Alex: As far as I can tell, you recorded Jawbreaker's music on four separate occasions (October 1991, February 1992, August 1992, August 1993). Were there any additional sessions that I'm missing?
Billy: Sounds about right. I recorded with those guys at least 4 or 5 different times.... a single for a comp, Bivouac, another single or two (they would record two or more at a time for various comps....), then the "24-hour" sessions....
Alex: Bivouac seems to be the first time that you worked with the band. How
were you initially approached by them to record their music? Were you
friends with the band prior to the Bivouac sessions?
Billy: I think I had been familiar acquaintances with them previously just through association with music in S.F. At the time. I was definitely a fan and totally stoked when I heard they were coming in......
Alex: One outtake song from Bivouac named "Peel it the Fuck Down" appeared
on last year's "Etc." 2xLP/CD release...
Billy: ?????? wow. Don�t really remember the song itself, I'd have to hear it.
Alex: Were there any other "outtakes" from that session?
Billy: Not that I remember...maybe.
Alex: Any songs that were slated to be recorded but weren't actually
attempted? Or alternate takes of any songs?
Billy: "Parabola" probably had two takes, likely a second mix. That's the only one I can say with any degree of conviction. Of course, that was 12 years ago. It wouldn�t shock me a bit if you told me a whole "outtakes-from-the Bivouac-sessions" album was being released.
Alex: Blake's vocals are the only ones that appear on Bivouac. But
did Chris lay down any vocals that were later scrapped? I have a
live recording where he handles lead vocals for the "Sleep,"
which was apparently one of his songs.
Billy: I think Chris may have (?) done a vocal or two as guides for Blake (on the songs Chris had vocal ideas for...) and a backup on a chorus or something. Nothing major that appears in the record anyway...
Alex: How long did Bivouac take to record? Was it all laid down in a
single week, or was it recorded slowly throughout October 1991?
Billy: First of all, I remember that album being done in lotsa little chunks. A lot of it was recorded during a 3 or 4 day block. By "recorded," I mean the basics --- drums, bass, guitar. Maybe a vocal. I can't recall how long or far into the future the overdubbing was done � seems like it was a substantial break � like a week..???...
I do remember as we set up the basics, making small talk about music and shit.. one thing I recall is talking about Nirvana's new album, which had just come out about 2 weeks prior. They (Nirvana) had just been through town and played at the club down the street, the Kennel Club - where I was the house engineer.
Anyway, overdubbing couldn�t have taken but a couple/three days. It was mixed in chunks, like 2 or three songs a day. Those days were NOT in a row or engineered by the same person all the time... basically, the way the engineering works out is thus: (to the best of my recollection..) basics were done starting with Jonathan as head engineer, me as assistant. As the basics wore on and became a jam rather than a technical thing ("producing vs. engineering" is a question/theme that came up at the time...), Jonathan became less interested and more scarce. I ended up doing the rest of the tracking after he left � probably all but the first day or so. The closest I can approximate the overdubbing is....I was there for most of it...I was the head engineer at Razor's Edge at the time, which meant that I did just about everything that came through the door...from bands that called/wanted to work with me or at the studio itself to bands that called after seeing the ad in Bam.... I was also working at the Kennel Club and playing in my own band, Spilth*!% Needless to say, I was working a lot and not able to be there 24 hours a day - although I apparently tried.
Alex: Do you have precise dates?
Billy: The closest I can come to "dates" is....when we were mixing the bulk of it, Oakland caught on fire while we were in the studio one day. I went in at like 10am, nothing out of the ordinary. They met me at the studio, we mixed all day. When we took an "oxygen break" many hours later (+/- 5pm..) --- we walked outside and the sky � the entire fucking sky � was brown. Smoke. Smelled like death. We freaked and called around, turned on the radio. Turns out the Oakland hills were alight and had been since like noon. It took them a few days to extinguish them...the famous "Oakland Hills Fire" of 1991. If you can research those dates, that�s as close as I can remember � and it�s surprising that the "fire story" is associated with those sessions and filed as such by my brain.
Alex: I've always admired Bivouac's unique sound; it strikes me as a more
of a "studio" album than Unfun and 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, insofar as it has tons of
overdubs, vocal effects, reverb, samples, etc. Did you have any creative input towards the production, or even the
songs themselves? Also, did the band seem to know exactly what they wanted to record and how they wanted to record it, or were there any spontaneous decisions made in the studio?
Billy: Wow, I wouldn't have thought of it that way, as it seemed so hurried at the time. They always had their shit together � written rehearsed and ready..so it took less time than it should have to sound that way. Pretty simple sound-wise, actually. Their sounds, detailed and defined, but not over-analyzed. The playing was natural and easy. Didn't take a whole lot. The overdubs weren't as numerous as you might think ----- doubled guitar, some triples. Solos with an effect or whatever. Vocals recorded fairly natural except the occasions when we KNEW the sound would be different...distortion, "a.m. radio," etc. Doubles were occasional and natural for him to sing. Effects mostly were conceived/executed during mix --- drum reverbs, vocal spaces, goofy panning, samples, etc.
Basically, they weren�t blessed with a gigantic budget - the entire album probably got done, load-in to master, for under 5k. So, even though the textures and layers seem extensive, they weren�t "dwelled" upon or really even experimented with that much... mostly because the budget wouldn�t have allowed much more, plus they just had their shit together in the concept and execution aspects. Sounds and shit flowed naturally from them to me, me to them, from thin air, "happy accidents".... Then it�s just a matter of plugging shit in and having a little fun with the toys. I remember a little bit of luck, too.
