Complete transcript of interview below the scans.
Scott Colburn interview 16 April 2002
Gravelvoice studio, Seattle USA
EP = Ed Pinsent
SC = Scott Colburn
RM = Rob Millis
JT = Jeff Taylor
EP Can you tell us about yourself, for the Sound Projector. What do you do?
SC I'm an audio wizard. You mean what do I do for a living, basically?
EP How long have you been an audio wizard?
SC The first recording I ever made, besides childhood recordings, the first
time I was like serious about it, or became professional about it, was 1980.
It was a band that I was in, it was a punk rock band called The Pattern. And
we recorded it on four-track, quarter-inch tape. In the upstairs room in
this office building that my father had his business in. And that was it. It
was drums on one track, guitar on one track, bass on one track.
RM Where'd you get the tape machine?
SC I borrowed it from a friend of mine from West Lafayette. It was a
four-track. It was either a TEAC or a TASCAM machine, four-track,
quarter-inch. I bought the tape, it was like Maxell tape, at Radio Shack or
something. I didn't know anything about mixing, so my mixes were in mono.
And I took it to a record shop in Indianapolis and played it for a guy, and
he listened to it and he was like, 'hmm, this is really pretty good! But it'
s not in stereo, it's in mono. How'd you do that?' I didn't know!
EP Where was this, in Indiana?
SC It was in Indiana. I grew up in Columbus, Indiana which is halfway
between Indianapolis which is in the centre of the state, and Louisville
Kentucky which is at the border of where Indiana and Kentucky meet. So there
's about an hour and a half difference between the two. Columbus is on that
main freeway. It's a city of only 30,000 people, it's really small.
EP When did you come to Seattle?
SC '93, January of '93. It was - I lived in Los Angeles for a couple of
years, through '90 and all the way through '92. And The Sun City Girls were
gonna go on a US tour, so I went on that tour and at the of the tour they
said they were all gonna move to Seattle. And Rick [Bishop] actually already
lived up here. I don't even know where Seattle is, but I'll go!
EP So you knew The Sun City Girls before that?
SC I met The Sun City Girls in 1984. On the JFA tour, it was their first
tour. They played in Bloomington Indiana, which is close to Columbus, and
close to the same side, except that half of Bloomington's population is
students, because of the University there.
JT There's a videotape of that show, right?
SC There's a videotape of that show which I just got at the end of last
JT It's pretty great...I've seen it, I can attest to it!
SC Yeah, but the band I was in at the time played with them, it was our
band, then Sun City Girls, then JFA would play. And I walked up to Alan
[Bishop], because he played bass in JFA, thinking that he was Michael
Cornelius from JFA...
JT Don Cornelius?
SC No...Michael Cornelius. And he said, 'No, I'm Alan Bishop.' And they were
in Bloomington for a couple of days before they were going to their next
stop, so we hung out, and just kept in touch.
EP How long have you been working with The Sun City Girls? Ever since then?
SC No, no, they went on tour in 1990 for Torch of The Mystics, and I lived
in Chicago at that time, and set up a show for them in Chicago. And then
again, by some weird fate, they also were off for three days, so we hung out
some more. And I was getting married at that time, it was my previous wife,
not the one I'm married to now. And they went to my wedding, and we were
moving to Los Angeles at that time, so I knew that I would be passing
through Phoenix, and so I stayed at Alan's house. And I think Rick lived
there at the time too. LA is in very close proximity to Phoenix, so it's a
really easy (at that time) $40 round trip flight to fly to Phoenix, so every
time they would play live, I would fly to Phoenix and record them playing
live. And I recorded them playing live in Chicago as well. And when I was in
Los Angeles, took the tapes - which was a four-track cassette tape - I took
it to a Hollywood sound recorders. B Studio, which is where my friend Marty
worked. He worked for this producer Dave Kershenbaum who was Tracy Chapman's
producer. That was kind of a big deal. And the [mixing] board was massive!
It was like half a million dollar board. I'm not exactly sure what it was at
the time, but it was either an SSL or a Neam. And we played the four-track
cassette through this half a million dollar board, and it sounded great! So
we mixed it. And some of that [recording] showed up on the first record that
I did for them, which was Kaliflower. But there was one that preceded that
called Live At Con Artists that [?] Village had put out, which was a live
recording that I did on the tour in Boston. So that's the first thing. From
there on in, I've worked on everything.
EP What did you like about their music?
SC It was refreshing to hear. At that time, you know in 1984, when
everything that was in my world - punk rock, or hardcore music, and I went
to the show mainly because, well, mainly because my band was playing in that
show! Otherwise I probably wouldn't have gone. Because I didn't have that
much of an interest in JFA. But for them to come up and play their kind of
lunacy, and knowing that it was not generally popular with everybody that
was there, in that there was only really ten people watching them play. But
I was just really fascinated by what it was they were doing, and it sounded
interesting and it was weird. So I bought their first record, and really
liked it. It was at that time when I got into The Residents as well. So I
got into them very late in the game, but only because I had a tape of Mark
Of The Mole, and around that period of time which is only a span of about
three or four months I was in this particular apartment. I promoted a show
with this band Die Kreuzen, and I had just moved into this apartment, and
the show was over, and I drank a bunch of green tea, so I was like really
kind of wired and couldn't really fall asleep. And I was like [thinking]
'there was this one tape I had of this music that was really weird!', pulled
the tape out and played it, listened to it all the way through, and went out
and bought the entire bin in the record store the next day. Picked up and
bought all the Residents! But up until that point, because I had that tape
for a couple of years, it was a little too weird for me at that point. So at
that particular time was when I started to open my mind to music outside
JT [snickering] So you're blaming all that on the apartment you lived in?!
There's a geographic kind of thing...
SC No, the apartment is...it's the landmark, I know what period of time it
was because I lived, you know...you live in the same place for ten years...
JT Just fuckin' with you, man!
SC I would move every three or six months, so everything is based on a
particular time where I lived. 'I remember that, because I was living at
RM ...blames it all on the apartment! It was something in the water in that
apartment building! It got into the pipes! It destroyed Scott!
JT It was the cockroaches! The cucarachas!
EP What is it you look for when you're working on a project with somebody?
