A&M chapter Twenty Down By Law

Listen up, this story is important.

Promise it’s a good one.

My first time engineering and producing a record.

I had no idea what I was doing.  No shit.  I really didn’t.

There’s no rhyme or reason other than right place, right time.

It’s gonna be more than one chapter.

It was pretty cool.

So I think I was twenty six or twenty seven years old.  I’d gotten a pretty good grip on most of the A&R department’s business.  Enough so that when another engineer appeared on the schedule, I could get proactive.  Sometimes I was actually able to take the gig away.  Other times I was at least able to insert myself as an engineer and avoid some full orchestra AT&T jingle or some ridiculous nine day mix of a single song with a total of 10 tracks of music with Don Smith and Shelly Yakus.

Some dog and pony fiasco by some major superstar or not that I didn’t give a mad fuck about either way.

It’s always good to work with others, share ideas and interact but you could check out the set up, talk to the staff guy, survey the gear, the mics and their placement without anyone bothering you.

I ended up under some dipshit named Graylin (sp?).

The band was Down By Law.  An Epithaph band.  This guy Graylin was a piece of work.  He thought himself some sort of wizard.  He wanted to meet me and talk production beforehand.  We had drinks and he told me he liked to sometimes bring a ladder to a session and sit on top of it while the band played.  Just to throw them off, he said.  I told him that was fine by me but I warned the ceiling in studio C was only about eight feet.  I ended up paying for drinks.

He was an idiot.

Turned out to be an excellent band and Graylin was the turquoise cummerbund.  Mouth breather.  We left him behind the first day.  I did the best I could.  I liked these guys.  They could play and they had passion and this producer they had was full of shit.  He had no idea what he was doing.  He had no idea what he had and he didn’t understand his band at all.  He showed up the first morning of the gig and burnt a wad of sage in the live room.  We were setting up mics and it took less than two minutes to smoke us out.  Studio C had a very small live room.  I tried my best to be nice when I asked him not to take it into the control room after kicking him out of the live room.

Before I ever pushed a fader on this session, I understood this guy Graylin to be a douchebag.

He was getting all bullshit native American spiritual for a punk rock demo.

Nobody cared.  Dumbass.

Graylin ended up being quite enamored of my capabilities.  Why not double the rhythm guitar?   Why not do so with a different guitar and amp as long as you can make them compliment each other?  Why not check the snare head between takes especially if the little fucker plays as hard as this one does?  Why not check tuning constantly?

Why not pay attention?

Why not wear your sunglasses in the control room?  Really, and a fucking trench coat.  What a dick.  Rock stars and wannabes wear shades in the goddamn control room.  I really can’t blame the rock stars sometimes.  The only time I ever wore my sunglasses in the control room was for a photo shoot.  I looked like a smug dick.

The session went well.  Good songs.  Great band.  Full of personality, humor and heart.  I got excited.

We let Graylin have the couch.

They could play.  They could really play.  Different tempos and sensibilities than I was used to.  I’m big on dissonance and the way Dave played wasn’t always tonally congruent with Sam and Angry John.  Usually worked out pretty good though.  Lovely dissonance.  I like when rhythm guitars rub a little.  Punk rock is a good venue for dissonance.
Oh, and Hunter.

Hunter has become one of my best if not closest friends.  Geographically inconvenient.  He’s a cracker and I’m white trash.  He’s upper Florida and I’m LA by way of trailer in Carson City.  We’ve both crossed the country to work together.  For years when Hunter was on my side of the continent he left a simple message: “plate of shrimp”.  Whereupon we would drink and such.  One night he was at the Roosevelt and we ended up with this group of high school girls from out of state on meth, seriously.  They were some kind of team.  They were tagging each other until sun up to do drugs in the bathroom.  I woke up among them.

Creepy.

I think I walked home.

I adore Hunter.  It’s a man crush but I’m not looking to give him the business or anything.

There’s no mirror that reflects half of what everyone needs to know.

