The Complete Mark Pinske Interview
by Chris Michie
Mix: If I ask you a question about a record that youhad nothing to do with, please correct me. Also, if you recorded tracksfor an album, but didn’t mix it, let me know that. I’ve found that theCD booklets often don’t include proper engineering credits, at leastfor the studio albums. So just bear that in mind, that I’m not workingfrom a full set of data.
Pinske: That’s fine. Bob Stone and I did a lot oftag-team shifts on mixing. Bob never really did any of the tracking.Bob Stone was an engineer we brought in because what had happened was,I started putting in about 113-hour weeks. Frank and I were just – he’scranking almost every waking minute. A lot of times we’d be underdeadlines, like a three-month deadline in between the tours orsomething, and we had a deadline to get an album out. And I would starta mix – we literally got it down to where I would start a mix, maybehalfway through a song. Sometimes we would mix segments of songs, andBob would come in and take over the mix, or I would mix a song and hewould mix a song. So most of his credits were pretty much just “remixengineer.” Which is what he did. He would mix the stuff that I didn’tmix. But the majority of the albums – probably a half-dozen or soalbums that Bob and I did together were collaborative. On “Thing-Fish,”I probably mixed the majority of the tunes. He mixed about a half-dozenof them or so.
Mix: That’s good to know. What’s happened – I don’tknow if you’re aware of this, but when the whole catalog got reissuedon CD, I think it’s been reissued a couple of times, but anyway, themost recent, the supposedly approved versions, have restored artworkand new timing sheets –
Pinske: Are you talking about the Rykodisc stuff?
Pinske: Yeah. Some of that stuff got redone prettybadly.
Mix: OK. We can get to that. I’m going back intoancient history, here. I just wanted to clear up, before working forFrank, what were you doing for Quad Eight? Did you install and test outQuad Eights around Hollywood and elsewhere, or were you more of abench-tech guy at the factory?
Pinske: I had a multiple number of roles when I wasat Quad Eight Electronics. I started out there as an engineer on staff,and I worked my way up to – I was national sales manager, and I wentfrom national sales manager to plant superintendent. Quad Eight had acouple different divisions. It was a pretty large manufacturer. We dida whole side that did nothing but custom film consoles for Burbank andUniversal, all kinds of different film studios out in Hollywood. Andthey were just custom film consoles. We also had another building wherewe started a commercial line of recording consoles. So there was awhole nother building, a whole nother manufacturing inside that startedup that did a regular slew of products. Quad Eight actually, I don’tknow if you know this or not, but they actually came out with the veryfirst digital reverb that was ever done.
Mix: I didn’t know that.
Pinske: Yeah. They had the very first digital reverb.So I was the plant superintendent of the manufacturing plant that didall the commercial products. The was the job I had at the time Iauditioned for Frank. The last job I had. There was about 45 peopleworking under me. I had research and development. One of the guys whoactually invented the digital reverb stuff, a guy named James Ketchum,who now has DTS systems, which is another film thing, he was one of theguys that was in the research department that worked under me. It wasquite an interesting adventure there. That’s where I got most of mymanufacturing background. Which is more of what I’m into now.
Mix: How did you hear about the audition, and whydid you give up this excellent job to go and work with Frank?
Pinske: That’s kind of an interesting question,because some of my friends thought I was crazy to give up the job Ihad, which was a really good-paying job. But, initially, one of themain reasons I went out to Hollywood in the first place was to try todo studio recordings. Like I told you before, I had recorded a lot,most of my life, on the side, and then I did all this live touring. Ihad pretty much come to the realization that in live touring you neverget credits. You don’t get album credits or anything. So I thought, ifI wanted to benefit my career, and get ahead in my career, that Ineeded to do some serious work that would have the credibility, thatwould get on albums, and this kind of thing. So this was the reason -at least I thought at the time – the reason I was coming out to L.A. SoI took the job there as a stepping stone, so I could have employmentand be working in L.A., and try to look for some of the other stuff onthe side. When I got involved with that company, it became realserious. I really enjoyed it. I was still pretty young, yet. I stillwanted to do some more touring and do some recording and stuff. So whenthe audition opportunity came up for Frank, one of the engineers thathad worked for me, that had worked at Quad Eight, had heard about it,and made a couple phone calls and got beyond the list, along with anumber of other musicians that were doing auditions. So it was reallyjust a straightforward thing. I went up there, not really knowing anyof them at all.
Mix: When Frank Zappa auditioned you for a positionas recording engineer and live sound front-of-house mixer, was the UMRKfacility fully functional? Or was part of your audition to actuallymake it work?
Pinske: That’s exactly what’s happening. It wasactually December of 1979, and he was finishing up construction on thestudio. The Harrison board had been put in. David Gray, who’s now the -I think he’s Vice President of Dolby, was the technical engineer upthere. He was the guy that was doing all the wiring and installingeverything, and pretty much was with Frank Zappa for a number of years.After I’d gotten hired, he was the assistant there. He moved off toDolby shortly after that. When I got there, he pretty much wasfinishing everything up. A very elaborate monitoring system, for allthe individual musicians, they could all do their own little monitormix, with the headphone system and everything. It was an unbelievablyelaborate setup. So the studio was just being finished. The main reasonhe was doing these auditions was because he, for the first time, neededa full-time on-staff engineer for his own studio. Before that, he’dalways recorded at Cucamonga, or whatever other studios around town.And they were always doing different albums at different places, ormaybe a collection of a lot of different places. So this was the firsttime he needed a full-time engineer. Once all of that went down, oncethe audition all went down, and we were going on tour, he just wantedto have a full-time guy that would do – at that point, do the sound onthe road, and do the recording and mixing with him in the studio whenhe was off the road.
Mix: So was part of the test to see how you couldfind your way around an unfamiliar and brand-new studio?
Pinske: Oh, yeah.
Mix: Did he get you to mix stuff, or just, as yousaid in your last interview, patch him into various things when he wasplaying guitar?
Pinske: Oh, no. He wasn’t playing guitar.Interestingly enough, when I walked in, there was a couple of peoplethere trying to goof around with some microphones through the system.There was a studio technician there also, nicknamed Midget. They werehaving trouble with the headphone system, and they were just trying todo a couple of vocal things, and I walked in, and one of the firstthings he [Frank] said to me, he says, “Look, can you help them fixthis problem?” Well, my chops were up pretty high with troubleshootingconsoles. I wrote all the troubleshooting procedures and everything atQuad Eight. And I heard this noise coming out of the cue send. It waslike the sound an op amp makes when it’s going out. It was a veryfamiliar sound with me, because we used a lot of the similar op amps.It was a Signetics 5534, basically, is what it was. And I said, “Thatsounds like a bad 5534 op amp. So Frank kind of perked up and looked atMidget and just said – and Midget said, “Well, there are no SigneticsIC chips in this console. The Harrison console doesn’t use Signeticschips, is pretty much what he was saying. So that was the first meetingthat I had. It became an interesting turn of events from there. Welifted out the module that the cue sends were on, and sure as heck,there were some 5534 chips on it. We unplugged one. They were all insockets, so we plugged another one in, and plugged it back down, andthe headphone system came up and started working immediately. So it waskind of like a fluke, because – all of a sudden it really looked like Iwas cool. You walk into a situation, and lots of times you knowsomething or you don’t know something. And you say what’s on your mind.In Frank’s case, if you didn’t know something, the best thing you coulddo was say, “I don’t know.” Because you couldn’t bluff Frank. It wasn’tthat kind of situation. It was just that it really was a familiar soundthat I heard. So when we put the thing back down, Frank looked atMidget and said, “Midget, I think you owe Mark an apology.” [Laughs.]And this was going on before we really started the formal auditioning.We were just goofing off. Needless to say, it put me off to a goodstart from a technical standpoint. Not necessarily from any otherstandpoint. That was kind of a fluke.
Mix: As part of the audition, you mixed somemultitracks?
Pinske: As a matter of fact, the first thing we didis, we had some multitrack tapes on. Frank had some pretty raw guitartracks that I remember. I think it was a 16-track tape that was on. Andhe wanted his guitar patched through a bunch of things. At this point,there was probably about eight racks of effects down one wall, andabout four on the other. And just about everything you could imagine inthese racks. Mostly the standard stuff, like your UREI 1176s, your EMTstuff. Frank like a lot of things like Mic-Mix Dyno Flangers and allkinds of different toys for guitars, your Lexicon reverbs, that kind ofstuff. He wanted to just do some processing. I think I mentioned thisto you last time, the patchbay wasn’t labeled. There was all theserolls in the patchbay that had these white tape, the white numbers onthem, 1 through 48, down the right side of the Harrison patchbay, butthey weren’t labeled yet. They were just numbered. The oscillator outwas labeled, and the stuff that came from the factory on the board waslabeled, but none of the auxiliary stuff that was wired in from theracks was actually labeled. That’s where I just took an oscillator andstarted patch out to see what I could light up. And that’s where thatother comment thing came from. At that point, we just mixed a fewthings on the 2-track.
Mix: And the other part of the audition was to goto the sound stage and work with a band.