Can you pick and choose, or do you take whatever you're given?
SC I'm lucky in that...yes, I take pretty much anything I'm given, but I'm
lucky that everything I'm given is actually really interesting. I haven't
really turned anything down. There's been a few things that I probably
shouldn't have worked on, but that's only...it's not because...they're not
big projects, they were just things that came in where I thought I could do
the job. It's like I like a challenge, and I felt that I could do the job,
[and if] I couldn't really do much with it, everybody goes away feeling kind
of sore about it. As far as serious projects go, it's been lucky that the
stuff that comes through the door has been really interesting. There's an
A&R guy in LA that's always amazed how much good stuff I send him all the
time. He can't sign any of it, but he really likes it, the sound of it all
is so diverse. He says 'where do you find this stuff?' 'Oh - the phone rang!
EP Can you tell me some of the bands you've worked with?
SC Yeah. You mean, that are well known, or stuff that I really like...
EP Tell me some of your favourites.
SC I liked doing this reggae session last summer with Winston Jarrett, which
was a lot of fun. I never had done reggae before. I punched his name into a
search engine, and there was like...[lots of results!] I was interested to
record reggae with people that really knew how to play it, and had been
recording it before, giving hints on what to do, especially when it came to
dub mixing. Instead of mentioning one particular project, one particular
person is - my association with Dean Blackwood and Revenant Records has
always proven to be interesting.
EP Yes, tell me about that. You worked on this Charley Patton boxed set...
SC Yes, well actually I've worked on almost every Revenant release.
EP I think the Revenant releases are superb. I'm a big fan of blues music.
And I think you're responsible for - or part of the team responsible for
this, the [CDs] really defined the sound in a very exciting way. Given it a
real presence. Because, these are difficult recordings to work with, they're
mono, they're on scratchy 78s...
RM Exactly, they sound great!!
EP I've got a lot of LP remasters of 78s, which I prize very highly, but
then when I got the American Primitive release...
(Whistles of appreciation from all)
EP...thought it was absolutely staggering. Great performances, and the sound
just really...do you have a real sympathy with the music?
SC No, not at all! No, it's mainly that I don't think about...you know, I'm
not really responsible for making the stuff sound good, as much as I am
responsible for helping Dean sort it out. You know, for the Charley Patton
set, or mainly really the Captain Beefheart set...or what I'm working on
right now for him is an Ornette Coleman set. So like here's all the masters
for the Coleman, I mean it's massive. There's 34 masters here, and you have
to make heads or tails of it. And the good thing is that Dean looks to me to
put together what he wants in an order that he has conceived, or to help him
decide which version is the definitive version for him, and why. And those
are the types of discussions that we have. On the Beefheart, if there's 3 or
4 versions of 'Electricity', which one do we put on the set in the end? You
know, because one may not be the best recorded quality, but the band just
kicks ass on that particular night! Or the other one might sound better, but
the other one is really the definitive performance. And so, trying to sort
out those sorts of things, or making transfers, or....there's a project that
hasn't seen the light of day. It's John Fahey's Fonotone recordings, that
Dean had gone out to Boston, Massachusets area. Went to the guy that ran
Fonotone, and got the tapes, and they transferred all the tapes. And it's my
responsibility to burn them onto CD, and sort out and make sure that we've
EP Yes, I don't know Fonotone. Is that an early period of John Fahey?
RM It's a 78 label. It's actually a label started by an old ridiculous 78
collector, Joe Bussard. Check the name out online, because he's a crazy
collector of American music up to 1929, and he's got the most amazing
collection. But I was gonna say something just to put in an aside. One part
of Scott's genius, one of the many facets of Scott's genius, is his
organisational and archiv-ical, archivaling abilities! He's just amazingly
EP When you've got a project like that, [do] you have to listen to all the
masters? How do you sort them out in your mind?
SC You don't. You just...it's like I told you at dinner, that I'm a consumer
of music, and so listening to thirty-four plus hours of Ornette Coleman when
the only thing that I actually own...
JT (chuckling) I can't imagine anything worse!
SC...I only own Free Jazz and The Shape of Jazz to Come. That's it. So to be
immersed, paid to immerse yourself in Ornette Coleman, is not a problem.
Because you listen to the music and begin to have an understanding of it,
just like you could of any kind of music. If you wanted to get into any
artist, like I said with The Residents, I bought the whole bin. When I saw
Zappa, I bought the whole bin. You know, just immerse yourself in an artist,
and figure out what it's about. So it's the same sort of thing with the
Fahey project, or the Beefheart, or the Charley Patton...
JT With the Charley Patton thing, did you get into Charley Patton? Did you
get some of it?
SC Well yeah, you have to. I mean, you're sitting there with hours and hours
and hours of tape that you have to sort through. You can't help but not get
JT I knew you hadn't listened to much Patton beforehand, and I was just
SC So that just broadened my musical knowledge. Now I know everything there
is to know about Patton. That set's just amazing.
RM He was a hack!
SC The great thing about the Patton project was the amount of detail that
went into it, to make it the best that it could possibly be. Going so far as
having somebody sit there and try to figure out what the words were, trying
to figure out all the lyrics. Next to impossible! Trying to figure out what
the tunings were of all the songs, and then from those tunings saying that
this is the chord that's supposed to be in F, to tell the mastering engineer
to pitch it up or down depending on what it is, because we don't know
exactly what speed those 78s were supposed to be played at. So the only way
of doing it is trying to figure out what the tuning was supposed to be, and
pitch it to that, so it would be in tune. But it's that attention to detail
that makes that set so great, because this is the first time of hearing that
stuff played at the proper speed, as it was recorded, not necessarily as
somebody would have thought it would be.
EP Didn't they do the same with the [CD reissue of] the Harry Smith
SC Probably, I wasn't involved in that. You have to do it, if you're gonna
be accurate. That's what Revenant is about, is accuracy in the archiving of
EP Does that give you a sense of achievement, to have worked on something
SC Erm, yeah - to a certain extent it's, when it means something to
somebody, then it gives you a sense of achievement. If somebody doesn't know
who Charley Patton is, or never seen the box set, then it means nothing to
them. And that's the thing, is that my career and the type of music that I
work with is varied enough that you have to assess the person's musical
tastes in order to say the right things to them that will impress them, if
you're indeed trying to impress them.
