Trivia, west coast grunge and the obsessive mind

My mind is trivia-oriented.  A psychologist would probably diagnose all manner of syndromes if they ever took the lid off but I’m pretty happy just to accept that I like to know details.  I obsess about the big picture too, but details matter just as much and somehow I function with this parallel focus.  Thus, in the same manner that my forebears may have spent a Saturday night reading the dictionary or checking the shipping news (more interesting than you’d think), I spent last Saturday night clicking though links in Wikipedia.

Wikipedia’s myriad of links work the way my brain does. Particularly when I view it in Google Chrome and each click opens in a new tab rather than a myriad of windows.  So, on a quiet winter evening after the family had gone to bed, the dogs (whippets) asleep by the fire and one eye on the Wales vs Australia rugby match…I decided to re-arrange my iTunes library. This always ends up triggering some musical notion or another and this time it was the 1998 album Celebrity Skin by Hole that flicked my switch. 

I don’t know how many of you are fans of Hole’s music – frankly, I don’t like all of it – but Celebrity Skin is something else.  Their last studio album, their most commercially successful and arguably their most conflicted. Hot guitar sounds, vocal harmonies and tight, tight rhythm section.  Somehow this growling, discordant bunch of west coast punks produced a classic power pop record.  You could almost call it pure West Coast .

If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about: try this for starters:

So having stumbled back across one of my old favourites,  I whipped out the headphones (Marshalls, you may recall), plugged in and turned it up.  Wonderful.  Then, simply because I couldn’t resist, I started searching for some background with Jimmy Wales’ help.  There was plenty.

The first surprise was that despite the liner note credits, the drums were all played by a stand-in; metal player Deen Castranovo.  Patty Schemel is no slouch on drums but somehow the producer Michael Beinhorn (3rd choice after Brian Eno and Billy Corgan) decided that she wasn’t up to it and cut her out of the recording sessions.  That must have been a fun time for everyone in the studio…. nevertheless, Castronovo did a great job.  I play drums a little and in my dreams, I dream of playing drums like this.  Or at least somewhere between this and Dennis Chambers…. What makes it even more magical is the bass playing of Melissa Auf-der-mer. Just perfect.

I read on and clicked though. The details behind Eric Erlandson’s guitar work led me to finding out for the first time ever about Veleno aluminium guitars, for instance.  Who knew? Or that the guitar parts were recorded, mixed and produced through two separate channels with different effects? Or the magical harmonies of Heaven Tonight – how did they do that?

Then I decided to click through and learn a little more about the producer, Michael Beinhorn. Turns out he produced a lot of music and then had a Jerry Maguire-esque moment and decided to write a blog about how to save the music industry.  Seriously.  Actually, it’s not bad. A wonderful essay on the importance of “feel” in music with an avalanche of references .  I’m tempted to post a big section here from Beinhorn but I won’t (like how he argues that John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin owes a little to James Jamerson, house bassist at Motown. Seriously influential player).  You’ll find it in a second with Google, anyway.

Hopefully by now you get the picture. Take a listen if you can.  Its pretty good.

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5 Comments

  1. Drums… Awsome!

    The best drummer Ever in my book was Jeff Porcaro of TOTO. His way of always being a tad behind made for such a Big sound.
    Oh yes I have tons and tons of TOTO albums.

    Cheers/Tom

  2. Thanks Tom, glad you enjoyed it. I also enjoy the late Mr Porcaro’s drumming – although he’s not quite in my short list of favourites. I never thought of him as playing behind the beat though; I’ll have to take another listen.

  3. As an avid music listener but also as someone who can’t play a thing can you explain to me how a drummer can play behind the beat please? I have the vague notion that other instruments can be ahead or possibly behind the beat but in my head the drummer sets the beat. I’m confused! 🙂 any enlightenment gratefully received.

  4. Hi Steve, fair question.
    In the simplest sense, you’re right; the drummer is responsible for keeping time and thus sets the beat. However, if you get into drumming and spend time chatting with drummers you’ll start to hear talk about playing on, before and after the beat. To most of us, this is barely perceptible but to drummers and musicians with a keen sense of timing its very real. The term they’ll often use is “the pocket” which is a concept of the time around each beat which can be played without the music going out of time. Players will be described as playing “deep in the pocket” or ” in the front of the pocket” etc….. On one hand, its extremely subtle but it definitely affects the feel and sound of the music.

    To illustrate my point a little further, you probably know that a metronome is a device for keeping time. On one hand, to describe a drummers’ playing as metronomic might seem a compliment as it means that they never lose/gain time. However, to a skilful drummer, this is almost an insult as it implies that they have no sense of music or rhythm. To them, every piece of music can be interpreted and played with a certain feel or inflections. This is what differentiates great musicians from technicians. Guys like Jeff Porcaro and Dennis Chambers play all around the pocket and this is one of the ways they create their distinctive sound and feel.

    Apologies for the long-winded answer; hope its helpful.

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