Entries in Scattershock (4)


Scattershock - Recording "Wrong Train": Part 2

In my previous article, I explained how we shifted our focus from the Shatterbox remixes to finishing off the Scattershock tracks originally recorded in Denver. This time, I will go into some detail about what it took to finish the recording, mixing and mastering of the Scattershock Wrong Train album.

During the same period when I was tracking rhythm guitars, Steve and I were using our nights in the studio to finish off the drum and bass reprocessing. Once we'd wrapped that up, we proceeded with vocal tracking. Over the years, Steve and I had always hoped we'd find someone to handle lead vocals, but that never panned out. We finally talked it over and decided that he and I were still the two people most likely to truly feel the songs and lyrics. For a number of reasons, we decided it would be best if I took on the lead vocals, and the two of us would split backup vocal parts. Once that decision was made, we dug in and worked our way through the songs and parts. Somehow, all the energy and eventual frustration that was part of the Shatterbox remixes came pouring out. For the first time ever, I really felt like I was able to channel my emotions directly into my vocal performances. I still wish my voice had more natural magic but I feel like this batch of tracks reflects the best my vocal cords and years of training could produce.

While we were working our way through the rhythm guitars, lead and backup vocals, Nancy and I were making the difficult decision to move out of the Bay Area, relocating to Bozeman, Montana. This was a very painful decision for me, and was equally hard on Steve. Although it didn't soften that pain for either of us, we agreed that we would do everything necessary to make sure we finished the Scattershock album. By June of 2009, when the Hearst-Reynolds family packed up and drove out of the Bay Area, we had completed all the vocals, all the drum and bass reprocessing and all of the rhythm guitars. We had not, however, finished lead guitars nor had we mixed or mastered the songs.

I had packed up all of the essential recording gear from Redwood City and brought it to Bozeman with me. I set it up soon after our arrival and had a functional, if not exactly polished, recording space in the shop building of our Bozeman home. After solving the problem of cranking up the Powerball enough to get my desired lead tone (more about that in a future article), I pushed my way through the solos, many of them coming easily, while the "Wrong Train" solo, which has always been a challenge, took many days of practice and tracking.

When I finally had the guitars wrapped up, it was time to focus on the mixes. I was working for McDSP at the time, and we were developing new versions of the Classic Pack plug-ins. With FilterBank, CompressorBank, MC2000 and Analog Channel needing thorough testing, I had the perfect opportunity to put them through their paces, while simultaneously establishing the best settings for our mixes. After a lot of experimentation, I felt that I was close to having the mixes nailed, but the relatively untreated space where I was mixing was making it hard to be 100% sure. I'd left my Tannoy System 15DMT studio monitors in Redwood City, so I was mixing with just my DynAudio BM6A reference monitors and BM15A subwoofer. With the challenging acoustics of my space, the single reference point wasn't enough. Thanks to my good friend, Billy Costigan of Poindexters, that problem was solved by a new pair of Focal Solo6 Be monitors. They did the trick, giving me a distinct perspective from the DynAudio speakers and I was able to make the final adjustments to the mixes.

All along, I'd imagined that we would also do the mastering, but after years working on these tracks, I realized it was time to hand them off to someone with fresh ears and a new perspective. Thanks to one of my father's connections, I had been lucky a year or so earlier to observe a great jazz session at Fantasy Studios. While there, I got to meet Jesse Nichols, one of their engineers, and had really been impressed with his work and his personality. Awhile after that, Jesse was kind enough to help us pick out the perfect vocal mic for my voice (a Neumann TLM 103). With that front and center in my mind, it was natural to approach Jesse and Gannon Kashiwa for input on the mixes. We got some great help from Gannon on the mixes and I made another round of adjustments, then we handed those off to Jesse who did a magnificent job mastering everything. I doubt I'll ever do my own mastering again...

After it was all said and done, we had completed 9 songs. The two oldest ones ("Same Time Next Week" and "Don't Wanna Talk") date back to our Secret Life days. The rest of them are all songs from the Shatterbox era and would have been part of that unreleased batch of mixes. The good news for us, though, is that these versions of the songs sound much better and represent a much greater, more personal accomplishment.


Scattershock - Recording "Wrong Train": Part 1

A few months ago, I explained the history of my partnership with Steve Rosenthal, and how we eventually recorded 14 songs at Rocky Mountain Recorders in Denver, with help from engineer, Gannon Kashiwa, and bass player, Paul Olguin. You can find the two earlier articles here (Scattershock - A History: Part 1Part 2). In this article I will describe the long path that followed before any of those tracks were released.

