in Putterford’s Metallica Talking: “We took the power and energy of Motörhead back in ’79/’80 and mixed it with more traditional arrangements and riffing.” (Putterford, 2004, p.16)

The music and success of Metallica progressed significantly with their second album, Ride the Lightning released in 1984. Flemming Rasmussen who was recruited to engineer and produce the album, was a major influence on the band. Melody was a prominent feature in the new music as well as better arrangements and bigger chorus’s. Metallica realised not all music needed to be fast and furious to be powerful and heavy and the album even featured a ballad “Fade to Black”. Lars Ulrich explains in an interview in Putterford’s Metallica Talking: “In the Ride The Lightning album we learnt that you could still be powerful even if the pace was slowed right down, and now we’ve understood that you can still hit hard music even when there’s subtlety in the music.” (Putterford, 2004, p.22)

Master of Puppets (also produced by Rasmussen) followed in 1986 and brought Metallica up to the next level of commercial success in America, reaching number 29 in the U.S Billboard 200, making it the very first thrash metal album to crack the Top 40. The aggressive yet highly varied album combined great musical skill and well-composed tracks with Hetfield’s developed vocals, Hammett’s intricate lead guitar melodies, Burton’s powerful bass and Ulrich’s pounding drums.

Following the tragic death of bassist Cliff Burton on a tour bus crash in 1986, Metallica re- grouped with Flotsam and Jetsam bassist Jason Newsted. In 1988 the fourth Metallica album, …And Justice For All was released.

The production sound on …And Justice For All came under scrutiny for the lack bass in the mix due to Hetfield and Ulrich being heavily involved as producers on the album. It was a conscious decision on behalf of Hetfield and Ulrich to make the album deeper than Master of Puppets, using harsher guitar tones and refusing to use reverb and echo effects. Lars Ulrich explains in an interview in Putterford’s Metallica Talking: “One thing that I think we went for this time around when we were mixing the album is a very up-front, in-your-face type sound. We wanted all the instruments to practically jump out of the speakers and slap you in the face while you’re listening to it.” (Putterford, 2004, p.30)

Production issues aside, “… And Justice For All” was very musically ambitious, progressive arrangements often brought the songs close to ten minutes in length. Hetfield’s lyrics are often quite dark and bleak with themes of injustice (the title song), insanity (“The Frayed Ends Of Sanity”), his own troubled childhood (“Dyers Eve”) and the environment (“Blackend”).

Despite the harsh production and it’s progressive song structure, “One”, an unlikely breakthrough single from the album, became the first Metallica song to receive mainstream radio airplay and also led to the band making their first music video. “One” reached number 35 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the music video received heavy airplay on MTV.

The Black Album

Following a gruelling 19 month tour during which the members of Metallica noted that the material from “…And Justice for All” was simply not cutting it live, Kirk Hammett explains in an interview in Crocker’s The Frayed Ends of Metal “Everyone would have these long faces. And I’d think, ‘Goddamn, they’re not enjoying it as much as we are.’” Crocker, 1994 p. 157). The band felt they needed to take their next album, the eponymous Metallica, (commonly referred to as The Black Album due to it’s monochrome cover art) in a new direction and recruit a new producer.

A simpler approach to song-writing was needed and for the first time in their career, Metallica admitted it would be okay if someone else helped them out. That man was Bob Rock.

The metal community was shocked at Metallica’s decision to work with Rock, the man behind top-selling, sonically-pleasing albums Slippery When Wet (Bon Jovi), Dr. Feelgood (Motley Crüe) and A Little Ain’t Enough (David Lee Roth). Fans feared the band would fall down the slippery slope of radio-fodder commercialism.

When asked on an MTV interview show why Metallica chose Bob Rock to produce the album, Kirk Hammett light-heartedly said “We liked the sound of his name.” (Crocker, 1994 pg.159)

Lars Ulrich reveals the real reason for hiring Rock in an interview in Putterford’s Metallica Talking: “I’ve heard Bon Jovi this, Bon Jovi that, but the fact of the matter is Bob Rock’s got an incredible ear for attitude and feeling.” (Putterford, 2004, p.35)

Rock brought some serious changes to Metallica’s approach to recording and it took several months for the working relationship between the two to settle down and get used to each other.

Metallica always recorded to a click track and overdubbed all their parts separately on previous albums thus resulting in clean yet mechanical sounding records. Rock convinced the band that a certain magic happens when everyone plays together, a certain energy or groove that only happens with a ‘live’ performance.

