A behind the scenes look at the Making of R.E.M.'s album Monster.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Making a Monster Part 8: "REM's Sergeant Pepper..."

Hello again... It has been a busy couple of weeks for The Reverse Engineers. We have promoting our new album Max Q, which we are happy to report is doing well. For those of you who have picked up a copy, thank you for your support. For those of you who would like to, click here. Our track "Sunshine With the Shade" has been getting some attention recently, and has climbed to #5 on Weedshare.com, the home of the revolutionary Weed music format.

At any rate... on with our story...

Making a Monster Part 8: "REM's Sergeant Pepper..."

The business of marketing music is interesting. At the heart of it, you have art... a soulful musical expression. Since most people are not looking for art, the art has to come looking for them. This requires marketing, which often requires some form of hype or spin... which is usually tough for the band members themselves to stomach. Hence, the "band manager" was invented, to take care of such necessary evils.

Jefferson Holt was the manager of REM during the Monster sessions. Jefferson arrived about 3/4 of the way into the sessions in Atlanta. Jefferson struck me as an interesting person. To me, he looked like a doctor or lawyer. He drove a BMW, wore business casual clothes (at least when I saw him), and spoke in a very slick and deliberate way. For the most part, he was very cordial and polite to me, but he was all business. I didn't get much of a musical vibe off of the guy. I think I had pictured somebody different as the manager of REM. But hey, lets face it... the record business is tough, and great music often goes unnoticed because there aren't enough car salesmen around interested in pushing it.

By this time, the band was deep into tracking Monster. REM would arrive at about 10 each day, run through their set of tunes as a warm up, then spend the afternoon tracking. The idea was to capture as many live takes as possible to capture the magic of REM's live sound. Later during mixing, they could pick the parts that they wanted to keep. This meant that the more performances they recorded, the better chance they had of capturing a magic moment. For me, this was an awesome thing to witness. I really never got tired of it. I would wheel carts of beverages and refreshments around during the recording, frequently passing in front of a stage that happened to have REM playing on it at full concert volume.

During a break between songs, Jefferson approached, and asked me for a Coke (small glass bottle of course). Then he handed me the keys to his BMW. "Could you do me a favor? Could you get me my briefcase out of the back of my car? Here is the key to the trunk. The trunk isn't what your used to... it's Germanic..." He then went on to describe in detail how to open the trunk of a BMW. Since the BMW's trunk was "Germanic" he must have thought that the guy running errands and providing drinks had little hope of figuring it out how to open it... after all, I drove a stinky blue pickup truck. I retrieved the briefcase without incident, and delivered it to Jefferson.

Late one evening, after REM was done tracking, I was counting up my expenses in a small back office. I was given an allowance every day, and that allowance had to be accounted for with receipts, just like balancing a cash register. While I tallied up the receipts, I heard Jefferson in the office next to me, making phone calls... I got a rare opportunity to hear the spin machine of a rock band manager at full bore...

"This is a great album... we are very excited about it..." Jefferson spoke loudly into the phone. "REM has never done an album like this before... I consider it to be REM's version of Sergeant Pepper..."

Sergeant Pepper? I didn't personally see the connection. Sergeant Pepper was a band (The Beatles) pretending to be another band (Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band). But this was REM recording live on a stage. You couldn't get REM to sound more like REM than the music I was hearing. I couldn't help but listen further. The memory is a bit fuzzy for me, but I would swear that he was talking to someone at Rolling Stone.

Maybe the new approach that the band took to recording was so different, that in his mind, REM was a different type of rock band for this record. At any rate, the magazine people seemed to be eating it up.

Jefferson made a few more phone calls, all of them to the media, and gave them the same Sergent Pepper verbiage. Then a reporter arrived to meet him in person. I could see the shadow of the reporter greeting Jefferson in the office next to me, but I didn't see them. To tell you the truth, I had an uneasy feeling that I wasn't supposed to be there, so I sat kind of motionless, staring a bit glassy eyed as I eaves dropped on their conversation. Again, the same Sergent Pepper comparison was made, and the reporter gobbled it up without question, gushing at how cool it was, jotting it down.

I remember briefly thinking to myself, why can't the mere fact that REM is a great band that is recording a new record be something to write about? This was my first exposure to the necessary evils of "hype".

After a while, the office next to me emptied, and I heard Jefferson's loud but slick words grow fainter as he walked down the hall and left the building.


Well, that's all for now. I have a few REM stories left, mostly about how the recording session in Atlanta wrapped up. Let me know (leave a comment below) if you are interested in hearing them. Otherwise, I might just get back to Blogging about other things.

Oh, and when you get a chance, stop by and listen to some sound clips from our new CD, Max Q at http://www.theReverseEngineers.com. If you want to hear what we sound like, here is a clip: Sunshine with the Shade wma | mp3. Download the entire song at TheReverseEngineers.com

Charles Cote
Bassist -- The Reverse Engineers

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Reverse Engineers Now Available in Weedshare Format

Get 5 songs for free from The Reverse Engineers!

That’s right, these are the full Hi-Fi tracks in 192k Windows Media Format.
You own these songs forever. Play them on your computer…burn them to CD…post them on the Net…even share them with your friends!

Why are we doing this? Are we crazy? Yes. But that’s beside the point.

You see, we’ve discovered this brilliant new music-sharing format called Weedshare. It allows you to try out thousands of songs for free, and it allows us to freely distribute our music on the Net and still retain our rights. So we can actually earn royalties, and can keep touring and recording more music.


