When I started Tape Op Magazine, one of the thoughts I hoped to impart (as noted in my intro this issue) was that great music could be recorded far outside of a professional studio. I would look at the covers of Mix Magazine and see giant consoles and sparkling clean rooms that were not only completely removed from the recording world I had known, but also seemed to represent some sort of power fixation. "Without this million dollar console you will never make a great record," the photos seemed to tell me. In the early '90s I wrote reviews for several small music magazines, all of which are long gone and barely remembered. In one box of items I was sent to review was an early 7-inch single by East River Pipe. In a musical landscape that, at many times, didn't speak to me at all, here was something melodic, sad, beautiful and precious but with a serious, dark undercurrent - as if the singer, Fred Cornog, had been to the edge and retreated. It was delicate yet strong, something similar to what I later found in my friend Elliott Smith's music. Needless to say, I gave this single a glowing review. I soon struck up a friendly mail correspondence with Barbara Powers, Fred's girlfriend (now wife) who had not only rescued him from a life of addiction and homelessness, but also helped him accumulate some home recording gear, instruments and got his music out to the public. About three years later I decided to start a magazine about music recording and Fred was one of the first people on my list I wanted to interview. We chatted over the phone and he appeared in the premier issue of Tape Op. His modest home recording setup was based around a Tascam 388, a combo 1/4-inch, 8-track reel-to-reel deck with a mixer built in. His attitude about recording gear almost shocked me at the time, as he didn't care to research equipment as much as he cared about refining his songs and sounds. Maybe I was on track to learning more and more about recording and gear, but I know now that this was the right path for Fred.
I dropped Fred a line to see how his recording equipment had changed (or not).
"I still record and mix everything at home, in a small room upstairs. The Tascam 388 that I used for such a long time has completely bitten the dust. That 388 was a great machine, but ultimately it became a total pain in the ass. Tracks would constantly drop out, the buttons would stop working right in the middle of something, the faders would make clicking sounds, etc. So I moved on. I had to move on because the machine itself was starting to hold me back. So, for the last three albums, I've pretty much moved over to a Korg D1600 [16-track digital recorder]. The new album, We Live in Rented Rooms, was recorded solely on the Korg. It's nice to work on a machine where all the tracks, buttons, and faders actually work. I still use the same mics I've always used: for vocals, a Shure PE15H and for acoustic guitar, a Beyer M69N. As far as electric guitar goes, I play a Fender Jazzmaster now, usually through my old SansAmp pedal. My tiny Gretsch Electromatic bass goes through the SansAmp pedal too. I've still got the same keyboards and drum machines and a few real drums as well. Equipment-wise, not much has changed."
We Live in Rented Rooms is Fred's seventh album. It's no great departure from where he started, though some of his sounds have gotten more refined and focused, plus the songwriting is stronger than ever. Back to Fred:
"I think I slightly changed my approach on the new record. I spent a little more time on each song this time around. I work kind of like a painter, I guess. I paint something, then I walk away, then I add something, then I walk away, then I paint over the first thing, then I walk away; on and on, add, subtract, add, subtract. I suppose I kept the paintings on the easel just a bit longer on We Live in Rented Rooms."
He doesn't tour or play live. He's in his forties and works at Home Depot. He spends more time working, raising a daughter with Barbara and playing with his dog than he does recording his music, hence the long gaps between album releases. But I still wait for these gems every few years, as they contain songwriting and music far better than most of what is out there.
I imagine Fred, in a parallel universe, entering one of those Mix Magazine cover studios. He's terrified, nervous and feels alone, despite all the people present. Someone has funded this venture, and they have expectations in the marketplace. Fred knows that the $1,000 per day studio rental will be applied against any earnings his upcoming album might make. The resulting album would probably be okay, but it would never be the personal, handcrafted work of art that he presents to us now. Fuck that parallel universe. Fred is free.
Years ago he wrote and recorded one of my favorite songs, "Make A Deal With The City." In it, Fred sang, "People disappear, and life might be a joke." Sometimes they don't disappear my friend, and their music is carried around inside of you forever. Believe me.
(eastriverpipe.net, mergerecords.com) -LC