Battle Tapes Recording has been at the epicenter of left-of-Nashville rock and indie music since 2003. Tristen, PUJOL, Forget Cassettes, Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, HeCTA, Turbo Fruits, and Lambchop have all made records there in the last five years alone. We sat down with owner/operator Jeremy Ferguson in his beautiful tracking building to talk about growing a professional-caliber studio at home – from a basement with a Digi 001, to a 2-inch analog/digital facility with a dedicated tracking space, to owning one of the first new Spectra Sonics [Tape Op #103] console in 30 years.
When did you get this house?
March of 2003. I was moving up from Murfreesboro to Nashville. I was looking for a house that had multiple bedrooms. I wanted to have roommates that would help pay the mortgage, and I was looking for a house that had a recording space or a basement.
There’s a lot to be said for a basement space.
I started off recording in garages in Indiana, because we didn’t have that many basements. When I was in Murfreesboro I would go to people’s practice spaces, which were extra bedrooms or whatever, so I was comfortable with that kind of environment – probably more comfortable with that than I was in a professional studio.
You studied recording at Middle Tennessee State University. What kind of rooms did they have?
The first time I ever spent in a real, professional space was at that school. It was set up more like a commercial studio of the day. They had three rooms back then.
Yeah, they had an SSL in Room C, a Neotek in B, and I can’t remember what they had in A prior to getting a Studer D950, which was a digital board. It was probably ’99 or 2000 when they got that. I think they have an API Legacy in there now, so they probably spent a couple hundred thousand dollars on this digital desk, then sold it for lunch money. They were also teaching us on DASH recorders [Digital Audio Stationary Head, a reel-to-reel, digital audio tape format]. The first Pro Tools class I took was in the summer of 2001, on Pro Tools 3. I think the Digi 001 was introduced around that time, but even for the “home-pro” it was a bit of an investment. They had 2-inch tape machines too, but they taught us on DASH. We would say, “Let’s go to the 2-inch, now that we’ve got our project for school done on DASH.” It was like night and day. I haven’t used DASH since; I could probably make it sound better now, but I remember being really amazed at the same inputs going into the different recorders, as well as the difference at playback.
What was the tape machine?
A Studer A820 or A827. They had really nice Studers.
You went down to MTSU from Indiana, specifically for the recording program?
I had gone to Purdue University [in Indiana] for a couple of years. When I was a kid, I was really into drawing and writing, so I went to Purdue thinking I was going to do marketing or something, like it was going to be this “creative” thing. But it was more like, “How do you trick people into buying things?” I was also really getting into recording at that time.
What were you using?
A Yamaha MT4X 4-track recorder, and I think by the time I left Purdue I had a Roland VS-880. I had a digital 8-track and a cassette 4-track, and I used them both together quite a bit to make records in the early aughts and late ’90s. I was wanting to go to school for recording, but I didn’t know what existed except for Full Sail [University]. My dad was doing some research and found Middle Tennessee State. I also had a friend there, Katie Haas [née Krampf]. I met her and her sister [Courtney] at a Weezer show; she went to MTSU and had a radio show. She knew a bunch of people from the radio station [WMTS], so I made a lot of friends that way. It took me a couple of months to get used to the South, but there were all these venues, shows, and bands, which was not like where I came from.
What year are we talking about?
’98. Murfreesboro had already gone through the whole Self and Spongebath Records period, but it was getting ready to move into the next phase with a bunch of other different bands. We had the Red Rose and a hundred venues. It was a really good time. A lot of those bands were people who ended up moving to Nashville. It was the whole DIY scene that really led me to want to do the thing in the basement.
Murfreesboro is very un–Music Row in that way.
I could have just as easily said, “I want to go and work on Music Row,” but I didn’t have any interest in making coffee for a year so that I could assist and all that. When I interned at Alex the Great [Recording], the vibe was this bohemian, converted house thing. I was able to get in front of the computer, or get on the tape machine, right off. I had to do a bunch of shit work too, but it was never the focus.