• You download the free Weed Software.
• Weedshare will put $5 into your Weedshare PayPal account to get you started.
• With the $5 you can download five Weedified tracks from our website for free. These songs are yours to keep and they will not expire.

Once you’ve downloaded the Weed Software, you can download thousands of Weedshare songs from artists across the Internet (Heart’s latest CD is available through Weedshare). You get to play each track three times for free. After that, if you want to keep the song, you just pay $1 and it’s yours forever! (The artist sets the price, but most songs are $1.)

So you can listen to whole CDs of new music and just pay for the songs you like.

Of all the different systems out there, we feel this is definitely the best one for the fan and for the artist.

So now that you’ve got all the info, click here to get started. And you’ll get five of our songs free! (You’ll have a chance to listen to a 45-second preview of each song in WMA or MP3 format on the Reverse Engineers homepage so you can pick which ones you want.)

GET PAID TO SHARE MUSIC - Weedshare even rewards you for turning your friends on to the coolest new music. When someone downloads a file from your site and buys it, you make money. So does the artist, and so do the people who helped distribute it. More specifically, the rightsholder receives 50% of each sale, you get 20%, the person who shared the file with you gets 10%, and the person who shared the file with that person gets 5% of the sale price. Weed collects 15% for processing.

You also can distribute your Weed files through a P2P network, FTP, IRC, or on CD/DVD. Sharing Weed files via email is not recommended, however, because the files are so large (4-6 megabytes). But email can be an important part of your distribution efforts if you post your files to your website and then email the links to your network of friends.

That's all for now. Please come back soon for the next installment of "Making a Monster."

Will Cote
Guitarist/Vocals -- The Reverse Engineers

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Making a Monster Part 7: The Beverage Guy Speaks...Don't Change a Thing

Continued from a previous post...

Slow it down? What a crappy idea... slowing it down will kill it I thought. A song like this is supposed to move along at a good clip. It is garagy and fun the way it is. If anything, this was a classic example of over playing and over analyzing. Sometimes the more times you play something, the less objective you are about what you are hearing.

This happens a lot with The Reverse Engineers as well. From time to time during the recording of Max Q, we had to take a step back. After about 4 hours of hearing the same song, you start to get burned out, and nothing sounds good. When this happens, I always try to move onto something else. Usually, everything is a lot clearer when you come back to it a day or 2 later.

As you can imagine, since *69 was my favorite new song off of Monster, I was having trouble containing myself. Up until this point, I was very careful not to stick out... not to get in the way. However, at this surreal moment, where Michael Stipe and his producer were discussing a song that was none of my business, my love of music as an REM listener overcame my desire to keep quiet.

"I think it sounds great just the way it is.", I said.

There was silence in the room. The moment seemed to last for quite a while... much longer than it really was. The quiet was deafening, with just the trickle of the coffee machine in the background.

Then my mouth opened again, "I have been listening to it all day, and this is my favorite song on the album. I wouldn't change a thing if I were you."

Scott Litt looked at me... his face barely able to contain his disgust. He was probably thinking "Who the hell is this guy... what makes this gopher think he knows anything about music...". At least that is what I imagined he must be thinking. Michael Stipe just smiled and looked down at the floor for a second.

Then they started talking again about approaches to take. They made their way back into the studio, and picked up where they left off. This time, REM played just one more take, and that was it. They moved onto another song shortly afterward. Their last take of *69 sounded just like the last 20 or so... fast and rocking. The band didn't change a thing. When I listen to the song now, it sounds almost identical to the way it did when I heard it live during the recording sessions. Perhaps in some way, I had left my mark on music history. Maybe if I hadn't spoken up, well meaning producers might have destroyed a cool piece of music with some random misguided experimentation, hoping to find the magic switch.

I stayed in the hall for the rest of the evening. I was pretty sure that I would get fired or something. I was told that I shouldn't get in the way, and telling the producer what to do definitely wasn't in my job description. Perhaps my outstanding gopher skills saved my ass. I was getting pretty good at my job. Peter Buck always had YooHoo in glass bottles, and my supply of Coke (in little small glass bottles of course) had been consistent. Lunch arrived hot, and the beer was cold. Perhaps I would get to stick around.

That's all for now. Check back soon for the next installment of "Making a Monster" called "REM's Sergeant Pepper...". I will try to post more often in the coming days. We have been really busy, and I have been doing some traveling, so thanks for your patience with my slack blog habits.

Oh, and when you get a chance, stop by and listen to some sound clips for our new CD, Max Q at http://www.theReverseEngineers.com. If you want to hear what we sound like, here is a clip: Sunshine with the Shade wma | mp3

Charles Cote
Bassist -- The Reverse Engineers

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Making a Monster Part 6: No More Playing Around...The Producers Arrive

I sat in my blue Mitsubishi pickup truck at a location in Atlanta's Buck Head neighborhood, waiting for Patrick McCarthy to emerge. This is a really fuzzy memory, but I remember sitting outside of some Buckhead land mark, perhaps a diner or something. My truck, of course, still smelled like cat pee (see previous post entitled "Mike Mills Needs a Doctor" for a full explanation). As luck would have it, you never have to pick up anybody famous or influential when your car or truck smells great. This was the second really cool member of the music industry to be treated to my fragrant truck turned taxi cab during the past week. Patrick introduced himself with a smile and got into the truck. "Wow, what's that smell?" "It's cat pee. It's a long story.", I said.

