The record was titled Never let me Down, but apparently David Bowie felt he had let himself down when he recorded it, or perhaps his audience. Either way, within a five-year plan the artist left, outlining projects he wanted to be accomplished or completed after his death, were instructions for re-recording this 1987 album. He specifically requested a pair of modern guitar icons, Reeves Gabrels and David Torn be on the project. The finished version is included in 11-CD, 15-record box set called Loving The Alien (Warner Music/Parlophone), released October 12.
Guitar Moderne sat down with Gabrels in Nashville, and spoke to Torn by phone in his Bearsville home to get their recollections of working on this major reimagining. As always, the two were candid and wide ranging, so dig in.
Did Bowie say why he wanted to have Never Let me Down redone?
I met David when he was on the Glass Spider Tour, where I got to see those songs played with more muscle and less production. When he and I first worked together he said he thought there were some good songs on Never Let Me Down, and we might re-record those. I thought it would be weird to start re-recording songs that had only come out a year or two earlier and talked him out of it.
He blamed himself. There was nothing wrong with anybody’s playing on that record; everybody played great. He was just listening to different music than the players he was working with. They were not listening to Sonic Youth. It had always been a thorn in his side; he said in interviews that he felt he had “checked out during the recording.” It wasn’t going the way he wanted, but he wasn’t in shape to be insistent.
All the drums on the original Never Let me Down were programmed. When it came out, I was in bands in Boston being snotty and snobby. When it came out in 1987, we thought that it sounded like 1985. It had that Bob Clearmountain, Simple Minds snare sound. Not to put him down, when that drum sound was new he was a pioneer.
It’s like the Phil Collins sound. It was amazing when you first heard it. The 97th time it started to get old.
The problem became when people start copying. It’s like Steely Dan. I love Steely Dan; people calling it “yacht rock” piss me off to this day. It was because the people who copied it didn’t have the attitude behind it, or the lyric content. The copycats weren’t rooted in Naked Lunch; they were rooted in pina coladas.
I always had the attitude “let the past be the past,” and usually so did David. Still, the first thing I did with him was a remake of “Look Back in Anger.” He’d also re-recorded “John, I’m Only Dancing” with the Young Americans era band. I don’t know how many times he re-recorded “Bring Me the Head of the Disco King,” which finally ended up on Heathen. When I look back at it now, it might have been his litmus test, one of the ways he figured out what the new guys sounded like. It came up again around the time we were doing the Hours record and I still dragged my feet on it.
He had specific people he wanted to redo it?
David left a five-year plan behind, including the boxed sets, and in January they must have torn the envelope open and it said, “Contact these guys.”
What I think was going on in his mind was that he already knew the people who did it originally, so there was no reason to ask them to get involved again, and he knew the people post-1987 shared the aesthetic that he was looking for.
Was Mario McNulty specified to produce it?
He and David hit it off when he was engineering for Tony Visconti. I think he worked on The Next Day, and maybe something else before that. Mario is the person that contacted me. I had worked on couple of things with him. I like Mario as a producer and as a musician. He’s a great guy, which is important when you’re sitting in close quarters with somebody for an extended period of time.
One day he was telling me about it; I had no idea that this was going on. What was supposed to be a half-hour cup of coffee turned into five hours. Mario knew I knew about the record, but he didn’t know how much I had discussed it with David. I felt maybe this was a practical joke on David’s part, because I had said no to re-recording it so many times. David knew I wouldn’t say no to him after he was dead.
We kept anything that David played: harmonica and guitar. I knew he was a fan of Neil Young and the Yardbirds, so I could hear little “tells” in the music, where I could figure out what his initial impulse was for the song. Mario and I talked about it a lot. I was out with my Imaginary Friends trio when the basics were being done. That was Mario, Tim Lefebvre on bass, and Sterling Campbell on drums.
Did they follow the template of the song?
Yeah, the tempo and the template, using whatever was on there that provided the most harmonic information.