Alex: What roles did Mike Morasky (of Steel Pole Bath Tub) and Jonathan Burnside play during the Bivouac sessions? They're listed in the credits as "producers," while you're listed as both a "producer" and an
Billy: Mike definitely got some good ideas into the equation � it�s just his style... He wasn�t trying to be big-time "engineer" or a "producer" --- he is a multi-talented artist who saw that he was capable of the technical side of making recordings and tried his hand in it. Aside from a great deal of the later Steel-Pole-Bathtub material, he only engineered on a few other things. Bivouac was one of them.
For what it�s worth - the story goes like this ------------ Basically, S>P>B>T did all their early stuff at Razor's Edge. Mike was working in some capacity for Digidesign - (still a fledgling audio co. at the time -- ca. 1990..) and had some cool gear that needed a home. More importantly, he had a head full of brilliant ideas that needed a home. All fell into place when he and Jonathan decided to hook up business-wise. Mike moved a bunch of gear into the back room and built a cool little digital suite � at that time the term was rarely heard. So Jonathan was the owner and engineer of "select" projects.....(long story), I was the house engineer-guy/studio-geek/gear-fixer/booking-solicitor/all-around-whipping-boy, and Mike became an "on-call" house engineer in return for having a space to do his brainiac-evil-destructo/artnoise projects. He knew Jawbreaker from playing together, etc., he just happened to be around at the time Bivouac got perpetrated.
Jonathan was basically the engineer that initially GOT the gig - Jawbreaker knew lots of bands that had done stuff at Razor's Edge, and he basically brought them there. Whether it was to work with him or to work at the studio itself (a major component in an important period of music in the bay-area....) is relative. They came, he got his "2-cents" in and he split the project for whatever reasons he had.
It was his studio - he hyped it to friends, bought the best gear he could and was always trying to expand the business either gear-wise or hype-wise. Eventually, this job took precedent and I took the bulk of the engineering. By the time Bivouac was recorded, Jonathan was basically doing less engineering - but.....he was responsible for the recording of the initial tracking sessions.
Alex: Were you happy with the way Bivouac turned out? Do you have any favorite songs from that session?
Billy: Yes, very happy. A classic in my eyes. They are an "all-time-greats"-type band. Extremely influential to music at the time, and to music that's STILL popular. They did it WAY BEFORE most of the bands that were influenced/inspired by them and are/have been way more "commercially successful" � heavy, melodic punk bands can all be traced back to Jawbreaker in some regard as far as I'm concerned. Knowingly or otherwise.
As a selfish footnote, standouts to me are Parabola and Bivouac.
Parabola 'cause we worked the longest on it --- it seems to me that it may have been a newer song, and there are things like the hi-hat parts and the bass groove as well as the specific tone of the bass, the tone/feel of the vocals, the goofy effects, etc.......all these things were experimented with to a greater degree and dialed in for longer periods of time than the rest of the songs. In fact, my memory tells me to write that there was (???) an alternate take if not another mix.....seems like there was something of that nature in the equation. I remember feeling proud that I could technically actualize their "verbal ideas" while having ideas that occurred to me artistically get used and appreciated. BASICALLY, the song was "handcrafted" more than most of the others � by them AND me. It�s a great fucking tune as well.
Bivouac � well ---- it�s a standout simply because it's a beautiful song. Epic. Heartfelt and honest in every regard..... emotion, performance, intent, arrangement, chord progressions, melodies --- everything that most bands dream of and work so hard to pull off. As far as I recall, nothing that spectacular tech-wise.
Just raw and honest. Big.
Alex: Jawbreaker also recorded some songs with you in February and August of 1992, which were later released on compilations. Do you have an exact date for the August 1992 session?
Billy: No. Don�t remember. That was a very busy time for me.
Alex: Were there any "outtakes" from those two sessions? (live recordings show that the band already had a few songs from 24 Hour
Revenge Therapy by February 1992, and even more were written by August 1992. There were also some songs that were written around the same time but never recorded in a studio to my knowledge...)
Billy: Don�t remember.
Alex: Steve Albini always seems to get all the credit for recording 24 Hour
Revenge Therapy, but you were also involved with the album... How did the band approach you to record those songs? Why weren't they happy with just releasing what they recorded with Albini?
Billy: Well, the truth is that I only actually RECORDED 3 or 4 songs for that album. By the time they were ready to do it, we had worked together a bunch of times and had become kinda tight. Although I remember hoping they'd do their next album with me, I was also starting to be very busy with other bands/albums/touring, etc. so when I heard they were going to Chicago to record with Albini, I was a little disappointed, but glad they were doing what they thought best. Time went by and eventually they called and said, "We did the recording, but we aren't happy with the way it came out. Would you be into tracking a few more songs, then mix the album?"
I didn't really ask why they weren't happy, just agreed enthusiastically to work with them. As far as I recall, we tracked the three songs, got them ready for mix, then after a day or two off, we mixed (I believe..) the whole album. It was a lot of fun. The best part is that they WERE happy with the album after these sessions.
Alex: Were there any "outtakes" from that August 1993 session?
Billy: Good question.
Alex: In general, what was your impression of the dynamics between the band
members? Could you see it change over time?
Billy: They always treated each other as equals. Relaxed, no egos. Blake definitely has admirers in Adam and Chris, but it's totally mutual and really good-natured.
Alex: Are there any funny stories/incidents/pranks that stick out in
your mind in regards to your sessions with Jawbreaker?
Billy: Probably. But my memory has been taxed enough for a week. I�ll think of stuff later as Alzheimer's sets in to the Tourette's and self-enhanced by injury/drug flashback.......
Alex: Anything else you'd like to add?
Billy: Jawbreaker rules. Still listen to them, recognize their unmistakable impact and influence on "alternative" music � then AND now, and the footprint they left on the world of music as a whole.
Alex: Thanks again, Billy.
Billy: You are welcome.