Did you get that internship through the program?
Yeah, you had to do an internship to graduate.
Did you luck out, or did you know you wanted to work at Alex?
I had no idea. I didn’t spend any time thinking about Nashville studios. My friend, Tony Read, had interned at Alex the semester before me, and he introduced me to Brad Jones and Robin Eaton [co-owners of Alex the Great]. I knew enough people who had worked at other studios, and none of them were really sticking with recording.
Did you learn much in recording school that you still use?
Of course. It was all fundamental and helpful, especially since up until that point I wouldn’t have known anything, except what I’d read in a manual or something. They had the technical side, and the business side, and you had to take both. Like copyright law and all those other things.
So you graduated in 2001 and got the house in Nashville in 2003. In between?
I stayed down there for a couple of years. I was recording and doing other things. In the summers I’d go back up to Evansville [Indiana] and work at a baseball field. I was constantly trying to record bands. My band [Mercator] was recording little things, but we never really did much. I was playing guitar and just kind of doing whatever.
Were you done with Alex the Great?
I continued to do things at Alex in an assistant capacity, whenever they needed me, for about four or five years after that. The day I moved to Nashville, I was sick with a cold. I moved all our stuff in and then had a session at Alex the next morning tracking overdubs and mixing for a week.
What was your personal rig when you got into the house?
I had Pro Tools and a Digi 001. I had a Mackie 1604-VLZ. Those were my preamps and EQs. I had Mackie monitors, some [Shure SM]57s, and an old Radio Shack PZM mic that I really liked. At some point I got an AKG C1000 or C4000 mic, but I mostly used dynamics and the PZM, which was usually a room mic. Sometimes I would put it inside the bass drum. Everything fit on one little portable desk, and I had a little rack that fit underneath that with my 001 and two pres.
Did you start booking sessions and collecting gear as soon as you moved in?
Tony Read played metal and hardcore; we were roommates by then and kind of splitting the gear. He ended up getting a couple of pres and a couple of mics, like some Oktavas. I had some other roommates who played in bands. I was working a day job grading standardized tests. Everybody had day jobs, and we recorded on the weekends. Tony recorded a couple of hard things, as well as the first Justin Townes Earle EP [Yuma], and I recorded the Apollo Up! records.
Were you calling it Battle Tapes?
Yeah, I established Battle Tapes Recording as an LLC in January 2002.
Where did the name come from?
I was talking to a friend; I don’t remember what we were talking about but I thought he said, “Something, something, battle tapes,” and I thought that was really cool. I don’t remember what he really said! I found out after the fact that battle tapes were early underground hip-hop tapes or dis tapes, which I thought was also kind of cool, even though I hadn’t done any hip-hop. So that’s when it started.
So you were making enough dough grading tests and recording in the basement?
I’ll look like an asshole saying it, but there weren’t that many people doing rock records in Nashville then that I knew about. I knew Alex the Great would do some. Roger Moutenot [Tape Op #20] was around, but he was doing mostly bigger records or more established bands. Mark Nevers [Tape Op #21] was doing bigger records. I was in my mid-twenties at that point and none of us had that kind of money. Then there was Eli [Lij] Shaw, who worked at Alex the Great, but he didn’t have his place [The Toy Box] set up yet, so there really weren’t that many places. Joe McMahon was around. Dean Bratcher was recording bands like Ole Mossy Face, and Eric McConnell had done that Loretta Lynn record [Van Lear Rose] with Jack White [Tape Op #82] not too long after I moved up here, but those guys were doing their own thing and I didn’t really know them. So I got a whole lot of different bands – people I knew from parties or shows. I was definitely way affordable. I had so much taken care of, based on the fact that I had roommates who could split things, so my overhead was fairly low. I was putting money back into the studio whenever I had it, but it wasn’t that much, so I wasn’t getting a whole lot of gear.