RM Wow, that was cool!
SC Well, it's important you know, as much as nobody wants to name-drop or
say 'I dig this or I dig that', in this business that's how you get people
to listen to what you're talking about. So if I say 'Hey, I'm the Sun City
Girls' engineer and I recorded their last 15 records', it means nothing to
somebody who doesn't know who Sun City Girls are. But somebody who does know
who The Sun City Girls would be 'Wow! That's really cool!' you know, they're
impressed by that. If they're not impressed by Sun City Girls, then I say
'well I recorded some stuff for the new Mudhoney record.' And somebody
[else] is impressed by that. I'm impressed by it all! I like what I do! And
I do a good job of it!
JT I've always been impressed with Scott, actually...he's an impressive
RM Yeah, not to mention imposing...and threatening!
[Referring to a cartoon image of Scott on the wall]
JT His brain is heavy. He keeps it propped up to one side with a stick! He
can record the sound of your eyes closing, and the loudest rock band in the
world! His methods are inscrutable, you see!
RM That's a testament to how impressive I think he is!
EP Is there a common thread to everything you've worked on?
SC Not really. Studio business is such that it's word of mouth, so some
things would be related to because a member who recorded here recommended a
friend of theirs, their band to record here, because maybe their music is
similar. But it's not necessarily...I'm not locked into one genre of music.
EP Why do people come to you with a project, like say the Grow Fins or the
Charley Patton thing? What are they looking for?
SC Well, Dean's a special case actually. Because - I don't remember what the
year was, but I lived with Alan and Charlie from Sun City Girls, and Alan
was in Burma, and I was checking the mail, if there was any mail order that
came in to make sure it was sent out in a timely manner. Then we got this
letter from this guy in Austen, and he wanted to release a 78 of Sun City
Girls material. So it's like 'that's kinda cool!', and when Alan came back
from Burma he asked 'what's going on in the mail?' 'Check out this letter!'
and I handed it to him and he read it, and he's like 'wow!'. I go, 'the guy
is totally out of his mind! We have to do it! We have to do a 78!' It was
about the time when we decided that we weren't going to any compilation
tracks, or let other labels handle the material. But I go 'man, we have to
do this, because this guy's completely lost it!' So we did that record, and
then that progressed from there. Dean wanted to do a double 78 of John Fahey
's material. He said, 'Hey, how much would you charge me if I had you drive
down to Salem and record Fahey at his home, and put out a double 78?' So we
did that. And then he had the third and final volume of the 78 collection,
which was Charlie Feathers on one side, and a Charlie Feathers / Junior
Kimbrough duet on the second side. And I mixed the duet side, and it was a
tape from '69 or something, and then mastered the A side to that. From
there, Dean forms Revenant and started working on all the first projects,
which were - it was just a deal that Dean and I had, I knew enough about
audio and he liked my sensibilities, and so he hired me to do these things.
It just keeps going like that. So I'm kind of, in a way, Revenant's in-house
engineer, even though they don't maintain their own studio.
JT Right, and I think they're both ultra-efficient guys, right? Dean and
Scott? Dean seems to be an efficient guy.
SC I think he is, very efficient. His notes are very detailed.
EP The history of art is full of this. I mean, there's the Vorticist guy
[Wyndham Lewis], he looked all around London to find a printer who would
print Blast First....a very right-wing artist. He did the magazine called
Blast, the first issue, and he had such strong ideas about how he wanted it
printed and nobody in London would do this weird, dada-styled typesetting.
Actually there's no real parallel here, because the guy he found to do it
was an alcoholic, who was mad enough to take on a project like that!
SC To answer your question though, about what attracts people, is because I
understand the project. And you know, I'll get contacted - like there's a
guy in Japan that I do mastering for on different projects that he has. You
know, why would a guy from Japan send masters all the way to the United
States and have somebody work on them, when he probably could have the exact
same thing done in Japan? But the problem is, that there might not be
somebody who understands that music. It's like if Jeff and Rob, in their
earliest days, were looking for a studio to record their music, who would be
able to understand what they were trying to do?
RM We don't even understand what we're trying to do!
SC Right! But you know what I mean. In the breadth of the work that I work
on...that whole top row [points to CDs on a shelf] is albums I've worked on.
The stuff that is the weirdest stuff, the people come to me because I can
understand the concepts of what it is they're trying to do. And it's not
difficult if you're a consumer of music, if you know what the stuff is
supposed to sound like or have an idea what it's supposed to sound like.
EP And you arrive at this understanding quite quickly? Is it the same as
being in sympathy with the music? Or do you just understand it
SC Usually, I'll just talk to the artist about what it is that they want to
achieve. And the other side of it is, that as much as any particular band or
group of people don't want to categorise their music, or relate their music
to somebody else, I think it's important that you do that in order to make a
connection with somebody else. And here's an example. On Sun City Girls tour
we played in - I don't even remember where it was, Columbus Ohio or
somewhere like that. I know where I was living at the time! The guy saw the
soundcheck, and said 'Well you guys must really be into Zappa.' OK. Why?
Because Zappa was the weirdest thing that that guy had ever heard. Sun City
Girls are nothing like Frank Zappa. But it's a reference point for that. So
when I work with a group, I always say 'what are your influences?' And if
they're like 'Well, you know, we have a lot of influences but...' [I say]
'well what do you sound like?' And if they can't tell me, then I go 'Look,
man, this is what I'm into - Black Flag, The Residents, and Frank Zappa and
Balinese Gamelan! OK? What are you into?' and have them tell me. And you can
get that out of people. I always say 'I'm not trying to compare you to those
bands, but I need to know where you're coming from so you can come in and
say record my music', that's different from saying 'I wanna sound like
Metallica!' Then I know. If a band says 'we want to sound like this
particular song of Gang Of Four'. I get that particular song and listen to
it - OK, now I know what it sounds like. Now I know where they're coming
from and can understand it. The problem that I have is that I'm into enough
bands that are obscure enough that when I say, 'you know, your band sorta
sounds like X,' and they've never heard of X, but it's the best description
for the band. For these guys (Rob and Jeff), I said 'Well you guys sound
like Big Butter!'
