Grandaddy is a band I knew very little about until recently. I had heard rumors of a band locked away in their own studio in Modesto, a farming town in California's Central Valley, making some mind-blowing records but I had never seen or heard any records until recently. When I did hear one (A Pretty Mess By This One Band ), I sent a copy of Tape Op to them and got a response right away. Jason and I chatted a little bit and he sent more stuff to listen to, including their fresh new album Under the Western Freeway and a cassette of a soon-to-be-released EP called Machines Are Not She. It's all amazing listening and the recording quality is brilliant. Then we had this long talk. Thanks are due to Adam Selzer and Jed Brewer for turning me on to this stuff.
How did you end up with this recording gear working on your songs? Had you been recording on 4 tracks for years?
Yeah. I'm sure my story's pretty similar to a lot of people. I just ended up buying a microphone and a Yamaha MT 100 cassette 4 track. I had this job where I used to make a reasonable amount of money but it didn't leave me with a lot of spare time. I would just work and buy stuff... fill up this bedroom at my parent's house... hoping that one day I could just quit and use it all. I ended up quitting and I got this house with a basement. I think that's when I really started to write songs. The songwriting and the learning of the recording process all bloomed together.
So you weren't even writing or recording much but you accumulated this gear and it all came together?
Yeah, it's kind of weird. The whole recording and songwriting thing... it's almost like they've been siblings. I wasn't like some huge, aspiring songwriter who needed to get their ideas out.
Had you played in bands or wrote songs before?
Uhh... I started out playing drums. I didn't really like the whole "band" thing. I would hear stories about people having to answer ads at music stores... the whole dating service thing. That never appealed to me. The people that are in my band right now are people that were my good friends. People that didn't even know that I played music. I'd rather have a band full of mediocre musicians and be really good friends than where so-and-so commutes from this town and there's all this pressure. Varying degrees of potential career-minded people there.
What led you to start acquiring all the recording gear?
The simplest ideas are what led me to it. I got the 4 track. I would record things and I would go, "Wow. That doesn't sound anything near what these things I do like sound like. What can I do to try and get them to sound a little more like that." That leads to having to read about the different types of gear and what different things do. It's kind of been this ongoing quest to make records that I would want to listen to. I pretty much don't like 80% of the recordings that I've made to date.
Just 'cause you know what you'd change?
Maybe that whole unsatisfied artist-y thing too. You're never gonna be pleased and you're always gonna just try to better your craft. It usually turn out that the stuff that I spend the most time on and really labor over ends up not being anywhere as neat or magical as the stuff that you just kind of plopped out and is riddled with accidents.
You had told me before how trying to work out of a different ("real") studio didn't work out for you. It seems like a lot of what you're working for is avoiding a "pressure" situation.
I think the main thing, which can be said for many facets of life, is the fact that you just need to find out what works. The studio thing was a real good example too because the two people I was working with there were super nice and it was such a pleasant atmosphere and it was just us three the whole day. If anything should have worked it should have been in that sort of atmosphere but... I think I've always tried to be really accommodating. I don't want to bore the shit out of people and I want everything to chug along at a nice pace. I guess it would be my problem, 'cause I should just not give a shit. They're all big boys and they can take care of themselves. The fact that somebody is there and something is taking a long time... you just feel that pressure. You just want to say, "Go away for 3 hours and come back." All of a sudden you're saying go away for another hour and come back. Shit, you might as well say, "Go away all together." I found this really good way to work. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
It seems like you want to be left on your own to work everything out. A "studio" obviously isn't the best environment for that.
It seems like the place that I try to get to is kind of this "other-world" that doesn't really exist. When I feel like I've really succeeded is when I feel like I've tapped into this whole transcendence thing. It doesn't have a whole lot to do with people. It's a place that you have to get to. I don't want to start sounding all mystical.
It seems to me, that in a recording session everything becomes organized around the process and not the art.
Salvador Dali would sit there with a spoon in his hand and fall asleep in front of a canvas and as soon as he would drop it and awake he would immediately start painting. If you can have everything all set up and ready to go and hopefully get inspired and then get there as fast as you can. That's the thing I'm trying to shoot for. I'm really good about having notes. I'll have cassette tapes and pieces of paper taped to those cassette tapes. Songs, what I was thinking and what I was trying to get across. Do everything you can to document everything that was going on when the song hit and then you can actually put it away and let it sit. If you're really lucky, you can look back into those notes and you can get right back to that place where you were.
Do you find yourself coming up with stuff when you lay down right before you fall asleep? Do you run down and start recording?
Yeah. I've heard people say that you can't sit around and wait to be inspired. The whole elbow grease thing is so important.
You mean, like when something isn't terribly inspired but to keep working it out?
You don't even know what'll happen from there, though. I read somewhere that Tom Petty said he didn't worry about not being able to remember songs because there'll always be another one. I don't really agree with that too much. One of the best things I did was that I bought this little teeny guitar that I can put behind the seat of my truck and one of those notepads that attaches to the front window and a minicassette player. Sometimes what should have taken me an hour will take 4Ω hours 'cause I'm constantly pulling over to the side of the road. I told myself that I had to take the responsibility to do what it took to document this stuff. I don't always feel like it will be there forever. I see it dissolving and being gone one day.
I doubt that will happen but it's probably a good attitude to take. So where's your studio stuff set up at?
Right now it's in an industrial warehouse space next to cabinet and sign shops. There was two rooms within it already and I just kind of threw a bunch of mattresses up against the walls and a bunch of couch cushions to make the control room not as ridiculous as it was. The bass response was just wacko all over the place.