Sometime in 2006 or 2007, while I was working at Apple and after I'd finally gotten my Redwood City recording studio fully functional, Steve and I decided it was time to put Pro Tools and our analog gear through its paces. We'd always felt that the early Pro Tools recordings we'd done of all the Shatterbox material hadn't had the energy or polish we wanted, and decided that those sessions were the perfect opportunity to experiment with processing and mixing. We started by patching various pieces of analog gear into inserts in Pro Tools, running drums, bass, guitar and vocals through all the outboard gear, learning which units sounded good on which tracks. After many nights of trial and error, we eventually established a collection of signal paths and settings that we liked. Using those, we reprinted all the Shatterbox audio tracks through our processing chains of choice.

The resulting analog-reprocessed tracks established our new baseline for mixing. Steve and I continued our weekly evenings together in the studio, using plug-ins to fine tune the tones and eventually established a collection of settings that could be used across all of the songs, with only small adjustments on a case-by-case basis. With that in place, we were able to focus on the mixes themselves and soon wrapped them up. To further exercise the analog and digital gear, we proceeded to master the songs, learning even more in the process.

By the time we'd wrapped up all the mixing and mastering, we were excited about how good the songs sounded. The analog reprocessing had breathed fresh life into the songs and everything sounded so good that we wanted the rest of the world to hear it. Since Mike Levine had contributed to the collection as a songwriter, vocalist and bass player, we contacted him to let him know how excited we were and that we were interested in releasing them as an album. Steve and I had started Crayonmaster, the company that held the rights to our songs and would act as the music label for the release. We were happy to cover the legal and logistical costs of the release and wanted to split any proceeds equally between the three of us. Unfortunately, after a brief period of optimism, it became clear that Mike was unhappy with the plan. After a few more attempts to reach a compromise, Steve and I decided it was not going to work out.

This marked one of the most painful, frustrating periods of my music career. Steve and I had spent years writing, tracking, mixing and remixing this collection of songs and now, just like that, the project was tabled. Fortunately, in the midst of the unhappiness, an idea was born. We remembered the Denver tracks and realized they provided us with a new opportunity. We were free to do whatever we wanted with those tracks and quickly established a new goal: finish enough of those songs to release an album anyway. While setting up Crayonmaster, we had discovered that another band had been formed with the name, "Shatterbox", and they had locked up domain names and social profiles with it. Thus, the name, "Scattershock", came to be.

Then began another round of recording and mixing. Although we were happy with all the performances from Denver, I was not satisfied with the tone I'd captured using my Soldano X99. Listening back years later it just didn't have the excitement or power that I wanted on our songs. It was fairly easy to make the decision to re-track my guitar parts, this time in my own studio and using my ENGL Powerball. We rolled up our sleeves again and proceeded to reprocess the drum and bass tracks using the analog gear and knowledge gleaned from the Shatterbox remixes. It took time but was quickly a source of satisfaction. The tracks came to life even more so than the Shatterbox tracks.

As for the guitars, I hunkered down and started tracking them, with the Powerball cranked up and my trusty Sennheiser e906 up close and personal with my Marshall cabinet. I made some adjustments to the parts, aimed at establishing two distinct rhythm parts for each song. Typically, I tracked the first part with my Anderson Drop Top using my standard high gain, relatively bright, distorted tone. The second part varied more in tonality, but most often was tracked using my Anderson Hollow-T and a darker tone. To this day, I am happier with the Scattershock guitar tones than with any other project.

Next time I will explain how we moved beyond rhythm tracks to vocal tracking, lead guitar, mixing and mastering.


Scattershock - A History: Part 2

In my recent article, I described the people and events that were at the heart of my early bands and marked the beginning of the trail towards Scattershock. I left off at the end of my stay in Boulder, having made the decision to return to Berkeley to finish school.

Once back in Berkeley, Steve Rosenthal and I reunited and started up our songwriting activities again. We got caught up in the MIDI craze and began recording demos that used sequenced drums, bass and keyboards, synchronized to the Fostex 4-track for guitar and vocals. We were calling our project "Secret Life" at that point, and the focus was writing and recording. We mixed a demo tape using our combination of analog tape and MIDI, which included two songs that would eventually become part of the Scattershock repertoire: "Same Time Next Week" and "Don't Wanna Talk".

At the end of my undergraduate years, I made the decision to enter UCSF to study towards a Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Chemistry. That meant that, Nancy (my wife to be) and I moved from Berkeley to San Francisco. As a very strange coincidence, Mike Levine had taken a job in San Francisco and was relocating from Colorado. Steve was also taking classes at San Francisco State University, making our next musical chapter fall into place effortlessly. Steve, Mike and I decided to join up under the "Secret Life" name. By this time I'd retired the Fostex 4-track, replacing it with a first-generation Pro Tools system, beginning with 4 tracks and eventually expending to 16. We wrote and recorded a bunch of songs during this period, and recorded them into Pro Tools. Mike was doing most of the lead vocals by time and all three of us were taking vocal lessons from Rubinoos drummer and great friend, Donn Spindt. We'd adopted a new name, "Shatterbox", one that better reflected the hard rock and grunge influence that had worked its way into our material. This was a very creative and productive period for all of us. We maintained a rehearsal space, first in the Turko Persian building near the Balboa Park BART station, and then eventually in the 3rd St. Rehearsal Studios near Hunter's Point. Somehow, though, over the course of my 5-ish years in graduate school and my early years in the software industry, we slowly watched our lives grow apart. Mike eventually moved back to Colorado and Steve and I struggled to spend significant amounts of time together.

