|Interview - Internet
|Guitar Edge October 2010 (United States)
Joe Barresi's name is synonymous with producing, engineering, and mixing some of the biggest names in music. Thanks to his triad of skills—and his studio, Joe's House of Compression—Barresi is the "go-to guy" for bands who like their music hard and their guitars loud. Among his clients: Tool, Queens Of The Stone Age, The Melvins, Rancid, Powerman 5000, Anthrax, Clutch, and Bad Religion.
At the same time, Barresi has spearheaded recordings for Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, and Kelly Clarkson. Chalk that up to his innate sense of melody and composition: he began playing guitar at age 7, while growing up in New York, and studied classical guitar, piano, and music theory at the University of South Florida and the University of Miami. He also dedicated years to study and training in the intricacies of recording, a craft that he says is now suffering in the hands of home studios and affordable D.A.W.s.
Barresi reunited with Bad Religion for their latest release, The Dissent Of Man. He recently spoke with Guitar Edge about that recording process, tracking guitars, the meaning of "punk" in 2010, and offered his uncensored opinions about a subject he takes to heart: the current state of music-making, particularly in the studio.
When did your relationship with Bad Religion develop?
They were the first band to record in my studio three years ago, but prior to that we did two albums, The Empire Strikes First and New Maps Of Hell.
They're referred to as a "punk" band. Is that term still appropriate? What does it mean, especially for a band as melodic as Bad Religion?
Thirty years ago they started out as a punk band, and the "punk" attitude is definitely still there, but naturally, as you get older, your writing and recording skills develop, you have families, and your outlook and sound become more mature. But they are still punk rock at heart. They still tour incessantly, write songs with that attitude and speed, and are in touch with what's going on in society and the world today.
How has the process of recording the band changed?
It's taken three records worth of experimenting, but we finally have it down now. Brett Gurewitz and Greg Graffin both bring in fairly elaborate demos done in Pro Tools, and a few days before recording, during pre-production, we may make some arrangement changes and make sure the tempos feel good. That's the ease of digital editing: Making edits to arrangements is super fast, and if we keep the same tempo and key intact, then it allows us to keep anything from the demos, if needed, to use in the final recording or to play to while tracking live.
Is there a tried-and-true method you have for mic'ing their guitars?
I think challenging yourself is key on most records. I'm a big fan of trying out new gear, and Brett shares my enthusiasm for doing A-B tests between everything from mic pres to cables and mics. The main rhythm guitars, as per every record I've done with the band, were done by Brian Baker, but on this album there were a few songs that needed a different feel, and those rhythms were played by Brett and Greg Hetson. Whatever worked for the song, really.
The main left and right rhythms were done with two heads into two 4x12 speaker cabs. I used a guitar splitter to run multiple amps—it handles up to six heads—but on this record we only used two heads per track. For amps we used Riveras, Marshalls, ENGLs, old Peaveys, or Ampegs. We also had a brand new EVH amp that Brett liked so much he started endorsing them. This amp was used as the middle guitar sound on everything—a single rhythm guitar track in the center. There were usually two mics on each cabinet, and they would be bussed down to a single track in Pro Tools. I mostly used Neve mic pres, although there was some Electrodyne and Quad Eight stuff as well.
Can you take one track on The Dissent of Man and give readers an applied lesson about how it was recorded?
There were 16 songs and the process was fairly similar for all of them. In the studio, I imported anything from the demos that I thought was pertinent and usable. This made Brooks' [Wackerman, drums] job easier and much more fun, as he could play to some music and not just a click. If we had changed too much stuff in pre-production, then Brett would quickly play some rhythm guitars and Greg might do a scratch vocal for a guide. Brooks might do a few takes of the song, and we would do a fairly quick edit of the takes into one "master" take and move on. Brian would be up next. He played two rhythm guitars, left and right, on every song, and some solos, before he flew back home to D.C. Then it was an assembly line of adding extra guitars, bass, and vocals. Jay [Bentley] put the bass down next for the bottom on the track, and then we would share the time between extra guitar overdubs from Greg Hetson or Brett, and vocals, the latter being the priority. Greg Graffin would pick which song he wanted to sing first, as some were easier than others. Sometimes I was able to use the backing vocals from the demos and manipulate them in Pro Tools to work with what we had currently recorded. Then Brett and Jay would sing on top of those, so it wasn't all Greg's voice.