EP Even I've heard of Big Butter!
JT Really? We both said, huh? Who?
SC And it's like nobody knew what I was talking about. But I thought that
their double seven-inch sounded like 'Bearded Horses' by Big Butter. And it
does! But there's only 200 copies that exist. It was a green seven inch,
they sold it through Ralph Records.
RM You heard that one?
EP I haven't heard that one. [launches into another anecdote]. David Bailey,
the photographer...he'd arrive at a perfect portrait photograph of his
subjects, But he got there through12 hours of meeting somebody, and one
minute of photographing them. Is that the same kind of thing? Like you meet
the guy, spend the day with them, talk to them.
SC Yeah, although I don't go that far...!
EP So he knew what to do when it came to taking the actual photograph.
Whereas if they'd just come into the studio [cold] and he would say, well
sit like this, it would be quite a different thing.
SC To me, music is sound. And I don't hear lyrics - I don't hear words, I
should say. So singing to me is another instrument, as part of that pallette
of sound that's put together. And so I apply that to whatever it is I'm
doing, that I'm trying to create something that sounds good or is pleasing,
or interesting-sounding. And whether that's rock music, or jazz, or
experimental, or reggae, or whatever - it's the same application. And it's
true that in its stripped-out form, its most basic form, the music is just
this very nice sound. So that's what I'm doing - organising it in a way that
's pleasing to myself and my client. And those are not always the same
goals, but frequently they are the same goals. So if they are different, I'
ll do a mix for them and I'll do a mix for myself. But that doesn't happen
EP Where did you learn your skills?
SC Columbia College, Chicago Illinois.
EP You did a course in record-production, or what?
SC Yes, it was at college, you know university-style. I actually started
going to school at Indiana University, and I took the basic audio classes.
Actually started taking the - I went to school for -
RM So, wait. Were you hooked - with the first moment you recorded - did the
lightbulb go off over you head, when you made that first recording? In 1982
or whenever it was?
SC No, I had just spent all of my college money putting out records.
RM So when you made that first recording, you didn't just kind of go, this
is what I want to do?
SC No, because - this is what I'm explaining, when I went to the University
at first, I was going to follow the path of radio and television production,
because I made films when I was a teenager. And that's what I thought I was
interested in, was television, and I liked radio comedy. So I thought that's
what I was gonna go into, and I went into that, and really enjoyed it, but
there was also another aspect of it was, like, sound engineering that I was
turned on to through radio production. And so I tried to get into the radio,
or the sound engineering course at that University. And the guy that was the
head of the course judged me from appearance. And said I wasn't interested
in what they did there, which was classical recording, and that I was
interested in pop recording. I told him that he was fulla shit!
JT Gentlemen, I'm sorry I have to leave. But I wanted to bring up a couple
of points of conversation that may or may not be of interest. Oh hell, I'm
gonna forget one of 'em...the tapes that you restored for Buck, that
restoration project? I thought that was really fascinating. And god-dang
it...the other one slips through my mind!
RB The Immersion DVD?
JT No...it wasn't that.
SC So, at that University they wouldn't let me into the programme. And so I
went through the intro classes again, just to be an ass basically! Stand up
in front of 'em again, just to...I thought that if I went through the
introductory classes twice, that he would see I was really serious of
wanting to learn about audio recording, and he still wouldn't let me in. So
I quit school for a year. And then I found a school in Chicago, at Columbia
College, that had a four-year sound engineering programme and I went up
there and learned it there. The difference was that my teacher was Malcolm
Chisholm, and Malcolm was Chess Records' house engineer. And his big joke
was - not a joke, it was true - but his execution was 'I've recorded every
Chuck Berry side you've ever heard, except two!' And we'd all be going 'Huh?
What?' There'd be a long pause. And he'd say 'I was on vacation that week!'
But, literally, he did record every Chuck Berry side. And I have a record of
Ahmad Jamal, The Flight of the Persian, he recorded that; and I've seen his
credit list, and you know Sinatra's on there, all this other stuff, these
just amazing recordings. And he was a great engineer, mainly because he was
a character - he was really kind of funny. And he's, in a way, a man's man -
climbed mountains, swam with sharks, engines blow up in his face - the
stories are just amazing. I have tapes of some of his stories from class,
because they're just simply amazing. And though I may not have always agreed
with his ideas about how something should be recorded or not, you can't help
but take information that he gives you. This is beyond 'old school'. They
didn't just go out and buy a console - they built the console. They bought a
few microphones, but if something went wrong they had to fix it, and they
built the stuff. The tape machines they would build, it was that sort of
thing. And I think that was a really, really valuable education. To see what
's the essence of the beginning of audio recording, and how does it work.
And then apply it to the years that I'm recording, the generation that I'm
recording in. Cause I used to be up at night [worrying] or upset about
'where am I gonna come up with the 25,000 dollars it's gonna take to buy the
microphones that you have to have to record?' An M-149, or RCA ribbon, C-12
or whatever, or any number of these things, really expensive famous
microphones that you have to have, that cost five or ten thousand dollars
apiece? How am I ever gonna have that kind of money to spend on one piece of
equipment? And I just said, you know, fuck it, I'm not recording in the
1950s, I'm not recording in the 1960s, I'm recording in the 1990s! So I'm
gonna buy equipment that's contemporary with the 90s, and record with that,
and who knows whether any of these microphones I have on the shelf up here,
are gonna be the 5-thousand or 10-thousand dollar coveted microphones of 40
years from now? Or whatever. But I buy that mike for 500 dollars now, could
be worth ten grand. It's not an investment, it's just that you don't
know...that marks that period of time, and that's what I'm recording [with].
And those types of microphones mark that period of time - it's not
necessarily a golden age of recording, although it is...
RM They all are though, in their own way!
SC Yes, there's classic records made all the time.
EP But doesn't it take a visionary kind of concept to do this...to just be a
maverick and say you don't need this expensive equipment, and it's the ideas
behind it that count.
SC Well, I don't know about the vision...
EP Do you believe in the idea of visionary producers? There's all these
people, like Geoff Emerick, Brian Wilson, Lee Perry, Phil Spector...
RM George Martin...
