Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos On Recording With Steve Albini, Why Band Re-Cut In Color
Naturally, yesterday’s post about Geronimo! – a new band out of Rockford, Illinois – brought back fond memories of the city’s principal rock export: Cheap Trick. Seems like a good-enough time to dust off a years-old interview with Bun E. Carlos.
Below is my chat with the drummer – it was originally published in July 2003 and is making its online debut here. Seeing light for the first time ever is a bonus postscript, in which Carlos provides a brief track-by-track breakdown of Cheap Trick’s then-new album at the time, the Steve Albini-produced Special One.
Releasing new material has come at a price for Cheap Trick in recent years. Seven weeks after the everlasting rock band trotted out its latest disc – an eponymous effort in 1997 – the label behind it, Red Ant, folded. (The band now refers to the CD as The Dead Ant Album.)
The following year, the group launched its own means of production: Cheap Trick Unlimited, which put out two live albums and select reissues in the late ’90s and into the new century. Now, with the label becoming too unmanageable to handle on their own, the Tricksters have signed a licensing deal with three-year-old Florida-based indie label BIG3.
The venture means that BIG3 will have the rights to select albums like Music for Hangovers, Woke Up With a Monster and Silver. More importantly, the partnership will facilitate the release of Trick’s long-awaited Special One, a new 11-track CD that features production from two unlikely players: Steve Albini, the indie-rock demigod who engineered the group’s 1997 Sub Pop 7-inch “Baby Talk”; and Dan the Automator, better known for his work with Gorillaz and hip-hop turntablists the X-ecutioners. Chris Shaw (Dylan’s Love and Theft, Sheryl Crow) and erstwhile collaborator Jack Douglas also lent their production talents.
The full track list to the July 22 release: “Scent of a Woman” (first single), “Too Much,” “Special One” (ballad), “Pop Drone,” “My Obsession,” “Words” (ballad), “Sorry Boy,” “(I’m My) Best Friend,” “If I Could,” “Low Life in High Heels” and “Hummer.” The Japanese version will contain an added Japanese-vocal track.
Original drummer Bun E. Carlos tells ICE that he actually utilized his own Bun E. in a Box Midi sample collection – recorded with Albini, in fact – to create loops on “If I Could”: “The demo was going to be hard to work with, so I ended up cutting about eight or nine minutes of drum patterns along with a drum machine.”
Despite the fact that some songs were recorded in just one take – “Scent,” “Words” and “Best Friend,” for example – the Dan the Automator-produced “Hummer” landed on the other end of the spectrum.
“We probably had about 48 tracks of stuff for that song,” says Carlos. “We’ve worked on it three or four times over the years, adding and taking stuff off. When Dan did the remix, he had a lot to choose from.” He adds, “‘Hummer’ is the incestuous cousin of ‘Low Life.’ They’re two completely different tracks using stuff from the same tapes, with an eight-beat pause in between.”
Many basic tracks were put to tape with Albini at his Chicago-based Electrical Audio studio in 2000-’01. Carlos also reveals that the band re-cut its 1977 In Color breakthrough – which featured “I Want You to Want Me,” “Oh Caroline” and “Southern Girls” – in three days with Albini.
“We never liked the performance version of the album,” he says. “So we’re talking about doing a double In Color with Legacy. We’ve got a lot from those Albini sessions, including a couple older tracks from the ’70s we never cut and a cover of ‘I’m Losing You’ by Lennon.” –Kurt Orzeck
Originally published in ICE magazine in July 2003.
And here’s Carlos’ snappy track-by-track breakdown of Special One:
“Scent of a Woman” and “Too Much”: “Those were done in Woodstock at Bearsville with Chris Shaw last spring. ‘Scent of a Woman’ has a one-taker. ‘Too Much’ is a bunch of takes, cause it starts and stops, breaks down in every chorus.”
“Pop Drone” – “That’s pretty much Bearsville.”
“Obsession” – “We originally demo’d that in ’96 – in fact, it’s shown up on bootlegs with a different middle part. That was the first song we did at the Bearsville session.”
“Words” – “That was another one-taker in Bearsville.”
“Sorry Boy” – “I don’t know if we redid vocals or guitars in Woodstock or not, cause I did my drum tracks in about 10 days and took off.”
“Best Friend” – “That was the last song we recorded for the album. That’s another one-taker there. Some of these songs we’ve been running through, and once everything was up and running, we’d be, like, ‘Yup. Sounds good.’ Three or four on it were done in just one take, and they felt real good.”
“If I Could” – “The demo was, like, ‘Well, we’re going to have a hard time doing this like this. So I ended up going in and cutting about eight or nine minutes of drum patterns along with a drum machine. From that, we assembled the track.”
“Hummer” – “It’s the incestuous cousin of ‘Low Life,’ probably. Dan the Automator’s remix. With ‘Lowlife,’ we probably had 48 tracks of stuff. It’s one of those things we’ve worked on three or four times over the years, kept adding stuff and taking stuff off. When Dan did the remix, I’m sure he had a lot of stuff to choose from.”
“Eight-beat pause between the end of ‘Lowlife’ and the start of ‘Hummer.’ [Dan’s] is like a rock version. They’re really two completely different tracks using stuff from the same tapes.”
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