Letters From Hill End #1
November 19th 2012
Having broadcast since FBi began, Jack Off has garnered some fascinating listeners – and since the advent of digital streaming and on-demand, many of those who get in touch to share their experiences and perspectives are from far further afield than the immediate vicinity of Sydney and surrounds…
One mid-winter Saturday arvo we solicited word from such far flung folks, and received a beautiful shot of the late sun illuminating the ridges of bush beyond the balcony of a bloke who was tuned in out near the historic gold-mining town of Hill End.
This same fella, Martin, mentioned he’d heard a prior show featuring Julia Stone, go to air. In it (before covering a song from the Grease soundtrack) Julia and I had discussed studio production techniques. Specifically, I’d mentioned the various legends circulating as to quite how Johnny Marr had achieved such a sumptuous and epic tremolo guitar sound on The Smiths ‘How Soon Is Now‘.
It turns out Martin had worked once with The Smiths and their producer Stephen Street – and he wrote to me privately to impart their explanation of how it was done. (Perhaps that is a tale for another time…)
It further transpired that Martin has had rather an illustrious career recording some of the major names in the music industry internationally. He volunteered to share more of this inside information in due course…
Here is our hilarious initial installment – a parable on the excesses of the craft during the overblown Eighties.
Apologies for taking a while to get back to you but I’ve been preoccupied with my fruit trees, which are being happily tended to by your missing ducks.
Ah, 80’s studio stories… the decade of cocaine budgets, dubious haircuts and excessive reverb. The Townhouse was home to pretty much every variety of pop star and I think this is a story that sums up the indulgent hedonism of the time.
I had been relegated to ‘time’ with Tears For Fears, which was one of those sessions that made you feel as though you’d pulled the short straw. Quiet chaps; Chris, their producer is a lovely fellow, but in a time when an Atari 1080 running Qbase was cutting edge for anyone touring, a studio with a Synclavier and Fairlight spelt death by boredom. If I could have back the time spent dealing with technical sync issues I could circumnavigate the globe by rowboat whilst counting or singing my way to infinity. Twice.
The barometer of these sessions was marked by how many of the daily papers disappeared from reception in anticipation of the long day ahead and broadsheets were a particular favourite as they adequately hid the mountains of leads covering the console. As virtually nothing was live and the more time spent working on a sound the better (thinking Nick Launay filling three 15-hour days on a snare sound…), there wasn’t much left to do but drink tea, read the paper and, if you’re me, contemplate that day’s menu.
The team was trying to program a tambourine for a middle 8, which in any other decade would’ve been played without apparent fuss using good old fashion humans. God forbid.
Studio management, the deities upstairs who were more than aware of certain recording tediums, knew my presence wouldn’t be missed and decreed I be pulled off the session for two days to record an album with Ravi Shankar in the studio next door.
So the next day Raviji and his tabla player assemble with a harem of women in saris and his briefcase-wielding manager. Incense is lit, instruments are mic-ed and off we go. Heads are weaving, all is good. Two raggas later the recording is finished in time for dinner. The next day we mixed the tunes and once again we’re finished in time for tea.
As I walked out the door for dinner, Chris and the boys were going past and enquired about the album.
My response: “Recorded, mixed, and will sell 100 million copies in India”, followed by the question: “How’s that tambourine?”
Chris’s reply: “Not in sync yet.”
I estimate that the Tears studio costs for those two days would be around $10,000
Fruit trees and ducks in my view are underappreciated.