Published on September 19th, 2012 | by Ballard Lesemann0
The Fairy God Muthas: The Self Interview
The Fairy God Muthas Ask Each Other What’s Up
Editor’s note: I play drums in a rock duo called the Fairy God Muthas with singer/guitarist Doug Walters, a.k.a. “Street D” (of Torture Town). My stage name is “Skip DeBeatte” (like skipping a drum beat, get it?). We’ve been playing in the Charleston area for more than two years. Over the spring and summer months, we recorded and mixed our first album and titled it simply We Are The Fairy God Muthas. It’s nine songs: eight originals penned by Doug and a cover of the Stooges’ killer “Raw Power.” Doug engineered the basic tracks at his home studio, and we took the basic tracks to Ocean Industries on James Island for additional vocals and guitar solos. Engineer Jeff Leonard mixed and mastered it. We’re releasing the disc this week, so we thought we’d share a recent “self interview” about the experience. Here it goes:
Skip DeBeatte: So we finally recorded a rock record. It’s pretty exciting to have a bunch of Fairy God Muthas rock songs compiled on one disc. I wonder if we’re breaking a rule by interviewing ourselves about the whole thing.
Street D: Well, I’m sure we probably are, but if we don’t, who will? Plus, who’s gonna read this anyway? Any high points for you either in the recording or on the album itself?
Skip DeBeatte: The overall sound quality is surprisingly non-shitty, considering we tracked the basic drums, bass, and guitar stuff in your back room … wait, that sounds like an insult to your engineering skills and gear. Sorry. But seriously, I’m quite pleased that you can hear the kick, snare, and the rest of the drum kit within the squall of guitars and stuff.
Street D: I was also quite surprised with how everything turned out, sonically — especially the drums. Drums have always been the most challenging to get sounding good for me. I like them to sound big and booming, not like a demo. The guitars got a little bigger in the mastering, and the drums got a little smaller because of it, but they still sound good and have a strong presence. I’m most proud of what we did at my house. You can make a real album at home if you want to. And we can use all the money we saved on important things, like limos and champagne.
Skip DeBeatte: And health food, strong coffee, and decent beer. It was hot and humid in that music room, but we played well on the basic tracks. The loud/fast songs are lively and energetic for two old dudes. The slower, moodier songs have their own slinky dynamics, too. Bringing our own mixes of the songs into Ocean Industries with Jeff turned out to be a wise move. Even on our limited budget, we had time to try out multiple guitar overdubs and vocal takes.
Street D: I spent a lot of time on all that, trying different things, experimenting and whatnot. Chasing rabbits, splitting hairs, stressing out. Even having some fun. Recording is so “final,” like “This is how this goes … forever!” So you better get it right. But the trick is to not think too much at all, and keep it real simple and honest. It’s very challenging to do that. You’re tempted to get fancy and throw some chops in, but that sounds stupid when you hear it back.
Skip DeBeatte: Early on, you were in charge of the mics, mixing board, guitar amps, and all of the technical stuff. What were your official duties as the engineer and guitarist in “the lab?”
Street D: I double-tracked all the guitars and panned them to about nine and three o’clock, so I really had to nail everything so it’d sound tight. I hate punching in. I never do. So I’d get to the end of a take and then inevitably blow it and have to do it all again. My neighbors heard a lot of the same things over and over and over for weeks, but I feel the same way about their dogs. I also double tracked the bass, one direct and one on an amp through a fuzz pedal. I blended those two tracks and put it straight up the middle. It was a cool little thing I learned during this session. I have a pretty basic set-up, and there is no automation. I had to learn every little nuance of every take of every song.
Skip DeBeatte: Did you stress out about the initial mixes?
Street D: I had to bounce everything down, sometimes up to 16 tracks to two tracks. Then sent it to you and hoped you liked it. It was cool to bounce it off you and get some different perspective. It was a bit nerve-wracking in a good way. It was also cool hearing your tracks as I put the guitars and bass down. It’s kind of a simple rock record, but I think it may be the best thing I’ve ever been a part of. To me, it’s the best thing I can be doing. I feel at home in the studio. It’s cool to write and perform, but production is just as interesting to me. I’m glad we did it. Now it’s time to start stressing out about the next one.
Skip DeBeatte: It’s almost time. We have to properly release this one first. No label. No budget. No PR team. Are we doomed before we even put it out? Or are we scott-free and totally uncorrupted? Either way, it’ll be interesting to read or hear some feedback — from listeners and reviewers, not from your Marshall cabinet.
