Metal albums live in a perpetual battle between clarity and attitude, and Jay Ruston has become a go-to for heavy artists looking to toe that line. His productions harken back to an era of analog goodness, but with a modern aggression and deference to metal’s penchant for technical wizardry. He’s become a go-to for L.A.’s hair metal jokesters Steel Panther, as well as bug-eyed thrashers like Anthrax and Mr. Bungle. But no matter who the artist is, the result always seems to contain at least some Jay Ruston signatures: clear yet searing guitars, snapping and popping drums, and pristine vocals that would make pop producers envious.
I saw that livestream with Mr. Bungle that you worked on.
I’ve done three livestreams, and it was definitely a new challenge. Hopefully we won’t be doing them much longer.
What makes working with livestreams challenging?
The ones I worked on weren’t totally live. They were filmed, recorded, edited, and mixed, or at least the video was edited. It becomes more like a concert film. I’ve done a ton of those anyway. On the mixing front, it was the same as mixing live DVDs or Blu-rays. But for Mr. Bungle and Corey Taylor [Slipknot], I was actually there recording on-site. There were definitely different challenges to overcome, because we had to have live sound and a monitor guy. Some people are on in-ears; some people are on wedges. It created a lot of audio challenges. With those two artists, I used a live monitor engineer and recordist named Danny Badorine, who works for Slipknot and a bunch of other bands. He recommended different microphones for their [off axis] rejection. Telefunken M80 is his go-to vocal mic; it has incredible rejection. With Corey, it was different, because we were on a big stage in The Forum [Inglewood, California], so the leakage wasn’t too bad. With Mr. Bungle, we were in a recording studio, and Mike [Patton, Tape Op #53] was standing ten feet in front of the drum kit, and it was Dave Lombardo [on drums]. It’s not like it’s going to be quiet in there. And then I’ve got Scott Ian and Trey Spruance with their guitar amps cranked on either side. It was a full-blast live concert in a room that’s about 40 by 20 feet. It was intense. But man, that microphone killed; and Mike sang great, so it made it pretty easy.
There’s the “Loss of Control” video, the last song on the set, where Mike’s jumping back and forth between a little walkie-talkie and the mic.
Yeah, he walked in and handed us this walkie-talkie that somebody had rigged an XLR [jack] onto the end of it. We plugged it in, and it was all crackly and crappy. The engineer at the studio fiddled with it a bit and got it taped up and working. The best thing about that little handheld walkie-talkie was that it only worked when Mike pressed the button. If he was singing through the regular mic, he would then grab the walkie-talkie mic, press a button, and do his screaming into it. It was fantastic, especially during the mix, because it was only on when he was singing, so it made it easy to deal with. I would only have to deal with the leakage of his regular mic when he wasn’t using it. It’s a lot of automation.
I’m a “Strip Silence” [gating processing] guy, and that’s always been a lot of fun for me in [Avid] Pro Tools.
I don’t use that too much for live mixes. I like to keep some of the leakage in the mics so the sound stays consistent. There are a lot of cymbals usually, so if I take it out completely and then it comes back in every time he sings, we’re going to hear a pretty drastic cymbal change. Once I get my vocal level set, anytime they’re not singing I drop the lead and background vocal mics down, about 10 or 15 dB [lower] max. So, it’s still happening; still noise. I try to make the noise usable.
That particular scenario, in a 40 by 20 foot live room, you can’t put the guitar players in iso booths. They want to hear themselves.
They weren’t on headphones or anything. None of them were even on in-ears. The Mr. Bungle show was on [monitor] wedges and fully live, no repairs. They went for it. I recorded the rehearsal the day before, just in case, and I didn’t need to use any of it. It was great! They did a flawless performance.
You also mixed the re-recorded Mr. Bungle’s 1986 demo tape album, The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo. The band was going for a pretty live feel, right?
Yeah, they recorded it at Dave Grohl’s Studio 606,...