These are good days for Aerosmith. The Boston Bad Boys, now two years past their 40th anniversary, just completed their first album of original material in 11 years—Music from a New Dimension, due out in early November. The debut track (and video), “Legendary Child,” has been warmly received by longtime fans and radio alike, and beginning in mid-June the band embarked on a huge summer jaunt with Cheap Trick dubbed the Global Warming Tour. Intra-band relations appear to be good at the moment, and at least one past point of contention between singer Steve Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry was resolved in mid-July: Tyler has vacated the judge’s chair he’s occupied for the past two years on American Idol to give Aerosmith his full attention once again.
Music from a New Dimension reunites Aerosmith with legendary producer Jack Douglas, who helmed four of the group’s groundbreaking albums in the ’70s—Get Your Wings, Toys in the Attic, Rocks and Draw the Line—as well as countless live and compilation albums by the band, the 1982 Rock in a Hard Place (sans Perry and guitarist Brad Whitford) and the 2004 blues bash called Honkin’ the Bobo, which was their last studio album. (Douglas’ CV also includes scores of albums by a wide range of artists, including John Lennon, The Who, Cheap Trick, Patti Smith, Alice Cooper, Slash, Graham Parker, the Michael Schenker Group, Michael Monroe and many others.)
Joining Douglas and the group—Tyler, Perry, second guitarist Brad Whitford, bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer—for this outing was British-born engineer (and occasional producer) Warren Huart, whose Swing House Studios in Hollywood had been used by Douglas on a few projects. Huart has made a name for himself working with such acts as The Fray, Better Than Ezra, James Blunt and Howie Day, and shares Douglas’ passion for great analog equipment and natural-sounding albums. Also, Douglas says, “He’s a very hard worker and I needed somebody who was willing to work ridiculous hours and pretty much give his life over for almost a year.”
As it turned out, Music from a New Dimension took “only” nine months to make—though it was not nine solid months. Roughly speaking, the flow of the album’s recording went this way: The first three months, which consisted of songwriting and recording of basic tracks for most songs, took place at Aerosmith’s Boston studio, Pandora’s Box. The studio was originally built a decade ago by Douglas, designer John Storyk and the group’s longtime (now former) engineer Jay Messina, then updated by Douglas about a year ago. Additionally, Perry recorded some guitar parts at his own fabulously equipped Boston studio, The Boneyard. From there, the action shifted to Huart’s (and co-owner Phil Jaurigui’s) Swing House complex.
Many overdubs, some re-tracking and ground-up work on two cover tunes—The Temptations’ obscure “Shakey Ground” and The Yardbirds’ “I’m Not Talking”—as well as a new ballad by Diane Warren called “All Fall Down” (featuring Carrie Underwood) were done at Swing Time. Additional recording (such as Underwood’s lead vocal) and some mixing took place at Huart’s personal studio, Spitfire.
Several tracks were mixed by Neal Avron (Linkin Park, Fallout Boy) on an SSL 4000 G-Plus at Paramount Studios in Hollywood; others by the prolific Chris Lord-Alge on the 72-input SSL 4000 E Series board in his Tarzana (L.A.) studio; the rest were handled by Huart and Douglas on Spitfire’s 40-input SSL 4000 G.
Join us over the next several pages as we offer a photo essay by noted SF Bay Area photographer and video director Michael Coleman (you love his SoundWorks Collection Website devoted to film sound), who captured the entire process of making Music from a New Dimension from its formative days in Boston to final overdubs in L.A. Accompanying the photos are quotes and information supplied by Jack Douglas and Warren Huart.
|Photo by Michael Coleman |
Jack Douglas on first sessions in Boston: “First is the writing process. The idea of the album was to write it and make a record that really sounds like the band. They come into my office with dry [acoustic] guitars and I have an old cassette machine and I start recording. I’m writing stuff up on a chalk board behind me, with fake titles attached to the different riffs and ideas. [Notorious Boston mobster] Whitey Bolger had just been captured so we had one song that was called ‘Welcome Home, Whitey!’ There was one called ‘Butt Weight’ [as in the late-night commercial offers that say ‘But wait!’]. There was another with the working title ‘We Know Where Your Kids Are.’ Then we would take them to the next room over, which is a bigger conference/rehearsal room where we had a piano, some small amps and their instruments, and we would record into my computer and start to work the licks up. Everybody is sitting at this big table and each guy is putting in ideas. We would work stuff up in there, record it and listen back to it for a couple of days, make changes, and as soon as it got to be a recordable song, we’d go right into the [main studio] room and cut it while it was fresh.”
|Photo by Michael Coleman. |
More on Pandora’s Box: The control room at Pandora’s Box is equipped with what Douglas calls a “Frankenstein console,” originally put together by Douglas and Jay Messina using mainly Class-A components from ’70s and early ’80s Neve consoles, as well as API line amps. One Douglas innovation at Pandora’s Box was taking four patio umbrellas, stuffing them with foam and felt, and then deploying them as needed in the recording room. “I can raise them or lower them over drums,” he says, “or turn them around depending on whether I want them for dispersion or absorption.” Douglas adds, “We have tremendous flexibility [in Pandora’s Box] because it’s built in a gigantic warehouse, and the way I designed the room you can open double-doors in the back and spill the sound out to many thousands of square feet of open space, so its like a natural chamber. We had mics everywhere—30, 40 feet up.”