Bet you were wondering when I'd do another newsletter, right? By the way, if you're getting this, it means you subscribed, possibly a long time ago (although I did add a couple friends to the list... hi there!). I didn't buy your email address from a spammer. But if you need to unsubscribe, just reply with UNSUBSCRIBE, as usual.
Just spent the evening recording a live gig of Jello Biafra and the Melvins here in Seattle. Jello called me to do it, but I don't have the gear, so I punted it to my friend Andy Gregg who actually owns a portable ProTools rig, so he had to do most of the work; my role was essentially supervisory, mic placement, various finicky details. It was pretty cool to see the Melvoids backing Jello on a batch of new tunes they wrote together. (New album out NOW on Alternative Tentacles!) You couldn't ask for a tighter backing band. Jello looks a bit like William Shatner these days (well, my own homepage photo is a bit out-of-date too), but he was a ball of energy on stage, and I thought he might hurt himself. The set was almost entirely new stuff, but they did throw in an updated version of "California Uber Alles" with the lyrics of course customized for Governor Terminator... almost too easy! Buzz and Dale were on fire, and a fellow (Adam? I hope that's right) from Tool played guitar also. A good time was had. Tomorrow night (New Year's Eve) I'm playing one gig as a temp bassist with the mighty Twink The Wonder Kid at the Sunset, Seattle.
Several months ago I took the drastic step of removing my own email address from my website. That means no new subscribers, no CD sales, no Q&A, no interviews, etc, since then. It wasn't the spam that was getting me; I just needed a break. Been online since 1996, and I realized that it had taken over my life. Forget surfing the web; I was spending two hours per day answering emails and downloading people's demo MP3s. Screw that! I almost needed a paid staff to handle my email, but there's just "little old me getting eyestrain," and there's records to be made.
Since then, a huge weight has lifted! No offense, anyone, but it just got to be too much. And with the Nirvana anniversary last April, the wacko mail started coming in again. This time it was the Kurt-was-murdered crowd. Look, leave me alone. If Kurt was murdered, it will come out some day. What am I supposed to do? He'll still be dead. YOU'RE not though, so go start a band and contribute something. One guy, after reading my plea-for-perspective back in April, totally missed the point and even accused me of "cashing-in" on Kurt, not realizing that I only made about 160 bucks off of Bleach, but have made 250 other records since. Years from now when he's in AA, maybe he'll apologize, assuming he hasn't been drafted and blown up in Iraq by then.
This past summer, we got word that the Box Set was going to happen, yes, really truly this time. Having been semi-officially researching material for the box with author/archivist Gillian Gaar since 1998, it was hard to believe it, but sure enough, the starting gun was fired, and it became a frenzy to make sure we had the best sources, and the correct credits and dates. A deadline crunch happened at the end, with Silva Artist Management (for Krist and Dave) and Courtney's people (Peter Asher, for Sanctuary) trying to agree on a final track listing for the box set, as the deadline for the booklet art and layout got nearer. That's why there's a picture of the Fecal Matter cassette in the booklet, but no music from it; Courtney's people decided that it was not really "Nirvana" (i.e. it's Kurt and Dale only, so why share it with Nirvana LLC?) and held it back at the last minute, which is why the set starts with "Heartbreaker", which would not have been my choice. At the VERY last minute, Silva Management got access to a trove of "Kurt cassettes" that Courtney has been talking about for years. That's where "Mrs Butterworth" and a few other things on the box (mostly acoustic stuff) came from, literally out of the blue in the final weeks of preparation for the box.
