Over the past four decades, producer/engineer Terry Date has racked up a gallery of multi-platinum monuments to his golden ears. Unforgettable moments from his catalog include the important role he had in shaping the sonic direction of rock through his groundbreaking work with Soundgarden, Pantera, White Zombie, Mother Love Bone, Limp Bizkit, Korn, Deftones, Prong, Staind, Metal Church, Dream Theater, and Smashing Pumpkins, among countless other heavy classics.
Early in your career you produced Mother Love Bone's Apple. What was it like working with the vocalist, the late Andrew Wood?
I remember a number of things we did with Andy during that record. When we were doing his vocals, I'd set him up in this old ‘70s kind of room – with a drum booth off the side of the live room. Since it was a ‘70s studio, they always put the drums in a dry area and had the big live room for everybody else. Andy always had his keyboard set up in front of him, because he felt comfortable having either his hands on it as he was singing, or hitting a key for a note, from time to time. I put Andy in that little corner alcove, with his keyboard and a microphone, and he always had candles set up on the keyboard for a vibe. I'd have him sing the song three or four times, and record all three takes. When we felt we had something, I'd have him come in the control room, and he and I would sit together and comp the final vocal take. With Andy, I would put some delay and reverb in his headphones while he was singing, just to get the performance. I tried to make the headphones sound as live and inspiring as I could. All these guys – like Andy and Chris [Cornell, of Soundgarden] – were used to playing live. They tended to play medium-sized clubs at that time, so I tried to make it sound somewhere between a medium-sized club and a larger arena. Something to be inspiring when they were singing, [in order] to make the performance come out. Andy's vocal style was somewhere between David Lee Roth and Freddie Mercury, and his personality was too. I think more than his singing voice, my memories are of his personality, and his charisma as a person. He had this "little kid" quality that was really magnetic. I remember on one particular song we were sitting in the control room listening to vocals, deciding which parts of which takes were the best, when all of a sudden he jumped up and ran out of the room. I was thinking, "What the fuck?" He ran into the vocal booth and there were three-foot flames coming up off the carpet! I guess one of his candles had fallen over, hit the carpet, and started it on fire, so we had a bonfire coming up underneath his keyboard. [laughs] I remember my wife and I driving once, after a Mother Love Bone rehearsal, and we saw Andy walking down the street with his keyboard under his arm. We slowed down, and I said to him, "Andy, rehearsal ended two hours ago. You're just now leaving?" He replied, "Yeah, I stayed a little longer because I wrote another album." That's the way he was. He was so prolific; he lived for it.
Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger helped kick off a new sound and era for rock. What was it like in the control room, capturing the power of that band live to tape?
Well, the funny thing was Chris was in the control with me, recording! We recorded Badmotorfinger at Studio D Recording in Sausalito, California. It was basically a one-room studio; one big live room, with a couple of little iso-booths. I had Matt [Cameron, drums] in the middle of the room, and then I had Ben [Shepherd, bass] and Kim [Thayil, guitar] in the room with him, but their amps were separated. There wasn't any place for Chris to be, because his voice is so loud it would have gotten into the drum mics. So Chris was in the control room with me, playing and singing when the band played live.
What mics would you use on an intense drummer like Matt Cameron?
My drum set up for Matt would have been very similar to what I did all the time, and still do, which is very basic: a [Shure SM]57 on the snare drum, standard positioning, nothing fancy at all. Typically, I wouldn't use a bottom mic on the snare drum, because I never liked the sound of it; I like more of the crack at the top. Then usually something like a [Neumann] KM 84 on the hi-hat, and Sennheiser [MD] 421s on the individual toms up top, double-head. For the kick drum, it was a double-head, because Matt was much more of a jazz-influenced drummer, so we went for a little bit more tone in the double-head. Usually in those days I used an [AKG] D12 on the inside, and a [Neumann U]47fet outside, on the front. As far as overheads, it was [Neumann U] 87s back in those days, basically splitting the top of the kit, as well as the room mics, where I tried to get the best large diaphragm mic that the studio had.
What was capturing Chris Cornell's singing like?
