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Snippet of Ultimate-Guitar's interview with Steve Thompson - Appetite For Destruction's Mixer


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Producer Steve Thompson's resume is so extensive, eclectic and filled with so many landmark recordings that you'd swear he is making it all up. But he isn't.

This native New Yorker has produced and/or mixed everything from Guns N' Roses' "Appetite For Destruction," Metallica's "...And Justice For All" and Korn's "Follow the Leader" and Soundgarden's "A-Sides" to Paul Simon's "Boy in the Bubble" and "Diamonds On the Soles of her Shoes" tracks, Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" and multiple songs for Aretha Franklin and Madonna. Along the way, he's also worked with Yoko Ono on the "Milk and Honey" album, RZA on Wu-Tang Clan's "Iron Fist" and Blues Traveler.

Thompson calls himself a chameleon and there's probably no better word in describing what he does. Realizing early on that he "kinda sucked at guitar," he became a DJ in clubs before the moniker ever became popular. Through his work as a DJ, Thompson was called on to do some dance remixes, which ultimately led to working with Whitney Houston.

In 1986, having grown a bit weary of working with pop artists, the producer wanted to do something with a rock band. Geffen Records A&R executive Tom Zutaut sent him the demos for a band called Guns N' Roses and asked him if he wanted to produce them. Busy at the time producing Tesla's "Mechanical Resonance," Thompson had to pass on the project but did offer to mix what would become "Appetite For Destruction."

"I absolutely loved it," he says of the first GN'R demos he heard. "I wanted to do it so bad. We [Thompson and engineer Michael Barbiero] were so burnt and they wanted us to go in and produce them right away. I said, 'Can you wait a while?' and they said, 'No, we have to do it right away.' I said, 'Well, why don't you get somebody to produce it and we'll mix it for ya."

Thompson may not have produced Appetite but he would go on to produce a multitude of albums that would strike major chords within the industry. In this lengthy conversation, he talks about GN'R, key projects, and his unique philosophy about what he does.

---Excerpt about Appetite For Destruction---

So you passed on producing "Appetite For Destruction"?

We were so burnt so we ended up mixing Appetite. What was kind of interesting about that - it's probably one of the biggest-selling rock albums of all time - is I felt that's where rock music needed to be in that time and place.

Why did you feel that?

What I loved about the record was it had danger, excitement and angst. I absolutely loved it. I think the first song we worked on was "It's So Easy" and I was playing it so loud in the studio, I think I blew out three sets of speakers. I said, "You know what? This mix is perfect. Let's not f--k with it."

At a point in time, you must have come in contact with Guns, right?

Oh, yeah. In the studio, it was Axl, Slash, Izzy and Tom. So we worked closely together and got the vibe off them. We just hung out for two weeks and that's how we worked on it. It was a great time.

You got along with Slash and Axl?

I loved the guys. I wound up hanging out with Axl a lot in L.A. When I was out there and that's where I got hold of David Geffen who I absolutely respected like you wouldn't believe.

Steve-Thompson-2.jpg

David Geffen was an important person in your career.

We had a Platinum party at Ed Rosenblatt's [Chairman of Geffen Records] and I hung out with David for a while. I'll never forget this. He goes, "You know Steve? My taste is not Guns N' Roses." He's more like Laura Nyro and that type of thing. He says, "But you know what? I love my people and I trust 'em to find bands like this." There was one story that really hit me. He points out the A&R guy and says, "See that guy over there? He hasn't really signed anything in a couple of years but you know what? I have faith and confidence he's gonna come up with something good." A year later he signs Nirvana and that was Gary Gersh.

When you were mixing the "Appetite For Destruction" album, what did you think of Mike Clink's production?

I thought it was great. 'Cause I remember a lot of the demos and after listening I felt the tempos were dragging a little bit. But after hearing Mike Clink's production, he nailed it. I just thought it was right for what the band does. But the one thing about is Guns N' Roses is they knew what they were doing. They knew their parts. I just think the production was amazing because it's exactly what it needed to be and the proof is in the pudding. We just kind of enhanced it.

Can you talk about how you approached that production?

We kind of approached it keeping it raw, in your face and as aggressive as we possibly could. Trying to get to hear all the nuances of the instrumentation and all the dynamics of the music. I'm a dynamics guy. If I can boost out certain sections of a song, that's what I look for. Make the song pulse and make it exciting.

