1986, a kid from a country town and I'm fully ensconced in metal…well, what was considered metal back then, probably hard rock by today's standards…Van Halen, Kiss, Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Alice Cooper etc plus lesser known bands like Black'n'Blue, Kick Axe, Helix…well, you get the gist. I bought this poster book that had pop stars of the day in it purely because it had David Lee Roth in it - the rest of the pages were filled with Tears for Fears, Samantha Fox, etc etc…and Hanoi Rocks – it must've been a UK mag, because they were unknowns over here, and I hadn't heard of them either, but man, they looked fucken cool - like a souped up version of the Stones circa 73 crossed with the New York Dolls. I needed to hear this band, so I tried to order an album of theirs through the local record shop, but no dice, not even on import (ha ha, this seems so strange now - just jumping on the internet has made things so easy…good in some ways, bad in others). Six months later, we had a school excursion to Melbourne and during the free time I went to Minotaur bookshop and, lo and behold, there's the Hanoi Rocks 'All Those Wasted Years' live video. I bought that and some Boris Vallejo art book, ha ha. Why am I laughing - that shit is fantastic! Anyway, when I got home and played the video, I wasn't into it at all – too loose, parts out of tune here and there and Mike Monroe busting a valve to just miss the high notes…gotta remember that at this stage I had the 'Priest…Live' video on high rotation - big difference in production values there! So 'All Those Wasted Years' sat on the shelf for six months while all I could think of was 'all those wasted forty bucks' (that was roughly two weeks worth of doing a paper round back then!). Then something weird happened - I decided to give the video one last chance, and I don't know what changed in those six months, but I absolutely got it straight off…the chaotic and brazen nature of the whole thing was enthralling. Of course, looking back now, I can see that it was the punk inspired aspect of the band that was speaking to me – that would, in a few short years, radically broaden my taste in music. I bloody worshipped that band for the next couple of years. I wrote to Kate at Metal For Melbourne to see if they could order any albums for me, which they couldn't either, but Kate said she'd sell me her personal copies, which I was thrilled with. The cover band I had in high school ended up doing 5 Hanoi songs – Taxi Driver, Motorvatin, Oriental Beat, Back To Mystery City and Mental Beat – in amongst Judas Priest, Rolling Stones, Joan Jett, Sex Pistols and others... Anyway, Hanoi Rocks should've been massive, but the drummer, Razzle, getting killed by the hands of Motley Crue singer Vince Neil's drink-driving buffoonery put an end to that, as the band decided to call it a day after that. Cherry Bombz (Andy McCoy & Nasty Suicide), Mike Monroe's solo album 'Not Fakin' It' and Cheap & Nasty (Nasty Suicide) were all pretty cool post-Hanoi ventures as well...
The photo that started it all...
We pretty much knew that the drums were going to be the hardest part of the whole recording. From setting up all the mics to getting a decent room sound to phase issues, recording drums at home is a pain in the arse, particularly when everyone's under time restraints. Plus, if you've got rubbish sounding drums, doesn't matter how good everything else is, it's going to sound amateur. Hopefully we can avoid that by the time the whole thing is mixed... In regards to mics, we didn't use anything special - a friend lent us a shure PG52 for the kick and three 57s to add to the 2 we already had. We used 2 Audio Technica 2020s for the overheads, a Behringer B1 in the next room (the kitchen) for some ambient reverb and some cheap piece of shit dynamic as a room mic. Let's cut to the chase - the only real mic sounds we ended up using were the overheads - everything else sounded shit. This was because of our uselessness at recording, rather than the equipment. When we recorded some drums and then played them back, we thought they sounded pretty good - definitely enough to work with. Ahem, it was only when we started mixing that the general we-recorded-this-at-home-in-the-lounge shitness became apparent. Cue the drum replacement plugin, 'Drumagog'. We basically replaced kick, snare and the three toms with something suitably rocking' in the 80s, although I did blend some of the replaced toms with the original sounds. Next time more care will be taken to get each drum sounding great by itself, rather than just relying on the overall sound, as that can be deceiving. Hopefully we'll be able to create our own drum samples to use on different recordings when the need arises for replacement. The plugin was only $90, so it's a pretty good