Whatever David was doing?
Or, possibly a rhythm part of Carlos Alomar’s. Carlos had this gated rhythm part on the song “Never Let Me Down,” and they built it from there. I didn’t listen to the original versions at all, because I wanted to approach it as if they were fresh songs and I was hearing the demos at the studio. I didn’t want to end up playing a part that was already there. On “Zeroes,” we kept Peter Frampton’s Coral sitar part because it seemed so much a part of the song. For me to replay it would have been absurd.
In 2008, Bowie had Mario redo “Time Will Crawl” as a test. It became a template for what we did, which was basically real drums, real bass, raunchy guitars, and strings. David and I went to see Steve Reich perform at UCLA in ’88. He liked the whole Steve Reich/Philip Glass thing. Nico Muhly didn’t do the strings on “Time Will Crawl” but they brought him in to do the strings on everything else.
There are a couple of parts where David’s playing electric and you can hear he was pushing towards what we did with Tin Machine. He’s playing his Steinberger with a whammy bar on “’87 and Cry.” He wasn’t the best guitar player but he got the part he wanted and was like a pit bull once he got it.
I heard that he came up with the part for “Rebel Rebel.”
Yeah, that’s his part. As the story goes, it was Alan Parker that actually played it. It sounds natural but it’s a really weird part.
I had to learn it and it’s not easy.
I know. It’s a really convoluted guitar part, which only a non-guitar player could come up with. I never had to play it with him on stage because, during my 15 years, we shied away from playing anything that wasn’t new stuff we had recorded together. Or, if we did something old, we rearranged it, like “The Man Who Sold the World,” and a couple of other songs.
So, for the first two days, as I was there listening, If something came into my head, I would do some quick sketches of ideas I wanted. For example, in “Beat Of Your Drum,” there’s a guitar line in the chorus that I put down off the top of my head. When it came time to actually record it properly the next morning, it took me about a half hour to figure out how I played it.
Who’s playing acoustic on this?
David is playing a bunch of it. I went to Mario’s home studio for two days and we went through the songs. I was really curious to hear David’s voice soloed. He’s singing his ass off.
For some reason “Zeroes” spoke to me and I wanted to do that first. When we pulled it up, Mario and I looked at each other and thought, “This should be the single.” As if there’s going to be a single, right?
Throughout our time working together, David and I would often record acoustic guitars together because he had a particular feel: he felt one and three more strongly, while I sat on the backbeat. We would sit across from each other; I would have him in my left ear and myself in my right ear, and his vocal would be in the center. He had a thing where his body would move, the way he’d cross his leg and his right foot would bounce a certain way in time. He’d look at you, but he’d look above your eyes, like he was looking at you but he wasn’t.
I cut the acoustic guitar against his. Mario decided that, instead of being all-in like it was on the original, we should build, starting with acoustic guitar and David singing. Something about his vocal in it went back to like “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud,” or something from the Changes era. It was David’s voice and he’s timeless.
What acoustic were you playing?
I had a Breedlove acoustic, we didn’t use the pickup system, we miked it. I’m betting that he was playing his Yamaha F150 because he loved that. He had six of them, three tuned to D, Eb, and standard tuning, with a spare for each one. His Yamahas had a Fishman system in them, which was actually more expensive than the guitars. I’d love to get my hands on one now, because they’ve aged.
So I’m playing the part, I’ve got my eyes closed and I can see David. I can feel his time and I’m playing off it, as I always did. I get to the end of the song and I open my eyes and he’s not there. I knew that something like that was going to happen. Fortunately, we were in the big room at Electric Lady and it took time for people to get to me from the control room. I had time to wipe the tears from the corner of my eye. It was the big emotional moment for me when we were doing it. I could see him sitting there. The rest of the time was more like all the other records I did with him, where some days he’d say, “I’m not going to come in Wednesday and Thursday, I’ll be in on Friday. You know what to do.” I felt like he wasn’t there, but he was going to be in.
