Running Smooth

Dave Thomas on DrumsI have few recollections of recording our first album. I was ill with walking pneumonia, which meant I was operating on auto-pilot for three long days as I laid down my drum tracks in a studio adjacent to Union Square on 17th Street.

I remember a few scant pieces of it — wondering why our co-producer was wearing spandex (it was 1994, for gosh sake — nobody wore spandex in 1994, except our co-producer. I, wondering why the same guy was hating on my drum style (and why was a guy in spandex with bad taste in drumming co-producing our record?). I can faintly remember a few moments of the last track we did, The Sea, and having an equipment breakdown with the Alesis D4 drum module I used to get tabla sounds. Woody quickly jumped into the fray and played the sounds on a different device, but it was nearly the last straw for me. In my delirium, I drummed along with a click track that played only in my headphones while the rest of the band had only my drums in their cans. Doing my part of the song without the tabla patterns I was used to playing was bad enough but, when the click track broke down mid-way through, I simply soldiered on and ignored it. But, let me tell you — playing music in spite of an out-of-control drum machine in my ear was a nightmare. And no one believed me later, when I complained about it. The engineer told me it couldn’t have happened, “It’s quantized, man!” Nevertheless, they kept that take and it’s what’s on the album.

I was extremely ill for weeks after that, and I never again attended a session. Mat would come home with tapes of the ‘Ruff Mixes’ and they sounded pretty good, although to this day I can’t listen to The Sea without wincing from the memory of that poorly-quantized drum machine, my valiant but unsteady performance, and the ridicule of the engineers.

That terrible experience eventually led to my learning about record production — I was never again going to be at the mercy of technology that I didn’t understand, or engineering staff that were hostile to the very sounds and styles that got us into the studio in the first place. I guess I wouldn’t be a record producer at all, had it not been for all that agony and frustration.

And in grand irony — the D4 module started working again. I still have it!

So, for me, it’s a compromised album, and one I want to revisit. Next year will be the twentieth anniversary of that recording, and I’d like to remix it for that occasion. But, I may not be able to remix my bad memories of pneumonia, spandex, and ‘quantized’ click tracks.

In the weeks after the recording was done, I recuperated and we were back on the road, playing bigger and better shows, and the ordeal of making the record subsided. Times were good again…

We were Running Smooth

Cornbread Wednesday


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