Engineering with electronics in the '90s and today
Hello Sylvia, a great honour for me to have chance to ask you a question!
You worked on albums by Powerman 5000 (I literally LOVED "Tonight The Stars Revolt") and Machines of Loving Grace in the '90s, and I remember that the mix of electronic and rock was pretty much an underground thing back then. Or at least it was less popular than today.
Today DAWs and VIs make life easier for a lot of home studio folks (hello :D), but I guess that in the '90s things were pretty different.
How has your approach to engineering changed overtime? And, how has the musicians' approach changed overtime? Not restricted to "electronic rock" bands but also in general, now you might find loops in bands that in the 90s were (or seemed to be) completely electronic-free..
The music of Ministry, NIN and White Zombie was an exciting hybrid incorporating electronic and programmed elements starting way back in the eighties. I loved that stuff.
When I first started recording this style of music, we were recording on analog tape but were using Digital Performer to expand our track count and add some programmed elements. On Machines Of Loving Grace "Gilt" we used a very early version of Pro Tools (1994), which I absolutely hated. It didn't sound that great and was super clunky, but you could recognize it's importance, so we forced ourselves to use it. Michael Fisher was the musical groundbreaker on that project. He would weave strange percussive sounds into songs like "Richest Junkie Still Alive" with his programming. Another way we would use loops would be to either play by hand or trigger short drum loops with a click from tape. Not perfect but we made it work.
I used to do a lot of editing of drums on 2" analog tape back then. This meant I would actually physically mark where the kicks and snares were on the analog tape with a white pencil. Then I would measure the distance between the kick and snare by laying the 2" tape out on the face of the tape machine or a door moulding, making marks as to where the kick and snare should land at a certain tempo. Then I would measure the entire section of the song and correct the timing discrepancies by cutting out small slivers of tape (or adding them in where the drums were rushing). It would help to give the drummer that super-human feel, which you would need with any type of music where programming was involved. Tool's "Undertow" was full of this type of drum editing.
Powerman 5000 bandleader Spider was heavily influenced by his brother Rob Zombie. Where Rob loved monsters and gore, Spider loved aliens and outer space. So we set out to make a rock-metal-disco concept album about a dystopian futuristic world. The album was also recorded on analog tape, but by this time we were really embracing Pro Tools (1998). On "Tonight The Stars Revolt" we employed the help of my buddy Statik for programming elements. He had helped me earlier to program the piano smashing samples on Tool's "Disgustipated" plus he'd been working with Skinny Puppy and his own awesome Collide project, so he was perfect for the PK5000 record. I also hired Joe Barresi as the engineer, it was one of his first gigs out of being an assistant at Sound City Studios.
I believe the PM5K album was the first time we built song templates in Pro Tools sessions first, then while the analog tape was chasing the computer, we recorded the live drum tracks against the programming. Again, editing the drums to the tempo to match the programming was extremely important, but this time we edited drums in Pro Tools. An extra level of awesomness was added by mixer Scott Humphrey when he mixed "Tonight The Stars Revolt" at his place in Hollywood. Scott added the cartoonishly large beats on the song "When Worlds Collide" and reshaped the vamp to really take it over the top!
I've included a photo taken during the Machines Of Loving Grace session... my first experience using Pro Tools. Note the middle-finger salute!