What other guitars did you use on the sessions?
The main guitars for all of the soloing and the annoying Reeves Gabrels parts were done with my Reverend RG1 with a sustainer in it. The stuff where you can hear a softer vibrato is my Reverend Spacehawk. Those two guitars were primary. The intro guitar on “Beat of Your Drum” was a Goldtop R7 Les Paul I bought at 30th Street Guitars that afternoon. The last guitar part I did, the descending sort of Pete Townshend-y partial chord, like Townsend would slide the D chord around, is that Les Paul doubled with the Spacehawk. The metallic-sounding flanged funk guitar I played on “Shining Star” is a Trussart SteeltopCaster that I also used on the Iggy Song, “Bang Bang.”
When we tracked “Bang Bang,” Nico had sent the score as MIDI sampled strings, so he could make alterations once we were finished playing. So everything I did was against those strings, bass, drums, and David’s parts. The strings re-contextualized that song. If Iggy’s intention on the original was misogyny, maybe I didn’t get the joke. It doesn’t sound like something you’d expect David to write. With the strings it had this regret, like an older man looking back going, “I wanted her to be gone when I woke up, but now it would have been nice if she would have stayed.” Or “My misspent youth was all about my dick, when I should have been using my brain.”
On that song I used the Trussart through a cranked 4×10 Fender Bassman that was in the studio. I used a Boss GE7 EQ modded to push certain frequencies. There was a hardwood door in the studio that I guess they were using for baffling. I put that about three feet away from the speaker and put the mic facing the door so it was all hard reflection. I wanted the guitar to sound slightly spastic, shattered and broken, like memories. I basically did that in one or two takes. Torn plays some atmospheric stuff on that. On one of the verses he did a little fuzzbox thing. You can tell it’s Torn because he pops the bar and it does that Jeff Beck warble.
Torn and I did “Shining Star” together, and then we both went back and did additional overdubs separately. At the start I played that funk rhythm thing using the Line 6 M9 modeler’s Gray Box Flanger set on manual, so it was a static notch, no sweep. It had a little steel drum ring to it.
Mario got Laurie Anderson to do the rap on “Shining Star.” It had been a very distorted sounding Mickey Rourke on the original version. I can only imagine the circumstances of that event back then. It must have seemed like a good idea in the bathroom at the club, which apparently continued when they woke up the engineer to go back to the studio and record it. The words are pretty dark. Mario had worked with Laurie and Lou Reed on a bunch of things so he just sent her a text.
The challenging one for me was “Glass Spider.” The trick was how to do it and not have it sound like Labyrinth, which, to me, was the low point of the David Bowie, Tina Turner, Pepsi Cola commercial era. Sometimes it’s fun to have two guitar players solo at the same time and have a conversation. Torn and I did that, only with simultaneous textures. The best way to tell us apart in those situations is that I’m a little more line oriented and he’s more…
Clouds of Frozen Remorse or Clouds without Mercury. We got something that moves it out of that Labyrinth, world.
This was mostly done at Electric Lady?
I did two days at Mario’s going through stuff and three days at Electric Lady. Anything that required room sound, like the acoustic guitars, was done at Electric Lady. Torn came in for one of those days.
I let it sit for a week while Mario sifted through stuff. I got a room in the hotel across the street from where he lives, down by Wall Street, because I wanted to play on as much of the record as possible. It looked like the hotel in John Wick. I went back over and worked with him some more as things revealed themselves. The nice thing about the way we record in the modern world is it’s a constant mix. Things would reveal themselves as in: something could go here.
The last thing I did was when I was coming back from buying that guitar at 30th Street Guitars. Mario called me up and I went right over instead of going up to my room.