Patrick McCarthy was a thoroughly cool individual. He was a completely relaxed and calm guy... he had a UK accent that I faintly remember as Scottish, but I can't be sure now. My apologies Patrick if you happen to read this and I got it wrong. Patrick had just finished a recording project in the UK. I can’t remember the name of the band right now, and I am too lazy to look it up. Anyway, Patrick was about the coolest person I met on the project. Looking back, I wish I could have kept in touch with him. Patrick was also a kick-ass engineer. When he walked up to a mixing board, his relaxed demeanor gave way to serious concentration... he took total control of the dizzying array of music equipment, but made it look easy. In a matter of seconds, Patrick could adjust the faders, EQs, and affects at this disposal with total precision, and be ready to capture the perfect take. Patrick was the lead engineer for the Monster project. The producer was Scott Litt.

When Scott Litt arrived, the feel of the room changed. Looking back, I am not sure whether I really liked the guy. I hardly ever talked to him... I am sure he does an awesome job, or REM wouldn't have worked with him, but he gave off a certain music industry vibe that makes you suspicious of his motives.

Up until this point, REM's daily sessions were spent writing and rehearsing; preparing for the "real" tracking sessions. Now, the large poster board duct taped to the main PA cabinets had a complete song list that closely matched the lineup of the finished album "Monster". With the arrival of the producer, the working relationship of the band changed in a subtle way. They got more serious. Each band member was more focused on their parts.

A producer's job is a bit of a mystery. What does a producer really do? In my opinion, there are a few producers that have had huge musical impacts. Terry Brown who worked with Rush comes to mind. His production work on Moving Pictures shines as a production master piece. A great producer should understand a band's music, capture it, and refine it without changing it drastically.

For the most part, that is what Scott Litt did with Monster. If REM's goal was to produce a live sounding rock album, then they achieved what they set out to do. Listening to Monster all these years later, the production stands up.

REM launched into their complete Monster song list. Patrick and Scott were behind the board. Occasionally, Scott would ask the band to stop and he would approach the stage. He might ask them what the song was about, or what they were going for with the sounds. Occasionally, he would suggest how a part could be changed. He might suggest that a song is too fast or too slow, or that some hammond organ would sound good, or that the backup vocals need to change, etc.

This process went on for a couple of days. All the while, Patrick was capturing tracks on reals of 2" recording tape. They actually used a lot more tape than I thought they would. A given song might have been tracked many times. During some takes, Michael stipe would try different vocal inflections. Peter Buck might use several guitars to get a variety of sounds.

One evening, the band decided to work late. This meant that I would have to bring in extra refreshments to keep everyone fueled. REM had been tracking *69 most of the afternoon. After many listens, I began to really like the tune. It had so many qualities that I liked about REM... the song was quick and garagy and had a catchy melody. The bass and drums were really tight. It really stuck with me. Even after listening to it all day long, I found myself humming it in my head... Michael Stipe's voice echoed between my ears... "I know you caaaalled. I know Yooouuu Caaalled... I know you Caaalled..." This song is my favorite, I thought. I wouldn't change a thing. *69 is going to be the gem of "Monster".

They played the song over and over and over... which was a sign of trouble. I sat in the hall, near the refreshment table, making coffee, and preparing fresh fruit in case the band took a break. Just then, the music stopped, and Scott Litt and Michael Stipe emerged. Instead of looking happy, Michael looked tired, and Scott looked perplexed. "Something is not right", said Scott. "I think we need to really slow the tempo down or something..."

That's all for now. Check back soon for the next installment of "Making a Monster" called "The Beverage Guy Speaks...Don't Change a Thing"

Oh, and when you get a chance, stop by and listen to some sound clips for our new CD, Max Q at http://www.theReverseEngineers.com. If you want to hear what we sound like, here is a clip: Sunshine with the Shade wma | mp3

Charles Cote
Bassist -- The Reverse Engineers

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Happy New Year from The Reverse Engineers

Well, another year has arrived. 2004 was quite something. I think I will remember it as the year of the natural disaster. My band mates (brothers) and I are Florida residents, so we have had to deal with some nasty weather this year (4 hurricanes), but nothing could compare to the fury that occured last week in Asia. What a horrible mess. If you would like to help, here is a link.

For all the bad that occured this year, there was also some good. The Red Sox won the world series (no offense Yankee fans). The olympics were fun to watch.

For The Reverse Engineers, this was a year of hard work, and great rewards. Our new CD Max Q has been a source of personal satisfaction for me. I really like the record. As a bass player, I feel like I accomplished something, and from a song writing point of view, I feel really good about it. If you have a chance, stop by our site and read "The Making of Max Q". This is an account of the making of the CD from my brother Bill's perspective (Vocals/Guitar). It is a great read, and really shows the blood sweat and tears that he went through to make this thing happen.

You know, this blog has been a lot of fun so far. Some people have commented that they like the REM content and want more. I am working on the next installment, which I hope to have time to post in the next day or 2, so check back. It would be cool if REM were able to read it... I wonder what they would think. They probably have never heard a similar account of one of their recording sessions... unless one of their other beverage gophers has a blog from a different record. Always a possiblility I guess. This next blog deals with what happens when the producers arrive on a big project. The arrival of more high powered people brought with it some challenging beverage requests.

