Tony Reed: Q & A With The Infamous Musician & Engineer
Whether you’ve just stumbled upon The Sleeping Shaman or are a regular visitor it’s a pretty fair assumption that you love stoner/doom/sludge or some combination of all three. If you’ve been following the scene for any length of time you MUST have heard of Tony Reed, or at least one of his musical projects, Stone Axe, Mos Generator and now Heavy Pink. If you haven’t then hang your head in shame and take pains to rectify this situation. Tony and his associated bands are at the forefront of the current crop of bands revisiting the 60’s/70’s source of the heavy rock world and injecting some modern life into the sound. The Shaman transcended the Atlantic divide to pick Tony’s brains on his illustrious career…read on…
Hey Tony, hope life is treating you well at the moment, so firstly can you give us a brief rundown of your illustrious history and the bands you’ve been involved with over the years?
In my teens i had a few metal (Rush, Maiden, Sabbath) and hardcore (Discharge, Capitol Punishment, Subhumans) bands. My first “real” band was called Twelve Thirty Dreamtime. It started out as a goth band and then moved into kind of a indie pop prog thing and then finally we evolved into a heavy rock pop band like if you mixed Kiss and Big Star. In 1991 the line-up in TTD was what was to become Mos Generator. We all joined other bands (me: Treepeople, Goodbye Harry. Shawn: Mindfunk. Scooter: Voodoo Gearshift) and tried to keep the band together with another drummer. By 1999 we were tired of doing the band and wanted to get back to the heavy side of our roots so once again Shawn, Scooter and I started writing together and Mos Generator was born. From 2000 to 2008 we did 5 albums and toured regularly. We needed a break so I formed Stone Axe in 2007. Along with Stone Axe, Mos Generator (now working on a new record), and HeavyPink, I also played guitar on the new Blood of the Sun album and i’m doing a country rock project with the Stone Axe rhythm section called Hot Spring Water.
As a multi-instrumentalist, how do you manage to record all the music yourself and stop it sounding sterile without the full interaction of the band?
I’ve been recording myself since i was 13 so over the years I have become efficient at recording myself. I have recorded hundreds of songs this way. One trick I have in Stone Axe is not to do very many takes. Things start to become too rehearsed sounding the more that you do them. I allow mistakes. A big problem with music today is there are no mistakes. That’s a fun part about listening to music from the 60s and 70s, technical and performance mistakes.
Presumably you lay down the drums first. How hard is it to record the drums with nothing else going on and to accommodate musical breakdowns where the drums stop?
A lot of the time I use a click track with a scratch gtr. If you learn how to push and pull around the click you can make it sound natural. Sometimes, if I know the song well, I do the drums first without out a click. You can tell those songs because the usually speed up a bit by the end.
Will future Stone Axe recordings feature Mykey Haslip and Mike DuPont or will you continue to record all the instruments yourself? And do they ever get frustrated at only being live musicians?
The next album will be all me again. It’s just seems easier for me to work that way. We do have a split 12″ with Wight coming out that is all of us. We just went into the studio, set up and jammed live, wrote three songs in about 2 hours. Then I did a few overdubs and Dru came in and did the vocals. The songs have a much different feel than other Stone Axe music. It was cool to play the solos live with the band. I was using a Strat and an early 70’s Peavey 4×10 combo.
Mikey and Mike know how it is with me and I know they are alright with it. That is why we put out a lot of live material and stuff like this split 12″. I want them to feel like they are getting something for thier hard work. Plus, we are a different beast live.
Stone Axe and Mos Generator have similar sounds and occupy very similar musical territory. What is the pull to resurrect Mos Generator since starting Stone Axe? Is it a musical kinship, the vibe of being in a full band and being creative with other people or a desire to sing again more?
The kinship, the full band vibe, and the singing are all a part of the Mos revival. Those elements along with the fact that Mos has a much wider creative scope. I’m not confined to such a narrow formula. In the end it is our friendship and musical understanding of each other. We’ve been playing together for over 20 years, we are brothers.
