INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Ultimate Guitar APRIL 15, 2015 - by Steven Rosen
"WHEN THE FACELIFT RECORD CAME OUT, RADIO STATIONS WOULDN'T PLAY IT FOR NINE MONTHS"
Dave Jerden is uncomfortable with the title of producer. Call him an engineer and he's more than happy with that description. But whether Jerden likes it or not, he has produced - and engineered - a series of genre-defining albums during his storied career.
He worked on the first two Jane's Addiction albums, the first pair of Alice In Chains albums as well as records by the Offspring, Social Distortion and even Spinal Tap. Though the bands cited here would eventually become big-selling artists - buoyed in the main by the records Jerden made with them - they began life as alternative groups most other producers didn't know about or simply didn't want to work with.
"My forte was bringing bands that were relegated to the alternative world only and bringing them into major labels and making big time records with them," Jerden says. "It wasn't like I sat down with a battle plan to do that but that's what it was turning out to be. 'Cause myself and all the people in those bands didn't see any difference between any kind of music." Here, Dave talks about his vision and what it was like making records back in the day.
Steve Rosen: Your dad was a musician and you used to watch him doing sessions?
Dave Jerden: My dad was a bass player and he took me to places like Wally Heider's and a lot of places where he'd do sessions. I was always watching the recording engineer because he seemed to me like the guy that was makin' the record.
You wanted to do what those guys were doing?
I wanted to be a recording engineer at an early age. My father taught me how to solder mic cables when I was like eight years. I knew all about mics and stuff in elementary school. In 1963, my dad bought me a new Precision Bass and then I got in my first band [Praying Mantis] when I was fourteen or fifteen. I think I was in ninth grade when I got in my first band.
So you did start as a musician?
Yeah, and I always played in pretty good bands 'cause I had good equipment. My dad always made sure I had microphones and all the stuff I needed. I tended to play with people that were much better than I was, hah hah hah, 'cause I had the equipment.
Did you like playing the bass?
I loved playing and I loved playing live more than anything else. I just wasn't making any money at it so about 1975 I went to an engineering school [University of Sound Arts] after playing for about ten years. I went to this school for about nine months and I got a basic thing. There was this engineer there named Joel Moss and he kind of took me under his wing. He told me privately, "You're the only one that's gonna do anything out of this school."
That must have felt good hearing him say that.
It was like getting an award or something that he thought I was actually gonna succeed at this. This friend of mine, Doug Perry, who I played in a band with had taken over this ranch that the Robb brothers [Dee, Bruce and Joe Robb founded the historic Cherokee Studios in 1972] had been on called Smoketree Ranch. They did Katy Lied there from Steely Dan. Doug took over the ranch when his father died and his father left him the ranch. The Robbs left and re-did this barn they'd been recording in and then we got a lease package.
An MCI console and twenty-four-track tape machine and two-track. Right off the bat, Tom Dowd brought Rod Stewart and early on I got to work with guys like Tom Dowd and Motown did a lot of work there. Just right from the get-go I was working with really good guys. I didn't have to come up through the studio system and being a runner and a second engineer for like ten years before you get a chance.
How long were you at Smoketree?
For about a year and I went down to Redondo Pacific Studios and they offered me some decent money. They had an MCI board. I got written up in Recording Engineer and Producer magazine as a guy that knew how to run that new, computerized system they had. It was really an archaic system they had.
In what way?
You had to leave two tracks of the twenty-four-track open like one and twenty-four. You'd put your data on track one and you'd do an update as you're bouncing over to twenty-four with new information. After ten passes, you're starting to get out of time. I could only do maybe three or four passes and each pass was two or three milliseconds so you started getting behind time. The way you do it is you do your moves and get it close and you get it close and your last pass you go back over all your moves to get everything and your mutes up to date. Then it's back on and all hands on the board with the whole band and everybody making mutes and stuff. It was a good little system to get things rolling.
What did you do after that?
My big break came when a studio in Hollywood, El Dorado, which was one of the first studios with Gold Star built for rock 'n' roll. The studio was built by Johnny Otis and Hal Zeiger and it was Hal that called me up. He was buying one of these new boards for his studio and Hal was the kind of guy who wanted to find out who the best guy was to do this. Of course there were many better engineers around at the time but because I knew how to run this board he hired me.
