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

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


Blogger Timmy said...

...recording an album for REM?
God, my job sucks!

2:45 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Charles - greetings from the biggest REM fan in SW Scotland! I read these two posts avidly.... Cool beans. Thanks for posting them (and, obviously, keep 'em coming)

4:10 AM

Blogger The Reverse Engineers said...

Cool. Thanks for reading SW Scottland and Timmy.

10:48 AM


Post a Comment

<< Home