Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cro-Mags "Age Of Quarrel" studio details


Over the years I have seen some photos of the Cro-Mags in the studio recording the Age Of Quarrel LP. Whenever I look at these photos, I say to myself, "I NEED to get full detailed documentation on exactly how that record was recorded." Not only is it one of my all time absolute favorites, but the production is far and away one of the greatest ever.

Out of the blue, our boy Carlos Izurieta went out of his way and sent us this AWESOME write up from Steve Remote, who was the engineer of the Age Of Quarrel recording. Turns out Steve posted a full detailed recap on a message board a few years back. Somehow I had never seen this circulate - if it did, I missed it. Man does it deliver.

Thanks again Carlos. All hail Cro-Mags, all hail Steve Remote! -Gordo DCXX

I recall some of the "Age of Quarrel" project. I recorded, engineered and mixed (Parris considers me the Ghost Producer) the Cro-Mags' first at Lou Holtzman’s Eastside Sound. For years, kids (Cro-Mags fans) would call Lou’s studio asking him technical questions about the sessions. They thought the recording was done on the Neve console Lou years after that session… Believe it or not I recorded “Age of Quarrel” on a Soundcraft console!

When we first got to the studio, the drum kit was in an isolation booth. I immediately wanted to take the drums out of the iso booth and place them in the middle of the studio. Then, I had the remaining musicians (Harley, Doug & Parris) surround Mackie on drums in the main studio area. We ran their cords into the iso booths where we placed their bass and guitar amps. We used the air lock area between the control room for John’s scratch vocals. Originally, Lou tried to convince me to keep the drums in the booth and such but; we ended up doing it my way…

That "Age of Quarrel" record is now a classic and an important record for many people. That record raised the (sound) bar for that genre of music. Many bands base their sound on that 1986 record and we did it on a Soundcraft! I don’t think the masses will ever get it completely – It’s about the Ear and not the Gear! Placement of the band and microphones was the key to the sound of this recording.

Other stories about the “Age of Quarrel” record…

We did a series live shows in the early 90s for MTV called, "Hangin' w/ MTV." During one of the dates, we had Skid Row performing with Rob Halford. Well, during the sound check, Sebastian Bach came into the truck and listened to a portion of the sound check we recorded for their approval. Sebastian kneeled down to me and said something like, "I'm looking for the same sound they got on the Cro-Mags' first record." I replied, "Age of Quarrel?" He said, "Yeah." I answered back, "I recorded & mixed that record." He stood up, looked at me and said, "Great, that's all I needed to know." Or something to that effect and walked out of the truck.

Chris Williamson, Doug, Parris, Harley and Mackie in the studio at the console during the "Age Of Quarrel" session, Photo: Remoteness

After the live show, we were all standing in the green room watching (and listening) to the video we just recorded. While the video was playing, Bach started swinging his arms, spinning around in place, almost clocking me in the head, since there wasn't a lot of room where we surrounded the TV monitor. When the song was over, he then swung his long arms around and hugged me while he landed a kiss on my cheek. Man, he was really happy. I forget what he was saying at the time, but was truly happy with the performance and stuff. I couldn't believe he just did that.

Around the same time period, I happened to visit a friend’s brand new digital recording studio in Astoria, Queens. When I walked into the lobby/lounge area I noticed the “Age of Quarrel” CD sitting on a shelf. I figured my buddy knew who the recording engineer was so I asked him what he thought of the recording. He just started freaking out saying stuff like it’s the best drum sound he ever heard for that style of music.

He went on to say how he has ripped off the drum sounds and has used the samples in every record he worked on at the time. He continued to say, “They made it easy to sample the drums ‘cause the drums start off clean on some of the songs, et cetera, etc., on and on… I realized he really didn’t know who recorded the tracks. I asked him quite laid-back if he knew who recorded the record. He brashly said, “I don’t know, who cares!” I smoothly replied, “Well, maybe you should know because you might meet that person one of these days and I don’t think you would want to word your story in the same way you just did.” He grabbed the CD and read the liner notes. Needless to say, his face turned red, he got very apologetic, and he kept saying he was so sorry. I replied, “How many times have you used those sounds? – I want a dollar for every time you used them! And, that’s every hit in every tune!” He thought I was serious. I told him that it was all good and that I really enjoyed his story. I was truly flattered by it all…

So, I got to thank Lou Holtzman for designing a great sounding room. Eastside Sound had the magic. I'm sure his new studio will equal or exceed the old place!

And, most importantly – I got to thank the Cro-Mags for doing such a great job on that recording.

Check out Parris Mayhew’s official Cro-Mags website > Http://

The original record was on vinyl. It sounded awesome. I EQ’d and compressed the mixes to maximize the effect on vinyl. The CD is a bit brighter than the original. In many cases kids would buy one vinyl record and make buckets of audiocassettes for their friends to listen to. The sound was big and phat on those cassettes.