He put up “New York’s In Love.” When I listened to the album driving down, I thought Peter Frampton played great on it. But it was coming out of a blues-rock perspective. Peter’s capable of all kinds of playing; he’s got jazz chops, as well as everything else. That was just the stance he took on that. I was thinking more about New York, being back down on 8th Street, which is where I bought my first coke spoon, right? I was thinking about how much it had changed. I thought I might push more of a Middle Eastern tonality, supplanting the blues pentatonic thing with something more microtonal. Also, the night before, I was listening to the sirens before I went to bed and not hearing them as an annoyance, but as a musical thing.
Often, when it’s time to do a guitar part, I will play lead through the whole thing. That way I can poke around in the harmonic corners of the song and see what works. If the producer will humor me for the length of the song, it gives me a perspective on the rhythm part I’m going to play.
He put up “New York’s In Love” and I went for it. One of my expression pedals was backwards on my Line 6 M9 and was giving me a 5th down instead of an octave up, or something like that, which was making me do things differently. When I got done blasting through the track, Mario goes, “Well, that’s done then.” He played it for me and I said, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” My imitation sirens and Middle Eastern street vendor things worked. And then I went back and I did all the responsible guitars, like the harmonic, the chordal stuff.
I was going to ask you about that. The placement of the power chords is offset from where they were originally. Did you purposely change it?
Is it bad?
No, it’s interesting. It updates it. Where you put it is not as obvious, because they’re off the one; they’re in a sense syncopated; it makes it a funkier, little less rock.
Which is funny because I usually get labeled in The Cure as the band rock-ist. That was a happy accident. I trusted Mario, if he didn’t like what I was doing, he would tell me. I wouldn’t have the original in my head, so the process was interestingly organic.
The way we record now, very often you’ll get bass, drums, a rhythm guitar, an acoustic guitar, and a vocal as a demo from somebody and you’ll work from that, building it up from there. It’s often additive, and so I felt the process was very similar while doing this. It was reminiscent of the way David and I worked on Hours. We did a lot of that record in my studio apartment on Astor Place. And then, I would bring the drive over to where we were working at Chung King or Looking Glass studios and do the drums, the guitars that needed room sound, or the final vocals there. One of the dangers of working like this is that something could end up coming across as contrived. The main good thing about it was that we were doing what David asked us to do. Unlike…
Which went through my head.
Well it’s funny you mention that. I was thinking about it from the other end. What if Jimi had known he was going to die and had stipulated how to finish those tunes? That would have been great.
Yeah, we had the approval of and direction from the artist. Mario had more specific conversations about it with David than I ever did. Mario actually worked with David on the track that became the template for what we did. If David was alive and this was his next record, it would be like the new Bowie sound: Steve Reich-ian strings with distorted electric guitar, bass, and drums. It’s a major leap.
Because he stipulated it I think you can feel safe in that at this point.
It’s hard because you’ve got the ghost bands out there. I’m appalled by it. It’s nice to do a tribute or a memorial concert when someone passes, but you don’t see the Heartbreakers out there with guest vocalists. Because you may have played with Bowie on an album or two, or played on a song, it doesn’t give you the right to go out and thumb through the catalog. One guy in particular is billing himself as a Bowie musical director and he’s never even met David. Still, if my life were different, I might also be scrambling to get out there and make a buck.
It’s a fine line. In a sense it’s something you’re supplying to people who are happy to see it. The Elvis guys are going out with a picture of Elvis performing it.
And they were going to do that with David. But see that’s the thing: To see him turned into Elvis, to see him on coffee mugs I find upsetting, but that’s more my problem than it is anybody else’s. I’ve stuck to my guns and I’m not going to be writing a book either.
Let’s get down in the gear weeds. On “Day In Day Out” were you using a fuzz on the solo?
Yeah. I was using the Source Audio Multiwave. There are so many different sounds in that. When you play with lower guitar volume, using the octave fuzz it doesn’t reveal itself as being quite as ring-modulator-ish. But, if I play two notes at the same time I can get the intermodulation. I love that thing.
On “Time Will Crawl” there’s a little section with a bluesy solo.