Can you give any specific examples of that?

I remember when we did "Paradise City," Michael [barbiero] and me we did a goof on Axl. There was a part in the song where it goes brrmm brmmm brmmm [sings three drum fills], "Take me home." They do this little fill to get into the next section. Well, we spliced the tape and doubled it up just as a joke.

What did Axl think?

Axl comes in and hears it and loves it and that became the record. We looked at each and said, "Wow, I can't believe that. We did it as a joke."

Any other interesting moments?

There was one part on "Rocket Queen," Axl wanted some sex noises. I said, "Sure, we can go get some porno tapes" and he says, "No, I'm want 'em real." So Axl picked out this girl who was hanging out in the studio and we had to mike it up in the studio and he's actually having sex and we miked it up. Those are the actual noises you hear on "Rocket Queen" in the break.

What did you think the first time you heard Slash's riff on "Sweet Child O' Mine"?

Well, yeah. That was such a signature riff. The hardest point is we had to edit that song for radio. I didn't really want to edit it but we didn't have a choice. I said, "At least the real version is on the album so let's edit it."

What did Slash think?

Slash absolutely hated the edit. I said, "Slash, it's out of our control. It's for radio." The interesting part of the album is Geffen probably spent over a year promoting this record before it hit and people don't realize that. This was not an overnight success record and obviously the song that broke the band was "Sweet Child O' Mine." We released "Welcome to the Jungle" and MTV refused to play the video. Then they got to a point where they played the video at three or four in the morning and everything buzzed up and that's what started it. Then obviously with "Sweet Child O' Mine," it just blew up like you wouldn't believe.

What kind of gear did you use to mix?

Basically, I believe we worked on a Neve 8068 console. The console had a 3-band and 4-band EQ. We mixed down to a 1" on the Studer A80. At some point, we also used a 15ips tape slap. On the multi-track, it was a Studer A800. We used two Studer multi-track machines because there were more than 24 tracks and we used an Adam Smith linkup to link the two machines together. We mixed down to Ampex 456 1" tape at 30 ips. We used Pultec EQP for top and bottom end EQ. We also used a Pultec MEQ, which took care of the midrange. We used AMS delays and reverbs. The AMS delay was set at 125 milliseconds. We used Lexicon and EMT plates.

What did you use those for?

We used it as a pre-delay/snare sound. We sampled the snare drum on "... Jungle" and we sampled it through an AMS delay and triggered it off the sync head, which plays ahead of the playback head and synched it with a delay back to the console. We used an MXR Flanger/Phaser on some cymbals. We also used the MXR on overheads.

What did you do for Axl's vocals?

We used the MX Flanger/Phaser on Axl's vocal on "Rocket Queen." We used a Urei LA2A on Axl's voice and also used the Urei LA3A on guitars. We used an LA2A on Duff's bass. We used a special vocal mic on Axl when he was doing "Rocket Queen," which was a U87. Vic Mix was our assistant engineer at the time and he helped me remember a lot of this.

There was no computer, right?

No computer. The mixing was done all manually with hands. That's it. No computers or anything and I was lovin' that.

It's a different world today, right?

Today, I go to studios sometimes and the computer's not working and I don't like mixing in Pro Tools. I like to mix on a console for a number of reasons. Number one, I get better dynamics when I do it manually myself. I had this one song that had 64 tracks on it and no computer so I said, "Screw it. I'll mix it manually." Everybody in the studio looked at me and I got it in like one take, hah hah hah.

What other kind of gear did you use on Appetite…?

Old-school Pultecs, AMS reverb and delays. Typical rackmount stuff. But we kind of kept it a little bit on the dry side than what was normally done at that time. Not adding reverb that much or effects or anything like that. A lot of that was Tom Zutaut. Zutaut had a great ear so he was a great help in the studio.

You were aware of the other kinds of metal bands around like Motley Crue and Dokken and the way those records were mixed?

Oh, yeah. I actually worked on Dokken's "Back For the Attack." But this was definitely different and you didn't want to overhype something. You wanted the essence of what they were about transferred sonically. I don't think we had any keyboards on that: it was like two guitar players, bass, drums and vocals. The riffs were so strong.

What about recording Steven Adler's drums?