How long did you work at El Dorado?
I worked there for ten years. My big break there was when Brian Eno walked in with David Byrne and he booked nine weeks. Brian had brought this cassette in and wanted to hear this new digital reverb, a Lexicon 240. We didn't even have one. All we had was a BX1- [AKG spring reverb]. I put in Mix magazine that we had one. I just blatantly lied and it was the only time I ever lied. Then Brian Eno calls and wants to check out the machine and I panic. I told the studio manager Nadia, "We gotta get a hold of one of these machines." She says, "Do you know any equipment broker?" and I said, "Ike is the one who sold us the equipment through lease packages at Smoketree."
You called him for a Lexicon 240?
I called Ike up and there was a 240 going to the Village [another studio] and he absconded it for us. He kinda rerouted it and told the Village it was gonna be late for some reason. I got the machine the morning Brian Eno was gonna come in. I played with it. I remember putting some records through it and learning how to use it so when Brian Eno came in, he thought I knew the machine really well.
You were able to pull that off?
He had a cassette of the stuff he was working on, which turned out to be My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. He cut some tracks in New York and he said in New York the people weren't that into it. 'Cause Brian's a very experimental guy and he takes a long time to fiddle about doing stuff and making real loops.
That was probably the first time you'd worked with loops?
I was into it. I was a young engineer and I was eager to do anything. I was playing these mixes of Brian Eno's and I was going, "God, this stuff is great." He said, "Would you like to work on it?" and I said, "Hell, yeah." So he leaves and goes into the office and splits. Then Nadia comes out of the office and says, "Brian just booked nine weeks with David Bryne." I went, "Wow." So that was my start and then after that I did Talking Heads with David Bryne and Brian Eno down in the Bahamas [the Remain In Light album recorded at Compass Point].
That was your first major project?
Do you think you applied those types of creative techniques you learned with David Byrne and Brian Eno to future projects?
Yes, absolutely, and still to this day. Brian Eno put a couple concepts in my head 'cause I talked to him about it. Up to that point, I'd been doing it for three years and there were other people who worked in a really methodical way. Where Brian Eno would jump from one thing to another and he said it was like painting. If you're painting and just stick on one color for hours you get bored but you have a palette of colors to play with and techniques.
Brian Eno approached his music like a painter?
That's the way he thought about it was like painting. It was almost like guerrilla art for him. He said, "The process is more important than the finished product." He said, "People get this idea it has to be something when it's finished and they close their minds to letting the tape tell you what it wants to hear." That was a concept that's always stuck with me.
That's certainly a different way to look at things.
I work with people all the time that say, "It has to be this and it has to be that." The best producers I've worked with say, "It's apples and oranges. Go with what's working instead of beating your head against a wall on something that's not working." If there's something you really are adamant about accomplishing and you're having a problem with it then stop and jump to something else and try a different technique or work on something else and come back to it.
Which goes back to your comment about Brian jumping from one thing to another?
He had these cards called "Oblique Strategies." They were these cards and while we were working [he'd look at them]. I still have my box set from Brian Eno and in fact I'm looking at it right now. What I'll do is I'll take a card out right now and I'll read something right off the card. [Imagine] we're in a problem right now and we don't know what to do next. So you take a card from "Oblique Strategies" and let's see, this card I just picked says, "Revelation is a warm feeling," hah hah hah.
Sort of like Eno's little philosophies about life.
So from that it's like, "OK. You're on the right track." So you may pick another card to give you some direction. This one says, "Take away the elements in order of apparent non-importance." In other words, strip away all the crap that doesn't need to be there so you can see what really needs to be there.
It's trying to solve a problem in a Zen-like way as opposed to going out in the studio and moving a microphone to another spot.
Absolutely. There's two cards that really crack me up. One is just a blank card - you just pull a blank card. And the other is, "Burn all your bridges." I always loved that one.
That one is the card that sticks with me the most. If I'm working on something and it just doesn't seem to be groovin' or whatever, it's like, "Start back to the basics. Strip it back down to the drums and start over." The thing is I can work really fast. I can build a track up really fast with parts.
You tend to work quickly in the studio?