How long did you stay on the Digi 001?
I was on the 001 for a while. I can’t tell you when I switched to a Digi 002, but I had the 002 all the way up until 2013, when I got a [Universal Audio] Apollo. I had gotten an [Apogee] Rosetta 800 for conversion, but the 002 was still my interface. I never had an HD rig or TDM rig. I would either rent them from Blackbird [Tape Op #97] or go to another studio when I needed those, which is what I did for any records that had budgets. Even for things like the Forget Cassettes record [Salt], I would go to Alex the Great or another studio.
You did Salt at Alex?
Yeah, we did Salt at Alex the Great. We were there for two weeks. It was really nice. We used up all that time.
That’s a great record.
It was really cool for them to have enough money to say, “Let’s go to a studio.” Most bands recorded in the basement, but whenever bands had budgets I always liked getting out.
Did you mix there?
No. We didn’t even finish tracking completely. On the day before our last day in the studio, we had a hard drive crash on us, so the next day and a half were spent trying to recover that. Then, once we had it all secure, I think we did a couple more overdubs at my place and we mixed it here. I think I had rented something from Blackbird, like maybe a Chandler Mini Mixer for summing. So we had a couple things that were nicer than my standard rig at the time.
What year was that?
It was 2006. We had done the Be Your Own Pet demos at Alex in 2005, then we did the [eponymous] record at Treasure Isle Studio. I’m reconstructing this based on looking at pictures from the sessions not long ago, and I saw pictures of Nathan [Vasquez] from Be Your Own Pet running around with Humphrey, Beth’s dog.
Beth Cameron’s [of Forget Cassettes] dog?
Yeah. At the time, Salt was a bigger record for me, even though I had done the Be Your Own Pet records. That was out on a bigger label [XL Recordings]. I was just the engineer on that. Records like the Forget Cassettes record were more my productions.
Who produced Be Your Own Pet?
Steve McDonald of Redd Kross. He’s great.
Who asked you to do Be Your Own Pet?
Essentially the band did. They were doing demos at Alex the Great, but whenever Brad got things that he wasn’t interested in, or the money wasn’t good enough, he would say, “Hey Jeremy, you want to engineer this? It’s some kids.” I said, “Sure.” We did the demos, they got signed to XL based on some of those, and then they said, “You wanna make a record?”
That opened a lot of doors for you, right?
To some extent. It opened the door to what mid-aught label money was like. It was interesting to see a label really throw money at something, because I haven’t seen it like that since. It opened the door to saying, “Wow, there’s some money in this! This is great!” Followed up with, “Wow, I’ve never made as much money on a record as I made on that!” I think it opened more doors for me down the line, maybe five years after the fact. That’s fine, because I remember thinking, “I hope my whole thing isn’t going to be trashy garage music.” I was doing plenty of projects like that, and I still do plenty like that, but it wasn’t the thing that turned me on. It was more, “This is fun, and I can make it sound cool.”
You do it really well.
That’s the thing. That was a peak example of what I was going for when I started – blown-out, in-the-red recordings. Be Your Own Pet is a more unchained version. Forget Cassettes is a more thought-out version, where shit jumps out of the speakers at you. I imagined them in actual spaces, other than the recording environment. It was like a rocking cave that wasn’t too reverby.
It’s been ten years since Be Your Own Pet, but you still get a lot of teenage bands coming in to record.
I love working with young bands. Somebody will say, “Hey, I listened to Be Your Own Pet a lot when I was starting to play guitar. Now I have a band and I want to record with you because you did those things.” When I went to Brussels [Belgium], it was based on the fact that Lucy Lucy! and the label [62TV] liked the Turbo Fruits records.
What was the studio in Brussels?
It was called Swimming House because it was right next door to Brussels’s oldest public pool, which was this awesome amazing thing.
How long were you there?
