Jean Millington (left) plays her beloved P bass at the Institute for Musical Arts’ 2012 Lady and the Amp Fest, an event celebrating a decade of summer programs for women. (Photo courtesy of June Millington) — June Millington (right) has dedicated most of her adult life to supporting women and girls in music. In 1986 she cofounded the Institute for Musical Arts in Massachusetts, where she currently organizes rock camps for girls each summer. (Photo by Per Brandin)
Didn’t you have a Les Paul Junior, as well?
June: That’s what I used on “Ain’t That Peculiar,” because it was in a completely different tuning. I don’t even remember what it was. I think I only played it on that. For the rest of the stuff, I used my Les Paul. The Les Paul Junior is the only guitar that was stolen from me. That was at Boston University. My roadies fucked up, man, they really did. They left it on the lip of the truck and went back to get another load and nobody stayed with it. Within three minutes, somebody came and grabbed it. I did find a replacement, same color and everything. The neck had snapped—those necks will go at any time! So I bought it fairly cheap, a couple hundred bucks or something, and had it fixed.
How about amps? There are a lot of pictures of you with a Twin.
June: I delved into Traynor for about a year, because Lowell told me about it. But then I went back to my Fender. I still have my tweed Fender that somehow succeeded in living through the whole thing. I had it refurbished for the  Fanny Walked the Earthalbum. I don’t use too many pedals to get vintage sounds because I’ve got the fucking vintage gear. Do you know what I’m saying? Forget all the rest of it—work with your guitar and your amp! It takes time, and it’s kind of a hassle, but once you hit the sweet spot there’s nothing that’s like it.
You were fortunate to work with Richard Perry early in your career. What did you learn from that?
June: He showed us everything. I know Richard really well and I know how he works. He’s a bit of a tyrant, but he knows what he’s doing. I went to visit him, I think it was in December. He’s sick, but we had a really long conversation and I thanked him. He taught me everything I needed to know about recording, quite frankly.
What was your process like in the studio?
June: Well, I will overdub parts, but the live take of the band is super important to us. That’s the framework of the whole thing. Choosing which take—or which parts of takes—and editing is a whole process. You’ve got to hear it ahead of time, and that’s what I learned from Richard. It’s almost ritualistic. It’s got to go a certain way. How do you find the magic? How do you preserve it? How do you record it? All that. It’s really hard work. I am super grateful to him for teaching me how to do that.
When you’re going for the right take, do you ever choose something with a flub over a “perfect” take because the feel is better?
June: Well certainly, but one of the tricks Richard taught us was, as you’re getting sounds, don’t play your full thing. Wait until you know you’re close—when the producer and engineer are satisfied or really close to having the sound—then give it your all. Because there are only about five takes, really, when you’re in the game—when you’re at your peak. There are only three to five takes. When we worked live in the studio with Barbra Streisand and Richard, there were only three takes. She was singing live, by the way. Those were not overdubbed. She was looking at us and we were looking at her.
Jean: She wanted more of a rock sound, so she was totally into whatever experimenting she had to do. She was quite gracious. One thing that impressed me was that she never did the same take twice. When she sang the song again, it sounded different—she had different melodies. It was impressive that she could keep all that in her head.
Did you do harmony vocals with her?
Jean: We did on some of the things. Of course we were thrilled, but we were young bunnies at the time and didn’t really grasp the importance of singing background vocals with Barbra Streisand. It was just—you’re in the studio, Richard said you’re going to sing background. Okay, sure. But now, when I know the import of it, it’s pretty impressive.
Jean, to capture the bass on Fanny sessions, did you use an amp or run a direct line to the board?
Jean: We used a direct line and also a mic at times, depending on the song and the sound they wanted. But a lot of times I was going direct. When I used an amp, it was usually right in the room with baffles around it.
June, was your amp cranked in another room or was it in the room with you?
June: It depended on the studio. Sometimes it would be in another room or in the hall or something like that. We tried to have as much isolation as possible. But it’s also the way you place the mics, to exclude as much bleed as possible. I mean, you can do a live vocal in the studio if you’ve got that 180-degree, out-of-phase thing going on.
How did you mike your amps?
June: For the most part they were close-miked. If we could, we would close- and far-mike them. We did that at Apple Studio with Geoff Emerick. I mean, seriously, he’s one of the best engineers I ever worked with.