investment I think. The reverb-in-the-kitchen mic remained unused at mixing, as it just cluttered things up - it was easier to just used a reverb plugin. Next time we'll used the B1 as the room mic, as the dynamic mic didn't pick up enough sound. The only thing that kind of went to plan were the 'overheads'. I got some sage advice from my good friend Matt Bodiam who suggested that we used the xy position rather than the 'spaced pair' to avoid phasing issues. Fuck phasing issues - I don't think I would've been able to tell if shit was out of phase or not, so I took the advice on board. I also read that low ceilings (such as in loungerooms) can reflect sound back into the overheads and create problems. To overcome this we actually put our 'overheads' just under the height of the cymbals, about a metre out in front. No sound reflections from the carpeted floor and the ceiling was far enough away. Because of the 'small' sound of a lounge room, I pretty much eq'd the overhead mics so it was mainly cymbals. any actual drum sounds that snuck through in some frequencies was OK, as Nick has a great sounding kit. I'll get more into the mixing of the drums when I get to the mixing part of the blog in a few weeks
The actual recording went pretty smoothly. We used a couple of headphone jack splitters so we all had our own head phones. Nick was just using some ipod earbuds with ear muffs over the top which worked a treat. Ran out of pre-amp channels on the audio interface, so I got out my old 4 track tape recorder and routed the guide guitars, bass and vocals through that. Luckily I hoard shit - I knew that thing would come in handy one day! There was a massive storm just before we were about to start, with wind bellowing through the airconditioner and getting all up and in the face of our strategically placed under cymbal overheads…and then it stopped, just like that. Just in time for us to blast through 6 songs.
Anyway, check out the video - it's just a rough mix of Nick bashin' away for half a minute or so, but you get the gist. Next up - hmm, I don't know. Guitars maybe.
We've been planning to record our next album at home for about 8 months now and we've actually made quite a bit of progress. I've got to admit that I wanted to see how it was shaping up before I wrote anything about it just in case it turned out to be total rubbish.Thankfully it's sounding OK, although it is hard to be subjective about it when we're doing everything ourselves – do I just think it sounds good because it's us, or, do I just think it sounds shit because it's us...it definitely goes both ways, ha ha.
The main reason we decided to go the home recording option was because our good friend Matt, who we recorded our last album with at the Arthouse studio, is no longer recording bands. Recording with Matt was the most fun I've ever had recording. I think a lot of it was to do with the very reasonable rates he was charging whilst still having confidence that he could get pretty close to the sound we wanted. We had absolute faith that he would understand where we were coming from and be able to get that recorded. Being close friends obviously helped with that – Bodes is well aware of all the horrible music I'm into, ha ha. We were absolutely thrilled (yes, thrilled) with the way the last album came out...click here to check out some of the videos we did for a few of the songs. After that experience, the thought of recording with someone else wasn't very appealing, even though in the past we've had fun in other studios...the problem was always having to look at the clock and be thinking how much it was costing, which is not a pressure you want when you're trying to get a tricky guitar part down. So there it is – I guess it mainly comes down to money...we don't have enough to hose in a studio. It will cost us less to buy most of the stuff we need than it would to go to a studio – simple. If it sounds like shit, then it's wasted money, but you might as well give it a go! Of course we bought secondhand and pretty much bottom of the line stuff, but let's face it, none of us have been in bands where subtlety of sound meant shit. If you were recording jazz or classical or something where you needed to hear every minute detail, and you were recording in a great sounding room, then maybe it would matter, but we're recording in a friggin' lounge room. I don't need a thousand dollar mic to pick up all that horribleness. I think the main thing that makes or breaks home recordings (besides the song, of course) is the performance itself. If you play like a motherfucker, you're half way there. That's where recording at home comes into it's own – we can redo shit til the cows come home to get the right take. Hopefully when we're finished it sounds alright, or I'm going to look like a complete dick here, ha ha.
