Recording with Steve Albini

Ended up recording a session yesterday with the infamous producer, Steve Albini. Revered by some, reviled by others, the man and his studio are an interesting realization of a set of DIY ideals.

Interesting things about the Steve Albini recording experience:
1. The studio is fucking amazing. And in there it’s always 1975, technology-wise. There are dozens and dozens of those microphones that engineers like to hold up to people like me and say “Hey, this microphone is just like the one that John Lennon sang into at Abbey Road. And it costs more than your house.” All I know about that is that the mics that look old and expensive always are, and they do sound better. They have no digital gear onsite, except for a few workstations so that they can browse the web do email and bookkeeping. If a client wants to bring in a workstation and use Pro Tools, that’s doable, but then Albini’s staff doesn’t have to support it when it crashes. There are two studios, an A and a B room. The B room is nicer than 90% of the studios I have recorded in. (We were in too much of a hurry to get into the A room and look around, plus there was some other band in there.) The ceiling is an easy 30 ft, all the interior walls are adobe, because adobe sounds completely different than brick. (I had no idea, but when Albini took out a key and tapped one of each in different walls, the adobe was much warmer and flatter sounding. You learn something new every day.)

2. They have several dorm-style rooms there so that bands that are recording there can stay there while they record. I have been in that sort of situation before on the first five-eight record and I would say that can be good and bad, IMHO. If the session is going well, a band can increase its productive time by half again, I think, if they are all onsite. There won’t be any “Well, we were going to start at noon, but the guitar player isn’t here yet.” At Electrical (the name of the studio), it’s “Run upstairs and ROLL THAT WANKER OUT OF BED!” There is a rather large television, with just about every movie you could think of on VHS. There’s a full kitchen that the guys that work there seem to keep pretty stocked and it’s significantly more inviting than any studio kitchen I have ever seen. There is an electrical repair shop onsite and a guy named Rob (I think) that emanates the vibe that he can fix anything. In the short day that I was there, I saw him running electrical conduit, rewiring something, and I am pretty sure that we was making some sort of repair to a piece of tube-amp mayhem of some sort. He has that Mad Scientist vibe. Just give him a soldering iron and some space, y’know, and he’ll put it right, whatever it is. Also onsite are ‹geekspeak› ethernet jacks in every room with dynamically assigned IPs so that all you have to do is plug in your laptop and take an IP from the server and you are hooked into their wireless(!!) T1 connection(!!).‹/geekspeak› This courtesy of another staff mad scientist named Russ- a guy who is going to need an extra head soon because his brain is so damn big. (I am sure that he’ll work out something with firewire and a fan-cooled external enclosure.) Keeping things lively is the bookkeeper, planner, schedule master, and stand-up comedian (no, seriously…) named John. I thought he was kind of a hostile asshole at first, then as the day wore on, I found out that he is actually a quite friendly and personable asshole. There was another guy on staff that was wandering around-I am pretty sure that he is an engineer- cradling this tiny Italian greyhound. I am ashamed to admit that I have forgotten the guy’s name, but his dog was named Eupheetsis. (Spelling is approximate, but it was “Feet” for short.) Interestingly, this engineer and his dog kind of had the same build- they were both illustrations of what zero body fat looks like.
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My Oil Addiction

Odd thing happened last night. I was at a play here in the city, and we got there early. Some people we knew were involved in the production of the play, and we were chatting. We decided to nip out for a hot cup of coffee while we waited for the curtain to rise.

I asked where the nearest cup might be found. Starbucks was proposed, and I politely asked for another suggestion. (I am ambivalent about Starbucks. I think that their policy of extending benefits to part-time employees amounts to a private-sector solution to the problem of masses of artists, musicians, writers, choreographers and other creative persons with no health insurance. On the other hand, I find their coffee a little expensive to be so mediocre and their empire vaguely frightening.)

I was mulling over Kalle Lasn’s reality when someone suggested the Caribou Coffee down the corner. Just as quickly, someone else said “Oh, I don’t know about Caribou. I heard that they support Hamas.” My own personal feelings about the civil war in the West Bank notwithstanding, I thought that was the most sublimely ridiculous thing that I had heard in quite some time. Before I could stop myself, I blurted, “Well, for that matter, so does anyone that drives a car.”

Silence. Lots of it.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and at the time, my mouth was entirely empty, perhaps craving my foot, perhaps not. So I charged ahead and said “I mean, if Iraq’s primary export was broccoli, we’d never know Saddam Hussein’s name.” (This is a paraphrase of a letter to Harper’s Magazine from a Mr. Chris Ronk of Brooklyn, NY.) “You want to know who pays for flight school for Al Quaeda operatives? We did. To be more precise, the money we spent on crude oil did. SO, how many of you took the bus to be here? Anybody ride a bike? Walk?”

