Greg Wilkinson is an integral part of the Bay Area scene, which is fragmented and has its own scenes but is definitely connected. He looks like a wizard and he is easy to spot — you’ll know who he is when you see him. At his Earhammer Studios, Greg records bands from all the facets of the local scene. I thought I’d interview him for Create to Destroy as he recently recorded a band for my label here in Oakland. Here is the Evil Wizard of Rock…
What bands have you been in?
Current bands: BRAINOIL and DEATHGRAVE; and former bands: LAUDANUM, LANA DAGALES, I WILL KILL YOU FUCKER, PHT, CHRONICLES OF LEMUR MUTATION, JOHN THE BAKER AND THE MALNOURISHED NOTHINGS, GRAVES AT SEA (for a short stint), and many others…
Who has recorded your bands, past and present?
Dan Rathbun, Noah Landis, Kurt Schlegel, Mykee Burnt Ramen, and myself (most recordings I’ve been involved with engineering).
How did you start recording bands?
To make a long story not too unbearably long, in my early teens I had a Magnavox stereo with an instrument jack. I would dub a bass line or something with a mic onto a tape. Then put that cassette into the play side of the tape deck and record that and another layer onto another tape on the recording side. Then switch tapes and add more. Obviously, this sounded pretty much like a wall of crap, but it was enough to pique my interest.
Then, I think it was in ’92, I wound up with a Yamaha 4-track cassette recorder I borrowed from a friend of the family. Soon after, I was hooked and convinced my band at the time (a short-lived band called HOLLOW that did nothing) to purchase a Tascam 4-track. A year later I ended up buying a Tascam 8-track, which I would use to record not only my own bands demos but some friends bands as well (mainly recording in my parents house, friends houses, garages, or whatever we could find).
The machine was used and abused aimlessly recording demos, mainly of bands I was in. This lasted a good grip of years until ’98. At the time, I was in LANA DAGALES, which was a two-piece project. We decided to go to school for recording. We were living in Jackson Street Studios, a defunct rehearsal space in downtown Oakland, at the time and therefore jammed a lot. By this point I was becoming really disenchanted with the limitations of the machine. Accessing better gear would really help LANA DAGALES stay DIY while achieving documentation to our liking. During this time, we tracked demos on the Tascam for EXIT WOUND who was comprised of Jason of STORMCROW and LID TOKER, Rubin of CRUEVO, Jake of BLOWN TO BITS and NEUROTOXICITY and Melony. INSIDIOUS at the time was Jensen of IRON LUNG, Sal of ASUNDER, Jason, Seth of SKAVEN and DESTROY JUDAS and Melony.
In the school, we tracked our second demo, which became our first 7″. In ’99, as an alumni, I was granted access to the school’s facilities and recorded the FLESHIES and BRAINBLOODVOLUME (pre-LAUDANUM). Shortly afterwards the school disappeared, which is a fascinating story in itself. I then began tracking at Burnt Ramen on Mykee’s 1″ Tascam while building up a setup of my own in a painfully slow fashion. Eventually, by the time Earhammer started, there was a decent amount of bands I had the honor of working with.
What was the first band you recorded and where? What equipment was used?
My own band, called GENISORE, I believe was the first actual band I recorded that played shows and made tapes. The aforementioned 4-track and cobbled-together mics of the cheap-to-free variety.
How important is mastering for vinyl?
Extremely!!! Can’t emphasize this enough!
I feel the same. It drives me nuts when things don’t get mastered properly — it sounds like garbage! What advice would you give to someone wanting to start recording their own bands or bands in general?
The awesome news is getting a decent recording setup requires less space and sounds way better than it did in the early ’90s (or even the early ’00s) in the base level market. As the old adage goes, “Just get out there and do it!” Never forget that learning is mostly discovered through failure. Your first recording will most likely be like your first guitar riff. Somewhere between horrible and passabl,e but in no way a waste of time and effort. It’s a building block. Don’t be disappointed if it isn’t a masterpiece. If the recording comes out bad, you will have at least learned something to apply to make a better run the next round. Too many young engineers believe too strongly in post-production, which is dangerous. Crap in will usually turn into crap out. So if it doesn’t sound right before pushing record, there won’t be too much you can do to improve the sound. The best result you can hope for is, “Well, at least it’s not as crappy as before!”
What’s the best way to sound proof a room and get the acoustics right? Does this matter?
It does matter a lot, but there are books about this subject as it is a very complicated issue to tackle. Budget (tuning a room can run thousands and thousands of dollars), available square footage, proper tools, and knowledge are all factors that can get really expensive, especially when done properly. On the slightly affordable side, YouTube has tons of lessons on building diffusers that work pretty well, for DIY communities to help control reflections in your room. Soundproofing requires mass of different materials and space (like building a wall inside a wall is a common example and more high end places even get into suspending rooms). Read the rest of this entry »