Six weeks. I spent a lot of time finessing and editing, so I brought it back here to finish things off because I ran out of time. But it was cool. I definitely enjoy working with younger people and helping them sort it out, because that’s where I came from. Some of the best records I’ve ever heard were made by people in their early 20s. Your inhibitions are low; you’re just making this interesting music that you’re just now figuring out. Pet Sounds, Talking Book, Innervisions, Highway 61 Revisited, and Rubber Soul were made by young people. Not that old people can’t make great music; I just think older people end up with that scope of textures and experience that lend to a broader picture, but it never has the energy and excitement it has when you’re young. If a band is young and plays well, it’s easy to make them sound cool. You put up some microphones, press record, and make sure they’re comfortable. You’re not dealing with the fact that their back hurts and their bills are due.
So are the musicians contacting you cold?
Half of them. I was still working mostly with peer bands, and then when Candice [his late wife] first got diagnosed in 2010, the Nashville’s Dead [label and promotion group] kids (which was the majority of the young garage-punk-DIY kids) immediately said, “We’re going to do a benefit.” So there were a lot of bands that played those benefits that I started recording or working with because I was like, “I owe you one.”
Who were those bands?
PUJOL, Natural Child… but the Natural Child guys I had known from when they were in Turbo Fruits for a minute. And the JEFF [the Brotherhood] guys played... but I had mixed a record of theirs because Jamin [Orrall] was in Be Your Own Pet. So there’s a lot that goes back to Be Your Own Pet, as far as the kids go. Those guys are still kids to me, even though they’re like twenty-eight now. I’m working with some bands that are still in high school, but I’m working with less really young bands at the moment. More because I need to make more money now, since I’ve got a kid.
You notoriously undercharge.
I did. Getting married and having a kid have been nice ways for me to stop giving shit away. Usually, if I got excited about something, I would say, “Let’s just do it, and if I can make some money off of it later, that’s cool.” And that has worked out sometimes. I’ve been doing the Hands Down Eugene records for my buddy, Matt Moody, for 12 years now. Some of those have been released on labels, but, for the most part, they haven’t. But I get to do what I want to do production-wise and enjoy myself, and Matt gets to do what he wants to do, and he ends up with something he really likes. I’ve pretty much always done it on spec, but then he sold a commercial in 2010 and we both made pretty good money because I owned 50% of the master. It was a handshake deal, but he was good on that.
And, in the meantime, you’re covering overhead with paying clients.
People ask me all the time, “How do you go from recording things for free so that you can actually get some work to charging the same people to make their next thing?” And I still have to negotiate that, to some extent. Some of the bands I’ve been working with for so long are like, “We made this one record with you fifteen years ago for $600 and you worked on it for three months!” But I was doing ten records at once so that I could do that. Now I might do a couple records at a time. I would rather really focus on a couple things, and make the same money. You have to be able to say, “If you like this enough, then you’re going to have to pay for it. I have overhead.”
Which has obviously gone up with the last few upgrades here.
I finally had to charge more if I wanted to get the kind of gear that people were asking me to have. When they were saying, “I really wish you had a 2-inch machine, that would be great,” I needed to make enough money so that I could get one.
You already had a Scully 284B 1-inch, 8-track, right? Where did you get that?
Tony had a friend named Chris Common. He had a place on Music Row, and he was doing a lot of emo-y type music. He knew a guy named Chris Ivan in Ohio. Chris had the Scully, a preamp, and a CBS Audimax [limiter] that we bought off him. The Scully was really great, but I need to spend some money on it. Listening back to what I did on that, it sounds just as good as my Studer [A80 MKII]. I got the Studer in early 2012. It was Dave Cobb’s. He wanted to get rid of it, and, just prior to that, he had “Studer” Steve Smith put on the last new old stock Studer 16-track headstack left in the world. So it was literally the last new 16-track thing made by Studer.
You keep it set up for 16 tracks?