Pinske: The other part of the audition came the nextday. Down at Zoetrope Studios, at the time Francis Ford Coppola, thestudios, they were called Zoetrope at the time. We went down there, andFrank had a sound stage. There was a P.A. set up, and it was prettymuch the old what we called the “dinosaur system,” some leftoverremnants of the red cabinets that he had, the JBL stuff with thelong-throw horns and the bullet tweeters that you stack up, the stuffyou pile up to hell and back. And two brand-new Midas consoles thatwere out there, that was the newest version of the Midas console thatI’d ever – they had just done. And they were a very different-lookingconsole. It was a different flavor on console that Midas usually did,because they had a slide fader in the mid range, for your variablefrequency. So instead of the normal knob, there was a slide, so it waskind of a non-traditional-layout console. But it was their newestthing. Those two consoles were linked together to the P.A. system. Andthen there was a little rack there, and there was a little cassettemachine in the rack that was wired up to it. Frank had Al Santos, whowas the production manager at the time, just mess up the board. He justmessed everything up. It sounded pretty shitty, basically. There wasnoise coming off the stage. And Frank had his wireless guitar, then hejust looked at me and said, “Now make it sound good.” That’s the way hewas. He was that way with musicians all the time. It’s a littledifferent with an engineer, but with musicians he was that way all thetime. He’d chart something out and say, “OK, play it.” In my case, Ijust fiddled around with the channels, started off with the drums, andwent through in a somewhat systematic fashion, and grouped the drums,grouped the keyboards, and the band was just kind of rehearsing onstage. They pretty much were just rehearsing, it wasn’t like they weredoing a show or anything. And then I kind of whipped the thing togetherthe best I could, and he said, “Now put some of it on tape.” I grabbeda little cassette tape, and they played a couple of pieces, and thatwas pretty much all there was to the audition those two differentdays.
Mix: You told me the rest of the story the otherday about how he called you in a couple of weeks. Back to the UMRKfacility, you mentioned the board, which was a Harrison, and the tapemachines.
Pinske: At that time, or what we moved to later?Originally it was two MM1200 Ampexes.
Mix: Which were 16 tracks?
Pinske: No, they were 24-track machines, but Frankhad 16-track heads that you could just unscrew the head stack and puton a 16-track head stack. And then the last 8 channels just didn’t doanything.
Mix: And then monitors? Were they soffited, or didhe have free-stand – how was the control room laid out?
Pinske: The monitors was an elaborate five-way setup.It was a typical Westlake-Audio-type setup, with the walnut horns. Haveyou ever seen – the big monitors with the walnut horns, and two 15s,and the big tweeter. Most of the big monitors, all the big monitors,there was five major big monitors, so right over the top of theconsole, of the Harrison console, were – it was all brown speakercloth. So there was three monitors over the top. There was a leftcenter, and a right. With the idea that he was always going to – thathe had the potential of doing film mixing. Most of the time, the leftand the right were the only ones operative. The board itself, though,had quad output and whatnot, so you could select the quad output andthen there was two speakers in the rear also, that were identical. Soall five of those speakers were Westlake systems that were built intothe actual ceiling walls, the side wall of the ceiling. He had aconglomerate of different types of near field speakers that he liked touse. We used the JBL 4311s, which was pretty traditional, and then hewould also have a pair of Auratones, which were always kept on top ofthe meter bridge of the console. For the most part, that was most ofthe standard monitoring system for most of the time.
Mix: On one of his albums, and I don’t know which,there’s a note to the effect that “this album was mixed on (brand name)monitors. For best results, leave your – “
Pinske: Those were 4311s or 4315s, or 4312s, I think.It might have been the white album, I think, or “Drowning Witch” orsomething. I remember he made a note on it. We mixed the whole album ona pair of 43 – doggone it. The 12-inch JBL three-way. Originally JBLhad them called 4310s and 4311s, and they were called 4312s. He had theolder version, which had a different crossover point than the brand-newones he went to later. The 12As and the 13s. JBL kept going through thenumbers as they went up, and they changed the type, the style oftweeters they had and everything. This was a kind I had run intobefore, on an album that I actually played on as a musician. BillSzymczyk, who had done all the Eagles stuff, had kind of rubbed off onme because I was always asking him questions, I was an engineer askingquestions, and he had mixed most of The Eagles’ albums on the 4311JBLs, and he would carry them around with him, and he’d set them on apair of tripod stands sideways. So when I was doing demo recordings,and home recordings on my own, and recordings with bands in the studio,not anybody that was every known, as I was working my way up, I triedto use some of the 4311s, 4312s, and I usually didn’t get the goodresults on them. So I finally asked Bill when I had the chance. He hadall these Gold albums. He had something like 36 Gold albums, the guywas doing something right. And he said the trick is to not let themnear any surface. You don’t put them on top of any table, you don’t putthem near any walls, you don’t put them in a corner. You don’t put themup in a corner in the ceiling. You keep them away from any surface.Because JBL has a tendency to have a very colorated sound. Especiallythose kind of sounds, the 12-inch speaker with the cone midrange, andthen the tweeter. There was just an adjustable path of midrange andtreble control. So he always set the tweeter on 12 o’clock, and themidrange on about three o’clock, at about a quarter of the way up. So Istarted setting it the way he did, because I figured he knew somethingI didn’t, and I could learn from them. And sure as hell, when you tookthe things away from the surface, a lot of that extra low-endcharacteristic, that colorated sound is pretty much what I call it, thecolored sound went away. They became a lot more of an honest monitor.We tried that. Frank and I had talked about all this kind of stuff alot of the time. We didn’t know what to trust or not trust. And youknow the Westlake Audios were very colorated. So what would happen is,if you tried to mix on those, you would have all this fidelity thatsounded really good, and then you take the record somewhere else and itwould sound terrible. Because there was so much color, so much hi-fisound. You hook up a mic bike and go, “Wow, this thing sounds great.”So Frank and I got into this thing about not trying to – trying to usea more honest monitoring situation, where the monitoring speaker wasn’tnecessarily doing us a favor. And then you would spend a little bitmore time getting the EQ better.
Mix: Back to the studio. Where there separate roomsfor the Bosendorfer, drums, guitars? How many rooms were there?
Pinske: When you looked out through the control-roomwindow – let’s just take it from the control room out. The machineswere in the back. There were two racks, one on the right side, one onthe left side. Gee, I think I even have a Polaroid picture of thecontrol room somewhere. You looked out through the glass, and there waswhat we called “the yard,” which is, out front of the glass, was acarpeted area, close up front, and then it turned into wood. There wastwo booths on either side. If you’re looking out from the control room,out through the studio, there was a sunken booth on the right side,which was pretty much developed and called “the drum room.” It had ahardwood floor in it, and you stepped down two steps into it. And itwas all glass around it. But it was like an oversize-type booth thatwas sunken in down the right side. When you looked out to the leftside, there was another booth, which pretty much you would call thevocal booth, but again, it was a little bit of an oversize vocal booth.It wasn’t tiny, like a lot of them you see. It was carpeted in Sonex,and carpet on the walls. It was a lot deader sound. The percussionroom, the idea of the percussion room was to have it a little livenedup, and then if you wanted to deaden it a little, you would roll outsome carpet over the wood, but it was a wooden floor in it. So Frankhad the studio built. It was designed by Rudy Brewer, actually. AndRudy Brewer had a number of typical configurations like this. When youlooked out in the room, between the two booths, the room got narrower,and it all turned into wood. As it went back between the two booths, itopened up into this wide back area where the piano was, that had a realhigh ceiling. You’d go up probably 20, 25 feet, with skylights onit.
Mix: This whole complex was built on the side ofhis house, or in his yard, or something.
Pinske: It was built on the side of the hill. You hadthe house, then you had a basement that tied over to it, so it kind ofwas to the side of it. The yard itself, he actually built a tape vaultin the yard. People must have thought he was putting in a swimmingpool, but he put a tape vault down there. Because we had a huge tapevault. Which was locked in. The control room itself had one of yourtypical bass-trap back wall in it. And that was it. There’s two otherthings that’s probably important if you talk about the studio itself.Those were live plastered wood walls. To the right and the back therewas a chamber that was 46 feet long that was about 4 feet wide. Youcould step down into this chamber, and we had feeds going out there forspeakers, eight different feeds, and a whole bunch of different micreturns. So we could send sounds into different speakers. We had aboutsix sets of JBL speakers in there, and we also had a Leslie in there.And the speed of the Leslie could actually be controlled by a knob thatwe had on the console back in the control room. So it was an actuallive room. Frank was real fond of using real, live reverb. Because alot of the digital reverbs weren’t quite as good then. And then therewas also a little chamber underneath the control room. There wasanother chamber that was under there. That you had to go down thestairs, and you got to it. There was a tech room downstairs, and therewas a little reverb chamber underneath the control room, which we alsohad eight stereo pairs of feeds going into, and also returning from,with lots of little sets of speakers that we would sometimes feed stuffto and then mic it back up again. We liked to create a real ambientsound all the time, instead of always having dry recordings.
Mix: Was there a permanent drum setup ready-miked?I got the impression from some newsgroup exchanges that once Frankfinally had a drum sound he liked in the studio, he liked it so muchthat it was one of the reasons he replaced the drums and bass on “We’reOnly in It for the Money,” and “Ruben and the Jets.” That’s thequestion. Did he have a permanent drum setup?
