Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains resides a gem of a town known as Athens, Ohio. Home to Ohio University, it is also the home of numerous historical treasures, a burgeoning creative community of great musicians and artists and a truly eclectic collection of residents who choose to move here because of the quaintness and seclusion of its locale. Over five years ago, one such resident transplanted himself from the music culture of L.A. in order to begin a journey of educating and developing a new generation of music producers as a professor at Ohio University's School of Media Arts and Sciences. His name is Eddie Ashworth and his story has largely remained unknown in this town, yet he is a man whose influence on modern music can be felt through his over 20-year journey in the industry. From hair metal to the genre-bending Sublime, Eddie has been a part of some of the most definitive albums of the L.A. music scene in the '80s and '90s and he continues to work with some of the top indie bands of today, including recent debuts by The Peekers and Meow Meow.
Eddie, so how did you get in the business of making records?
As a kid I was always tweaking around with consumer recording gear that my dad had around the house. I loved music, and because of that my parents got me my first electric guitar — a Sears Silvertone. Later I was an English major at UCLA and did music on the side with an acoustic act. All through that time I was an obsessive record collector. I had always been intrigued by the prospect of making records and thought about what it would be like to record music.
How did you get your first studio job?
[laughs] Well, this is pretty much the most unorthodox way to go about it. I ripped out a piece of paper from my spiral notebook and handwrote my resume with a blue ballpoint pen. At that point my biggest qualification was that I had collected nearly 3,000 records. I went to every studio around and ended up at Larrabee Sound in West Hollywood. I walked in and the first person I saw was Sherry Klein talking on the phone in the office, who at the time was the queen bee of the second engineers at the studio. Turns out that very day they were losing one of their young engineers, and I was immediately ushered in to go meet the studio owner.
What did you say?
From there I went to meet the chief engineer, Bob Stone. He asked me if I'd been to recording school. I didn't know what to say. When I told him, "No," he just looked at me and said, "Good."
What were some of your favorite projects from that era?
The one that was really special was when John Stewart, formerly of the Kingston Trio came in. I loved all of his records from California Bloodlines on, and he was one of my first childhood heroes that I actually got to work with. It was also one of the first records where I had a role in the creative process. It was for the Bombs Away Dream Babies record, his one big chart success as a solo artist [with the single "Gold"]. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham came in to add some tracks. It was right on the heels of Rumours, so it was pretty surreal working with them.
What came after that?
Well, unfortunately this was all going on during the disco era and it took its toll on me. I didn't care much for disco or the 100-plus hour week, so I quit. I ended up living in New England a few years later. A friend with whom I had worked in a record store while I was an undergraduate contacted me. He knew I had studio experience and he asked if I wanted to work with him on a recording project he wanted to do.
How long off had it been?
About four years. We booked a place called Normandy Sound, south of Providence, Rhode Island — really cool studio with great gear and a small town, New England vibe. Suddenly it was like, "What did I quit doing this for?" I forgot how fun it was. From there I headed back to L.A. and tried to get gigs as an independent engineer. I spent about two years eking out a marginal existence. One of the studios that I poked my head into during that period was a place called Total Access in Redondo Beach. The studio owner, Wyn Davis, knew me because I was one of the first people to book time at Total Access with a gig I had then. One day I got a call from him and he wanted to meet with me. He told me that the studio was putting in a new console and asked if I could help oversee the installation. When I got down there I met a band called Great White. As I was helping with the console installation, I was asked if I would step in to help them work on their next record [Once Bitten...], which ended up being my first gold record. From there I went on to build an association with Total Access for about 15 years.
What was history of Total Access at that point?
In those days Total Access wasn't a well-known studio. Their claim to fame was that a lot of those legendary SST Records albums had been done there — bands like Hüsker Dü, Meat Puppets, Black Flag and The Minutemen. Wyn gave SST a great monthly rate and a lot of them ended up recording there.
What were the Great White sessions like?
They were super nice guys. At the time I was kind of embarrassed to tell my underground rock friends what I was working on. But the band treated my very well. I helped engineer their breakthrough albums, Once Bitten... and ...Twice Shy. That began a three-year stretch for me of working with hard rock and heavy metal. There was a lot of hairspray around at that time.
What were some of the other heavy metal albums that you worked on?
A couple with Dokken, both in the studio and a live album in Japan. I worked with Dio and also Bobby Blotzer from Ratt. I also began working with Japanese rock bands because heavy metal was all the rage over there. Japan was huge for me. I ended up going over there a total of seven times. Total Access became one of the major epicenters of hard rock music in the country, attracting an international clientele.
What was it like working with Dokken?
Well, when George [Lynch] came in he put up a sign that read: "Closed session. Especially other band members." Working with Dokken was kind of tense because there was a lot of friction in the band. I spent a lot of time with producer Neil Kernon recording George's guitar solos. He'd actually have other music, like classical or Racer X playing in his headphones while he was recording his guitar solos over the Dokken music. He'd do that for hours. He also insisted that we decorate the studio like hell.