I don’t have a 24-track headstack at the moment. I’ve recorded on 2-inch, 24-track a number of times and I think it’s fine; but 2-inch, 16-tracks is definitely the sound. That fat thing. That Studer was the last big upgrade before we built out the room in 2013, and I also got the Apollo around that time.
I’ve always admired that you made your upgrades deliberately and gradually.
For the most part I never had the money to be able to just grab whatever. As far as being deliberate, I was really fortunate in that, from around the time I started doing Be Your Own Pet in 2005, I was also doing Mock Orange records. They had a little bit of a budget, but they wanted to do it at my place, so we were able to go see [former gear rental manager, now studio manager] Rolff [Zwiep] over at Blackbird Studios. Rolff would say, “Hey, you’re interested in all this old equipment that most of these country records aren’t interested in.” Now those microphones are always being used, because there are a million rock guys in town, but it was a little different then. Even getting the Helios channel strips that they had, he said, “You want to try those? Nobody else wants them.” I could say, “I read about these things, I wanna try that,” and they actually had it and I got to. Or I’d want to use a vocal mic and he would say, “Take five and do a shootout.” I got to really try out a whole lot of gear that let me know where my ear was leading me, so when it came time to buy something, it wasn’t about whatever had the most ad dollars. It was saying, “I need to find a really good deal on this old piece of gear, because this is what I use and it’s fucking awesome.”
Like the Helios?
Like the Helios. I had gone from a fairly nice Neve pre and EQ on the bass drum to plugging in the Helios, just to see what it was like, and it was one of those moments where it was like, “Whoa!” That’s the most exciting thing for me. More than just trying to find a clean preamp, or something utilitarian, I want to find something that I’m excited to use or have. So I slowly built things up. When I did the Cerys Matthews record [Never Said Goodbye], I made enough money to get my first two-channel Helios pieces. From the second Be Your Own Pet record [Get Awkward], I was able get a Shadow Hills [The Equinox] summing bus. It was nice to be able to take the mix out of the box at the house if I wanted to. Even now, I’m thinking about replacing the headphones system. With this Lee Bains record I’m doing, where everything is staying on tape and the console, I realize I really don’t have that many outboard effects. I’m usually getting things to solve a sonic issue that I have in my head.
And then it’s “problem solved” on that issue for a while.
Like when I first got the Altec 1567a [tube mixer]. Brad had one at Alex the Great and used it on the snare. I just happened to have a roommate who had one from his recording days and he sold it to me, and that was my snare preamp forever.
Is it still?
No. I use it on guitars. I use that and my Ampex 350 on guitars because I typically use an AEA R92 ribbon mic.
There are a lot of ribbons mics here.
I use a lot of ribbons, for various reasons, but a ribbon mic into a tube pre is a really nice thing to me, and I don’t even have that many tube pres for all the ribbon mics I have. I don’t mind going into the Spectra Sonics preamps either. They sound great. But there’s something about an electric guitar, a tube amp, a tube pre, and a ribbon mic that’s a really satisfying sound to me. But, then again, I used those [Electro-Voice] RE15s this weekend on the [Lee Bains] electrics and I really favored them on the Peavey amps. They sound fantastic.
This tracking building was a garage, correct?
This was a garage that had ten years plus of roommates’ post-college garbage in it. It took two full dumpsters to get it all out. We put the beams in for structural and aesthetic reasons. We walled in everything, including the spray foam and double drywall, floated the floors, and also used plank floorboards so they can be sanded down a number of times. It was a big deal, especially going from the basement. You can definitely be limited by the space, as far as some acoustic issues, but you can work your way around that. I found a way to make the basement sound bigger than it was; but getting out gave me the ability to open everything up, as far as having vaulted ceilings and everything, and it made it easier for me, as far as being able to put up mics and not have to work up sounds as much.
It’s also pleasant for the bands to have a lovely building of their own while they record.
