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

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


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent reading. Microwave's last name is Mitrowitz (not sure of the exact spelling, I must admit) so you can see where the nickname came from.

3:33 PM

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