Two Weeks or Less
A look at projects that came together in record time for John Carpenter, (Liv).e, the Foo Fighters, and Black Sabbath.
|Gino Sorcinelli||Aug 30, 2019|| 1||1|
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Two Weeks or Less
Rock and Roll icons Black Sabbath had very little expectations for commercial success when they congregated for an October 1969 studio session to record their self-titled debut record. "We didn't think it'd ever do anything," bassist Terence “Geezer” Butler admitted in a 1999 Mix interview with Russell H. Tice. "Recording the album was just something we did on the way to Denmark.”
According to Butler, the group members weren’t the only ones who doubted their abilities to cut a meaningful album early on. The suits of the British music industry weren’t impressed by Black Sabbath’s aesthetic and didn’t think the Birmingham-based band had the songwriting chops to cut it as a serious act. “We’d been to six different record companies and producers, and they’d all told us, ‘Come back when you can write proper music,’” Butler said in a 2015 Uncut interview with Tom Pinnock.
Thankfully, producer Rodger Bain loved the group’s cutting edge sound and believed in their ability to find a loyal audience. Telling them to play a studio version of their live set so they could record a debut, the group agreed to give it a shot. “The first one was a live album with no audience,” Ozzy Osbourne told Uncut while describing the unique experience. “The manager said, go to this place Regent Sound… we’d never been into a studio before. We did the album in about 12 hours.”
The music you hear on Black Sabbath is essentially a one-shot run-through with minimal overdubbing or post production. According to studio engineer Tom Allom, the entire project was mixed in two eight-hour long sessions that the band wasn’t present for.
Music publications weren’t necessarily impressed with the final product, as famed critic and journalist Lester Bangs wrote in his September 1970 Rolling Stone review, “Just like Cream! But worse.” Despite the harsh tone from music magazines that covered the release, Black Sabbath managed to sell 500,000 units in 13 months. Their debut would finally reach platinum status 16 years later.
Although Black Sabbath was widely panned upon its initial release, it is now considered by many music historians of vital importance to the heavy metal genre. The true influences and origins of metal go well beyond Sabbath and further back in time, but many now consider Black Sabbath’s debut the original full-length heavy metal album—influencing countless bands and musicians in the near 50 years since it first hit shelves.
Some eight years after the release Black Sabbath, groundbreaking horror movie director and composer John Carpenter wanted to show his latest film to a Hollywood insider to get a feel for how it would play with audiences. The response to the first showing of Halloween wasn’t exactly encouraging. “I screened the final cut, minus sound effects and music, for a young executive from 20th Century-Fox,” he explained in an undated post on his website. “She wasn’t scared at all. I then became determined to ‘save it with the music.’”
Citing inspiration from Psycho composer Bernard Herrman and future collaborator Ennio Morricone—who Carpenter later worked with on The Thing in 1983—the young visionary set about coming up with a proper set of songs to heighten the tension in his latest film. Though he wasn’t a seasoned veteran by any means, Carpenter did benefit from prior experience scoring Dark Star in 1974 and Assault on Precinct 13 in 1976.
When reflecting on his decision to employ himself as the composer of his first two films on his website, Carpenter employed a bit of trademark bluntness and dry humor. “I was the fastest and cheapest I could get,” he wrote.
Recording the music for Halloween in Los Angeles’ Sound Arts Studios—a locale Carpenter described as a “small brick building in an alley”—Carpenter has long sung the praises of co-composer/producer Dan Wyman for helping turn his ideas into a cohesive final product. This wasn’t their first rodeo together, as Wyman had also played a key role in the creation of the score for Assault on Precinct 13.
Working as a jack of all trades, Wyman did everything from programming synthesizers to helping with the exhaustive overdubbing process that required laying instruments one by one. Wyman’s keen ear and studio savvy are aspects of the process that Carpenter remains grateful for today. “His fine taste and musicianship polished up the edges of an already minimalistic, rhythm-inspired score,” Carpenter wrote on his website.
Due to lack of available technology, budget, and time, the two composers were forced to work “in the studio, on the spot, without reference or synchronization to the actual picture”—a process Carpenter referred to as the “double-blind mode.”
Their collective ability to overcome this less-than-ideal constraint speaks to their intuitive sense of how to make sound work with image, as the Halloween score perfectly compliments the visuals throughout the film.
The first track they recorded was the now-legendary theme song, a sinister masterpiece that instills a feeling of dread inside of the listener. Remarkably, the initial idea for the song’s structure and pacing came from something Carpenter’s father had shown him almost 20 years prior. “The rhythm was inspired by an exercise my father taught me on the bongos in 1961, the beating out of 5–4 time,” Carpenter wrote on his website.
In the end, Carpenter did indeed save his movie with the music—Halloween went on to gross an incredible $60 million, a record for an indy movie at the time. From the experience of composing music many of his films to his more recent role scoring the 2018 sequel to the original Halloween, Carpenter remains a believer that a good soundtrack is a key element to a successful film. “Someone once told me that music, or the lack of it, can make you see better,” he wrote on his website. “I believe it.”
