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Track Record: Stan Ridgeway

Stan Ridgeway

Jim Betteridge talks to Stan Ridgeway about his unlikely hit Camoflage


Voodoo child

PRODUCER: Stan Ridgeway/Louis Van Den Berg
ARTIST: Stan Ridgeway
TRACK: Camouflage


Stan Ridgeway sees his position in the music industry as similar to that of a duck in a shooting gallery — he has to keep moving or someone'll spot him and take a shot. So in 1982 he fired himself from the position of 'benign despot' in his former band, Wall of Voodoo, and embarked on a solo career simply because he 'needed a new job'. Stan and his co-producer, Louis Van Den Berg, recently built their own 24-track studio in Hollywood. That might sound quite glamorous on first pass but apparently it resides in a rather seedy office on one of the lesser streets and has been dubbed 'The Nameless Void' by the two conspirators.

Stan: "We didn't have a huge amount of money to put the studio together and so, although at first we were thinking we needed two rooms with a window and all that, in the end we put it all in one room and for vocals or acoustic instruments we just use headphones; it seems to work out fine. We have an Otari MTR-90 24-track, an Otari 5050B ¼" stereo mastering machine and a Nakamichi cassette deck that we're not happy with — tapes recorded on it sound different when played back on other machines. The console is an Allen and Heath Syncon A mixer that we kind of borrowed from Stewart Copeland.

"Camouflage was one of the first songs that Louis and I put together in the studio. We used quite a few toys on it: we have an Eventide Harmonizer, a Roland SDE3000 delay, an old Korg preset delay, a Lexicon 200 with the new software which is great, a couple of Aural Exciters, a Dyna-mite compressor and a rack of dbx compressors. Then there's a whole box of junk that we used. I'm quite a fan of the old Electro Harmonix pedals like 'Big Muff', or 'Stink Finger' or whatever it's called; they're kind of fun, because they're just so bad.

"I played most of the instruments on the record except the banjo and the mandolin which was played by my old high school guitar teacher, Monk Cohen. Louis was responsible for some of the keyboard stuff and was also instrumental in some of the odd ball, no drama, Kabuki Theatre percussion that's in there — he's the puppet master, and he also kept me focused on the job in hand, because I do tend to get sidetracked into expanding the story in other ways. I think a musician is kind of like a 'bag man' who collects things on the street in large shopping bags, and when they make a record they really want to put all those things in there, or as many as they can, and Louis was great in getting me to be able to let go of some of that and keep more to the essential parts.

"I'd had the music around as a instrumental for a couple of years and wanted to put it into a song; I knew it sounded kind of gallant — sweeping broadly through some kind of conflict, but wasn't sure how it would work. Then I was thinking about soldiering one day and about the various folk lore sagas concerning some ghostly sentinel plucking someone from the jaws of death on the battle field, and so I just started writing it out. It's probably the product of me reading too many bad army comic books, but actually I was and am deadly serious about the story.

"The first thing we did was to put down some sync code on track 16. The reason we we put it on that track was that the way the desk is configured it isn't possible to print effects on it, and so we figured that we probably wouldn't want to flange the sync code, or whatever, so we'd put it there. Then we recorded a simple bass drum/snare/hi hat drum pattern from the Linn LM-1 as a guide, although I always use a number of tracks, rather than just putting the guide down mono, so that things can be easily changed later on. And then I put on a bass line. The bass we used was a Music Man Cutlass plugged straight into the desk, which is great for a whole variety of sounds. We thought about various contrivances with amps and so on, but with all the new toys we had we were more concerned with plugging it into the reverb and trying to get it to — blow up, or something.

"After that I put on a 'scratch' keyboard part just to give me an idea of the length and structure of the song. Next I did a scratch vocal which I think is always an important thing to do as soon as possible when you're building up a track orchestrally — even if you haven't got all the lyrics, because if you don't you might find that you're not only walking all over it with other parts, but also that you're clashing with it sonically with the kind of ranges you're putting on.

"Once the guide tracks are down and I know basically where I'm going I tend to drift where the inspiration takes me — I might hear the word 'bullet', or something, it'll give me a picture of something and I'll start looking for some kind of sound effect that'll add colour to the story. For this track it wasn't important for me to find unique synthetic sounds that no-one else has ever heard. Sometimes just classic sounds that are available on the DX-7, like an organ sound or a piccolo can be manipulated enough through the outboard gear to make it interesting, and I like to use familiar sounds sometimes otherwise a track can get a little less earthy, it can get too floaty.

"Neither of us is a greatly experienced engineer, and at the time when we started the recording we hadn't got to a point with operating the studio where we had worked out any tracking strategy, as such; we didn't know how to best use the tracks with bouncing and so on to free up space and keep things neat, so a lot of the tracks on Camouflage are double and triple duty things. Like track 19, at the end there, has the Ghost Platoon soldiers marching off into Conflict Oblivion and at the same time it has a low cello string thing for what I call the epilogue and also there are various kinds of clunks and clanks that maybe didn't even end upon the thing.

"So after a couple of weeks of this rampant recording we were somewhat overcome with the mish-mash-wash of it all. Nothing seemed to stick out anymore, there was the voice on top and a kind of mumbling rumbling sound moving behind it, and we seriously wondered whether we should just start all over again. So we began taking things away and finding out what was essential, and at which points in the song things should change, because on the album it's seven minutes long and so there has to be a lot happening to keep it interesting.

"Then at some point I had the idea to get an old friend of mine, Mark, to play some banjo on the track, and foolishly we just had him play throughout the whole song which at that stage just made it even more confusing. I'm sure you know what it's like, we had no definite idea of where we wanted it so we said, 'Okay Mark, just play and we'll record every bit of it and decide later which way it's going to go'. But then later, you just don't know where it's going to go, and it's another button to push and suddenly you need four hands and you're panicking even more. I'm glad it all worked out in the end but it was really hard, I aged massively over that track; I used to get up in the morning and my face would look like somebody's old catcher's net; I thought I was dying.

"So mixing was really quite something. The Syncon console isn't automated or anything and so the two of us just had to keep making passes at it until we got it right. It was really confusing, I mean we really didn't know what we were doing. In fact now that I'm looking at this track sheet again I'm getting all itchy and twitchy just remembering what it was all about. Next time I'm going to be a lot more precise about which instrument goes where. That's definitely one thing I learned from recording Camouflage."

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Alesis Midifex

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International Musician & Recording World - Copyright: Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

 

International Musician - Oct 1986

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Recording World

Feature by Jim Betteridge

Previous article in this issue:

> Alesis Midifex

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