Chris did like to have a lot of effects in his headphones while he sang. Not for the final product so much, but it gave him a little bit more confidence with all that reverb and delay. It's like a guitar player having a little extra sustain or overdrive on their guitar; it makes everything easier to play. He liked to have some of that in his ears. Those two records – Badmotorfinger and Louder Than Love – were a lot of work for him, because it was physically demanding and really hard to hit those high notes. The intensity and difficulty of what he was singing was really hard and [consisted of] high vocals, so it was definitely a process to get those right. He was his own worst critic. He'd know when he had it on certain days, and when he wouldn't. We'd come in on some days, he'd start singing, and within a half-hour he would say, "It's not there today," and we'd go on to something else. He knew what he wanted more than I knew what he wanted; I was there for moral support more than anything else, as well as to give him what he needed technically. So – especially on Badmotorfinger – it was a very difficult exercise for him. He pulled it off great, but it was a lot of work for all of us. I like [Neumann U] 87s, but I do remember having a [Neumann U] 67 on him, which has always been one of my favorite vocal mics for either a female or high male vocal. At the time when I was working with Soundgarden, Chris was still primarily singing in that full-voice falsetto; that very high, intense voice. He wasn't doing the lower, quieter vocals as much. With bands like Soundgarden and Dream Theater, I didn't get involved with tunings or arrangements so much. I would try and capture them as live as I possibly could. I'd try to capture the vitality of the live show. I wanted them to feel like what they had done on their own was valid, and really good. Then it came down to performance issues and whether or not they were pulling something off in a convincing way. But I didn't get too involved with micro-managing what they were doing.
Your work with Pantera on Cowboys from Hell and Vulgar Display of Power broke ground with a new hybrid of metal. How did you track Darrell "Dimebag" Abbott's monster guitar sound?
I get this question a lot from people. The first thing I'm going to say about him, and it's really true, is you can't get his sound unless you have his hands, his head, and his heart. He'd always have two amp stacks. One stack was straight and the other ran through an MXR flanger/doubler that was set in a particular way. There was always an MXR foot pedal EQ [six band graphic equalizer] in front of everything, mainly to bump up a little extra overdrive on the front side of the amp head. We always experimented on every record, trying different tube heads, but we never really used one; it always ended up being the Randall amplifiers [RG100H and Century 200]. As far as the mic'ing goes, we did a lot of things early on. I used a technique, for a time, where I would put up four microphones – a microphone on each speaker – it usually was a 57. I'd leave the amp hiss going, put on headphones with a mic through it, and would move the mic until the hiss was as loud as it could be on each individual speaker. I'd end up with four mics on the four speaker cabinets, each one placed to where it was the loudest it could possibly be, so I knew they were all in sync. We would record all the rhythm guitars for the whole album like that. There were other times when I would take a 57, put it straight onto one cone on one speaker, and then take another one and put it at a 45-degree angle [to the first mic] to create a little phase scoop out of it. We would spend a lot of time at the beginning of a record trying these different mic'ing techniques, then we'd settle on something and record the record. But here's a lesson that I learned early on: we'd record all the rhythm guitars, tear everything down, and then, towards the end of the record, Dime would go, "I've got one more part I hear in my head that I want to put on a song or two." We would throw up one cabinet, and I'd put a 57 on it – because it was a secondary part he was going to throw in. Then we'd listen to it, and it usually sounded better than the rhythm guitars we'd spent all this time mic'ing, in all these exotic ways. I realized that you don't need a whole lot of fancy stuff with him; just get a mic on him. Keep it simple, and it sounds better. One trick that I picked up from working with Metal Church is that they used to take their picks and scrape them on the sidewalk before they came into the studio – the flat edge – to rough them up and make the picking edges sharper, so that it's like an ice-skate. You flatten the bottom to make the edges sharper. You get more attack across the strings by doing that, and that was one thing I actually used to do with Dimebag. We'd take a razor blade and sharpen the flat edge of the pick so we'd get a little bit more attack on the pick when he was playing.
Recording Dream Theater's debut, When Dream and Day Unite, must have been a completely different experience.
We did it at a studio outside of Philadelphia [Kajem/Victory Studios]. I went out to New York to meet with them a week or two before we started, and stayed with Mike Portnoy [drums]. We'd go into rehearsal in a basement underneath a beauty salon; we couldn't start ‘til nighttime. I don't make a lot of comments or suggestions during rehearsals. I observe the band and see who the dominant person is; who likes to make decisions. I look at those dynamics. So, after about three days of rehearsal, I was with Mike all day before we went in. I said, "Mike, just so I can get a grip on what you guys are doing, let's sit down with these songs, chart these things out, and make some arrangement notes so I can keep up with you guys." We grabbed the first song, and I said, "Just give me time signatures so I know the song is in whatever time signature it's in." And he replies, "Okay, the first bar of the intro is in 3/4, the second bar of the intro is in 6/8, the 3rd bar is in 4/4." [It turns out] every bar was a different time signature! [laughs] So after about 5 minutes of that, I said, "Mike, forget about it..." In rehearsal, Mike used to chew sunflower seeds while he played, and his drum set was caked with sunflower seeds – all around the rims – and the heads had been on there for years. The last day of rehearsal we were going to grab the gear and head to the studio, and I said, "So, Mike, you have heads for these?" And he goes, "What?" He hadn't changed his drum heads in years, and was going to record the album with those drum heads! I thought that was funny, but it goes to show you he gets good tone and good sound out of his playing. We did put new heads on, by the way. But those guys practiced non-stop. The bass player, John Myung, would go to the studio at six in the morning. The door heading into the lounge had a little loft that was for storage; he would throw a cushion or pillow up there and practice his bass for hours before everybody else showed up. By the time I'd come in, his fingers would be bleeding from practicing. He was just insane that way! John Petrucci [guitar] was the same way. He practiced all the time, and because of that preparation that record took us three weeks, from start through the mix!
