Frank Gryner looks at a more modern song, Rob Zombie''s "Dragula" - which he engineered!
|The sound engineers at OEM Inc. have spent thousands of hours with the original masters of the most famous songs ever recorded. They use them to create products like Jammit, an iPhone app that allows you to remix and play along with those original tracks. There are many, many things to learn from those original tracks. Through a partnership with Gearhead Communications, OEM Inc. engineers are sharing their discoveries exclusively with Premier Guitar readers in what we like to call Secrets of the Masters|
From the album Hellbilly Deluxe (1998 Geffen)
Produced by: Scott Humphrey
Engineered/Mixed by: Frank Gryner
Recorded at: The Chop Shop in Los Angeles, California
Available in the JAMMIT “Rob Zombie Vol.1” application
I guess it was only a matter of time before the tables were turned and some of my past work was put under the same microscope as other multi-tracks we’ve dissected here in the past. This month we’re taking a look Rob Zombie’s biggest hit to date, “Dragula.”
This song was the first single released on Zombie’s debut solo record Hellbilly Deluxe in August of 1998. Production was headed up by Scott Humphrey, who had already done a significant number of high-profile credits. It was—and still is—one of my most notable engineering projects. So the thought of revisiting the tracks felt a lot like going to a high school reunion—but without the alcohol and anti-anxiety medication to get me through it! Well, it’s not really insecurity as much as it is the feeling that more than a decade of additional experience must have advanced my craft to a place that would make any previous work somehow inferior. As it turns out, I was pretty off base in that assumption. These tracks held up remarkable well. Hellbilly Deluxe has a sonic character that is tough to compare to anything else, past or present— even subsequent Rob Zombie albums. So let’s begin our audio autopsy on the individual elements of “Dragula” and get a closer look at the anatomy of this modern-rock milestone.
Building a Pro Tools Frankenstein
Hellbilly was recorded in an awkward era when computer-based digital recording was not yet embraced as an industry standard. But Humphrey had the technology in a headlock. His digital artistry was very transparent, which why he was chosen to work as a digital audio editor on huge records by Metallica, Bon Jovi, and Mötley Crüe when most people didn’t even know what digital audio editor meant. He had pushed the boundaries of primitive DAW and was instrumental in the development of Pro Tools features like Beat Detective and batch cross fade processing. So that same inventive mentality went into Hellbilly’s production.
The Chop Shop was Humphrey’s laboratory for piecing together the album. Even though he was an accomplished musician, Humphrey’s main instrument was arguably the computer. He maxed out the then-state-of-the-art Power Mac 9600 and ran a full-blown Pro Tools TDM system that required constant maintenance. We would joke that you’d spend more time behind the recording gear than in front of the screen. While Zombie explored the prospect of severing ties with White Zombie, he and Humphrey brought in players like Tommy Lee, Danny Lohner, and Mike Riggs to play what couldn’t be looped, sampled, or chopped into place with Pro Tools. While “Dragula” and most of the other tracks on this album were the result of a sincere effort to get a big, pro-sounding record, what actually happened was more of a makeshift, unique sound arrived at through experimentation rather than pure expertise. I remember other audio professionals telling us we couldn’t make a record on Pro Tools and that the Chop Shop was an unsuitable mix environment. Hellbilly was tracked entirely in Pro Tools (transferred to 3348 digital tape only for archive) and some of the final mixes were even done in the box. It seemed we all had a lot to prove with this record as we were all transitioning from one position to another.
Digging Through the Ditches
To say that Hellbilly was constructed unconventionally is an understatement. There were no basic tracks. Zombie and Humphrey “wrote” the songs from recycled riffs and loops and then built upon them through trial and error. “Dragula” consists of combined drum loop elements supplemented with kick and snare samples, layers of heavy rhythm and high, droning guitars, electric bass infused with synth bass, Polyfusion modular synth (Humphrey’s specialty) and Zombie’s stacked vocals.
The Chop Shop was an anomaly in the Hollywood Hills just minutes away from the heart of the Sunset Strip, but isolated enough to be able to make as much noise as we could produce. We converted the garage into the tracking room and ran audio cables through the floors and pretty much every wall in the house (even concrete cinder blocks) in order to have makeshift reverb chambers, remote amp cabinets, and mic tie lines on all three levels. I can’t say that we always knew precisely what we were doing, but it all seemed to make enough sense at the time. Incidentally, Zombie was always a good sport through all construction, deconstruction, and experimentation at the Chop Shop—even when we made him sing “Dragula” in a stairwell storage closet.