That’s the Letterman Band guitarist, Sid McGinnis’ original solo. He played great on that. That was their first re-recording experiment, where Sterling played drums. We didn’t touch that at all in these sessions. That was done in 2008, with David in the room.
The blues section feels a little out of place with the rest of the song.
I think that was possibly the intention. David always said he approached bands like an art director. He got a guy whose copy he liked, and a guy whose illustrations he liked, from different walks of life, and assembled them to see what happened. In a way, that solo is an example of that.
There are places all through the record where there are swooping octave sounds. It’s hard to tell whether they’re a Whammy pedal, a whammy bar set up to go way up, or even a slide. Do you remember?
On “Beat Of Your Drum,” that’s a slide. That’s Torn, I believe he did that at home and sent it in. I didn’t use a whammy pedal as such, the octave up stuff is me hitting the sustainer button to the octave up setting and it’s making a leap. I did use a pedal to go up a fourth or sometimes or a fifth.
I have an aversion to the Whammy pedal. I used it with Tin Machine when it was still in a rack, because you had to get in there and know what you were doing to get it to do things. You could introduce delay, use an expression pedal to control the whammy, and add reverb to it. I felt when DigiTech put it in the red Whammy pedal they took a great idea and put it in the hands of idiots.
There’s a great stutter sound at the end of the solo on that.
That’s the Meris Ottobit Jr. I borrowed from Jimmy at 30th Street. I took a couple of whacks at the solo and the outro. The Ottobit came in for the solo proper and stayed in. It has a momentary setting; I stepped on it to see what it would do, and it did that. It shows up in one or two other places. I also used the Alexander Syntax Error. There’s a response part that almost sounds like a baritone sax. I forget what song it’s on.
I thought it was Bowie playing sax. Who’s playing the distorted rhythms on Never Let Me Down?
That’s me. Apparently I changed the chords on that. It was a static chord and everything else was playing a major triad, to a major seven, to a minor seven, and into the six. It’s almost like the descending line cliché in “Stairway to Heaven.” I incorporated it into the chords. I worked with Carlos’s original part, which is that stutter-y part in the background. He was one of the co-writers on it. I figured that’s why I was there.
Who was playing the behind the bridge arpeggios in Glass Spider?
Behind the bridge arpeggios would be me on the Reverend Spacehawk, because it has a Bigsby. I was really particular when I designed the Bigsby placement in the Spacehawk. I’ve got a Gibson Custom shop 335 that has way too many holes in it from when I used it as my guinea pig for proper bridge placement with my string gauge. The distance between the bridge and the tailpiece is always going to be approximate to some degree. But I know what I’m getting when I play.
It sounds like tremolo guitar at the end of “’87 and Cry.”
There’s a kill switch on my Spacehawk. I actually did it in real time.
There’s arpeggio that comes in once at the beginning of “Bang Bang,” like a hook line.
We haven’t discussed amps.
I brought the Line 6 Helix modeler down because I thought I might do some DI stuff. I brought my pedalboard, which has my main distortion the SIB Electronics Varidrive. I think you and I were talking about that; I keep buying them and I’ve got about seven of them now. The board has the Source Audio Multiwave, the Ottobit, and the Syntax Error. I just got a Boss GE7 graphic EQ, modded so it’s quieter. I use it to hit the amp a little harder; it’s got a bit of a smirk curve to it. I boost the level slightly but it also gives me upper-mids for some notes. I also had the Line 6 M9.
As far as amps, I have started using the Yamaha THR-100, which I stumbled on using one of their little practice models as a hotel room amp and MP3 player. When I posted a picture of my guitar and the amp in a hotel room in 2016, the guys from Yamaha called and said, “You might want to check out this THR-100H amp.”
I used it in Nashville one night, but I had my Reeves on stage as well in case it didn’t work out. After the show, all my friends who are tone snobs and tube snobs said, “Your Reeves amp sounded great. What was that Yamaha thing up there for?” I said, “Well, in fact, I was using the Yamaha.” So that convinced me my ears were right.
