So you say you know Kurt Bloch, guitarist/songwriter for the seminal '90s mega-pop band the Fastbacks. And maybe you know his involvement as the "junior" member of the Young Fresh Fellows. But did you know that Bloch is also a producer? I would frickin' hope so! The man has produced Mudhoney, Nashville Pussy, Flop, Sicko, Pure Joy and many others. Bloch is one of many Seattle-based producers that make being in a Seattle rock band so awesome. Phil Ek, Jack Endino, Conrad Uno... Bloch is in the same league. Not only is he a musical genius and master of the "live sound" recording, the man is fucking funny! To this day, he is the only producer I have worked with who gave me instructions with a French accent. This interview was done after Bloch released a collection B-sides and rarities from the Fastbacks called Truth, Corrosion and Sour Biscuits and the album from his new band, Sgt. Major, titled, Rich Creamery Butter. Both are released on his new label, Book Records.
You started your recording career by recording Flop's first album, Flop and the Fall of the Mopsqueezer! In a review you were quoted as saying, "The theory was that we should try all the things normally discouraged in other studio environments." What did you do that was "normally discouraged?"
It's wrong to think that that was the first thing I ever recorded. It was the first thing other than my own band that I ever recorded. I worked on the Fastbacks' albums — the first one Conrad Uno [Egg Studio] recorded and on the second I collaborated with Conrad. On that one, he [Uno] kind of let me do whatever I wanted. And on the third one, Zucker, Conrad told me, "Just go and do whatever you want," though he might have been there for some of the basic tracks. That record turned out pretty good, and after it came out is when Flop came to me and said, "Oh yeah, we want to record a record!" They didn't have a label, didn't have any money, and I said, "Wow! This is perfect. I know these guys, they're my friends and they don't have any money. If they pay for the studio time I could just do it and learn." It pretty much was an exercise in disaster to some extent, but it's still a great record.
I was just wondering if you were doing things like putting drum mics in different rooms or something.
No. At that point it was pretty conservative. As far as drum mics go, there were a couple of 414s for the overheads, 421s for the toms, and 57s for the snare's top and bottom. There was probably an RE20 on the kick drum. Just fairly normal things like that. The one thing that you start doing that is nasty is cranking EQ every chance you get. On the track, going to tape, coming back from tape, just EQ, EQ, EQ everything. Another thing I learned not to do early on was compress drums going to tape. I don't know what the theory was in my feeble brain was back then. Now that I think about it, maybe it was working in a studio that doesn't have much gear. There were maybe a couple of Symetrix compressors at Egg, a DBX 166. You know, there are only four channels of compression. It's not an option not to have everything totally compressed. Might as well compress everything going to tape, and then you don't need to compress it again. [laughs] It became impossible to work with later, but I didn't know. It was mixed very quickly, just a few days, and we took it to another studio for sequencing and editing on Pro Tools in '91 or '92. It gets bounced and sent off to John Golden — "You know I think there's something wrong with this. I'm just having a hard time getting a good sound out of this. I've been having to add a lot of top end. I can't tell you exactly how much, but the number '10' and the letters 'dB' keep cropping up." I tell him, "I just don't know. It was fine when we left it." "Well, you know you don't really have to put that much compression on your mix." "Oh yeah, you do." "No, you really don't. If you really want it super-compressed, you just tell me and I'll do it down here." After he dinked around with the recording for a little bit, he called me back, told me the mixes were screwed up, that they were out of phase, and that I needed to do something with it. We found it was out of alignment by a few samples. So we clicked back in and obviously the mixes were still totally compressed and scuzzy sounding. When the record finally came out, everybody was so nice to me. "Wow! You recorded that on an 8-track? It sounds just fantastic!" "It does? God, maybe I'm a recording genius." It's still a great record, but it was such a stepping stone for me on learning what to do and what not to do for recording stuff. Its high energy...