I've done it this way where you look at a whole album and you get the basics done and then you start on redoing the bass and rhythm guitars and you do 'em all on every track. I prefer to have my guitar setups and mic setups and just pretty much finish a song day-by-day. Then I can listen to 'em and see where I'm going with it. Then I can take out stuff that's not working and figure out where it's going. I've always worked that way and I work really fast that way.
One of your early projects was working on the first self-titled Red Hot Chili Peppers album with producer Andy Gill [Gang Of Four]. What was that like?
I liked Gang Of Four. I stood back-to-back with Andy Gill. The Chili Peppers fought with him. I saw their point. Andy had never seen them play live and I had seen them in clubs before they got signed. They had this tongue-in-cheek kind of wild thing going on. I mean they did a version of [the Yes song] Owner Of A Lonely Heart and it starts out spot on. Then Anthony comes in, "Owner of a lonely boner." That was the Chili Peppers.
Andy Gill didn't understand that?
In the UK, there was a big thing going on with dance music and everything was danceable and he wanted to do more dance stuff and have a four-on-the-floor [bass drum] going on. The Chili Peppers hated that because they were into George Clinton and Funkadelic and stuff that was funky and loose. I saw both sides of it. Andy was trying to get a hit with these guys and he was doing it how he knew how to do it.
So you were somewhere in the middle?
I knew the other side of it so I was kind of in the middle of the whole thing trying to make sure the Chili Peppers got what they want and making sure Andy Gill got what he wanted. And it turned out to be a really interesting record. I have a belief that good records come from angst. It's like a pearl being made from a grain of sand and irritating the oyster. So if there's something going on, an undercurrent, it actually makes for a hard record to do but on the other hand the best records I've made have had that angst going on for one reason or another. Usually the conflict is within the band and not with me.
Yeah a lot of people were into that record. I did that with Bill Laswell who produced that record. Michael Beinhorn had split up with Bill Laswell at that point and he would have added a lot to the record too by the way. At that time after I did that Herbie Hancock record, I talked to Tony Williams, Billy Cobham and a bunch of jazz people and interestingly enough a lot of jazz drummers who wanted to make records.
It makes sense for jazz musicians to want to record with you but when Mick Jagger references a jazz instrumental record that seems strange.
From J Geils to Robbie Robertson from The Band, a lot of people wanted to bring that kind of [element to their music]. First of all, the record company hated that record. There were like twenty guys from the record company who came down and listened to the playback and there's no singing on it and no vocals. One black guy said, "Well, I kind of like that song Rockit." I could tell he liked the whole record. The rest of these people were the same people who told Herbie a year before on a record he did called Lite Me Up that if it doesn't go platinum, they're gonna put up a for sale sign.
That doesn't sound very supportive.
Now Herbie was working on a shoestring on the next record because he spent a gazillion dollars doing that other record. I did the record in nine days and I did it in his garage. I rented an ATI board. The tracks had already been cut in New York so I was putting on the finishing stuff. I did all the sampling on it.
Working with Mick Jagger after that must have been a huge change.
It was different. Every project is different due to the personalities involved and of course Mick Jagger has a big personality. By the way, he was great to work with and he treated me excellent. He was very good to me and he had my back all the time. I'm not just saying that because it's Mick Jagger. I haven't talked to Mick in years but Mick is a great guy. He really is. He's down to earth and I mean all these rock stars have to have an image and his image was built back in the '60s. The bad boy and all that stuff.
What were the sessions like for She's The Boss?
I was at Air Studios in London and we'd take tea breaks. It would be George Martin, Paul McCartney was in there with Linda so he'd join us and I was doing overdubs with Pete Townshend. So Pete, Paul, Mick Jagger, George Martin and Linda would all take tea together at four.
Those must have been some interesting conversations. They'd tell stories and the point I'm making is all they talked about is before they got famous. All Paul talked about were the Hamburg days for The Beatles. To them after they became superstars, they were all in the factory mill. It's the same in my career when I was coming up.
Your best days were the early days?
That was the fun time for me because I was just in awe of everything and willing to do anything. Now, forty years later I've become a jaded curmudgeon but I still love making records. When I say jaded curmudgeon, it just means I don't like to put up with any crap or anything that I know isn't working and pointless arguments over stuff. My nervous system just won't take it anymore. I will work back-to-back with anybody and go to hell with 'em and back as long as they're willing to go with me to hell and back. But when they start second-guessing things I'm saying or doing, [I can't deal with that].