The rehearsal cassette with "Mrs Butterworth" is undated, and someone at Silva took a wild guess that it was Dale Crover playing drums (and that's what it says in one part of the box set booklet), but I took a good listen and concluded that no way was it Dale, plus I knew that Dale had only rehearsed with them a short time around January 1988, and had mostly done the songs recorded with me on Jan 23rd, while this tape had a much simpler drumming style and had more of the songs that they had been doing on the April 1987 KAOS tape. Therefore, it was probably a rehearsal from summer 1987, with Aaron Burckhard on drums. That's the kind of deductive reasoning we had to employ throughout this process. Unfortunately, some of the booklet had already gone to press by the time I got to hear that stuff! As for the title "Mrs Butterworth", someone at the Silva office just made it up, as Krist couldn't remember it, and the tape was unlabelled. Was it actually "Erectum"? (See diaries.) "Vendettagainst"? Who knows?
But whatever, never mind. The box is done, it's out, and I hope people have enjoyed it. I suspect everyone will make their own "best-of" cd from it. Is this the end? Well, kind of. If you read the booklet's timeline closely, you'll see a listing of all the tracks that didn't make it, and you'll note there's a lot of 'em. But faced with multiple versions of many of the same songs, we had to choose the best ones. Do you need to hear 5 versions of "Sappy"? Trust me, you really don't. 81 tracks was long enough!
What will be released in the future I can only guess, as I am not privy to the machinations of the Cobain Estate. But you'll note that there's very little live material on the box set. What does that suggest about possible future releases? My HUNCH is eventually they'll release some complete concert recordings, just like the Hendrix estate. I know there are some very nice live things existing, some never bootlegged. But as far as non-live rarities, outtakes and demos goes, this box set is pretty much the best of the best. (Grohl has reportedly called it a "treasure trove.")
Knowing more Nirvana Frenzy was due, I opted to keep my email address private for a while longer. Now it's been months and I have to admit, I'm enjoying the spare time. What about subscribers? I don't know. I guess, if you know anyone who might want to subscribe, forward this to 'em. I'll have to settle for word-of-mouth for now. Don't post this on the web, and if you quote me in a blog, don't include my email address please, just the URL. If you want to buy any CDs, I still have all the Skin Yard CDs for $12 except the "live" one which is $10, the Bundle of Hiss, U-Men, Methodists and Colour Twigs CDs for $15, and Fire Ants EP for $10. My two solo CDs are still available too for $12. Price in Euros is now the same, as the increased value of the Euro makes up for the postage difference. I have PayPal. Write to me if interested.
Speaking of records... all this time away from the web meant more studio work, so this year I added 29 records to my discography, and one more is coming in the mail. This is the most ever, even more than in 1990, when I did 26 records at the peak of the grunge thing! So, something's going right. A couple of these were just mastering jobs, but they still had my greasy fingers on 'em.
I stole that line from Eddie Ciletti (http://www.tangible-technology.com), who first turned me on to the wonders of the Snackmaster Pro food dehydrator. (There's a picture at the bottom of this page). You may have heard people talk about "baking" old tapes. That sounds scarier than it is.
It seems that around the late 70s, the tape companies (Ampex, Scotch, and AGFA) tweaked their tape formulations, making some changes to the "binder" which is the glue that holds the brown magnetic stuff onto the plastic tape backing. What didn't become clear for some years was that this new formulation did not age well... the "binder" slowly absorbed moisture from the air, and over the course of years, it would soften and get sticky. Old tapes started to "shed", which means when you play them, brown stuff comes off and sticks to the heads. Some of this is normal and always happens with tapes... many of you have used a Q-tip with alcohol to clean your cassette deck heads. We do the same thing to clean the heads of 24-track machines. But with this new problem, you'd take a tape out of storage 10 years later, play it, you'd be 2 minutes into the reel and suddenly all the high end would disappear. You'd stop and look, and the heads would be COVERED with solid brown gunk. Clean the heads, play it again... and the same thing would happen. In other words, old tapes were unplayable! Sometimes, the tape would just stop, as it became glued to the heads! I even heard of capstan motors burning out when the tape got stuck like that.
This even happened with some cassettes. I remember the black "chrome" tapes in the clear cassette shells that all the tape duplicators were using in the early 80s. Many of those tapes did the same thing after a few years, except they deposited white gunk on the tape heads.