Axes of Evil
The guitars on Hellbilly were, like most other elements on this record, a melting pot of “whatever works” in the mix. Nothing was sacred. The integrity of any particular musical performance was ignored and subject to radical editing and processing. It wasn’t uncommon for guitar parts to be Pro Tooled out of recognition or replaced entirely without warning. Riggs’ guitar parts may have been layered with Danny Lohner’s—there are even some rhythm guitar parts that I ended up playing in the choruses of “Dragula.”
The in-house guitar rig consisted of a Diezel VH-4, a Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier, and a Marshall 2550 Silver Jubilee head through various vintage Marshall 4x12s. The main tracking guitar was a Les Paul standard with a P-94 pickup in the bridge position. All in all, the guitars got mashed together to function. They certainly weren’t played with the precision of Zombie’s current guitarist, John 5, but they did have a vibe.
How to Make a Monster
Over the last 12 years, recording digitally has become the standard and technology has caught up with the demands of high track-count sessions. Taking this trip down memory lane really did highlight the significant progression in DAW recording systems, but all these advances don’t necessarily guarantee a more compelling result. Today, most engineers would turn their nose up at the rig that created Hellbilly Deluxe, and even I initially had apprehension over revisiting the tracks. But I realized you have to view recordings as more of a snapshot in time for which there should be no apologies. “Dragula” was one such still frame, and I’m pleased to be able to format this song and others like it into a piece of software that allows everyone to view that picture from a slightly different angle.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Flare is a dual-function pedal with a tube-like booster and a 1970s-style ring modulator effect that can be played separately or together.
Flare’s ring modulator is based on the iconic tone of the original Dan Armstrong Green Ringer. This vintage classic was made famous by Frank Zappa who loved the unusual modulations created by generating a harmonic octave over notes. Messiah’s version offers two control knobs: a “Sparkle” tone attenuator and output Level control. Its taupe-gold body, purple and green knobs and stick-figure rock ’n’ roller holding up a flame convey an appropriately rockin’70s vibe.
In a unique twist, Messiah’s Flare pairs the ringer with a warm tube-style boost instead of a fuzz. Flare feeds the booster into the ringer for an extra punch, while preserving the Green Ringerspirit. The ringer side also turns any fuzz into an octafuzz, and it has the ability to quiet signal background noise fed through it.
The booster side features a single Boost knob to control the MOSFET circuit, making it very tube-amp-friendly with a warm, organic boost and gain of up to 32dB.
The pedal is a distinct improvement over the 1970s pedal that inspired it. “Most ringer pedals don’t track well,” Tom Hejda, owner of Messiah Guitars. “The player can’t rely on repeating the same effect even with the most consistently played notes. We carefully matched the components, so our ringer follows your every move, producing that slightly dirty octave you expect on demand.”
Messiah developed this vintage octave pedal with flexible features so that people who love that messy, dirty Zappa-esque sound can get there with ease but there’s also something for those who have not fallen in love with fuzz or the Green Ringer alone. Flare offers an array of sonic options while retaining simplicity in the controls.
Each Flair Pedal Includes:
- 3 control knobs: Boost, Sparkle, and Level
- Two effects – Ring Modulator and Boost – can be used together or separately
- Space-saving top side jacks
- Durable, cast aluminum alloy 125B enclosure with fun artwork
- Easy to see, illuminated True-bypass foot switch
- Standard 9V pedal power input
Flare Pedal Demo
Messiah Guitars pedals are designed with an explorative player in mind. Like their custom guitars and amplifiers, Messiah’s pedals are hand-crafted in Los Angeles for a long life with guaranteed quality.
Flare retails for $199.00 and can be purchased directly at Messiah Guitars or you can hear it in person at Impulse Music Co. in Canyon Country, CA.
For more information, please visit messiahguitars.com.
This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal.
If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and QUACKS like a duck, then it must be a duck. That's how we came up with the name for our new envelope filter. This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal. Trevor explains how this is possible in the launch video, as well as gives a demo on Le Canard’s operation.
The attack control determines how quickly the filter responds to the envelope, and the decay sets how quickly the filter releases afterward. The range controls which frequency spectrum the filter does its magic on. Add to this relay-based full-bypass switching with failsafe, and you've got one crazy little quacky beast. It is so expressive that you'll want to give up on your rocker-wah forever.
The MayFly Le Canard envelope filter features:
- Super fast responding envelope follower. Touch it and it jumps!
- Range control to dial in the character of the filter
- Attack control to control how fast the filter moves on that first touch
- Release control to control how slowly the filter slides back to baseline
- Full bypass using relays with Fail SafeTM (automatically switches to bypass if the pedal loses power)
- Cast aluminum enclosure with groovy artwork
- MSRP $149 USD ($199 CAD)
Introducing the MayFly Le Canard Envelope Filter
All MayFly pedals are hand-made in Canada.
For more information, please visit mayflyaudio.com.
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more.
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.