don’t turn around.

“Don’t get me wrong, I like the band.  I think they’re nice guys.” 

This couldn’t be good.  Ray was telling me about his Footstone sessions.

“It’s just that the songs – they’re so monotonous.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.  I knew just what he meant.

“And the lyrics.  Ralph doesn’t write them until five minutes before he has to sing them.  People identify with lyrics.  They want to know what the song is about.  They want to sing along.  ‘Without an air bag, we lose our species?’  What the hell is that?”

I had noticed that about Ralph.  He had been giving me cassette copies of their rehearsals – which I tried my best to listen to.  I’d also seen Footstone live a bunch of times, and they were always trying out new songs.  It seemed like every time they played a song, the words were different, until they recorded the song in the studio.  Once the song was recorded, then the lyrics stopped changing.  It almost felt like Ralph didn’t care what he was singing – only that the lyrics matched the song from a melodic and rhythmic standpoint.

“I tried my best,” he said.  

Ray had recorded the Footstone song “Air Bag.”  The song was supposed to be given to some guy, who was going to use it on a compilation CD.  Dumbass.

Anyway, Ray recorded the song and hated it.  He said it was too repetitive, too long.  I was familiar with the song at this point, having seen the band play it live a few times, and I agreed with him.

“I made a few different mixes of it,” he said.  “I’d drop out the bass for a measure or two.  I’d drop out the kick drum.  I kept playing around with pulling various instruments in and out of the mix, just to add something interesting to the recording.  At one point I even played a cymbal myself, just to keep the drums from being monotonous.”

“Do they know you played on their song?” I asked.

“No,” he said.  “I did it after they left.  I haven’t played them that mix.”

I let that sink in for a second.  Ray was mixing and remixing their song without their knowledge, dropping and adding instruments without telling them.  I had a problem with that.

At the same time, he didn’t like the song, and he was trying to make it more interesting.

“How many different mixes are there?” I asked.

“A few,” he said.

“How many?” I asked.

“A lot.” he said.

How many?” I asked.

He was quiet for a few seconds.  “Sixteen,” he said.

Sixteen?!”

“I got carried away.  You’ll see what I mean.  It’s so repetitive.  I did one without the guitar at the beginning.  Then I did another with some extra effects on the guitar.  I mixed it a few times with vocal effects added.  Now I have sixteen different mixes.”

I was glad this song wasn’t going on my record.  I didn’t have the patience to sit through sixteen mixes, and I definitely didn’t want to deal with explaining to the band that their producer had taken it upon himself to rewrite their song because it sucked.

Ray gave me all this background because he had mailed me a cassette tape of “Air Bag” – with a few different mixes on it.  He wanted me to understand the story before I heard the song.

“Okay, play it,” he said.  

Here’s what I heard.

“Jesus,” I said.

“What do you think?” he asked.

“I like the sound of the guitars,” I said.

“And?”

“Bass sounds cool.”

“Al. The song.”

“I’m glad it’s not coming out on my label,” I said.

“But they’re our friends,” he said. “Do we tell them?”

I thought for a second.  Carefully.  “You know that part where Ralph is singing ‘Don’t turn around’?” I asked.  

“Yeah.”

“And there’s a little backing vocal underneath it?  And a little riff that’s different from the song?”

“Yeah.”

“That part of the song is really good,” I said.

“That part of the song is, like, ten seconds long.”

“Yeah.  You’re right.  But it’s really good.  They just lost their guitar player, and this is the first song they’ve written.  I’m not going to tell them that the song is no good.  I’m just not going to put it out.  Let them put it out on this compilation, and feel good about it.”

“Al, the two songs you’re going to put out aren’t much better,” he said.

I decided to reserve judgement on that.  “Ray, just don’t mix them down sixteen times, okay?” I asked.  “Just send me rough mixes.”

~ by Al on February 20, 2009.

5 Responses to “don’t turn around.”

  1. […] from the sixteen mix debacle that was “Air Bag,” I hadn’t heard a single Footstone song with the band as a […]

  2. Sounds like it was recorded in someone’s basement. Oh, wait…

  3. […] “Toothpick,” “I’ll Get Over It.”).  They played “Airbag,” the 1993 song that Ray had created 16 different mixes of, that we still couldn’t find one we […]

  4. wow. i have no recollection of this conversation. not saying it didn’t take place, ’cause it sorta sounds like me, but wow. oh – but i always like that footstone 7″ and was proud of it.

  5. Hi Ray!

    First, because I haven’t reached out to you elsewhere yet, it’s great to have reconnected with you and awesome to see you’re doing so well. I’m looking forward to the Elk City record that’s about to come out (that’s a plug, for anyone reading along with the comments – new Elk City record in May of 2010 – Ray is the drummer and producer in the band).

    Second, you SHOULD be proud of that record. As I recall it was one of your first production jobs, it sounded great, and you offered advice that made the songs much better. This whole blog is 15-year-old recollections about 15-year-old opinions and is filled with ups and downs, but the reality is that the Footstone 7″ came out great. “Airbag” even grew on us, to the point where the band played it at BOTH their reunion shows this past year, but didn’t play either of the other songs from the record!

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