Of course everyone had driven their cars there. We’re Americans, ferchrissakes, we drive EVERYWHERE.

But this did not endear me to present company. And I felt foolish for having had the bad taste to indiscreetly turn someone’s pointed finger back on themselves. I don’t think that I am going to be invited to their next cocktail party…

But I stand by my point. I saw someone putting a sticker on the back of someone else’s Hummer the last time I was in NYC, and the sticker said “My Addiction to Oil Funds Middle East Terror.”

The Mechanics of Moving On

Oh man, is it expensive to move OUT of the city. We have been checking into our options as far as trucks are concerned, and we are getting quotes of roughly twice what it cost us to move here. And it’s been just one year. Then there’s the whole issue of getting someone to sublet the apartment. This has been quite a challenge.

We were able to get a really good price on a truck that is roughly two thirds the size that we need. So I think that we are going to leave a bunch of stuff here. (Hello, dumpster divers, come now and pick stuff out….)

Any thoughts on cheap ways to move a lot of stuff are hereby requested…

Moving On

Well, today was the last day at work at medicore job number four hundred and something. Hell, I have lost count. We have decided that, with the impending arrival of thousands of out of work stewardesses and baggage losing persons headed for the jobless lines in the city that we live in, we are heading back down south, where we have a cabin we can stay in for a while and some land we can farm behind it.

It’s not that we haven’t loved living here in many ways, it’s that finding a job, keeping a job and living with any dignity here has been more of a task than we have been up to.

Plus it’s about to get very fucking cold. More on these thoughts later.

Check this out. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Work

I have a quick question- what happened to work?

There was a time, I think, when a job was a job. Somebody correct me if I am wrong here, but as I have read in texts from the last century, one used to sell one’s labor in exchange for one’s bread. A day’s work for a day’s pay, that sort of thing. Does this ring a bell for anyone?

The last few jobs I have had that weren’t manual labor jobs (and there has been an assortment of those- carpentry, tile work, painting…), I have been repeatedly scolded for not being enough of a team player. I had a confrontation with a short, nasty little man at this one company and these were the words that he said to me: “I get this feeling that this is just a job for you. It’s like this is just the place that you come to earn money.”

I got a nasty bitemark on my tongue trying not to say “Whoa, Mr. Newton… SOMETHING made that apple fall on your head….” What do you say to that? I mean, ferchrissakes, this was a company that builds (mediocre) websites for banks. I didn’t like bankers BEFORE I had to talk to them every day about technology.

This was right in the middle of the dot bomb economy, and no one was making money. Every day at this company, there were emails from the president and discussions about the stock holders and much hand-wringing about the Board of Directors and will the company be profitable in time to outrun the expectations of the stockholders? And if it doesn’t make it, HOO-BOY, the stock price is going to drop like a stone. Maybe if I had been stupid enough to take some of the CASH that they owed me in STOCK, that would have bothered me…

But heretical, black tongued demon that I am, to me, it was just a job.
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Ah, ma petite fleur….

Wow.

I have a great dog, and I love him. He’s been a good guy to have around during some of the more trying events of the past couple of years of my life. But he can be a handful.

He tends to be very protective- sometimes aggressive with strangers, very keen on running off any other animals on his turf.

We were down visiting some of my lovely and talented girlfriend’s family in Indiana for the Thanksgiving holidays. We had been there for a couple of days and my massive and usually territorial dog had been worn down by lovely and talented girlfriend’s mom’s repeated offerings of ham and turkey scraps. (and cheese, and gravy, and a little bit of mashed potatoes….) Mostly he was just lying around snoring and occasionally lifting his round belly off of the floor to go out and have a wazz.

It was on one of these trips to the loo that he started snuffling around like he had scented something. He was hustling around the yard, searching for something that only he could smell. There had been a bag with some turkey parts that had been discarded temporarily by the back door (and I presume forgotten in the heated rush and crush of a large family gathering for the feast), and I figured that maybe the neighborhood cat had been after them before we came out. As the dog neared the bag I thought, “Surely the cat has moved on by now… it wouldn’t just sit there and let itself be backed into a corner.”

The next few seconds were mostly a blur. I heard something (not my dog) hiss as the dog lunged behind the air conditioner. I started over there thinking “Aw, man, he’s going to eat somebody’s cat…” and yet there were no cat-like noises. No howling or any of that nasty low-throated grinding sound that cats make when they are threatened. So, I am scrambling to see what was going on, thinking maybe there was a (really stupid) (mute) cat backed up under the air conditioner hissing at the dog and waiting for him to go away, when I see the twin jets of skunk juice flying out of the corner at my dog. (If you have seen this, it is a very unique site. A skunk can spray that foul, horrifying stuff like a super-soaker up to ten or so feet. Since a skunk has two scent glands under his tail, they come out as twin jets.) I decided to let my old dog settle this one on his own, because at that point there was nothing I could do for him.