If an artist isn't on the same page as the producer, it's impossible to create anything worthwhile.
This is kind of an overall philosophical thing in working today: I only work to make somebody's record better. That's my only goal. It's not to make a Dave Jerden record. Early on when I started producing, right out of the box back in the Smoketree days, I was trying to twist things my way. My great productions - if you can call 'em great - started happening when I decided to make it sound like the band. My first goal is when you hear my stuff on the radio starting with the vocalist, you can tell who they are right from the get-go. It doesn't sound like anybody else. If I've accomplished that then I've accomplished my goal. Now whether you like the music or not, that's one thing or another.
You learned to take yourself out of the process?
There are some records I've worked on like the first Jane's Addiction record where I was actually trying to p-ss people off. If I pissed off fifty percent of the audience, the other fifty percent will love me. You can't make records that will please everybody first of all. It's impossible and so many people try. The second thing is, I'm not a genius. People in the business that think they're geniuses? Forget it. Being smart and being clever only gets you to the starting line in this business. After that you have to get some experience, learn your tools and get your own groove. That being said, it doesn't mean because you have hit records you're a genius or anything like that. It could mean you're lucky.
Did you think you were lucky back in the day?
A lot of times for a long time I thought I was just lucky and things were coming my way. But there was a guy named Steve Moyer I met at Chrysalis early on and he was my biggest backer. I love that guy to this day. Steve was the guy who got me the gig with the Chili Peppers. Then my manager Gary was a guy that stood with me no matter what through the most difficult times. Those two guys were my pillars in my life and they were both telling me, "Dave, what you do is good. Just keep doing what you do. Don't listen to the reviews saying, 'This sucks. That sucks.' Because the records are selling and somebody out there likes your work."
At the end of the day, you have to believe in what you're doing.
If I have a message for anybody, "You can listen to everybody but you ultimately learn to say yes or no. The hardest word to say in this business is no." Everybody wants to be liked and that's just a natural human condition. But if you learn to say no and stick to your guns without being an obstinate person who is sticking to a point that obviously isn't dependable, but if you have something you believe in then stick to it. There's projects I've worked on that just haven't worked out 'cause I didn't get along with the people.
Did that happen often?
I'm happy to say out of the hundreds of projects I've done, that's only happened maybe three times. You know what I do? I give 'em back their money and say, "Good luck. It just didn't work out."
You really gave the money back?
That's another thing I do - I give 'em back the money. I don't take the money. First of all, I don't work for money to begin with. I never have and it never was about the money. If you're working just for money, my whole thing now is, "Let's cut some stuff and see how it works. We'll talk about the money later. If you think I'm worth the money, then pay me what you think it's worth." It used to be early on in the '80s and '90s especially, the lawyers had a big say so over your career. They were making the deals and stuff and now I make my own deals and then I just have the lawyers draw up the contract. I want people to understand what I do before they have to take a stake at money with me. Money and art are just like oil and water. That's my big spiel.
Mick Jagger obviously liked working with you because you did the Dirty Work record. Being in the studio with The Rolling Stones must have been amazing.
It was awesome. Working with The Rolling Stones was like Dorothy going to the Emerald City and meeting the Wizard Of Oz. There was nobody bigger in rock and there still isn't. If there's anything I got from working with The Stones is, "Hey, I got my general's stripes working with The Stones."
It was a trial by fire and you survived.
I've worked with bands who thought they were so gnarly and so badass and it's laughable. Because The Stones aren't like that. They don't make an effort to be assholes just to try to get credibility or something.
What were the sessions like? Chaotic? Organized?
They were organized. They were always playing and it was like Keith was leading the herd during the songs he was interested in and then Mick would do his thing when they were primarily Mick's songs. Mick was the producer basically and Keith was the producer on his stuff. Steve Lillywhite was there and he was an amazing producer and helped keep the energy directed. He had a tough job playing between the two of them and pleasing them both.
You have a positive experience?
From my standpoint, all those hours were long and I had a great time. The only problems going on were Keith and Mick were fighting but that happens in bands. Maybe I'm to blame for a lot of it for saying that Keith and Mick were fighting on that record but in hindsight that's the way records are made. I mean sh-t - it's Mick and Keith. They're entitled to do whatever they want in the studio.
