Billy Anderson recorded one of hard rock's most intriguing and fucking coolest albums in history — Jerusalem, by the now-defunct legendary stoner-rock band Sleep. It was a lengthy one-track sonic low-end frequency voyage into unknown that was almost too volatile to be put on shelves. And when you came out of it, you felt stoned — literally, as if the heavy boulder — rolling rhythms and sounds he captured had hit you repeatedly over the head like the way they did it in Biblical times. In fact, Anderson has recorded some of the best curios within the rock genre, from stoner rock and beyond — all pieces of musical and sonic art by the likes of Fantomas, Mr. Bungle, Neurosis, the Melvins, L7, Unsane and even the Red House Painters. Anderson is also a mysterious character — his name appearing everywhere but his likeness and such remaining relatively in the unknown. I managed to track him down at his abode in the San Francisco Bay Area, to have a chat with this "big brother in sound", a man who knows his way around every environment, and sports the necessary mental traits of being professional and warmly informal, both at the same time.
It seems as of the past handful of years you've been dealing more with the straight-up rock band situations.
I used to do a lot more technical stuff like Brutal Truth, Kiss It Goodbye and Sangre Amado, and it's really hard to pull that off live. Lately I have been trying to pull off stuff live. I hate asking a band to wear headphones. A drummer will play a lot differently with a big apparatus on their head than if they are pretending to be in their rehearsal space. So I always try to avoid headphones. I have been getting back into technical stuff lately and have grown to like tracking to analog, then transferring to Pro Tools for plug-ins and mixing/editing. It's a cool thing — hit the tape nice and stern, then play with the tracks in a computer — best of both worlds. I still prefer the feel of a band over the technical perfection that our friend Mac can provide. To me it's the difference between using a "tool" and "a crutch". Walking the line is very precarious and impossible to define.
So you must spend a lot of time with setting them in the room.
Yup. I basically try to start as if we're in the rehearsal space. I try to hang out in their space and look at how their set-up and start from there in the tracking room. From there I look at the bleed situations. Personally, I am from the thought that a little bleed is gonna help with the thickness of it, if it's controllable. I don't mind a little guitar in the overheads as long as I can control it later.
It's a more authentic transfer of energy, as well as consistent.
To me, vibe and energy are way more important than every sound being pristine and isolated. A guitar player hearing his two stacks through a fuckin' one inch headphone speaker. [laughs] I can hear the feeling going away. I've done shit like get a PA system, run drums through it, and back out in to the room — I'll use that for reverb sometimes. I did that for the first Fantomas record as well as for a Neurosis record and a few others. I ran the drums off of tape back into the room and set up room mics instead of using digital reverb. I'd ask the assistant to move the mics closer or farther. I love doing that kind of shit. A lot of studios these days aren't equipped with live chambers anymore. On this new High On Fire album, there was a live chamber. So we spent a day reamping drums into the live chamber and we got a lot of cool organic reverb sounds. We did a whole day doing that — it was like an engineer's wet dream.
You work with a lot of young bands, correct? Like bands who are doing their first album and such. You're like the "big brother" to them...
I have played that role before, especially now that I am older. I've also been a little brother a lot of times too. I remember when I first started out I was like younger than anybody in the band and that freaked people out sometimes. Basically though, I always like to pretend I am in the band. If I can't picture myself in the band, I am going to have a hard time telling them how to play or to convey a feeling.... I am lucky to have that luxury now. I am not going to tell somebody what to play if I couldn't at least sit down and attempt to play it. I've seen engineers and producers in situations telling somebody what to play and they couldn't possibly hope to even pull it off. It's very hypocritical to me. Not that I can play everything but I try to at least demonstrate the idea... yeah, like I'm gonna sit down behind Lombardo or Crover's kit and be like "do this".
Well it has gone a step further though with you hasn't it? You recorded a Blessing The Hogs album and now you are in them!
Yeah! That's kind of...