Beyond using time constraints as motivation for creating an iconic movie soundtrack, having a tight deadline can also be therapeutic for a musician trying to overcome personal devastation. Dave Grohl found this out as he recorded the Foo Fighters self-titled debut in a single week.
After his close friend and Nirvana band mate Kurt Cobain committed suicide in 1994, Grohl went into a state of total devastation. Both he and fellow band member Krist Novoselic withdrew from the public eye for several months before they were able to speak publicly about Cobain’s death.
As time went on, Grohl decided that he needed to move on from his period of mourning. “If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that you’ve got one life and you’d better live it as best you can,” he told Tom Bryant in a November 2009 Kerrang interview. “I’m not going to sit back and be some pitiful fucking mess.”
After respectfully declining some offers to drum for Danzig and Tom Petty, Grohl set out to take on a much more personal project. With rough cut demos of all but three songs on Foo Fighters already recorded, re-recording each cut, supplementing the collection of songs with some additional music, and offering it as a limited release seemed like the way to go. “I booked six days at Robert Lang studios in Seattle, which to me was an eternity,” he said in a 2007 Q magazine interview. “I’d never been in a studio myself for more than six hours.”
Enlisting the assistance of producer Barrett Jones, the two men would arrive at the studio at 9 a.m. every day and be ready to record by noon. Once they were up and running, they started cranking out four songs per day. The fast pace of recording led Grohl hastily scribbling some of the album’s lyrics. “I had seven days to record fifteen songs,” Grohl said in a 1996 Alternative Press interview with David Daley. “There wasn’t too much time spent sitting on a chair thinking.”
Though the limited studio time certainly played a role in the quick composition of the lyrics, so did the recent loss of Kurt. It was a coping strategy for dealing with the difficult to articulate emotions Grohl felt at the time. “I’d deliberately written nonsensical lyrics,” Grohl said in a 1999 Mojo interview with Paul Brannigan. “There was too much to say.”
In addition to the challenge of choosing the right words for this new chapter in his life, Grohl struggled with his confidence as a lead singer. “That album the vocals are quadrupled,” he told Q. “I didn’t want to be a lead singer, I couldn’t fucking sing."
On top of everything else he had to navigate, Grohl also played almost every bit of instrumentation on the album. This, much like the lyric-writing process, was completed at a breakneck speed. The single “This Is A Call” was recorded in just 45 minutes.
Describing the intense process in Jeff Apter’s The David Grohl Story, Grohl said he would come walk out of one of the studio’s rooms “still sweating and shaking from playing drums and [then] pick up the guitar and put down a track, do the bass, maybe another guitar part, have a sip of coffee and then go in and do the next song.”
Originally intended as a simple, small release, the fan base for Foo Fighters grew quickly. Released in July of 1995, the record achieved gold status by September and sold over one million copies by the end of January 1996. The album also helped Grohl launch the next chapter of his career after the tragic end of Nirvana. Though made with great haste, it remains a standout moment in the Foo Fighter’s extensive catalog.
After making some noise with her first release Frank in 2017, (Liv).e found that being discovered can be both a gift and a curse. Once people care about a project of yours, there are increased expectations for the follow-up. For a relatively new artist trying to make their way in a crowded marketplace, this can be difficult to navigate. “I started getting stressed out cause I felt like I wasn’t making enough music,” she said in a December 2018 Micro-Chop interview. “I started feeling kind of blocked, but I didn’t really have a reason to.”
Eager for some advice, she reached out to Jon Bap, another Dolfin Records artist and one of the key producers on Frank. His advice? Don’t overthink the process. “I remember one night I called Jon and I was like, ‘Yo, I’m crazy uninspired bro. SOS,’” she told Micro-Chop. “He was like, ‘You just gotta not give a fuck.’”
With Bap’s words in mind, (Liv).e decided to trust her gut and not overthink the act of music-making. “I decided to make a whole lil’ project overnight, using my heart—not my brain,” she told Micro-Chop.
Recording into the wee hours of the night, the experience of being in the creative zone while the world outside rested was oddly liberating. “It was 3 a.m. and I felt completely alone and able to do anything since the rest of the world was asleep,” (Liv).e told journalist Jesse Fairfax in a 2018 Bandcamp Daily article. “So I just made the whole thing overnight.”
By the time all was said and done (Liv).e had a brand new EP on her hands. Benefiting form an absence of post-production and edits, listening to RAW DAYBREAKS VOL.1 transmits a tangible energy that’s unique to similarly spontaneous recordings.
Highlights of the four track effort include the gorgeously fuzzy 10.4 Rog-produced “IFWY!”—a true testament to the world needing more raw vocal tracks and less over-produced, sterilized recordings. The warmth in (Liv).e’s voice allows the listener to truly connect with her as an artist. And isn’t that what this whole music thing is about anyway?
Most importantly, the RAW DAYBREAKS VOL.1 helped (Liv).e overcome the creative mental block she experienced after Frank dropped—and much more. “That tape definitely allowed me to free a part of myself,” she told Micro-Chop.
Thanks for reading, see you on Monday!