The opportunity for T-Ride to get signed and make a record was brought about by one specific person… Wally Buck (sadly he passed away this year from cancer). He was an engineer/producer in the Bay Area that came in to our studio to rent studio time with another band. He was starting a production company and was looking for bands to work with. We played him some of T-Ride's stuff and he immediately wanted to get involved. He helped us get some better mixes of the versions of the songs we had at that time. He had some gratis time available at Fantasy studios in Berkeley and allowed me to go in there on 2 separate occasions. He wanted to see what would happen if I had a chance to use a real console. I spent one day mixing on a Neve and one day mixing on an SSL. I had heard about Neves and SSLs but had never been in a room with one. The Neve at Fantasy was one of the much maligned 8108s. I didn't know anything about Neves and just thought this is the Neve that everyone talks about. My somewhat uneducated ears found that 8108 very sonically pleasing and I didn't like the SSL at all. That was the beginning of my infatuation with Neve consoles. With the mixes from those 2 days, Wally Buck started reaching out to various managers to get the band proper management. Dan and I were pretty irreverent cocky assholes at that time and we would do some pretty ridiculous shit. We decided the best test for the potential managers we were meeting with was to put them in a very awkward situation and see how they would handle them selves. One of the "tests" was to go with us to the San Francisco Zoo wearing white lab coats, convince the Zoo staff that we were with National Geographic and get them to allow us to record the Lions roaring at feeding time with a portable DAT recorder. Wally Buck ended up being the only person to pull that off. Those lion recordings are blended in with the drums in the intro of Luxury Cruiser. The band ended up being managed by Bill Graham Management. They started shopping the band to record labels. We met with John Kalodner with his ZZ Top beard and white suit, the then brand new Hollywood Records and a few others. We told all the labels we met with that we wanted to use the album budget to upgrade our studio and record the album ourselves. The only label crazy enough to agree to it was Hollywood records… We signed with Hollywood Records. BUILDING THE T-RIDE DREAM STUDIO:
Using the budget to build a studio was easily the smartest thing that band did. We had an album budget of I think $225K. If we had given all of that money to other studios/engineers/producers/blow/hookers/new cars etc. We would have had nothing after the record ran its course. It was the difference between spending $225K and having a finished record or spending $225K and having a finished record + a fully equipped professional recording studio. I started putting together my dream list of stuff to get, Reading articles and interviews to try and figure out what was used on the records we loved (Gearslutz would have been very helpful at that point
We ended up getting a Neve 8038 (loaded with 32 1081s), A Studer A800 mkIII, an Ampex MM-1200, Neumann U47, 2-C12As and a bunch of other stuff. Almost all of which I still have and use on records now. We also needed to move the studio out of the jerry rigged office space and get setup in a dedicated studio. I was obsessed with having a large sound room so we found a warehouse to lease and built a control room in it. Dan, believe it or not was also an architect (kind of… he didn't have degree but definitely knew how to draw up some very impressive plans). He read a bunch books on acoustic design and drew up plans for a control room. Here is a picture of me in the unfinished control room. You can see the Tascam M-520 in front of me still hanging around. I used it as extra effects returns for the Neve. You can only see the patchbay and left corner of the 8038 Neve.
Once the studio was finished we got to work on finishing the album. A couple of unexpected things started to reveal them selves. The first thing was the Neve 8038. That was console loaded with 32-1081s and countless 1272s was not being the magic wand we had read about and expected it to be. The first problem was due to my very limited understanding of electronics. On the back of all of the Neve modules the was a switch labeled "Hi" or "Low". I found out it was an Impedance switch. My general understanding of impedance at the time was that "Hi" impedance was typically associated with cheap (-10) unbalanced consumer equipment and "Low" impedance was associated with professional (+4) balanced equipment. This was a +4 professional balanced console so put all of the switches in the "Low" position right? WRONG! It turned out that the "Low" position on a vintage Neve module was indented to be used with very old ribbon mics that were strapped for a low impedance output… around 50 ohms or so. When you plug a modern dynamic or condenser mic into a 50 ohm load the results are NOT GOOD. Listening individually it was not that obvious at first. All the frequencies were there and it seemed like things were working correctly. Accumulatively, the effect started to become apparent... A really nasty distortion that was incredibly unpleasant. Lesson learned. We lost a fair amount of work on that mistake. The 8038 still took a lot of getting used to for me. An 8038 is about as far as you can get from a Tascam M520 electronically. I just wasn't used to all the headroom. I didn't know how to push the console to get it to smooth out. The EQs were very literal. 1081s are not real surgical finesse type EQs. The other issue was the control room itself. This was my first experience with control rooms that are supposed to be acoustically "correct" sounding like shit. Dan really did research things and I think did a very good job of designing a control room that should have sounded great on paper, but that control room was a sonic disaster. Our intension was to mix the record in the T-Ride studio but it was impossible.