Didn't Keith give you a hard time when you first started working on the album?
A hard time? He said, "Get the hell out of here motherfucker. You're in the deep end now. I give you one day." Four days later he was hugging me because he loved the guitar tones.
How do you approach a legend like Keith Richards and suggest new ways to get guitar sounds?
Well, Keith never told me anything. Keith never said, "I want a bright tone. I want a dark tone. What do you think? Should I use a Les Paul? Strat? Telecaster?" He would pretty much leave it up to me. If I stopped and said, "Cut. I wanna change something," he would not argue. That's the way pros work. They let the engineer do their job and they let the producer do their job.
Keith Richards inherently understood enough that you probably knew more about getting great guitar sounds than he did.
Even if Keith was doing something really great - this never happened but even hypothetically - and there was a big buzz in the guitar during an amazing solo, I would have the power to stop it. But I never did that. I would never do that. But Keith was a sweetheart and The Stones were sweethearts. They have this gnarly image but they're really nice guys. They've been through it all.
I would listen to those from the standpoint of, "Hey, wow. I'm working with the Rolling Stones and I really enjoyed these records." It wasn't like I was trying to copy 'em.
More as reference points to hear guitar sounds and things like that.
Well, yeah. It's interesting 'cause there's one album I love by The Stones called Between The Buttons. It's a great record and I was playing it in the studio one day and Mick walks in and goes, "I hate that record." I said, "You hate this record?" And he goes, "It didn't turn out the way I wanted. There's just too much stuff."
That's amazing because it's an incredible record.
I think that record was made about the time when The Beatles were making Revolver and they were maybe trying to get it to sound like that. I don't know. I know what that's like. You have a vision in mind and the record doesn't turn out the way you expected it to. But from my standpoint, it's a brilliant record. Great songs and Stu [Ian Stewart] was playing his ass off on the pianos. I just think it's an amazing record.
Can you talk a little bit about making the first Jane's Addiction record Nothing's Shocking?
You have to remember the time period that record was made. Video games were starting to really come into their own so those kind of hard sounds were around. We were living in a world then that was really changing. The computers were coming in. Perry was a guy that made sense out of chaos on all that stuff. Instead of just looking at the chaos and saying, "I don't get this. Let's go back seven hundred years," he was like, "Let's ride it like a horse. Let's have fun with this."
Was that the approach on the record?
To me that record resonates with people not because Perry was saying, "Hey, I understand the chaos and the turmoil" but because he was saying, "It's OK. Live with it." He was looking at some really serious ass things in those things and having fun with 'em but not in a way that was disrespectful.
You came back to work on the follow-up album Ritual De Lo Habitual?
Yeah, I loved the Ritual De Lo Habitual album. There was eighteen songs they had to do. I listened to the cassette the summer before I did Nothing's Shocking and I fell in love with it. I just listened to it constantly. It was just bits and pieces of songs and stuff and out of that, I picked eighteen songs. So the two albums really could be a double album. We did the first nine and then the second nine were the Ritual album even though the sound changes a little bit on it. I don't know if you notice the beginning of the Ritual album, the sounds are pretty much the same as they are on Nothing's Shocking. That's something I do. I did that with the Offspring too.
What is that you do?
I kind of make links between the albums I do. I start the album and picking up where I left off on the last record and then taking it further. The Ixnay On The Hombre and Americana albums were done like that as a cross-stream. I only do two albums with bands. After that then I'm just gonna fall into a rut and they're gonna fall into a rut and that's the way I feel about it anyway.
What's interesting enough is those two records I did with all those bands are still the best-selling records. I'm not saying that to brag. I say that in wonderment. It's like, "Wow, I did their best records. Their two records are the best whatever anybody wants to say about it. I'm still getting my residuals from 'em and they're still selling."
What were the sessions like with Jane's Addiction?
It was pretty much like the Chili Peppers. All those bands came out of the same scene. A documentary should be made about this place called Heliotrope Rehearsals. All those bands and Alain Johannes who works with Queens Of The Stone Age and he had that band Eleven. So Alain came out of that and in fact he was the first one I worked with out of that bunch.
Alain is an extremely talented guy.