That's all for now. Check back soon for the next installment of "Making a Monster" called "No More Playing Around...The Producers Arrive"

Oh, and when you get a chance, stop by and listen to some sound clips for our new CD, Max Q at http://www.theReverseEngineers.com. If you want to hear what we sound like, here is a clip: Sunshine with the Shade wma | mp3.

Also, if you like games, here is a late xmas gift.

Charles Cote
Bassist -- The Reverse Engineers

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Making a Monster Part 5: Charles Cote on stage with REM.... It really happened, well sort of...

REM and I have actually crossed paths a couple of times. Actually, Mike Mills and I have actually crossed paths more than once, and I am sure that I remember it more than he does. Obviously, he is the more famous one, and when a member of REM is around, everyone knows about it.

The first time Mike Mills and I crossed paths, my brother Bill and I were members of a band called Multi Color House. One night several years before, we were playing at a club in Atlanta in Little 5 points called ‘The Point’. Our singer at the time, Natty Moss Bond, saw Mike Mills in the audience, which caused a few moments of excitement. It was cool to see him in the audience watching the show. I didn’t get a chance to meet him then… he had left shortly after we got off stage, and life as a club musician is more moving gear around than actually socializing.

Later in the REM sessions, my band at the time “The Miracle Field” was playing at The Cotton Club in Atlanta. Mike Mills’ brother was playing in a band that was on the same bill that night. He watched his brother play, and he made a point to stay for our show too since I was working for REM on the record. He had some nice things to say about our music too, which was great to hear.

Then of course, there was the famous Cat pee ride in the smelly pickup truck (see earlier blog). Now, our paths were about to graze each other again, in a slightly different way.

The day started earlier than usual. REM was going to start recording tracks again, and it was time to get some sound levels. Bill Berry was behind his kit, banging away while sound engineers were busy getting drum levels. It was also time to get some bass sounds, but Mike Mills hadn’t made it in yet. Studio time is expensive, and engineers spend many hours over the life of a recording session merely testing and tweaking sounds levels to perfection, so that they are ready to capture the perfect take.

“Where is Mike”, asked one of the engineers.

“He is still feeling a little under the weather”, said Bill Berry. “He won’t be in until later. Does anyone here play bass so that we can get some levels?”

My ears immediately perked up. I opened my mouth, and out it came. “I play bass… “. Everyone looked my direction. “Ok Chuck, get up there and we will get some sounds”, said one of the engineers.

A surprised Microwave handed me Mike Mills ‘70s Fender Precision. It was a well worn instrument that had seen many years of use. As I remember, it had a maple fingerboard and an Ash body with stock hardware. I put the bass on and walked up the stairs to the stage.

This was a pretty cool moment for me. I plugged in the patch cord, and as I had done hundreds of times before, I approached the drummer. This time, the drummer was Bill Berry. I didn’t really say much to Bill. Instead, I just started playing. I played the first notes of “Texarkana”, and Bill Berry immediately joined in, as he had no doubt done many times before, only this time, the beverage guy was on bass.

While I was enjoying my brief moment on REM’s stage, engineers were measuring bass levels. One of them interrupted my jam session “Ok… that sounds good… but Mike Mills is using a pick for this session. Can you play with a pick?” As a rule, I hate playing with a pick… but there are times when you can get a really cool sound that way. I pulled a pick off of the top of Mike Mill’s amp, and started picking away.

This jam lasted about 20 minutes. There was a pretty funny moment when the owner of the place, his name is Billy, stopped in to check how things were going. Even though I was working for REM, my services were being provided as part of the facility. One of the reasons that I got this job was that I agreed not to bother the band or get in the way. You can imagine the look of panic on his face when he walked in and saw me on the stage playing Mike Mills’ bass instead of working the refreshments.

Well, the coolness of my jam deteriorated slowly into a bad blues session. It was time to get guitar sounds, and instead of Peter Buck joining us on stage, Microwave picked up a guitar and started jamming on some blues. It got the job done though… the sound levels they were looking for were captured. With our job complete, Microwave and I returned to our supporting roles.

The remaining members of REM arrived, and took the stage. Mike Mills was back in the saddle, and everyone was excited to get back to work.

Bill Berry clicked his sticks to start the count, and REM launched into *69. This was my favorite song on the record. It sounded great. “I know you caaalled… I know yooouuu caaallled… I know you caaalled… Star 69…”

That's all for now. Check back soon for the next installment of "Making a Monster" called "No More Playing Around...The Producers Arrive"

Oh, and when you get a chance, stop by and listen to some sound clips for our new CD, Max Q at http://www.theReverseEngineers.com. If you want to hear what we sound like, here is a clip: Sunshine with the Shade wma | mp3

Charles Cote
Bassist -- The Reverse Engineers

Sunday, December 19, 2004

What's new with The Reverse Engineers

Here is what's new for The Reverse Engineers:

Thanks again to Mary of Underdog Prog, a weekly show on the ultra cool online radio station The Dividing Line. If you get a chance, I recommend you listen to it. Mary featured 3 more of our songs this week; Sunshine with the Shade, Mercury in Retrograde, and Max Q.

We had a chance to participate on her online chat during last night's show, and talk to some of the listeners, which was a lot of fun. Stop by and listen to the archives of the show when you get a chance.

