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2004.06.DD - EQ Magazine - Velvet Glove

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2004.06.DD - EQ Magazine - Velvet Glove Empty 2004.06.DD - EQ Magazine - Velvet Glove

Post by Blackstar on Sun Aug 23, 2020 6:03 am

Velvet Glove

When Guns N' Roses and Stone Temple Pilots meet, rock 'n' roll is the result

By Lisa Roy

Among the most highly anticipated rock records of 2004 is Velvet Revolver's RCA debut Contraband. Unless you've been buried under a rock, you've heard of the excitement surrounding the release of the record. It began with a jam session that reunited ex Guns n' Roses bandmates Slash, Duff McKagan, and Matt Sorum, spurring a chemistry that caused them to form "The Project," as they were originally titled. Then came the auditions for a lead singer... a spot eventually filled by provocative former Stone Temple Pilots leader Scott Weiland. With ex-Wasted Youth guitarist Dave Kushner added to the line-up, all that was left to complete this rock 'n' roll fantasy was the right person to co-produce the record for the now officially named band, Velvet Revolver.

The "winning" producer, Josh Abraham is no stranger to producing heavy hitting rockers with bands such as Staind and Limp Bizkit in his discography. Guitarist Slash explains that they all just knew that Abraham was "the guy," which made their selection process easy. "There were a lot of different producers to choose from, some of whom I'm not really familiar with," Slash reports. " We narrowed it down to a couple that we all liked and Josh was one of them. First we tired out a couple of other people and we weren't totally thrilled with the results of the test shots we did. So then we went into the studio with Josh and he just got great sounds. The tape we went home with that night was just exactly what we were looking for."

Contraband includes 12 of the more than 50 tracks the band co-wrote before and after Weiland joined the line up last spring. Some of the most buzzed about tracks are "Sucker Train Blues," "Fall To Pieces," "Super Human," "You Got No Right," "Set Me Free" and "Head Space," not to mention the first single, "Slither." The band and Abraham invited EQ for an inside look at the making of this phenomenal disc.

The Process Begins

Lead vocalist Weiland says that the five band members were all after a collective goal: musical rebirth. "We're looking to get back that same feeling we had when we all first started making music - the sense of doing it for the pure joy of making music. This music is just vicious, very aggressive, and it forces you to lace your boots up and sort of get ready for the fight." In his opinion the album turned out to be the "perfect marriage" of the styles of Guns and STP's music. But how did they get there? For that we turned to Abraham for answers.

Although Abraham had known Weiland, Sorum, and Kushner for quite a while and been an enthusiastic fan of Slash's signature sound, it wasn't until one day in a Los Angeles studio that he came upon the group. After he asked them to listen to some music he had been working on, a professional relationship became a possibility. It was at that time the band agreed to let Abraham come in and demo one track for a shot at the co-production gig. That track, he recalls, was " I lead Space.:

"We went in, we recorded for two days, very casually. It seemed very stress-free and we got a lot done. It was smoking and they were all excited about it. We took it to the next stage, which was making a record." The band entered famed rock studio NRG Studio B to lay down drums, bass, and a few guitar tracks. Later they changed recording venues, utilizing both Abraham's Hollywood studio Pulse (for guitars) and Weiland's Burbank studio Lavish (for vocals; for more on Lavish, check out the Dec. '00 issue).

When recording Abraham likes to have best of both worlds - digital and analog. He shares his philosophy behind using both to deliver a warm, fat-sounding rock record. "There is always the argument over which is better, but for me the combo of the two is the right fit," he continues. "I got used to doing records in a house environment where there were no tape machines. So I used Pro Tools and it does sound phenomenal. But there is a certain glue, for drums and bass, that the tape machine provides."

Abraham's engineer of choice for this project, Ryan Williams concurs. "We used Pro Tools only as a recording medium," he said noting that using plug-ins on Slash's and Kushner's guitars was absolutely unthinkable. "It does sound great now that it is 96k HD. It is convenient to be able to fly thing around occasionally, but I still know how to cut tape," he confides. "People still flip when I take a razor blade to the analog tape."

Tracking Drums

Abraham relies on Williams' expertise when the tracks are going down but there was one moment at NRG where a "guest star" took center stage. While laying down the drums and bass for the track "Loving The Alien," Matt Sorum learned that legendary rock engineer Eddie Kramer was working in a studio down the hall. Sorum ran into him, and after consulting with Abraham and Williams, he asked Kramer if he would be willing to mic his kilt like he did John Bonham (Led Zeppelin drummer). "I had a little vintage 1963 Ludwig kit," he said of his red sparkle drum set. " I had it baffled off in the corner. Eddie came over and miked it up. That was so cool. Eddie being a legend. I said 'it would be an honor if you'd come over and help me mic this kit. I'm doing one song and I want it to have that big Beatles' compress sound, kind of old school'" Kramer entered the studio and proceeded to put a D30 in front of the kick drum and three Neumann U 47s over the top - left, right, and center. Williams ran the results through an EMI stereo limiter ("...to give it the pinched, sort of ' Ringo' sound...") and a Paltec EQP1A. The result, says Sorum, "...sounded amazing! We ended up going with U 47s and one D30. No other mics at all."

