So, this story all starts with the New York combo Space Needle, formerly just a duo of Jud Ehrbar and Jeff Gatland who recorded some spacey yet catchy stuff on a 4 track and managed to get it (Voyager) released on the aggressive little Zero Hour records. When it came time to tour, Jud recruited old friend Anders Parker, who was living in Portland, Oregon, at the time, to come play guitar, drums, etc. for the band. Anders brought with him a just-finished cassette of his solo work, under the moniker Varnaline. Zero Hour decided to put out Varnaline's Man of Sin as a CD and so Anders, to tour, needed a band. He grabbed his brother John Parker to play bass and Jud to drum. In the meantime, Jud recorded some really wacky stuff at home under the name Reservoir, that sounds like Eno's On Land meets gritty synth-pop. It just came out on Zero hour, too. Out of all this activity, some really interesting home made recordings have seen the light of day. Both Space Needle and Varnaline have really nice singles that have come out recently too, and new albums in the works. I caught them before a show at Portland's Satyricon in the middle of Varnaline's U.S. tour, and we chatted about recording, of course. Obviously, Jeff from Space Needle wasn't present, so Anders and Jud do the yakking.
So lets talk about Varnaline first. Did you record that on an 8 track cassette or a 4 track cassette?
A: Actually, its the first 4 track that went on the street. An old Tascam 144. An ancient machine. I bought it for $50 off someone 'cause one of the channels was busted. I would use it once a year. I recorded some of my older bands occasionally. It sorta gained inertia as I went along and the last few years I really started to understand what was going on with it.
Any noise reduction on it?
A: You know, I don't think there is. It's really funny, 'cause when the tape is moving you can hear creaking, so on certain songs, at the very end of the fade out, you can hear eerreek, eerreek from the machine just because the mechanism is so loud.
How did you get all that stuff onto 4 tracks?
A: For the stuff that sounds pretty layered, I would do 4 tracks and fly it down to my cassette deck and tape that back to 2 tracks stereo on the 4 track. Some of the songs were 6 tracks, basically.
I thought it was an 8 track, given the layers.
A: Yeah. I experimented a lot with stuff but that was the best thing that came out.
Did you mix that anywhere else, or did you mix it at home?
A: All the mixes are basically first mixes. It was always the first mix that was there. You're in that space where it just happens. All I did was when I went to make the tape, I took the original mixes that I'd done off the cassette and mixed those down to a portable DAT player that somebody let me borrow. Then I did some EQ. When it went to CD, I went to the mastering studio at Zero Hour and did a final EQ and mastering compression.
On the new single ["Party Now" & "Iron Horse"] was that recorded on the same kind of setup?
A: Yeah, basically. I got a new 4 track about a year ago. On "Party Now", if you listen to the sound, there's this ominous death-rattle to it. I taped the PZM mic to the door of my room and John's bass was making the whole room and the door vibrate. So, if you listen to it you can hear the mic vibrate.
So that was recorded with a full band?
A: "Party Now" was done live and "Iron Horse" was just John and I. He played keyboards and bass and I played drums and the guitars.
So, where did you record the single?
A: It was recorded at my folk's house in New York.
Could you make a bit of racket there?
A: Yeah. We could turn up. All the stuff on the Varnaline album was done mostly at conversation level. I couldn't turn it up. I had this friend who lived across from me, it was this U shaped apartment building, and she told me she could hear everything! In the summertime she said, "Oh, I listened to you all day, it was great."
Have you got a whole, new album ready to go?
A: We're gonna record a new album in May after we get off the tour. We're gonna record at a 16 track studio this time.
Are you gonna record with Adam Lasus [at Studio Red]?
A: Yeah. We did the Space Needle album there on 8 track and it's kinda the same attitude...whatever goes. Any idea is open to use. He had one thing where he would use a [recording] Walkman, run a line out of it, and just put it by the drums, and it sounded amazing. It totally overdrives the Walkman. He's just got that anything-goes attitude, which is great.
He's probably not really expensive.
A: It's pretty reasonable. He works with this guy, Jason [Cox], they're like a demented co-producing team... they're pretty crazy.
Back to the home stuff; you were talking about the PZM mics. What were they picking up?