We had cardboard cutout flames on the meter bridge of the console and skeletons hanging from the ceiling. I had to go buy skulls and weird leather items. He was not an easy guy to work with.
How'd you get through that?
Well, I wasn't in a position to complain. You just got through it. They were big clients of the studio and my job was to keep them happy while they were there and to get the job done.
Talk about how you first got connected with Izzy Stradlin.
Around that time I got a call from Alan Niven, who was managing Great White and Guns N' Roses. I had helped with some radio mixes for Appetite for Destruction. Being around those guys, I was blown away. I couldn't believe that someone could go from virtually living on the street to becoming kajillionares. Before Appetite for Destruction had come out the only two I had contact with were Axl [Rose] and Izzy. They'd come down to the studio a few times. They were still kind of eating out of trash cans (figuratively) at that point. Nobody expected them to break as big as they did. Of all of them, I connected the most with Izzy Stradlin.
How did you go on to work on his solo albums?
From what I understand, after GNR got huge Izzy was starting to become appalled by the waste in Guns N' Roses. He was sobering up and his no-nonsense Midwestern upbringing probably started to come out. Things like not showing up for concerts and Axl's megalomania seemed ridiculous to him. Also, on Use Your Illusion he felt he was pretty much mixed out of the songs. He quit GNR sometime in late '91. Alan Niven contacted me to work with Izzy and what became the Ju Ju Hounds shortly after that. Izzy got the new band together, we started at Total Access and I was put on his contract as a co-producer.
So how did those sessions end up going?
Really good, except that the L.A. riots had started during our sessions! One night we were tracking some new songs. I got a call from an engineer that one of his friends almost got pulled out of his car at gunpoint. Outside we could see the plumes of smoke surrounding the area. Another call came in that the riots were within two miles of us at Total Access. I pushed down the talkback and calmly told everyone what was going on. You've never seen four guys move so fast. Izzy pulled his van up to the back of the studio, pulled his masters off the machine and closed up and said that he'd call me in a few weeks. We'd finished two thirds of the record by that point and songs like "Shuffle It All" were done. He called me and we met up in Chicago, resuming sessions at CRC [Chicago Recording Company]. After we finished up I ended up working with him again in Denmark to mix the record [Izzy Stradlin & the Ju Ju Hounds] . From there I went on to do two other albums with Izzy.
How did you get involved with Sublime?
In early 1996 I got a call from Total Access and Wyn said, "There are these guys in the studio with a Dalmatian and a baby. They are holding a check from MCA and they want to book some time. They don't have an engineer or anything. Have you ever heard of them? They're called Sublime."
Had you heard of them?
Oh, yes. 40 Oz. to Freedom and Robbin' The Hood had been released on their own Skunk Records. They had sold 30,000 of one or the other out of the trunk of their car. "Date Rape" was a regional hit on KROQ, and they were well known around the L.A. area — playing everything from backyard pool parties to tons of club dates. They were nice guys. I worked with just Brad [Nowell], Miguel [Michael Happoldt] and Marshall [Goodman] at first, and then the rest of the band [Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh] later. I didn't know what to make of them. I sometimes thought they were out of their minds.
The first session they said, "We've got all of this stuff on 4-track. We want to do some more stuff on it." So we transferred the 4-track of "What I Got" to 24-track, elements of which are on the record. Material on that 4-track cassette, that was in somebody's back pocket, ended up being on their biggest single. That was how the Sublime album began.
From there, how did the sessions pan out?
We transferred over a number of other songs, filled up the rest of the tracks and we worked for a couple more months off and on. Usually it was Brad, Miguel and Marshall, and then the rest when we had band tracks to record. It wasn't easy. I felt most of the time like I was the assistant vice principal at a boy's reform school. I'd show up at noon to start, thinking they'd show up by 2 pm. Sometimes they did, other times it was late in the day or they'd only come in for half an hour to recover from the previous evening. Miguel and I became pretty good friends, and I ended up working on several records that came out of the Long Beach scene. David Kahne came in to produce them and clean up the unruly sonic mess that we'd made. From what I gather it only took one day of working with Sublime and he was ready to give up. I guess their manager, Jon Phillips, talked him out of it, and the band got it together and finished up with him. He bounced what he wanted onto 16-track and worked for about a week on it, and then went to Scream Studios to mix. When I heard those mixes it just blew me away that it ended up sounding as polished as it did, while retaining the band's rougher edges, and David deserves the credit for that. I should also mention Paul Leary beautifully produced the other half of the album and captured Sublime's live sound in the sessions he did in Austin later. A couple of months went by after I had finished up my work, and then I got the call that Brad had overdosed. It was a very sad time.
How many records did you end up doing with them?