There were a number of bands who I know for sure didn’t come record with me because they didn’t want to just record in the basement. If this is your job, you want to make it as comfortable for the client as possible. If nothing else, it’s adding equity to my house. I can’t imagine this being a bad investment in Nashville. It took a number of years to plan out the build, but once it got going it was fairly fast. Kind of like the console.
is the first new Spectra Sonics console since 1979
Let’s talk about the Spectra Sonics console.
I really lucked out on that in a number of ways, as far as getting in on the first one, and being in on the drafting table for the whole process. I knew I wanted to get a console. I was having to go to other studios whenever I wanted to mix on a nice desk. I had gone to enough places like Blackbird to use theirs. I had even gone to other people’s home studios to use theirs. I had purchased a summing bus, the Shadow Hills, thinking, “Well, it’s a console in a box!” No faders, but whatever. But, at the same time, mixing on a console, even if you’re only summing, there’s the whole tactile thing where you can touch things instead of just moving your mouse. You can nudge it up a little bit, or sweeten it with some EQ – those are all things I really enjoy, and I’d kind of forgotten that I liked that experience so much.
It’s easy to forget after enough time in the box.
Plus I had a number of clients who said, “You know, everything’s awesome here. It would just be amazing if you had a really nice console.” Even with Lambchop, Kurt [Wagner] is in his 50s, and he feels at home with one of those, even if he’s not touching knobs or anything, because it just feels like he’s in a studio. But I also knew from my own experience working on really nice consoles, and from reading about consoles in the past, that they break down a lot and there are a lot of issues that can come up. Your computer can crash, but I can open up a Pro Tools session and print a mix two years from now and it’s going to sound pretty much the same as long as the plug-ins are there. I can turn on the best console in the world, and from today to next week it’s going to drift a little bit and sound different, even if I leave everything exactly where it is. But that’s also part of the organic experience.
I like the idea of it being a performance. It’s entertaining when people say, “I can’t believe all the edits you just did in Pro Tools!” But I don’t enjoy the fact that I can do that, I just can do it. I don’t get a whole lot of satisfaction out of the mixing process in the box and doing automation. I enjoy the result, but the whole process is [sighs]...
Yeah. But whenever I’m mixing on the console and actually doing a live mix, even if I’m just doing the summing thing, it feels more like I’m doing something, and that has a more enjoyable energy.
When did you know you wanted to find a Spectra Sonics desk?
My ideal console at that time would have been a Flickinger. I had some Flickinger EQs that I really liked. I had a guy build me a Flickinger limiter copy that I really liked. I had used some Flickinger pres that I really liked. But there were only a handful of those desks ever made, so finding one would have been really difficult, and then fixing it up would have been really expensive. And, you know, that’s the thing with an API, or even a Neve – they’re constantly breaking down. I’m not that much of a tech guy, so I don’t know exactly what’s happening to make them do this, but the nicest studios in the world, nicest consoles in the world – they’re fucked up.
We’ve all seen it.
A Flickinger would be even more of a problem. Who would you find to fix it, and where would you find the parts? How many of their 535-7 cards did they make in the first place? How many of their op amps exist?
But he [Daniel Flickinger] had originally worked for Spectra Sonics, and the more research I did, the more I realized there was a lot I really love that was done on this gear. The Record Plant in New York had one, so John Lennon’s Imagine was done on it. Records done in Memphis were on Audiotronics consoles, which used Spectra Sonics parts. There’s one in the Stax Museum, which is actually the old Ardent Studios [Tape Op #58] console. So Spectra had some of the sound that I enjoyed about the Flickinger shit; certain records were made on it, and it had this unique sound. I found a couple of old Spectra Sonics EQs, a 500 and a 502, on eBay. I got those and started talking to the Spectra Sonics guys about getting pinout charts, because, for the most part, they didn’t publish that and wanted to keep it under wraps. Even now, they would rather do all the work on my console themselves than have outside techs.
Even though they’re in Utah and you’re in Nashville?