Rob Zombie practically invented a new genre with White Zombie's Astro-Creep: 2000 album and the song "More Human than Human."
Rob is very involved. White Zombie was a band project, but Rob had control of what was going on. That record started out where we were going to use samples; up to that point, I had never used samples on a record at all. I was not really that interested in doing it, but Rob wanted to use some loops – as more of a click track than anything else – from the start. I was a little bit hesitant about it, because I was still thinking in terms of a "band playing rock." They were using John Tempesta on drums for the first time; he's great drummer. I was just hesitant about having any time base going on at all. Rob wanted to try it, so we talked about it and used a loop as another member of the band, basically. That way it could feel like John was playing with another band member, instead of a little beat going on in his headphones. Charlie Clouser was doing those loops for us, so we had an initial loop to do the basic tracks with, as a click track. Then we started realizing that the room we recorded the drums in was not incredibly live, so we decided to start using those loops as the ambience, to create the size that a live drum room would normally create. It grew into us sending the drum tracks back to Charlie – this was the very early days of Pro Tools – so his method would be to take the drums and cut them to the loop. I told him after I heard the first one, "No, John is a human. Why don't you cut the loops to John?" We decided we liked where this was going, so more loops were created based on rough mixes I would send – of the drums, guitar overdubs, and vocals – and Charlie would create more specific loops based on how the record was developing. We ended up with three 24-track tape machines synched together for that record. One group of 24 tracks had the band – drums, bass, and guitars. The next one had vocals, and the third 24-track was all stereo loops going constantly. Charlie gave us a whole bunch, and we had to decide what loops we wanted to keep. Rob was very involved with everything. When Jay [Yuenger, guitar] and Sean [Yseult, bass] did their parts, he let everybody do their thing, but other than that he was involved heavily with everything else. What I did with Rob, when we were tracking his vocals – this is something I was doing a lot during that time period – was to set up a little vocal booth out in the live room, add some little gobos and made a little environment, plus throw two big stage monitors on the floor in front of him. I gave him a [Shure SM]58 and no headphones, and I pumped the music out of those floor monitors at stage volume. That's how he did his vocals. I compressed the crap out of the mic, so that when he was singing you wouldn't hear any of the leakage; but of course when he wasn't singing there'd be tons of leakage. When I was mixing, I had to go through and mute out everything in between his vocals with the automation on the board. That's how we got the attitude. I use that same technique with Deftones, because to me, when a guy is used to playing and performing live, I think that helps create some of the attitude. I'll give up a little bit of sonic quality to gain attitude.
You produced four classic albums for Deftones. What have been some of your favorite highlights from making records with the band as their producer?
One of the beauties of that band is that their influences are so wide. I got a call out of the blue from a guy I wasn't familiar with at the time, and he said to me, "I have a band in Sacramento. I want you on a plane to come down and check out our rehearsal tomorrow." I was like, "Who is this?" It turned out to be Guy Oseary, who has gone on to become U2's manager, and he was working for Madonna's label [Maverick] at the time. They had done some recording, but I don't think there were any other releases, other than a song on a compilation. But the first record I did with them, Adrenaline, was their first recording. They were all in their early twenties, and used to ride their bicycles to rehearsal. They're like family to me; my kids grew up with them. From day one to now, it's always been about trying to make a record that, when you listen to it, you think you're at their show. Adrenaline was a very interesting record for me, because it was a transition record from straight thrash metal with punk influence, to bands that were influenced by that music, as well as hip-hop. When I first met them, I found out that one of their most influential records growing up was Sir Mix-a-Lot's Swass album, which I worked on back in the early ‘80s. Mix would produce his own projects, then bring them to me to do some vocals, and I'd mix it for him. I did that record with Mix, and that was really important to the Deftones in high school. They have a huge, wide variety of influences. Coming out of the Pantera days, sonically, music was all about high-end, upper midrange, and aggression. They wanted to introduce a lot more low-end; a lot more of a hip-hop bass sort of sound. I was still hearing a more metal sound, and on Adrenaline I don't think I got the low-end issue quite as well as I could have; but it was a great record, with great performances. When we did Around the Fur I was a lot more in tune with what they wanted on that record. White Pony was recorded in the same studio as Mother Love Bone, at The Plant in Sausalito, and it was always a joy to work with them, even though White Pony was a difficult record for all of us to make because of where the band was at the time. There was some darkness going on there – but I think that contributed to what I think is their best record.