Pinske: He had a studio set of drums, but we normallyused the artist’s drums. In that particular case, we took ChadWackerman’s drums. We had over a period of time eliminated the factthat John Goode, who’s now the vice president of DW Drums, John was ourdrum roadie on tour. Frank became very fond of him, so John tuned allthe drums for us. And what we would do is, John and I and ChadWackerman, or whoever the drummer was – the ones that you talked aboutwhere we replaced the drums on “Rudy and the Jets” and that stuff, Iwas not very fond of that, because I really wanted – there was a chancefor me to be able to remix all the original albums, you’re talkingabout the old box master set, probably, and I was kind of upset aboutthe fact that he wanted to replace the drums, because I had alreadygotten a pretty good drum sound out of even the mono recordings thatwere on the original ones, but he kind got – that was him gettingcarried away again. Trying to say, “Well, we might as well make itbetter.” What we would do is, we would spend two or three days, justJohn and I and Chad, and we would try all kinds of different drumheads, and all kinds of different microphones, and all kinds ofdifferent things to try to get the absolute best drum sound we couldget. So when we were done, we would have a really elaborate,great-sounding drum set. And Frank really loved this. He got to lovethe drum set so much. Where we really started getting carried away wason, like a piece called “Cocaine Decisions” on “Man From Utopia.” Wejust had this EMT compressors, and the toms would sound real big, andall this kind of stuff. So Frank started really liking this really gooddrum sound, and kind of wanted to start hearing it on just abouteverything. It was just a phase. We would go through these phases.Unfortunately, when we redid the old box set, a lot of the recordingswere so bad, when we got the original 10-track 1-inch masters, and12-track 1-inch master . . .
Mix: They were 10-track 1-inch masters?
Pinske: Yeah. There was a couple of them that were10-track 1-inch masters. There was a machine that was built by LesPaul, down at Cucamonga Studios. It was a homemade machine that wasprobably the only 10-track tape that was ever existence in the world.It was a 10-track 1-inch.
Mix: You said Les Paul. Do you mean PaulBuff?
Pinske: No, no. Les Paul. Les Paul and Paul Bufftogether. Paul Buff was the recording – was the engineer at Cucamonga.Later formed Valley People. Paul invented the noise gates andeverything else. Frank actually had the original noise gate that PaulBuff invented. He was always really innovative. But they built arecorder together. It was a 10-track 1-inch. And the funny thing aboutit is, the darn thing sounded really good. It looked like some oldrefrigerator or something. It was homemade. We transferred all thatstuff over, and when I transferred a lot of these tapes, they wouldonly, in those days, just give one track to the drums. Drums never hadmuch priority, so they might just have one shotgun mic or something infront of a drum kit. It wasn’t anything great to listen to.
Mix: That must have been around ’84, when you wentdigital. You didn’t transfer them to 24-track analog, did you?
Pinske: Oh, no, no. That stuff was later, yeah. Wehad the digital machine them, and I transferred them over to thedigital machine. But what I did was, I had to almost make homemade – atthat time – you know when I told you we bought the truck from the BeachBoys? In that truck was a Studer 2-inch 24-track. That was a lot better24-track, sonically, than the Ampex MM1200s. We put the Studer inthere, being the permanent fixture in the corner, and what I did was, Imade, we kind of made homemade guides so I could take the 12-track1-inch tapes and play them on the bottom 12 tracks of the 24-track2-inch head. The problem with that was, it was a real meticulous thing,because you couldn’t rewind them fast, because the tape would all creepup, and it wouldn’t pack right. You could really only pass them throughone time, because the guide system wasn’t all that great. I took a pairof 1-inch rollers, for instance, and put them across there. So Imeticulously striped those things. Also, we were concerned about thedelicacy of the fact that they were old masters, and oxide’s fallingoff them, and all this kind of stuff, so you didn’t want to play themany more times than you had to. So, what I did was, I’d do a real slowwind in Play speed, and then I would stripe them across, and the stripeacross and hard patch them right across onto the digital machine, sothat we could preserve the tracks the best we can, in the minimalamount of time of playing the tapes. So we did that with all the oldmasters that we got back from the end, the result of the lawsuit. Sotime-wise, it probably was about ’82, ’83, ’84.
Mix: You mentioned that 1. the UMRK Frank built,before you arrived, and it cost him $3.5 million, and then you alsomentioned that the out-of-court settlement from Warner Bros. was 12million or 12.5 million?
Pinske: About 12.5 million, plus all the originalmasters.
Mix: Was that money that they’d been holding inescrow, because it was royalties owed to him on his DiscReet catalogue,or was part of it a sort of, “OK, we’ll give you this money to make youstop suing us?”
Pinske: No, it was just a settlement. Quite honestly,Frank had lost a lot of money. The sad thing about it was, he wasalready in the lawsuit before I came on board, and the lawsuit, Ithink, lasted a period of about five years, a little over five years,and he was spending a lot of money per month on lawyers. A huge amountof money. Appealing all the hearings that they had. [End of side.]
Mix: When did the Synclavier show up, and what didyou do with it? Did it go in the studio?
Pinske: Yeah. The Synclavier came right in thecontrol room. As a matter of fact, Steve De Furia, who was a gentlemanfrom New England Digital, came in to do a demonstration for us. Geewhiz, I’m trying to think of the exact time, the exact year – when wedid the “Francesco Zappa” album right after that. But he came in anddid an audition with the Synclavier, and Frank saw it as a very usabletool. Something that would be – oh, gee, I don’t know – something wecould use to implement samples and making good recordings, and all thatkind of stuff. (Beth, you might want to call Max on the other line.Something keeps beeping me. I think he may be trying to call.) Anyways,so when he auditioned the Synclavier, Frank said, “Well, we needsomebody to operate this thing.” So he offered Steve De Furia the job.To just come on board with us. And Steve accepted the job. Steve wasworking with me in the control room when we started going into theso-called Synclavier phase. And him and Frank started doing all kindsof archiving together on the actual Synclavier itself. Heck, we had -at one point, believe it or not, we lost about three months worth ofwork into that thing, when the Winchester hard drive crashed. It wasjust a heartbreaker. In those days we still had some of thosereliability problems.
Mix: Do you have any kind of representative log ofyour hours worked at UMRK on one or more projects? Ideally I’d like areproducible diary or studio log showing numbers of hours worked over aweek or so. I’m thinking about a little graphic here.
Pinske: Actually, somewhere in the boxes that I didwhen I moved, I have a couple boxes in when I moved, I don’t keep themreadily handy or anything, but somewhere where I moved I have – Iactually have some of the original studio logs of – they’re basicallyred notebooks that I wrote stuff down in. there may be sometrack-sheet-type things. I actually have a real collection of studiolacquers that I did, because Frank had me pretty much do all themastering runs. He got to where he trusted me, so I would go down toKenDun when we did KenDun, and when we did K-Disk. And then we starteddoing a lot of mastering over at Capitol, and eventually we ended upwith a guy named John Matousek over at Hitsville, Motown. And John wasreally the coolest guy. And I would run down at two or three o’clock inthe morning, and we’d run off a lacquer and I’d bring it back up to thestudio and Frank and I would listen to it.
Mix: Of a complete album side?
Pinske: Of – all the albums we did that way, prettymuch. Frank stopped going down to the mastering rooms, and pretty muchsent me down. We would voice the room. I had a really elaborate voicingmethod. It would take me – I would spend hours and hours with an Ivieanalyzer, voicing the room. And we came down with a voicing curve, towhere you could really hear really minute articulate differences. Mostpeople thought we were crazy. I would cut a lacquer, for instance, andFrank would say, “OK, go down and have them take off one half of a dBat 800 Hertz. And I’d go down there, and most of the guys’d laugh.One-half dB? Some of them didn’t even have one-half dB increments. Butwe would do it. And Frank could hear the difference. We’d notice thedifference. A lot of times, I would even try him out. I would put thewrong one on, just to see whether or not he would hear the difference,and he would hear right away. So he had this really fine-tuned abilityto tune in to frequencies and balances and all this kind of stuff. Iguess I forgot the question. I’m sorry. It’s about the mastering,though, right? Oh, the logs. Oh, sorry. I don’t have anything readyavailable, without tearing through some of my moving boxes that are allstacked up. I’ve got tapes and things like that that Frank gave me overthe years. Cassette tapes, and some of these kind of things that I’vealways intended to put on CD, that I never got around to, and I wasalways going to do it like, next year. I got tons of that stuff that Inever got around to. It’s mainly just, never had the time to do it.
Mix: Just bear in mind that we’ll need somegraphics. At some point I’d like a photo of you. And if you’ve got apicture of you and Frank in the studio, that’d be great.
Pinske: I probably have something on my computer,that I scanned in. And I’ve got a couple of different types of picturesof me, even on tour and stuff with him. There’s not a whole lot.Probably two or three different – I might have a shot, maybe an oldwashed-out shot of the recording truck, and maybe something inside thestudio.
Mix: If you come across anything that you thinkmight look good in print, just put it aside and we’ll gather it all uptogether when we’ve got the article laid out. I’ve got some [questions]on “Joe’s Garage,” which according to the information I have wasreleased on November 19, 1979. But I guess that was Volume One.
Pinske: That was just before I got hired. I got hiredin December, 1979. So I was coming in right on the tail end of it. Infact, I think Joe Chicarelli quit ’cause he got fed up with – the wayFrank put it was, he would give up on a – he’d want a better snaresound, and he would just, wouldn’t stick to it, or something. Kind ofgave up on how much tweaking Frank liked to do.
