Red Hot Home Recording - Chili-Style
Home Recording for the Pro's
It's not just new artists and bands who are cooking up their music in home studios, former Deep Purple man Glenn Hughes has recently been tracking at the home of Chili Pepper Chad Smith. Our man on the West Coast, Mr Bonzai, caught up with the pair for a chat...
Chad Smith, the powerhouse drummer for The Red Hot Chili Peppers recently transformed his Hollywood mansion into a recording studio, much like the location recording setup for Blood Sugar Sex Magick
, the album he made back in 1991. This new project is with singer/songwriter Glenn Hughes, popular solo artist, also well known for his three year stint with Deep Purple back in the Seventies. The resulting album - Music For The Divine
is out now.
The recording equipment package was assembled with the help of engineer Ryan Hewitt, son of legendary remote recording figure Dave Hewitt. Ryan, who was one of two mixers on the new Chili Peppers double album, Stadium Arcadium
, helped assemble the gear and turned the engineering over to his protege, Ted White.
We met at Chad's home during the final days of the Glenn Hughes project -
BONZAI: Well, here we are at Cary Grant's former mansion with the new owner, Chad Smith. I remember there was talk of ghosts in the mansion where you recorded Blood Sugar Sex Magic. Are there any ghosts here?
Yeah, we've had some ghosts in the control room, which used to be the master bedroom. When I moved in here, the cleaning lady said she loved the spirit of this house, but she was cleaning the house one day and the dogs were barking like crazy. She opened up the door to that room and said she saw a black woman who looked like a worker. The lady was holding jewels and let the cleaning woman know that she had been caught stealing and wasn't supposed to be in that room. People have felt a presence in that room, but I never have. But I do love the feeling and the spirit of this house.
BONZAI: I understand Ryan Hewitt helped get this project rolling?
Yes, Ryan mixed half of the new Chili Peppers album. I told him about this project with Glenn Hughes and I said the budget was kind of tight, not a whole lot of money. Ryan suggested that we do the project at my house. He said the rooms were great and that the drums would sound awesome. Put the amp over here. Put the Pro Tools in one room, and the mic pre's in the pool table room.
So we did a little test one day for the drums, with just four mics, to make sure things sounded good. We were worried that it might be too loud, too bright and we wouldn't be able to contain the sound, but it sounded great. Luckily, my wife said it would be OK, because a scene like this disrupts the family situation. But it's a good-sized house and you can get away from things. So, it's been really, really enjoyable. I love it. We laid down all the tracks in about three weeks.
BONZAI: Can you tell me about Glenn Hughes?
Glenn plays bass and sings, and he's been a solo artist since 1979. He started out with a group called Trapeze, in England, and then joined Deep Purple in 1973 when they recorded the 'Burn' record and he was in the group for three albums. That's the stuff I grew up with when I was a kid. We actually met at a NAMM show - Glenn was playing at a party and I joined him. He's an amazing singer/songwriter and personally we just hit it off and we've been friends ever since. So I am co-producing this new album with Glenn. John from the Chili Peppers is a fan of Glenn's too, and he's playing on the record. John and I and Glenn helped write one of the songs that we played on. I've been helping him to arrange, and I'm playing on the tracks, and helping to produce the album.
BONZAI: And you have a hot guitarist on the album, right?
Yes, that's JJ Marsh, from Sweden, and he's been working with Glenn for around ten years. They also write songs together. We are also recording strings in the big room where I've been doing drums.
BONZAI: Did you record to Pro Tools?
Yes, but we have a lot of old gear here. Jim Scott, a great engineer, loaned me two Neve BCN-10 consoles, so I have 20 tracks with mic-pre's for the drums and guitars. They sound amazing.
For the guitar speakers we built a carpet-covered box we call the Doghouse, mainly because we didn't want the guitars to bleed into the drum tracks. Glenn's Ampeg speakers are downstairs in a closet and he's rattling the plaster off the walls. We stand in the big room and we play together, three guys just rocking. It's really the best way to get good rock and roll performances. We play together, just like with the Chili Peppers. It's all about the performance, and the vibe and everybody playing together. Each of us has good chops and there isn't much punching in. We get complete takes.
But the Pro Tools thing is good if you use it right, and you have people who know how to get sounds. You need a good source, good players, and the microphones should be good. We are using a lot of the older tube mics that have a nice warm sound. We are as analog as we can be up until we hit the Pro Tools. That's my philosophy of recording: good source, old mics, good mic cables, old mic pre's and good compressors, and of course you have to have a good sounding recording environment.
BONZAI: Glenn is doing the vocals here?
Yes, and he's singing in a microphone that John Frusciante loaned him: a beautiful Telefunken 250. He sang some in the big room and some in the control room.
To create our control room, we put padding and foam rubber on top of my pool table. At first, we did get some bass rumble in there, because the floor has a room underneath it. That was the only thing we had to work on, by stuffing things under the pool table and putting up foam here and there. Ryan set everything up, along with Ted White, who has been doing our recording and engineering.
BONZAI: Well let's talk with the artist, Glenn Hughes. What are you playing here?
I am playing bass, of course, plus electric and acoustic guitar, and I am singing the vocals. I wrote the majority of the material, then Chad, John, and my guitar player helped me finish things off. I got the songs to Chad about six months before we started, because I like to have the songs written in advance of pre-production. I started working on the strings quite a while ago - you might say this is going to be my 'strings' album.
BONZAI: How do place yourself in the history of Deep Purple?
When Roger Glover left in 1973 I was brought in first, and then David Coverdale came in. I was brought in to play bass, but I am also a lead singer and I said I would join if I could sing on some of the Burn album, which I did. This also introduced a new style into Deep purple with the two lead singers, Coverdale and Hughes, which was very interesting. We did three albums, three world tours, and were together for three and a half years.
BONZAI: How did you meet Chad?
I met Chad at a NAMM show in 2003. I was playing with my side project at a Sabian event. I was introduced to Chad and we rehearsed a bit and quickly became really good friends, and we are both fans of each others work. We not only play music together, we also hang out together and we vacation with our families.
BONZAI: How would you describe this new album?
I call it my strings album, because that element is prevalent on this piece of work. You see, I have been blessed and cursed with a varied selection of musical styles throughout my life. Most artists in rock sing only in one style, but I have always had a gumbo of influences, creating a hybrid of funk, soul, rock, and pop. It's a big soup, and this album is all of that, with strings. It's very funky and it's very passionate.