Basically you can run it as one amp, with switchable pre-amps sections, or as two separate amps in stereo. It’s a solid state 100 watts or you can kick it down to 25 watts.
Yamaha also makes a stereo cabinet with the Eminence version of a Celestion Greenback that’s rated 150 watts on one side and the other side is a like a Celestion 75 watt, which is broader range, with a different mid-range. The cab is rated at 300 watts.
I brought two of those cabs down to the studio and we put them in the live room, we miked the Greenback-style speaker (it’s the Eminence Tonker). And I used the THR-100 head. For the DI stuff I used the Helix.
I used the Yamaha for the room sound, though we also took the XLR out of the head with speaker emulation. You can edit the speaker emulation by plugging it into your computer. You can change the cabinet you’re emulating. I’m running one side like it’s a Fender Deluxe cab with an open back, and the other side like a Hiwatt with a closed back. When I went back to Mario’s home studio, I realized that you don’t need a speaker load for that head. When you unplug the speakers it already loads itself. We took the XLRs out and I used my live pedalboard like I was going into a live amp. I also had a Barefoot Effects Pale Green Compressor and the Fulltone Clyde Wah.
I was thrilled by the fact that the Yamaha amp reacts like a tube amp. I use a clean tube-like front end and you can decide if you want to run it Class A or a Class A/B. For the Highwatt side I’m emulating KT88s and Class A/B, while for the Deluxe side I’m using 6V6s.
You can set that with the computer?
You don’t even have to do that with the computer; all these selections are right on the back of it. Also, you can assign a simulation of a MXR micro-amp, an OCD pedal, or a Tube Screamer. You have to use the computer to do that. There are settings for a Clean, Crunch, Lean, and Modern pre-amps. The Modern setting is scooped, so, when I use it, I sometimes turn the mid-range up a bit. And then there’s a foot switch that lets you select boost and switch channels, or use both channels at the same time, or reverb.
It crossed my mind; here I am recording a David Bowie album using a Yamaha solid state amp. I’m not that much of a snob. I did an entire Bowie record with a Roland VG8. I didn’t find my ears missing anything for what I was there to do, or what I wanted to do. I could do it all with that amp. Better still, when I was at Mario’s home studio I could use the Yamaha with my pedalboard and the only thing different was that I was using a speaker emulated out. The cabs have exactly the speakers I would put in them anyway.
I can’t say enough nice things about that Yamaha. And nicer still is that it weighs about 10 pounds and comes with its own reinforced carry case with a shoulder strap. If you want to you can go right into the house, but live I still like putting mics in front of a cab. Sadly, they are a well-kept secret.
Bowie requested that you and Torn do the rerecording. Have you gotten a sense of how any of the other guitar players feel about not being called?
Everybody’s been really nice about it. Carlos was really nice; Frampton was really nice.
And the later guys, like Gerry Leonard?
I haven’t talked to those guys since. I talked to Earl Slick through a third party because I was concerned about him, as a friend.
Was he even on that record?
No, he was not. You could always take the point of view that if David wanted them on it he would have asked them. I don’t think Gerry came up at all. As for looping, Gerry does a lot of that with Suzanne Vega, and he’s great at it. But Torn was already there.
There was a division of labor. There is some overlap between Torn and I in the fuzzy single note realm or the noisemaker realm. I was curious how that was going to work out. I’m much more of a rockist and more of a “foot-on-the-monitor” guitar solo, bull in the china shop guy. And Torn is much more, I’m going to say sensitive. He’s more of a delicate player. Even his single-line stuff is more textural rather than soloistic. I don’t live in the textural looping world as much as he does. It’s obvious that he’s better at it. I’m happy as a dead pig in the sunshine playing solos. So it worked out fine.