You produced Limp Bizkit's hit "Nookie." How was a song like that tracked?
The funny thing about "Nookie" is that song was written and recorded in 20 minutes! We had finished all the songs for the record, and Fred [Durst, vocals] was like, "I don't think we have a first single yet." Everyone was in the studio; DJ Lethal was in the back of the room with his DJ gear, and we're all scratching our heads. He said, "I have this loop I was going to put on my solo record. Maybe we can use that?" It was some loop from an Italian porno movie; Lethal started playing that, and Wes [Borland] started playing the guitar part to it that the whole song starts out with. Then Fred started singing his thing. They went out into the live room and it came together. It was like, "Boom!" When it was done, everyone was like, "Wow, that was easy!" [laughs] Happy accidents like that are rare. It's just something that happens. I always try to leave a little bit of room in the studio for stuff like that to happen. If a band has 12 songs to put on a record, I always leave some time, in case there's a riff somebody comes up with during basic tracks. But it's rare, especially for a song to get as big as that one got. You don't see them come out of thin air like that very often.
Some record producers seek to carve out a signature sound. Where have you sought to head throughout your career, in that respect?
I've tried to be as invisible as possible, because I always wanted a lot of the band sound to be front and center. I think that's why a lot of the records I did – especially during those days – were very different sounding, because I really tried to avoid having any stamp of mine on the record – other than the fact that it captured the vitality of the band. I didn't want to have somebody hear a record of mine and recognize it as something that I did. I'd much rather have somebody go through the credits, see that I did it, and be surprised. It was more important to me that the band took front and center.
Do you have any favorite records of the ones you have worked on?
I have to treat all these records like my kids. I can't show any favorites, but some I'm more proud of than others. My time with Deftones, Pantera, Soundgarden, Limp Bizkit, and Metal Church stands out. I can't say one over the other, because they're all important to me. Prong was another one of my favorites; I did two records with them [Rude Awakening and Cleansing]. Tommy Victor [guitar/vocals] was, and still is, a special friend. Those were super-fun records to make. The second record I made with Prong was right after the White Zombie record, and it's still one of my favorite records I've made. In the moment, with all those records, you don't really think that it's going to be something that's going to be looked at 20 years from then, and be as good as it was. You're trying to get it as good as you can, in the moment.
What advice would you give a young engineer these days?
I totally respect the level of ability it takes to get on a computer and get the plug-ins and sounds to sound real, but until you have learned how to put a mic in front of a drum set, put a mic in front of a singer or guitar player, and get them to actually perform based on the sounds that they're hearing and the vibrations they're feeling while they're playing, it's really hard to make a record that separates from everything else. Learn how to use a microphone and to mic air. The valuable thing is that personal relationship between the artist and the sound coming out of the speakers. I still think putting a mic on something that sits in the room is the most pleasing thing to listen to, however you accomplish that. I totally appreciate the sounds that are coming out of the computer, but they all have to be used correctly. If you combine the two techniques with the ability to connect with a human being, then that's the most important thing. The communication between the two human beings is what's going to make it sound the best.
When you look ahead, what gets you most excited about making records after so many years in the studio?
I still haven't made the perfect record yet. To me, there's still that sound, or combination of sounds, that I haven't found. Every day that I come into the studio, I think, "Maybe today's the day I'm going to get that perfect storm of everything working together in the right way." That's part of it, but the most satisfying thing is these personal relationships I've made over the years. They're transitory, they're short-term in the big picture, and they're two and three months at a time; but it's the experiences that I've had with those kinds of people that, to me, are the most valuable. Hopefully the people I work with feel the same way. We've had a lot of people dying here lately, but those personal relationships are so valuable. I get to know those people a little bit, some of them deeper than others, but you get some level of friendship with these people that sticks with you the rest of your life. That really is the gold record on the wall to me.