With regards to the complexity of the song’s arrangements, Rock suggested making the songs shorter and simpler by limiting the amount of riffs to one or two per song. The method of stripping down songs for the album became known as “The Reductive Method of Metallica”. This could be seen by hard-core fans as a direct attempt to increase the commercial potential of Metallica’s music. In saying this, great rock classics such as “Whole Lotta Love” (Led Zeppelin) and “Smoke on the Water’” (Deep Purple) are all one-riff songs. Metallica saw this as even more of a challenge than cramming loads of riffs into one song and making it work.

Sonically Rock wanted Metallica to sound thick and heavy, the complete opposite of …And Justice For All. He introduced Metallica to the art of guitar layering, tracking plenty of guitar harmonies and textures. The increase of bass frequencies were an important aspect of this thick, overall sound much to Newsted’s satisfaction.

Rock is responsible for developing Hetfield’s style of singing, opening his mind to soulful singing and making him feel comfortable enough to take his guard down and focus on melodies. Hetfield’s vocal on previous albums had been rough and aggressive, typical of the thrash-metal genre. Vocals became a driving force on the songs and were more important than ever. The vocals were put on equal footing with the guitars for the first time ever in Metallica’s recording history. Rock also suggested the idea of vocal harmonies to Hetfield and this was the first time Metallica ever tracked vocal harmonies. Rock’s vocal ideas had a fundamental impact on Metallica’s overall sound.

Experimentation with microphones was a new approach to recording Rock brought to Metallica. Hetfield was encouraged to try out various microphones and find a setup which he felt accurately captured his performance. Rock also tried varied microphone positioning to capture as much sound as possible.

Throughout the recording process, there was a great deal of tension between Metallica and Rock, due to how hard Rock was pushing the band to get the best out of them. Each song typically needed thirty or forty takes to get enough material to edit into one strong track. Ulrich explains in Crocker’s The Frayed Ends of Sanity: “We’d never really had anybody push us before.” (Crocker, 1994, p.161)

Most shocking of all for hard-core Metallica fans was the unexpected ballad “Nothing Else Matters”, which featured a 30 piece symphony orchestra conducted by Michael Kaman and recorded by Rock in Abbey Studios, London. Metallica themselves were astounded when they heard the recording, Ulrich commenting in Putterford’s Metallica Talking “We were fucking floored!” (Putterford, 2004, p.38). More than a love song, “Nothing Else Matters” is an open-hearted, soul-bearing expression of devotion. According to rock legend, the song was born on the road when Hetfield was talking to his then-girlfriend over the phone with his guitar on his lap, his free hand plucking the open strings which later developed into the beautiful, arpeggiating E minor guitar opening. Unlike previous ballads “Fade to Black” (Ride the Lightning), “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” (Master of Puppets) and “One” (…And Justice For All), “Nothing Else Matters” didn’t take off into a frenzy of complex riffs with Hammett’s blistering solos but stayed steady throughout, Hetfield’s melodic, heart-rendering guitar solo bringing the song to a climax maturely and gracefully.

After two months of song-writing and ten months of studio time, Metallica was released and went straight to number 1 on the Billboard charts, selling an estimated 600,000 copies in the first week alone. Overseas the album went to number 1 on albums charts in England, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand and Norway. The album changed Metallica’s industry status to multi-platinum and most-wanted.

Load and Reload

After the monumental global success of The Black Album, Metallica faced a difficult task in following it up. Knowing Bob Rock for five years, a strong and tolerant working relationship had been established, Rock was the obvious choice to produce the new material. Lars Ulrich comments in an interview in Putterford’s Metallica Talking “I think overall there has been a fraction of the problems that there were on the first record.” (Putterford, 2004, p.52) Enough material was composed for a double album. Due to touring schedules the material was released as two separate albums: Load in 1996 and Reload in 1997.

Although a successful production style had been established with Metallica, Load and Reload saw Metallica take yet a different approach to recording again. The bass guitar was laid down right on the drums instead of the guitar and Kirk Hammett played rhythm guitar for the first time. This allowed him to create his own parts and not copy Hetfield’s riffs, incorporating his blues and jazz influences to the new material. The guitars were down-tuned to E flat, a semi- tone lower than previous albums, probably to suit Hetfield’s rich voice but also to thicken the sound.

Load and Reload were very similar in terms of dynamics and style of music. A highly polished, thick sound, rich in melodic vocals, bluesy riffs, warm bass and energetic drums, Metallica crafted strong songs whilst staying true to their personalities, once again.