Sorum admits that with a set up like this he definitely had to play to the microphone more. " When you are look at the great drummers - Bonham and Ringo and Mitch Mitchell they have a certain sensibility ; but you play to the microphones. That was the idea. What you heard in the headphones is what you heard going down. It wasn't like you could pull one tom up, turn it up. What you got was what you got. So if you hit one cymbal too hard or something, a lot of times you would have to go back."

The track with his Ludwig kit was a departure from the norm for Sorum. For the bulk of the tracks for Contraband he used his Pork Pie kit. He explains, " I endorse DW so I played DW for all my touring and I did one track where I used my DWs. But for most of the album I used Pork Pie kit with a Gretsch kick drum - I used a 22-inch and a 24. One kit had sort of an ambient stage in the room. I used it on more of the slower demo songs, it had more air," he concludes. "The Pork Pie has bigger drums, more rock, and I had a whole Gretsch kit sort of underneath a lower ceiling. I used it on a song called 'Illegal Eye.'"

Behind The Music

That track, "Illegal Eye," is one that all of the band members seem to mention at one time or another. Kushner revealed what was at the heart of the song. "That was the song on the album that I wrote. My wife (who was my fiance at the time), Christine, and I actually had an argument and I was pissed off. I wasn't just in a bad mood. I was pissed off and I need to get it out. I wrote that song in like half an hour. The fight worked out and we made up - but it did inspire the song. I think you just have to slow down long enough to let things in life inspire you. Sometimes you just think 'oh, I've got to write a ballad' or 'I've got to write a mid-tempo rock song now' and you just do it because you're a musician and that's just what you do. Unfortunately, at times like that there is no inspiration."

Because you never known when inspiration will strike. Kushner recommends that all musicians and writers have some sort of economical "bedroom recording" option. "You can get a Mac and a [Digidesign] Mbox. I think an Mbox even comes with a free version of Pro Tools, and you don't really need anything else except speakers, you know."

"I made really good sounding demos and I had a PC. I had a version of [Emagic] Logic. I had a regular stereo power amp with a sound card that my roommate gave me with just eight RCA ins and two RCA outs, and that was it. That was my big home studio. PC and Logic and a home studio! It sounded killer. Just sit around with headphones and that is how you do it."

Guitars, Guitars, and More Guitars

You can't think of really rockin' guitars and not think of Slash. And you can't think of Slash without thinking of Les Paul, his guitar of choice. For Contraband Abrahams, Williams, and the rest of the guys all agree Slash did some experimenting, but he insists that he didn't stray far from the norm. On the band's debut single, "Slither" he confides that he kept it really simple using a Les Paul and a Marshall all the way through. "I did use a delay in the beginning of the song for that 'swallow' effect but that one was a pretty simple Slash set up." he says.

When pressed, he admits to changing things up a bit here and there. " I experimented with a couple of different amps for different sounds. I used a couple of different pedals for certain parts of songs, and I used more than just my one Les Paul. I used a couple different guitars. On 'Falling To Pieces' I used a Gibson 335 through an old Fender mixed with a Vox for a clean sound. I found that I was really a lot more open-minded about each song as opposed to the way I used to do it in the old days, which was just get one basic sound and use it throughout," shares Slash. "That is sort of my live approach, but these songs really demanded a little bit of a more creative approach technically. It was a lot of fun to do it. Also, at this point I would've felt really stale just sticking with the one formula" For the secrets behind Slash's set up we turned to Ryan Williams.

Set Up Secrets

Williams, a guitarist himself, says Slash's set up varied, but never strayed too far from the Les Paul/Marshall combination. For the track "Falling to Pieces" he ran two Marshall heads: one Slash's signature model and the other a JCM800. Williams continues, "We also managed to use a Vox AC30 in the chain as well, which I don't think he's really used before. It's kind of a matter of mixing all the different amps to come up with one good tone. Each of them plays their own little part in creating the tone. I think he kind of digs that. Most of the tracks we started with that and then went from there."

Williams recalls that the amps were miked with Shure SM57's because Slash likes "a nice, bright tone with a lot of presence" Williams ran the mics through Neve 1073s and mixed them together into one track. "I don't like complicated things all spread out on different tracks. Mix all those amps down to one track to create one sound that goes through a Pultec for a little more EQ and that's it," he concludes.

When miking the amps Williams positioned the mics very close to the cabinets and a little off-center, making sure all the mics were the same distance from each speaker. "I just try to eyeball it and make sure the mics are the same distance from all of the speakers, because if you mix a couple of different amps, then there's always phasing issues. So, just to keep the mics an inch off the grille cloth on all the cabinets that I'm miking helps me keep the phase in check."