They all came out of Fairfax High School. So it was like the cool kids from this graduating class from Fairfax High moved from the school to this rehearsal place. All these bands were working there so I was swimming in their waters. In fact I'm gonna be doing some work with Fishbone and that was another band that came out of that era. I'm gonna be doing the song Express Yourself with them shortly.
You ended up working with all these bands who came out of that Heliotrope rehearsal space?
Working with one band or another from that scene was pretty much the same. They all had the same mores and feelings about things. They were all equally wild but all equally sweethearts. We talked about the Chili Peppers record, the Jane's Addiction record or even talking about the Social Distortion record - they didn't rehearse there, they were down in Orange County - they all had kinda the same mindset that I had.
What was that mindset?
This thing about alternative music meaning what? It's played in some African dialect? No, it's music in English with real guitars. In other words the point I'm making is I never saw any difference or they didn't in what was alternative music.
Everybody had a common vision?
All these guys in all these bands listened to the same stuff I did. They listened to classical music, jazz, blues and they're not like one-sided guys just listening to one kind of music. Those are the kind of people I like. When I was working for The Stones it was interesting because their touchstones weren't what the latest bands were doing. They could care less. They cared about what was happening in the '40s and the '30 and a lot of the great bands were like that. Or they cared about what's happening in the jazz world and get their guitar licks from [John] Coltrane or [Charlie] Parker riffs on the sax and looking at things totally differently. What makes them different is they are different. Simple as that. They're not trying to cop anybody.
There aren't many modern rock bands who will go back to the '40s or even the '50s to cite their influences.
If you're trying to copy what's on the radio or follow a trend, you're just gonna fall on your face. It's a no win situation 'cause by the time you've made your record and it's getting exposure, the radio's moved on. So the idea is, "Just do what you do and hopefully you'll catch it on the tip of something that's coming up."
If you had to give a shout-out to would-be Ultimate Guitar songwriters, what would you say?
I'd say to them, "Don't worry about trends. Don't worry that your stuff may be dated or on the other hand be too experimental. This is if you're interested in selling records." Personally, I've never been about selling records although that's my job is to make records that sell and I do take that very seriously. But on the other hand, I'm not one of these producers that goes and tries to work up some singles before we start and record the singles and don't care about the rest of the album.
Making albums these days is all about singles though.
I think in the album format if you have any listener's attention for forty-five to sixty minutes then that's a privilege. That's a privilege the listener is giving you so give them entertainment all the way through. That being said, I try to put my albums together like theater.
On the Jane's Addiction record Up The Beach was like the fanfare, your opening thing. The songs are organized to take you up and down and take you on a journey. I usually group songs in threes like three stage setups for an act. One act would be three songs and then you move onto the next act.
What was it like working on the Social Distortion album?
I did a lot of arguing with Mike Ness about guitar sounds and having some background vocals and stuff. Where when we go to Somewhere Between Heaven And Hell, that stuff was all sorted out. Then he wanted that guitar sound.
You had just finished Ritual De Lo Habitual when you started the first Alice In Chains album Facelift. You created these unique guitar sounds with Jane's so did you think you might be able to use that approach with the Alice In Chains album?
I never think I did these unique guitar sounds. What I did was I did my job. If they are amazing to other people, that's a judgment on their part. I never thought I was amazing.
I think what you did was pretty amazing.
Well, thank you.
Does the philosophy of working with one band get transferred to the next band?
There are guidelines I keep in the back of my mind but it goes all the way back to Brian Eno again. Let the tape do the talking and make the band sound original and different. When the Facelift record came out, nobody would play it for nine months. We thought the record was dead but there was a syndicated radio station down in Texas that had a hundred stations that started playing Man In The Box and it took off.
What were you hearing about the album during those nine months when nobody wanted to play it?
The feedback we were getting was, "Layne's voice is wrong." So many program directors said that. 'Cause this is at the time of Axl Rose and Dio and all these high voices. I've always liked a little bluesy voice myself. To say Layne's voice is wrong or to say anybody's voice is wrong is a pretty ridiculous thing to say. But that's the feedback I got.
By the time you recorded the Dirt album in 1992, were you more comfortable working with Alice In Chains? Were the sessions more relaxed?
