The Job PDX
The Job PDX
3. Martyn Leaper

After 7 long years, The Minders are back in the studio and working on a new album. Ray sat down with Martyn Leaper to talk about his history, thoughts on music, and how much good music was recorded before electronics.

Show Notes

The Job

Show Notes

The Interview

Hi, Martyn.
Hello, Ray.
How are you?
I’m good.
Excellent. For people who might be listening to this podcast who don’t know you, what do you do?
Professionally or creatively?
Well, in my professional life I roast coffee but in my former professional life, and semi-professional today, I play music and I write songs and have done so for nearly 30 years now. Pop is my prime interest but, song writer; I suppose I can call myself that after writing about maybe 100 songs. That’s about it. I play rhythm guitar, I like to record a lot. I’m mostly interested in writing and recording.
Where are you from? I notice you don’t seem to have a west coast accent.
I’m originally from Portsmouth, England so on the south coast of England but I came to the States in 1984 and I have been here almost 30 years now.
Why did you come to the States?
My dad, his job. He was an electronic engineer, he is retired now but he worked for Digital Equipment, DEC in the mid ’80s and he came here on business trips and really enjoyed it and brought us along.
It’s funny, my dad worked for Digital as well.
Did your dad work for … No, way that’s crazy.
In the ’80s, yeah. I think they know each other.
My dad was a senior engineer, he was in storage systems, semi conductors, that kind of stuff.
Actually, I don’t know exactly what my dad did but it was something to do with computers because he was always bringing computer equipment home and then we moved to Minnesota when I was young because he moved to [inaudible 00:02:18]. Not quite as dramatic a move from Ohio to Minnesota as maybe from Portsmouth to …
We’d moved to Germany before we came here so we’d lived in Germany before and we’d moved about. His job, I’m sure you remember probably from your dad that electronics is a fairly competitive field and especially the kind of electronics my dad was involved in and so he was always constantly moving from one company to the next.
Yeah, mine as well. Electronics were different then. It was like everyone had their own sort of systems like I think […] made their own computers and stuff. I’m sure they don’t do that kind of thing anymore. Not since like […]
My dad having a digital computer and before that he worked for National Semi-Conductor before he worked for Digital and he worked for IBM before National Semiconductor. Before that he worked for [Marconis 00:03:23] which was an old British firm, no longer exists. Before that he worked for the ministry of defense.
It’s very competitive business. When you say you have been writing music, did you say for 30 years or just playing music?
Yeah, I started writing songs in 1985 so 28 years.
What was the first time you ever recorded a song? What did you record on? The first time, was it like a hand held …?
The very first time I ever-
Yeah, discovered the magic of recording yourself.
Yeah, that would have been before ’85. That was when we still lived in Germany. I had two, you remember those hand held tape recorders? The ones with the handle pulled out?
Yes, I do.
I had two of those.
I totally wish I still had one of those.
What I would do was bounce from one to the other with my guitar and it was really basic. My first band was called The Procession. In ’85 and we went into a local recording studio and the guy had a half inch 16 track which I thought that was great but half inch 16 track is not so hard. I learnt that later on with purchasing my own equipment and stuff. I started with a tape deck or two, a couple of tape decks then I graduated to my own 4 track, a lot later really. I was a little slow to get to that point. Some friends of mine that were heavily involved in recording in the early ’90s, they had warmed to home recording much quicker and they learnt the tricks of the trade really quickly and they had several years to experiment whereas when I got into it in the mid ’90s as far as recording my own stuff, I had a lot of catch up work.
Is this all self taught, everything you do in terms of recording?
Today it is, yeah. My band, The Minders, the first single that we recorded was with Robert from The Apples for Apples and Stereo, Robert Schneider. He did that on his 8 track. He had an MX-5050, Otari and he was getting really busy with recording bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, not to drop names, Biller and all these bands have gone on to be quite well known. He just urged me to get my own 4 track and I got my own four track, I got a Teac A-3440, brilliant little machine. I still have it. I actually have two now.
What does that record on, a regular cassette tape?
No, it’s quarter inch and it’s 15 ips. It’s a god machine. It’s really solid. Not a lot of noise, it’s just a brilliant machine, really solid. To be honest I don’t do an awful lot of ping ponging and that kind of stuff. I try to keep it simple and it’s probably because I learnt very simple steps and stayed with them.
What was your first single? What was your first 7 inch?
My first single was called Build and it came out on the Elephant 6 imprint in 1996. We recorded it in late ’95 and it was mostly just me and Robert from the Apples. At first, he wanted to be a part of the band. He just wanted to write with me and I was fine with that and then I got the bug to start a band and my ex-wife Rebecca Cole ended up playing in the band. She ended up playing drums so I put a band together around that. Build, there was three songs on it, they were all very basic pop songs.
Can you still buy that?
It’s out of print. I don’t know, once in a while you can … I have seen it on eBay once in a while.
Do you have a copy of it?
I have a few, a couple. I kept them.
How did that progress from there? How often were you putting out a single?
Well, I wanted to keep us busy so we followed that same year with Paper Plane which was my own recording. We did the first an 8 track at Robert Studio, Pet Sounds Studio and […]. In my basement I started experimenting around with A-3440 and did three more songs. The pitch and the recording quality was a little brittle but it was really interesting. It yielded some really cool experiments and it started to form a sound. The next year we put out one more single and that was on a Japanese label called, I think it was 1000 Guitar Mania and they putting out a lot of indie bands at that time and we were part of this hit little recording crowd and so they put that out.

