|July 21, 2015 | White Zombie
As I said in yesterday’s post (see below, I Go To See A Band), I did some interviews for the liner notes for the forthcoming White Zombie vinyl box set, and I was asked afterwards to elaborate on a few points. Here are some memories from the making of the La Sexorcisto album. Like the other piece, this isn’t a proper story, but a series of things I wrote down as they occurred to me.
The liner notes for La Sexorcisto say that it was recorded during May 1991, which, okay. It is very, very difficult to remember much about that time period, besides the actual work of recording the album, but it seems to me like it was pretty warm — in the photograph of us in the control room with Iggy Pop, we’re wearing Summer clothes. (the photo is in Sean’s book)
I have a print of that picture, and it’s the only one I have from the making of the record. There are others, but I don’t remember anyone taking many photos, and carrying a camera wasn’t something a lot of people did at that time. Film cost money, developing cost money, and your point n’ shoot snapshots almost always looked like shit when you got them back from Walgreens. I don’t think any of us were in the habit of writing things down, either, which makes it difficult to think about. I do have a scrapbook somewhere, with Iggy Pop’s cab receipt in it. He walked in, said, “hi, I’m Jim”, and asked about getting reimbursed for his taxi ride uptown, and we all looked at each other, and I thought, “I’ll buy Iggy’s receipt from him, that’ll be a cool thing to have”.
I should go looking for that scrapbook. It got wet during Hurricane Katrina, and is probably still moldy.
(A note about Iggy Pop coming to the studio to do his voiceover on Black Sunshine : I’d had, previously, the chance to meet people from bands I was a fan of, but Iggy was the first genuine rock star I ever met, and I cannot emphasize enough what a positive experience it was. He knocked out his part on the track pretty quick [I remember that when he got in the booth, he said, “Okay, I want to hear mainly myself in the cans, no reverb, LOUD”], and then hung out for a couple of hours, telling us stories and bullshitting about the state of music. He was very, very friendly, and kindly answered all our questions about his life and work. )
Anyway, I don’t know. La Sexorcisto, recorded in May / June, maybe?
We recorded at a place called 321, which was at 321 W.44th street. It had been the Record Plant from 1968 to 1987, a very, very famous studio. When I was exploring some of the empty rooms, I found a box full of invoices from the late 70s, billing for session time for Cheap Trick, Bruce Springsteen, Kiss, and Blondie. I have no idea why I didn’t swipe one as a souvenir.
I didn’t learn until much later that Jimi Hendrix recorded Electric Ladyland there. So, I moved to NYC when I was 20 years old, and I played on the stage the Ramones and countless others played on, and then I recorded where Jimi Hendrix and countless others recorded. So I need a new childhood dream, I guess.
I don’t know what, exactly, was going on there, business-wise, but it felt like they had started renovating and run out of money — there was drywall stacked up everywhere, holes in the walls, wires dangling. The live room was a massive, two floors tall, unfinished space. It’s very unusual, in New York City, to see a space like that, high up in a building. The scene was very different from what you might imagine a legendary recording studio to be like. The lounge didn’t have much in it besides a stained couch and a battered boombox.
I’m guessing that we were getting a bargain rate, recording there.
Hardly anyone worked at 321. I remember that there was a reception area in the front, which occasionally had one person in it, and there was a guy or two (techs, maybe – I don’t think there was a house engineer) who came through once in a while. I asked a guy if there might be a guitar stand laying around, and he laughed in my face.
I do remember that the room we mixed in was pyramid-shaped, and we were told that John Lennon had built it as his personal studio. I don’t know if that’s true, but he did record Imagine and Double Fantasy there, and he was recording there on the day he was killed.
The thing that was really unusual about making the record was how little supervision there was. Geffen Records was an L.A. company, and, as far as I know, the only representative of the company was Michael Alago, the A&R guy who signed us. Alago had signed Metallica to Elektra, and it seemed like, on the basis of that, he pretty much had carte blanche to do whatever he wanted. I don’t remember meeting or dealing with anyone else from the label until after that Summer, when we moved to Los Angeles – the reaction of a lot of the Californian Geffen staff being “who the fuck is this band, and what the fuck are we supposed to do with them?” That whole thing, waiting in purgatory for La Sexorcisto to come out, is another story.
Alago came by the studio a couple of times, but largely let us get on with it. It was just us, and Andy Wallace, and his assistant David Carpenter.
Savatage were in the other studio, mixing their Streets rock-opera album. I don’t think the guys from the band were around much – I certainly don’t remember having any conversations with them. The producer needed a drum roll on one of the tracks, their drummer wasn’t there, and, this being well before the time when you could easily mimic such a thing digitally, they paid Ivan $50 to do it. As I recall, he was delighted about this.