They were comfortable with me. I worked with so many different people that I can get comfortable with a band. Any good producer or engineer can do that. After you've been around a while, you quickly learn to categorize the different personalities like the alphas and so on. So I'm always comfortable but it's the band that's getting comfortable. The second records are always different than the first ones.
More organized. They know what I can do so they write songs for that basically. Now the Ritual" album, of course the songs had been picked out before that but even in the arrangements and stuff, we didn't have to really talk about it. We'd just go do it where on the first record, we had to talk about it a lot. I'd have to explain if need be why I'm doing this or that or why I think this or that should be done. Where on the second they already did it and they knew where I was coming from.
Everybody is more comfortable with everybody else the second time around.
I never try to impose my ideas on a band unless I think they're really gonna work and do justice. Let me put it this way, early on in my career like anybody else you listened to other people's records and you wanted to try to get those sounds on your records whether they're appropriate or not. Right? But after a while you learn from bitter experience that doesn't work. But a lot of new engineers and producers tend to try to remake their favorite records with the band they're working with. I'm only saying that because I was guilty of that.
What was it like being in the studio with Alice In Chains?
The first record they were wild and crazy guys and the second record they were very subdued. We did that second record during the LA insurrection when the city was burning down [LA was experiencing riots due to the Rodney King incident]. So there was that wacko magneto going on the whole time. On the first record, we were up in Seattle and basically just partying together. Jerry and I would go fishing in the morning in Puget Sound for salmon and then go to the studio. Then the studio vibe would pour out until we ended up in a vortex of clubs we were going to. It was just kind of an around-the-clock deal.
The second record was different?
It was very structured. I showed up at noon and worked 'til ten at night. They just wanted to do their parts and get out.
In-between the Alice In Chains albums you worked on Spinal Tap's Break Like The Wind? What was that like working with those guys?
Christopher Guest played most of the guitars like the leads and stuff. They were good musicians first of all. Spinal Tap are no joke as musicians; they could play. I saw them after I finished that record play at the Universal Amphitheater to a large audience and they were playing their own instruments and they sounded great. They're not like The Monkees or something. They were a great band in themselves.
There were a lot of guest players brought in like Slash and Jeff Beck.
The other players I think were brought in because they just wanted to have these guys play on their record. Like Mick had Jeff Beck play on the record I did and The Stones had Jimmy Page play on the record I did with them. You just wanna have that grease in there from somebody else. But Spinal Tap totally made that record on their own.
It was fun working with Spinal Tap?
There's a song on there called Christmas With The Devil that I did. I think that song sounds amazing and it's great and funny. They wanted these two guys called Digital Underground to come in and do some rapping. So Digital Underground shows up in a white limousine with the top open and they're eating McDonald's. All the way down Sunset Boulevard I heard they're yelling at people like, "Hey, yo." They get to the studio and we play 'em Christmas With The Devil and they're like silent.
We thought the song was funny. They didn't get it at all. We stopped the tape and I remember Harry Shearer said to 'em, "Well what do you think?" and they said, "Yo, you can't make fun of Christmas" and they left, hah hah hah. How weird is that?
What attracted you to working with the Offspring in 1997 for the Ixnay On The Hombre album?
I was down in the Bahamas working with this band Edna Swap at Compass Point where I'd done a few records before. I get a call from my manager Gary and he said, "Let me just say one thing to you: Offspring." And I said, "Who? What? Where? Offspring?"
You had never heard of the Offspring at that point?
I didn't know about the band. I'd heard of them I guess but I didn't know anything about 'em. He said, "Dexter the singer wants to come down there and talk to you." So Dexter on his own dime came down to the Bahamas and I had an hour talk with him and he said he's having a problem. He says he's on the same label as Rancid and Sony had offered both Rancid and them ten million dollars to come and sign with 'em. Rancid had turned it down because they didn't want to lose their audience and look like sellouts.
The Offspring did sign with Sony, right?
Dexter wanted to make the move but he was afraid of losing their audience. So he came to me and says, "You're the one guy who could do this for us. Keep our sound." So on that challenge, I took on the record. I didn't know anything about the Offspring.
What was it like when you got in the studio with them?
What I did was I did my homework. I got some Offspring records and listened to 'em. The productions on their other albums were great and the sounds were great and the guy that produced 'em [Thom Wilson] and the engineering and everything was fine. It was really good. What I did was kind of pick up on that tip with what had been done. We did half the record like the old sound and the other half the record a newer sound.