Mix: Did you get involved in mixing Acts Two andThree, or were you involved in any of the studio work on the secondpart of “Joe’s Garage?”
Pinske: On “Joe’s Garage,” no. Not really. The actualreleases on that – the full releases were completed before I did. Wedid a mastering on one, and we redid one cut, I think on one release wedid that I was involved with after that, but it was like finishing upbusy work. It wasn’t anything that’s even worth – I wouldn’t claim itas any credit at all.
Mix: Was the rehearsal space/warehouse named forthe album, or was it the other way around?
Pinske: That’s a tricky question here. Because youcould ask me lots of things, like where Dweezil got his name, which isone Gail’s toes, and that kind of stuff, but I never did quiteunderstand which came first. The rehearsal place in Hollywood, north ofVine and Hollywood there, was always there. That’s where he kept allhis band equipment, and then there was a rehearsal stage there. It wascalled “Joe’s garage” the whole time that I know. So he either namedthe rehearsal place after the album, or he named the album after thegarage. I couldn’t tell you which one came first. It’s like the chickenand the egg. [Laughs.]
Mix: It contained all the stage gear between tours,plus, presumably, whatever sound and/or lights equipment that he owned.What kind of equipment was there? Did he own all the keyboards that theplayers .. .
Pinske: Oh, absolutely. The amount of equipment wasenormous. Frank had a collection of equipment that almost wouldn’t end.You’d go down there, there would be extra racks from the tour, therewould be different types of microphone cases, there would be enoughstuff down there to fully rehearse – guitar amps, monitor amps, mixingboards, that he had owned. Plus what we called the original dinosaursystem, the sound system, and later the whole Meyer system. The Meyersystem was all stored down there when we bought it. He would keepanything to do with sound. The lights would go in and out. The lightswe would buy and sell, but the sound stuff he kept. And he was kind ofa fanatic about keeping guitar stuff. That’s what that – “blue box forbimbos” was a double rack – it was like taking two racks and boltingthem together, and then putting in almost every guitar gadget you couldthink of. Everything from an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff to your Dyna-Mixflangers – most of this – MXR digital delays, just about anything youcould think of that came out was in this rack. And then we had anelaborate preamplifier set up that David Gray did. I think this is oneof the things that got David so good with noise reduction, because someof that stuff was so bad. He would build these buffer circuits, andwired up this rack elaborately, so you’d go through all these devices.There’d be chorusing, there’d be flanges, there would be various typesof compressors, and third-octave equalizers. The whole gamut of things.And the whole box got it’s reputation – Frank called it the “blue boxfor bimbos.” It was blue. And we would use that rack in the studio torecord. We would just put signals through it and then run them throughMarshall amps. That was at Joe’s garage most of the time, and it wasnormally used on tours.
Mix: Presumably he had a full-time equipment crew,of at least one person.
Pinske: Yeah. Marque Coy became that person. As amatter of fact, Marque Coy – you know, my nickname was “Markman,” andMarque Coy’s nickname was “Marque-son.” And Marque-son is still workingthere. He’s still at Joe’s Garage. You can call him and talk to him, asa matter of fact. He’s still at Joe’s Garage out there.
Mix: And he was the monitor mixer?
Pinske: He was the monitor mixer, and now he’s gotthe original Harrison down there, and they been doing recordings therefor years. All the bands that come through, like Tom Petty, or RodStewart, or whoever rehearses there, Marque puts them down on tape. Andhe records there, so now they’ve modified Joe’s Garage to where it’skind of like an SIR or lead studio, you know, where you rehearse, andyou have the ability to record, too. There’s a full sound stage there.Marque took most of the original stuff that was in the control roomwhere we did all the albums you and I are talking about, and built alittle control room down there. That has most of that original archivestuff in it. Including the tape machine. They rebuilt and refurbishedall the tape machines. So Marque Coy has got that stuff there. I’m surehe’d be glad to show you some of that. Are you out there in L.A.?
Mix: No, I’m in Emeryville. The Bay Area. I can getdown there. And I might do that. This is turning into quite a project.My next set of questions is about 1980, during which no albums cameout. You spent most of the time on tour.
Pinske: We were on tour throughout – it was my firstEuropean tour, as well.
Mix: How was traveling? You said earlier you weretraveling with the band, rather than with the crew.
Pinske: Right. I flew with the band. The band wouldfly, and stayed in real nice hotels. In fact, my room was alwaysbetween Ray White and Ike Willis’. I don’t know why that was, but wekind of got known as the Oreos, later. Because we had two black guys,and I was the white guy between the two black guys. It was just anongoing little joke.
Mix: Was it a big improvement over your previoustouring experience?
Pinske: Oh, God. It was like stepping into heaven,man. Listen, just so you know, there’s no experience like that. Youcan’t repeat an experience like the privilege that I had, being able torecord with Frank all those years. When you have the opportunity towork with a true genius, that spends his time and his money justcreating, and there’s nothing stopping what you’re going to try. It’sthe ultimate for any engineer. And the touring was just as well. As amatter of fact, on tour, I felt like I had it better, because Frankworked me to death off the road. We were always in the studio. We’dsleep four hours a night on an average, and just come back and startright over. On the road, I was in a hotel, and then all we would do isgo in and do our sound check. We’d come in and do a three o’clock soundcheck. After the sound check, we would eat a meal with the caterers, dothe show, and then leave.
Mix: Before you had the truck, you had a remoterecording setup. Or were you doing front-of-house for the first part ofthe 1980.
Pinske: I did front-of-house for all of 1980. I wasthe front-of-house mixer. Except for like when we did the Halloweenshows at the Palladium, the traditional Halloween shows at thePalladium, I would help with the recordings. Most of the time, I woulddo the house mix, otherwise.
Mix: But you were recording at the same time?
Pinske: It depends on which stage you’re talkingabout. Originally we had a guy named Claus Wiedemann, and GeorgeDouglas, who had a little 8-track Soundcraft 1-inch that we set upbackstage, with a bunch of different noise gates and some remote feedsand everything. We did some what you might call pretty, relativelycrude live recordings.
Mix: Did you send them submixes from front ofhouse?
Pinske: Oh, yeah. I would send them mixes. They wouldtake some things direct. We would track things multiple ways. The morewe did it, as we went on, the more we ended up – we ended up reusingsome of the tapes, because maybe the show wasn’t coming out the best.And we milked–a lot of the “Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar” stuff, andthat kind of stuff came off some of those. Four-tracks and 8-tracks.Some of them turned out fairly decent. We hired Mick Glossop, who camein and did a live digital 2-track with us one time. And him and Iworked together. I set him up a console all of his own, and I did thehouse mix, and he did the recording mix, and I’d feed him some of thesub feeds from the keyboards, and feed things like that, but he prettymuch did some really nice live recordings on his own, of tapes we didlater. I wanted to say one other thing. There was a number of engineersthat had left behind some really brilliant recordings. I just wantedyou to know that. When you pulled some of them out, you just wonderedhow some of these got so good, that we used on some of thosecollaborative things.
Mix: I’ve got some questions coming up about that.So if you were touring with the band, who set up the mics and yourfront-of-house position, and did all the line checks?
Pinske: I did all the line checks. Our crew was very,very – Jesus, I don’t know how you would say it in a few words, butincredibly trained. The drum guys, like John Goode would do the drumsand the percussions. Each guy – we had a guy doing the bases, whetherit was Scott Thunes or Artie Barrow, we would split up – the guys onstage would all be responsible for their own little area. I would go upand check the drum mics. Like we would use AKG 414s on a figure-eightpattern between the crash cymbals, or something like this. I wouldsometimes check the alignment of the mics. We clamped things down, andput things, and did as much direct-pickup stuff as we could so that wecould have less variances in the live sound as well as whatever we weretrying to record. And in ’80 it was kind of a barbaric start of why wewent to the truck later. Because we could only go so far, but welearned a lot of techniques that way. Out front, I had the two Midasconsoles. I would have whole racks of noise gates. We gated as much aswe could. We processed as much as we could. So we would check everyline every day, one at a time, and make sure that when they soundchecked – Frank would use sound check as a rehearsal. He would writesongs on the road. We’d come back off the road, there may be eight,ten, twelve brand-new songs that he wrote on the road. That’s wheremost of the new stuff would come from, actually.
Mix: We’re still talking about 1980, your firstyear. Was that when the “Crush All Boxes” project was beingdiscussed?
Pinske: No, actually, “Crush All Boxes” came a littlelater. “Crush All Boxes” was done more off of the other recordings thatcame after ’81.
Mix: I got some source that says a three-album setcalled “Warts and All” was planned from I think the Odeon Hammersmithtapes that wound up being used for “Tinsel Town Rebellion.” Do you knowanything about that?
Pinske: I didn’t know anything about that title. Thatmight have been something that Bob Stone and Frank did after I hadleft. Because him and Bob continued on. As a matter of fact, Bob kindof – him and I – we always got along OK, don’t get me wrong, but hekind of over compressed stuff, and when he redid some of the mastering,he kind of rushed a lot of it through in a hurry. Some of the CDs thatgot re-released didn’t sound nearly as good as the original vinyls did.They were kind of like reprocessed and redone, and just didn’t quitehave the imaging I felt like some of them –
Mix: That brings up the question of how come Frankdidn’t stop it, or notice it? There was too much going on?