We still sometimes have trouble telling exactly who played what. I love it when that happens. It’s like when David Tronzo and I used to play together. I’ve got like four or five hours recordings with Tronzo, Dean Johnson, and the bass player from Club D’Elf, Michael Rivard. We did two days of improv.
Is this recently?
It was two years ago, during a full moon. I have acquired enough distance now that I can go back to it. I’m not entirely sure until I sit down with the faders and move things around, who’s doing what and I like that. I like the fact that, to this day, I can’t tell if it’s Steve Hunter or Dick Wagner playing on Lou Reed’s Rock and Roll Animal. I believe Hunter is on the right and Wagner is on the left. On the one they released after it, it’s flipped around the other way.
Torn and I had a good time. It was funny, there was one point where we looked at each other and thought it would be great to take this band on the road. If only David was still alive, this would be a great lineup. It would draw a direct line between Outside and Blackstar in some ways, but also have a little of Tin Machine in there. It could’ve been a whole new thing.
Bowie and I talked off and on, but I didn’t know how sick he was. He died, early on a Sunday morning. Saturday morning I woke up and said to Susan, “I dreamt that David died. It wasn’t unpleasant, I just dreamt he died.” Weird. Before he died, I would dream about him maybe once a week. He and I would be arguing about something like, who’s better, Prodigy or Underworld, or we’d be at a party and he’d be across the room trying to get together to talk about something, or to say, “Hi, how you doing? I haven’t seen you for a little while.” And we couldn’t get together because there were people in the way.
This is after you left?
This is after I left. I had that dream the night before he died. I shook it off, didn’t think about it. And then MTV played the new Blackstar album. I was watching the imagery on some of the videos and was like, “Hmm.” I liked it. I went to bed and then Susan wakes me up because there’s a Tweet from his son Duncan that David had passed. I haven’t had a single dream with him in it since then. Which is opposite of some people.
While Reeves had been listening to the final version of the album, David had only heard “Beat Of Your Drum,” so his remarks were more limited. We begin with him.
It’s a weird thing to do right. David’s voice is there all the time. Mario removed and replaced as many moving parts as he needed to, which was in some cases was a lot. It felt psychologically strange. I felt odd, but at the same time we had such a good time doing it.
I took home “Beat of Your Drum” and did some extra stuff on the opening. I wanted the opportunity to sit and look at what the loops should be like; especially knowing that Nico Muhly was going to be doing strings on them.
Reeves and I had never met before. It was new crew. It was fun. There were one or two tracks where we were just doing wild overdubbing together. We were in the same room facing each other with our amps facing each other.
Was that for “Glass Spider?
Maybe, I’m don’t remember. I don’t have the material. I’ve only heard “Beat Of Your Drum.” The record company didn’t send me a copy of anything. I think Mario probably did, but I’ve been so busy in the studio. I’m paying attention to what I’m actually working on now. I only had a day and a half or two days with Mario and Reeves in the studio, and then one day to work on “The Beat of Your Drum” at home. The schedule was put together pretty hastily and it had to fit in for me.
How did you get involved in doing the rerecording?
There was a directive from David for Mario to reproduce that record. I guess Mario discussed it with David who would be involved.
You had worked with Mario before, correct?
He helped me out with a difficult TV series I did for CBS. We had already met at Looking Glass studios, because Mario worked on Reailty. I did a lot on Reality in a short period of time, often, either by myself or with Mario and/or David in the room. If David weren’t coming he would check in with me to ask if I had any ideas. I’d say, “Yes” and he’d go, “Great,” and split [laughs] or wait around to hear the beginning of something and then say, “I like where that’s going with this,” and then leave. Mario was there quite a bit and we got friendly because we were hacking away together.
Other than “Beat Of Your Drum,” did you do any of the other looping at home?
No, I think I did everything else live and in the room.
Did you listen to the original record?
I got to hear the original, and then I heard Mario as he was updating the arrangements in advance of going to the studio. I think maybe I was one or two big revisions early, because I never got to hear Tim Lefebvre play bass until I got in there. In a perfect world it would’ve been really fun to do that like a band in the room for two weeks.
