L.A. GRAPEVINE

Oct 1, 1999 12:00 PM, Maureen Droney

Polls


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At Ocean Way Recording, Slash was in Studio B with his new band, Snakepit, cutting tracks with producer Jack Douglas and engineer Jim Mitchell. The tunes, mostly uptempo rock with great grooves, feature drummer Matt Laug (Alanis Morissette), Swedish bassist Johnny Griparic (Nina Hagen), guitarist Ryan Roxie (Alice Cooper), and newcomer rock 'n' soul singer Rod Jackson.

Mitchell, a Record Plant alumnus whose credits include Brother Cane and Thee Hypnotics, has worked with Slash since Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction album. He explains how the band got together: "Slash had a revolving band called Blues Ball that did shows playing cover tunes. Eventually Matt and Johnny wound up as regulars, so when he went into production for Snakepit, they came along. Ryan was playing with Alice Cooper, and when Slash did some guest slots with them, he loved playing with Ryan-he felt they really complemented each other. Then, after getting literally a thousand tapes sent to us by vocalists, and flying people in from all over to audition, we found Rod here in town."

The soft-spoken Slash, looking wiry and energetic in an Ocean Way T-shirt and leather pants, elaborates on the search for a singer: "Johnny and Matt said, 'Let's go to the Roxy and see this band.' We walked in, it was completely empty, and there was just this lame band on stage with Rod singing. It was just a jam, all over the place, but he could really sing. So we sent him a tape of a song, he sent it back to us with a vocal on it, and we said, 'That's the shit!'"

The songs were demoed at Slash's home studio in live acoustic versions. "We moved in there and started writing and rehearsing," says Mitchell, who collaborated with Art Kelm to design and build the home facility. "No machines were involved," he laughs. "Even the heavy songs were worked up acoustically to start, with Matt laying down percussion parts. Then they'd morph into something else when the electric instruments came in."

"I'm pretty old school," Slash asserts. "If it sounds okay like it is, just leave it. I haven't figured out this mainstream, synthetic approach to recording. I'm stuck in that gray area, between generation 'then' and generation 'now.' I mean, I still use my Sony cassette deck to cut demos that sound great."

While the band was writing and rehearsing, they were also meeting with different producers. "When Jack showed up, it was a done deal," Mitchell says. "That was an easy call to make."

Although longtime producer Douglas, whose credits include Aerosmith, John Lennon and The Who, is New York-based, he's completely comfortable in Studio B. "I like this room because you've got a big iso booth and you can dedicate the main room to drums if you need to," he comments.

Drum sounds were an important part of the sessions, which alternated between five different kits. On the day I dropped in, there were two set up, a full-blown Pork Pie for the more ambient tracks and a baffled-off (including the very cool, adjustable ceiling baffle), mixed kit for a more dead, '70s sound.

Tracks were cut analog on Ampex ATRs with 16-track heads, then transferred to 24-track for overdubbing back at the home studio. The plan was to transfer finished tracks to a 24-bit Otari RADAR, for mixing in New York at Manhattan Center Studios, where Douglas mixes down to his own Studer tube 1-inch, 2-track.

A walk through the studio showed that Douglas is an avid vintage gear collector, with an inside connection for equipment pulled from old radio stations and churches. His personal rack contains two rare Pultec mic preamps, which for this project were used with KM54s on drum overheads. "Very few of those around," he says. "I love them because they sound very three-dimensional." Also in the rack were LA-4s and Altec passive EQ/filters, which Douglas uses patched together ("Great on guitar," he says).

Ribbon mics were much in evidence in the studio, with a Royer on the bass drum and an RCA44 combined with a Sennheiser shotgun on the kick and snare. "I compress them both together, and that's often your drum sound right there-that mono track," Douglas explains.

One iso booth was dedicated to Slash's guitar speaker setup, and I was warned that, with an SPL of 120 to 130 dB, it was dangerous to stick your head in. His main amps comprise a wide selection of Marshall JCM800s (including a JCM "Slash" series) for distortion and Silver Jubilees for clean sounds. There are, of course, a lot of other amps to choose from, like Fender Tweeds and Deluxes, a custom-shop VibraKing, a Peavey Classic 50...and, as expected, a huge selection of guitars, mostly Les Pauls, with aluminum-necked Travis Beans reserved for slide. The close mics of choice for guitars were SM57s, with Royer ribbons used for additional close miking and Royer and U87 room mics.