I already had a computer that was (just) adequate, and a usb drive that I was using for something else, so here's a price breakdown of other home recording stuff:
Recording interface and software (digi 003 with Pro Tools 8) – $550
Behringer ADA8000 preamp (for extra 8 channels to record drums) – $200
Behringer studio monitors – $250
Senheisser headphones – $100
AT2020 microphones x2 – $200
Behringer B1 mic – $100
Shure 57 mic x2 – $200
Cheap drum mic kit –$200
Mic leads – $80
Mic stands – $60
Drum replacement software – $90
$2030!? That's about the same amount that my old band paid for our 'No Room For Apathy' album, and that was back in 1997! Hopefully we'll be able to record quite a few albums on this stuff and that's where the real savings will be...unless I become a gear junky...that won't end well.
Like I said, all of that is irrelevant if it sounds like shit. I've never done this before, so there was a good chance it WOULD sound horrible. I wish that all those times I'd been recording in other people's studios that I actually paid attention to what they were doing – mic placement, compression, eq, the list goes on. I never cared to know how they got the sounds. What a fool. Luckily we have the internet now, so I've spent the last 8 months researching how to do stuff. One site in particular was of great help therecordingrevolution.com The bloke who runs it has an easy to follow style of teaching in his videos. None of the songs featured in his videos are comparable to what we're doing musically and they all seem to be religious in lyrical tone, but he doesn't push that angle, so it's all good, and he's got some good advice. The most important advice he gave was – just start doing it, now. Don't worry what interface or software you should buy, just pick any one and start. So we did.
That intro was longer than I though it was going to be. Hopefully future updates on our home recording project will be more succinct!
Up Next: Recording drums
What's rock'n'roll about gardening? Probably nothing and in fact Jeff Pocaro from Toto died after spraying insecticide in his garden back in '92, so it obviously didn't agree with his rock'n'roll lifestyle. Luckily for me, I don't use insecticides, ha ha. Gardening, well to be specific, growing food crops, for me is hugely satisfying. It's something where there is always something to learn and the more you put in, the more you get out. Initially I started out wanting to be totally self-sufficient, ie never have to buy vegetables again. Having a regular job-type-job, I soon found out that I didn't have the time for this to be possible and I've reduced my plot over the last few years. Basically I found that it was starting to be a pain in the arse instead of being a positive, therapeutic endeavour. Better to just do what is manageable. Does it save you money? I hear you ask. It possibly could if you inherited a backyard with fertile soil and had been taught to garden by your parents and had perfected it over the years so you could just swoop in and start growing excellent crops from the get-go. Being without either of these things, I had to buy probably about 8 cubic metres of compost, a couple of cubic metres of manure and then spend at least the first couple of years fucking things up. Then add to this purchasing netting to keep the birds off the crops, fencing material to keep the dog out, stuff to water with, seeds, fruit trees...it all adds up. I've made a few things with shit that I found in the backyard which I'll tell ya about in another post. After 6 or 7 years of trying to grow food, I'd say that I haven't broken even yet. I do know that what we eat from the backyard has no pesticides on it. I know that it wasn't driven or flown from the other side of the country or the other side of the world to get here. I know that it doesn't taste like shit, like half the crap you buy in the shops. Even alot of organic stuff from the shops can't compare to something grown and ripened in your own backyard. Hey, I'm not the first one to say this stuff and this intro has gone on way longer than I wanted it to. Suffice to say, I love rock'n'roll, and home grown pumpkins...
Generation X's self-titled album from 78...what an album! 'Kiss Me Deadly' from 81, their third and final release...hmmm...patchy, but if you just accept that this was pretty much just Billy Idol warming up for his solo career, then it's quite an enjoyable listen. Billy was always far more interested in style over substance, but he could write a catchy tune, that's for sure. Six out of the ten songs fit that bill, with everything sounding like it was written with only bass and vocal melody in mind and then either powerchords or some reverbed colour thrown over the top. Hey, I'm not criticising - 'Dancing with myself' and 'Triumph' are absolute pop masterpieces (even if they are essentially the same song). I would've liked to have heard this album with original member 'Derwood' Andrews playing guitar as I thought he had a cool, original sound. This album probably suffers from the fact that it was a heap of ring-ins. And Terry Chimes on drums...man, he has been in a shitload of my favourite bands (Clash, Hanoi Rocks, Cherry Bombz in particular), even though I've never really cared for his style. Anyway, when I bought this back in the early 90s at the Box Hill record fair, I paid 3 bucks – it was definitely worth that...as was Billy's first solo album that I got at the same fair for $1. Actually, the non-single tracks from his solo album are surprisingly rockin'.
