What advice do you have for someone who wants to be the next Trina Shoemaker?
[sighs] I really don’t know how to help some of today’s kids who want to get into this industry, because when I started out I could roll in as a maid—and I’m a very good maid—but I also knew how to line up tape machines and fix gear.
I was also willing to be treated like shit and be paid nothing.
They say pride cometh before the fall, but back when I started doing this, you couldn’t have any pride; you couldn’t have any dignity.
You had to be willing to do anything, short of sexual favors, to get a chance to record music.
These days, I don’t know how you make yourself hireable, other than that you have to know Pro Tools, and the best way to do that is to buy it and set up your own little home rig . . . but that costs money.
I didn’t have to have any money in order to become an engineer—I just had to be prepared to be a maid first, and to work hard. Nowadays you need $30,000 to get into the game, either to buy a rig for yourself or to pay school tuition so you have access to a rig.
But when I first moved to New Orleans, my rent was $200 a month and I didn’t need a car or insurance, so I could afford to work for free and then bartend to make a few dollars.
I needed to prove to myself that I could be an engineer and I wasn’t about to let anyone, or anything, stop me. Maybe it was my own damaged sense of self-esteem that pushed me to put up with some really undignified shit! [laughs]
I’m not sure that most people are willing to go through that. I meet a lot of people these days who seem to have a sense of entitlement: “Hey, I went to school, I paid my dues; I deserve to do this.”
I sometimes feel like telling them, “I don’t know if you deserve it or not, but I gave up everything to get to do this, and I focused on it non-stop.” All I thought about in those days was editing, punching, and sounds—I was a real weirdo! [laughs]
What’s the craziest trick you’ve ever tried in a studio that actually made it to record?
Well, I didn’t actually come up with this, but I played a big role in it making it work. On the Queens of the Stone Age album called R, there’s a song called “Leg of Lamb,” and in the bridge it sounds like there are distorted guitars.
But it really is [singer/guitarist] Josh Homme and [producer] Chris Goss saying “dum, dum, you idiot” over and over again. I distorted it so severely that you’d never know that it was actually vocals and not guitars.
Also, on the song “Kashmir’s Corn” on Victoria Williams’ Musings of a Creek Dipper album, I recorded one of her vocals with her head stuck in the bell of a sousaphone because she liked the way it sounded in there.
I just had her move over for a second and stuck a 57 in there, down where the bell starts getting thin, and away we went. It was like one of those old Edison recordings, where they sang into a megaphone. I don’t know if these qualify so much as tricks as they are just weird moments . . . but they sure were fun to do.
Sheryl Crow: Sheryl Crow, A&M, 1996; The Globe Sessions, A&M, 1998; C’mon C’mon, Inter-scope, 2002
Victoria Williams: Musings of a Creek Dipper, Atlantic, 1998
Queens of the Stone Age: R, Interscope, 2000
Steven Curtis Chapman: All Things New, EMI, 2004
Grayson Capps: If You Knew My Mind, Hyena, 2005
James Otto: Sunset Man, Warner/Reprise, 2008
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