Human Guinea Pig Chronicles #3
Coffee and cigarettes go together so well that Jim Jarmusch made a movie about it. Throw a chocolate Tastycake on top of that mess and they form the unholy trinity of unwise breakfasts like Voltron.
No gives you a pat on the back for quitting caffeine, instead look at you with pity mixed with judgment. While smoking is limited to certain areas, people can drink coffee anywhere. (Except near my laptop. Get back! Ungawa!)
I thought my coffee habit was under control, until I became a barista who got high on his own supply. Due to boredom and the folly of youth, my colleagues and I held contests to see who could down the most shots of espresso, with hands shaking and eyelids a’ twitter.
My transition from coffee clerk to freelance audio visual technician only made things worse, with fifteen hour days starting at 6 am, sometimes after working until 11 pm the night before on a different job. I became coffee, with a 32 ouncer glued to my hand, so hooked that I’d place a half-empty cuppa on my bed stand before hitting the hay.
The thing they don’t tell you about any kind of upper, from coke to crank, is that you will do everything faster, especially making mistakes. If you want to sprint down the wrong path in life until bloody collapse, speed is the way to go.
The headaches were debilitating. I thought allergies were causing the headaches and nocturnal teeth grinding, but the culprit was caffeine withdrawl. Anytime I went an hour or so without kissing the mighty bean, my head would throb and my focus would turn to static. Because my sleep patterns were anything but, I’d wake up in the middle of the night, ready for action for nothing.
Addictions are annoying, because they are so needy and expensive, demanding attention at the worst times like a spoiled brat. It was time to kick caffeine to curb, like I did cigarettes the year before. Because of my boolean personality, I’m either on or off with everything in life: zero cigarettes or three packs a day, no candy or the whole bag of candy, balls to the wall or nothing at all.
I quit smoking by totaling all the loot that I’d spent in a year on cancer sticks and budgeted tickets to Jamaica as my carrot to dangle. If I started up again, then I knew I couldn’t afford the trip. Quitting smoking was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I figured caffeine would be just a little hurdle. It turned out to be the high jump.
With personal days to burn, I took off a week just to quit caffeine and binge Storage Wars: Texas. On day one, I thought that taking the whole week was overkill and admonished myself for being a decadent baby. I thought it was going to be easy. I was wrong.
On day two I was bedridden with a Texas sized railroad spike buried between my lobes, like a doughy Phinus Gage. I felt like a photocopy of my former self, and was as pleasant to beanbe around as a runway queen freshly voted off of Drag Race. That day, I knew that I’d never touch caffeine again and risk going through that pain. I was scared straight. There was a lot of fetal position going on.
It wasn’t until day four that I could walk around and go outside for a little bit. I felt like I took a handful of stupid-pills that wouldn’t wear off. This haze created a full month of idicacy. I’d put the jelly in the cupboard and the peanut butter in the fridge. Screwing up left and right at work, I became the subject of many a nasty-gram regarding my performance.
With smoking, it only took me two weeks to conquer the physical addiction. After day fourteen, the only desire for a nicotine fix is mental. Quitting caffeine left a mind fog that lingered for a full month before I was back to normal. (Well, normal enough for this guy.)
Five years later and I survived, still caffine and ciggarette free without the need to convert to Mormonism. My insomnia is all but gone, my digestion has improved, and I no longer ground my chompers in my sleep. Sure, I still drink decaf in the morning for the bitter taste of reality, but if I run out of coffee, I no longer need to run out to the store like an addict. Given the hypothetical, I’d choose quitting nicotine over caffeine, as they say on Storage Wars: Texas, “all day long.”
Why I Care.
The term “Affluenza” is “the inability to understand the consequences of one’s actions because of financial privilege.” Affluenza affects 1% of the US population, so about 3.2 million United States citizens.
Licensed psychologist, G. Dick Miller (“Call me Dick”) defended maligned teen Ethan Couch, after the poor boy, accidentally killed a couple people in a drunk driving incident while innocently sowing his wild oats. He was mercifully given 10 years probation and no jail time, but his untreated Affluenza continued to plague him until he skipped out on parole, ending up the subject of a manhunt that ended Mexico where he was found higher than Willie Nelson on his birthday. Sadly, Couch’s luck ran out. He was arrested, convicted, jailed, and released last year. This didn’t happen in Communist China. This happened in the U.S. of A.
To my knowledge, there is no other research being conducted to find a cure. (I didn’t look too hard, though.) I’m willing to sacrifice my health and help fight Affluenza from the inside, by accepting enough donations for me to join the 1%. In the great State of Pennsylvania, that’s just $388,593 a year. A pittance compared to the cost of research of other diseases. I don’t even need a laboratory, though I might buy one on a whim to make small batch gin.