T-Ride got signed to Bill Graham Management and Hollywood records with recordings of only 6 songs and we never played a single live show. We had Zombies From Hell, Ride, Fire It Up, You And Your Friend, I Hunger and Back Door Romeo. Those songs were pretty much done before we built the uber studio and the demo versions we played them really were't much different than the versions that went on the final album. We recorded Luxury Cruiser, Bad Girls & Angels, Bone Down and Heroes & Villains in the Dream Studio. Hit squad was sort of half and half. It was started before the dream studio and finished later. HOW TO BUILD A T-RIDE SONG:
One of the big "secrets" about T-Ride was that it was supposed to be a band ala Led Zeppelin or Van Halen. 3 shirtless dudes with long hair set up in a room rocking out, while magically the sound of that record would be generated. I think to all but any folks who knew absolutely nothing about how music was played or recorded, this premise was totally absurd, and I think it was kind of sad because the way the music was actually created was so much more interesting and unique. Dan had very specific ideas about the band's imaging. I had joined HIS band, was 8 years younger than him and had little or no say on issues like this. When the record was released and interviews and promotion began for the album Dan decided that we would image the band like a traditional rock band: Geoff was the guitar player and he played the guitar on the record, Dan was the bass player/lead singer and he played and sang on the record, I was the drummer and I played drums on the record and we all sang harmony vocals. This was in some ways very much not the case. The music and recordings on the T-Ride record were really mostly created by only Dan and I. Dan wrote the music/sang the vocals and I arranged, played and recorded the instruments. Dan didn't want the band to be perceived as a heavy metal version of the band Wham! He thought that would have been, as he put it, "Really F***in' Gay".
There were some exceptions but this was the predominant method Dan and I used. Dan's favorite instrument for composing songs was a Casio PT-20. It had these automatic chord buttons on it. He could program in chord progressions and write vocal melodies on top of that. We wouldn't even start playing guitar or drums or anything until he had something he thought was melodically compelling and had a lyrical approach that he felt comfortable with. I had spent all of my years leading up to joining T-Ride writing and recording instrumental music. I loved trying to come up with riffs and grooves and crazy soundscapes that were interesting to listen to even without any vocals on them. When Dan had something he was happy with on the Casio he would bring it to me and we would start to figure out how to plug it into a rock band arrangement. Dan would have an idea of the direction to go in and sometimes I had existing grooves or riffs that we could try to marry the chords and melodies with. Sometimes Dan would also program drum grooves and riffs into an SP-12 and I would have to figure out how to marry together the cassia chords with the groove of the SP-12 programming. It was a very algorithmic, scientific approach to creating music. An interesting example is the song "Hit Squad". That song was inspired by two things: the Michael Jackson song "Thriller" and the theme song to the cartoon television show "Underdog". Dan really like how the bass line in the song "Thriller" stayed pretty much the same throughout the song. Things just changed on top of it to move the song along. Dan wanted to take that idea to the logical extreme and prove it was possible to have a song that worked with a bass line that never changed. Hit Squad is exactly that. The bass line never changes throughout that entire song. It is the identical pattern repeating over and over. Dan was also obsessed with the theme to underdog at that time so that needed to be plugged into the algorithm and all end up sounding like a rock band. So I was given the following elements: a 4 bar repeating bass line, a tempo, a 32 bar chord progression, a vocal phrasing and the melody to underdog. My job was to figure out how to make sure all of those things got represented by drums, 1 guitar part, a lead vocal, and harmonies. I would basically map everything out on paper and figure out what parts of the underdog melody were being covered by the vocal phrasing Dan wanted and then figure out how to have the guitar fill in in between the vocal phrasing to complete the parts of the underdog melody when the lead vocal wasn't covering it. That shows up as the little octave melodic passages the guitar intermittently plays in the verses. When the guitar wasn't filling in the underdog melody it was trying to cover the casio chord progression Dan had written and be a complementary identifiable "guitar part" to the repeating drum and bass parts. When the guitar was having trouble conveying the chords we would use back ground vocals to help convey the more complex chords (Dan liked to use a lot of diminished, augmented, min7 type chords that can be hard to get across clearly with distorted guitar). I also needed to figure out a drum and bass sound/feel that would be compelling enough to repeat for 3 minutes.