Williams relies on experience and technique, but reveals the greatest tools are common sense and a great pair of ears. " Of course Slash is an amazing guitar player, and Dave as well, so I just make sure it's the right guitar, it's the right amp, and make sure it sounds good standing in the room. I always stand in the room and listen to what's coming out of the speakers first. I make sure that's right before I start reaching for a ton of knobs to try and fix things. If it is sounding good coming out of the cabinet then there is no reason you shouldn't be able to throw a mic on it and go."

Williams has a high praise for the styles of two guitarists in Velvet Revolver and knows that fans will immediately see that they complement each other well. He notes that Slash is an all-out rocker with an identifiable style and distinct attitude to his tone. By contrast, he says, Kushner exhibits more of an effects-driven sound with nice textures to round out the sound. He and Abraham's goal for this project was to try to get them sounding different tonally. "I think Dave's natural tendency is different than Slash's anyway when it comes ot the tone. And so we made sure that they didn't sound exactly the same, just so they're kind of seperated. When you listen to it we're really approaching it almost like they were live. Put Slash on the right and put Dave on the left and you've got two different tones and that's kind of what it is."

He goes on to describe Kushner's set up as "... pretty direct. He has his own pedal board that he's put together that he's been using for all the rehearsals and songwriting and everything. He has his normal amp setup, but we ended up going through something similiar that we've used in the past. Just a mic and modified Marshall JCM800 as well as a Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier. We used the Mesa/Boogie only for the low end that it provides. If I actually soloed that track by itself, the way that we have it set it probably wouldn't sound that great. But it just provides its own part of the sound for the 800 because the 800 has great top end vibe, gain to it. We just rounded off the bottom with the Triple Rectifier. Then he's got his pedal board in the front that he runs as well as a couple of other Line 6 pieces that will pop in the chain sometimes. Also I'll use a TC Electronic Fireworx sometimes if we really want to tweak out the sound and make it weird. That seems to be the go-to box for stuff like that."

Abraham, who at the time of this interview was in the middle of recording Kushner's guitars at Pulse, says that there was no method to their madness. "Between Ryan and myself we have tons of different heads, cabinets, and guitars, from Marshalls to old Fender tweed amps to a lot of combo amps. I have maybe a couple hundred pedals that we just dig up. When I hear a part I'll say, 'Hey, why don't we try this pedal that has the weirdest name from Germany' or 'the pedal that doesn't even have a name for that matter, because they're all old and just beat up'" Abraham's states that his objective as co-producer of this project was to be honest and try to pull out of the guys a different level of performance by making them think about what they were doing at every turn.

"Just to get these guys to think, not so much tell them what to do...it was really about getting in their heads, breaking down and analyzing certain sections and getting them to come up with what I think I can pull out of them. We would just break down his [Slash's] guitar solos and spend hours fine-tuning and getting it right. There was a point where Slash would do many solos and he'd leave the room and I'd piece them together. When questioned about how he and Williams approached editing Slash's performance with Pro Tools, Abraham is emphatic this his intent was keeping this performance pure. "Slash just has a feel. I think today with Pro Tools, a lot of engineers and producers think there is a formula that they go by, and that's just chopping up drums and chopping up guitars to make things perfect. I use Pro Tools when I have to for specific reasons, but this isn't that type of record. We let Slash float around the track. If it's a little behind or a little on top; that's his feel. To change his feel would defeat the purpose of Slash picking a guitar up."

With that said Slash added, "I love doing what I do. I live for what it is I do. Everything else that I do in life is still sort of dictated by music. So actually the recording or the playing live or the writing, all that stuff is sort of like the fuel for my whole existence. Not to sound corny or anything, but that's why I do it."

Abraham sees the making of this record as a true learning experience. "I have the best job in the music business. Day after day I am here learning, whether it is from a drummer, an engineer or a guitar player. Its just information I am constantly being fed." He concludes, "I'm the luckiest guy to be able to work with talented people like Velvet Revolver and some of the other multi-platinum bands I have worked with. Making this music is better than winning the lottery!"

Finger On The Pulse

Josh Abraham keeps his Pulse Studio well stocked with cool gear. Here are a few of the highlights:

Console: SSL 4064G

Recorder/Editor: Digidesign Pro Tools HD

Monitoring: Yamaha NS10 and Genelec 1038

Outboard: Neve 1073 and 33609, API 16-channel sidecar and API 16-channel sidecar and API 560, Pultec EQP1A. blackface UREI 1176, Empirical Labs Distresser and Fatco Jr., dbx 160

Effects: Eventide, Lexicon, Yamaha, TC Electronic, and a good selection of vintage amps, guitar, and pedals

https://web.archive.org/web/20080104005642/http://www.belowempty.com/vr/articles/2004/040601_EQMagazine.php
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