Somewhere along the way, Steve and I recognized that we still wanted better recording of the Shatterbox material. Without Mike, we were short a bass player and primary vocalist. We solved the first problem by bringing in Paul Olguin, a great bass player that Steve had played with previously while backing Linda Brady. We'd gotten to know Gannon Kashiwa, a recording engineer in Denver and beta tester for Digidesign, and decided that we would record our songs with him. We gave Paul the earlier Shatterbox recordings and some demo tapes to help him learn all the songs and soon after loaded all our gear into a U-Haul trailer and headed to Denver for a week. It was a memorable week. Working with Gannon was great, both because I didn't need to think about engineering but also because he's a great guy. By the end of the week, we'd tracked 14 songs and headed back to the Bay Area, hard disk in hand.

Little did we know that it would be more than a decade before any of that material was finished. In an upcoming article, I'll explain more about why it took so long and how it eventually led to Scattershock and the "Wrong Train" release.


Scattershock - A History: Part 1

Scattershock's roots go back many years ago to when Steve Rosenthal and I met during my Junior year in high school. Not long before, Ben Ulrich, a great friend and great drummer had decided to go in a different direction, leaving me with the makings of a band minus a drummer. Fortunately for me, chance occurrences aligned and I met Steve, a hard hitting drummer and huge fan of Phil RuddJohn Bonham and Keith Moon. Steve joined me, my sister, Leslie (on vocals) and Amir Zitro (on bass) in Saber, a heavy rock band that split time between covers and originals. We gigged at a few parties and booked our own show upstairs in the Oakland Auditorium ballroom, a show that had little audience but remains the biggest hall I've ever played. I still have the recording of that show stashed away somewhere, including some great stage banter. Our original songs were heavily influenced by Iron Maidenthe Scorpions, and Rainbow. In retrospect, that might be obvious to many of you considering such titles as "Crazed Marauder", "Beyond The Line" and "Unusually Strange".

At some point we discovered a British band that was calling themselves Saber (or maybe "Sabre") and decided to change our name to Onyx. Then Steve and I graduated from high school and, after a false start at UC Berkeley, I decided to attend G.I.T. in Hollywood for a year. During the two years after high school, including the year I was at G.I.T., the Saber/Onyx lineup remained the same but we changed the name to Exposé, got some professional publicity shots done and moved up a notch in the Bay Area club scene, playing the likes of the Chi Chi Club, La Peña and the Berkeley Square. It was during that time that I began my interest in recording, acquiring a Fostex 250 4-track recorder and using it to track various early compositions. Sometime during that period, Steve, Leslie and I did our first studio recording at Saver Sound in Oakland, recording a song that I'd written called "Can't You See".

Then I made a decision that marked the demise of Exposé and started a new path that would eventually merge back with Steve and lead to Scattershock. I chose to start my undergraduate studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. For my first year, I landed in the dorms, off campus in Williams Village. As luck would have it, I ended up with a room right next to Mike Levine, a bass player who had grown up in nearby Arvada. We very quickly realized how much overlap we had in musical interests, sharing bands like Van Halen, the Scorpions, and Iron Maiden. Mike had a close friend named Grant Bolinger, a great great guy and accomplished drummer, who finished off our rhythm section. Mike, Grant and I used to rehearse in Mike's basement, although on any given day that only lasted until Mike's dad opened the basement door, flicked the lights on and off a couple times and then as soon as we quieted down just enough, he'd yell "It's Over!!!".

During my second year at CU, Mike, Grant and I ended up renting a house in Boulder out near the Table Mesa Shopping Center. I had a big bedroom in the basement, adjacent to another big room we used for rehearsing and recording. I was still tracking to the Fostex 4-track, which was the heart of a couple really memorable recording sessions: a 4-song demo for a local band called "Toy" and our own "Billy and the Boingers" song, featuring Toy's lead vocalist, Ron Foxhoven, which we submitted to the Bloom County theme song competition. I also formed a cover band called "In Progress" with Grant and we played one very long and memorable gig at the Dark Horse in Boulder. It was a pretty busy year musically, but I had made the decision to return to Berkeley to finish my undergraduate studies, and figured that meant the end of my musical collaborations with Mike and Grant.

In my next article, I'll explain how my Boulder and Berkeley paths came back together, setting the stage for the eventual birth of Scattershock.