Pinske: Quite honestly, it’s a – that’s kind of atough call to make on that. He got pretty fatigued with all the studiowork we did. His right ear was getting a little worse, for sure. He wasstarting to have trouble hearing high frequencies in his right ear. AndFrank would pretty much let the engineer in charge kind of run with it.Bob was good. Everybody had their own kind of styles. But Bob was intoa lot of over compression and stuff, and most people would notice it,but Frank sort of started letting it go, and almost in a way kind ofliking it, just like another one of those phases. He’d just kind ofredo stuff just to redo it, rather than because you needed to redo it.A lot of times, we would have a lot of albums, I’m sure you know, aswell as you know most of the stuff, that some of the stuff we did wasin fabulous shape, and there was no reason to rerecord or re-releasesome of these tunes at all. We would get into re-releasing some stuff,and it was almost like kicking a dead horse. There was no reason to doit. It was almost like we were doing it just to do it. I think that’swhere some of that came in. He’d get fatigued. Normally he was a lotpickier.
Mix: Before we leave the road thing, tell me aboutJohn Smothers. He comes up all the time, but I have an incompletepicture of why his – mangled English –
Pinske: I just pulled this up in the computer, so letme get you the Joe’s Garage number. It’s 818/765-4261. Marque Coy isthe one. That’s in Van Nuys. I just thought I’d give you that numberwhile I had you. John Smothers was the bodyguard, of course.
Mix: Who he hired after he got pushed offstage.
Pinske: That happened before me. When he was goinginto the pits, I think over in London, I think.
Mix: It was in ’71. I had tickets for thatshow.
Pinske: Did you? Well, then you know more about thatthan –
Mix: Well, I didn’t see it, because he did twoshows, and I had tickets for the second show, and he was –
Pinske: That’s when he decided – I think he thoughtthat some guy thought he was – the Frank always told the story to mewas, he thought that some guy in the audience thought that he waslooking at his girlfriend, and he got all bent out of shape about it,jumped up and threw him in the pit, or something, and he didn’t wantthat to happen anymore. That’s pretty much the way he told it to me.But Smothers was an interesting fellow. He looked tougher than he was.He was a pretty nice guy. He traveled with us everywhere, of course.And Frank would make fun of him, and we would use what we would calldifferent variations of his lingo, sometimes even in some of the songs.Frank would refer to some of that stuff. He got the laminated passes,and he had this character about him. But he was – primarily always withFrank, all the time on the road. He unpacked all his clothes, andpacked it up and all that stuff.
Mix: I don’t mean to pry, but I’m just curious. Didhe have a speech impediment, or is he from a different linguisticculture?
Pinske: He didn’t really have a speech impediment.Frank would always – and John actually didn’t speak all that bad. Hewould just say things sometimes that were kind of stupidly funny. Like,”I just sold my house and I got myself a notary republican andeverything.” But Frank would always take it and put that extra addedthing on it, like you know he would. He would make the accent soundmore drastic. Like we did with “Thing-Fish,” with Ike Willis. When wedid Barry – we called it “Barely White,” when he did his Barry Whiteimitation – we’d actually tape his tongue with a piece of grey tape tothe outside of his mouth, so it would sound more ridiculous. WithSmothers, I think he kind of – Smothers almost got a not-quite fairdeal on that. He didn’t talk that bad.
Mix: I’m just curious, because I never met the guy,and I’ve never seen him. And he figures large in the folklore.
Pinske: I’m kind of wondering if he’s even alive now.I don’t know.
Mix: We’re coming up to “Tinsel Town Rebellion.””Fine Girl,” which sounds fabulous, is a studio track, while the restof the album is live, with some overdubs on first part of “EasyMeat.”
Pinske: Yeah. We did overdubs on vocals throughoutthat album, too. That was like Bob Harris’ original audition was on”Fine Girl,” off that album.
Mix: Doing the high – boy soprano part.
Pinske: Mm-hmm. Bob was a guy that I used to know,actually played in a band with me in the past, and Ray and Ike werehaving trouble with falsettos, so I suggested to Frank that we try thisguy out. And that was actually his audition, that went on, that wholead-lib thing through “Fine Girl” was actually Bob’s audition.
Mix: I was going to ask about recording the voices,but now, you’d been working with Ray and Ike for a year already by thetime you came to mix that – work on that album, right?
Pinske: I did all the tracking and all the mixing onthat one.
Mix: I only know Ray and Ike from the records. Howwould you characterize their voices? Were they working as twin leads,or did they take alternate leads?
Pinske: Oh, they were absolutely fabulous. First off,they were incredibly funny to be around, and they got along good. Ike’svoice, of course – both of them were in the group primarily for theirsinging. Neither one of them actually read music, you know. And thatwas very unusual for Frank to have somebody, but Frank liked tosurround himself with good singers, because he always called himself alow-grade vocalist. [Laughs.] So he would surround himself with bettersingers. And Ike and Ray had a blend, along with Frank, and they knewhow to blend with Frank. But no, they would take alternate leads. Youwould have – Ray would sing the bluesy-er stuff, or the ad-lib stuff,”Doreen,” and Ike would sing another whole style. Ike would say like”Outside Now.” Unfortunately, Ike lost a lot of his voice – his voicewas real clear at one time. And him and Ray were in very prime shape inthose days. All through the ’80s, the live shows had most of theirpower as a result of a lot of their vocals. Then we had Bobby Martin,of course, and/or Bob Harris singing along with them. And the livevocals were actually quite a treat.
Mix: They come off very well on the stageseries.
Pinske: Incredible. As a matter of fact, that was oneof the most fun things about doing the recordings, later, when I gotthe recording track going, because you could solo these guys up, andthey would pour every ounce of their soul into every performance. Theydidn’t save it. They were real, true pros. They put everything theycould into everything they did. It was a real pleasure to work withthem. The vocals in the studio, however, were like the most fun thing.Unfortunately, the public, or Frank’s fans, never got to hear ourouttakes. I used to run a 2-track machine, and ATR-102 Ampex. I wouldjust let it run when we did the sessions. Because what was comingthrough the board would go on there. And these guys would joke witheach other, and Frank would make up harmony parts and stuff, and changelyrics. And he would sit on the – he would hit the talkback, and talkto them, and say, “Try doing this,” and “try doing that.” And thoseguys would joke with each other, and it was just a cutup. It was justso original, and so unique, the kind of things that would happen. Andthen they would – especially when you had Ike Willis, Ray White, andBob Harris, all three of them together out there in the studio. Wewould track all three of them at a time, all on their own microphone,singing most of their parts all three together at once. And sometimeswe’d lay three of them on one track, we’d lay them on separate tracks,sometimes we’d double, we’d triple ’em. That kind of thing. Thoseouttakes were just – we would have so much fun. Frank would tell jokes,and Ray would say something like, “Ike, you gotta move over, you’relip’s too big. There’s no room in here.” There would be this kind offun time, which to me, as an engineer, was the most enjoyablerecordings of my life. Those vocal sessions were just awesome. And Ithink some of that attitude, and some of that fun, came out on thetape. I think that’s a lot of what made it so good. And of course,Frank’s producing. Sometimes he would put together an absolutelyfabulous harmony, and then we would erase it. It was painful.
Mix: The live tapes that went into “Tinsel TownRebellion,” as far as I can make out, came from the ’78 and ’79bands.
Pinske: Oh, God. They came from – you ever seen thelist of engineers on that album?
Mix: That’s the trouble. I’ve got the CD, and thereare no engineers listed, apart from Bob Stone for the additionalremastering. Sorry to tell you this.
Pinske: I got them on my wall here. The actual realalbum credits, which unfortunately are only on the albums themselves,”produced by Frank Zappa; engineers: Mark Pinske, George Douglas, JoeChicarelli, Allen Sides, Tommy Fly; remix engineer: Bob Stone; discmastering: Joe Hansch from K-Disc. So the tracks that we used weretracks that I did. There was a couple of tracks that George Douglas didon a 4-track from live. There were tracks left over from JoeChicarelli, and then Allen Sides and I did a lot of recording together,even after this, on “You Are What You Is,” I think Allen did somerecording with me, too, in the studio and out of the studio, and also,Allen did some of the live tapes at the New York Palladium. Before wehad the truck, we rented the Record Plant truck. And Allen had donethat. So the actual credits on the real album are myself first, GeorgeDouglas, Joe Chicarelli, Allen Sides. The albums had all the originalcredits, and little notes by Frank, according to how things were doneoriginally. Later on, just so you know, I had a little bit of a minifallout with Gail, after I had left Frank. And because of that, shestarted striking my name off a number of things. She was kind of mad atme over another issue. Really what it was about is, she tried to orderme to do some things, and Frank told her that I worked for him. Andpretty much told her off. That put a little bit of a bad nail betweenthe two of us. So later on, when they did all this repackaging stuff,she just decided to skimp on the artwork and everything else. And thinksome of them was to save money, of course.
Mix: It seems that the CD repackaging has gonethrough a couple of generations, of early issues with skimpy packaging,and then they got Cal Schenkel involved, and came back and redid them,supposedly with much improved artwork.