Both Stone Axe and Mos Generator have a sound that is firmly rooted in rock music from the late 60’s and 70’s. What is it about that era that most appeals to you and what modern music excites you?
In that time, there were no boundaries, things hadn’t “already been done”, and the business hadn’t sucked the life out of the music. Every genre had great music. Country, Funk/Soul, Rock (and all of it’s sub-genres), AM Radio Pop, Fusion, and many more produced great memorable music with feeling. Everything was effected by everything around it.
Ripple music is a rapidly developing but still very young label, what is it that attracted you to working with them at such an early stage in their career?
Ripple have always championed what I do. Even before the record label when they were just doing the blog. They talked very highly of the Mos Generator stuff. It seemed natural that Ripple and I would work together when the label started. I also master and restore recordings for them so working with them is more than just them putting out records for me. I talk to John at least 3 times a week. Todd and John are truly into the music they release and that is what I look for, genuine people to work with.
So far your involvement with Ripple has been based around reissues of Stone Axe and Mos Generator stuff with new material only appearing on a couple of split vinyl releases, any plans to release new full length albums on the label?
The next Stone Axe and Mos Generator albums will be released on Ripple. Both albums are in the recording stages.
And how did HeavyPink come about where again you play all the instruments yourself, what can we expect from this new project and are there any plans to bring it to a live stage?
I plan on putting out 5 7″ singles on different labels and then doing a CD of all of the music. I am working on the second one now. I think i found a label for that. HeavyPink is taking the concept of no boundaries to a level further than Mos Generator can go. With HP I will be able to do “anything” I want to and that is very fun when you are creating music.
The Maple Forum has also just released the debut HeavyPink 7″ so how did you hook up with JJ for this release?
JJ has always written good things about my bands so I asked him to write the liner notes for the Stone Axe I & II re-issues. Then when I set out looking for a label for the first 7″ he was one of the first I contacted. He just happened to be into doing it. I appreciate that.
Your albums have a lovely warm, analogue sound. Is this how you record or do you find you can achieve that effect recording digitally?
I have spent years on analog equipment and I can apply that knowledge and theory to recording in the digital world. All of the Stone Axe material is recorded digitally. I just use old techniques and old gear to achieve an old sound. If you listen to the first Stone Axe disc you will hear all kinds of buzzing and noises. Sometime the drums are in mono panned to one side with the guitar, then the vocals and bass are on the other side. It’s a very bold way to mix these days.
What is your view of the whole analogue versus digital debate in recording…particularly when considering music nearly always ends up in digital format either on CD or MP3 nowadays?
If you can keep it sounding like real people playing real instruments then it doesn’t really matter to me. Of course I like vinyl best, listen to it every day.
You’re also the chosen engineer for the new Saint Vitus album, you must feel quite honoured to have scooped such a recording session, but how did it come about?
I still can’t believe it happened. It all came from Henry (SV drummer), he is also in Blood of the Sun and I had been working on their new record. Stone Axe did a West Coast tour with Vitus so I got to know them during that time then they came through Seattle in April 2011 and I had them come into the studio (Temple Sound) to cut a demo of a new song. They came in and did 2 takes all live and left with a rough mix. They ended up really liking the sound of the recording and thought it captured the classic Vitus sound. They also liked recording to tape. When it came time to do the album they came up to Port Orchard and stayed at my house for 10 days and did the record. It turned out great.
If disaster struck and you were given the ultimatum of only being a musician or a recording engineer, which would it be and why?
Musician, I only record bands to make money to play music. It’s like something to fall back on. I love making music. There’s nothing better
Thanks for the interview Tony and please use this space for any final words….
More info on Tony Reed and the various projects he’s involved with at the folllwing links:
Interviewed by: Lee Edwards with input from Ollie Stygall