I loved Steven Adler's drumming. It just had a swagger to it, which I really loved. We kind of blew up the sound a little bit. We made 'em sound as big as we possibly could.

http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/interviews/interviews/steve_thompson_when_lars_asked_me_what_happened_to_the_bass_in__justice_i_wanted_to_cold_cock_him.html

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Great stuff, can anyone tell me about that part in Paradise City? I really dint get it

The repeated drum fill before the fast outro and the crazy guitar run. Apparently the original take had only the drum fill played once, and the engineers repeated the exact same fill once more as a joke. Axl loved it, and that stayed on the final master.
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Great interview, also says we can blame Lars for lack of bass on ...And Justice For all :P :

http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/interviews/interviews/steve_thompson_when_lars_asked_me_what_happened_to_the_bass_in__justice_i_wanted_to_cold_cock_him.html

GNR-relevant bits:

In 1986, you switched over to doing rock albums and began working with Tesla?

This is weird. I was getting really sick of working on pop music. I mean everything was going number one and I needed a challenge. So we got hold of Tom Zutaut [Geffen Records A&R] and said, "Please. Give me some rock bands to work with" and the first two bands he gave me were Tesla who were called City Kid at the time and Guns N' Roses.

You recorded the first Tesla album "Mechanical Resonance"?

We did the first Tesla album at Bearsville Studios and what I really loved about them was we did not take a clinical approach with them. We got the essence of what they did and it was just a great vibe and we put that album together. In the middle of that, Zutaut starts giving me demos of "Appetite For Destruction."

So you passed on producing "Appetite For Destruction"?

We were so burnt so we ended up mixing Appetite. What was kind of interesting about that - it's probably one of the biggest-selling rock albums of all time - is I felt that's where rock music needed to be in that time and place.

Why did you feel that?

What I loved about the record was it had danger, excitement and angst. I absolutely loved it. I think the first song we worked on was "It's So Easy" and I was playing it so loud in the studio, I think I blew out three sets of speakers. I said, "You know what? This mix is perfect. Let's not f--k with it."

At a point in time, you must have come in contact with Guns, right?

Oh, yeah. In the studio, it was Axl, Slash, Izzy and Tom. So we worked closely together and got the vibe off them. We just hung out for two weeks and that's how we worked on it. It was a great time.

You got along with Slash and Axl?

I loved the guys. I wound up hanging out with Axl a lot in L.A. When I was out there and that's where I got hold of David Geffen who I absolutely respected like you wouldn't believe.

Steve-Thompson-2.jpg

David Geffen was an important person in your career.

We had a Platinum party at Ed Rosenblatt's [Chairman of Geffen Records] and I hung out with David for a while. I'll never forget this. He goes, "You know Steve? My taste is not Guns N' Roses." He's more like Laura Nyro and that type of thing. He says, "But you know what? I love my people and I trust 'em to find bands like this." There was one story that really hit me. He points out the A&R guy and says, "See that guy over there? He hasn't really signed anything in a couple of years but you know what? I have faith and confidence he's gonna come up with something good." A year later he signs Nirvana and that was Gary Gersh.

When you were mixing the "Appetite For Destruction" album, what did you think of Mike Clink's production?

I thought it was great. 'Cause I remember a lot of the demos and after listening I felt the tempos were dragging a little bit. But after hearing Mike Clink's production, he nailed it. I just thought it was right for what the band does. But the one thing about is Guns N' Roses is they knew what they were doing. They knew their parts. I just think the production was amazing because it's exactly what it needed to be and the proof is in the pudding. We just kind of enhanced it.

Can you talk about how you approached that production?

We kind of approached it keeping it raw, in your face and as aggressive as we possibly could. Trying to get to hear all the nuances of the instrumentation and all the dynamics of the music. I'm a dynamics guy. If I can boost out certain sections of a song, that's what I look for. Make the song pulse and make it exciting.

Can you give any specific examples of that?

I remember when we did "Paradise City," Michael [barbiero] and me we did a goof on Axl. There was a part in the song where it goes brrmm brmmm brmmm [sings three drum fills], "Take me home." They do this little fill to get into the next section. Well, we spliced the tape and doubled it up just as a joke.

What did Axl think?

Axl comes in and hears it and loves it and that became the record. We looked at each and said, "Wow, I can't believe that. We did it as a joke."

Any other interesting moments?