That's all for now... short post this time. If you get a chance, remember to stop by The Reverse Engineers and check out latest clips from our new CD,
Max Q.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Making a Monster Part 4: Grocery Shopping for REM

After about a week, (I can’t remember exactly how long, but that seems about right), I got a call from Microwave telling me that Mike was out of the hospital, and that recording session was going to resume tomorrow. Mike might be out a day or 2 longer, but the other members were going to do some rehearsals and maybe some guitar tracks. That meant that we had to lay in supplies for the days ahead.

The culture of Rock music is rich with tales of spoiled musicians making outlandish requests. I remember hearing a story once about a band that required a bowl of peanut M&Ms, with specific colors eliminated from the bowl. No doubt, some poor production assistant was given the job of sorting through the different colors a bag at a time. I am happy to say, that REM is not one of these bands.

While they did have a very particular list of items that they wanted on a daily basis, all their requests were pretty reasonable, easy to find items. The key to success as the production assistant/gopher/part time tech/whatever I was called was to never let those items run out. If a member of the band wanted it, it had to be there. To some, this might seem silly, but when you are on the road for weeks or months at a time, having familiar items around that you can count on makes your life more comfortable. Here then, is the remarkably simple list of items that REM wanted on hand at all times:

- Coke.
Simple. But it had to be very specific Coke... First off, Classic Coke (certainly never diet or caffeine free). It couldn't be in a can, and it couldn't be in a plastic bottle. The Coke had to be in a glass bottle. But not just any glass bottle... it had to be in a traditionally shaped classic Coke bottle, like you see in old pop art paintings. Size mattered too. It couldn't be a big bottle... it had to be the little glass bottles.

- YooHoo. That's right, YooHoo. Chocolate. This also could not be in cans or plastic bottles. It had to be glass bottles. Peter Buck was the primary consumer of the YooHoo... he downed quite a bit of it too.

- Pete's Wicked Ale. I don't remember the flavor, but I do remember that it had to be in a glass bottle. The band didn’t drink much during the sessions. They would usually have a beer at the end of the day. The crew drank a little more, but alcohol consumption was pretty low overall.

- A USA today newspaper.

Michael Stipe required lemonade. Sounds simple, but It had to be a specific brand of organic lemonade that I can't remember the name of now. (In a glass bottle of course). I had to go to an organic food store to find it, and that store only had a couple of bottles. I bought the 2 bottles that were on the shelf, and asked the store manager to order more, and let me know when it came in, so that I could buy all of it.

Aside from the lemonade, all the other items were consumed by the band and crew, which meant keeping a supply big supply was critical. The first couple of days, I had a few close calls. We almost ran out of coke one day. Those little bottles go pretty fast. I went to the nearby store, and of course, they had nothing but plastic liter bottles. No glass. I had bought all the small glass bottles a couple of days earlier, and they hadn't received a new shipment. Then another store had the glass, but it was to big. Finally, I found it at another store, but they only had a small 6 pack of bottles. From that point forward, if I found it, I would buy everything on the shelf, and whatever they had in back to make sure that we had enough.

Lunch was whatever the band wanted. They like Mexican and Indian food. Atlanta has plenty of good restaurants, so lunch was always easy. Michael Stipe was more particular… he usually liked a veggie burger from a specific little diner in Decatur. This was about a 30 minute drive one way, so I had to plan it out just right to make sure the Peter, Mike and Bill’s food didn’t get cold.

Overall, REM was always very nice and polite. If you got something wrong, they didn’t really get upset. The staff around them, however, did get upset from time to time, (see coffee filter incident from an earlier post).

After I had stocked up on supplies, it was back to the warehouse turned studio. Techs for both live and recorded sound were busy checking equipment. Microwave was changing strings on several guitars that Peter Buck would be using the next day. Bill Berry’s drum tech was busily working changing drum heads. The room had a cool atmosphere about it, like the way it feels in a concert hall right before a big show.

That's all for now. Check back soon for the next installment of "Making a Monster" called "Charles Cote on stage with REM.... It really happened, well sort of..."

Oh, and when you get a chance, stop by and listen to some sound clips for our new CD, Max Q at http://www.theReverseEngineers.com. If you want to hear what we sound like, here is a clip: Sunshine with the Shade wma | mp3

Charles Cote
Bassist -- The Reverse Engineers

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Making a Monster part 3: Mike Mills Needs a Doctor!

"We have the best job in the world. We are so lucky to be able to do this...", said Bill Berry from behind his drum kit. REM had just finished warming up by playing the first 2 tracks from “Monster”. The other members of REM smiled and nodded in agreement. This statement really left an impression on me. Even after all the years of playing together, it was obvious to anyone watching them that REM still enjoyed the creative process of writing and recording. This wasn’t the only time that I heard Bill Berry say this… I heard him say it at least 3 or 4 more times over the month or so of recording in Atlanta.

I can totally relate to what he is talking about. For a musician, the most intense moments often come during the writing process. The spark of a song coming to life can be a natural high. And it is the pursuit of this creative bliss that keeps bands together, always reaching higher, always looking for that next great song.

The band took a break. I had just gotten back from another shopping run, buying items that each member wanted (the list of which, as promised, will be coming up in a future post.) Each member visited the various coolers that we had set up, and helped themselves to refreshments. All seemed to be going well, I thought… it had been smooth sailing since that coffee filter incident a couple of days ago.

“Where did Mike go?”, asked Bill, referring of course to his band mate and bassist Mike Mills. “I don’t think he has been feeling well this morning.”

