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One Track Beyond


Which nutty boy is a home recording fanatic?

Not-so-mad Woody, normally the proud bearer of the Madness drum sticks, reveals to Tony Bacon his mania for the tape recorder and anything that might conceivably be connected to it.

Being a reasonable sort of chap, I expected the interview with Woody, the drummer in Madness, to follow a relatively tried-and-tested route: "First take the drum, then ...hit it," and so on.

No sooner had I stepped over the bikes and ancient photocopier decorating the Madness office's shop-front in north London than Woody was pressing into my hands complex, spider-drawn flow-charts of what after some detailed investigation appeared to resemble recording set-ups.

The man is a home recording nut. "Everything that could be said about drums has been said," he assures me, moving on to the much more pressing matter of dub mix hook-up number 17. Slower this time, please.

Woody's mania for recording started when, one Christmas, Stiff boss Dave Robinson presented each Mad person with a Tensai tape machine (including crude built-in rhythm box). This was in an attempt to get the boys producing "more one-note melodies", as the musically conversant Mr R put it.

But for the drummer it started a fascination. Next came a Portastudio which Suggsy had "forgot" about and left hanging around the office. Woody liberated that for a while and found it just right for learning more about process and terms. Then the big one: he lashed out on his current Fostex A8 8-track recorder, and a Fostex 350 mixer (only very recently updated by a bigger Soundtracs 16/8/16 desk), plus an ever-increasing pile of outboard gadgetry.

And so the newest Madness single, "Michael Caine" derives from a Woody 8-track (and there's not many people know that). First time, in fact, that the nutters have allowed Woody's meanderings, suitably tarted up of course, near anything like an A-side. They'd found a little corner somewhere (a 12in B-side) for "One Second's Thoughtlessness", but that was about it.

Woody had offered the finished 8-track that became "Michael Caine" to the group — a SCHEME for the recording of the tape follows — and stepped back in humble if relatively pleased mood. A surprise followed shortly afterwards.

"All of a sudden," he remembers, "we're driving in the car, and Mister Carl Smith, Chas Smash, he started singing along to this cassette of it, so clearly and decisively I thought, 'Oh God, I've sub-consciously ripped off a really obvious song.' I said, 'What's that then?' and he said, 'Oh, I wrote those words last night, they fit perfectly.' Just like that. Now it's a single. I still can't believe this little sideline of mine has turned into a single."

SCHEME ONE: "I started off with bass drum and hi-hat from the 606 on track one and two. I find it best to go straight into the 4-channel buss, no eq, no nothing, for tracks one and two."

LESSON ONE: "In home recording everything should be as straight and dry as possible. If you put on any effects at an early stage, you're buggered cos you're stuck with it forever. And compression at an early stage means you have to use more eq in the end."

TIP ONE: "The 606 doesn't have individual line-outs so I drilled holes in the back and connected up six line-outs: easy, just attach them to the volume controls... You can wire each volume control up in two ways, with the three tags — one's direct out, no volume control, the other's controlled by the volume knobs. Most people I know who've got a 606 have done it — ridiculous, isn't it? Pull it to bits!"

TIP TWO: "I got into snare drums so much that I used the trigger-out of my 606 into the trigger-in of my JX3P, and put the two signals on to one track. You get the triggered sound of the JX3P on noise — kkkkshhhh!! — together with the drum machine. So if you've got any synth with a trigger-in, use it with your drum machine. Even if you haven't got a big desk, you can bring it together with a little two-into-one box."

SCHEME TWO: "On track three there's a rhythm track, just to get something going along with the drums, on keyboards. I bought a JX3P. I tend to use the preset piano sound, but I take the chorus off and have to tune it in with the programmer a bit to make it sound more piano-like. They've relied on their chorus to make it sound like a piano."

TIP THREE: "Patchbays are a good thing, I soon discovered I needed one, unplugging the machine every other day – very bad for your leads, they soon start going duff. Patchbays give you splitting, switching — very handy."

SCHEME THREE: "Tracks four and five are the syncopated rhythms, little lead lines but they're not lead lines, rhythms that go around the track. The diddly-dees of a song, that's what I call them."

LESSON TWO: "With recording it's the prevention, not the cure, that's important. Don't end up curing things, prevent problems at the beginning."

TIP FOUR: "When I was doing 'One Second's Thoughtlessness' years ago on a Crumar Roadrunner, I had my chorus well on and put it each side of the stereo, separately. The phasing of each never quite matched, so you get a panning effect as the phase cancels. When I heard it back I thought blimey, did I do that? That's when I discovered what phasing really is."

TIP FIVE: "Another thing I discovered is that you can direct high frequencies, you can put them where you want to in the stereo mix — it's worth bearing in mind for the diddly-dees. If you put a bass guitar off to the left, you don't really know where it is when you listen back. But high frequencies, you can place them, say, either side and that's what you'll hear back. It's like putting a frame around a picture, it pulls it all together. Course, it depends on what style of music you're recording."