There was one part on "Rocket Queen," Axl wanted some sex noises. I said, "Sure, we can go get some porno tapes" and he says, "No, I'm want 'em real." So Axl picked out this girl who was hanging out in the studio and we had to mike it up in the studio and he's actually having sex and we miked it up. Those are the actual noises you hear on "Rocket Queen" in the break.

What did you think the first time you heard Slash's riff on "Sweet Child O' Mine"?

Well, yeah. That was such a signature riff. The hardest point is we had to edit that song for radio. I didn't really want to edit it but we didn't have a choice. I said, "At least the real version is on the album so let's edit it."

What did Slash think?

Slash absolutely hated the edit. I said, "Slash, it's out of our control. It's for radio." The interesting part of the album is Geffen probably spent over a year promoting this record before it hit and people don't realize that. This was not an overnight success record and obviously the song that broke the band was "Sweet Child O' Mine." We released "Welcome to the Jungle" and MTV refused to play the video. Then they got to a point where they played the video at three or four in the morning and everything buzzed up and that's what started it. Then obviously with "Sweet Child O' Mine," it just blew up like you wouldn't believe.

What kind of gear did you use to mix?

Basically, I believe we worked on a Neve 8068 console. The console had a 3-band and 4-band EQ. We mixed down to a 1" on the Studer A80. At some point, we also used a 15ips tape slap. On the multi-track, it was a Studer A800. We used two Studer multi-track machines because there were more than 24 tracks and we used an Adam Smith linkup to link the two machines together. We mixed down to Ampex 456 1" tape at 30 ips. We used Pultec EQP for top and bottom end EQ. We also used a Pultec MEQ, which took care of the midrange. We used AMS delays and reverbs. The AMS delay was set at 125 milliseconds. We used Lexicon and EMT plates.

What did you use those for?

We used it as a pre-delay/snare sound. We sampled the snare drum on "... Jungle" and we sampled it through an AMS delay and triggered it off the sync head, which plays ahead of the playback head and synched it with a delay back to the console. We used an MXR Flanger/Phaser on some cymbals. We also used the MXR on overheads.

What did you do for Axl's vocals?

We used the MX Flanger/Phaser on Axl's vocal on "Rocket Queen." We used a Urei LA2A on Axl's voice and also used the Urei LA3A on guitars. We used an LA2A on Duff's bass. We used a special vocal mic on Axl when he was doing "Rocket Queen," which was a U87. Vic Mix was our assistant engineer at the time and he helped me remember a lot of this.

There was no computer, right?

No computer. The mixing was done all manually with hands. That's it. No computers or anything and I was lovin' that.

It's a different world today, right?

Today, I go to studios sometimes and the computer's not working and I don't like mixing in Pro Tools. I like to mix on a console for a number of reasons. Number one, I get better dynamics when I do it manually myself. I had this one song that had 64 tracks on it and no computer so I said, "Screw it. I'll mix it manually." Everybody in the studio looked at me and I got it in like one take, hah hah hah.

What other kind of gear did you use on Appetite…?

Old-school Pultecs, AMS reverb and delays. Typical rackmount stuff. But we kind of kept it a little bit on the dry side than what was normally done at that time. Not adding reverb that much or effects or anything like that. A lot of that was Tom Zutaut. Zutaut had a great ear so he was a great help in the studio.

You were aware of the other kinds of metal bands around like Motley Crue and Dokken and the way those records were mixed?

Oh, yeah. I actually worked on Dokken's "Back For the Attack." But this was definitely different and you didn't want to overhype something. You wanted the essence of what they were about transferred sonically. I don't think we had any keyboards on that: it was like two guitar players, bass, drums and vocals. The riffs were so strong.

What about recording Steven Adler's drums?

I loved Steven Adler's drumming. It just had a swagger to it, which I really loved. We kind of blew up the sound a little bit. We made 'em sound as big as we possibly could.

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http://consequenceofsound.net/2015/03/you-can-blame-lars-ulrich-for-lack-of-bass-on-metallicas-and-justice-for-all/

http://www.vh1.com/music/tuner/2015-03-24/lars-ulrich-metallica-and-justice-for-all-crappy-bass/

I'm going to quote the late Phil Ramone -

"Great records aren't recorded. They're mixed. Creating a mix is like preparing a fine meal: if the ingredients are of top quality and the chef knows the secret to combining them, the results can be sumptuous.

The mixing engineer is the star of the record making process - an artist in every sense of the word. There's a place for everything in the mix, and it's the mixer's job to put everything in its place."

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