Pinske: I’ll tell you what, if you listen – you takethe “Thing-Fish” lacquer, for instance, and put in on and listen to it,just the original – even one of the original pressings, and then youput on the CD, you almost have to take the CD and throw it in thetrash, it just sounds lousy. It doesn’t have any of the ambience of thestuff we did off the walls or anything. It was all crushed and overcompressed. It’s a shame. It’s a darn shame. Because we used to do -you realize, we started doing a lot of mastering over at Sheffield,where we did what they called “groove sculpturing.” And some of thoselacquers sounded immaculate. Absolutely immaculate. I couldn’tunderstand why, when they redid – and of course, we would do, with JohnMatousek, when I started getting into doing all the really good qualityalbums, we did a lot of EQ’ing, and a lot of work in the room itselfwhen we actually cut the lacquers. So none of that stuff would havebeen on the original 2-track. [End of tape.]
Here’s the deal. We cut a deal with Ampex to drop hundreds of rollsof tapes at different cities, like Chicago, New York, whatever, wellAgfa started bidding against us, and we started using Agfa 468. Now,when we got off the tour, we switched in the middle of the tour on – Ithink this was about the ’83 tour, maybe even the ’84 – we startedrazor-blade editing a lot of the songs together from different shows.And you couldn’t even tell the difference in the cymbals across theedits. That’s what Frank liked about the consistency we did in therecording. Well, some of the tapes that we meant to mix for an album,after we’d edit them together, we’d usually mix them down to the Sonydigital, the 3/4-inch digital 1510 system. Some of them we didn’t getto mix, because we edited way more songs than we were able to have timeto mix, we put in the tape vault. And a number of these tapes ended upin the vault for over a year. When we pulled them out a year later, theedits didn’t work. The cymbals would drop as much as three or four dBat the high frequencies, when they went to the Ampex 456, and then whenwe went back to the Agfa tape, it would get bright again. This was veryfrustrating from an engineering standpoint, because you realize, thisis analog tape. The longer analog tape sits, the duller it gets. Itisn’t like the digital medium. So this is one of the main reasons why Ithought remastering a lot of the stuff was stupid. Because we hadbetter original tapes a lot, and even remixing some of it. We hadbetter-sounding mixes and better-sounding tapes that were archived ondigital from earlier. There was not really a reason to remix some ofit. Anyway, without getting into a long story about it, the frustrationabout all that is, when we did – Terry Bozzio, when I remixed the whole”Baby Snakes” movie, we would have tapes that maybe the first 20seconds would sound right, and then all of a sudden it would get dull,and everything would change. We’d have to strike the board, re-cue andreset everything, just to make the edit work. And you might strike theboard maybe 8, 10, 12 times through one song, just to try to make thesonics match, on edits that originally ran across like butter. So thisis the kind of thing that was so frustrating. Same thing happened to meon the “Freak Out” masters, when we got it back. Frank wanted me to doan edit on them, the original “Freak Out” masters, and I went to wherethe edit was, and there was about ten inches of clear plastic. Theoxide had completely fallen off. And it was such a shame. The original2-track was gone. Never to be heard again. So that’s why we tried torecreate that stuff. And by the way, I did totally recreate thoseoriginal masters with the original tracks on them. There were mixesdone of them. And then we later overdubbed Chad Wackerman and some bassand some of this other things, when the old box set got redone, butthere was actual mixes. And there was actual transfers of the originaltracks that were preserved in immaculate shape. That was one of mywhole projects. I did that for – over three months of my time was doingnothing but transferring over the old archives. In my mind, I too, andI imagine a lot of the original Frank fans, would have loved to hearthe original stuff redone, instead of the overdubbed drum stuff.
Mix: Going back to “Tinsel Town Rebellion,” wasthere much difference in the quality of the tapes recorded by MickGlossop at the Odeon, and –
Pinske: Oh, Mick Glossop was one of my idols, then. Igotta tell you, I could take out a tape from Mick Glossop, a 16-track,and put it on, and it just sounded great. Sounded great. The guy didsome really good work.
Mix: I don’t mean to downgrade the other guys, butI was just wondering what the diff –
Pinske: . . .so many of the tapes sucked, then whenyou get somebody that did a good job, you just really appreciateit.
Mix: “Tinsel Town Rebellion” was originallyreleased as a double LP. Did you get involved in the mastering processfor Frank’s albums? I think you answered that.
Pinske: That was Joe Hansch at K-Disc. Joe and I didthe mastering together on that. He’s on a number of albums. Let me getthe spelling correct for you on that. At that time, he was at K Disc.Before that he was at KenDun Recorders. And then we moved from KenDunto K-Disc.
Mix: One thing I noticed that Frank Zappa commonlyput between 15 and 19 minutes on a side. Presumably that’s becauseanything longer than that would require mastering at a lower level. Wasthat your experience?
Pinske: Absolutely. We never tried to squeeze 22minutes or more on a side, because of the fact that we wanted to cut ahotter lever and deeper groove. A lot of that came from Joe Hansch. Alot of the different engineers we used along the way. But when we latergot with John Matousek, he was able to get us better-sounding lacquers- oh, Lord, which album was it? “Man From Utopia,” or one of the albumsI mixed, Joe Hansch thought was a nightmare. He thought it was one ofthe worse mixes in the world. Later on, whenever I tried out a newmastering room, like when we went from K-Disc over to Capitol Records,because we changed deals quite a bit, Frank would say, “Well, just take- go ahead and take ‘Man From Utopia’ with you.” Or no, it was “Them OrUs,” or – and I would take the tape over with me, because there wouldbe a lot of out-of-phase, low-frequency stuff intentionally, you know,on floor tom-toms, or something like that. And when we got toHitsville, John Matousek ran us a lacquer that was 2 dB hotter than anyof the lacquers we released. And it sounded great. And he looked at meand said, “Man, this is a really well-mixed album.” And I about died.Because everybody else had told me how many problems it was. Then Irealized, I started learning right then and there, that a lot of it hadto do with how good of a mastering engineer you have. How well they canset up a lathe or whatever. And what kind of equipment was in theactual room itself, as far as electronics and the signal path, andeverything like that. Because John took some of our albums that earlierwe had trouble with, “Tinsel Town Rebellion” was one of them, and cutus some actual lacquers that sounded fabulous. The other thing I justwant to say real quickly about that, all the original liner notes onFrank’s albums and, unfortunately, all the little notes he made like,crediting the people in the crew, like on “Tinsel Town Rebellion” hecredits Thomas Nordegg for everything remote, and he gives specialassistance – he talks about the AKG microphones we used on something,or he would make notes about how we recorded something and what we diddifferently. He talks about how the Santa Monica civic Auditoriumconcert is what we used for the guitar solo on “Fine Girl” and “EasyMeat,” and where we took certain things from, Berkeley CommunityTheater, and how we went back and forth to certain live recordings andin and out of studio recordings and stuff. Those kind of notes,unfortunately, a lot of them just got lost on the CDs.
Mix: There’s a striking lack of credit to MarkPinske on most of the albums.
Pinske: That’s because later on, Gail struck a lot ofthem out of it. But that really didn’t matter to me. I did the originalwork, and it was on the original albums, and most of the people thatwere fans knew this, or whoever has the album. I got, like, Jesus, ahuge amount out – all of that credit stuff, later on – originally, likeI said, I wanted to get some credits in the business. But later on,once I started doing that stuff, they mean a whole lot less. You’d liketo take your name off some of the bad work you did. As you get older,it’s not such a big deal.
Mix: “Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar,” I have to tellyou that the CD version of the three albums in one box doesn’t have anycredits for you.
Pinske: I did not do that album. “Shut Up ‘n Play YerGuitar” was a collection of stuff that was done off of 2-track and4-track recordings that were–most of them I think were remixed by BobStone, but they were not tapes the I had recorded. They wereinstrumental stuff from previously old stuff, anywhere from 1970 onup.
Mix: They’re all pretty old. They’re from theOdeon, Berkeley, Santa Monica.
Pinske: It was before I even was working with Frank.But the albums came out while I was with Frank, but remember how I saidBob and I did a tag team? What Frank was doing is, he was running–westarted doing two eight- to ten-hour shifts each. And what we hadgotten into for a while was, Bob refused to work more than eight hours.I would work 10 to 12, 13 hours without a problem. Frank kind of got tothe conclusion that any engineer’s ears wear out, to the point whereyou just can’t get any creative mixing done after a certain point. Sowe started doing tag teams. I would be mixing one project, and Bobwould be mixing another. And what we’d do was, I would finish a mixwith Frank, and normally, whenever we finished a mix, we struck thewhole board, because none of the tapes–the songs were all different.So Bob and Frank started doing a lot of the 2-track and 4-track stuffin between the sessions when I went home and slept. So those albums,really, most of those “Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar,” and “The Return ofthe Son of Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar,” most of those were allinstrumental collections of whatever was in the tape vault. There’sthree different tape vaults, so you know that, as well.
Mix: Do you want to describe them? Were they allput in at the same time as the studio?
Pinske: No, no. There was one tape vault put in thefront yard, but there was a tape vault downtown, and there was alsoanother one that–there was two off-premises, one of them that had allthe original Warner Bros. tapes in and stuff. What had happened is,after the lawsuit was over, we took most of the stuff out of thatparticular vault and moved them all into the main vault, which wasoutside of the studio in the lawn, built underneath the lawn. And therewas a big generator down there, as well, too, by the way, a dieselgenerator so if the power went off, it would just automatically kickon, we would still have backup power.
Mix: When did Bob Stone joint the organization, andunder what circumstances? He was literally hired as a secondengineer?