SCHEME FOUR: "The easiest thing for six and seven was to have sustained notes there, let's say organ notes. But I don't particularly like organ sounds, so I did strings on the ARP Quadra I've acquired: one straight strings, the other 'voice-strings', or 'Amanda' as we've dubbed her/them."

LESSON THREE: "To anyone who's starting home recording I'd say DO IT. People write about technical subjects and it can really put people off! Most people looking at a studio desk would go, 'Oh God!' And yet half of it is a load of crap, you very rarely need it. You've got to have the practical, or the theory sucks. I can read a manual through and understand every word of it, then get to the desk and think, 'Now what did it say again?' Bollocks to that, and you just experiment."

TIP SIX: "I thought seriously about getting a two-track reel-to-reel. Forget it, get a good cassette machine. My Aiwa's great, if you needed to go into the studio you'd take the whole 8-track tape with you. And you can't exactly say to a geezer from a record company who you're driving down the road, 'You haven't got a reel-to-reel on you, by any chance?'"

SCHEME FIVE: "Bass, track eight, is hard. It was either too slappy, and you heard the strings and the pickups, or it would go so woofy that a system like the 350 couldn't take it at all. The levels would be bashing their heads against the other side and coming round again! For a while I'd put the bass to a patchbay, split out of that to a Fostex powered monitor one side and the A8's four-channel buss Return B. A mic picks up the Fostex speaker sound and goes to a Boss KM2 splitter for level if you've got a low impedance mic, and straight to channel eight. In the end I scrapped the KM2 and used the trim control on the mic input - simple. That way you get a good combined bass sound on to track eight."

LESSON FOUR: "Once when I took an 8-track to the studio, the engineer freaked because I'd put the hi-hat and the bass drum on the same track. 'You can't do that.' Well, there it is. Stuff the eq. If you get things spot on when you record them... no probs John, as I've heard people say."

And so, for those who feel that the big colour pictures should actually relate to something, here's the bit that we should have asked Woody about in the first place: the drums. "I find that when I think about playing the drums," he casually remarks while lighting another No. 6 and considering the second Creme Egg, "I get worse and worse and worse, until I can't even do a straight beat."

Which might explain why at the end of every album — variously recorded at Eden, Basing Street and Air in London and Compass Point in Nassau ("very lovely, 'cept what a boring album...") — Woody ends up physically and mentally drained. "I'm always sweating more than my body weight at this stage."

Woody still relies mainly on wood — though a couple of Simmons pads creep onto the kit for tom and floor-tom sounds. He uses them in the studio too, and reckons if you listen to the previous "Rise And Fall" album you should find the Simmons sounds pretty integrated and part of the whole kit sound. Yes? "Those tom sounds are good — but the Simmons snare, you can get better results on a crackly volume knob."

Apart from that, then, you have a standard studio kit? "I have a drum kit, full stop," he corrects me. "I've had it three years and a bit. Gretsch 22in bass drum, because I was always changing from my previous 20in in the studio, it had an awful ring to the nutboxes which you had to pad out. Ludwig Black Beauty snare, 6½in, made of brass — what a sound! You don't even have to know how to tune up a snare drum to get a good sound out of that. I've also got a Ludwig Acrylite snare, very-light, 5½in, hopeless for recording, terrible for live work, but I love the crack, and they feel good."

"In fact," declares Woody, I go for feel rather than sound half the time."

Cymbals are mostly Avedis Zildjian; he particularly likes 18in ones — a thin and medium crash and a china are faves at present. "Basically, though, I don't think they make cymbals like they used to," and so he's got some Sabians too ("which aren't much better, but they're better"). Hi-hats are 14in Zildjian Newbeats which he's had for about eight years with no ill effects.

What else? A Gretsch floor tom (14 x 14) and a 12in tom for when he needs real ones in that department: both double-headed, and the tom resting on a Trilok snare stand. Two Slingerland Yellow Jacket bass pedals just about finish the lineup. He waited six months for these pedals to come through, specified because of their exceptional lightness. Apparently Woody values his shins.

But enough of this. I still don't quite follow dub mix hookup number 17's signal path between line mixer and main mixer. Could you, er...

"I've two favourite drummers," announces Woody, now evidently keen on the percussive tack. "Tony Thompson and Joe Blocker, both as flash as arse 'oles, but both excellent at what they do. Brilliant at being flash as arse 'oles. World of their own. Emulate that one!"

Next article in this issue

Washburn Bantam Bass

One Two Testing - Copyright: IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.


One Two Testing - Mar 1984





Interview by Tony Bacon

Previous article in this issue:

> Roland JP6 vs Moog Memorymoo...

Next article in this issue:

> Washburn Bantam Bass

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