Bob Rock shares his thoughts of Reload in Putterford’s Metallica Talking: “There’s stuff on this album that’s classic as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. That’s the thing with Metallica. It’s not just another project for me. It’s the chance to work with a band I consider to be the new Led Zeppelin or the Beatles. They’re pretty much the Bob Dylan of this generation. Let’s face facts- it’s not Motley Crüe who are gonna go down in the history books…” (Putterford, 2004, p.55)

Hard-core fans were once again outraged at these releases, claiming that Cliff Burton’s tragic death was a major influence on Metallica’s new music. Fans felt that Metallica had become softer and Burton who had a profound influence on Metallica’s early music, would never have allowed the band to go this direction or even make music with Bob Rock. Kirk Hammett strongly disagrees with this theory saying “If Cliff was still in the band, we’d have recorded Load a lot sooner, He was very melodically inclined and listened to a lot of melodic music- and this was back in 1984, when the rest of the band were listening to heavy metal 24 hours a day!” (Putterford, 2004, p.53)

Yet Load and Reload represent a great step forward, musically and lyrically for Metallica. One can’t deny the interesting, sonic experimental elements and clever arrangements of these songs, Metallica have mastered the art of painting their music and blending their colours.

St. Anger

Metallica took a break from song-writing after the mildly successful (in record label terms) Load and Reload albums. Following Reload was an album of covers Garage Inc., where Metallica paid tribute to their influences (1998) and in 1999 Metallica joined forces with Michael Kamen and the symphony orchestra for a limited number of intimate performances which resulted in a live album entitled S&M. Bob Rock along with Hetfield and Ulrich, produced both albums.

In 2001 Jason Newsted left the band. Recording began as planned soon after with Rock playing bass and co-producing. Rock explains in an interview with Sound on Sound:

Jason wasn’t around when we worked on a song called “I Disappear” for the Mission Impossible 2 soundtrack in 2000 and so I played bass while running through the number with James and Lars. We kind of redid the feel, and at the start of this project I was basically told ‘You know what, with all the things going on right now, we don’t really want to audition guys. What you did on Mission Impossible was really cool, so why don’t we kick things off like that?’ That’s what I did.” (Buskin, 2004)

At this time the band had begun filming a documentary about the making of the new album. During this the band’s management hired the services of therapist/performance enhancement coach Phil Towle to help the band with dealing with the departure of Newsted and Hetfield’s sudden disappearance into rehabilitation for alcoholism.

The recording of St. Anger was a new experience for Metallica and Rock. Instead of recording in Rock’s own Plantation Studios facility in Hawaii, a decision was made to record in San Francisco in a deserted army barracks so the band could be closer to family and friends during their difficult time. An SSL 4000 console was installed along with various equipment from Rock’s studio including UREI 813 monitors, Studer amps, Pro Tools HD rigs, vintage microphones and assorted effects. Apart from a little acoustic treatment, the basic square box of the abandoned building was adapted to meet the recording requirements. The back-to-basics environment reflected Metallica’s new found aggression.

The band also took a new approach to song-writing. Traditionally, Metallica’s songwriting modus operandi had been to compose the music first and for Hetfield to write the lyrics later on, this time the band jammed main ideas, sessions would last up to 8 hours and lyrics were penned straight after, even if Hetfield couldn’t come up with something within the first 15 minutes, the other members would pitch in their ideas. The jams were then assembled into song structures by Rock and Ulrich. Rock explains in an interview with Sound on Sound:

What’s interesting about Lars is that he is not a guitar player, so he doesn’t really relate to the pitch. He only goes by what he hears, and he’d therefore stick together things that I don’t think James or Kirk or I would, because musically they don’t match or whatever. Yet, by putting them together, something would emerge. It was very interesting.” (Buskin, 2004)

Spontaneity was also a key factor in the creation of the new songs Rock reveals:

With ‘St. Anger’ I distinctly remember the point when I turned to James and joked, ‘What we need is one of those half-tone riffs that’s up-tempo and really complicated.’ He said, ‘How’s this?’ and he played the riff. All of our jaws dropped and we were like, ‘Where did that come from?’ I mean, he just came up with it on the spot. Then we had these other feels, like the near-reggae feel of the verse, and we just put them all together.” (Buskin, 2004)

St. Anger represented Rock’s first ever all-digital project, even though analogue was used for mastering. Metallica really liked the raw sound of digital and didn’t want to go back to analogue which softens guitars. Rock spent about 3 hours mixing each of the finished tracks separately in Metallica’s studio and didn’t nit pick, leaving the mix very honest. Drum hits weren’t nudged to be perfectly in time and extra production such as harmony layering and textures were not added in.