What I’m Willing to Endure.
I’m willing to infiltrate the 1% and report back on the side effects, including but not limited to:
Wearing boat shoes with no socks.
Clapping off-rhythm at concerts.
Suffering from hemophilia developed from recursive inbreeding.
Developing a reluctance to tipping waitstaff, especially automatic gratuities for tables of four or more.
Naming my kids Mercedes, London, or Baron.
Suggesting that the impoverished pull themselves up by their boot straps without providing boots.
Referencing the tribulations of deceased immigrant relatives that I never met.
Taking up two parking spots in my future Beamer. Three if I get a Tesla.
Severe allergic reactions to paying taxes to where I’ll need to isolate myself from my money using offshore accounts.
Why I’m Qualified.
As a cis gendered, white male Gen X’er, I’ll fit right in, after I get a Peaky Blinders haircut and a Rolex. Did I mention that I’m really into bath bombs? I think, given proper funding, I could take to frivolous spending like ants to syrup.
How YOU can Make a Difference.
For just the price of a cup of coffee a day, you can buy me a cup of coffee a day. Is there a chance that I will ghost everyone after receiving my first thousand and flake out on my research? Of course. I don’t own a crystal ball. Who knows what journey this disease will take me on? But if my fresh Yeeseys 450’s can bring us one step closer to a cure, then it’s all worth it. Be a hero. Do your part.
Gimp Photo Editor. I’m a tightwad, so Gimp is the only editor I use for Next in Line Magazine’s images, including the toolbox above. You might as well grab the G’mic expansion pack while you are at it.
DaVinci Resolve. The free version has everything you need for basic editing and color correction. Perfect for creating band videos or youtube tutorials, it’s so handy that I feel dirty using it for free. Here is a Scraddle Vision bumper I made using Resolve featuring a dear friend of the show that we totally didn’t hire on Cameo.
Shotcut. Shotcut was my go-to until I found out about Da Vinci Resolve. With less of a learning curve than Resolve, this one could be more appropriate for the technically unsavvy.
Audacity. This one ain’t too shabby, especially for the price. While it’s nowhere near as robust as Pro Tools, it’s still everything the Beatles had in a box, so no excuses! Here is a little jam with my friend Jay on guitar. You can hear me soloing the individual tracks.
ASIOFREEFORALL Driver. This is for anyone running DAW software like Pro Tools, Cubase, or Studio One. I’m no Chris Lord-Alge, but I do know that it’s much easier to mix music when the sound actually comes out of your speakers.
OBS. This is perfect for screen capturing or getting really fancy with Live Streaming. It’s not an intuitive program —so get ready to watch tutorials —but it can do a lot of cool shit if you want to get fancy with live streaming with multiple cameras.
My buddy Jay set up green screens in three different rooms during quarantine, and then pasted us together on the same screen with crazy effects ala Black Sabbath. Here is an impromptu jam with Sir Richard Brown.
HandBreak. Need to transcode a video from one format to another or rip a DVD? (Whatever those things are.) Don’t worry, I got you.
Vanido. This app is like Guitar hero, but for singing on pitch. I practice alone in a parked car for better acoustics and privacy. (My neighbors already think that I’m nuts for many justified reasons.) Available for Iphone or Android at their respective app stores.
John Bonham: Fool in the Rain.
I could get kicked out of the drummer’s union if I didn’t make Bonham number one. A variation on the Purdie shuffle, this drum beat combines two time signatures: triplets on the hi hats with a 2/4 backbeat on the kick and snare.
Being able to play it is one thing. Grooving it is another.
I’ll let James Brown’s Bernard “Pretty” Purdie himself ‘splain how to play a half time shuffle as only he can.
Clyde Stubblefield: The Funky Drummer.
Here is another of James Brown’s drum assassins, rocking the most sampled breakbeat in history.
Ain’t it funky? Why yes, James. It is. It sure is.
Freddy Mercury: Don’t Stop Me Now.
100 degrees. He is the intersection of technique and passion, with a voice as bashful as a berserker. Damn, when he glides from chest voice to head voice, it’s like he was born without a zona di passaggio. Not sure if this was before or after he wupped Sid Vicious’ ass.
Marc Bolan: 20th Century Boy.
I love everything about this track: the playing, the sound, the production, the attitude, the style. While not the most technical guitar player, Marc Bolan has feel for days, so much so that Ike Turner tapped him to play rhythm for Tina.
