***IF READING ON A SMARTPHONE USE “LANDSCAPE” FORMAT FOR BEST RESULTS***
We started off 1988 gearing up to record our third demo, the first recording without George Grant at the helm. Our friends in Doomwatch had invited us to visit the studio where they were tracking what would become their album, "A Symphony Of Decadence." The facility, JTM Studios in Knox PA, happened to be the studio where our friend and collaborator, Joe Rembisz, had studied audio engineering. So we took the 2 hour trek up to Knox to check the place out.
Tom Battista was the engineer/instructor and he had built the studio, and it featured a spacious control room replete with new equipment including a two-inch 24-track tape machine. On the other side of a glass window was a large "live" room for setting up the instruments and amplifiers. All in all, a very “professional” environment.
On top of the posh digs, the recordings that Doomwatch were laying down sounded incredible!
And Tom's prices were about 2/3 of the going rate in Pittsburgh to record on 24 tracks in that era.
Despite the long drive, we were sure that this was the place for us to begin work on our latest collection of original material.
Each of us began saving our precious dollars, and on Valentine's Day 1988, we returned to Knox to start tracking our third demo, "The Insanity Has Only Begun..."
Joe Rembisz came along and was our “guiding light” once again. Because he had studied at JTM, he had a good working relationship with Tom and was familiar with the equipment.
As this was a "professional" studio with skilled engineers, things were sounding huge from the start. We were still learning on the fly, though.
We got the basic “bed tracks” recorded on that first trip, and then came back on February 28th and March 20th to finish laying down the rest of our parts.
As with our previous recordings, vocals were always last to be recorded, and with our rather tight budget, we always seemed to be pressed for time. Since we were still teenagers living on allowances and part-time jobs (the minimum wage was $3.35 an hour in those days), we had to keep the number of takes to a bare minimum. As a result, I always felt rushed and under pressure to deliver when it was time for my vocals. Not that I was Pavarotti or anything, but I wish I could have had more time to capture my best effort.
A feeling that each band member shared about their own performances, I'm sure.
Although Tom's rates were reasonable, our budget was so limited that I was always watching the clock. As a result, there were some rough takes that I let slide as “close enough” early on in the recording process. Those questionable takes became more obvious to our ears over time. Looking back now, there were at least a few mistakes on every recording we made that we didn't have the time or money to redo, so we left them in. With a bit more discipline and a bigger budget we could have made things "perfect", but it wasn't meant to be.
We saved up some more dough and returned for the weekend of April 16 and 17 to do the final mix. Tom had a house where the recording students would stay that was empty at that time, so we were holed up there for the weekend with Joe. The poor guy had to suffer through our drunken, sophomoric hi-jinx for those 48 hours, and pretty much every other time he came around us (sorry, Joe).
In our defense, there wasn't really anything else to do in Knox. The first time we visited, we asked if there was a pizza shop in town. Tom informed us that there was, right on Main street and we couldn't miss it.
Sure enough there it was in big letters right over the front door - "Pizza Shop." The food was OK. The pizza reminded me of a Chef Boyardee pizza kit, and was nothing like the Capri Monster pizzas we lived on back in Wilkinsburg. But our funds were so minuscule, we just survived on the cheapest fuel we could find.
Actually, it was at The Pizza Shop where the "new kid", Brian Stanwyck inadvertently gave himself one of his many nicknames.
He was telling how most of the kids at his high school made fun of him because of his proclivity for wearing obscure heavy metal t-shirts, often depicting gruesome monsters, demons and devils. Many of us die-hard metal heads had similar stories of persecution.
So he was explaining how, based on his demonic attire, other kids would rearrange the letters of his name to reveal it to be some kind of satanic anagram.
He told us they would say something like, "…if you add an A and a Z to his name and then replace the I-A with an O-W…", randomly throwing out letter substitutions, trying to demonstrate the absurdity of their extrapolations.
And to this I replied, “You get what? Z Brown Satan-wyck!?!!", which was just me taking his off-the-cuff explanation literally.
He acknowledged the idiocy by nodding and giggling and we all fell out laughing.
Before that trip to Knox was over, we were all calling him "Z Brown".
This was just one of many in-jokes we had at Brian's expense. His suburban innocence was always apparent as he wasn't accustomed to our “city-kid” reality. We knew we were being hard on him, and he had produced some embarrassingly awkward moments getting acclimated to our “culture”. But in spite of the constant hazing from the rest of us, he would gradually become one of the family. And Brian was always adding a fresh element to our group. In the end, the suburban perspective we chided him about ended up being another contributing element in our sonic bouillabaisse.
By the time we left Knox that Sunday, the final mix was done and we were proud of the outcome. Many indie-label bands were recording on 24 tracks, so our demo had a professional sound, more like an album on an indie label like Metal Blade or Combat than the 4-track basement demos we'd put out before. With that kind of a recording, we decided we would get printed covers and professionally reproduced 2-sided cassette tapes made.
I was able to do the layout for the "J-card" tape inserts via my Commercial Art class at Allderdice High School. In 1988, the computer technology that is so ubiquitous today was just starting to emerge, but it was expensive and out of our reach. I had always used a typewriter and a xerox machine or pen and paper before, but now, thanks to my high school, I had access to a Kroy label-making machine and a copy camera.
In those days you would do your production art at a very large size and then reduce it. You did this by literally taking a picture of it using a copy camera at a proportional ratio that would yield a photographic print at the desired reduced size. With this equipment, I was able to make a fairly sophisticated insert with lyrics, albeit in black and white. I took the final layout to Minuteman Press in downtown Pittsburgh and had 500 copies printed on glossy cardstock.
As far as the actual cassettes, there was a company called George Heid Productions in the Mount Lebanon neighborhood that could produce them, 100 copies at a time.
I asked Bill Boichel if he would put up the cash since we'd spent everything we could muster on the recording. Bill obliged, and he has to be acknowledged as a supporter of the highest order - always there for me with sage advice, and whenever called upon, a timely cash loan. We got our first 100 demos just in time for our April 27th show with New York's Crumbsuckers, one of our favorite groups of the era.
Of course the tapes were soon on sale at Eide's, and at any other record store in the area willing to take them on consignment. By the autumn we had sold over 400 copies. The quality recording really helped to cement our standing as one of Pittsburgh's up and coming Heavy Metal bands. It carried us to new venues in and out of the area.
Things were really starting to move...