Long before Pro Tools, there was Solid State Logic's Screen Sound. And before Screen Sound, there were lovely, large-format music consoles. like Solid State Logic's 4000 Series G. This is the story of creating something out of nearly nothing, while using all of the technology available to us at the time. Keep in mind that everything you're hearing was recorded with analog tape machines through a large console using a lot of natural acoustics and some lovely mics. Let's break down a track called Jelly Roll from Tony Verderosa's Beatnik Rebel Science album from when I was just a young engineer fresh out of college.
Tony Verderosa is a pioneer in the drumming world, who continues to break new ground by mixing acoustic drums with triggers alongside electronic drums, samplers and synths. These days he owns and runs KBV Music, and has been behind projects for HBO as well as international ad campaigns for companies like Rolex. He also happens to be my brother! The album we produced way back in the 90s was essentially Tony being a one-man-band, accompanied by some of the best musicians in world: Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Oscar Cartaya, David Mann, and the late great Dave Samuals, to name a few.
We spent nearly a week at Bear Tracks in Suffern, NY. When Julian Lennon's hit song Too Late for Goodbyes was all over MTV and VH1- you saw Bear Tracks studio. It was a gorgeous space with high, vaulted ceilings, stone walls and wood floors. The main room was enormous! The facility had hung a pair of U87 mics in Omni directional mode that could be raised or lowered pretty high up. This track made great use of the natural acoustics of this space.
The foundation for this whole album was tracked that week, and I'm not sure I ever recovered. Near the end of our stay, Tony created a simple drum pattern on his drum machine and we printed about 5 minutes of it. That would become the basis of Jelly Roll.
Something from Nothing
Bassist Oscar Cartaya improvised riffs alongside the printed drum beat for the duration. Tony went back into the main room and tracked drums alongside the bass playing. And that was it for what we would add at Beartracks.
We mixed the entire album at Soundtrack in NYC, which is where I was employed at the time. We were in Studio G doing overdubs, and that's when Jelly Roll started to become something. David Man laid down riffs and layered sax harmonies creating this wall of energy alongside Oscar's bass playing and Tony's drums. After his harmonized riffs were all stacked up, David soloed across the whole "song".
Next up, guitarist Teddy Kumpel brought a dizzying combination of funky riffs and insane solos on top of everything that had been built so far.
It was time to chisel this into something- and that's where Screen Sound came in. We mixed the drums and printed a stereo pair locked to Screen Sound with timecode. We also printed the original mono drum machine track, and the bass track. We also mixed the sax harmonies and dumped them onto a stereo pair, and had an additional track for the sax solos. The remaining screensound tracks were for the guitar parts, which would get cut up and moved around digitally.
By now, we had established sections of the tune, and grouped all of the tracks to be edited together. In the process, we added in some tape rewinding and other sound effects, and used outboard processing (remember, this is before plugins), and silly vocal samples.
Putting it all Together
The track starts with a solo slap bass moment from Oscar Cartaya followed by Tony laughing while saying he "needs to catch a plane to Peoria". That was an actual moment recorded at 5am after a mixing and overdub session with Randy Brecker for a different song. We were punch drunk from being up all night, and Tony DID need to get on a flight to Peoria for a show! We thought it would be fun to keep that in somewhere- and this was the place for it! David Mann's sax solos keep things moving against his layered horn rhythms and Teddy's panned funk guitar tracks.
I used Screen Sound to sculpt, edit and mangle what we had. At one point we flipped the drum beat by editing a section one quarter note off, only to return to the groove a bar or two later. It may have been a happy accident- but it worked! Later in the piece, we drop out the big acoustic drums to bring in the original mono drum track against an insane guitar solo, run through chaotic processing before bringing it all back home.
The song ends abruptly with my brother shouting "What are you doing?", to which I reply through the studio talkack in my 22 year old voice "We'll just end it like that!". That was a nod to how much brotherly fighting we participated in while making this album,
Big rooms. Analog tape. A different time! I'll be sharing similar stories here and there about commercials, film sessions and more. Be sure to comment, like and subscribe!