I made sure, I did my damndest, to make sure they left with good rough mixes.  Graylin would be taking his vagina along with the rest of himself, to mix somewhere else.  What kind of an asshole takes his demo to another studio to mix when he has free time at a place like A&M?  When the band is being considered by a major independent label like A&M as opposed to a minor independent label like Epitaph was at the time?

I didn’t have much time but I spent every minute left to me on good aggressive punk rock mixes because Graylin thought he was working on prog rock.

I’m sorry Graylin, wherever you are, but you were an ass.  I’m sure you’re not a bad guy.  I hope not anyway.  I could be wrong.
It was alarming and depressing to know that such a poseur could somehow infiltrate this level of things.  Whatever.  I’d already seen this movie too many times.  Another day in the life.  Never expected to hear from Down By Law again much less Graylin.  Dave Smalley called me three weeks later and asked me to produce his next record.  I told him yes.  I told them all yes back then.  I had nothing to lose and didn’t believe a single one of them.

So many so willing to kiss without even touching.  I was already a whore.  What were they waiting for?

I was giving it away.

Long story short.  Six or seven months later, Dave came back around.  There used to be a diner on the corner of Sunset and La Brea, I honestly can’t remember the name but it was a very faux Hollywood/Fifties, suck my dick, touristy kinda deal.  They had pretty good milkshakes.  It may still be a Boston Market.  A family restaurant two doors up and across the street from a titty bar.

Crazy Girls.  Eh hem.

I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but Dave contacted me at the studio and asked to meet me.  We met at that diner.  I think he told me he wanted to talk to me about making his next record on the phone.  I think he said that but I didn’t believe it so I don’t remember it.

We order fries or onion rings or something and he asks me, with his lovely wife Caroline present, if I would make his next record with him.  He said he didn’t have a lot of money to spend and he might not be able to pay me anything up front but he said there was money for the studio and points available and I didn’t care about money.  The offer was to produce, engineer and mix a record for Epitaph, for a band I already liked, had already recorded and sort of understood.

In the intervening months I’ve become a much better engineer.

My ass puckered because I didn’t really expect to hear those words.  Even at that young age, I was used to allusions and promises.  I’d heard it all before.  I thought maybe, maybe, I’d get offered this record but I didn’t own it at all until Dave Smalley actually asked.  I’d kinda forgotten about it.  I remember smiling and and answering.  I walked back to the studio wondering if it was real and what I had agreed to.

I barely understood what it was to produce a record and I would be engineering too.
I took the gig.

I accepted Dave Smalley’s magnanimous offer.

Al Reed was in front of my lobes.  Al and I had begun to work together but he probably still thought I was some kinda dick.  I couldn’t be positive he’d take this on with me.  I’d thought about explaining that I’d never produced a record before and that I really was relatively inexperienced as an engineer……..I thought about it, but Dave knew it, and it just didn’t bear repeating.  We were on the same page.

He wasn’t just willing, he was enthusiastic about taking a chance on me.  Turned out to be the best selling record Down By Law had ever or would ever release.  We really did see into and understand each other enough for us both to know I would do my best.  I did.  I did do my best.  Alex Reed did his best and helped me and the band to do our best.  We honestly all did our best.

It was fucking swell.

I struggled.  I lost and regained my confidence a half a dozen times.  Alex was amazing while he worked to define his own role.  We had a blast.  I melted down a couple times but not in front of the band.  I was sure I didn’t belong there, either as a producer or an engineer.  Al would shove some sturdy lumber up my ass and I’d be back the next morning and so would he.  The band embraced Al because he was so smart, organized and intuitive.  I’ll forever be grateful.  I made up my mind that I would never, if it were up to me, share anything but equal billing with Alex Reed ever again.

Once again, Alex would teach me, sometimes by example, what I needed to know.  An early symbiotic relationship.

He brought everything I couldn’t.  That smacks of melodramatic but I’m here to tell you it’s not.  We share a birthday but that is almost all we have in common.  Very smart guy.  Way more musical than me.

Could not have done it without him.

Much more to come, and it gets better.

Drinks for my friends.

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