Then we did one more the next year I think in ’98 or 99 on an English label, Earworm and it was right as rain. We have a lot of 7 inches now. We’ve got something like 7 or 8. We’ve done a few but I like that format, 7 inches, I don’t mean to digress too much but 7 inches, they are a project within themselves. They are an EP in a sense. There’s only three songs. You can squeeze more than three songs, I just always would go with A side being the one song and B side split that with two songs. Basically I liked the idea of compiling the 7 inches to make a collection. There was a lot of that, still is a lot of that going on. I remember collecting records where bands were compiling their early 7 inches or EPs. I remember Bill and Sebastian had a whole collection of their 12 inch singles. They were like EPs.

That was big in the ’80s and early ’90, doing 12 inches that were basically singles. You have 3 tracks on them like a 7 inch but they’d sound better because the grooves were wider.
Is it dug on wheels, whats that one EP? There is the other one […] I can’t remember but those-
Of Belle and Sebastian?
Yeah, they had albums were those were mini albums.
What you are saying about they seem like their own mini project doing a 7 inch and a lot of times those were 3 songs, maybe 4 songs. A 7 inch stopped becoming a single at some point and it was cheaper to record on and it’s a record. I love compilations of that stuff because it’s so eclectic whereas it seems like mentally as a band, if you are going in and you are going to record 14 tracks, you think about a different way. You’ve got a big goal there whereas a three track thing or something is like that’s feasible to do that whole project in a day.
It’s fun. I really enjoyed it. It was like an art project. I would do the covers, I would write the liner notes, everything. It was awesome. I still do it. I just spit out something on Band Camp last year and that was the same kind of thing. I drew a cover for it and in fact I loved the idea … At first I would say a few years a go it was kind of hostile to the idea of downloads and really the whole digital realm seemed to encroach on the real art project like world of vinyl and sleeves and all that stuff and I started to get hateful towards it.

I remember when it started to really move in and then last year when I did the Band Camp thing I had a lot of fun with it and playing there with my Band Camp page, it was much the same kind of thing. It was actually cleaner. In some ways it was more rewarding because it was instantly gratifying more so than maybe waiting for your printed copy to come back from the shop-

Basically when you are done it’s effectively up there-
Yeah, communicating with people immediately and there is an immediate sort of … Don’t get me wrong, I’m not entirely full on digital man but I’m embracing it slowly and I can see those sides of art and the digital realm, especially music anyway I think are really valid, very good.
When was the last time you put out a 7 inch? However you want to define that.
Last time I did a 7 inch. Early […] now, it’s been a while. We did that with-
You would say 10 years ago perhaps?
About 10 years ago we did with Omnibus and Sacramento.
Why? I’m just curious what your reasoning is for not having put out a 7 inch because I know you’ve put out records at that time.
I have. We slowed down a bit.
Do you think the format still has, there is still a place for those 7 inches with 3 tracks on them? Projects like that?
Yes, I’m thinking of doing something like that again. For me it’s finances. It used to be quite easy just someone call you up and say, “Hey, I want to do a 7 inch,” and if I had the material available I would of course send it off on data or whatever CD and they would go ahead and take care of it. We are not really in that position anymore. We haven’t done anything for a while, we haven’t released anything officially like a full length record for at least 6 years and I’ve been struggling a little bit. I went through some personal setbacks the last 6 years so the last 6 years I’ve been spending time picking myself up and also creatively picking myself up.

