The story of 7 Seconds full length recording “Leave A Light On” was one that actually began many years earlier when I was introduced to the band by Bill Armstrong and Joe Sib of Side One/Dummy Recordings.
Bill and Joe approached me in early 1999 about working with 7 Seconds to help create a new record for the band. Having been a fan of their early recordings with B.Y.O. Records, I jumped at the chance to record them. At the time 7 Seconds had not released a record in about 5 years and had developed a more polished and poppier direction. I was being asked to help them bring back the hardcore sound of their earlier releases. The result was the album “Good To Go” and it switched gears for 7 Seconds in a big way.
Recorded and mixed at Westbeach Recorders in Hollywood Ca. in only 11 days, it captured the urgency of the band’s early work but had enough of a sense of refinement that it was inviting to the ear. “Good To Go” did very well as a commercial release. Critically lauded, the record brought back old fans and made them new ones as well. The short production schedule kept things from being over thought. In fact we had originally only been granted a 10 day session but I asked the label for an extra day just to make sure we could complete it all.
Those sessions were hard on all of us. We were being asked to do so much in such a short time and have the result be considered worthy of the band’s illustrious history. There was pressure and it was very real.
Flash forward to the year 2013 and an email I received from Kevin Seconds. “We have a new deal with Rise Records Steve, and we want to make another record with you.. are you available to work on this project with us?” The short answer from me: “Hell Ya!!” I was being offered an opportunity that few producers are ever given in the modern music industry. An chance to re-kindle an amazing partnership with four very talented old friends. Today, bands move from producer to producer with each release, looking to change up their sound and presentation every time they hit the studio. I felt honored to be asked to once again get involved with a band that I believed in and respected.
I accepted the band’s offer and we began working out the details. As I now had my own studio located in Southern California called Hell’s Half Acre, I was able to offer the band more time to help create the album they had been commissioned to deliver by Rise. I swore to myself that we would make the record we all wanted to make with out the pressure of looking at the clock and wondering… “Can we get this to sound the way we want it in the time we have?” In short I wanted the experience to be the complete opposite of the “Good To Go” release.
I started the process by driving up to Reno to attend rehearsals with the band. Nothing new there. In fact on “Good To Go” we did get some time to prepare at Swinghouse Studios at the old Hollywood location on Cahuenga Boulevard.
During a weekend spent in the living room of a suburban home in Sparks Nevada, we laid the groundwork for the “Leave A Light On” recordings and explored the songs Kevin Seconds had brought in for us to perform. Actually, my biggest fear was that the cops would show up and shut us down while we were working out the details… thankfully no one complained and we got our feet wet together after not working together for almost 15 years.
It was obvious immediately that we had good tunes on our hands and that Kevin had worked very hard to bring in a group of songs that could be truly called 7 Seconds material. We ran through the selections and discussed our individual thoughts about the arrangements and the forthcoming record’s core sound. With a plan down on paper and in our heads we adjourned and I headed back to California.
About two weeks later recording began in earnest. While the “Good To Go” record was tracked as a live band in studio, we took a different approach this time around. With band members living in two different cities and the recording taking place in a third it was decided that we would build the songs around scratch guitar and click track and then add the individual performances in layers on top. Tempos had been decided upon in pre-production so we set about laying scratch or guide guitar tracks down and then tracked drum performances to that.
Drummer Troy Mowat had never worked off of a click track in the studio before but like the journeyman that he is, took to it like a duck to water. We were amazed how quickly he locked in and from that point on I simply looked to keep his takes with the best feel to them. Anyone who has ever met Troy understands that this man is a ball of energy, so rather than break things down too much I just let him go and then comped together the best of the best takes after the fact. The results speak for themselves… in fact when the rest of the band heard the drum tracks they were going to be playing to everyone was blown away.
Time to move on. Those that have worked with me know that I am a “bass last” guy. That meaning I record rhythm guitars first to set the tone and strumming pattern of the song and then only once that is defined do I move on to recording bass guitar. This helps in a lot of ways including getting the right bass tone and making sure that things end up in tune!
Guitarist Bobby Adams easily rates as one of the top three guitar players I have ever worked with in my life. Precise, articulate and demanding of himself, Bobby brings it in a way that a lot of players can’t. Rhythmically the man has one of the best right hands in the business, and he knows what sounds good. I wanted to build a guitar tone for “Leave A Light On” that was going to simply be the best he had ever tracked in his life. This meant getting a sound that was dirty, clean, punchy, and glossy all at once.
I set him up running his Les Paul Special through two amps and two cabinets for the first passes of rhythm. The first amp was my Bogner Ecstasy through my 1978 100 watt Marshall 4 x 12. The second was my good old Mesa Duel Rectifier which I ran through Bobby’s own 4 x 12 100 watt Marshall cab. With the Bogner running a cleaner tone and the Mesa running a hi gain sound I set up a blend of the two amps. Both got a Shure SM-57 and an AKG 414 on them. The blend was sent through a DBX 160 VU compressor for a light squeeze and then on to “tape”.
