EXCLUSIVE IN-STUDIO DIARY: EARLY GRAVES
Exactly two years ago today the world lost Makh Daniels in a horrific van accident. Early Graves bravely soldiered on with vocalist John Strachan, whose band The Funeral Pyre was in the van with Early Graves, and they’ve been touring ever since. Early Graves finally returned to the studio in July to record their new album Red Horse with producer Tim Green at Louder Studios, and guitarist Chris Brock has chronicled the eight-day whirlwind session for MetalSucks in a highly entertaining studio diary.
DAY 1: We play at the Sound and Fury Festival at 3pm in Santa Barbara and smash the fastest set in Early Graves history, four songs. It’s our last show for the Goner album. We pack up and drive 400 miles north to Grass Valley, CA. There is a weird thunder and lightning storm happening so we put on Ride The Lightning to go with the mood of the drive, follow it with Master Of Puppets and then …And Justice For All. We listen to Metallica a lot together.
We arrive at 2am to Louder Studios and start drinking vodka shots with Tim [Green, Louder Studios]. Apparently there is a mountain lion that recently attacked someone around here and was last seen “heading this way.” That would really be our luck. There are two bedrooms with five beds in our living quarters of the studio. It’s basically an awesome large apartment for us to chill in. There is a little kitchen so we stock up on beer and snacks. Lots of Oriental Top Ramen, regular soups and bread. I get kinda fucked up and fall asleep around 5am.
DAY 2: Wake up around 10am and make some coffee, stoked that the mountain lion has not come to find us. That would really suck to have died at the paws of what is essentially just a cat. It’s beautiful out here, can’t see any neighbors or people or hear cars or smell smog or forcefully have to deal with humans. It’s just us and Tim and his wife. This is the life.
Start loading into the actual studio, which is a separate building on Tim’s land. We get mics placed and tones going by 1pm and finally start hitting record somewhere around 6pm. We are recording the drums to tape and then dumping to digital for this record in order to save time and $$$. So instead of buying new tapes, we used part of the Goner tapes, jump tape and dump them to digital.
I know this sounds stupid, but Matt [O’Brien, bass] said it best: while we aren’t taping over anything form the Goner sessions, its like Makh is still with us on these tapes. The drums sound awesome and after a few beers and several minutes of arguing over the right tempo for the end of the song, we get a decent take of “Skinwalker.” We move on to “Misery” and nail that pretty quickly, then we move on to “Days Grow Cold.” We do one take but decide that we’re playing it too fast, so we slow it down and all of a sudden it has a groove that it had been missing. We have never before said something was “too fast”… what’s wrong with us? I don’t give a shit. After we finish recording for the day around 10:30pm, we eat some dinner and drink some vodka and some beers and watch the documentary about the making of Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix, then we watch “Heavy Metal Parking Lot” and share some laughs. Matt and I watch this Andy Kaufman documentary about his wrestling days and laugh a lot. I fall asleep around 4am kinda drunk.
DAY 3: I wake up in the morning around 10am and wait for the coffee to brew. I clean up the place a little bit, make some breakfast and then wake up all the dudes. We finish drums for the last two songs, “Pure Hell” and “Quietus,” then we move on to guitars. This is the best part of recording for me: at my core I just love fucking playing guitar! Spend literally all day riffing after getting an awesome sound from a Bogner Uberschall and a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier and a Les Paul. There is really nothing that can beat a Gibson Les Paul or recording said Les Paul with Tim Green again. He was AMAZING in The Fucking Champs, a real shredder, and I think he really gets the kind of shit I want to do, which is to rip off Morbid Angel and Slayer and Metallica.
At the end of the night, I find the rest of the band had gone to buy BB guns and set up target practice all over Tim’s property with cans scattered around like they are fucking snipers.
DAY 4: More guitars today, but this time it’s Tyler [Jensen]. We set up an old Marshall JMP that Tim had from his Champs days and the same Dual Rectifier. Today is spent just getting all the rest of the guitars done — except for the solos — and we drink a lot of beers and vodka. Also: more BB guns, swimming in Tim’s awesome pool and playing with his dog SHERM that looks like a mini Falcor from the NeverEnding Story only he’s blind in one eye and constantly walks in 360s. He also hates Matt, which I think is really funny.
DAY 5: Today we get to do guitar solos, the best part of being in a band. Ask any band that has a dude that takes solos frequently and they will tell you that guitar solo time is the best. I was fucking stoked. Tim and I take a couple of shots of whiskey, drink some Banquet Beer and get rolling with a Les Paul (or as he was calling it, “More Paul”) and the same Boogie/Marshall setup as before. Tim really made me step it up in the shredding department, but not that lame noodle shred. He made sure that my solos were great, and for the first time since being in this band I am proud of the solos that I ripped through on an album. They are fierce and fast without being boring.
We start to get a bass sound and call it a night to drink tequila. The dudes are still shooting BB guns from the porch, and they’ve also stopped wearing shirts. So now there are two dudes sitting on the porch from noon to night shooting cans and this one pine cone that’s way high in the tree that they can’t manage to get to fall.
DAY 6: We decided that bass and vocals should be split up on this day so that John [Strachan] doesn’t have to do a whole album in one day; we’ll do some bass and do some vocals today, then do the same thing again tomorrow. John’s voice sounds amazing. He does “Skin-walker,” “Days Grow Cold,” and “Misery” today and it all sounds great. Tim recorded us for Goner when Makh was alive and with us. He kind of said it best when describing the difference in voices between Makh and John: Makh’s voice was like a brick wall and John’s voice is like a chain-link fence. I think this is extremely fitting for the difference between the two. They can both be equally impenetrable but they’re still quite different.
DAY 7: Today John and I wake up early and go to IHOP to get their $4 breakfast and unlimited coffee. It’s nice to have a meal that isn’t made from cans or ramen. After we finish, we head back to the studio and what do you know, target practice is already underway. We start up in the studio at about 2pm and finish up vocals and bass. There is one more B-side song to finish, but we save that for another day as tomorrow is our day off and we are going to spend it chilling and getting hammered before we start mixing the album. It’s always good to be able to step away from the album while you are about to mix and during the mixing process in general, but since we are under somewhat of a time crunch we have to get all the mixing done at once.
DAY 8: I am writing this somewhat buzzed and I just got out of the pool. We are listening to Ride The Lightning and shooting cans in the yard. It’s kind of crazy that in three days it will be the two year anniversary of our accident and losing Makh, and somehow here we all are, friends, putting the finishing touches on our third album Red Horse. We miss him dearly; it’s something that for the rest of my life I am going to think about. But I think he would be proud of us, and that’s really all that I can hope for. I know one thing: I am proud that through everything that’s happened the remaining dudes in the band and John stuck together and made something we are proud of. Red Horse is an awesome record and I can’t wait to have everyone hear it. Hopefully you like it, but if not that’s cool with me too because this was truly a therepeutic album made for us.
– Chris Brock / Early Graves