“I’ll check on him.”, said a concerned Michael Stipe. A few minutes later, Michael returned. “I think something is wrong with Mike. He is in the bathroom throwing up.” A few minutes later, Mike emerged, looking a bit green around the edges. Everyone gathered around him, looking concerned. Mike Mills looked a bit annoyed at the attention. "I’m fine… I’m fine… just a little stomach ache, nothing to be concerned about."

His reaction to everyone’s concern seemed to tell a story in itself. These guys were the focus of attention much of the time, and no doubt all the fussing over must get annoying. He looked as if he wanted to say, “can’t a guy barf without it becoming a national news story,” or something like that. It was clear that he wanted to be left alone in his nausea.

After a while, he appeared to be feeling better, strapped his Fender P bass, and REM resumed their session. I met with Microwave to go over the day’s activities. We talked out in the hall way, and had to raise our voices just a bit to be able hear over the music. Suddenly, the music stopped. We went inside to see if the band was taking another break (I was always ready to man my coolers and take refreshment requests.) They had stopped playing because Mike Mills had gotten sick again. It appeared that today’s session was going to be cut short. Perhaps I would get off early, go home, and do some bass playing of my own.

Then, suddenly, my duties changed for the day. As a precaution, REM decided to have Mike see a doctor. Microwave filled me in. “It’s probably nothing, but we don’t want to take any chances. A doctor is waiting back at the band’s hotel. You need to get Mike there quickly, but without incident. Do you have your truck with you?”

My truck was a blue ’88 Mitsubishi Mighty Max pickup. Hardly the kind of vehicle that you would expect to see a rock star riding around in. There was also a slight problem. Recently, my wife and I had taken a trip to Tampa to visit our parents. Tampa was about an 8 hour drive away, and we had our cat with us. Why we decided to take our cat is a mystery to me now… but back then, we treated our cat like a child, therefore, we took him on the trip. The cat rode in the back (in a cat carrier of course) for about 7.5 hours, until my wife finally convinced me that he should ride in the front for the last half hour or so into Tampa.

We put the cat in the truck, and the first thing he did was squat on the passenger side floor and pee. And boy, did he pee… way more than you might imagine for a cat. We did our best to clean it up, but over the next several days, that truck started to stink really bad. Combine that with the fact that I had spilled a big gulp in the exact same place a couple of months before, and you had the recipe for a truly bad smelling vehicle.

“Yeah… I have my truck with me… but…” I started thinking about how horrible the thing smelled. The last thing I wanted was to be remembered by Mike Mills of REM as the guy with the smelliest truck in the whole world. “My truck really stinks. My cat peed in it recently, and I can’t get the smell out. Wouldn’t you rather take a cab or something?…” Everyone looked at Mike. It was his call. Mike really wanted to get back to the hotel, get the Doctor thing over with and call it a day. “No problem. We can take your truck. Let’s go.”

We got into the truck. Mike was looking kind of green still. We bounced down the Atlanta’s interstate, toward REM’s hotel. The shocks in my truck were in bad shape, which just added insult to injury. It was like being on Noah’s Ark… lots of rocking, and bad animal smells. There was an awkward silence. Finally, he said, “Wow, this truck really smells bad doesn’t it!”. I said, “Yeah, I tried to warn you.” I was really nervous and embarrassed, so I didn’t say much. I would have liked to talk about bass or something musical, but nothing really came out. Mike didn’t appear to want to talk much, because he was so nauseous. We talked a little, but really, all he wanted to do was get out of the truck as soon as possible.

When we reached the hotel, he got out. “Thanks for the ride.”, he said.

“Should I call someone and tell them that you made if safe?”, I said. Mike looked visibly annoyed… not at me, but the idea that he was famous enough that people were tracking his every move. “Don’t be silly… they don’t need to know everything.”

After dropping off Mike Mills, I went home for the day. A few hours later, I got a call from Microwave telling me that Mike had appendicitis, and was going to be in the hospital for a couple of days. The session would be delayed for a few days, and resume after he got back.

To this day, I wonder if Mike Mills remembers his stinky ride to the doctor. I had always been a fan of his. I love Mike's bass playing on "Texarkana". Overall, he lends a really cool vibe to REM's music... tasteful note choices and warm bass tones that always seem perfect for the occasion. So, as a bass player, I always look back on Mike's trip to the doctor as a missed opportunity to ask him a cool music question, or discover something interesting about playing bass in a huge arena, or which gear he likes to use when playing live. Instead, he probably remembers the ride the same way you remember a food or smell that made you sick... to this day, I hate ginger bread because when I was a kid, I got really sick a couple of days before christmas from eating a stale ginger bread man. I wonder if Mike sees small blue pickup trucks and thinks "I'm not getting anywhere near that thing..."

That's all for now. Check back soon for the next installment of "Making a Monster". I am not sure of the exact title yet though.

Oh, and when you get a chance, stop by and listen to some sound clips for our new CD, Max Q at http://www.theReverseEngineers.com. If you want to hear what we sound like, here is a clip: Sunshine with the Shade wma | mp3

Charles Cote
Bassist -- The Reverse Engineers

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Recent happenings

Hi Folks,

I am busy working on the next addition of "Making a Monster"... which is starting to take on a life of its own. I want to make sure to capture all the details that I can remember, so I dont want to rush it. But in the mean time, wanted to update you on recent happenings for The Reverse Engineers:

Thanks to Mary of Underdog Prog, an ultra cool online radio show. If you get a chance, I recommend you listen to it. Mary featured 3 of our songs, and had some kind words to say, so thanks Mary. We wanted to participate on her online chat during last night's show, but we were performing in Tampa, so we couldn't make it. Stop by and listen to the archives though... you can hear some streams from our latest CD, Max Q, as well as other cool songs.