Billy Preston: I Want You. (She’s so Heavy)
The fifth Beatle, Billy Preston, sprinkles a quarter-pound of fairy dust all over this track. I can see why the Fab Four kept this dude on retainer. The rooftop concert is the only live footage I could find of Preston playing with the boys.
I love the stabs during the bass feature parts. Speaking of…
Paul McCartney: Paperback Writer.
While I wouldn’t call it a shame that the Cute One’s singing and songwriting overshadows his talents as a bass player, the proof is in the pudding. Recording engineer Geoff Emerick said that McCartney was generally easy going in the studio, but was a stickler for his bass tone, spending hours redoing his parts when the other guys retreated back to the giant row home that shared from Help!
Wilton Felder: I Want You Back.
Randy Roads: Crazy Train.
On my first day at Scouts, I tried to make conversation with a long-haired, older kid while he sneaked a smoke.“Hey Jay, what is up with that patch on your jean jacket? Who is Randy Roads?”
He looked at me like a slandered Mr. T. ”Are you kidding me? You don’t know who fucking Randy Roads is? What the fuck is wrong with you, Steve? And if you tell anyone about this cigarette I’ll kick your ass.”
I still owe him.
Randy’s amp was so loud that they needed to put him in an isolated room for his own safety.
Whitney Houston: “I Will Always Love You.”
Dolly Parton first heard Whitney’s version on her car radio.” I was shot so full of adrenaline and energy, I had to pull off, because I was afraid that I would wreck, so I pulled over quick as I could to listen to that whole song,”
The only person happier than Dolly was her agent after the royalty checks rolled in.
2. Om Chanting.
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate.
Good for: Mental serenity and focus. A fantastic morning warm-up for singers, djs, and auctioneers, it really gets the pipes working.
The Om meditation is sneaky. It doesn’t seem like a breathing exercise on the surface, but hey —the air goes in, the air comes out, the air plays pinochle with your snout. Speaking of, if your nose is stuffed up, adjust your pitch on the “mmm” part until you find the one that rattles your sinuses. This will, in technical terms, “vibrate the boogers loose.”
3. Fire Breathing/Tummo.
Good for: Some masters of the ancient art of tummo can control their heat rates and raise their body temperatures enough to melt snow. This is no joke. All you scaredy cats can stick with the first two methods and live long happy lives. Thanks for coming. Namaste.
Are they gone? Cool. Wanna get nuts? Check out the science between of Tummo and Wim Hoff here. The gist of it is that you alternate between hyperventilating and breath holding. This sends the body into shock, increasing neuroplasticity, while training the sympathetic nervous system to be calm under fire. Then your brain releases a slight amount of natural DMT, which makes your brain feel as mellow as Bob Ross getting a back massage for a good two hours afterward.
4. Extra Credit: Wim Hoff .
Difficulty: Beast Mode.
Good for: Swimming underneath glaciers, running on the snow barefoot, and boosting the immune system to ridiculous levels.
Wim Hoff is a lovable nut job. Common sense didn’t stop him from swimming under glaciers, jogging in the snow in just his underpants, and successfully fighting off infection from injection with meditation.
Wim combined Tummo, mediation, and a cold shower “because you don’t think about your bills when the cold water hits you. You think about the cold water hitting your face.” Spiritually, it’s like jumping from the warm baby pool of ignorance to the cold reality of the adult pool. The cold shower is unpleasant for only twenty seconds, but after your body adjust to it, the shower becomes blissfully invigorating, so suck it up buttercup. To be fair, I started the cold showers in 90 degree weather, so let’s see how tough I talk in November.
It took me about a week to reach a minute long breath hold. I’m trying for a minute an a half.
- Louie Louie
Saw them support The Coathangers and LA Witch at the Underground Arts (still open!) The whole Friend of a Stranger album is great, like the Go-Go’s playing a Leslie Gore tribute show. I like their sassy lyrics. This song gets stuck in my head all the time.
2. Sixteen Jackies
Sixteen Jackies opened for Orville Peck back in 2019 at the Boot and Saddle (RIP). They got the party started so hard that they kept the headliner sweating under his signature mask. Sixteen Jackie’s singer sounds like Frank Black’s pretty younger brother, but with the unpredictability of Dave Thomas (Not the Wendy’s dude) from Pere Ubu and just a dusting of Britpop in his phrasing. I’m a sucker for ‘verbed out guitars. This song is catchy as hell.
Growing up on the Mummies and Sebadoh, I have a soft spot for lo-fi recordings, but these guys are ridiculous. When I first spun their Environments seven inch, I thought the vinyl was defective, but the artfully dodgy production grew on me with every listen. Love the hook in this song.
Next in Line Magazine would like to congratulate Steve Levandoski for his short story Chatterbox being published in the fall edition of the prestigous literary magazine The Oddville Press.
