We wanted to make a record. The two of us: me with my half-baked notions of rock explosions that I had harbored since I was 6, jumping around the living room in my underwear painted up like The Cat Man from Kiss; and Maria, with her new-found revelry in the world of two-chord smash-ups. We wanted to make some sort of record of the noise that we'd been making for the past year. The options were numerous: studios (high-end, fancy-schmancy to real-world grimy), or friends with computers or tape machines willing to work for beer. We could go mobile and catch a live show, or just do everything ourselves.
One day I said to Alex, who'd run sound at one of our shows, "I want to talk to you about recording."
"Sure," he replied, "I'll record you guys."
Easy as that. I didn't even have to actually ask him. We set a date for mid-January or early February. In the meantime, Alex recorded one of our band practices with just one mic and this weird portable tape machine. The tape sounded great, with a growling guitar and crushing drums. I loved this guy.
Three months and three aborted attempts later, we actually started the recording process. I was giddy to use Alex's 1953 Ampex four-track tape machine that I lovingly dubbed "the oven." Earlier in the week Alex and I did pre-production work so when we rolled into his building around 1 o'clock on a Sunday, all we had to do was bring the rock--over and over and over.
We hammered out three songs in six or seven hours with tiny breaks for snacks and playbacks. The pistachios and deep-fried potatoes gave us strength as we tried to make every take its ass-kicking best. Yet during playback, every little mistake seemed to sneer at us out of the studio's monitors. Our band was never about the perfect take, but we wanted everything to be just right--the vibe, the snare hits, the timing. We wanted it all.
Eventually, the third song killed us. Somehow we were unable to play one of the easiest songs to our satisfaction. We broke for burgers and beers in hopes of recouping enough strength to continue into the evening, but we were spent. Alex burned us each a copy of the day's work, and we staggered home.
Maria and I hated the way the guitar sounded on the test CD. It sounded like it was being played through broken speakers--all farts and woofs. By the time we met for the next session, we were freaking out. We told Alex that we despised the guitar sound and wanted something different. "Well, tell me what you want," he said. I mentioned that I had really liked the sound of the guitar on the practice recording. Five minutes later he set up a new mic on my amp and we had the sound I wanted, easy as pie.
Alex and I re-recorded all of the guitar parts that night. Surprisingly, it was easier to overdub than to play the parts live. Alex kept saying that I had a knack for it. The rough mixes sounded fantastic. With renewed confidence, we attacked the final session and blasted through the last songs with relative ease.
I screamed and crooned my way through the four-hour vocal session later in the week. Suddenly, with only the mixing left, the end of the record loomed into sight. The end proved bittersweet. It was Alex's last session in Durham, and our record was finished. The music part anyway.
(The author and his bandmate, Indy Arts and Entertainment Editor Maria Brubeck, are Jaguaro. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.)