Music, Audio, and Other Illnesses

The Sound Your Head Makes When It Hits the Table

Enough about the Sheryl Crow record. Well, no — but yes. I could probably write quite a bit more about it, and the conflicts around it, but it was very long time ago. I deem it time to move on to an album that is inseparable in my mind and experience: Thud.

The latter part of ‘93 was taken by up talking about it, mixing it, and being berated over it. It’s Kevin Gilbert’s solo album, recorded over a few years, including the time that we put in on Sheryl’s album. I’m only on 4 or 5 of the tracks (I think) but have some experience of the whole thing.

I first became aware of Kevin working on putting something together when he asked me to come to his studio (he sublet about a third of Bill Bottrell’s place) and record a bass part on “When You Give Your Love to Me” — this was originally a song of Bill’s that he gave to Kevin, who complicated the lyrics somewhat from Bill’s version, which was more pop. I have some decent memory of this, despite it being 24 years ago. I played my graphite-necked MusicMan bass direct through my Alembic F-2B preamp. It was pretty easy, but some time later, when Jim Keltner heard it, he remarked that it was obvious that Brian MacLeod and I had played it together — despite the fact that I had overdubbed the bass to the drums that Brian had recorded months before.  Small victories, you know? I hung around after I put down the bass to help Kevin put the acoustic guitar on the track, but the vocals are really the big thing on that song.

I wrote a bit about “Joytown” last month; a song he called “Shrug” was originally a Tuesday Night Music Club song called “My New God”, which had its origins in a thing Sheryl said. I had done an overdub the night before, I think maybe on “The Na-Na Song”, a bit of nonsense from the record we were making for her. I came in a little late the next night and she said,  “Dan — my new god.” And we were off. Little things like that can trigger a song. But it never quite came into focus, so Kevin “disappeared “ the tape, changed lyrics and the tile, but kept the melody.

There are two songs on Thud that are bookends of the same subject: “Tears of Audrey”, and “Song For a Dead Friend”. “Tears of Audrey” was very much a collaboration in the production, all of us working very much as equals, TNMC-style, on the realization. My bass was a 1970 Guild M-85, a unique, deep, hollow-body bass, played with a pick, and direct I think. It was done, unlike most of the album, without second-guessing and very fast, maybe a day, maybe two. “Audrey” is a song about the mother of a friend who had committed suicide — the subject of “Song for a Dead Friend”, Danny. A bit more about that song in a minute.

When it came time to mix the album, Kevin didn’t want to do it, and prevailed on Bill to mix it, but Bill wanted me mixing with him. Bill was perfectly capable of mixing it by himself, but with KG in the room, I think he wanted me there to diffuse the energy. So Kevin, with the money his “label” had given him, rented my 1” 2-track, and we went over to Andorra for the mix. This turned out to be a very good idea. Bill and Kevin knew the board at Andorra — it was the same automated Neve 8078 that they had done Toy Matinee on when the owner was at Smoketree Ranch, and Kevin’s multi-tracks were so complicated that there was no way for Bill to do a mix in his preferred, very simple style — it had to be automated. A passage might last 4 bars on a track, and immediately the same track had a completely different event.

We worked for about ten days, and then Bill announced that he was going to Japan the next day to be a judge in the Yamaha band contest. So we were on our own. Here’s how I remember it going: before going into work, my almost-wife and I went to see Betty Bottrell’s obstetrician — our wedding was about 3 months off. But we needed to have something checked. And then Kevin and I set to work mixing “Song For a Dead Friend.” In a few hours, the call came — we were having a baby.

I tried for some hours to concentrate on the mix, but I was literally hallucinating. I was looking at the board and kept seeing the hallways in the hospitals were my parents had died; I suppose because here was solid proof of my own mortality, of my being one in a line. Kevin and I were, not so much arguing, as me slowly wearing him down. The multi-track was, in true KG style, filled up; lots of instruments doing lots of stuff. The song that was gradually taking shape in my ears had just about nothing in it. In the early evening, I had vocals, piano, and a haunting electric guitar, and that was it. I said to him, “Just put this to tape,” and I left to confront my mortality and celebrate with my fiancée.

And that’s where our work ended (though not without my having to endure a drunken Kevin haranguing me for 90 minutes in his car one night about why Sheryl didn’t have to write me a check when he did). In the end, he didn’t use the mixes, probably because he didn’t want to pay Bill and me for our work. He remixed the whole album, and, unable to live with a mix that didn’t use most of the instruments he’d recorded, he re-recorded “Song For a Dead Friend” exactly as I’d conceived of and mixed it.

When it was released (a term that used to have some meaning to it), he told me that he thought that the mastering cut off everything below 100 Hz. Maybe. But — I still have a couple of the 1” mixes (including the notorious “Song…”) and, of course, I still have my machine.