SC It's a different way of working. You can go to somebody...if you
approached a Phil Spector, you knew that you would get a Phil
Spector-sounding recording, because he would manipulate it in that way. But
then there are other engineers that don't have such a heavy fingerprint. But
you go to them because of one thing or another, who knows what puts somebody
on the A-List and somebody not on the A-List. If I go to Audio Engineering
Society conventions now, there's this A-list of engineers. Al Schmidt, Alan
Parsons, Ed Tierney, or all these people that are on the A-list, and what
puts them there? Bruce Sweden is one. All of these people are this top
echelon. But these people are also aged. You know, they've been around for a
long time. That's why there on that A-list. If I intend to be that at some
point - I mean, I'm only close to 40, I'm not 60 yet! So I've got another 20
years to achieve that A-list.
EP Who defines that A-list, anyway?
SC I don't know who defines it, it's [done] by the industry. You would think
that if you're recording Barbra Streisand, then you must be a pretty good
engineer, cause she's probably not going to hire some crap engineer. I mean,
I've always wanted to record Cher! Because she'd got a really interesting
voice. And to put her with music that is not like what she's doing now,
which is kind of crappy, but to put her with something that's really kind of
interesting. Maybe I'm visionary in that sense? If you say, I would have
loved to record Tiny Tim - it's like an idea of a project that's visionary,
how you put the project together. And you want to do this one thing, and
people will laugh at you. Record Cher?! Or put Alice Cooper in a band that's
really appropriate for him, rather than that LA hair-rock band. Why not? Why
not do that? It would be a really good record. It wouldn't sell enough
copies, probably not. I mean that's why Alice Cooper doesn't do records like
that, because they're not going to sell. And that's the problem with the
EP Those are some strong ideas...that's more that simply asking musicians
what they would like to do, that's having ideas of your own which you think
you can bring to the project, and realise their music differently or
SC You always have to think big, and shoot for bigger things. I have enough
confidence in my ability that I know if I approached Alice Cooper, or
whoever, and said I've got this idea for a project and I think we could do
this or this, that I could execute that idea. It's not that I'm dreaming or
whatever, I know I could execute that idea. The problem is getting to Alice
Cooper to present him with the idea, and getting his management to
understand that it's a good idea. And that's really difficult.
EP I did hear a story ages ago about some would-be songwriter, who managed
to get as far as getting his song to Tom Jones. And Tom Jones apparently
said, 'well you've got this far at least..I'll listen to it!' I don't think
anything came of it. But that was quite different, this was some guy with
his eye on the main chance who thought he'd written a good song. He figured
if he could get Tom Jones to record it he'd be famous.
SC I'm not so much looking to be famous, or whatever. I meant that the ideas
for projects I have would make really kind of cool music, be interesting,
and would kind of shake things up a little bit. Instead of being static, or
trying to make music for the sense that it's gotta be a hit song in there
somewhere. The record labels, at least the major labels are not made for
that purpose any more. You have to make a hit, to sell a certain amount of
records, and therefore it's deemed good, rather than...I mentioned this A&R
guy before, that I visit; he always tells me how in today's music climate,
if Led Zeppelin or The Rolling Stones or Jimi Hendrix were coming on the
scene right now, they would never get signed! They would be on an
independent label, because their music was just too weird or not
commercially acceptable. Although Hendrix was playing all over the place and
was considered a big seller. But in today's musical climate, they wouldn't
get signed because they don't write hits! You know, they're not Britney
Spears. It's fascinating, because these are great people, but they wouldn't
have a chance today.
EP Yes, maybe there was more freedom to experiment in the 1960s and early
RM The commercial industry hadn't caught up with it, quite figured it out,
took a little while to wrestle it to the ground.
SC What it was, was a renaissance, and Alan and I were talking about this
the other day. Alan said this to me, 'in that period of time, it was a
musical renaissance period, where there were no rules and everybody was into
it, and it was gaining popularity, and people were more and more interested
in it; and there weren't as many bands, and not as many records coming out,
and people could spend time at big concerts and that sort of thing.
EP So, would you say you're in quite a privileged position now?
SC Not privileged - I just feel I'm in a good position, I'm not in the
position I ultimately want to be in. I don't feel that I've recorded any
crap. But that's me and my world. I can only say this, there's a lot of
recordings out there that are good, but I'm interested in making great
recordings. And the problem is that there's a lot of people out there who
call themselves engineers, and do a good job, it's like they have people
happy with their work. But I'm hoping that I'm a little bit outside of that,
I hope that I can think beyond that, to make really interesting great
recordings. Try and bring out that something special, whatever it is. My
career's actually focussing more towards film now than music. You know, the
music that we do is not gonna be commercially acceptable for a long time,
and the great thing about the film is that it is commercially acceptable, so
there is a market there. We're not gonna be running around in limousines and
be considered rock stars, but we can do well in creating soundtracks and not
really step away from our own artistic goals as well. We wouldn't have to
sell out to do that, still create weird music.
EP Did you build your studio yourself?
SC Yes I did. I've been here for three years in this location. It's evolved
over time. The studio before this one was over when I lived with Jesse [Paul
Miller] and Linda [Peschong], so it was three years in that house, and then
there was a period of six months that I didn't have a studio, but I had some
equipment set up in a studio apartment when I lived in Queen Anne. That's
when I met Jesse and Linda. Before that, it was exclusively Sun City Girls'
studio, and that was in a house that Alan and Charlie and I shared, there
was three years in that. And then prior to that I never had my own studio
other than I had a four-track at home and some microphones. I would record
my own music with the band that I was in or going to a studio and recording
a group that I might release the record for, or something like that. If you
look at my credit list on my website, those early years are really lean as
far as the amount of projects. And then you can see at what point I have my
own studio, because I might record 25 albums a year or something. It's a
lot, but an album that I work on maybe will take two or three weeks.
EP Goodness me, that's very efficient.