Street D: I think it’s its own reward. Just to have done it is the main thing. I’m no good at the business stuff. I wouldn’t even know where to start, nor do I really care about that stuff. It’d be real cool to make some money and play all over, but as long as we’re happy, then it’s cool. I don’t have any expectations about its reception. I hope people hear it. And I hope they like it. I learned a lot making it, and I feel like we’re a lot closer and better. That’s the main thing. What do you think about We Are The Fairy God Muthas compared to everything else you’ve worked on?
Skip DeBeatte: Well, I’ve enjoyed the experience of working in top-of-the-line studios in Athens, Ga. like Chase Park Transduction and John Keane’s, and I’ve done plenty of low-budget home studio work, too. Years ago, when I started playing and recording with serious bands, I thought the cleanest, slickest, most radio-ready sound quality was the way to go. I quickly realized that it’s best to aim for a more natural drum sound without fancy effects and studio tricks. The overall tone of the instrument has to fit the song and the project. It would sound weird if Iron Maiden’s drum sound was applied to a Neil Young & Crazy Horse album, and the other way around.
Street D: Cool. Have you ever included any glockenspiel in your work? Or maybe some tasty China boy?
Skip DeBeatte: Never used the Glockenspiel at a show, and I’ve only hit China cymbals when I’m sitting on some other drummer’s fancy kit. I like the stripped-down set-up and the basic approach. I think a simple drum kit with one or two cymbals is perfect for what the God Muthas are going for. It fits the spare, raw, uncluttered style of the music.
Street D: Yeah, I can definitely dig that. Less is always more. Plus, it really forces you to be good and really play if you don’t have a ton of little bells and whistles to trick people into thinking you’re doing something. That’s why I don’t use any pedals anymore. It makes me actually play the guitar instead of doing little tricks. Also, being a two-piece where you can’t do a bunch of solos forces you to write songs. There’s nothing to hide behind in a two-piece. Or a small kit. Or a guitar straight to an amp.
Skip DeBeatte: Yep. Self-inflicted simplicity. Now that the album is mixed, mastered, and in the sleeve, what do think of the overall result? It kicks off with that almost accidental theme song and then goes right into one of the more thick-headed rockers of the bunch, “Awendaw.” Those two make for a husky, big-chord, shouty opening.
Street D: I hear things that I could have done better, particularly with the vocals, but it’s grown on me. It captured that moment. It’s a good representation of where we are right now, playing, writing, and production-wise. I learned a lot while doing it, which is important to me. I think everything you do is just part of the process. There is no finish line; we just keep changing and growing, hopefully. So, the album is just one more piece on the big puzzle. I think it rocks and it has humor. And it’s fun with a few shadows in there. Overall, I’d give it a strong B+. But I actually like your assessment better. It’s surprisingly un-shitty. What about you?
Skip DeBeatte: No grade letter from me. I abstain. How about the one cover in the set — the Stooges’ “Raw Power?” Did we do it justice? Will Iggy cringe if and when he hears it?
Street D: I love the Stooges, so I’m glad we covered that song. The album Raw Power has been a big influence on me through the years in many ways. So far, both Mike Watt and James Williamson have approved. And on a scale of one-to-10, my seven-year-old nephew gives it “about a six million.” But it’d be cool to hear what Iggy and Rock Action thought. “Raw Power” is a fun, rocking moment. It represents one of places where you and I connect. I’m also glad the late great Jeff Norwood is forever immortalized on “Awendaw.” I hope he knows that, wherever he is. And I’m glad to get a chance to express some feelings on “You’re Goin’ Down” about my down-the-street neighbors who broke into my house and stole three guitars and a hard-drive last summer. Though I don’t believe in revenge or retaliation, it was fun and therapeutic to use that character to vent.
Skip DeBeatte: I wonder if we’ll sell out of our massive first pressing of 100. I wonder if it’ll land us in new places. I wonder if it’ll ever get airplay anywhere. I’m anxious to get on with the next one, no matter what happens with this one.
Street D: I’m glad we waited a while before we did an album. Even though some of the songs had never been played, I feel like we are a lot more together now than ever. I don’t know how or even if it will be received. Even if it’s just a cool thing to give close friends, that’s alright. It was fun to do. It makes me want to do another one. I say we keep going as long as it’s fun. Hell yeah.
The Fairy God Muthas share the Tin Roof stage with L Brown Odyssey and Punksand Snakes at 9 p.m. on Thurs. Sept. 20. Admission is $5. Visit reverbnation.com/thefairygodmuthas and facebook.com/thefairygodmuthas for music and info.
Top photo by Katie Gandy.
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