Thanks to those that came out so the Masquerade in Tampa's Ybor city Saturday night. Glad to see you there. We will be posting some photos from the show in the next week or so.

That's all for now... short post this time. If you get a chance, remember to stop by The Reverse Engineers and check out latest clips from our new CD, Max Q.

Charles Cote
Bassist -- The Reverse Engineers

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Making a Monster part 2: These are Not the Right Sized Coffee Filters

When I think of recording sessions, I think of late nights, ash trays full of cigarette butts, and lots of half filled coffee cups all over the place. This recording session was no different (with the exception of the cigarette butts... nobody really smoked that I can remember). But coffee seemed to be the lifeblood of the project. People frequently gathered around the coffee machine, much like they would around a water cooler in an office. Here, you could hear all kinds of interesting conversations and decisions being made. This proved to be a little challenging for me, since I am not a coffee drinker. I like the smell (and so do most non-coffee drinkers), but I hate the taste, and I have always felt a little smug that my day didn't start with coffee. I never drink coffee to get my day started, I never drink it to clear my head, and coffee is never part of my decision making process. When I walk into a Starbucks with a friend, and person behind the counter asks me for my order, my answer is always "nothing for me, I'm just along for the ride". To which they reply "can I get you anything else..." What else is there really to eat or drink in a coffee shop anyway? Just a bunch of muffins and coffee, and some really high priced bottled water. Add to that the annoying noise of something being "frothed", and I can't think of any place that I would rather be less than a coffee shop.

This annoys coffee drinkers.

Anyway, my lack of coffee experience immediately became apparent on day 2 of working with REM. The day before, I went on my first shopping expedition. The list was very interesting... each band member had preferences for food and drinks, the details of which I won't give away just yet... too early in the blog... (but I assure you, the details will be thoroughly discussed and explored in later posts). The list included coffee filters, which on the surface, seems like a no brainer. And it should have been, except that I had no idea how big the coffee machine was, and no idea about which size was the most common size, etc. I remember not even really giving it any thought... I just grabbed the first box that said "coffee filters" and away I went.

Microwave was the first on the scene. He and the crew got there early every day to prepare for the day's sessions. The coffee machine was pretty much hammered every morning for the first 3 hours. When I arrived, I was immediately greeted by a testy Microwave... "Oh Chuck... come look at this." There was the coffee maker, with life giving coffee dripping down the sides, and some Bounty paper towels awkwardly jammed into a shape that would hold coffee grounds, and used as some sort of emergency filter. Apparently, the filters I bought weren't even close to big enough to work in the machine, so paper towels were their only hope. "See Chuck... These are not the right sized coffee filters... we had to use paper towels..."

I immediately shrugged it off and said... "Sorry, man. Must have gotten the wrong size filters. I'll get more when I go out today." Microwave looked at me in disbelief... I think he couldn't believe that I didn't see the gravity of the mistake I had made. "Well you better get it right next time... this is important. But we have a lot of work to do today, and there is not time to fix it now..." which meant my shameful coffee moment was going to be there the rest of the morning, for all to see.

Walking into the big room, I could see that the band members had arrived. All were anxious to get started. Bill Berry was warming up behind his kit. 2 song lists were written in fat magic marker on poster board, duct taped to the sides of the main PA speaker cabinets. Some of the titles had "?" next to them, since the names were still being worked out. At this point in the process, the main producer, Scott Lit, and the lead engineer Patrick McCarthy had not yet arrived at the sessions. The band was still in writing mode; ironing out the new tracks, making adjustments as needed, and practicing to make sure they had their parts down. This was truly a cool thing to witness.

Michael Stipe was sitting on a stool on the stage, flanked by Mike Mills and Peter Buck. Michael had a laptop (one of the first laptops I had ever seen... it was '94...) sitting on a small desk made from a modified music stand. He would sing as he read the lyrics to the new songs, and make adjustments on the laptop as needed. The band would launch into fragments of songs and stop to discuss parts and musical ideas. Meanwhile, technicians milled around in the semi darkness of the "audience", getting sound levels, checking cables and tweaking sound equipment. The creative process seemed pretty laid back without a lot of arguing or disagreeing. You could tell that these guys had worked together a long time, and had respect for each other.

After a few minutes of chatter, the band began at the top of the list and ran through the set. One song after the next, the new sound of REM's "Monster" bounced around the room. The sound engineers were really starting to get a handle on the sound, having spent 2 days in the same room. The kinks were getting worked out, and the band sounded excellent.

After the set, the band took a coffee break. I went into the hall where the refreshments table and coffee machine were set up, and made some last minute adjustments, making sure that there was plenty of fresh fruit and drinks. The first one through the door was Michael Stipe. "What's your frequency Kenneth... he sang, as he half walked, half danced into the room. He grabbed a coffee mug, and approached the machine. He immediately saw the make shift Bounty coffee filter... he looked over at me. There was an awkward pause, and then extended his hand and said, "Hi, I'm Michael Stipe. Nice to meet you." I shook his hand and said, " Hi, I'm Chuck Cote... I got the wrong sized coffee filters, but I am going to fix that as soon as I get the chance.” He smiled and said, "No big deal."