SC Well, it's all about money! Not to me - I meant it's a matter of money to
the band. The projects are self-financed. So they have a certain amount of
money and they need to record it, and they can only afford so much studio
time. I mean, there's any number of recordings that I work on that I could
easily spend way more time on if I wanted to, if the budget allowed, but the
budget does not allow that and so you have to make the best recording you
can within the allotted time, within the budget that you're given to work
with. Sometimes a person's budget it's just not possible to do what they
wanna do. I got a call once 'We wanna sound like Metallica, and we wanna do
nine songs, and we've got 150 dollars.' I said 'You can't do it for that
kind of money, it's impossible!' They were a young band, of a young age, and
they'll learn. But that's what it all boils down to, what is the budget for
a project and what can we accomplish with that, and most of the people I
work with are self-financing, the label's not paying for it, there's not
unlimited amounts of money available.
EP What else would you like to be doing, besides more film soundtrack work?
SC Well, the different projects that I mentioned earlier - I really would
like to make an album with Alice Cooper that sounds much more like the
original Alice Cooper band.
RB Did you mention the 1972 concert that you recently archived?
SC ICES? I didn't mention that. That was a cool project. That's 46 reels of
tape, roughly 46 hours of recorded material from a concert called the
International Carnival for Experimental Sound - ICES. Eric [Lanzillotta] was
the person behind it, he hired me to do the transfers. The tapes were
recorded on four-track quarter-inch tape at 7 ½ ips, and had been sitting at
the University of Kansas for 25 years untouched. People didn't really know
what was on it. So we transferred all of them in four-track form and we took
the - the way that the microphones were set up, because it was recorded in
quadraphonic, was that there were three stages, and each stage had an
identical microphone array. On any given stage there's two microphones that
were considered the front microphones. For the microphones hung in the
middle of the stage [like this], and so the front microphones faced the
front of the stage pointed towards the front, and a second pair of
microphones were like this, where one was pointing towards the back, so it's
like a triangle pattern of pickup, and one was pointing up in the air.
EP Do you know this from archival material, a diagram, or something?
SC No, I talked to the original engineer, John [Liveright?], he recorded it
originally and he told me what the array was. And you can hear, sort of,
which mike is which by listening to each individual track. The grand scheme
was, man it would be really great because now with DVD and 5:1 surround
systems that we could actually release this in a form that people could hear
it, where quad didn't work. Quad didn't get into the consumer market as big
as they wanted it to, but Surround is getting into it. So maybe we could do
something with it like that. But all we've achieved at this point is mainly
just the transfer of the tapes and doing a stereo mix of the two front
mikes - that's why I explained where the mikes were - which would be the
bulk of the sound; and making a set of CDs for the University, one [set] for
Anomalous Records, one for the Gravelvoice archives, and then sets for the
people that invested in the project.
EP Right, so it's not going to be commercially released? [audibly slavering]
SC Not at this point. I mean it would be really great but the logistics of
getting all those groups to remember...
RB Who were the groups again?
SC There were a lot of groups - AMM were playing, the Taj Mahal Travellers,
a Taj Mahal side group called Transition - that particular tape is
phenomenal! That's like the highlight of the whole set for me, and just
happened to be the first tape that I transferred. I'll say this about the
whole project - the entire thing is worth listening to, there's really not a
dull moment in the whole thing. However, only about a third of it is worth
re-listening to. But that's still a big chunk out of roughly 50 hours of
tape, saying that 15 or 10 hours is good.
EP Why do you say that? You heard it again and just thought 'this is boring'
SC No, it's not boring. I was really fascinated by all the material that I
was transferring, and I liked listening to it and it was fun, but there were
particular performances that...'I kinda want to hear that Transition concert
again!', where you're compelled to listen to it again, where other things
like Lady June or Bread and Cheese were not as compelling, or maybe not as
great a performance, to me. But that's my perception of it. I don't
particularly like squonky horns! But on the other hand, the AMM set is just
drums and squonky horns, and it's phenomenal - it's a really good set. Yeah,
that's a great project.
EP What were the challenges facing you with a job like that?
SC One was lack of documentation, or incorrect documentation. The original
engineer swears that Dolby A was used in the recording of it, and I rented
some Dolby A units and found out through the whole project that Dolby A was
never recorded on any of the tapes. Indeed, Dolby A was probably used in the
signal chain somewhere, but was not used properly, and as the original
engineer pointed out, this was 1972 and Dolby A was a new thing, and a lot
of people just didn't know how to use it. And it wasn't documented as well.
How do you use this thing? You have to hit record and it encodes into tape
in a certain way, and when you play back you have to decode it. That was
probably never explained to anybody. If you take the Dolby A unit and put it
in line with something that has a little bit of hiss, and you put it into
decode, it'll take some of that hiss out, and maybe that's how it was used.
But the thing that tipped me off was that I was playing a tape back through
the Dolby A unit and it was this chord - it was actually an Ensemble MW2
tape - this chord hit on this piano and it rang out forever, and then in the
middle of it this flute would play a note - TOOT - and it would modulate the
decay of this piano. I thought, that's not right! That doesn't sound right
to me. And so I played it back without the Dolby A and it sounded fine,
although it was hissier. So then I took something that I knew, that I had
recorded, and I played it through the Dolby A and I listened back to what
the encoded signal was supposed to sound like. I could play you a tape and
definitely tell you if it was encoded with Dolby A or not. And the tapes
that came from this ICES project were not encoded with Dolby A. And so all
the transfers were made straight, and I made stickers for all of the reels
and put them in there and said this is what I found out. We're not sure that
the track scheme on the front for how the microphones were situated is
correct, because it varies. But the engineer told me that there were two
machines but they were just - one machine was going, and when that was ready
to run out they'd start the next one, so they doubled up on the sound, but
the [bus] system was the same, so it's like - those are the challenges. It's
like trying to retrace history. Trying to get somebody who might have been
completely out of their mind, stoned, thirty years ago, to remember what
they did or what they played. That's the whole reason why my website exists,
to help me remember what I did! It's autobiographical of sorts, but it's
also an archive or a database of what it is that I do.
EP There's been so many great [archival] releases like this recently...the
Eddie Prevost Silver Pyramid record, the MEV 1969 reissue...
SC MEV were at ICES also...that tape was missing out of the project.
EP What I'm excited by is taking stuff out of the past and bringing it into
the present. It has a new life, more people get to hear it, and suddenly it
makes sense. Maybe people aren't ready for the Climax Golden Twins yet, but
if you record it well now, it's gonna be stored up for the future.