St. Anger was finally released in 2003 after 2 difficult years and it greatly upset Metallica fans. Metallica had changed their sound. It didn’t sound like a traditional metal album whatsoever. The guitars were down-tuned to C (a feature of contemporary metal music and quite tuned down from E flat), there were no guitar solos or ballads, the snare drum sounded like a tin can and the overall record had a hiss sound which is known as “Fried Egg Syndrome”. Kirk Hammett explains about the lack of guitar solos in an interview on Putterford’s Metallica Talking: “The reason there are no solos on the album is because it just felt like that would have taken away from the collaborative nature of the songs. It’s not about the solos, it’s about the four of us moving together musically.” (Putterford, 2004, p.63)

In the film Some Kind of Monster which resulted from the documentation of recording St. Anger, Rock is clearly shown as a member of the band, having equal say in decisions about the bands future. The fact that Rock was physically playing bass for Metallica shows just how important his presence was in the band.

It shows Rock as the glue in holding the band together during the entire process. Rock exhibits inexhaustible patience as every whimsical thought from the quite often egotistical band is discussed in depth, always remained calm during heated discussions, kept his clients happy, especially by asserting Hetfield of his talent during his uninspired moments which resulted in essential creative environments. Rock stepped up to playing bass for the band immediately to avoid the lengthy process of recruiting a new bass player for the album and endured every musical opinion and nit pick from the band regarding his bass playing. Rock went beyond the normal duties of a producer because he is a great producer and knows how to make a great record.

Metallica Post-Bob Rock

Although Bob Rock played bass and co-wrote the songs for St. Anger, Metallica needed to find a permanent bass player. Robert Trujillo joined Metallica in 2003 after auditions were held for Metallica’s fourth member. The addition of Trujillo excited the members of Metallica and the fans. James Hetfield reveals on the official Metallica website: “He brings an awesome new strength to the band, he makes us step up.” (Metallica, 2003)

In spite of Trujillo’s warm welcome, Metallica’s fans were unforgiving for St. Anger and an online petition lobbied for an end to Bob Rock’s work with Metallica. Addressed to the band:

We, the longtime loyal fans and friends of Metallica and their music would like to see a major change with the upcoming album. I know it will be a hard thing to do, but we feel it is time to sever your working relationship with Bob Rock.” (Vasiliou, 2007)

Further on, the petition reads: “Then we are left with St. Anger. It is completely unlistenable and this is the album that Bob Rock had most of his influence.” (Vasiliou, 2007)

The petition received over 20, 000 signatures and it is unclear exactly how much influence, if any, this petition had on the band’s decisions. In 2006 Metallica announced that they would not be working with Rock on their next studio album, ending their 15-year relationship and it would be produced by Rick Rubin who had previously worked with artists such as Slayer, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Jay-Z and many more.

Post-recording, Kirk Hammett revealed Rubin’s style was drastically different to Rock’s:

Bob would add a lot of his own musical input and with that came a lot of his own influences and style and jurisdiction and idiosyncrasie. And it would eventually make it into our sound. But with Rick, because he wasn’t there, it’s almost 100 percent undiluted Metallica. He’d come in and say, ‘That’s good, that isn’t, change that.’ And we would have to figure that out for ourselves. This is the most pure we’ve sounded in a long time.” (Harris and Brown, 2008)

Death Magnetic was released in 2008 and received very well by fans, returning to their old sound of blistering solos, complicated riffs and screaming vocals, Metallica showed the heavy metal scene they are still the best in the business.

James Hetfield revealed his philosophical view on Putterford’s Metallica Talking: “It’s never done unless you’re done. And we haven’t said we’re done yet.” (Putterford, 2004, p.131)

Bob Rock Post-Metallica

After twenty years of building an international reputation and producing major bands, Bob Rock’s priorities in life are simple and he is currently playing guitar with old friend Paul Hyde, bringing the Payolas back into the music industry with a new CD and live shows.

Rock reveals in an interview online: “You learn about life and how you feel about life, and you learn about the people you what to spend time with, and the bottom line is I figured out one of the people I want to sound time with is Paul Hyde.” (Lee, 2007)

Rock was highly recognised at the 2007 Juno Awards Ceremony for his lifetime contribution to popular music. Rock was also inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

More recently Rock has teamed up with Loverboy again to produce new material for the band.

Conclusion

This report discussed the influence of producer Bob Rock on the music of Metallica.

It is my opinion that Bob Rock had a positive effect on Metallica. The albums he worked with the band on are sonically much brighter, clearer and interesting than the ones he did not. He developed the band’s song-writing and musicianship and he brought the band to worldwide success.

Regardless of any personal opinions on Metallica’s music pre or post-Bob Rock, his influence on the band cannot be understated. It was a conscious decision of Metallica to change their sound in 1990 and if Bob Rock didn’t produce the band at that time then it would have certainly would have been another like-minded producer.

References

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VASILIOU, M. (2007) Metallica Ending Their Ties With Producer Bob Rock [WWW] Petition Online. Available from: <http://www.petitiononline.com/SaveMet/petition.html&gt; [Accessed on 01.03.2011]

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