While this was a pretty wide tone it was only part of Bobby’s final sound for the record. Once I had two passes of rhythm guitar (one left channel and one right) I then had him go back and record two additional passes. This time with a 1957 Les Paul Junior with a single P-90 pick in it. This guitar sounded cleaner over all and added a lot of definition to his sound. In the final mix I simply blended the two different sounds in each channel until I felt we struck the right blend. Typically that blend was about 65 percent of the dirtier Les Paul Special and 35 percent of the cleaner Les Paul Junior. This had the best of all worlds. Never too blown out and never overly clean, we had a sound that was old school and modern at the same time. Perfect for the record that we were making. Lead solos, octaves and clean riffs were overdubbed on to of the rhythm performances using a variety of guitars and pick up combinations to keep things sounding fresh and inviting to the ear.
With a wall of guitar now in place we were ready for Steve Youth. Steve is another incredible musician and working with him is an absolute pleasure. He plays a modern active pick up bass live but for this recording I wanted the old school passive sound of a vintage Fender Precision bass. That is “the sound” of punk rock bass. The P-Bass was run through two separate amps. I used my vintage Fender Bassman for highs and I used his modern solid state GK amp for the lows. This is a great combination. The Bassman breaks up nicely and gives Steve’s sound a rough edge but the GK is clean and the bottom end of it holds together and never gets flappy or blown out. To add a little more presence I also split the bass out to my Avalon U-5 direct box. The D.I. was run through a delay to put it in phase with the amps and a three millisecond delay was enough to correctly line it up. All of these inputs were then blended together down one buss and then on to my 1176 black face Urei compressor and then on to “tape”. Once we had the tone all I had to do was let him go wild! Creative and proficient Steve tore the entire record up in a matter of two days. While we pared down some of his really busy action in a few spots, for the most part I was able to just let him have fun and do what he does best.
The key element to any great record is capturing great vocal performances. Kevin Seconds has been performing and recording for over 30 years and he knows what he likes. As he said to me during these sessions: “Steve I think that you need to hear the spit in your ears when listing to great punk rock vocals.” I thought about that the entire time we were tracking. I had ordered a brand new Audio Technica 4047 condenser mic for these sessions and used as a room mic on drums as well as on bass. On a whim I set it up and tracked a pass of Kev’s vocal with it. The result was fantastic. The mic translated his vocal in a present and energetic manner. Not too smoothed out and definitely “real” is the way I would describe the tone. I loved it and so did Kevin. I used a Neve 1064 mic pre and the 1176 to squash it with. Simple and very effective!
While “Good To Go” was recorded a little more piece meal, this time around Kevin sang full passes of the songs. He and I would then listen to playback together and compare notes, outlining the parts we liked the best and doing a few punch ins to correct a little tone or pitch from time to time. The resulting performances sound cohesive and united. The energy is most defiantly there and we were really happy with the results.
The signature ingredient in any 7 Seconds record is the backing vocals. Getting this part of the record done involved a road trip up to Sacramento Ca. That way we could all the boys in a room together and put the icing on the cake. Working on the fly we tracked all the background vocal parts in about 7 hours. I brought my U67, 1176 and a Neve channel with me and we jumped that right into Pro Tools. By layering performances we got a sound big enough to be considered modern but with enough attitude to make it punk rock.
I drove back home that night thinking, “well… we have the pieces in place, let’s get a good night’s rest and start mixing this baby.”
The mix for “Leave A Light On” was a delicate balance. I wanted the individual performances to shine but I also wanted the whole thing to sound like a ball of energy coming at you from one single place. In fact I experimented with balances and did a bunch of mix passes on these songs before I started turning them in to the band for approval. Whatever I was doing seemed to be right because the guys responded that they really liked what they were hearing. I pressed on and over the course of a week I attacked each song and tried to squeeze as much energy volume and power into each mix that I could. I proofed my mixes on three different stereos both inside and outside the control room. The old adage is that anyone can make it sound good in the control room, but a pro makes it sound good anywhere you listen to it. I wrote automated moves for the mixes but I also mixed live with hands on faders as well to impart the human touch.
With mixes in place I turned the files over to Hell’s Half Acre mastering guru Michael Hateley. Michael and I have been working together for a number of years now and I love his work. He always seems to get things loud without over- compressing the material and flattening out the detail. Because these songs are basically going off all the time, when dynamics happen you want to preserve them and even showcase them. I think that between my mixes and Michael’s mastering job we were able to keep the songs high energy and pumping. But hey, listen for yourself and see what you think.
The entire process of making this record was a pleasure. We had the most important ingredients… great songs and performances with a ton of energy. All I had to do was focus and steer that energy in the right direction and not suffocate it in the recording process.
When I finally turned the project in to Rise Records president Craig Ericson, he emailed me and told me, “This is the best 7 Seconds record ever made!” When he told me that, I felt like we had accomplished what we set out to do… capture an attitude and a sentiment that we would be able to look back on years down the road and be able to say to ourselves “Guys we got it right.”
Thank you Kevin, Steve, Bobby and Troy.