So that's a temporary setup?
I'm in the process, right now, of relocating but I'm not sure where.
As far as a living and recording space?
Yeah. As a matter of fact I'm living in a tent right now. Our manager has a house and I'm living in this tent for the time being.
Until your tour starts?
So what kind of gear are you using these days?
A Fostex 16 track [1/2"]. The board is a Soundcraft Series 600 with a TT patchbay inside of it. I spent a shitload of money having to get all these converter cables.
What kind of mics and stuff do you use there?
I'm actually doing alright on mics I guess. This one that I just bought used recently ended up being pretty darn good. I have a few of those Rode mics and they were kind of accentuated on the wispy end. My friend brought this Equitek CAD 200. It ended up being a halfway decent mic and it wasn't really overbearing in the high end. I've got a [Shure] Beta 57 and a regular 57, a couple of 58's. There's two Shure SM 81's.
For drum overheads?
Yeah. I have a couple of AKG C1000S. An [Electrovoice] RE 20.
Do you use that on kick and bass amps?
I have a D112 that I was pretty sold on but I was having to crank the high end and had a really noisy kick channel. I started using an RE 20 and that doesn't require any high end boost. It's good for rockin' songs that require a clicky kick drum but I don't think it's all that fitting for slower stuff. I think it's a really good guitar cabinet mic and for rocking kick drum but I think the D112 would be more suited for a mellower sounding kick. Oh god. I forgot to mention what is probably my favorite mic that I have right now... That Coles 4038. I was reading some Steve Albini article and he said that if he was to only have one ribbon mic it would be the Coles 4038. I looked into that and found out that they weren't terribly expensive. It's so non-electric sounding. It's good for a lot of stuff. It probably is good for vocals but I still haven't found one really good vocal technique with any mic. I've had shitty luck so far.
It's probably hard 'cause you're recording yourself.
What I'll do is I'll record little projects for other bands and it really helps me to get technique down. I'll end up charging them for supplies and stuff 'cause we're both getting something out of it.
Do you like doing that sort of work?
Occasionally. The band I'm doing right now... I forgot how taxing it really was. I recorded them a year and a half ago. That whole, "put on your game face" thing. It's a challenge but it's kinda weird. I manage to document, as thoroughly as possible, all the signal routing so when it comes time to do our stuff it'll be like, bam-bam-bam. It's just so not sitting in a meadow under a shady tree with a pen and paper writing poetry.
You're telling me? I was gonna ask you... what was the Circuit city/Good Guys scam you mentioned the other day?
Well, they basically have that 30 day, money back-no questions asked guarantee. That pretty much says it all. If you were really inclined and determined enough you could go in there and buy a washer and dryer and do all your laundry and take them back. We have benefited with speakers and amps and VHS machines. You just keep it for about 28 days. They end up selling the stuff as opened box deals. It's just kind of one of those things that's there for the offering.
Don't they have a couple of consumer grade DAT machines? We'll mention that for people that need to mix something down.
Or tape duplication.
Get 4 or 5 decks and knock out all your tapes for your band's demo. But we're not suggesting that.
Oh no! This is kind of a risky venture, but say you're going on a road trip for 2 or 3 weeks and you wanna videotape it... [much laughter ensues]
But you've never done that, right?
I've known people that have.
What kind of keyboards do you use on your recordings. It sounded like Casios.
We have two keyboards. One, which has been a total mainstay (I've had this thing for about 10 years), and every time I can find one I buy it so I always have backups, is a Kawai PH 50. It's just like a pop keyboard that came out around when Miami Vice was really popular so its got all these Jan Hammer sounds on there. For some reason when I bought the thing I took a liking to it. The one I have right now is falling apart 'cause we've been touring with it. I like the idea of nailing your equipment down to the floor and getting used to what you have instead of it turning into this big, revolving quest for whatever's bigger and better. The other one is a Yamaha PSS 270. There's this art to shitty little keyboards because some of them do have a bunch of really crappy sounds. This one has 100 sounds on it and I seriously really like 85 of them. That's pretty darn good. It's got a portamento setting on it too which is pretty good. I have two keyboards on stage and the dedicated keyboard player has two of them. I can write all these parts and figure out how we're gonna play them later.
So you have a touring band...
I started the band 6 years ago and we started off as a 3 piece and we're still together. I added two other guys and we've been playing as a 5 piece for the last two years. On top of all the recording and everything I stress the fact that we're a halfway decent live band.
With the recording process is the whole band involved?
It's pretty much been primarily me although for the recent recordings, another guy in the band was an extra set of hands as far as engineering and all that. It's just this thing that I have no trouble spending exhausting, ridiculous amounts of time doing.
There's no resentment or anything?
No, no. It works out kinda neat like that 'cause I'm making these songs and the rest of the band really likes the songs so we practice in order to get the songs to sound like they do and we all kind of benefit. We all have a pretty good time. When we play live it's just kind of frustrating because we know how good rehearsals sound and there's all the kind of shit you have to deal with bad rooms and incapable sound people. That's when it gets kinda frustrating.
Have you recorded with the full line up?
The drummer plays on 80% of the recordings. The fact that I started off as a drummer means that I have the option, if something needs to be done, but my drummer's a lot steadier than I am. I just recorded a live show of ours the other day with two stereo mics about ten feet out from where we were playing at this place in downtown Modesto. It turned out really good. We made about 15 cassette copies of it and sold some at this show that we played the other night. I've recorded rehearsals that we've done. I have these DAT copies of all this stuff that I'm hoping to do something with eventually.
Grandaddy, 143 Maynell Ave., Modesto, CA 95354