Berklee today

OCT 2015

Berklee today is the official alumni publication of Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. It is a forum for contemporary music and musicians.

Issue link: https://berkleetoday.epubxp.com/i/575863

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During your younger years, college—at MIT, Stanford, and then Berklee—didn't seem to hold your attention for more than a year at a time. Was this a restless period for you? I fipped and fopped around a bit between the ages of 18 and 23. I couldn't fgure out what I was meant to do or where I ft. I liked studying and being around smart people, which is why I like colleges. I left high school a year early to go to MIT, but I didn't adjust well to being in an all-technical school. After a year, I went back home and worked as a report- er for the local newspaper. That was a great learn- ing experience. An MIT teacher helped me get into Stanford, and I spent two quarters there and played in a band. At the time, Stanford was only offering classi- cal music studies, so I went to Fresno State University where they had a great jazz band. I studied saxophone and picked up guitar during that year. The following year I went to Berklee as a performance major on gui- tar. I spent only a year at Berklee, but I would say that it was the best year of my life and the launching point for my career. I had my hands on an instrument eight hours a day and instructors who knew how to get you from where you were to where you needed to be. The amount of musical growth I experienced was unparalleled. I had a gifted arranging teacher named Gary Solt who played guitar and trumpet. I later studied guitar privately with him. John Repucci was my harmony teacher and Billy Pierce was my listening and analysis teacher. Billy got a call in the middle of the year to go on the road with Art Blakey so we lost him. But how cool is that? How did things unfold in your career as a professional musician? After I left Berklee, I woodshedded for a year in Oregon where rent was cheap. I was offered a gig as the lead guitarist for the Alsea River Band, a country outft on the Oregon Coast. I moved down to California after about six months in order to fnd a rock band to join. I auditioned for a group called the Mortals and was called back for three auditions. The third time they told me that I was asked back because I was the only one who had brought a little recorder to tape the tunes to work on later. They thought my guitar playing was melodic and wanted me to play bass because they wanted melodic bass lines. I felt that I'd worked for years to crawl my way up to the bottom as a guitar- ist, and here was an opportunity with a band I thought could go places, but they wanted me as a bass player. I was 22 years old and had my sights set on one thing, and I felt it wasn't working out. So I called my dad—who is a businessman—and described the situ- ation. He told me to be fexible. He said, "So play bass. Wouldn't you rather be a bass player in a great band than a guitar player in a not-so-great band?" It was about making music and being able to contribute cre- atively to some musical enterprise. So I bought a bass and a bass amp and joined the band. How did you become a producer and recording engineer? I had always been interested in electronics, that's why I went to MIT. I had designed a kind of parametric equal- izer when I was in high school before there were any on the market. I wrote about that in my admissions essay for MIT. Regarding producing, when the Mortals went to the studio to record demos in 1981, the band members were getting high. They played OK when they were high, but I didn't do that. The engineer kept coming in asking questions about how we wanted the drums to sound and what effects we wanted on this or that. The other members were checked out, so I engaged in the conversation. After a series of sessions with that engi- neer, he told me that I was functioning as the band's producer. I didn't know then that a producer was the person who represented the vision of the band and made decisions on the technical things the engineer was doing. The demos by the Mortals got regular airplay on local radio, and we had a following. When that band broke up, I started fguring out my next move. My roommate, Jeff Kimball—who later became an inde- pendent flmmaker and vice president of the music department at Miramax—suggested that I produce bands. He had a practical argument and said that if I was in a band, all my bets were on that band. If I was producing four or fve artists, I'd be spreading my bets. So I went out to listen to different bands and offered to produce demos for the ones I liked. How did that evolve to where you got production credits on well-known albums? I produced some demo tapes and a local record com- pany called 415 hired me to work in A&R and as a staff arranger and producer with young bands. When we worked in a multiroom studio, we could hear what the other musicians were doing. Some of the artists I ran into were Joe Satriani and Chris Isaak. People developed an interest in the sound of the amp and cabinet com- bination that I had. It was a 1966 Fender Bassman that I had completely rebuilt and made tube substitutions. People began asking to use the amp on their recordings and asking me to tweak it to get a particular sound. Chris Isaak and Joe Satriani used that amp on their records. I met a producer named Sandy Pearlman—he produced Blue Öyster Cult, the Clash, and others—who took me under his wing. I played guitar and sang back- ground vocals on Blue Öyster Cult's Imaginos record. Sandy asked me to help produce the vocals and guitar solos. It was tremendously important training. Through all of this, I was tinkering with electron- ics and reading science books and developing an inter- est in the brain. I had taken courses in the brain at MIT and Stanford, and maintained that interest while doing all these other things. Sandy and I used to drive to Stanford when we had time between sessions and sit in on lectures and then go to the bookstore and load up on brain books. 14 Berklee today

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