“We’ll meet you in parking lot by the tennis courts at 7:30. Some volunteers will be there to help you with your equipment.” For a moment, that made me feel like a rock star. But not being familiar with the UC Davis campus, I did not realize that the parking lot was two blocks away from Freeborn Hall, where KDVS’s studios are located.
The good news was that we don’t play through Fender Twins or 4x15 bass cabinets. The bad news was, even though our equipment is relatively light, we were going to the basement and no elevator was available. Descending two flights of narrow stairs, I thought, “This building is old enough to have been designated a bomb shelter during the Cold War.”
Christine, the Assistant Studio Technician, ushered us through a small office, half of which was taken up by a glass-topped Ikea desk. A door led to Studio A. That was our destination. We were at KDVS to record “Live in Studio A.” Does that sound a bit like an oxymoron?
Christine opened the door to reveal a room with dark walls, floor, and ceiling. Sound-absorbing tiles covered almost all the wall surface except for a glass window and a spot where graffiti and stickers replaced the tiles. Christine would sit on the other side of the window and operate the sound board and recording equipment. She would be joined by an assistant and TJ, the DJ for the SubZero show.
Glenn started to set up the drums in a corner. “Do you have any monitors?” Gesturing to the ceiling above the window, Christine responded, “We have room monitors, but really don’t like to use them.” Glenn then moved out towards the room’s center. It was Robert’s idea, “We’ll just put our amps around the room and turn them in towards us and Glenn.” We were going for surround sound, not a wall of sound.
“How are you going to mic the drums?” “We’ll use two mics: one on the kick, and an overhead.” This was going to be simple and low tech. Two lines for the drums, one line for each instrument, one mic for talking. We would play. Christine would mix at the sound board. The result would be a single track recording to be played on a Saturday night.
Set up was fast. Within a half hour, we were playing so that Christine could get her mix. “Here’s our loudest.” I hit the boast pedal, and Glenn went into heavy drumming. Christine fiddled with sliders and knobs. She turned her headphones over to TJ, and they made more changes. TJ had heard us before, as well as hundreds of hours of instrumental surf. She was relying on him. Finally, Christine announced over the monitors, “We’re ready when you are.”
We conversed briefly, and the Pups then were unleashed. Even though the room itself was dead -- what do you expect with all those sound-absorbing tiles -- the sound within the band was amazingly alive. It was colliding and washing over us as we were surrounded by our amps and Glenn’s creative, yet steady, drumming.
Robert seemed to be both inspired and enthused by the sound and an opportunity to experiment. A couple of times, he raised his hand to call off the song because he had a new idea. That is not something he could do in a live show. But because we were “live in Studio A,” he could.
We were soaked with sweat when we took a five-minute break around 9:15. While the others rehydrated, TJ and I discussed his interviewing me as part of the show. Break over. TJ conducted his interview. To my embarrassment, a senior moment came as I described our music as traditional surf meeting Northwest garage, but I could not remember the Sonics’ name. I then let on -- duh -- that Link Wray influenced our music.
The interview ended. We were back with the energy and the trashy, raw sound that make up Pup music and differentiate us from other surf bands. We just cannot sustain the others' clarity and purity for a show. For “Live in Studio A,” we were not restrained by -- or concerned about -- an audience directly in front of us. Instead, we became lost in the music and kept pushing closer and closer to chaos’s edge -- the place where we seem to play best.
Drenched in sweat and having spent our musical juices, we wrapped up recording the show. Interestingly, we had no idea what the mix was or how we sounded outside the envelope of sound we enjoyed in the room. But we just had had fun time playing garage surf music together and would bask in that knowledge over beers back at the Doghouse.
Those feelings stuck with me until the next morning when the little voice asked, “Will the energy and fun that we had come through on the radio?” I responded -- not out loud, mind you -- “If they do, no one listening will know that some white hairs played that because radio does not do pictures.”
Responding to our asking when the show will air, Christine said, “This Saturday.” I guess we will find out tonight!