When I was in high school, I knew a lot less about music than I do now, but even then Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade seemed to jump out of my speakers. It certainly sounded a lot different from anything else that had crossed paths with my teenage ears. I remember reading in Rolling Stone about how quickly and cheaply it was recorded. The album's engineering credit included the terse identity 'Spot.' In the years since, I'd encountered like- minded punk groups of the era whose albums included Spot's name. It's hard for me to imagine anyone whose taste resembles mine not owning something he's recorded. When I moved to Chicago, I saw listings of Spot playing solo at clubs in town. I finally made it to one of these shows and interviewed the man known as Spot.
Spot first started recording at a young age when he was living in Hollywood. "It all started way back when, I bought an old Sony reel-to-reel recorder. I had borrowed recorders from people before, just sat down and taped myself. Just sounds, noises. I bought a Sony tape deck, I think it was an old model 350 reel-to-reel deck, 2 track, 1/4 track, stereo in both directions. I bought that and some microphones and tape." After that, "I had gotten my hands on one of the original Teac 3340s. Those machines, they caused a revolution. Those machines might be what created the whole independent record scene. I realized early on that really all you needed was a tape deck and some commitment. You could record pretty interesting stuff if you knew what you were doing."
In 1975, he moved to Hermosa Beach and got involved with the nascent Media Art studio. "When I moved there, I found out about a studio that was being built and that was exactly what I wanted to do, was to get myself in a studio situation so I could record myself. These guys were building a studio and I immediately saw that the potential was there, and I just started helping them." He came to be involved as staff engineer, which initially led to him recording a lot of projects in which he had little interest. "Can you say disco? There was a Mexican record label in town that did a whole lot of stuff. At that time, most of what was coming into the studio was either lame disco or lame light-rock songwriter stuff. Stuff that was really not that much fun to record."
"Everything was either light and easy or progressive and just overblown. Back then people were coming in wanting to sound just like something they heard on an Elton John or Linda Ronstadt record. I learned a lot from that, but I just couldn't understand the concept of trying to make something sound that much like something else."
"I had gotten so sick of these top 40 musicians who would come in and record these demos, where it would start off with a click track and everyone would play to the click track. There were a lot of songwriters who would come in, lay down a click track with a guide vocal and guitar track. There was this group of local musicians. They played in top 40 bands and had a lot of experience. They were good musicians. They would come in and start doing these song demos for various people. Basically it would start with the click track and what you'd call a single voice. Lots of times only one guy could come at a time, like the drummer would lay down his parts, and then everything else would get played on top of that, usually one track at a time. It was interesting, but damn it was tedious. And I got so sick of the single-finger synthesizer or String Machine pad that people would put on. I hated the sound. This was back when they were making, aside from Mini-Moogs and that, synthesizers that were starting to get really cheap sounding, and I hated the String Machine. I think it Roland made it. I'd love to maybe get my hands on one nowadays just so I can totally subvert it. I hated that stuff."
His favorite sessions of this era were jazz projects. Spot's explanation for liking jazz projects, oddly, was that he always liked rock n roll. For him, the jazz sessions involved live playing, which more closely matched his ideas than the carefully constructed productions which the singer-songwriters with whom he worked generally demanded. "They just didn't nit-pick over something." He fondly remembers working with a Dutch pianist named Rene van Helsdingen. "He would come over to the States where he had some players that he liked. They would always come in at midnight or so, whenever there was open time, and just record these compositions. He was a piano player, and he had these really good bass player and drummer working with him. I loved those sessions because you just set 'em up, get sounds...
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