Egad, what a horrible smell. I have driven by places in the road where skunks have met their maker beneath the wheels of some car or truck, but this was that compounded ten times. It was the odor of evil. And it was expanding to fill the yard fast. I backed up as far as I could.

My old dog, tough though he may be, has only backed down from confrontations with two animals- once he and a goose beat each other silly while I tried to wedge my way in there and stop them from killing each other. I never realized a goose could raise a welt like that on someone, and apparently, neither did my dog. We both rather ignominously backed out of that confrontation and made a pact never to speak of it again. And the only other time he has ever retreated from a fight was last night, and when he found his way away from that corner where the mustard gas spraying rodent was sequestered, he was clearly beaten. Clearly.

He was drooling and sneezing and his eyes were running and he smelled AWFUL. I made him follow me to the garage, where I locked him in. There was no way he was going back into the house smelling like that. His ride on the leftovers train had just come to a grinding, screeching halt.

I made a run to the grocery store and bought six large cans of tomato juice and a bottle of some sort of enzymatic cleaner that was supposed to help with skunk smell. Washing him was an excercise of will- he wanted no part of a cold weather hose bath in the unheated garage of the house, and I wasn’t going to let him go anywhere until he had at least three baths… (Just to be on the safe side.)

Today he doesn’t REEK like he did yesterday, but he still has a little muskiness to him.

In the future I am hoping that he will know not to chase any cat with white stripes or a French Accent.

Why it’s called Drudgery and Treachery

Well, damn if it didn’t happen again- laid off/fired/made redundant at another mediocre job.

The tech economy in this frozen city is just horrifyingly stilted. I was lucky enough to get hired to build a server and set up a small internal network at this company, the one that just sacked me. Unix server, handfull of PowerMac and Win2K workstations. I was supposed to hang around and maintain them after that. I got them up and running in a week. Fine tuned them for the next week, then sat around waiting for something to go wrong…

Nothing did. (Now, you’d think that would earn a guy some job security, wouldn’t you?) So they started finding stuff for me to do. I spent a week working in Photoshop. LOVE Photoshop- and for a writer, geek, guy with one graphic design class, I am pretty okay with it. And I am pretty fast. Faster, I think, than anyone expected me to be. Because I blasted through a couple of directories of color corrections and cropping images before anyone had expected me to finish the first one. I spent the whole week beating deadlines, getting a pretty good bit done.

The Monday after that week, I came in expecting more P’Shop work, I found myself doing “Pick up this heavy thing and put it over there” work all day.

Not too bad for a day- I was a carpenter for years, so carrying heavy stuff isn’t that big a deal. Then Tuesday- more “Carry this downstairs and bring that other heavy thing back.”

Wednesday? More of the same.
Thursday? Ditto.

Friday morning, I asked for more Photoshop work. Just out of curiosity, really. It was beginning to seem like maybe I had been demoted from computer whiz kid to lummox. “Well,” came the reply, “we just don’t have that much of that for you to do. But since we are moving our offices over the next few weeks…

I prayed for a computer to break, the server to crash, or for someone to just lose a password. Like I said, I don’t really mind heavy lifting, but it’s not the job I was hired for. Nor is it, quite honestly, the job that I wanted. But then when a computer finally did break, the woman that runs the office (and the one that BROKE the computer) wouldn’t let me fix the machine. She just sent me out to lift more heavy stuff as she tried to reformat and reinstall the OS. She eventually had to let me do my job, but not until after a monumental struggle.

Two days later she asked me for the password to my computer. The day after, she asked me to train someone else to admin the server. (Sure, that shouldn’t take too long….)

I saw the writing on the wall. So this morning’s announcment was more of a formality than anything….

Here I am, again- jobless. *sigh*

Tornadoes and Beverage Technology

My lovely girlfriend and I went to see her parents yesterday in a little college town in a neighboring state. Pretty little town, but there was one hell of a tornado there a few days before, and it was pretty intense in the way that I think only midwestern tornadoes are. There were plenty of trees with all the leaves beaten off and houses without roofs and roofs without houses and houses without houses. It looks like it was a bad one. There were I-beams that had held up signs and roofs for filling stations that were bent (no shit) like linguini. And yet, no one was hurt. No one. Apparently those folks are USED TO IT, and they get in the basement and stay there. How about that? Folks down South, where I am from, are out running around with the camcorder, getting cut in half by flying aluminum siding, hollering “Dammit, Rhonda, grab that other battery, I’m gonna be on TV!!