That was an interesting approach.
Then when we did Americana, it was all the new sound. I did to the best of my ability to make a link between the two albums and it worked. They didn't lose their audience and in fact their audience grew exponentially. So that worked.
You had all this success in the '90s and achieved a lot of commercial success but you felt burned out. Why?
I was burned out and you do get burned out. I admitted it. I wasn't gonna take people's money anymore if I'm burned out. Finishing the Americana record was hard for me 'cause I was just getting burned out. I finished it and it was a big-selling record but I was like, "This isn't fun anymore."
Did you stop working after Americana?
I did a few more records after that that didn't do anything and I wasn't into it and I just stopped working. I took off about ten years and didn't do anything.
What did you do during that period?
Basically what I did was I got into meditation. I got into a lot of things and basically it was getting to know Dave you know? I started at the age of fifteen on my journey into music and by the time I'd reached forty-five and almost fifty, I still didn't even know who Dave was. I'd just been in the studio so long. So for ten years, I went on a journey.
And now you're back?
In the last two years, I'm getting back into it and actually just the last year. I'm starting a company I've called the Original Sonic Cowboys with a partner of mine named Jimmy Sloane. We're building a new studio and I'm gonna do it again. I'm gonna give it another shot.
Do you feel reborn?
Totally. In this time, I've been incubating and thinking about stuff I want to do: sounds, techniques. The reason it's called the Original Sonic Cowboys is because it is going to be tape and digital. We just bought a new Stampex machine, which is a Studer tape machine with Ampex electronics for playback. It's a separate pack that sits next to the tape machine. We're cutting our tracks sixteen-track and then transferring 'em to Pro Tools and it sounds awesome.
I'm sure it sounds amazing.
There's a band I've been working with for the last six months called the Shrine from Venice, CA. Now they're in the process of getting signed with a Sony company and that will be my next big record. I'm gonna dump all my new ideas into that record.
Let's close by getting your thoughts on some special songs you've recorded over the years. What about Once in a Lifetime?
A fun song to do. That was David Byrne and I in LA mixing that on our own. I picked that as the single off the record. Brian Eno was a great guy and he would pick singles. But the record company had come down and said, "Pick the single" and I picked that so that was the single.
One Hit (To The Body)?
One Hit (To The Body) was the first song we got song with The Stones that really sounded like something happening. I like that song. That was the song that Keith and Mick really got along on and they both saw eye-to-eye on that.
Jane Says is what Jane's Addiction is all about. It's about Jane Bainter, a good friend of mine who was the Jane in Jane's Addiction. And their experiences living with her on St. Andrews in Hollywood. It just brings back a lot of great memories.
Would by Alice In Chains.
Would is a dark Alice In Chains record. I mean it's probably the quintessential Alice In Chains song. Yeah, it's a great. That song to me could have been on Facelift or that album.
The aliens land and find the Dave Jerden time capsule. What three albums would they find in there?
We'll let the aliens pick the third one?
We'll let the aliens pick the third one. The other thing you didn't touch on was me working with Frank Zappa. That was an amazing experience. I wanted to mention Frank because there was two guys that influenced my style and that was Brian Eno and Frank Zappa. Beautiful soul and too bad he's gone. I loved that guy.
Everything else is good with you?
I feel great. I'm ready to rock 'n' roll. I'm really ready to go again. I meditate two hours a day and I take care of myself. I exercise and shit but the main thing is Dave's got a relationship with Dave now. And now having known Dave, Dave now knows where he wants to go from here.
People look at you and see you hanging out with The Stones and Alice In Chains. But they probably don't have a real sense of how demanding and stressful it is being in the studio with these types of ultra-creative people.
It can be very disorienting unless you really have your feet on the ground. During all these records, I wasn't using drugs at all. That was one thing. I never could work even having had one beer. I just can't work that way. I can't hear properly. When people hire me, they get all of me. They get me as fresh and healthy as they can get me. That was another reason I stopped working 'cause I just wasn't healthy anymore after the end of the '90s. I was just burnt out but now I'm healthy again and anybody that works with me is gonna get all the Dave with all forty years of experience.
Take care and play all the good notes.
Alright, buddy and remember: the spaces are the most important.