Mario and I would talk about it in advance. I had difficulties with “Beat Of Your Drum” because I wanted to sit in front of a computer and decide what was good and make sure it was right by myself, rather than doing an overdub while people are waiting to play their own stuff. That’s how I worked with David, in any case.
Were you looping live with Reeves in the room when you guys started playing?
Oh yeah, I also did the stuff I would do normally, which is to do a pass, and then go, “Mario, play the track for me again. I’ve got these loops still running so let’s do a pass where I manipulate them in real time to the track.” Like improvising, except the loop already exists. It’s a hard to do; its not impossible to separate the loops from regular guitar, but I was playing pretty loud in the room, so I’m not sure how that stuff got used, or not. I never asked Mario and, like I said, I need the full recordings to hear it. I liked what I heard in “Beat Of Your Drum,” but I’m not sure if we’re playing the solo stuff trading back and forth or if that’s Reeves. I don’t know what’s happening there.
Did you do much single line stuff?
Reeves thought you were doing more the ambient stuff and he was doing more single lines and solos.
I would say that’s the case, because he did overdubs before me and normally he was going at the solos, but I definitely played some. In the end, when I was listening to “Beat Of Your Drum” I thought, “I don’t care who it is.” I can hear what I know I contributed. I would say Reeves is way ahead of me on single lines in the tracks we played on, but I can’t say that is always the case.
I’ve been playing a lot of solos for people in the last year, so usually I can pick me out pretty fast. It’s a little hard to tell, except that I often go way into the horrible ranges with Digitech Ricochet pedal [laughs]. In fact, on the new Pineapple Thief record called Dissolution, on a tune called “White Mist,” I played the some really aggressive Ricochet stuff that they pulled way far down in the mix, which it doesn’t bother me, but it did remove some of the sheer aggression of the sound.
If it’s up that high it probably cuts through.
Oh yeah, you can still hear it; there are a couple of places where I wish I could hear it more, but that solo remains intact.
Speaking of the Ricochet pedal, what gear did you bring into the studio?
I brought my little Fryette Ether instead of the big D120, and the Fryette Power Station. The crunchy chordal sound that happens on guitar in the beginning of “Beat Of Your Drum” while I’m still doing the textural thing with Nico was my guitar with a really dialed back Basic Audio Supa Mark I fuzz. I used that on a lot of the tracks. I used a couple of different fuzz boxes and my normal Goodrich volume pedal. On one of the ambient things I used a Shoe Space Ritual, which is a kind of mild Big Muff. It was on the reverb of my amp. Chris from Shoe pedals suggested I try the Space Ritual fuzz following a reverb. So, on at least one track there’s some ambience stuff where the ambience is going through a really mild Big Muff-type sound. I used a DOD Rubberneck Delay, followed by the Neunaber Slate reverb pedal. I had my looping rack and I had the two Hexi Revolvers for fast glitchy, looping stuff. I’m pretty sure I heard one of them in a solo on “Beat of Your Drum.” I hit a high note on guitar, looped 8 or 9 milliseconds of it, and then hit the octave switch on the Revolver pedal while I was looping to raise it up another octave from a super high note. I’m sure I heard that. I also used a Jumper overdrive pedal from Shoe pedals, which is intended to emulate when you jump channels on a Bassman or Sound City amp. It’s like the gain is also EQ. On a lot of tracks, I had the Ether amp set just crunching, not super intense, because I had the fuzz box with me.
Yeah, I was hitting it pretty hard. There might have been another fuzz box. If so, it was it was probably a Basic Audio pedal called the Bye-Bias. I’m not really sure; I haven’t listened to the anything where I know I played single notes.
this was such a pleasure to read. thanks
I love both David and Reeves. I am excited to hear them together. Should be wonderful.
Thanks so much for doing this, Michael! And for all of your ongoing work in general with GM…