Mr. Greg Freeman may be best known to you as a member of Pell Mell, the fine instrumental band with 3 lives...or maybe as a former bass player for the Call, check out the first 2 LPs to embarrass him...but one would hope he is best referred to as a fine producer. From his scratch-built Lowdown Recording Studios in San Francisco, Greg has worked on albums for Barbara Manning, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, Faust, Gate, X-Tal, Donner Party, Frightwig, the Dwarves, Royal Trux, Ovarian Trolley, um...Vomit Launch and many others. He's a talented, creative person to work with, and as Barbara says, "I can tell him a song is a color and he knows what I mean." And as if he needs any other acclaim, his studio once featured a mixing board previously used for sound on the Gumby claymation show. Now that's cool!
How did you get into production, studio work, etc.?
My friend Dave Spaulding and I were goofin' around, doing music together after Pell Mell broke up in '84 and he sort of, on a whim, bought a 1/2" 8-track, he saw one for sale and went and bought it, and then it just kind of sat there at his house and we looked at it and went, "Wow, 1/2" 8-track!" He had a mixing board left over from his band, from their live set up, so he had a board, some mics, some mic stands and I had a 4-track reel to reel. So we thought, "Hey, let's put together a studio." This space came along, Dave was in a band with this woman who was also in this other band, Typhoon. We split the space, they rehearsed there and we would, the rest of the time, set it up for recording. It was really shoestring, we didn't have anything. Then he bought a real board, a Tascam board... it was pretty much all his stuff when we started. I would buy stuff as time went on.
When you were in the Call, I remember stories about them spending a week doing the kick drum sound...
When you were recording with other bands and seeing how it went, did that kinda turn you on to the recording side of it?
Oh yeah, definitely. I was always kind of into it, though at the time I didn't know as much or I wasn't really that involved. The most valuable stuff I retained was the procedure, like what you do first, setting up to record, getting sounds, getting the headphone mix. The logistics I picked up 'cause we did it so many times. Basic concepts, like EQ and compression and how that stuff works I picked up. I wish I'd known more about what kinds of mics and exactly what the boards were doing. In a way, if you know the basic stuff, you don't really need to know that right away. The more important thing is knowing how things go together, just trying to get things to sound good.
Right. That's the thing.
It's true. Maybe you'll come across things that maybe you wouldn't have picked up anywhere else.
I just comes down to what sounds good... There's other things I just learned 'cause I spent so much time in all these different studios and a lot of them are pretty big-deal studios but even so, they had problems or they would deceive you into thinking you had really good sound when you didn't, because of various things. It teaches you that you've got to compare what you're listening to against other things that you know or listen to on different systems. It was also before every studio had Yamaha NS-10's...you'd just have these huge custom monitors or you had Auratones.
There wasn't some sort of reference you could use everywhere.
Yeah, I remember at the Record Plant [big L.A. studio] we would do stuff and we would listen on these huge monitors and the engineer would just crank it and it was like, "Yeah, it sounds great!" But then later you'd listen to it and say, "Jeez, it doesn't sound so great." It's like anything; if you're used to it I guess you could use it.
What's some of the latest stuff you've done?
I did an album for this band, Granfaloon Bus, they're great, I like them a lot. I think a small label in Texas or someplace is gonna put it out. They're a lot of fun. There's just been a ton of stuff.
What's the latest thing that's been released that you've done?
There's the Ovarian Trolley album which is pretty recent. I did this band called Couch from Eureka, an EP for Lookout Records. They're more Thinking Fellers-ish than punk rock...that's not out yet, that'll be out in a little while. This guy, Ian Brennan, did his solo album. I just did something for Pony Ride. Do you know them?
I think I've heard the name. Do you still do a lot of stuff that ends up like "demo-tape" type stuff?