As I took my leave of the boys, I had to conclude that they'd been having fun. Douglas, who told me he's been thinking of having a "fun clause" inserted in his contracts, concurred.

"I've told people, 'I'm going to be living with you for two, three months, so if we're not going to have fun doing this, tell me now.' Because if you have no sense of humor or you're going to be sour, I don't want to do it. I don't mind not getting along sometimes-maybe our politics or our philosophy about making records is a little different, and we're going to learn from each other and be mad at each other from time to time. But at the end of the day, I like to have a good laugh and go out to dinner and have fun. If that can't happen, see ya later-I don't care who it is."

Richard Wolf is one of the new crossover breed of composer/producers who transitions daily between the different worlds of pop and media music. Wolf-whose platinum production and remix credits include Bell Biv Devoe, CeCe Penniston, Seal and Prince-continues to write and produce for music recording artists. He also composes for film and television. Current projects include music production for the upcoming Warner Bros. feature Three Kings and work as a music producer for the Fox Sports Network.

His busy Studio City workplace houses offices and edit rooms, as well as a traditional recording studio, allowing him to turn out projects from start to finish. He writes, arranges, records, mixes and edits, but editing is key to the process, and for that Wolf relies on Emagic's Logic Audio software. "You have to do a lot of different mixes and edits for TV," he explains. "For example, we just delivered 100 CDs to Fox Sports this morning. Each theme has four different mixes, and each mix has 11 edits-that's 44 edits for one song.

"Emagic is a big part of what I do," he continues. "We just got Logic Platinum 4.0, which I love; it has some great plug-ins." Other technical tools he relies on are his Emulator samplers and Roland and Korg keyboards. "I'm still using my SP1200 for those hip hop grooves," he laughs. "You can't beat it for that grittiness, that classic down and dirty fatness. I also still use my Emax I and II."

Although Wolf is a fan of analog tape for his record projects, his media music work is all on hard disk. "It's one thing to slap a live band onto tape," he says, "but when you're doing electronically oriented production and fine-tuning overdubs and performances, it's much easier on hard disk, where everything is visual, flexible and pliable. You're much more apt to be creative with what you do. It's a different kind of energy, of course, than when you're collaborating with people and there's that chemistry that engenders spontaneity."

Working with sports themes means a large variety of music is required, from mellow to exciting and intense. Wolf composes for approximately 20 sports: everything from beach volleyball, gymnastics and softball to international hockey, college football and car racing. On the day we spoke, he was in the middle of writing the new theme for Fox's NBA broadcasts.

"In a lot of markets, Fox has two 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week channels," he says. "Certain sports, of course, demand a more quiet approach, like gymnastics, for which I created a softer theme. For beach volleyball, I created a hard rock theme, kind of like Rob Zombie, funky and up-to-date in the drums but with heavy guitars."

Wolf's current projects with Fox came about when the music he provides through his company, The Producer's Lab, got onto shows like Chicago Hope, Millennium, The X-Files and King of the Hill. "We got callbacks from people who really liked what they heard," he says. "Then producers started asking if I would custom-make songs for their shows."

How does one score for these kind of visuals? "A project generally begins with graphics, like a logo," Wolf explains. "And I'll score to that. Then there will be consultations with the producers to get feedback and make adjustments. It may take a few re-drafts until everyone feels we've hit that stone groove."

Scoring allows Wolf to work in a variety of a musical styles. "In records, I got known for working with people like BBD, MC Lyte and Prince, and I got pigeonholed as an R&B/hip hop guy. Now, I'm still doing R&B and hip hop, but I also get to do industrial rock, electronica-all sorts of styles. It's fun and refreshing, because the techniques that you get from one style, you bring to another. I also find it noteworthy that when you listen to all these kinds of music it's obvious how much they're all feeding off of hip hop.

"I always want to make records," Wolf concludes. "And, as a matter of fact, I'm very excited that there's a new Bell Biv Devoe album in the works that I'll be involved with. But with writing for television, there's certainly a lot more instant gratification. A record can take years. Here, you start writing music on Monday, hand it in on Friday, then you can turn on the TV on the weekend and hear your music."






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