Weezer: Patrick Wilson’s Never-Ending Shred Quest
… Speaking Of Which
As a dedicated recording engineer and curious home-studio geek, Wilson has definite opinions about modern production techniques and the art of recording drum set.
“There are two approaches to recording drums,” Wilson explains. “One is: This guy can play. All he needs is an overhead and a kick drum mike. The other approach is: We’ve got to put 15 mikes on everything and isolate every drum because someone is going to have to Pro Tools the crap out of it in order to make it listenable.
“But for me, if the drums sound good to my ears while I’m playing it should be pretty easy to pick that up. And I don’t always like super-close miking, because you can have drums that sound like crap when you’re playing them, but for some reason when a mike is one inch from the head, it’ll sound cool. If it sounds good to my ear it’s going to sound good to a mike in that spot, too.”
Another pet peeve (or at least an observation) of Wilson’s is something he calls “Grohl-ing it.”
“In my perfect world I try to play as much like John Bonham as I can. When I look at Zeppelin playing live, often he’s just grooving it, he’s not Grohl-ing it. Drummers began playing louder when the engineers began moving the mikes closer and closer to the kit. Drummers starting getting more aggro because they missed that excitement of a live room. You really get what a drum kit sounds like if you stand 15 feet away from it. That’s why so many Zeppelin tracks sound awesome.”
When discussing Weezer, Wilson often sounds confused. Sure, it’s a money-making band with a future, but Wilson’s comments can lean towards the critical, and his discouragement is palpable. Still, he’s proud of their catalog, citing the Red and Blue albums, and Pinkerton (again) as personal favorites.
“The record where I had the most quality control is the Red Album. I took more control over all the sounds, really. If it doesn’t sound on the record like it does in my ears, it bums me out. That is my guiding approach. The worst thing possible is to hear someone say ’It’s gonna sound great once we mix it.’ That’s exactly wrong! It should sound great even before you record it. That was my goal on the Red Album, so it wasn’t a 50-step process to mix a song. ’Let’s get it to sound good first, and this thing will mix itself.’”
When recording Weezer, Wilson prefers the band learn the song, play it a few times, and hit the record button, then choose the take with the best energy for the final mix. But he despises the dreaded Pro Tools grid, a fact of life in most professional studios.
“I play to a click on every song,” he says, “but I don’t like it when the engineer or producer dumps it into Pro Tools and fixes the track perfectly to the grid. At that point why am I even playing? You should just sample me hitting the drums and do it yourself. But everyone uses the grid because everyone else is doing it. It’s really just a ’cover your ass’ thing, so you can tell the guy who is writing your check, ’Look, it’s perfect. It’s not my fault if it’s not a hit.’”
Wilson recorded all the drums on Hurley, with assists from Rivers Cuomo on his solo efforts. Wilson admits Hurley is “super assembled, like a lot of indie music now done on computers. I have nothing against that, but this record is not the sound of Weezer playing a show. I just listened to one of our live shows and I was completely blown away. I hadn’t listened to us play for a year. I couldn’t believe it. Holy crap, we sound like Black Sabbath! This is epic! We want to get that vibe in the record.”
When it comes to live performance, Wilson the drummer becomes Wilson the lead guitarist, with Josh Freese bringing his precise musicianship (and tireless work ethic) to the music. One listen to any Special Goodness record (choose from The Special Goodness or Land Air Sea) proves Wilson more than has the chops. But does he have the desire?
“At some point Rivers abdicated the responsibility of guitar to me,” he laughs. “Playing guitar makes my shoulder not hurt, and I didn’t really lose any drumming chops, ’cause I didn’t have any chops to begin with! Generally, I try to pull the sound out of the drum rather than beat it into submission. Some people just pound the s__t out of drums. But I like the way the drums sound. Lots of people hit past the drum to where it doesn’t sound happy anymore. They go right past where the drum’s happy to make a sound.”
Freese, one of the busiest session drummers on the West Coast, recorded The Notorious One Man Orgy and Since 1972 albums with a similar I-play-it-all approach, but he’s not the production mastermind Wilson is. Surely Wilson applied something from Freese’s cooler to Hurley?
“Josh influenced me to drive things more. Every song can’t be ’No Quarter.’ Sometimes you just have to push through. Josh got me to discover my inner Alex Van Halen. I listen to [VH’s] Fair Warning and Women And Children First at least once a day. It’s just so badass. It drives me nuts. I love it! They were probably all coked up out of their minds!”
To Live And (Almost) Die In East L.A.
Born in Buffalo, New York, Patrick George Wilson seemed destined for nothing. Engrossed in his Van Halen and Rush record collection during his teens, he mastered 2112 and Moving Pictures, lick by golden lick. Carmine Appice’s Realistic Rock was a favorite instructional book, as was George Lawrence Stone’s Stick Control, until he blew it off halfway through.
“Then I bought the Neil Peart Rush book [Drum Techniques Of Rush]. It was super accurate. How else could you figure out how to play ’Jacob’s Ladder?’ Syncopated 6/8 into syncopated 7/8 – where is the beat? I have no idea!”
Wilson studied with local teacher John Fatta, eventually taking over his practice at Music Mart, and all nine of his students. He played in a Van Halen cover band, Little Dreamer. And he kept playing with records, and working at a gas station.
“I didn’t practice a lot then,” he remembers. “My life was going nowhere. I dropped out of Buffalo State College. My Buick Skylark died. And I was working the graveyard shift at a Noco gas station by the airport, making no money. In the daytime I would sit in my basement and smoke cigarettes and drink coffee and learn how to play all the bass lines on Signals by Rush. I didn’t start playing guitar until I moved to L.A.”
Wilson saved 800 bucks, and moved to L.A. with friend Pat Finn. Along the way they caught a Primus show, and Wilson’s mind was completely blown.
“That music is shredding, punk, and aggro all at once. It literally shook me. I came out of there knowing I didn’t know anything about anything! This is insanity! That is how we started out in L.A., trying to have a band like that: groove-based and shredding.
He and Finn started jamming, but they could only afford rehearsal space far from L.A.
“We would drive to Vernon, a gangland industrial wasteland, to practice in a warehouse next to a pork slaughterhouse. We’d get there at 10 p.m., scarf down a dozen donuts from Winchell’s, then play for hours on Rush tunes or just trying to come up with cool jams. One night, leaving at 4 a.m., these brothers roll up next to us in this 1960 Ford. We’re at the stoplight; it’s a ghost town. I’m thinking, ’We’re dead.’ The one guy looks over at us, shows us his sawed-off shotgun, and I know this is where my story ends. ’I move to L.A. and I die in East L.A.’ But the light changed and we drove away. I should have given him the finger!”
Forming Buzz with Finn and Rivers Cuomo, Wilson contributed songs when Cuomo insisted they write 50 songs before doing anything.
“That produced “The Sweater Song,” and “My Name is Jonas,” Wilson says. “We got Jason Cropper (guitar) and Matt Sharp (bass), and slowly started playing shows. Finally we signed to Geffen. Half of me was in all-or-nothing mode. ’Of course we are going to succeed. I have no other options!’ I was all in. I wasn’t going back home.”