Tiny Telephone is a studio set up by the band MK Ultra in San Francisco.  John Vanderslice is a member of that band and helps run the studio.  Todd Costanza is a member of Granfalloon Bus and interviewed John. Oh yeah, Todd's also the brother of David Costanza ("The Barn" Tape Op#4).  Read on...

John, I've heard you play quite a few times over the years and I've heard your recordings. I think you have a definite sound, that you know what you're going for, you know what you want.  If I'm correct in saying there is a sound that you're after, what albums do you have that typify that sound?

David Bowie's Diamond Dogs, which is a fairly experimental record.  I think he did it in 1974.  A wide range of sounds, it's kind of out of genre, you know, it really shifts.  There's even hints of disco, like in the song "1984."  Many original sounds and textures, many acoustic instruments treated with effects or distorted.  That appeals to me.  And the underpinning is hi-fi.  It's a good sounding record; the drums, the bass, everything sounds natural and real, and that's a key for me, that it has to start out hi-fi.  I don't mind if the recording or the mix is pushed in a lo-fi direction, meaning maybe everything is heated up through a preamp or distorted, or kind of crunched through a compressor.  I don't mind that as long as the signal starts out hi-fi and the initial sounds are good.  I think on all the early 70's Bowie stuff they started out with great sounds and then really pushed it in the mix.

In terms of fidelity, I was going to bring up the supposed lo-fi thing that's going on.  To me it seems like sort of a marketing scheme, because when I hear it I think of musicians working within their means.  You have so much money to work with, you make an album and then somebody hears it and they call it lo-fi.

It's a cover up, isn't it?  I mean people are afraid, and they're rightly afraid of being overproduced.  The thing is that many bands have no control over their sound or their recording because they don't know enough, and everyone falls into that.  I mean, it took me ten years of fidgeting around with microphones and guitars to wake up and start to listen to initial sounds. It takes a long time to learn it, and I think, just like it's against (a musician's natural instinct) to deal with money and the business side of it, it's also against a musician's kind of natural intuition to be too obsessed with tones and recording techniques.  So the default is lo-fi, because then you don't have to be embarrassed about making an overproduced or slick record. But really the best thing is for a band to have enough experience in recording, like you guys, you know.  You've been in the studio, you know engineers, you pay attention to what engineers are doing.  So if you work with a particular engineer you're not going to be surprised at the sounds they are getting.  You'll know that that's a fit for you.  In your case Granfalloon Bus works with Greg Freeman and that's a perfect match.  Many bands hook up with engineers not really thinking about what kinds of sounds the engineers are going to get for them.  It's more of a personal connection.  I think that the best thing for any band is to start out listening to their guitars, listening to their amps. Actually getting down and sitting in front of their amps and listening to their signal.  That's really... that is rare.  It took me six years.  And finding out about equipment... You know, I had an Ampeg VT40 amp for five years, and I was embarrassed, I thought Ampeg was just some dumb company.  So I put a sticker over the Ampeg logo.  It wasn't until I got a good guitar that I realized that the amp was actually fantastic and that it was this classic '78 Ampeg VT40 tube amp, and then I kind of started fooling around with the EQ on it.  You know, just fooling around: "What happens if I use this 20dB cut?" "Well, it destroys your signal."  So then I decided just to run it at 0dB, no cut off, no roll off.  Anytime you roll off anything on a mic or an amp you might cause trouble, you...

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