SC Hopefully....but you're absolutely right, that ICES concert, you could
never do something like that today. It was a 16-day concert! You could just
not pull off something like that and it would not be...it wasn't financially
viable then, it certainly would not be financially viable now.
RM And you could release a 50 CD set [of it] that would not be financially
viable, but it would be kind of great! Like the Merzbow box of CDs!
EP Are there any recordings - good examples of production - that are your
favourites, that you like and that inspire you? Not stuff that you did,
somebody else's work.
SC Well, I write a series of articles about that in Tape Op magazine. It's a
series which I haven't written for a long time, it's called 'recordings that
changed my life', and there are particular recordings that really had a
profound impact on me at any particular time. And what I do is re-analyse
the recordings as a professional audio [technician] and write about it. The
reason that I haven't written very many recently is because on a lot of the
records that I choose, it's hard (1) to find out where the band is or get in
touch with them because they're kind of obscure, and (2) getting people to
remember how things were recorded. And really, on second thought, it doesn't
matter to me how it was recorded. It would be kind of interesting to say it
was recorded on this kind of tape machine, but you don't buy a record
because the vocals were recorded with a UA7. That's not why you buy a
record. You buy it because the music moves you. And now I can listen back to
something that moved me 20 years ago or something, and say I think that the
reason that this moved me was because of this, knowing now how music is
produced. But the amount of equipment doesn't really matter. The forum for
those articles was Tape Op magazine, which is a technical audio magazine, so
I kind of had to write from a technical standpoint. Which really didn't
work in that setting for me. The articles that I've written so far are Black
Flag My War, which I thought was kind of a ground-breaking record for its
time and I was a big Black Flag fan. Caroliner Rainbow - Cooking Stove
Beast, that particular record. The Jungle Book soundtrack - it's great beat
jazz! Very well recorded. Insane Clown Posse, The Great Milenko...
EP What interests me - I wouldn't understand, even if you kept explaining to
me for years, what makes a good recording. But a little bit of information
really helps me. When people tell me Bitches Brew is put together through
edited tapes...or you can hear the use of valve amplifiers on Revolver by
The Beatles, or the way the Faust record was put together, by a very strange
SC It's interesting that you mention Bitches Brew, because that is a classic
record. And these new releases of it where they put it back together, it's
interesting to be able to hear the complete takes, because Miles Davis maybe
never played anything back. At the same time, they edited that for a reason,
and what the reasons were we don't know. Was it because the side of an album
was only 20 minutes? Or it had to be edited that way? Or did they edit it
out because in their opinion their playing wasn't top-notch at that point,
and that stuff was not meant to be heard? I don't know what the answer is.
But what I think that you're asking me - like on the Climax Golden Twins
polka-dot record, that's got every trick in the book on it, that I could
RM...that you foisted upon us, yeah!
SC The whole point of that record is...I mean Climax Golden Twins, and the
reason that I enjoy being in the group and working with Jeff and Rob, is
because we're experimental - and we can push the limit of what we're trying
to do, or ways of creating sound. And - correct me if I'm wrong, but most of
our records have a concept of how it's going to be recorded, or the type of
material that's going to be on it. Maybe not always adhering strictly to
that, but it's not an open book like 'anything goes'. For the rock record,
the Polka-Dot record, it's supposed to be a rock record - that's the whole
thing. And to record it on the tape machine using normal rock recording
methods, but then still experimenting on top of that to make the recording
interesting. And that's what I mean by the difference between a good
recording and a great recording. Try to make it interesting to the listener.
We did a lot of different things. We recorded the snare drum through a metal
tube on one song, because we thought that would be kind of cool. Well, it
sounded like crap! So we did something equally as insane, to replace the
snare drum on the track by taking a speaker, putting it on top of the snare
drum and putting a mike next to it, and playing the snare drum track back
through the speaker, so the speaker's air pressure would pop the snare. And
so we'd have the same attack and the same human element to it, but it would
be a completely different snare sound. Do you understand what I'm saying?
EP Yes, but how...do you think of something like that on the spur of the
SC Yes. I'd read about that technique and I just wanted to try it. One time
we took Rob's amp and laid it on its back, and Jeff would play the slide
guitar as Rob and I swung microphones back and forth in front of the
speaker. But that's another version of a technique that I had read in
another book, a long time ago, that was to take the amplifier and set it
upright, and one person lay in front of this amp and swing the microphone
like this around the arm while another person stood up and swang a
microphone in the opposite direction in a bigger circle. Which makes the
sound go in and out of phase. In the stereo perspective it flies completely
randomly around. And I used that technique originally on a Sun City Girls
record, but we applied it to this record as well because it always works, it
's always an interesting technique. But to try to find the right application
for that technique is difficult. You can't just throw it in anywhere.
RM There's another good one...we probably just had the drum set up for a
while and kept fucking around with it, but we had this fun thing with a
cymbal and the microphone right up to it and we tried that with a bunch of
different things...made this really great [thwoosoh] whooshing noise, really
low woofing noise, and we tried to use that as the basis for tracks. It's
kind of fun. Letting the sound build up.
EP Hmm, the level of attention to detail is impressive. You must think of
everything, every bit of the recording.
SC Well, it's fun! I keep meaning to write the article of how we recorded
the polka-dot record, but I doubt that we'll ever get around to it. Take
each track and say, here's the weird technique that we used on it. It was
fun in doing that. And also utilising the computer, even though this stuff
was recorded on analogue tape, to mix it and then edit it down, sequence,
chop things up, take a whole song...is it on the polka-dot record, that we
took the jazz number and then I chopped it up?
RM That's on Meme.
SC Just taking a piece and just start hacking away at it.
RM We did a lot editing on that record. Also really old recordings that we
made before working with Scott, and stuff that Scott had recorded too, so it
had a really interesting wide range of aesthetic techniques on it...really
EP But the great thing is, it's all art concealing art - because you don't
notice any of this when you're listening, you just get moved by the music,
the whole time! You don't sit back in admiration and think 'what a clever
producer Scott Colburn is'. You think 'this is fantastic!' The power of
music just shines.