I'll start with the drums. This song is a good example because most of the album used some version of this approach. Typically the kick and snare were entirely samples and I would overdub live cymbals and tom sounds. On Hit Squad the toms were sampled as well. Kick and snare sounds were a combination of custom samples I made and stereo samples from a couple of songs that had amazing drum sounds. The sample I made always had a close mic sample and a separate stereo room sound sample that could be blended and processed separately on the console. I always did multiple hits and multiple velocities to help make it sound more realistic. I almost always used a sample of kick drum from the Power Station cover of "Bang A Gong". It is particularly cool because there are 4 different hits you can grab that help make it sound less like a sample. There were lots of cool samples to be had on Zeppelin records and I grabbed a lot of samples from the scritti polliti album and from the remixes they did of their own songs. Amazing drum sounds on that Scritti Polliti stuff. So the kick and snare were a combination of samples I made, samples from records and usually some sort "non-linear" digital reverb to thicken them up. My favorite digital reverbs for drums were the AMS RMX-16, SRV-2000, Eventide H3000 and the PCM-70. The tom sounds were custom samples trying to re-create the Phil Collins "in The Air Tonight" style tom sound. These samples were pre mixed stereo samples. I blended, EQ'd and compressed the sound and then sampled the stereo mix into the Akai S1000 sampler. I used 421s as close mics and I think a pair of B&Ks for room mics. I compressed the shit out of them with a pair Summit Audio TLA-100s. The TLA-100s were kind of the only good compressors we had and I used them on pretty much everything. The cymbals were overdubbed while listening to the programmed kick, snare and tom parts. I would set up a dummy pad for a snare drum while playing the cymbals to make it easier to play the part. The cymbal mixing was very simple usually a mic on the hihat and a pair of condensers as stereo overheads. Nothing to esoteric we had an AKG 460 that was nice and I tried a variety of different stuff for cymbals over the years (414s, 67s, B&Ks). The mixing of the drums was very straight forward. I really hadn't developed any parallel compression or drum buss type compression at that point. I would blend together the various kick elements and compress those and then blend together the various snare elements and compress those. I found that compressing all of those different samples elements together would make them sound more like one cohesive sound. The elements of the drum kit were all compressed individually as well. Add some digital reverb and there it is!
This bass sound on this song was used in a few places on the record (Back Door Romeo, Bad Girls & Angels and Luxury Cruiser). It was this crazy custom 8 string bass played with a drum stick. It was kind of like playing thumb only slap bass except you use a drum stick instead of your thumb. The Hit Squad bass part had to be sampled and sequenced. It really wasn't playable with one drum stick. It also needed to repeat identically for 3 minutes. i sampled that part hit by hit into the Akai S1000 sampler. there were 50 or 60 individual DI samples that were sequenced to play the part. It took hours and hours of sampling hits and trying them in the sequence to see if they sounded right. I would then send the sampled, sequenced DI part out to amps. I would typically send the bass to a marshall guitar amp to blend with the DI signal to add some grit to it. We also had an Ampeg B15 that was used for some stuff.
The main guitar on Hit Squad represents the final version of the gate guitar thing that was used on the majority of the record. I actually found my notes for the guitar setup used on Hit Squad.
