Recording Revenge: DIY Tracking

It’s like some kind of weird dream… I’m apparently back in Exhumed. Only, it’s not in the same room, and like, there’s a snake rolling a donut. I mean, it’s actually been almost two years since I accepted the invitation to rejoin, but we’ve had just a handful of shows since. Matt has had a record ready to record before I even joined, though. This last March, when I asked Matt when we would get down to practice new stuff, he informed me, actually, we were going ahead and recording . It had to be done before May. Oh, fuck. Okay, the dream became a nightmare.

And I show up to the show with no pants on [pic courtesy]
So, okay… get your shit together, Sewage, this is fucking happening. Matt and Mike were heading to Florida to get guitars and drums tracked. To keep things easy (and cheap) I was going to take care of my own vocal and bass tracking back in Oakland. This not only had the benefit of saving costs, but also of sparing anyone the time of editing all the shitty playing that was to be forthcoming on a bunch of songs I’d never actually played with a band. It was lucky that I had collected the gear, had the studio with my other Oakland-based band, and had been through some of this before. Here’s how I did it.

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Humans Till Deth video

Our band recorded a tune for Image Comics’ The Humans graphic novel series by Keenan Marshall Keller and Tom Neely. It’s a cool comic set in the ‘70s and follows a motorcycle gang’s exploits, but with a twist; in this world, the gangs are all apes and actual humans are primitive beasts kept around for sport. Each issue of The Humans is accompanied by two original songs released online from bands such as Goblin Cock and Witches of God. Our song, “Humans Till Deth”, is an octane-fueled surf-thrash tune attached to the release of issue #8 on October 7.

The song is available for download from the Humans Soundcloud page. I was so excited by the tune, I decided to put a video together for it. I used nothing but iMovie, some old television clips, and art from Tom Neely.

We recorded the tune at a new studio to us, Antisleep, with Scott Evans. I think it came out rad and I’m pretty pumped to start recording the new album there in December.


Recording at Antisleep Studios

It all started with a simple Twitter conversation…

Flattery will get you everywhere
Flattery will get you everywhere

We had been talking about recording somewhere else for awhile now, as we prep our fifth full-length. Scott Evans is an engineer and guitarist who I met when Ludicra played a show with his band, Kowloon Walled City. I liked their heaviness and was impressed that he recorded their excellent material himself. So, I approached my bandmates about giving it a go at Scott’s Antisleep Studios for a song we had to record for an upcoming compilation. Things turned out smashingly.

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Dead Alive: Ludicra 1998-2011

From 1999 to 2011, I was in a band called Ludicra. It was a good run with four amazingly talented people. There were a lot of good times. The ending of the band wasn’t one of those good times. The feelings left behind could make one want to forget the whole endeavor. But all good things must come to an end, timely or otherwise… except the memories. Those can live on, and with music, they can live on loudly. This is what I intended.

In this age of information, a picture is worth a thousand lines of code. So what’s a song worth? I spent the last few months compiling all the recordings I had packed away. With the help of some websites, some free programs, and some D.I.Y. production work, I completed the total archive of Ludicra’s output over it’s 13 year existence, downloadable and free to all.

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Ghoul School

It was a strange weekend in the Bay Area. It had been so nice, but all of a sudden it was stormy out, lightening was crashing, and the smell of boiled beets was in the air. Obviously, splatterthrashers Ghoul were in town.

The original hooded menaces in Ghoul have often journied to Oakland in the past. I think there must be some kind of special travel deal or a direct flight from their homeland of Creepsylvania to Oakland. I shudder to think of what their passport photos must look like. This time, they were in town to record their long-awaited follow up album to 2006’s Splatterthrash. I guess Mr. Fang’s wax cylinder recording device must’ve been in the shop, because I found the Ghouls at Oakland’s vaunted Earhammer Studios, a place well known to record some of the best doom, crust and punk coming out of the Bay Area. I’m sure they felt right at home in the depressed neighborhood with people pushing their entire belongings about in shopping carts, not unlike the wheelbarrows of their European homeland. Just less donkey shit everywhere.

Earhammer is run by Sal Reya and Greg Wilkinson, alumns of great Bay Area bands such as Asunder, Brainoil, Laudanum, and Elk. They’ve also got their heads in a gear space I can only dream of. For pete’s sake, Sal works at Hartman Electronics building some of the finest boutique guitar pedals available. This pair have been building this studio from the ground up in a warehouse space in Oakland. I mean literally building, having constructed a great sounding recording room where there is not one wall parallel to another. This offers some acoustic advantages to isolate some amazing drum tones. Also, the first thing you see walking in is Han Solo in carbonite, so you know you’re in some nerdy company.

