Friday, August 24, 2012

Compiling Autumn Part 4: Jigsaw

Start from the outside find the edges
Look for patterns in the seams
Some pieces fit together wrong
Remaining parts seem to fit nowhere
But you can force my teeth together
If you think that it will make you happy


Come Apart Together, Come Together Alone

Recording The Inalienable Dreamless was different from past Discordance Axis sessions in one notable respect:
“We were prepared this time. That was the huge difference,” drummer Dave Witte said, laughing. “The way it worked in the end, the other records we would record a song on the boombox and go, ‘Done,’ and record another on a boombox. Then we’d bring the boombox to the studio and then record it for real on the tape. Relearn it and record it.”
Unlike Ulterior or Jouhou where songs were relearned, rewritten or simply created whole in the studio, Discordance Axis entered Trax East in late 1999 practiced to perfection. Rehearsals found the band playing the record straight through in order twice as they built up the stamina and cohesion necessary to deliver the demanding songs. The level of preparation for The Inalienable Dreamless was “unheard of” for Discordance Axis, Witte said.
“That was the first record we were all generally excited about and rehearsed in advance,” he said.
Honed to precision, the band realized they needed to record the music before they lost their edge.
“At some point we’re like, we’re done,” guitarist Rob Marton said. “We’ve got to get into the studio. We prepared I don’t know how many months before. We’ve got to be spot on.”
But all their preparation was nearly wasted when engineer Steve Evetts, who had worked with the band previously, quit Trax East two weeks before the session. The studio wanted Discordance Axis to push back the recording until mid-2000, something the band said would have been devastating.
“We were right at the razor’s edge at that point,” vocalist Jon Chang said. “You can only stay that good for so long. We were practicing multiple times a week. We never did that kind of shit for Discordance Axis. We were a once a week band, if we were lucky. If we had to delay, it would have been a disaster.”
Narrowly avoiding a delay, Discordance Axis enlisted Boston engineer Jon D’Uva at the last minute. D’Uva came recommended by Bill T. Miller, who had recorded Jouhou. One of Miller’s assistants, D’Uva had assisted on albums like Grief’s 1994 sludge touchstone Come to Grief, but he had never helmed his own session or worked with a grindcore band.
“[Miller] was like, ‘Hey do you want to do this band in Jersey.’ I wasn’t even doing this full time yet,” D’Uva said. “I had a day job. I said, ‘Let them fire me.’ ”
The four day session – which included recording, mixing and mastering – was a first for D’Uva in many ways. It was his first solo shot as a producer, his first project where a label was involved and it was also his first exposure to grindcore and Discordance Axis.
“He had never done fast music, but he did a great job,” Witte said. “He captured the band the way it sounds. It was a lot different from other people we worked with.”
Before D'Uva travelled to Trax East, Miller had given him old Discordance Axis records by way of background, but the session was a learning experience.
“I had touched upon it, but this was definitely intense,” D’Uva said. “The music was not understated. On the session when you’re an engineer, you can be engineering any style once you’re focused in. You’re not even listening to what the music is. You’re very technical. You’re making sure all the machines were on. It was all tape then.”


D’Uva calls himself The Inalienable Dreamless' "ghost engineer" because he was accidentally left off the album's liner notes. Though he laughs at the oversight, D'Uva also downplays his role in recording the album, choosing to describe himself as an engineer rather than a producer. As D’Uva describes the sessions, Discordance Axis came prepared, were able to nail most of the songs in a single take or two and immediately knew which takes felt right.
“For the most part it was a self-produced album,” D’Uva said. “They knew what takes were good. They knew what was tight enough. The sound of the band was defined. I wasn’t making decisions on the tempo or the arrangement.”
Witte and Chang said recording The Inalienable Dreamless was by far the easiest session in Discordance Axis’ turbulent relationship with recording studios.
“It was a not a nightmare recording session,” Chang said. “There were hard things in it, but we were never at each other’s throats, which was unusual for us.”
Marton’s recollections, however, are not so rosy. The compressed recording schedule took an extreme toll on the guitarist as he labored to nail the intricate parts he had written.
“I think I hated it as much as any other recording we did,” he said. “Jouhou was hellish and we couldn’t get anything right. [The Inalienable Dreamless] was a grueling three days. We weren’t even halfway through and my arm felt like cement. The songs were hard to play. They weren’t easy. It was the most grueling recording experience of all of them. I vowed to never to do it again. When that recording was done I absolutely hated it. I was like, what did we do? How it sounded in my head and how it came out, it was just too different. It was two different sounds. It was just the result of cramming for three days. That’s what we had. There was no other way we could have done it. It was hard.”
Chang has his own, unique way of motivating his bandmates during the laborious recording session. It involved holding up signs during takes that read “‘fuck your mother,’ something totally douchebaggy,” Chang said.
D’Uva said he recorded The Inalienable Dreamless the way he would have approached a jazz ensemble. He set up the microphones around the room – using only about half of the 24 tracks available in the studio – and turned Discordance Axis loose. Once the desired tones were dialed in, D’Uva said the actual recording flowed smoothly with minimal mistakes and very few attempts to punch back in and correct errors.
“Those guys didn’t play with a click track, didn’t play with headphones, nothing was edited: as is,” D’Uva said. “Jon sang while the band was playing. Ninety-five to 99 percent of that album is a live a capture.”
Though D’Uva said he had no input into the band’s songwriting or arrangements, he did suggest subtle touches to strengthen the album’s sound, including adding a subharmonic bass synthesizer to Marton’s guitar. The effect added extra presence without sacrificing the sharp, trebly sound. It helped create that sleek, vicious guitar sound that defines The Inalienable Dreamless.
“The guitar stayed bright and in your face and the box created the sub-bass,” D’Uva said.
For his part, Marton said The Inalienable Dreamless’ signature guitar sound was a matter of “trusting the producer and trying to get the best sound we could.”
Though the session was already short, Witte had an extra incentive to quickly capture his parts. Not knowing he was recording a career-defining album, the drummer was more interested in the holiday festivities at work.
“It was all quick. It was my company’s Christmas party, so I was racing to get the drum tracks to get out of there,” he said, laughing.
D’Uva said Witte was able to make the Christmas party because of his professionalism and practice.
“I remember Dave coming in and being surprised. This heavy aggressive band, his drum kit looked like a jazz drum kit,” D’Uva said. “The drums were nicely tuned. The toms weren’t too big. In my experience all the metal guys have these huge toms. … A drummer’s drummer, I thought, a guy who really studied, who is precise about his kit and precise about his drumming and he was.”