The marshall was the same 70's 100W JMP mk II that was used on the majority of the record. It went into a Marshall 4x12 slant top cab. I don't know exactly what speakers were in the cab. Most of it is pretty clear in the notes. The Aphex gate was receiving sequenced beeping sounds from the akai sampler that would trigger the gate to open only when a note was being played on the guitar. I would have to specifically sequence a beeping part that matched the exact phrasing of the part I was trying to play. It eliminated all of the unwanted noise in between the hits and made the part sound in humanely tight rhythmically. I always would have a room mic going that would go to a delay (H3000). It is a great way to have a diffused sounding delay that would add tons of depth and dimension to the sound. The diffused quality of the room delay also makes it so it doesn't interfere with the articulation of the main dry part as much. In the notes right before the tape machine there is a reference to "Pass. Sum.", I honestly can't remember what the hell that was. It obviously was summing together the dry signal and the room signal before the compressor, but I don't know what it was. The opening phrase for the guitar is when it plays with drum fill before the verse starts. That guitar moment is simply me doing a very conventional pick scrape with the ADA flanger turned on and the keyed gate creating the chopped up percussive rhythmic part that plays with the drums. the arpeggiated part in the chorus part ("whooh- oh-oh -oh hit squad") was a trick I used a lot. I basically play a very simple 8th note arpeggio and put a dotted 8th note delay on it at a 50/50 blend. It creates a 16th note part of cascading notes that sounds very difficult to play, but its really not.
The were 2 distinct aspects to the vocals. The lead vocals and the back ground vocals. The lead vocals were interesting. Dan was pretty insecure about being a lead singer. He would not allow anyone in the building while he sang lead vocals. He needed at least a six pack and quite a few cigarettes to loosen up enough to be able to sing comfortably. I would have to set up a vocal mic conservatively enough to be able to cover any volume he might sing at. sometimes there was enough tracks available on the 24track master for him to have 4 or 5 tracks to play with and do multiple passes. If we didn't have tracks available on the master I would make a special slave real for him to use and then he would have a bunch of tracks to play with. he would let me know when he was done singing (typically quite drunk at that point) and I would come in and try to comp the stuff together. Everything would get bounced onto a single lead vocal track. We had to keep anything that sung in a way Dan was happy with. Some songs had a lead vocal comp'd from years of vocal takes. We only used a few different mics. It was either a U87, 47fet or 47tube mic. It was usually the Summit Audio TPA-200 mic pre into the TLA-100 compressor.
We used the same basic template for the back ground vocals through out the record. Contrary to the story that was given to the press about the band, Geoff and I did not sing a single note of harmony vocals on the record. the harmony vocals were sung entirely by Dan and another lead singer named Dave Candellaria. The harmonies were typically 3 parts. the harmonies were recorded on a separate 24 track harmony vocal slave reel. Each part was setup to be sung twice… once by Dan and once by Dave. Each section had a smpte track so it could be sync'd and printed back on the master tape, a mono mix of the music and a synth guide track for each of the 3 parts. I would typically leave an empty track next to the time code to make sure nothing would interfere with it. That left 18 tracks to work with. 6 tracks for each harmony part. On one section of tape Dan would sing each of the harmony parts 6 times to fill the 18 available tracks. Dave would do the same thing on another section of tape. Harmony vocals that you hear on the final record are a total of 36 tracks, 18 of Dan and 18 of Dave, each of them singing the individual harmony parts six times. I would make a stereo mix of Dan's version and bounce it to the master tape and then do the same with Dave's version. In the final mix I would balance between Dan's stereo mix and Dave's stereo mix. in the mix i would use various combinations of delay and reverb. Anything that was available plates, chambers, 480L, eventide H3000 etc.
So that's how it was done! Like I said before, I think the whole thing of lying about how the music was created was a mistake. I think the truth was so much more interesting. In addition to that, having spent 5 years of my life experimenting, practicing, developing, playing, sampling, sequencing and recording probably about 95% of the drums, bass, guitar and keyboards on that record, it was hard to have the public credit for a significant portion of that work be handed off to other people as the record was released. There is also Dave Candelaria, who was half of the back ground vocals sound and Steve Ouimette, who played one of the most notable guitar moments on the whole record (the intro riff for Zombies From Hell) that never really got credit for their contributions. I have honored Dan's wish to keep it secret for over 20 years now. I have never spoke publicly about this issue until now. I'm not sure anyone even cares besides me. Clearly I needed to get that off my chest. Thanks for listening!