Behind the Glass


Overdriven guitar, crashing drums and thunderous bass — speaking generally here, these things are kind of male and testosterone leaning, are they not? In general. Of course I’ve seen women rock out — Hell’s Belles used to be a concert I didn’t miss when they were in town — but as a new dad to a little girl, even in my wilder imaginings it’s hard for me to picture her trying to rock out as hard as I did when I was a little kid.

Growing up, my dad was director of music and worship at several mid-size Presbyterian churches in Florida. He was known and hired  for his traditional approach, bringing orchestral and choral works to modern congregations, and even founding a community children’s choir and masterworks chorale in several places we lived.

Yet in those years I was intent on rocking as hard as I possibly could. Unfortunately, my dad had armed me with enough live sound recording knowledge that by the time I formed a rock band we were really able to pull it off. I wouldn’t have dreamed of keeping my amplifier stack at home — an early 70s Acoustic Control Corp 150 head feeding the 6 by 10″ Acoustic 104 cabinet. Yowza. Instead, we took the noise to church, and my band, Circle of Willis, practiced in the youth group building on Saturdays while my dad worked.

Two things were great about this. As sort of a preacher’s kid I could go wherever I wanted, and the buildings were mostly empty, most of the time. And second, the church had raised funds for a saa-weeeet PA system for the youth group that was marginally portable. Two-way, 500-watt uppers sat on large aluminum poles attached to two massive 18″ ported subwoofers with their own massive amps. All told, a couple of thousand watts and change for us to play with.

So we integrated these things into our “practice” sessions, you better believe it. Of course the bass went through the massive subs, and also since my cabinet with its six 10″ speakers wasn’t quite brutal enough for me, I sent my octave-doubled, overdriven signal through the PA as well. Now, my dad got after me early about hearing health, and constantly reinforced the need to wear earplugs. If not for his efforts, perhaps I’d be in a different profession! Well, perhaps not.

Anyway, it was the other day when I was delighting in a new group I discovered, Columbia Nights, whose genre was loosely described as “jazztronica,” that I realized how much my taste has wandered since the early days. Music and life may be a journey, but I will say I can still genuinely delight in good, old fashioned overdriven guitar, crashing drums and thunderous bass, particularly if it’s done well. And I still really love recording good rock, although the way I mix it now has changed a bit since the Tascam 4-track cassette mixer recordings we did in the youth group lounge.

Years later, while looking for bands to book in our nascent Second Story Garage live music video studio, we came upon some luck in the form of an eager and sort of demanding young lady who was manager of a new mashup “supergroup” of well known rockers, and who had caught wind of us and was aware of the growing trend of pop-up live music video studios like ours. I think this was to be our eighth recording ever, and I was still buying mics and figuring out the space for different sounds. We had had one rock group in before this one, and in that session I learned a lot about recording a rock band in a random office on the second floor of a random office building.

All six of us behind the Second Story Garage project wanted to go beyond the usual “unplugged” sessions, and I especially wanted bands to come to us with their complete sound.

So we had to say yes when we were approached by the manager of the band T.E.N. to record in our humble and just-beginning live video studio. Regardless of the fact that I hadn’t even yet purchased a dynamic vocal mic I liked and that I was mixing in the same room on two daisy-chained, 4-channel cheap Chinese mixers. Oh, and the fact that we had to go out and find a drum kit and two amps — the players were flying in and expected a backline.

But we got it done. We wanted to set the stage for some thrashing, and we certainly did that. Some background on T.E.N., and by the way, I think they’re still playing together and may be planning another album, but thus far there’s only one EP recorded of this group. The band is led by Eric McFadden, whose personal discography is massive but who rose to notoriety in his role as guitarist for George Clinton in Parliament/Funkadelic.

Throughout the years, Eric has taken his six-string virtuosity on the road in search of collaboration. He’s teamed up with virtually everyone worth knowing in the ’90s to produce a number of projects. But this one, T.E.N,. is one Eric calls a supergroup, and it’s hard to argue when you watch them work.

Thrashing the drums with happy wild abandon, Thomas Pridgen, formerly of The Mars Volta, really taught those skins a lesson in front of our cameras. Thomas has been known in the scene for a while, starting when he became the youngest recipient of a Zildjian endorsement in the company’s history at age 10. He flew in to play for us, and the drum kit we sourced belonged to the wife of our executive producer. We learned that Kevin’s wife is a jazz drummer, and we all remarked that the kit had probably not seen an absolute beating like that in a while.

A rock trio is hard to pull off — everyone needs to contribute a lot to the overall sound. So complimenting Eric’s filling mix of rhythm and lead guitar is a bass guitar sound that is round and fat but also incorporates sliding. Norwood Fisher of the band Fishbone brought his acoustic fretless bass into the mix, and showed off his zen-like prowess on the instrument.

The trickiest thing about recording a live rock band in an office with a drop ceiling and a large cavity above leading to a tin roof, and the room with its 1/2″-thick drywall walls and my meager supply of cheap microphones and mixers, is the fact that usually, the live rock band wants to play so loud that the players can feel the sound waves on their backs.

Remember, I used to be there, so I totally get it. But because of the limitations of the studio at the time, I tried to strike a balance between feel and overloading the room with sound. I had one dynamic microphone that I couldn’t use for vocals because I needed it for the guitar amplifier. That meant Eric had to scream into an attenuated condenser mic the whole time, which he did fairly well and without complaint.

This ended up being one of my favorite sessions, aside from the videos, which weren’t my favorites for a few nitpicky reasons. We had a really great time hanging out with the band before and after the recording, killing a whole bottle of Duncan Taylor blended scotch together (, the bastard — although the product’s not bad) and a half gallon of ice cream.

So fire up the fuzz pedal and check out one of our earliest videos, enjoy, and keep an eye on the T.E.N. site  for news relating to T.E.N. and the supposed new album on deck. Thomas Pridgen can also be found via his Facebook page, and the same goes for bassist John Norwood Fisher.