Yeah. They’re willing to fly out here rather than me have somebody else work on it. They don’t want other people fucking their shit up.
There are people in Nashville who could figure it out.
There are. Justin [Herlocker of Herlocker Engineering] works with them. He’s working on one right now. A Spectra Sonics sidecar of some sort.
At any rate, this is a unique desk.
Yes, and no. It’s unique, in that it’s the first they’ve made since 1979 [see the Bill Cheney bonus article in Tape Op #103]. It is a brand new layout, based somewhat on the Helios layout, as far as the tiered format. The other ones were mostly flat, if not all flat. It is the first one to use (as a console) new CineMag transformers on the outputs and Sowters on the inputs, but all the inductors are new old stock. Some of the consoles in the old days had ribbon connectors, but this is more of a straight wire. At its core it’s a [Spectra Sonics] 1024, which is kind of what they had at Record Plant. It’s pretty much the same console, but they made it aesthetically a little bit different with a few little things, like the transformers.
Were the old channel strips as wide as these?
These are 2-inch channel strips; they’re really big. The prototypes they sent me were 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch smaller, but this gives them a lot more room.
Did you just catch wind that they were looking to get back into the console business?
Dave Cobb has been talking with them for a long time. I think he’s got some 610 compressors. Dave liked their gear, and Tchad Blake [Tape Op #16] says he uses 610 compressors, so there are all these people who have been using their equipment for a long time and trying to keep it secret, for the most part. When I was talking about getting the Spectra EQs fixed up, my friend, Travis Atkinson, who’s an AEA microphones rep and has a studio himself [Strangebird], told me they were going to make consoles again. There were all these things like, “Console! Console! Console!” coming up at the same time, and it was all making sense: I can get what I like about an old console, but have a warranty, and when it shows up it’s probably going to be working fine. This is as opposed to the horror stories I’ve heard about people getting old consoles that were supposedly totally great, and then they get them and they say, “Oh, I just spent another $15,000 or $20,000 dollars.” I could not invest in a console that was then going to require more money. There’s already upkeep.
Which goes back to being deliberate and not taking your upgrade decisions lightly.
It’s interesting being in an industry in which everything is so expensive. On my end of things, being a freelance engineer and studio owner, I try to have the kind of equipment and gear that draws people in because they want something that’s cool. Here’s this company that I think is really cool, that makes amazing sounding equipment, and I could have the first console they’ve made in this many years. It’s a good selling point.
Did the console help you get the Lambchop album [FLOTUS]?
No. That’s not my console.
The first track [“In Care of 8675309”] is, right?
The first track is. I had done a recording for Lylas, with some of the guys who are in Lambchop, and I’ve worked with those guys for years anyways. But we did this one recording, and it clicked with them that they liked what I was doing. So when Candice and I were in Amsterdam on our honeymoon in 2012, we saw Lambchop at this church. Kurt knew Candice a little bit, but we didn’t really talk to him that much, we were just talking to the other guys in the band. A couple months after that, Kurt hit me up and said, “We’ve got this Lambchop side band thing we want to do [HeCTA].” They had already done a couple days with Roger Moutenot, but Scott [Martin] and Ryan [Norris] suggested they come over, and we worked for the next year or so on that record [The Diet].
So HeCTA was done piecemeal.
It was. I think I was giving them some freedom, some toys, and texture that they didn’t have access to before, so they were enjoying it. It turned out really cool.
The Lambchop record is a departure for them.
Kurt has said that he wanted the HeCTA record to be a bridge between the esoteric and the heady, and that is where he wanted the Lambchop music to go.
Is “In Care of 8675309” live to tape?
Our last take ended up being our master for drums, Moog, guitar, scratch vocal, and bass. We went back and redid the piano. It’s a 12-minute song, recorded and mixed in three sessions. We cut the vocals and recut the piano the second session. It turned out better than I think anybody thought it would.
Zachary Gresham is the founder of art music ensemble The Mute Group.