I know Ghoul has a reputation for, you know, killing people, but I braved a visit to their recording session anyway. Luckily, Sal had been prepared and kept Ghoul well fed with some corpses looted from Piedmont cemetery. He said this was advised by Mr. Fang, Ghoul’s malificient benefactor. Lucky me. Sal was also kept protected (and enslaved to the board) by Kogar, a new friend of Ghoul and some kind of erstwhile bodyguard. More like a caretaker of retards, one could assume.

The recording itself was going direct to Logic. Quite a step up in sound from the steel wire or wax cylinder recordings of Ghoul’s previous efforts.

First I found Fermentor behind his drum kit, an older Pearl Professional DX. It sounded monstrous, appropriately enough. He keeps it pretty simple, with just a couple rack toms, few cymbals, and a single kick. I guess you have to keep it simple if you live in a catacomb.

One of the interesting things about his set up is his set up of a bell over his china. Is he saving space? Does it help the sound of both or resonate? I couldn’t get an answer, well, at least not an answer I could understand. Fermentor sounds like the cookie monster doing nitrous.

Next up, I tried to engage in conversation with Dissector, but that just sounded like insect clicks. I’m pretty sure I heard chittering from his thorax. This guy plays a simple strat, strange for a such a heavy band, but it really makes his leads stand out with that hollow high end that strats are so famous for.

Main man Digestor was busy playing, luckily, so I didn’t fear him trying to bite my fingers off or maiming me in any other way. He was rocking an Epiphone V that he procured from some hapless soul in Australia who customized the pick ups for him. Here he is seen playing on top of an Ampeg VH-140C, the moshiest solid state amp ever made, and a Peavey Triple X, Peavey’s embarassingly packaged Triple Rectifier substitute. Seriously, Peavey, ditch the truck flap girl panel and stupidly labeled body parts knobs. Even Digestor was too ashamed to rock that shit, having replaced the front panel.

I guess these were just scratch tracks for the six string duo, so who knows what will end up on the final recording. Digestor was also goin through a couple pedals, including a thriftily made Ibanez DE7. The echo sounds pretty good for this economic (cheap) pedal, good because Ghoul has some kind of soft spot for surf guitar. Also, note the notes written on his tuner… This guy is too busy slaughtering folks and pilfering graveyards to remember what standard D tuning consists of. Cute.

Bassist Cremator was laying down his final tracks going through and old Ampeg 70s V4B and a 2×15, not exactly what one would expect for tight trash. It sounded good, though, and had a natural overdrive like what lots of folks try to emulate with a Sansamp.

He had a dizzying array of pedals ready to go, I guess because four strings means you need more pedals? Or he has a small dick, maybe no dick after he was caught in that fire where he got his monicker. I was able to recognize a Morley PWF that made some wicked fuzz and space sounds, a Russian Big Muff that he only used in tandem with an old Phase 90, some frankensteined FX90, and a wah of unknown origin. I’m sure it was all used tastefully, because Ghoul is all about class… ahem. Sal had this set up to record with a mic on the cab, and a DI before AND directly after the pedals.

I got a picture with my fellow four stringer while he was holding his BC Rich Ironbird. It’s a strange beast, neck through with no markings, and no tone knob. I guess, who needs a tone knob in metal? Louder and crisper is ideal, and none are so crispy as this 3rd degree burn out.

I heard some of the recording, and it sounds way more tight than one might expect. I’m looking forward to hearing more, but I made my escape when Kogar wasn’t looking. As I ran from Earhammer, I’m pretty sure I heard a blood curdling scream and Sal hasn’t answered his cell phone in days. I fear the worst, but fuck it, I survived Ghoul.

Doktor Ross Sewage

Hammering away with Sir Cadbury Cobbett

Hammers of Misfortune is the brainchild of my bandmate in Ludicra, Sir John “Cadbury” Cobbett. They are in the midst of working on a new record to be released on Metal Blade sometime in the future.

I got the call from John. “I need my pedal back.” Crap. The pedal I was supposed to fine tune. Oops. Oh well, I got it working, at least. Problem is, I was working in Oakland, and John is hard at work in South San Francisco. And it’s rush hour. So I guess after getting here I’m sticking around and writing about what the fuck Hammers is nailing down.

First, it should probably be described the way Hammers is recording. I’d say it’s the wave of the future, except I’ve already recorded similarly a couple times with Impaled. And we ripped the idea from Engorged when they did it in 2004: recording at home on a laptop.