Rippin' AOR pomp rock. Do people under the age of 30 even know what AOR is? I got into this obscure US band through my love of Bob Kulick. Why do I love Bob Kulick? Because he played on Paul Stanley's solo album from 78 - it all started there. He did some other cool stuff as well – his band Skull released one of the better latter day hair metal albums around 1992... 'hair metal' played by a bloke with no hair - surely some kind of oxymoron! Anyway, Balance released a couple of albums in the early 80s that were full of hooks, blistering guitar and quality songwriting. As a comparison, I'd say the first, self-titled album, is like a rockin' Hall & Oates. The second album, "In For The Count" is like a HARD-rockin' Hall & Oates. Who doesn't like Hall & Oates? The first album's got a ballad on it and as far as ballads go, it's a pretty crap one. Shit, you could probably count the amount of worthy ballads ever written in the history of music on one, possibly two hands. Blue Oyster Cult's "I Love the Night" and Kiss's "I Still Love You" are two that come to mind, but in general, ballads are a waste of vinyl and Balance's contribution is no exception. The rest of both albums, as I said, pretty rippin', although they're not for everyone and they took me a couple of listens to fully get into it...real growers - if you like the tougher elements of H&O, you'll dig this.
A review recently said that Rise of the Rat "play a fairly unforgivable brand of Aussie pub rock; a mid-eighties sound that seems loosely influenced by...Midnight Oil, revived with a po-faced sincerity for I don't know what audience, with about a quarter of the finesse." I don't agree whole-heartedly with all of that, but fuck, if there's no audience for Head Injuries, people have their heads up their arses! Have you heard that album? It is bloody killer. To play with a quarter of the finesse Midnight Oil had on that album would still mean you would blow most of the other current bands off the stage, ha ha. Anyway, I dug up an old review that I did for the album back in 2001 for my old band's website – I still agree with the sentiment. No comments about Garrett's political career
Midnight Oil - Head Injuries
One of the best albums ever, certainly Midnight Oils best. Great raw production and the songs are phenomenal. No Reaction, Cold Cold Change, Stand in Line – need I go on. I hated this band when I was in high school and I'm ashamed to admit that it wasn't because of the music – it was because of their mainstream fans. Weird, considering that Midnight Oil have the greatest left of centre slant on life of nearly any band I've ever heard. To be half as intelligent as Peter Garrett would be a privelige and to write songs that say as much as Midnight Oil's do is definitely high on my agenda. Couple of slow ones on this that are interesting. Cover looks great in black and yellow.
So, you know when you were a kid and half the albums you bought, it was because the cover was excellent? Well, I stayed clear of a few bands for the exact opposite reason...case in point – US band Riot. I fucken hated the... actually, I don't know what it was...some kind of baby seal head on a human body. Baby seal head? What the fuck? As a kid, compared to Iron Maiden's Eddie, it was not very inspiring. Their third album 'Fire Down Under' was the one I first saw as a kid, but they carried the theme through for the first four albums. Anyway, what can I say? I was a dick – these albums are magic, I've recently discovered. I'd say the early stuff was a kind of link between bands like Kiss and Starz and the better elements of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. It has an aggressive overtone, but played with panache and hooks all over the place with a few nice harmonised guitar parts. Stand out track – Gypsy Queen – that shit's got melody coming out it's arse! And you know what? I kind of like the covers now.
Welcome to the Rise of the Rat blog. The title of this post sums up what the general topics will be, in a tongue in cheek kind of way (the second bit, anyway). There'll be updates on what Rise of the Rat have been up to, reviews on albums we like, and gardening tips...that's right, gardening tips – that's the preparing for the apocalypse part...although, growing a few fucking turnips wouldn't save you if an apocalypse did eventuate, but it's a cool catchphrase. So what does growing vegetables have to do with rock'n'roll? Nothing. Who gives a shit – it's my blog – I'll write about what I want.