Thanks to the grueling rehearsal schedule, Discordance Axis were able to capture the songs live in only a handful of takes without overhauling them the way they had during past sessions.
“We weren’t totally jacked up on caffeine like we were on Jouhou, but we were really excited about the music,” Chang said. “It came out pretty good. It was a good record. It was the only record where we went into the studio and didn’t radically change half the songs on the record.”
While Discordance Axis didn’t make wholesale changes to the songs in the studio as they had in the past, a few of The Inalienable Dreamless’ songs were reworked at the time. Witte excised a section from “Oratorio in Gray” the band had dubbed the “monkey blast” because he couldn’t synch up the timing properly.
“I personally never heard what was wrong with it,” Chang said. “At the time I didn’t understand what the problem was. That’s the only part of the record that got cut.”
The band did attempt to overdub the guitars on “The Third Children” because on the second verse “the drums are not even remotely following the guitar because it was so hard to record that song,” Chang said.
“Dave eventually kept going and said, ‘That’s my last take,’ ” he said. “That’s the only song of the record we tried to overdub the main guitar track to kind of fix it and we gave up at some point.”
The hardest song to set to tape, at least for Witte, was “Compiling Autumn.” However, all of the laborious practice sessions and the chemistry he had fostered with Marton paid off when Witte’s headphones fell off during the last take for the song.
“That was the days before punch-ins. I’d play songs multiple times to get it right,” Witte said. “That song was so hard because the midsection was super fast for me. We tried it over and over and there’s this accent in the middle where we lock up in the grind part. That’s one of the ones we were having a hard time with rehearsing. We never really had it down. The last time we did it my headphones fell off and I was feeling the song. They fell off and we kept going. We totally nailed it without me hearing the guitar.”
Though he’s proud of the work, Witte did say he still has minor qualms with how The Inalienable Dreamless sounds.
“I think it was more me not knowing what I wanted at the time,” he said. “The toms sounded great. I like everything the way it is. I wasn’t stoked on the snare drum sound. It’s my own fault.”
As much as The Inalienable Dreamless has defined Discordance Axis’ career, the album has also served as a landmark for D’Uva even as he’s expanded his repertoire, recording jazz bands and folk music. Though he’s never returned to grindcore since, the album represents an early peak in his work.
“It was definitely a proud moment,” D’Uva said. “It was the most intense record that I’ve ever recorded. Since then as an engineer, I’ve run the gamut of genres from plain old thrash to the most jazz and folk music there is. I remember after recording it, bringing it back and playing it for people and they were pretty impressed. Even though it was a little too heavy and fast for them, they thought, ‘This was the sickest, tightest stuff I’ve ever heard even if it’s not my thing.’ Even then it was, ‘Oh wow, this is a crazy record.’ ”


Sidet said...

Andrew thank you for doing the research to give such an intimate portrait of a fantastic album. I really enjoyed reading this section mostly for the insight into each performer's experience. I love the fact that it was recorded by an engineer who had never recorded a "fast" band.

DesiccatedVeins said...

I think the coolest part about this is the fact that D'Uva recorded TID like he would a jazz ensemble. I'd be interested to hear other forward-thinking grind albums recorded with that mindset.

Andrew Childers said...

i think the d'uva parts may be favorite thing in the whole story. it was his first solo producer job, he'd never done grind (but engineered come to fucking grief!) and poops out a masterpiece first time out. he didn't even know the impact the album had until recently.

DesiccatedVeins said...

I'd like to hear him work on another grindcore record. Would be an interesting project.