Warning: this story contains vulgar language, sophomoric humor, and general bad taste.
Paul Smith cut his teeth mixing front-of-the-house sound for the holy trinity of Philly clubs: The Theater of the Living Arts, The Trocadero (RIP), and the Electric Factory. He has fiddled the faders for everyone from Guided by Voices, The White Stripes, Fantômas, Stiff Little Fingers, and The Misfits (featuring Sir Marky Ramone on drums), to Gillian Welch, Levon Helm, Teddy Pendergrass, and Run-D.M.C.
At Sigma Sound, he was assistant engineer on the Root’s albums Illadelph Halflife and Do You Want More?!!!??!, along with the Gatemouth Brown album Long Way Home featuring some British guitar player named Eric Clapton. After finally getting in the captain’s seat, Paul produced, recorded, and mixed Marah’s Let’s Cut the Crap, and Kids in Philly, and tracked basics on Steve Earle’s Transcendental Blues at Frank’s Auto. In 2003, he co-founded South Philly’s 1935 Studios with Peter Rydberg
Did you get to interact with Eric Clapton during his Sigma session? Or was it all business, a quick in-and-out?
The Eric Clapton session was one afternoon. Being in the same room with him was a very surreal experience. I grew up listening to his recordings. The guitar case his tech brought in was stenciled ‘Cream’ and contained the red Gibson 335 that you see in those pictures. His amp was whisper-quiet when idling. Though it was only a few hours, it happened and is a highlight for me.
You recorded both Marah albums on just seven tracks, but they sound like they were recorded at a fancy spot like Sound City. Do you think you could have done a better job in a high-end studio or did the limited gear keep you hungry and force you to focus?
Thank you for the compliment. I think that the limitations definitely helped make me stronger. I did not have much at my disposal to work with. And I had to keep thinking several steps ahead all the time. It was really good for me. Recording in the conditions we had, while not ideal- a second-floor storage room above an auto body shop- enabled us to spend time on stuff that wouldn’t have been possible at a pro studio where time is money.
Good mics and gear only expose what stuff sounds like- a true “it is what it is” situation. It doesn’t necessarily make musicians sound better.
The acoustic guitars on the track “Fever” sound amazing. Do you remember what treatment was used on them?
Flattery will get you everywhere! I don’t remember the exact channel path, but I had a Rode NT-2, a couple Audio-Technica 4051’s. No Neumanns or AKGs, etc. Plus, a 2 channel DBX 760 mic pre, cheap compressors, and an Alesis Quadraverb.
So, a combination of those elements helped get the sound to tape. We had a Tascam 38 8-track recorder and track 5 wouldn’t switch to the sync head, so that became our tape echo. The Let’s Cut the Crap album was mixed through the tape return section of an eight channel Soundcraft 200B to a Sony DAT machine. The rest of the mixer didn’t work.
I know a lot of bands need an extra van, just for their egos. Who was the nicest group you have worked live sound for?
As crazy as it may seem- pun intended- Insane Clown Posse were really nice people to work with: self-contained, knew what they were doing, and were easy to get along with.
While there are plenty of jerks out there and plenty of good reasons for someone showing up with a “mad-on”, especially on tour just grinding it out, the nicest people are the ones who have been around for a while, are self-assured, like what they do, and know where they are in the big picture.
The most difficult people are usually the new ones who may have just had a little success and now expect the red carpet to be rolled out any place they step. Those types and the other folks on the backside of their time in the biz can be a handful, especially when sales are low.
Recording-wise it’s similar. Those who are prepared and know what they want to accomplish are easiest to work with.
Steve Earle’s Transcendental Blues title track has the drums hard panned in the left speaker, like a lot of early 60’s stereo recordings. What inspired that retro move?
Steve Earle was going through a Beatles Revolver-era production love affair at the time.
What is the fastest way to get on a live engineer’s shit list?
When a musician think’s that the sound person is on site to sabotage their sound on purpose.
‘Does it sound good out there?’ is a question only asked by amateurs. The way a band sounds is a multi-faceted result. It is never down to one person turning knobs. If musicians aren’t in tune, can’t play as an ensemble while listening to each other, don’t have a sense of dynamics, or can’t balance themselves before sound reinforcement equipment is put in front of their gear, then placing a mic in front of an amp, drum, or mouth won’t improve anything. All that stuff has to be worked out before they enter a club or studio. All part of payin’ your dues.
Why do you think Dave Lombardo (Slayer/Fantômas/Misfits) tried to take you on the road with him, before the budget for a touring engineer went away?