I remember also peeking at their guitar gear, fancy rolling flight cases containing shock-mounted amps and signal processors, rack gear with numerous blinking LEDs. I didn’t know much about this stuff yet, but I was definitely dreaming about it. My very fondest wish at that time was for a big, flashy rack full of gear, and a fancy heavy metal guitar (the one I recorded the album with was made in Japan and cost $350) and a guitar tech to take care of it all. (If you want to read more about that guitar, and other gear used on the album, that’s here)
As it was, we each received a few hundred dollars to cover studio costs. I bought strings, picks, and new wah wah, and a Boss OC-2 octave pedal (I had seen Circus Of Power using this pedal, to great effect), and I paid a few weeks rent on my boarding-house room in Brooklyn with the rest of the money. I couldn’t work during the making of the album, so I was utterly, completely broke the entire time. Eating one meal a day, if that. I drank a lot of coffee, which helped with the hunger. There was a bakery product called a Well-Bread Loaf Blondie, which New Yorkers may remember, that I lived on. Exclusively, some days.
Nobody told me I could rent nice gear or anything like that. The tubes in my Marshall head (which were the same ones that came with the head when I bought it new, and had been in it for every show I’d played with the band) flamed out during the making of the album – I literally did not know that tubes wear out, I don’t think any of us did. When I got the amp back, it sounded quite different.
Here’s a question I get asked all the time : was there a specific moment when you said to yourself, “I’ve made it!” — I do have an answer for that, but it’s not what people expect. New York City is a hard place. It’s not nice to be poor, but it’s especially difficult in a city that’s filled with rich people and locked doors. In NYC, excerpt for the parks and the sidewalks and wherever it is that you sleep, There’s no space where you can actually BE, unless you have a key, or power, or you’re spending money.
I couldn’t afford to eat in restaurants – except for, of course, slices of pizza, and sometimes, the very cheap Ukrainian diners on the Lower East Side (another thing people who lived in New York at that time might remember is the Leshko’s breakfast special).
I couldn’t afford to see bands, although The Limelight was free on, I think, Tuesday nights, and we could get into some of the metal clubs for free. We could always get into the Cat Club, which is where the poodle-haired glam metal bands played. I saw, as a result, a huge number of those bands. I was, for the most part, excluded from doing anything else. I went to Tower Records to read magazines. I used to go to the library a lot, to kill time. There wasn’t really anything to do besides practice guitar all day, which I did, frequently.
Back to the question : New York is made of buildings, and when you’re used to being down on the street, shut out, it is a very powerful thing psychologically to be able to get up off the street and into one of those buildings. I remember, first, being in an office, signing the Geffen contract, thinking the whole time about having walked in through the lobby as a client, not through the back as a bike messenger or servant. Then, at the studio, one whole wall of the room where I cut guitar overdubs was glass (I can’t remember what floor the place was on, but it was up there), and there was a deck, and we could go up on the roof, which I did every chance I got, to look out over the city.
In retrospect, getting signed (which was something everyone we knew wanted) and being in a studio, up in the sky, with a famous music-industry-veteran producer (actually, I should say semi-famous — the very next job Andy Wallace did was to mix Nirvana’s Nevermind, which is what made him FAMOUS) who was treating me very well and taking my ideas seriously .. was, for me, a much bigger leap from the year and a half leading up to that time than anything, platinum records, playing arenas, whatever, that happened after.
Even today, it would probably not be a wise move to take the subway from Times Square to Brooklyn at 3 in the morning, but in pre-Giuliani New York it was downright suicidal. And unavoidable, for me. I worked very long days when I was recording guitar tracks, like noon to 2am (listen to the record; it has quite a bit of guitar on it), and I liked being in the studio so much that I would hang out all day when somebody else was tracking.
(I was at some point, during writing this stuff down, going to go into exhaustive detail about how the album was recorded on a Sony PCM 3348 48-track digital machine, and then I remembered that absolutely nobody gives a shit about that — suffice to say that there were a lot of tracks, and I was able to do as many guitar overdubs as I wanted. Sometimes, Sean was in the control room with me, egging me on : “now do another part, a minor third above the one you just did!” We had a lot of fun with that) (I should mention also that Andy had been in bands and was a very musical person – you might say, “well, duh”, but many record producers approach the work in a way that’s more technical than artistic, and I have worked with studio people who have never played music –so, what I was going to say is that Andy knew the lingo, had some good guitar ideas, and helped us arrange some of the songs)
Again, I remember it as being hot. These rides home seem like Summer in my memory, and there was that out-of-control, dangerous feeling that Summer in the city brought, then.
A couple of nights I thought “Great, guitarist killed while recording debut album” — one night there was a gang of kids working their way towards me, fucking with people, trying to snatch purses, etc. — I stuck out like a sore thumb in any situation, at that time, but on a Brooklyn-bound train I REALLY stuck out. They were moving slowly, but they had their eyes on me the whole time. They were almost on top of me when I got to my stop, and I used an old New York trick — the doors opened, and I sat still, pretending like I wasn’t getting off, until the doors-closing chime sounded, at which point I dashed off the train and up the stairs. I heard a lot of shouting and door-banging behind me.
Another time, I think it was like a week later, I came up out of the station, and an old guy made like he had a gun in his pocket and told me to give him all my money. I was in a very good, very excited mood because I had laid down a lot of tracks that day and I had a cassette of some rough mixes with me. I threw a quarter at him, which hit him in his forehead, cheerfully told him to go fuck himself, and ran home.