Pinske: He was only hired as a remix engineer, andthat was mainly because, like I said, when we started doing theseback-to-back sessions, I was doing a lot of tracking. I trackedbasically everything. Bob never tracked, as a matter of fact, he nevertracked anything. He was brought in–we tried out a couple of guys,too. I’m trying to remember if we brought Davey Moire back. We triedout a couple of guys, and Frank–Bob Stone came recommended to Frank,and he tried him out, and they got along fine, and he seemed to do goodwork. And most of the time, Frank would tell you what he wanted anyway.There was a little freedom about how you could do your own mixing, butFrank would tell you want he wanted to change in a mix. He would sitthere in the gray chair behind you and say, “Bring up this vocal, bringdown this vocal, try to make this guitar sound a little bit better, getthis keyboard to sound a little bit better, let’s put a little stereospread on this.” Frank was a fanatic about having things sound acertain way that he wanted. Because of that, to a certain degree,whether I was sitting in the chair or Bob, a lot of it would come outsounding the same. But however, Bob was a little different. He wouldover compress a little bit more, and stuff like that with me. At firstI think Frank was being a little more careful, and that’s why he wasdoing 2-track, 4-track, and 8-track stuff with Bob a lot. And I wasdoing the heavier multitrack stuff. And that’s where the differencecame in a lot of the albums. Then as Bob got progressively better, Iactually learned some things from Bob, and Bob learned some things fromme, and we kind of started really getting along really good, so wewould actually sometimes mix portions of the same song. Which was kindof neat, from an engineering standpoint. It made things a whole lotmore creative, and it made things a whole lot better. And it also madethings a whole lot more efficient, because Frank wouldn’t have to stopworking on a particular song or part of an album, just because we werechanging shifts or something like that. He could actually keep going.Sometimes Frank would actually go up and sleep while I would tweaksomething or Bob might tweak something. We might spend two or threehours tweaking the mix, and then call Frank up. Frank had an anechoicchamber that slept in, and we would call him down when we were readyfor him. That way Frank could keep his ears fresh, too. It wasn’talways sitting there all the time. That’s why it’s real hard to explainthe collaborative-ness. The main difference was, Bob never did anytracking. He just didn’t–he was mainly a remix guy. And that’s whythey’re always so careful about saying “remix.” Which is kind of astupid credit, if you think about it. All of that stuff was kind ofmalarkey.
Mix: If I’ve got these dates right, “You Are WhatYou Is,” which was released in September ’81, I guess it was recordedduring the summer of ’81, and that was the first studio album–that wasa studio album, or was that again live tracks with overdubs?
Pinske: It was all studio. As a matter of fact, it’sDavid Logeman on that. I actually did some vocals on that. That was onethat was pretty much all my baby. I think Allen Sides helped–you knowwhat’s so strange about that one? I think Bob Stone had kind of decidedat that point that he was going to take a break a little bit. So he waskind of getting real fatigued from all the live, leftover 2-tracks, soI pretty much was left on my own on that. So we brought in Allen Sidesto do some tracking with us. Allen tracked with me, oh, one or twosongs, and Frank for some reason just didn’t hit it off with Alan. Idon’t know, they just–I think Allen maybe was a little too opinionatedor something like that. But nonetheless, you know Allen always didpretty good work. So on that particular album it was primarily me andAllen Sides did some tracks. And then Bob did some remixing on–oh,gee, that was probably only about four or five of the tunes on thatalbum. This is when he started crossing over and getting a little moreinvolved with the better quality remixing. The full multitrack stuff.The stuff that just wasn’t sparse. That’s when Bob started becomingpart of the overall team. That was in ’81. But that whole album was astudio album. We tracked the whole thing in there. We had Motorhead, Ithink, played a little tenor sax on that one, and David Ocker played alittle clarinet. Came in in the overdubbing stuff. And Steve Vai, thatwas one of the first albums Steve Vai actually did some studio dubson.
Mix: The Steve Vai audition story is quite wellknown–not so much audition, as he was familiar because he’d been doingtranscriptions on a contract basis, is that right?
Pinske: He was doing transcriptions for, believe itor not, for $10 a page. Some people took $15 a page. And Steve made mealways promise to never tell Frank how much time he spent on one page,because his transcriptions looked immaculate. The real true story onSteve is kind of interesting, because you’ll hear variations. You’lleven hear Steve’s own version of it, which isn’t even totally accurate.Steve was a young kid. I was in the studio setting up some vocal micsone day, and Frank had gotten back a transcription of a live cassettethat he had sent Steve called “Persona Non Grata.” And Frank came outthere with the sheet, and held it up to me, and he said, “Look at this,Mark. You gotta see this. Look at the way he transcribed my guitar solohere. He makes me look like a genius.” He did some triple-dotted eighthnotes, or some darn thing that just looked immaculate. And Frank saidhe was just screwing around, but Steve made it look really like it wassome elaborate thing. And Frank got a kick out of it. He said, “Yeah,he sent me his tapes. Come on in the control room.” I was setting up amic out in what we called “the yard,” out there, where I was tellingyou about in the studio. I came in, and Frank put in the cassette, andSteve had a band called Morning Thunder, which was a garage band. And Iheard all this Jimi Hendrix-type of whammy guitar stuff going on, andFrank said, “I’m flying Steve out here tomorrow.” I thought, “What theheck would he fly another guitar player out?” the whole idea was, Frankdecided–he’d lost a little confidence in his guitar playing. You knewabout that, right?
Mix: No, I didn’t.
Pinske: There’s about a three-year period in therewhere he almost didn’t play at all. And we did a lot of tours where hejust sang, and Steve played guitar. Steve and Ray and Ike. Frank didn’tdo a lot of solos. And then later on, the fans got kind of picky aboutit. But his mind already, he was just trying to bring in another guitarplayer, and he was just going to do more ad-libbing and singing, andjust kind of directing. So Steve showed up, and he had this old beat-upStratocaster. Jesus, I think he just turned 19 years old, he wasnervous as heck. Came in the studio, and we went out there and Stevesaid to me, I was out in the studio with Steve, and he said, “You gottahelp me get a guitar sound. And we didn’t have any real elaborateguitar amps out there at the time. For some reason I thought he’d bringhis own, or something. But we had a little Roland Jazzmaster, as amatter of fact. We cranked the thing up, and kind of got it swingingand feeding back. And Steve, “Yeah, I think this’ll be OK, don’t worryabout it. I’ll just play this.” Because he wasn’t being picky. We tookthis–I went in the control room, and Frank said, “Take the tracks from’Persona Non Grata,'” is about an eight-minute piece. It’s a prettylong piece. And he said, “Feed him all the tracks except my guitar, andwe’re going to have him play my guitar part.” Which he had transcribed.And I kind of thought wasn’t fair. So I looked at Frank, and I fed himthe best mix I could–I gave him a pretty elaborate stereo headphonemix, as a matter of fact. And I said, “Steve, OK, just play along withit. Don’t worry about it. Just play for however long you can. And then,whenever you want to, drop out.” So I rolled the tape, I put it inRecord. Steve started playing, and he played all the way through thepiece. And Frank said, “My God, bring the kid in.” So I told him tocome in, and Steve came through the side door, and at the side door wehave a little coffee maker, next to a little restroom there. And thedoor shut, and I was in between the two doors from the control room andwhere the coffee maker was, and I caught Steve there, and Steve said,”Man, I really screwed up, didn’t I?” He was nervous. And I said, “No,man. Gee, I thought it sounded pretty good, Steve.” So we brought himin the control room, and then Frank said to me, “Now put my guitar backon, and pan his guitar to one side, and my guitar to the other.” And Iremember distinctly panning Steve’s guitar to the left side, panningFrank’s guitar to the right side, or vice versa. I’m pretty sure that’sthe way it was, and we rolled the tape, and you couldn’t hardly tellthe difference of the two guitars. I swear to God. The bends, and thearticulation, which pretty much told you how much time he spent on it,were–and Frank–probably the only time in my life I actually sawFrank’s mouth just drop open. I turned around and his mouth was justdropped open. We listened to probably no more than about a minute and20 seconds more of it, and Frank just said, “Stop the tape.” I stoppedthe tape, he looked over at Steve and said, “Do you want to go on theroad?” Honest to God. He looked over at him and said, “Do you want togo on the road?” So here was a guy that came from probably, I don’tknow, what? Making $120 a week, to $1,800, $2,000 a week. All of asudden, he had a livelihood. Before he was 20 years old. And that wassomething I’ll never forget. It really wasn’t fair, I didn’t think, butthe kid held up pretty well.
Mix: So you’re saying that around the time “Shut Up’n Play Yer Guitar” albums came out, Frank had actually more or lesscut back on his soloing?