Dave Lombardo liked the fact that I didn’t use any processing other than some EQ while I was running monitors for him at the Fantômas performance at the TLA.
The trickiest instrument to track besides the human voice is the drums. Do you have any pro tips? Do you close-mic the drums, or give them space like Led Zeppelin engineer Glyn Johns did?
I try for a less is more concept when micing a drum kit. Too many mics can cause phase issues. I like to get a good close sound on a kit first then add some mics for ambience. If there is a solid close sound and a good ambient sound going to the recorder when it comes time to mix, then you have a variety of sounds at your disposal to add color, and you have the ability to change depth. I never like using the same sound throughout a long project like an album, because it gets dull for me.
That said, a good close dry drum sound will go further than a roomy-er thing. As I have stated earlier, the instrument, it’s tuning, the way it’s played, and what is being played is of greater importance than the number of mics on a kit. I’ve used only a single mic at times, like with the Steve Earle sessions, and got something really nice.
Simpler parts that support the song and aren’t cluttered w/cymbals and elaborate tom fills usually sound best. There are a few things that I like to try to include before tracking begins:
1.) placing cotton balls inside a tom to reduce unwanted sustained ringing
2.) wiring a speaker to act as a mic to enhance the low-end of a kick drum
3.) placing a center cut-out snare head on the snare drum’s regular head, to reduce ring and to drop pitch is also a good thing to try.
How do you keep a good vibe going in the studio? Do you think every engineer plays amateur therapist, or do you just mind your knobs and let them duke it out?
It requires intuition to know when to push and pull and maintain a good vibe in the studio. One thing that determines a healthy mindset is keeping an achievable goal in mind. When time is money and people are trying to record twenty songs in ten hours with a full band, etc., good times just ain’t gonna happen.
Playing small-ball instead of reeling in the big fish usually yields a good vibe. Walking away from a session with one, two, or even three great basic tracks in a single eight to ten-hour session is plenty to be happy and proud of. Walking away from a long day of trying to accomplish too much will sour attitudes quickly. Make an EP instead of an LP and put your best songs on it. You can always record them later if and when you get a big budget, and really turn it out.
What skills from live sound did you bring to the recording studio?
I found it to be a great learning experience to get involved in live sound especially the hot seat- monitors. You will learn so much. For example, how to hear frequencies, how to use an equalizer effectively, what instruments sound like in a room, face-to-face interactions with musicians, all this you can apply to the recording situation.
I can’t say that the other way around is true. I haven’t applied recording techniques to live sound reinforcement.
What high end microphones have tickled your ear drums?
The AKG C12 is fantastic. The only mic that I’ve ever used that made the speakers seem to go away when listening back in the control room to what was captured, as if the source was right in front of you.
Living or dead, who would make up your fantasy rhythm section in the Paul Smith Family All Starr Band?
I haven’t given much thought to the ideal section of players. To my way of thinking, what makes a music ensemble successful is the sum being greater than the parts. Your best musicians don’t always make the best music. Sometimes the people with the most chops are playing parts designed to highlight their technical skill, and not serving the music in any meaningful way.
With today’s technology, is recording to analog tape just fickle, fairy dust?
Analog tape machines are unfortunately near impossible to maintain anymore. Parts are scarce as are the qualified people to work on any given machine. Those classic machines are now money pits. That stuff is old by now. There aren’t any aftermarket companies that I know of making machine tooled replacement parts for Studer’s, Ampex’s, etc.
Look at the analog stuff being sold on the internet at popular gear sites. Any analog-tape related stuff I’ve seen for sale doesn’t look that enticing.
I would recommend everyone get used to digital recording mediums. They sound good. R&D in digital audio has come a long way since its inception.
Should every serious player know how to set up their own guitar? Or leave the intonation adjustment to the luthiers? Where is a good place to learn?
I believe it is good to learn about your instrument and how to make it sound best. There is a great video on YouTube featuring Joe Walsh explaining guitar neck intonation and what the neck should look like.
If you understand what you are reading in the manual and know how to use the basic tools required to adjust action and intonation, then you can make your instrument better just by maintaining those things.
If you are careful, you won’t break anything. Every time a person changes strings the intonation should be checked and see if it requires adjustment.
That mechanical stuff is important in getting any instrument ‘to sing’ whether it’s strings, reeds, drums, or brass.
I learned about these things from good friends of mine who were generous to share their experiences and information. Never assume that you know all the answers all the time. And don’t keep what you have learned to yourself. Share it. Helping others that seek advice goes a long way and can lead to work down the road.
I used to have an ‘I’ll do it myself’ attitude when I first started out but learned that it’s best to constantly be asking questions and learning, not spending time re-inventing the wheel.