The Drive behind the Starship
Craig Chaquico, lead guitarist for Starship and keen home recording enthusiast talks to Paul White about his studio.
Craig Chaquico, as well as being the guitarist for Starship, is a keen home recording enthusiast. Tracked to earth in a West End restaurant, he talked to Paul White about his set-up and future plans.
You are first and foremost a guitarist so how did you come to get involved with home recording?
I first started recording at home because it was difficult within Starship to communicate musical ideas without actually making a demo. I would come into the rehearsal with an idea, play the guitar part and by the time everyone else had filled in what they thought should be their part, it wasn't my song anymore. When it finally came out on record it was like seven different versions of the same song. I resorted to making tapes at home so I could sketch out a song the way that I heard it. In this way the band got a clear idea of what I was after and then we took it from there.
I started out using a 2-track open reel machine doing crude sound on sound recordings and the studio grew out of my stereo from that point on. Now it takes up the whole room.
A 4-track followed shortly and now the studio is 8-track, though I'm thinking of going up to 16-track fairly soon with a Fostex B16.
At the moment Mickey (from the band) and I get together a lot and use a DMX drum machine and a DX7 keyboard to demo new songs. I haven't, as yet, got into programming my own sounds for the DX7 because the presets are so good and our producer has got a huge library of sounds that I can use if I need them. I've got a Sound Workshops 1280B mixing desk, and an Otari ½" 8-track. It's a great machine but now that I'm going 16-track I'll sell both that and the desk and probably get a Carvin mixer to complement the B16. Carvin are the firm that make all my stage guitars and amplification. I already use one of their power amps which I like a lot and I'm going to keep that.
In the effects department I have a Prime Time DDL, an Echoplex and a Roland Space Echo. Of course I also have limiters and gates and also a little yellow stereo chorus made by MXR. There are a couple of MXR Pitch Transposers and for my guitar I use a Tom Scholtz Rockman so that I can DI straight into the desk. It gives you a good stereo sound with no messing about which is ideal for demos.
Everything is patched straight into the board and I use a Shure SM57 for my vocals. My vocals need a lot of help so I run them through the Prime Time to get a sort of trippling effect and then I use the Pitch Transposers. I set one slightly sharp panned to one side and one slightly flat panned to the other leaving the delayed sound in the middle. This gives a very strong rich sound. It's very wide and hides a multitude of sins.
For reverb I've got a Sound Workshops stereo reverb which uses springs but I want one of the new digital units such as the Roland SRV2000 or the Yamaha REV7. There's also the Lexicon PCM60 and the new Alesis units to think about. Getting a good sounding reverb is really important as the reverb quality is one of the things that sets demos apart from full studio productions.
"Sometimes I think that all I really need is a little 4-track cassette machine so I can do everything really quickly. That way I would capture the idea and not spend time doing a whole production."
For monitoring I've got Auratone ADS300s, a JBL4311 and 4313s. What I would like to get hold of though is a pair of those little Yamaha NS10s. I like Tannoys too. I must look at some before I go back to the States.
When I do demos for the band I can get away with a really rough tape just to give the general idea but sometimes I go in there and try to come out with as near to a finished master as possible which is a waste of time really if it's just to demo a song for the band. It's fun and you learn a lot but you mustn't get carried away.
Originally I used to record the whole drum kit a drum at a time using acoustic drums and I used to drive my girlfriend crazy. I used to mic up the guitar amps and the bass and it was a real hassle but now with the drum machines and Rockmans, it's all much easier. You can just get an idea and put it down straight away and my girlfriend doesn't have to go mad anymore.
"Machines can sound good but you need a musician who can put his soul into programming the thing to make it sound as though he's playing it."
If you are just doing demos and using drum machines, why do you feel the need to go to 16 tracks; are you becoming a closet engineer?
Well it certainly feels like that sometimes. A good engineer produces work that I shouldn't even be able to get close to in terms of quality but that doesn't stop me from trying. For me the extra tracks will be useful so that I can record several versions of the same part and then compare them before I decide on the right one. Perhaps I'll do a couple of alternative bass parts and then pick the one that suits the rest of the song best. It also means you don't have to bounce down things such as backing vocals so much and it will make doing composites a lot easier. For example I might do several versions of a guitar solo and then use the bits from each take that I like, then when it's done, I can sit down and learn the solo the way I 've mixed it.
Sometimes I think that all I really need is a little 4-track cassette machine so I can do everything really quickly. That way I would capture the idea and not spend time doing a whole production.
Don't you think that the experience a musician gains in his or her own studio is valuable when it comes to working in a professional studio in that they then know what processes are involved and what is or is not possible?
Absolutely. They can also communicate their ideas in a more precise manner to the engineer or producer. In the old days a player might have said 'I want the cymbals to sound a bit more purple or the guitar a bit more red' or something like that. For years musicians have been guilty of all these weird, nebulous terminologies but now you can learn at home what you are talking about.
I'm also excited by the possibilities of MIDI and sampling but having said that, I do actually like to play. Machines can sound good but you need a musician who can put his soul into programming the thing to make it sound as though he's playing it. Also I think that you must put enough live instruments into the mix so you don't get that sterile computer sound. Machines are great but you have to have the humans in there too.
I have lots of plans for the future but tonight I want to go out and try some real English beer before going home tomorrow.
Interview by Paul White
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue:
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!