Pinske: That was an inherent part of the fact that wewere doing so much studio work. He bought a $3.5 million studio, we’relistening to all these tapes, and he’s producing albums. So he’s notpracticing his guitar every day, and he’s not playing. Then we evenwent one step further, and I redid the whole “Baby Snakes” movie, whichI remixed. And by the way, there’s no credit on me on that, either. Wenever changed the film credits. But I did do the remix on all the wholedarn film. We were doing some of this stuff from Baltimore, with GeorgeDuke and Napoleon Murphy Brock and Ruth Underwood. Some televisionshow. We were redoing the sound on these videotapes. Because we wereputting together a little thing called “The Dub Room Special.” And wedid a bunch of little video things. And Frank was playing unbelievableguitar on this stuff. And I remember him making a comment to me,saying, “Man, I’ll never play guitar that good again.” And he wasserious. You know how you make a statement? But you kind of take itlike, “Gee, he’s kind of serious about this.” And I think what happenedis, it wasn’t so much that he’d never play that good again; he justdidn’t have his chops up. He didn’t have the desire to play quite asmuch, and maybe the need to play quite as much. And he maybe kind ofsaw himself in a different role. So, what we did a couple of thosetours and he wasn’t really playing solos, some of the audience startedwriting in to the record company and stuff, and to Bennett Glotzer, hispersonal manager. I made a deal with Frank then. I said, “Look, Frank,if you want to start playing again, I’ll take the Jimi Hendrix guitardown, and Seymour Duncan and I will put some new pickups in that thing,and we’ll spice that guitar up.” So he could play that, and one of hisfavorite SG guitars that he loved so much. I said, “Man, I’ll make thatsucker sing for you, man.” You know, the next day I came in, and he waspracticing guitar. And that’s kind of what ended that thing.
Mix: And in fact, the guitar album is all laterrecordings, which you recorded, and is playing through those guitars,in fact, isn’t it?
Pinske: Oh, yeah. There’s a lot of stuff then. Later.We built a little equalizer in there. Midget came up with the circuit,that had a little parametric +/- 18dB 3-band parametric equalizer thatwe built into that Hendrix Strat. [Laughs.] And Seymour, I don’t know,we went through all kinds of different pickup designs. That thing wasreally soaring, it was really singing. It was beautiful. It was kind oflike, you know, I told you before, used to hang over the fireplace inthe basement. He would walk down through the stairs, walk through thebasement to get into the studio. So whenever he went back to the house,he would go through there. It was kind of like the mascot of thestudio. It really meant a lot to him. It was just a burned-up Strat.But when we refurbished it, it was kind of just the aura of it all.There’s two things I saw that meant a lot to Frank. The Hendrix guitarthat was given to him, and then, unfortunately, the sad death of JohnLennon. Which had a profound effect on him.
Mix: Which was in 1980, wasn’t it?
Pinske: Yeah. We were in Berkeley. He almost didn’tgo on stage that night. We almost cancelled the show, I think. One ofthose things on the road, you know?
Mix: Yeah. I haven’t got any more questions aboutYAWYI. As far as I can see, the bass is all by Arthur Barrow, right,and drums by David Logeman?
Pinske: Yeah. That was David Logeman, Artie Barrow.It was probably a pretty crude–my recording level skills weren’t asgood in those days, in ’81, as they got later. It was a pretty barealbum.
Mix: There’s a lot on it.
Pinske: A lot of good songs. A lot of good vocals. Wehad Denny Walley come back in. We had Craig “Twister” Steward, as Frankcalled him. Matter of fact, I think I got an email from Craig “Twister”Steward the other day.
Mix: I’ve got a question about that, because on theYCDTOSA series, there’s quite a bit of harmonica playing, which isnever credited as far as I can tell. Was that Bobby Martin playing, orIke Willis?
Pinske: Bobby Martin played a little bit, but a lotof that was Craig “Twister” Steward as well. We tracked a lot of stuffwith Craig that we never thought we were going to use later.
Mix: On the studio albums. But the live playingmust have been what, Bobby Martin?
Pinske: Yeah. Most of it, yeah.
Mix: I was just curious, because it’s nevercredited.
Pinske: Yeah. It’s kind of sad how–Frank’s linernotes, from the original albums and stuff, were one of the treats.
Mix: Yeah. The first album I really had, I guess,was “Uncle Meat–“
Pinske: They were always funny.
Mix: And also he was the first person to reallyexplain recording technology to the public.
Pinske: You know all those notes are on the Internet.They’re all over the place. You can get all the original liner noteseverywhere. I got links to some of them on my Web site, on my CD page.As a matter of fact, there’s a link when you just click on one of myalbums that I did for him, one of them takes you to a link that has achronological credits of every album. Tells you exactly everything youwant to know about every album. That can help you fill in some of thecracks as far as who did what. It’s all been documented a milliontimes.
Mix: I’ve got about 20 or 30 links, but I haven’tactually stumbled across that one yet. But I will.
Pinske: Yeah, Valzemar or whatever his name is. Oneof my albums on the CD shelf on my home page has a link right tohim.
Mix: I should have bookmarked you, and I haven’t.You’re. . .
Pinske: Markpinske.com. Or just pinske.com.WWW.markpinske.com. And mine’ll come up. The home page is real plain.It just has my address on. Then there’s a “CD Shelf 1.” I always had anintention of putting a whole bunch of the albums I did on there. Andjust never kept up–
[Setting up next time.]
Mix: I’ve got questions for the later albums, but Ihaven’t spent as much time listening to them. I don’t have “BabySnakes,” for instance.
Pinske: “Baby Snakes” was kind of a–we did a picturedisc on that.
Mix: “Thing-Fish” I’ve only listened to once, butI’ll–
Pinske: Yeah. That CD, I almost threw it away. It’sso sad. I’ve got the original lacquers, but . . . You get the gist ofit all, but it’s a lot of overproduced stuff. The “Them Or Us” came outreal good. “Man From Utopia” is kind of an interesting album. That’sone that Bob and I did together. I think they even spelled my namewrong on that one. That one’s kind of cool. It had a combination ofsome–that was some of the higher-quality studio stuff.
Mix: Quite a bit of “The Man From Utopia” is live,though, isn’t it?
Pinske: Oh, yeah. Frank did that on every album. Wewould do something from the studio, and then we’d turn around and dosomething live. And we would mix all the stuff together. He would havethe habit of always going back and trying to grab something. He alwaysseemed to think we needed to make a double album, instead of just asingle album.
Mix: That’s what kind of killed me, as a recordbuyer. I gave up around “Sheik Yerbouti.” I had everything up to thatpoint, but then I–
Pinske: Unfortunately, some of the albums would befine as a two-sided album. They would have been just fine. You kind ofwear out the–and then always segueing every song. Always segueing.It’s like you’re a prisoner from the time you drop the needle. And wespent so much time segueing. In some ways, the first cut of an albumwould sound better than what we did later.
[Setting up next time.]
When we did all those recordings, remember I told you we hadsomething like 932 tapes after the first three months? Well, when youtake a truck on the road for five years, you can imagine how many reelsof tape there are. We used to have this joke that, we couldn’t evenlisten to them all, and Frank would say, well, we’re going to makealbums until he dies, and then I’ll still be making albums until I die.It was just kind of a little thing we did, because that is how long itwould take to get through all of the tapes. A lot of it was justrehack. You don’t want to listen to the same song 450 times.
Mix: But then, on the other hand, all the tapeswere different, in the sense that the shows very rarely had the sameset lists.
Pinske: Oh, no. He would do the set list about 15 or20 minutes before the show. He used to look out at the audience, and hewould call us all in the dressing room, and we would write the set listright then, before the show. He would decide by the mood of the crowd,and stuff, what he was going to play. And the band had to know 125songs.
Mix: But were there suites? There is one sectionwhere they play four tracks in a row from “Them Or Us.” “Charlie’sEnormous Mouth. . .”
Pinske: We would segue that stuff all together. Thehardest thing about the musicians–it was much harder being a musicianthan it was for me being an engineer, because the musicians wouldpractice 125 different songs, in the soundstage, for weeks. We would goon the road, and then all of a sudden, a month and a half into thetour, two months into the tour, he would call one of the songs thatthey hadn’t played the whole tour, yet. And he would write it down.They’d go, “Man, I hope I can remember this thing.” I remember themusicians always telling me that. And I recorded cassettes every night.Even when I was in the truck, or in the house. We would take thecassettes back to the hotel rooms, and the musicians and I would listento a lot of the shows. And then I would take comments from a lot of theguys like Tommy Mars, or Ray and Ike, or whoever wanted to come to theroom and listen. And they would give me comments about how they mightwant to change their guitar sound, or their keyboard sound. We wouldwork on–my whole goal was to work on trying to get it to sound the waythey wanted it to sound themselves. And then working it in, of course,to what Frank wanted. We taped every night. We made cassettes everynight. Frank would take the tapes a lot, and then when he didn’t takethe tapes, he would give them to me, or he’d say give them to one ofthe musicians. That’s why there’s so many live cassettes floatingaround.
Mix: And presumably you’ve tried you best not tolet them fall into the hands of bootleggers.
Pinske: I did have a Halliburton stolen from me. Thisis one of the other things that kind of happened when I was in France.We stayed in downtown in Paris, and I had a little Halliburtonbriefcase. And I set it down to check in, and I turned around, it wasgone. And I had like eight live shows in that thing. They were all justcassettes. But every one of them came out on a bootleg later.
Mix: So that’s why some of the bootlegs really dosound like board tapes, because that’s exactly what they are.
Pinske: That’s what they were. Some of them were myboard tapes. I didn’t have anything to do with it, of course, butnonetheless, it couldn’t be stopped. Some of them actually soundedpretty decent. Every once in a while you get one that was really good.It wasn’t easy to make great-sounding cassettes, because you werereally trying to mix for the house, mainly. And the house would sound alittle bit different. But we got a couple of them in there that werenothing to be ashamed of.