SC That's exactly what I'm talking about, when you mentioned before about
other producers having a particular sound...I don't think that I have a big
fingerprint that I put on a particular recording. But I want it be an
interesting aural experience. Maybe that's kind of a lost [cause],
because... I had this discussion with somebody recently, does anybody
actually listen to a CD when they buy it? Or do they vacuum, watch the TV
and read a book and answer email while they're listening to things? Is
anybody actually paying attention to what we're doing. And most of the time,
I think no. But my friend thinks that if you spent 16 dollars for a disc,
sure you're gonna listen to it! That's a lot of money to spend for a record.
The difference is, he says - and this is where the consuming of music comes
in - it's different for you and I, because we consume that music, and are
into that sort of thing, but we're kind of unique in a sense, because a lot
of people don't consume music in that way. It's a background thing or
something that they listen to casually. So they're not hearing it. But they'
re still moved by the music, and they like it. Probably the people that are
into the music that we make, or stuff like it, probably actually do listen
to the records, because they're that type of music consumer.
EP [mentions The Residents]...
SC Oh yeah, I forgot that...The Mark of The Mole, I wrote an article
EP Hmm. It's not their best record.
SC It's not?
EP I don't think so. Eskimo is great. Mark of the Mole I think is better
SC I didn't see that show.
EP There's records of it live. With Penn Jillette. I remember seeing the
show. The studio record's a bit limp.
SC I think I'm interested in it because of the concept. And I just like dark
music. And that's what I like about it. And I also like the fact that it's
analogue synthesisers being played, it's not sequenced or anything like
that. I don't know, it's just so hard for me to describe, it's a personal
thing. I mean, I did describe it in my article, but I still don't think that
I actually scratched the surface about what moves me about that record.
EP I feel the same way with most of The Residents stuff. As you say, you can
keep on explaining to people the things you like, but you never quite get to
it, what moves you. I've always loved Not Available, it's an absolute
classic. The guy I saw recently, Steve Thrower in Cyclobe, said have you
ever noticed how short Not Available is? A really short record, and yet its
imaginative reach is enormous. They're trying for so many things in such a
short space of time. They seem to overcome their technical limitations.
Trying to make tape recorders work for them, and synthesisers work for them.
SC Right. I have this type of discussion with most of the people that I
record with, because there's this idea that if you put a record out now, it
has to be 60 minutes long. And before the advent of CD, that was not the
case. It would be 40 minutes long, 20 minutes a side. And the thing is, a
good album is not determined by how long it is, it's whether the material is
consistent, and consistently good. So there are some really great Beatles
records that are only 30 minutes long. So if you get a CD reissue of that
today, somebody might feel ripped off. I only got 30 minutes. This is an EP!
It's not, it's a good record, and you gotta be happy with what that is,
because if The Beatles had decided that they had to make a 60 minute
Revolver, it could've been total crap! It could have had 30 minutes of crap
on it. The problem is that people are so in tune to try and do a 60 minute
or 74 minute CD, that there's a lot more filler that's put into a record,
rather than editing and saying 'these are our 8 best songs - let's just put
out these 8 songs and call it an album.' It's very rare that someone would
put out Songs in the Key of Life, a double-record of just absolutely
brilliant material, that's really rare. It's more likely that someone will
come up with 30 minutes of really good material and just put that out as
your album. [Out-takes and second-best songs]....those are the things that
were cut out when it was limited to 40 minutes. So they should still be cut
EP Another thing I read about The Residents was the way the vinyl pressings
looked. Because if you know anything about audio engineering, and you look
at a vinyl pressing of a Residents record, you say 'this is wrong!' The way
the bands are grouped together is all horribly wrong.
SC I've never really noticed that. I haven't studied it either. The original
CD issues, of especially the early material, was really not done very well.
It was in accordance with a lot of the early CD issues of anything, where
they didn't go back to the original masters, or they didn't know how to
transfer them correctly, or how to make things digital sound good. And they
had to go back to remaster them...the remastered versions [of The Residents
catalogue] are phenomenal, they just sound really good. And so I went and
bought all those records again, so now I own them all on vinyl, and CD
twice! The difference is that all the original reissues have all this
additional material, which were not put on the reissues, so you still have
to have those first issues, so you can get Babyfingers or Santa Dog, or
Beyond the Valley of a Day in the Life. I made most of the miniature samples
that are on the Ralph Records website, when you look at a particular album
and click on the Real Audio thing, I made all those miniatures. I did it
from the remastered things, I just took each album, I listened to it, and
said 'this bit and this bit put together in this way represents this record.
' So that was really a great joy for me, to take entire Residents records
and condense them down to two minutes, and it usually consisted of about
three or four cuts from different pieces, but melded together in a
cross-faded way. They're really works of art in a sense, but they're kind of
lost in the Real Audio format. I keep meaning to make a CD for myself of the
original full masters, but it was fun [to do].
EP Is there a chance you could work with The Residents on a record?
SC Probably not. I really feel that they do [need a producer]. I mean, you'
ve seen them live. Maybe a couple of different shows, different tours.
EP Yes, it's always a little bit hit-or-miss.
SC Did you see the Cube-E tour? Really good, but how does that translate to
The King and Eye record? What I feel is that if they did it in the way that
they do their things, the way they make records and then tour that record.
They would actually benefit from touring the music [first] and then
recording it, which in fact they did with Wormwood. They released the CD
called Roadworms and it was recorded after the tour, so it had much more of
a raw feel. We're talking about vision...I have a vision for a Residents
recording that I would do. When you went to see Wormwood and you witnessed
that on stage, it had a certain quality to it, especially when the band
would really get into it and they were playing like a band. It was exciting,
and there was something going on there. To capture that excitement on tape
is something that they've really never done. Nobody's actually done it yet.
And I just think it's because a lot of engineers are trying to get a good
technical recording and that's not really what The Residents need to capture
the energy. They need to play it live, and they need to be on a stage, or
set up like a stage, and do it like they do it, and then you'll get that
energy. I have discussions with them all the time about doing different
things, but I don't think anything's ever gonna come of it. It's a bummer,
but they don't really need me to put out records, and it's not like what I'm
gonna do is gonna make the record sales go up. They'll sell the same amount
of records whether I do it or not, so that's what it boils down to.