Going to 'Sound City'

Mar 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Barbara Schultz

Dave Grohl Honors the Studio, Console That Helped Launch His Career


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'Sound City,' Song by Song: Engineer James Brown Breaks Down the Way the Tracks Were Built

The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club track, “Heaven & All,” came out of a jam. They found a song structure, then we cut the basic track live. We overdubbed some additional passes of Peter Hayes’ guitar, tambourine, and some backing vocals, to the master all in one day. Then Rob came back and sang the finished lyrics later in the year.

The Rage/Chris Goss [Masters of Reality] track (“Time Slowing Down”) was cut live with the exception of some additional guitar tracks. Goss came to sing vocals and add piano and backwards Mellotron right before we mixed.

[The Stevie Nicks track] “You Can’t Fix This” was demo’d first with Dave. Then we recorded a master version with [Foo Fighters drummer] Taylor Hawkins on drums and Dave on guitar. Most of the music I think is Dave, and he always works at speed of light; you get a sound, find a balance that he’s comfortable with, and he will literally throw it down in one take. We did two vocal sessions with Stevie: one to get the lead vocal, and the other to complete backing vocals.

“The Man That Never Was” [featuring Rick Springfield] was worked up from an existing demo. We cut the basic track live, then everything else during that first day, except for vocals which Rick did at home.

Lee Ving’s “Your Wife Is Calling” was cut live, with the exception of the vocal doubles and harmonies, the talking guitar part and the big fuzz guitars in the instrumental section.

“From Can to Can’t,” the Corey Taylor/Rick Neilsen song was more of a piecemeal affair. That track came from an existing demo Dave had that Corey wrote to. Dave cut the backing track before the vocal session; then Corey came in and blew us away by literally singing it top to bottom perfectly in a matter of minutes. Rick Neilsen and [bassist] Scott Reeder were added to the track later in the month.

The first half of “Centipede” was also a Dave demo. We cut the whole front half of the song with Joshua Homme, Alain Johannes, Dave and Goss sitting in a circle. We recorded everything live with the exception of the tambourine and urdu drum. Then we reset the console for a full band and recorded the heavier second half later that afternoonalso completely live. Josh’s lead vocal was cut later that evening, although he came back to do some backgrounds and harmonies before mixing. Goss’s lead vocal was added at a later date also.

“A Trick With No Sleeve” was initially cut with Dave on drums and Alain on guitar. Then we would steal Dave and Alain for added instrumentation whenever they were free. I really love Al’s vocal performance on this song.

“Cut Me Some Slack” was recorded in its entirety in a four- or five-hour session. It seemed like it took 30 minutes. Tambourine was added at a later date.

“If I Were Me” was a magical session. We kept everyone situated really close together, and we cut nearly all of that song live. If you listen closely you can hear Rami Jaffee’s fingers scraping across the Hammond keys during the re-intro. We added piano, a little dash of Omnichord and a violin harmony. Then Jim Keltner went back in to do a shaker overdub that was so beautifully rendered thatno word of a liehe reduced several of the grown men in the room, myself included, to tears. Dave’s lead vocal was recorded on the morning we mixed. He’d played in New York the night before at the Global Citizen /World Poverty Festival in Central Park, so his voice had this fantastic weary, blown-out quality that I love hearing in the finished track.

The basis of “Mantra” was recorded in one day. Drums, bass, Wurlitzer and guitar parts by Dave and Trent [Reznor] were laid to tape. Then Trent went away with a Pro Tools copy of the multitrack and sent a bunch of synth textures and some guitar work back a month or so later. A little while after that he sent some new vocal ideas that Dave and Josh arranged. Then the track was finally completed when Dave and Josh added vocals, bass treatments, and a new guitar part for the outro section.

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