What impressed you most about working with him?
June: Number one, he let you get your sound and then he would mike that. I said to him, “How did you get George Harrison’s sound?” He said, “Well, he got his sound and then I miked it.” It was so simple. He didn’t dictate the sounds.
Jean: We were totally jazzed being in the Beatles’ studio—and with Geoff Emerick as our engineer! You couldn’t have fantasized more than that. June always had arguments with Richard Perry—he wanted her to play [with her amp] on 5 and she, of course, wanted to play at 10. One time she asked Geoff, “What number did George play at?” He said, “11.” [Laughs.] That ended that argument.
June: I was also really good friends with Dave Hassinger [legendary RCA Records engineer and producer who recorded with Elvis, the Rolling Stones, and others]. I said to him, “How do you mike anything?” He said, “What I do is I move my ear around. Where it sounds good, that’s where I put the mic.” It’s not as crazy complicated as people think: Put the mic where it sounds good.
Anything else you remember from those Apple Studio sessions?
June: They would record it as if it was already mixed. They put the effects on everything so it was pre-mixed—all you had to do was bring up the faders. You had your sound already. Richard used to go to England, go to sessions, and hang out with people. He surreptitiously took photos of the board—he’s not going to care if I’m telling the story now—and he would come back and show us the pictures. He would share the settings with the engineers we were working with in L.A. and try to mimic as much of their sound as possible. It was great.
You mentioned Dave Hassinger ...
June: Let me tell you how good this guy was. He was the one who really impressed on me that, when you’re mixing, you mix at a level where you can barely hear it, because then you can really hear the tonal and volume differences. Aja[Steely Dan’s 1977 album] was mixed that way, by the way. Ajawas totally mixed on small reference speakers at a very low level. Anyway, he would let me come in anytime, I’d just come and hang. That’s how I learned.
Why is it better to mix at low volumes?
June: Number one, you save your ears, so you can work more than six to eight hours if you have to. After eight hours, you can’t hear anymore—your cilia are just vibrating by themselves. You think you’re hearing but you’re not. But more than that, you hear the volume and timbre changes much more eloquently than when it’s loud. Every once in a while you turn it up, but mostly you keep it down. You can hear volume changes incredibly well when it’s low.
How did you choose which covers to record?
June: It’s funny, because we didn’t do a lot of cover songs, but the cover songs that we did got famous. Most of our albums are original material—I would say about 80 percent. But how did we pick the covers? Well, we loved “Hey Bulldog,” so we just worked on it. We knew Randy Newman and somehow we did “Last Night I Had a Dream.” We would scour records. “Young and Dumb” was the B-side of an Ike & Tina Turner tune. “Badge” was our song. That song was written for girls. It’s incredible for an all-girl group to sing that song. It’s very feminine.
How about that killer slide part on “Ain’t That Peculiar?”
Jean: June’s slide part totally clinched the deal. We had our own arrangement of it, and because of the slide part, of course we had to do the song.
June:That was really the influence of Lowell. I must’ve started doing that and the others were like, “Yeah, that’s good.” We tried stuff out. We were unafraid. We had gone through the musical experience and we knew what was there. You really couldn’t find stuff that we didn’t know. Jean turned me on to the Meters, for example, and within a couple of months we were actually doing gigs with them in New Orleans.
When you wrote songs, did you bring riffs into rehearsals or did they mostly come from jamming?
Jean: It was all of the above. “Seven Roads” [from 1970’s Fanny] is a total jam and we made a song out of it. A lot of times Nickey would bring complete songs. But it depended. “Blind Alley” [off 1972’s Fanny Hill] was completely Nickey. “Charity Ball” [from the 1971 album of the same name] was a collaboration.
June: We jammed all the time. That’s how most of our songs came about. I have tapes of us jamming on “You’re the One” [from Charity Ball] and you can hear the germ of the idea. But it probably took two months to write that song.
On those clips from European TV, it’s obvious you’re playing live, but it doesn’t look like you had monitors. How did you hear yourselves?
Jean: I think they probably had speakers suspended up in front of the stage, but you couldn’t see them down on the floor—because, of course, we had to hear ourselves. They did excellent sound. We were so impressed, because they were really into doing the sound the way it should be. In America, on the TV shows we did, the sound was for shit most of the time. But the Beat-Clubwas impressive, they really had that together. All of that is live. None of that is overdubbed.