Alex: Hang on, I'm gonna change the CD. Ah, The Stranglers!
Sepultura asked us to tour with them. At the time, none of us had heard of them. They sent us their CD, I thought it was OK (I actually thought it sounded like Slayer). We thought, why not? So we did a tour with them, and it was actually one of our biggest mistakes as it ensured our "Metal" label by association.
Anyway, I ended up going to Phoenix for a while, where Max lives, and we started playing. It was just for something to do really...a joke. We played Discharge and Dead Kennedys songs. Then we started coming up with our own Stuff. We made a boombox tape and got a lot of feedback from it so we decided to make a record. The whole thing was just a joke that got way out of hand.
Nailbomb ended up touring though...
Alex: No, actually we only ever played two shows in The Netherlands, one of which was recorded and became the Commercial Suicide LP. No other shows, no video, etc.
Right...the Proud to Commit Commercial Suicide LP was recorded at the Dynamo Open Air, in Holland, in front of 120,000 or so people. How did it feel/what impact did playing in front of so many people have on you?
Alex: It was weird, although at that point I was really fed up with the whole thing and the way people were trying to manipulate us, unsuccessfully, but still... I didn't really mind playing in front of 120,000 people, as I had a lot of other things on my mind, but poor old Dave Ed (bassist from Neurosis) got quite freaked out.
No permanent damage, I hope.
Alex: I don't think so. I don't think he had played in front of that many people before. Not that I had either, but it didn't bother me really. I didn't really like it. I much prefer a small crowd in a sweaty club. A lot of people weren't there to see us anyway, there were a lot of other bands on that festival, so I don't know about that 120,000 figure.
The link from your webpage to a preshow press conference is pretty damn funny. You sound barely awake.
Alex: Just not interested in that music biz bullshit. The idea was to try to explain a little about the band and why we decided to split up following the show, but I just get really bored with all that shit, trying to explain things to people that will never be able to understand it.
How did working with Max on Nailbomb--and the sound and style you two produced--affect the writing and recording of Fudge Tunnel's third LP, The Complicated Futility of Ignorance?
Alex: It's inevitable that some of that would rub off with Fudge Tunnel. I think it basically made us want to play a little tighter. In another way, though, we learned about being spontaneous, keeping mistakes and such.
I really liked the way a lot of the guitars sounded on the Nailbomb Point Blank LP, and I used some of the same techniques for Fudge Tunnel.
Why did Fudge Tunnel split?
Alex: With Fudge Tunnel, we decided from a very early point that we should split up as soon as we got to the stage where we were repeating ourselves or wearing out the joke, so to speak. Originally, we had intended to do one LP only, but we enjoyed playing together and did some more. Eventually the point came where we couldn't justify any new material using the same sound. I think we pretty much exhausted the one riff we had.
Are you still in touch with Adrian and Dave?
Alex: Yeah, I speak to them fairly often. Dave recently became a father, so he's busy changing nappys and stuff, I'm sure. Adrian is always talking about visiting San Francisco, but he hasn't made it over here yet.
Do you still have people pestering you about the lyrics to Fudge Tunnel songs?
Alex: All the fucking time! I actually added a lyric disclaimer to the FAQ section of my website. I think people take the lyrics way too seriously. A lot of the lyrics were observations or stories about some particularly fucked-up person or persons, and I would write the lyrics in a narrative style, or from the point of view of the person involved, which led to a lot of problems as people assume I was writing about my own life. "Do you really beat your girlfriend with a belt?" "Did you really kill your own baby?" Etc, etc. Give me a fucking break!
Do you still think Ted Nugent is all that?
Alex: Well, y'know, it was always meant to be ironic. I mean, I like his music (some of it anyway). It's quite amusing. But his right-wing conservative redneck animal-killing stance makes me puke.
Yeah, he's a pretty wacked bastard along those lines.
You've mentioned that you can't read music. As both an engineer and a musician, how do you communicate with others during a recording session?
Alex: There's a lot of different ways to communicate thoughts and ideas without being technically correct. I do know a lot of chords and notes--I just couldn't write it out on paper. I can tell if a guitar is out of tune in a second, and which string and whether it's sharp or flat, but I try to communicate ideas in terms of emotions or feelings rather than actual musical notes.
You're well known for the heavy guitar sounds you create and are able to record. How do you accomplish that?
Alex: There's a popular opinion that a "big" guitar sound is achieved by multiple layering of tracks, which I completely disagree with. I think that's a poor excuse for not getting a decent guitar sound. It's all in the amp, pickups, and microphone placement, including ambient mics. You're trying to capture 140 decibels of shrieking guitar, and present it on two small speakers in someone's living room. A SM57 placed right on the speaker at a 45-degree angle for no discernible reason is not going to cut it.
Do you exclusively record onto analog tape or have you delved into the digital realm of recording?
Alex: I have absolutely no use for digital recording in the studio. I learned recording on analog machines, and it's the truest, most reliable format available. I think digital recording is truly in its infancy, and it's a joke that these machines are being used in professional recording studios. DAT machines and ADATs are the scourge of the recording industry. Fiddly, fragile crappy little tapes that you can't edit, and they sound awful. Not to mention the fact that they deteriorate over a very short period of time, to the point where they are unplayable. Although I have heard some dance and electronic records recorded digitally that have sounded good, I would never dream of recording a live band that way. It's very difficult to make rock music sound good using ones and zeros. I master my records to 1/2 inch analog tape, and I make a DAT copy for people to make pre-release cassettes. Then, when the record is released, I throw the DAT tape away.
Who are some of the bands you've recorded?
Alex: At the moment I'm working with Samiam. Other notables: Melvins, Knapsack, At The Drive-In, Trunk Federation, godheadSilo.
Did you hear Mike Kunka from godheadSilo has a new outfit called Enemymine?
Alex: Yeah, I went to see them play here with Altamont, and they didn't show up. Somehow, I wasn't that surprised.
Of the bands you've recorded, which session was the most memorable?
Alex: The record I did with At the Drive-In was excellent. They are a hard working, totally focused bunch, which is not usually the case with bands. That made my job a lot easier. They are also some of the coolest people I have ever met, which made the whole thing a pleasurable experience, and a bloody good laugh. I did some recording with the Melvins a couple of years ago, which was a lot of fun. Their mission with recording is to make everything sound as fucked-up and weird as possible. As an engineer, I'm constantly trying to avoid distortion, phase problems, and unnatural tones, so working with them was like being let loose in a candy store, as I didn't have to worry about any of that. We abused just about every piece of equipment in the studio. It came out sounding absolutely horrendous, but great at the same time.
Do you have any particular "sound" or "sound ideal" you're trying to achieve with each recording process?
Alex It really depends on the band in question, but I am quite obsessed with live sounding, natural recordings. I am so sick of hearing slick, compressed records with all the soul sucked out of them. Whether that means using all room mics, keeping mistakes sometimes...whatever. I hear records on the radio that just sound awful.
It seems most everything on the radio sounds awful.
Alex: Yeah, music wise and production wise, but that's always been the way. There's always lame music in the mainstream, but in between the cracks there's all this great music going on. You just have to search for it sometimes.