Harley, studio shot, Photo: Remoteness

On January 10th 1986, I met with Chris Williamson and the Cro-Mags at Rocket Rehearsal at around 7:00PM to do some pre-production and work out the details of our recording session.

Not including the setup day, the entire record was done in just under 100 hours spread over 14 days during January and February 1986.

On January 11th, we loaded into Eastside Sound around 10:00PM to setup and such. The following day, January 12th we were booked from 2:00PM until 2:00AM to cut the basic tracks. We finished the basic tracks on January 14th between 12 midnight and 4:00AM. All the basic tracks were recorded in about 16 hours.

Everyone had visual contact during the recording of the basic tracks. The only person that wasn’t in the main tracking room was John; he was standing in between the studio/control room air lock. He was able to see everyone because the studio door had a window. I don’t remember the size of the main room but, I believe it was something like 22’ X 30’ or so… I looked for notes on this project but, only found the dates and times of the sessions. I’m sorry I don’t have more information about the space. I wish I also had copies of the track and takes sheets. They’re with the masters and I don’t have access to them.

I haven’t changed my mic'ing technique for decades so, if I would have to guess, there’s a good chance I had Beyer M160s on the overheads, Beyer M88 in the kick, Sennheiser MD409s on the toms, Shure SM57 on the snare and guitar cabinets. Don’t hold me to this because any one of those mics could have been changed out for something else. So, please take it with a grain of salt. No click track was used… Do you really need one with Mackie on the drums?

Overdubs, mixing and such were done in an additional twelve sessions on January 18th (8.5 hours), January 19th (10 hours), January 20th (4 hours), February 2nd (3.5 hours), February 5th (6 hours), February 7th (7 hours), February 9th (8 hours), February 12th (10 hours), February 14th (7.5 hours), February 16th (10.5 hours), February 18th (5 hours) and February 21st (2.5 hours). It’s impossible for me to figure out how many days were used for O/Ds and how many days we took to mix but, it’s safe to say the few days listed were used for mixing.

It’s hard to say how many takes each song took without looking at the take sheets but, I can say we were all very much focused. Once all the tracks were cut we setup the vocals in the main room. I believe we used a U87 or U67 for vocals but, I cannot recall for sure. There wasn’t any editing. We recorded to 24 track analog 2” @ 30IPS. I believe it was an MCI/Sony machine.

I've been working with Parrish Mayhew on various videos. We've done Rob Thomas in NYC, Brad Paisley in Nashville and Switch Foot in LA. He's a Stedicam operator as of late.

Harley and Chris Williamson in the studio during the "Age Of Quarrel" session, Photo: Remoteness


Anonymous said...

Killer! Is that a Swazi on Harley's wrist in the second pic?

Matthew said...

Thats an awesome story. Whats really funny is a few years later, in what I think is the same studio in Astoria, my band Execution Style recorded our demo and used a sample of Mackie's snare off AOQ to replace the snare we had. EK from Warzone was the drummer, and he took lessons from Mackie and I believe Mackie knew we were using it. I also got the AOQ CD we sampled from Doug so I guess everything comes around in wierd ways lol

ROA. said...

Great story. I love this entry.

Malbeats said...

here's the original thread:

Anonymous said...

Harley's pre cover-up swastika tattoo... How wonderful life is.

Tom Brose said...

Dude should be proud of his work. This may be the only HC record where a highly produced sound adds to the music. Almost 25 years later, its still the gold standard, and unmatched.

Anonymous said...

Love this kind of stuff, completely nerding out. Please post more content along these lines - would love to cull together everyones opinions on great hc albums from the 80s and find out about the recording backstory. This and Matt Henderson's account of recording 'One Voice,' pure gold.

savage said...

OK, Ill be that guy.

I love Age of Quarrel. It is an amazing album...but...the bass is not loud enough. If you listen to the demo (which I love because it is so raw) you can hear all of the crazy bass work that gets buried on Age.

Farside said...

As a recording engineer I can say that Mackie would be a dream to record, and I'm sure that's the main reason the drums sound like they do.

The unique way he sets up his kit, with the cymbals really high and separated from his toms really allows a lot of space to get a mic into a good position and provide excellent off axis rejection. Most drummers play with their ride cymbal so close to their floor tom you're lucky to squeeze a mic in anywhere, and if you ask them to raise it you get "I can't play like that."

Also he plays with his toms almost totally level and flat, which really allows him to come down on those things with real power. Guys you see with toms tilted at extreme angles usually hit like pussies, and most of the sound comes from their stick instead of their arm. Fine for some styles, but not hardcore.

If drummers had no say in studio matters I would basically set up every drum kit the way Mackie sets up.

Anonymous said...

This post was beyond awesome. I'm listening to Age of Quarrel right now with an all new appreciation. Ironically I'm listening to it through a set of Mackie monitors in my edit bay.

Anonymous said...

I always thought it was recorded in a trash can sure sounds like it.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post but the demo is better hahahaha. Not but really, it is.