Someone discovered that you could solve this problem, at least temporarily, by bathing the tape in warm, dry air for some hours, driving the moisture out of the tape and re-hardening the binder. Then the tape could be played, transferred to digital, whatever you needed to do. In a few weeks or months the tape would revert back to "shedding" again, so you had to deal with it promptly, though you could actually dry the tape out again without harming it, if you were careful. The danger was, if you used too high a temperature, after a few hours the recording would start to lose some of its high frequencies. So the procedure evolved: "warm" air, for several hours, never too hot to touch.
They used to use something called a "convection oven" with a temperature control... hence, "baking the tape" entered the lexicon.
A few years back Eddie turned me on to the Snackmaster Pro Dehydrator. It's a big round thing with a fan and heating element on the bottom, and a temperature dial on the side. It has removable circular trays which stack on top of each other... and a reel of tape fits exactly in a tray! [It can even take 12-inch reels, though not 14's.] I sent away for it for 80 bucks or something, and have since baked probably hundreds of tapes. Anything from 1978 to 1994 almost always seems to need it, at least here in the humid northwest US. I've had to bake 2-inch, one-inch, half-inch, quarter-inch, and cassettes. I've never had to touch an ADAT tape or any decent consumer-grade cassettes like Maxell and TDK. Oddly enough, I have some old reels of Maxell quarter-inch that I used to use with my quarter-inch four-track, and they are all fine 20 years later... but a reel of TDK tape I bought in 1983 was shedding a year later. My friend Scott Crane gave me some tapes of his dad's old radio show from the early 60's (the Bob Crane show) and they needed some baking, but the shedding was relatively minor; biggest problem was, the splices had deteriorated and come apart. I have some Scotch tapes from the 50s which are fine.
Amazingly, after you "bake" it, a tape will play all the way through, end to end, and you'll look afterwards and the tape heads will be absolutely spotless... no shedding at all. Very satisfying. The sound will be perfect, as long as you don't use too hot a setting for too long. I rarely go over 125 degrees F, which is like a very lukewarm hairdryer. It takes six to eight hours to bake a 2-inch tape, and you have to turn it over halfway through the process. One-inch tape takes 5 or 6 hours; half-inch and quarter-inch, 4 or 5 hours. Cassettes, 2 or 3 hours. You play the tape a couple minutes in, then stop it and look for stuff on the heads. If you still see any gunk deposits, bake it another two hours and try again.
Some of the Nirvana reels had to be baked like this.
I recently had one truly disturbing experience. My friend Al Ensign brought me the spliced, edited album master tape of an indy record he had done in the 1980s, "Come To Amerika" by his old band Child Support. We put the reel on, and it was shedding a bit, so I said, whoa, I better bake it. There was something disturbing about it... one particular song in the middle of the reel seemed to be shedding way too much. Actual slivers of brown stuff were all over the place. So I baked it, spooled it up and got ready to transfer it. Tape played fine, perfectly, for the first few songs. When it got to that one song in the middle, I freaked out. Huge strips of brown oxide just peeled off the tape in front of my eyes and fell on the floor, leaving bare black plastic backing tape! There went the song... there was no binder left whatsoever!
All the rest of the songs played 100% perfectly... so we had to get that one song from an unplayed vinyl copy. With some careful mastering and manual click removal, you can't tell the difference, but what a near-disaster. I'd heard about "defective batches of tape" but never saw anything like this before. Talking to Al about it, I learned the songs had all been mixed at different times, onto different batches of tape... and that ONE song, apparently, was the unlucky one. I hope I never see such a thing again.
For info, go to http://www.nesco.com/ and follow the "Dehydrator" links. Best for this purpose is the model FD-50, American Harvest Snackmaster Pro. Someday, I might even try making apple chips with it.
Hope you all have a happy 2005.
'Til next time,
Over and out from Endino on December 30, 2004.