Brendan O'Brien on producing rock drummers
PRODUCTION EXPO 2014: Mega producer Brendan O’Brien has helmed the production desk for some enormous bands, including AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Rage Against The Machine and many more.
Which means, of course, he's worked with the cream of rock sticksman. Eager to hear tales from the drum world’s elite, we gave Brendan a call and asked for his memories of working with Phil Rudd, Chad Smith, Brad Wilk and others.
“Chad is a great drummer and a great guy. He's definitely a Chili Pepper, but then he’s not really one of them. He's a regular guy – a great, regular guy. I like him a lot. It was a joy to work with him. He was a guy who, if you knew your shit, was fine with you. Chad was very knowledgeable and he trusted me, so it all went well.
“The best part of it [Blood Sugar Sex Magik], the magic ingredient was Chad Smith. He is frikkin' awesome and he sounded great. As the drummer, I think it was very important for him to hear in his headphones what it sounded like in the desk. What Chad heard excited him. He was excited to be playing it, and that was what you got.
“I think everybody working on that record knew it was going to be a big record, because they were in that big place. They had just signed a big deal with Warner Brothers, and they were getting a lot of attention. I just tried to keep my head down and get to work. It started out very stressful for me, but it ended up being the time of my life. It was awesome.”
“I remember the first day I worked with AC/DC [on Black Ice]. Every producer and engineer has tried to do a record at some point where they tried to copy AC/DC. That has happened to all of us at some time in our lives.
"On the first day, they set up and starting playing. I was in the control room with their engineer Mike Fraser, who did most of the tracking, and I said, ‘Jesus, that sounds just like AC/DC!’ [Phil Rudd] is just one of those guys who, when he starts playing drums, he sounds like he sounds.
“We didn’t use any metronomes with him, but we did cut, edit and paste. We cut that record on tape and then transferred over – the drums, I think, we cut on tape. I don’t think Pil has ever worked with a metronome recording in his life, so it wasn’t something I was going to try to teach him. There were times when the tempo got excited and we’d stop and say, ‘We sped up there – let's fix this and do this.’ That happens – it’s just a part of the job.”
“I first met Brad at a Lollapalooza gig. He had his head shaved with a little pony tail – he looked very menacing. He has his back to the audience with truck mirrors. He scared the shit out of me! After I got to know him, he was the sweetest, most wonderful guy. I told him, ‘Dude, you scared the hell out of me,’ and he said, ‘You scared the hell out of me!’
“He is a great drummer. I think he did a fantastic job on the Sabbath record. I wish they [Rage] had made more records, but I don’t think that is going to happen. Brad knew what he was doing [on Evil Empire], but he had only made one or two records up to that point. He had a slightly different take on what we were doing.
“Evil Empire was recorded in a very small rehearsal room – it wasn’t recorded in a studio. There’s a picture on the inside of the album of them in a tiny room, which is where we recorded it. It was much more about capturing the moment, making it sound as great as we could and then editing it together.
“There was a lot of editing on that record because there was a lot of bleeding of the guitars into the drums, and we had to keep a lot of that stuff. If we wanted to go back then everyone had to go back and play it all again, or say if Timmy wanted to change something, we had to pick it up and play all of it again. It was fun. It took a long time because they weren’t getting along great at that time, but I was very proud of it.”
David Silveria/John Otto
“At that time, it was one of those things where I worked for a living. I’ve never considered myself much of a prima donna. So at that time, that was the music that was happening and what was going on. I tried to get asked by the best people in that music to do some work.
"Those albums were a challenge, for sure, because they had a whole different idea. When I got those records to mix, I wouldn’t say they were the best-sounding drums I’ve ever had. It was a challenge – a whole different thing and a whole different kind of vibe.”
“Matt is an awesome guy. I’ve known him for 20 years, and he is awesome. When you get the combination of a great guy and a great musician, it's a joy – a lot of fun.
"In Pearl Jam, Matt has to turn his head around a little bit because he has to play a differently than he does in Soundgarden. They're different bands. Although technically he was Pearl Jam’s first drummer – I think he played on some early demos. They’ve known Matt as long as anybody and are all friends.”