Everything was spur of the moment and our objective was to make it feel good—if not, move on to another song or let someone else try the part. You build the house with the ability to change the roof or the color of the paint at any point. This record really was done in the punk rock spirit of spitting it out, because we had little time. It was a song-by-song approach, and some songs followed the demo closely, while others were more experimental.
With a band that's so stripped down, how far can you push with effects?
They let me do whatever I wanted. I made Jay bring his live rig, because that's the sound I wanted to try to keep, but they were pretty open to whatever guitars, amps, and pedals for tone. Brett is really into hi-fi recording for a punk rock dude. He's very vocal about the sound of the snare and he has fairly definite ideas for what he likes to hear. We always have mic shootouts on Greg's voice, but we would always go back to a Martech preamp and a Neumann u87 that Brett owns—that's been the main vocal sound for years. The effects were either printed by using pedals through amps, or even singing through something different, or mic'ing the room differently to achieve the desired effect. Not a whole lot was added in the mixdown.
Define the roles of producer, engineer, and mixer, since you do all three. What determines which skill you apply to each project?
It all depends on who I work with. I'm a pretty hands-on person, and if I'm producing a record, then I'm usually recording and mixing it as well. Some producers are super hands-on, and some are what I call "vibe guys." They hang out, keep the band happy, and have no idea what goes on, and the engineer ends up making the record. The vibe guy is important musically, because if the band is happy, things go smoother than with a guy with a technical book up his ass who can't get a performance out of the band. With Bad Religion, it was a co-production between Greg, Brett and myself. Because they are the two chief songwriters, they know what they want. They rely on me to make it sonically appealing and also to make suggestions on parts and performance.
Mixing is a whole different ballgame. If somebody likes the sound of the record you've made, they may hire you just to mix their album. Nowadays, with smaller budgets, you pretty much have do all three—and you're the studio owner, janitor, runner, tech, and babysitter too.
Engineering has really taken a backseat with the advent of computer recording. Anybody with a few dollars can buy a recording interface and microphone and they, too, are producers and mixers. I recently mixed a record for a band that recorded it themselves. The music was cool, but the biggest problem is that they had no idea what phase is or how to mic something properly, or how to properly crossfade the audio or label it. The lack of knowledge and skill are appalling to me. That's what prompted me to start my ProSoundWorkshops—so that guys who have actually recorded and mixed records can educate people who want to learn how to record and mix.
Is there a Joe Barresi sound?
That's an interesting topic for me because at the moment I'm doing two instructional DVDs with Tech Breakfast on recording a band and mixing a song, and part of me says, "Don't give away any secrets," but unless you have my ears and my warped spirit, you are not going to sound like me anyway. I hear stuff the way I hear it, and I try to make it sound like a bigger, bolder version. I'm OK with mistakes, as long as there's an attitude behind them.
We hear so much about tone as the Holy Grail. What is your definition of tone? Is it an emotion rather than an actual sound?
Tone is in the hands and it's completely subjective. I can play Eddie Van Halen's amp and guitar, but I won't sound like Eddie Van Halen. He can play through anything and he's going to sound like himself. A Strat and a Marshall don't mean you are going to sound like Jimi Hendrix.
Emotion is what is truly important. I'm reading a book by Victor Wooten called The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music. One thing he says is that you could play some wrong notes, but if you play them with an attitude, visually, and fully believing in what you're doing, most people don't pick up on the bad note—they pick up on the emotions you are putting out. That's a pretty powerful statement. It's hard to "visualize" while making records because you can't see the performance being recorded, but I still try to think in those terms: Is this an air guitar moment, will this drum fill be worshiped by legions of followers, and will the audience mosh or throw their fists in the air or want to drive faster when they hear this song? That's what's in the back of my mind when we're making music—the feeling you pick up on.
German transcript updated
English transcript added
English transcript added
Article added: Fracture #19
Interview image(s) added: Diplomatic Defense
Interview added: Diplomatic Defense
English transcript updated: Bad Religion, the ‘McCartney and Lennon of punk,’ to make Spokane debut
Interview added: Bad Religion, the ‘McCartney and Lennon of punk,’ to make Spokane debut
German transcript updated: Gähnend in die Punker-Rente