About half the Sublime album, and then I worked on Second-hand Smoke, their first posthumous release, the acoustic record [Sublime Acoustic: Bradley Nowell & Friends] and scattered tracks on subsequent compilations. Of all things, my proudest moment was Stand by Your Van, the live record that I mixed for them after Brad's death. As of his passing, there was only one multitrack recording of Sublime playing live. The surviving members asked if I would mix that record. For me that was the real achievement, that they trusted me to do that when a lot of bigger names than [me] would have been happy to do it. It wasn't their most successful record, but it I am very proud of it.
Beyond that what were some other projects that you got to work on?
After the success of the Sublime album, I signed to a manager and he hooked me back up with Izzy Stradlin based on my newfound status, and we began making records together again. A little while later he put out 117º, which I thought was his best album. That was his last album on a major label. He was a victim of the late '90s label bloodbath, where a lot of great artists were getting dropped as the industry began to falter. At that time I got the opportunity to work with Pennywise on their Full Circle and About Time albums. Also, Pink Noise Test, with whom I'd worked on several indie projects, got signed to Interscope and I co-produced their debut, Plasticized with Kirk [Hellie] at Total Access and what would later become Pennywise's studio, Stall #2. I also went on to work with Tommy Shaw of Styx fame on his album, 7 Deadly Zens. He was super cool, just a great guy and an incredibly talented musician and songwriter. He had a studio in his house in the Hollywood Hills and it ended up being one of my most pleasurable and rewarding sessions. His big question for me was constantly, "How do we make this uglier?" He didn't want to make an arena rock record — he was looking to make a creative, modern rock record. He had a lot guests on that album like Alison Krauss, Ted Nugent, Jack Blades and Kevin Cronin. About that time the Japanese label Toy's Factory hired me to produce the phenomenal Eastern Youth from Tokyo, mostly because of my work with Sublime and Pennywise.
What's the setup at the studio in your facility at Ohio University?
John Storyk [issue #59] designed the School of Media Arts and Studies studio and it has two control rooms. Studio A is the music recording and mixing room with a new Rupert Neve Designs 5088 console with Portico electronics, Apogee conversion and Logic 8, and studio B has a Pro Tools HD system set up for 5.1. We have some great front end gear — a few [Universal Audio] 1176s, an Avalon stereo compressor, Grace and Summit mic preamps, a Dangerous Audio 2-BUS and a couple of Summit compressors. Studio A has more of an analog feel, which helps students to master concepts like signal flow, patch bays, gain structure and helps them distinguish what techniques yield great sounds. Studio B represents the digital approach, and is ideal for both post-production and digital music production. Recently at liberal arts schools there has been increasing support for programs that are preparing people for the new music industry, and we do our best be competitive with our peer institutions.
What are some of the things that you do with your Audio Production program at Ohio University?
Well, we try to start out with students as observers — more like flies on a wall during a recording session — to get a sense of how a session works. We feel this is a very crucial step. This coincides with basic audio production training. From there, we get them into hands-on work, running sessions, making mixing decisions...
Who have the students gotten to work with?
We've done records with the likes of Meow Meow for The Committee to Keep Music Evil, and a great new band on Park The Van Records called The Peekers, which came out this year. We also had The High Strung in recently to do a couple songs with some students. Just this month we finished an album with gifted West Virginia singer-songwriter Jeff Ellis, and will be working with another fantastic band from Huntington — Bud Carroll & the Southern Souls. We also try to help support Athens' great regional scene by making time available to local bands working with student producer/engineers.
What's your read on the current state of the music industry?
I think we're seeing an explosion in new music and a renaissance for the music business and artists. To me, it's the most amazing period in the music industry since the late '60s or early '70s. It hasn't been like this for 35 years or so. There is more remarkable music being released now than ever, albeit mostly independently. The ability to have the interconnectivity and direct access to music fans represents a long-overdue reinvention of the industry. No one knows quite how it will all play out, but it's obvious to me that the music industry is actually growing (in spite of plummeting CD sales) while the major record labels are struggling to find a path into the future. Our role is still very important. There is a reason why we've been around since the beginning of the music industry. Musicians shouldn't have to worry too much about the sonics — they should be focusing on the mood and performance of their recordings and reacting to the soundscape the producer helps them to create. That's where our value comes in — we're responsible for making things sound appropriate for the music, creating a signature recorded sound for the artist and to be a passionate, but objective, sounding board all the musicians involved in the project. Recently I was listening on my iPod in shuffle mode, and by coincidence it happened to play several songs from different points in my career. Pretty weird. It ended up that they played in chronological order going from older, full analog recordings to a hybrid of analog recording and digital mixing, to a more recent record done entirely "in the box." As each one played, I was mortified to hear how each song seemed to get progressively smaller sounding. It was the most disturbing listening experience I've ever had. It definitely reinforced my thinking about the importance of preserving analog techniques for music production in a digital world.