This morning, I am a wreck. It’s about five a.m. We spent too long waiting for our laundry to dry and then had to drive all night. It took one of those Mountain Dew versions of a Red Bull to get us home alive. You are receiving this note courtesy of that drink, btw. Y’know, most of those drinks taste pretty evil, kind of like carbonated cough medicine- the Mountain Dew version doesn’t taste half bad- it tastes ALL THE WAY bad, kind of like hell’s version of a gatorade/gasoline cocktail, post-bladder-of-satan. Made me want to lick a cinderblock to scrape the taste off my tongue. But it got me up and over the hump to get here alive. Lives have been saved by beverage technology.

the Wasuvi

My girlfriend works in the northen suburbs. She works at a giant chain bookstore up there in one of those malls with a Saks and a bunch of tony restaurants all around it where you can eat french-fried frozen calimari after a long day of recreational shopping. My lovely girlfriend is an actress and I am a writer, so we don’t do much recreational shopping.

But there are people that do. And I have noticed that they all seem to drive the same type of car. It’s starting to turn into winter here, and gone are the convertables and the sporty little cars of summer. Gone are the shiny little miatas and boxters and little bmw penis cars. They have been replaced by Land Rovers and Ford Expeditions and the new Mercedes SUV that looks like a military truck with flashy paint job.

When I took her to work the other day, I sat in the parking lot with her, sipping coffee and waiting until she absolutely, positively had to go inside. We were talking and looking at all the shiny new sport utilitiy vehicles and I said to her “Wow, sweetie, looks like the Wasuvi are out in force up here.”

And she said “The what?”

The Wasuvi. Y’see, in Swahili, a language spoken throughout much of the continent of Africa, the prefix “wa-” translates as “the people of-“. So, if one was to speak of “The People of the Hutu Tribe” in Swahili, they would call them “the Wahutu.” And if one was to speak of “The People of the Zulu,” they would say “the Wazulu.” So, in my mind, if one is speaking of “The People of the SUVs” one should say “The Wasuvi.”

Who are the Wasuvi? In the Northern Suburbs of this mighty city that we live in, I have found them to be the uniquely discourteous, pushy and loud denizens of the artificial-parquet savannahs of the malls. They can be identified by their war cry, uttered at baffled service sector workers that aren’t moving fast enough to suit them- “IS THERE A PROBLEM?!!?” (As a Southern American, I find the nasal shreik that characterizes Wasuvi communication to be akin to a hybrid of the honking of geese and the sound of sheet metal tearing.)

I walked into a nice little kosher deli the other day and turned the corner to find a woman who was waving a tub of some sort of side dish at the baffled service sector worker (hereafter BSSW) behind the counter and screaming “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK YOU’RE DOING!!!” There was an air of expectation in the store as everyone waited for her to throw this little tub (of coleslaw? potatoes? what could be so important?) at this young woman behind the counter. I just backed out the door that I came in.

I made an informed guess that the olive Discovery parked illegally (and sideways) in the handicapped space belonged to the screeching Wasuvi in the deli. I waited, she eventually came out- her hard heeled shoes clicking sharply on the pavement, bracelets clacking, and sure enough, it was her Rover.

The Wasuvi.

Ah, city life….

I guess that I had been living in the City for about six weeks when I heard what I thought were fireworks in the park across the street from my apartment. It was the Saturday before Labor Day, so it wasn’t so unreasonable to think that there was someone shooting off bottle rockets or something in the park. However, when I went out to get in my car later, I realized that Somebody up here in my “quiet” neighborhood had SHOT MY CAR in an exchange of gunfire over the park across the street. (see attached photo….)

My neighbor explained it to me this way: See, it’s all very logical if you think of it this way- The Latin Kings own all the territory from two blocks south of here to ten blocks south of here. But somebody “did” two of the Latin Kings a week and a half ago, so the Latin Kings figure that the Los Primos (who own my little corner of the city, North of LK turf….) owe them some REAL ESTATE. So they are moving in on the park across the street.

Step one- Start shooting in the park a couple of times a week.

Step two- Move in and occupy all the empty space left by people too afraid to get shot to hang out in the park any more.

This is ironically similar to the way that the US Government stole all that land from the sovereign territories of Northern Mexico. This is a reverse land grab. Unfortunately, it’s just plain folks like me that are dodging the bullets… Now, I think that the Latin Kings ought to be thinking about the Governor’s Mansion in Tejas, but what the hell do I know?

Check out the holes in my car…