When I moved into Cleveland a little over a year ago, I had a limited knowledge of the current music scene. Most of the local music I picked up was the usual crap you'd find in any other city. However, just like any other city, there were a handful of releases of varying styles that were phenomenal. Without fail, when I looked for the recording credit, Don Depew's name popped up. Don owns 609 Recording, a 16-track facility located in a sleepy suburb of Cleveland. He also plays bass for Guided By Voices and Cobra Verde and was guitarist for local metal act, Breaker. He's recorded some great bands like My Dad Is Dead, The New Bomb Turks, Guided By Voices, Gem, Monster Truck 5, Cruel, Cruel Moon, QuaziModo, The New Salem Witch Hunters, Cobra Verde, and many, many more. Here's a short chat:
So Don, how'd you get into recording?
I don't know... It's been so long. There was this studio... Mark [Klein--609 Recording coconspirator] and I took a class at this studio. We were into doing that kind of stuff and for some reason it seemed like a good idea. It was just the usual kind of recording class. Guinea pigs would come in, and we'd work on them. Geez... That's like 20 years ago. Mark had a Teac 4-track and he eventually wound up getting a Peavey mixer. We'd use whatever mic's that were lying around and weren't broken. We'd use whatever practice space we had at the time. It's been this place since about 1982.
Were you recording Breaker with that?
Yeah... Well, with the heavy metal stuff, it was a whole different thing, especially back then. The first place we went with Breaker was Suma [a top-of-the-line 24-track facility in the Cleveland area]. Mark saw a special advertised for $32.00 an hour which, at the time, was a really good rate, you know? The only stuff we'd recorded up to that point was the 4-track stuff. Some of that stuff sounded decent, considering what we were working with. So we were going to do a single and there were no such things as project studios back then, there was just, you know, big time studios. Back then, people didn't make records. Now, it's like everybody will crank out records. Kids--15 year-old kids put out records. To us, making a record was like... You can't understand how different things were back then.
It just wasn't available?
No! Making a record was something that was very expensive. It was a really big deal. We'd know people who'd go their whole life, years and years, and they'd recorded one time or something. Or never play on a record.
That sounds almost better than now. It wish it was more like that now.
(Laughs) It had its good points.
That would be so much better. The people who had the studios actually knew what they were doing. I mean, how many studios are in Cleveland, and how many of them actually know what they're doing?
Like anything else, it had its good points and bad points. Anyway, then Michael [Klein, Mark's brother] got an 8-track, a Tascam 80-8, and a Biamp mixer. Around then, it started to hit me. I never had any money, but at least I could weasel enough to go see bands. I'd come across bands and I'd think, "The coolest thing in the world would be to be able to make a record with these guys." Just because I liked them, not because I wanted to scam a bunch of money off them, because they didn't have any money either.
That seems to be a recurring theme.
After awhile, people just assumed they didn't know anything because they hadn't really been in a studio, and (pointing) THAT guy has been in a studio a couple of times so he must know something. THAT guy was me. (Laughs)
What is your favorite project you've worked on?
The New Bomb Turks. They were fun.
I remember you telling me that the drummer [Bill Randt] didn't use headphones while tracking. What did you do?
Got a guitar amp and aimed it at his head.
Didn't you have a problem with bleed into the drum mics?
No. It's the New Bomb Turks!
What was recording the GBV thing like?
'Cuz it wasn't GBV, it was Cobra Verde with Bob.
How'd that all get started anyway?
Well, because of the "Insects of Rock" thing. GBV was on Scat, who also put out Cobra Verde's record. We did some shows with Prisonshake and GBV, and Bob was into Death of Samantha, so one thing led to another... It was weird because it's one thing to record people who just come in and you can look at them objectively and try to make a record of this object that just walked in. It's another thing when you're participating in the thing too. And it's an even harder thing when you've got to be a participant, record it, and it's somebody you liked before and it sounded a lot different then. Bob's easy to get along with, but it was still a weird thing. I think the next one will be a lot better.
How did you do the tracking? Did you do it live or did you piece it all together?
We didn't really know the songs. We just had a cassette of Bob singing and playing an acoustic guitar. We never played the songs before. Bob basically ran through them with Dave [Swanson, drummer extraordinaire], and then we put everything else on it later.
Are you going to try to approach it more live next time?
Supposedly that is going to be the case. Some of the older stuff is real established in what it sounds like. They sound one way on the record and then plenty of people, ourselves included, have already heard what those songs sounded like when the other band was playing them, which was great. What are we going to add to that? But some of the stuff, like off the solo record, where it had never gotten played out, we had a little bit more of an opportunity to expand on it. Sometimes that worked out pretty well and Bob was pretty happy with that, like, "Man, I wish we would've recorded some of these songs this way instead of doing it like that.", or "Some of the songs on the solo record, I wish I could've saved them and done them with you guys playing on it." Great! Because after awhile, we were kind of getting into doing it. We look forward to actually doing less of a piece together thing. You know, working on the songs together and making them sound like a unique lump rather than tweaking parts.
You piece together stuff with Cobra Verde a lot.
Man, that's hard. It's a totally different way of recording than what I'm used to.
A lot of times, it's hard to finish stuff like that. How do you know it's done when you don't know what it's supposed to sound like? Sometimes when you're doing songs for a single or something, that's great. It'll be like, we need to get one song done, we got a couple of nights to do it. Bam, do it, that's fine. But to do whole records, just fill up reels of tape with stuff. Some things are more defined, OK, you can get that done. But some things start out one way and a couple of years later, after you're done fiddling around with it and doing it so many different ways, it's an entirely different thing so why no...
Just re-record it?
Yeah! Sometimes I think it winds up with this kind of butchered feel to it or like a halfway done thing because you're trying to get it to be something that it wasn't. Not even just something slightly different. I'm talking something A LOT different than what it started off as.
That's another thing I don't like about people having so much access to studios.
I know, it can be a bad thing in a way.
It used to be you had a band, you put some songs together, you went on the road, and when you were ready, you went into a studio.
OK, yeah, which can still happen. It can work both ways. There are no absolutes.
609 Recording, PO Box 46508, Cleveland, OH 44146