That is to say, recording guitars. If you own a decent laptop, you can buy (ahem… yeah right) a copy of ProTools or Cubase or Logic. You can record guitars at home and either use amp modelers (Impaled’s route that kinda bums me out because I have gear I like for the first time in my life) or like Hammers is doing, you can reamp.

There’s still a place for wunderbar engineer / producer Justin Weiss here at Trakworx.

This guy rules over any big name producer from some dumb band and has made Ludicra, Slough Feg, and Brocas Helm shine through the years. For this Hammers recording, Justin recorded bass and drums direct to 2 inch tape, like the above named bands, as he always has through his trusty Otari MX-80. Don’t call it a comeback, for Ludicra and the others, analog recording has been here for years. Fuck trends.

For the first time, however, John took it on himself to record himself and new second guit-fiddler Leila Abdul Rauf’s guitars at his home. It was seven 10 hour long sessions for the pair, nailing their parts to satisfaction, and they didn’t pay a dime for it. Smart.

Then, it was back to the studio for John to work with his old buddy Justin to take those guitar signals and play Masters of the Toneiverse. Along with John’s old JCM 800 Lead, they also put the tracks through Leila’s JCM 800 Lead and her Triple Rectifier, and a rented Peavey 5150. The results for the rhythm guitar tracks are phenomenally crushing.

As I step in, John and Justin are currently reamping the solos. It’s weird, hearing a soulful, metal guitar thrashing loud in the other room and see John like this:

The pedal John had me bring is his totally ridiculously huge Tel-Ray Morley Rotating-Wah-Volume, or RWV.

Fucking HUGE. It utilizes unstate of the art oil can technology to create a weird tremolo delay. I braved bridge traffic for 45 minutes, and you’ll likely hear this thing once on the record. The oil can delay was originally a smart way Tel-Ray invented to replace tape delay for amps. The they started making pedals as Morley, which according to John’s lore, was a pun on the Leslie speaker company’s name. Alas, the pedal’s rubber band (yes, this is 1970s tech at it’s finest) snapped. Lucky I was here with a ratchet set and could get at the motor. Now the pedal is looking like this:

You can see the motor which drives a metal disc around inside electrolytic oil and rubs against rubber pickups. Rub ‘er pickups? But I just met ‘er.

On top of this, John is driving the leads through three other vintage Morleys in a bid for the Guiness World’s Record for largest pedal board.

There’s the somewhat normal WVO wah volume, and then two more strange beasts. The PFL and the PFA are a foot actuated flanger and phaser, respectively. Why? Cause Morley men do it with their feet.

Like all Morley’s, they are controlled by a light sensor that gets more or less light from the power indicator by rocking the treadle. The phaser light, though, actually dims and brightens to cycle the phase. Weird!

The phaser wasn’t working great, though, when I noticed the light was dim compared to the other pedals. By unscrewing the back panel, we switched the 387 power indicator bulb with the wah’s and the phaser came to life. These old pedals are workhorses, older than me, but they do take a lot of soothing. If you got a Morley that, “doesn’t work,” check the bulb, numnuts.

Lastly, Justin has John’s signal intermitently going through a Thermionic brand tube overdrive labeled TE-01.

I’m not familiar with the brand myself, but Justin tells me this is hand wired by a single guy in Seattle. It’s a true tube overdrive, meaning it’s actually overdriving a single AC powered 12AX7 tube, keeping both plates of the tube firing red hot. This is more than just clipping a signal for distortion, this is fucking OVERDRIVE, bitches. By my ears, the results seem to be worth it.

So John and Hammers get to have their cake and eat it, too. All the benefits of old and new married into one totally overblown and yet financially viable recording process for these cult, prog maestros. Who says some old (sometimes VERY old) dogs can’t learn new tricks.

Doktor Ross Sewage

Rockin’ the Jack

So, a few months ago, Aesop, the drummer from Ludicra (the black metal band I also play in) asked me and our guitar player to help him with a project. His four year old son, Ezra, had made up a band and he wanted to make it a reality. Thus was born Rock Jack.

So one night we made up and recorded a veritable crapload of songs, and Aesop’s kid put lyrics about poo and Darth Vader over them. It’s rapidly becoming a local phenomenon. The CDs are selling, and now one of the major alt-weekly publications has done a feature article on Ezra.


The story is sweet, though. I’m glad they didn’t mention the whole story, where I got blackout drunk during recording, and the guitarist and I went to the East Bay Rats Fight Party, and I found out three days later I’d tried to drive myself home, puked through my nose, and tried to make out with my friend who then squealed about it to her friend, my ex, who apparently got offended, and I looked like a complete ass and had to call my friend I’d tried to make out with (probably with puke breath) and apologize.

We work hard and we live hard in Rock Jack.