That's all for now. Check back soon for the next installment of "Making a Monster: The Untold Story from Behind the Scenes" entitled, "Mike Mills Needs a Doctor!"

Oh, and when you get a chance, stop by and listen to some sound clips for our new CD, Max Q at http://www.TheReverseEngineers.com. If you want to hear what we sound like, here is a clip: Sunshine with the Shade wma | mp3

Charles Cote
Bassist -- The Reverse Engineers

Monday, December 06, 2004

Making a Monster Part 1: Bill Berry's Driving Range

On day 1 of working with REM, I was introduced to my temporary boss, a guy that REM nicknamed "Microwave" (I think this is because he used to get them food and supplies in the early days. Microwave had since graduated to the more lofty task of guitar tech for Peter Buck and Mike Mills.)

Microwave was an upbeat guy, and seemed excited about the recording. "This is going to be a great record... the guys are really rocking on this one. Lots of great new songs. The band wants to go for more of a live sound on these tracks, so we will be in this room for the next month or so..." The room he was referring to was a warehouse space in an industrial part of Atlanta about 3 miles from where I was living at the time. It was divided into several large rooms, equipped with a stage, lighting, and big garage doors to accommodate large load-ins of equipment. Many touring acts stopped there to set up and practice their live shows. REM had been there several months before to warm up for a leg of their previous tour. Other clients included Elton John, 38 Special and Arrested Development.

Our first task was to unload the trucks and set up the stage. Since this was a "Live" recording, the band set up on stage just as they would have for a show. A live sound crew handled sound on stage and in the room, and the recording crew handled making sure that sound got to tape. This made for a pretty unique set up, with big live sounds boards sitting adjacent to a large recording console. It also made every day of work seem like a small REM concert with just an audience of techs, a handful of managers and producers, and yours truly.

After unloading the gear, it was time to move on to really important issues... like refreshments. Microwave filled me in on my duties...

"If the band wants something, it is your responsibility to get it. By the way... are you an REM fan? I just wanted to let you know that the best way not to get fired is to leave the band alone. Don't tell your friends where we are, and don't bring any recorders. While you are at it, walk around the building every once in a while to make sure nobody is recording anything..."
Just then, I heard something wiz by my head at high velocity. It was a plastic golf ball. I turned around to see Bill Berry (REM's drummer at the time in case you are not familiar with him) holding a 3 wood. "Ahh... just missed you...", Bill said. Apparently an avid golfer, Bill was taking full advantage of the size of this roomy warehouse space turned studio. Bill introduced himself, and went back to his round. For the next 45 minutes or so, as his drum tech was getting drum sounds, Bill played 18 holes of an invisible course that consisted mostly of aiming at people and expensive equipment. Fortunately, a "wiffle" golf ball is not too dangerous, so no damage resulted. But occasionally one of his band mates would look visibly annoyed at the constant close range swinging and pinging. Even a warehouse seems small when a rock drummer is swinging a golf club.

Shortly afterward, it was time to get some sounds. REM took the stage. The stage lighting was similar to stages at some of the larger local clubs. The lights fell in the room, and Peter Buck launched into the first cords of "What's Your Frequency Kenneth". I felt the excitement of watching REM in a club setting, and thought about what a cool experience this might turn out to be.

That's all for now. Check back on Wednesday for the next installment of "Making a Monster: The Untold Story from Behind the Scenes" entitled, "These are not the right sized coffee filters."

Oh, and when you get a chance, stop by and listen to some sound clips for our new CD, Max Q at http://www.TheReverseEngineers.com. If you want to hear what we sound like, here is a clip: Sunshine with the Shade wma | mp3

Charles Cote
Bassist -- The Reverse Engineers

Saturday, December 04, 2004

I think, therefore I Blog...

In an effort to connect more deeply with our fans, we have decided to start "blogging"...

Ok... here goes. Perhaps a semi-humorous story from my past. Ok, here is one; back in the early '90s, I had a temporary gig as a stage hand/assistant for REM. They were recording the album "Monster" in Atlanta. My job consisted of making sure they had enough food and beverages, as well as guitar strings, drum sticks... you name it, if they ran out of it, it was my job to go and get it.

I worked with them for about a month during the recording. Having alway been a fan of the band, it was a great experience being able to hear them jam all day, recording new songs like "What's Your Frequency Kenneth". I remember going home to my bass guitar a couple of times and working out bass lines to songs that nobody on the outside world had heard yet. I played a couple of the songs briefly on the bass to my bandmates (from memory of course; no tape recorders allowed in the studio).

Overall, the band was a great group of people, always very friendly, and very down to earth. Not bad musicians either.

You know, this might be an interesting thread... I can share my experiences of REM's recording of "Monster" from my very fuzzy memory. Here then, are some working titles of upcoming installments:

1. Bill Berry's driving range
2. These are not the right sized coffee filters
3. Mike Mills needs a Doctor!
4. Peter Buck's amp gets new tubes
5. Charles Cote on stage with REM (it really happened)

That's all for now. Check back soon for my first official installment of "Making a Monster: The Untold Story from Behind the Scenes."

While you are here, please check out song clips from our latest CD, Max Q at http://www.theReverseEngineers.com.

That's all for now,

Charles Cote
Bassist -- The Reverse Engineers