I got in a bit of a rut too and that happens to people, your focuses shift but I’ve just started working on new stuff now and I’d totally still do a 7 inch. Even if it was just 100 or 200 copies. A few years ago I was looking into trying to find out if it was possible to purchase your own lathe, if there were any of those kicking about but of course there are not. I heard that Dead Moon has their own lathe. They cut their own records. That’s awesome.

Yeah, that’s rarer than the tape decks you are recording on probably at this point. Is that true how the tape decks is like a hassle?
Have become a hassle-
Do you record at home right now or are you recording in a studio?
The recording I’m making, we are making a new Minders record and I’ve had different people play on it. I’m recording at Jackpot with Larry Crane and it’s not entirely a fully digital recording, the basic tracks we recorded on 2 inch tape and then bounced to Pro Tools. You’ve still go the warmth and there is a bit of his too at the beginning of-
Both desirable qualities?
Yeah, I personally could live without it. I don’t really care anymore but at the same time it still seems to be the best medium if you want really good punchy drums and just has a more mechanical feel to it. I still record at home. I’ve been doing demos for the record and some of those demos will probably end up being, there is a lot of stuff I’ve written that won’t make it on the record so that would probably either end up as being B sides or maybe 7 inch or something like that.

I have a half inch, I have a quarter inch and I have a 2 inch machine. The 2 inch is in the closet right now, there is a couple of problems, mechanical things. One of the biggest problems I’ve been facing with tape decks is transport issues that meaning the actual machine that the motors turn, the reels, that kind of stuff. The pinch rollers, they rubberize all the time so it’s a matter of finding the right manufacturer and those vendors are becoming few and far between so it’s a dying art. There’s a handful of people that still record on tape, I record on tape but at some point I’ll probably go fully digital.

Is there a time you are thinking of doing that? Would you consider a Pro Tools set up or something like that just for doing demos at home?
Yeah, I’d like to get a good Pro Tools set up and I’d also like to improve some of my out board gear. I’d like to mix and match, I’d like to be able to have both so use tape and mix media just the way that we’ve been doing at Jackpot. It’s just so much easier. I’ve been watching it, I’m not a stranger to that. We’ve recorded on Pro Tools before years ago, we kind of followed it all the way from the very beginning, we’ve been recording for a long time so you see all the changes. I’d thought about that years ago, maybe nearly 20 years ago, this is obviously happening now. I never liked [ADAD 00:19:18], I thought that format sucked but the inroads that they’ve made with the technology now and Pro Tools, the Plugins and all that stuff sounds amazing.
The thing that I always enjoyed so much about pure digital recording was that it felt like in a way that you couldn’t with analog recording. You could have the equivalent of dailies in film where you could, before you turn off all the lights, do a quick bounce and then it’s up on a website where you can just listen to it or you could bounce right to your iPod. Then you’re out walking that day, throw that in the mix with some other things so you can see, how am I feeling about this? How is it sounding in the car? That’s crazy. I’m sure big bands had someone in the studio whose job was to do that but to be able to do that in your own little basement, I’m just going to bounce this so I could just take it upstairs and play it on the stereo there. Is that not kind of cool?
Yeah, it’s great. There is a massive convenience now. It’s easier to record generally.
You know who would have fucking loved digital recording? It’s John Lennon. He was so into the immediacy. He wanted to record a song that was a political statement and he wanted it on the damn radio like fucking today because it’s about current events. By the time power to the people made it to the airwaves, even back then the time span was short. You’d read about the Beatles recording the song and then 7 days later it’s in the store. What? Are you kidding me?
That’s probably an accurate statement. He would probably fully embrace the digital age probably-
Also because he didn’t care as much about quality, he cared about immediacy. He was ahead of his time in terms of what do you want? He is like I feel like he was-
He used it as a form of communication.
It was his newspaper, his pamphlet-
I suppose you could probably argue that his art form then was probably more involved in communication of arts and that is the basic premise of most art anyway to communicate but he was definitely more of an immediacy to that.
Is there an equivalent to that when you are recording analog to just doing a quick bounce? Is that actually a solved problem that I’m not just aware of?
Balancing or bouncing?
It just seems in digital recording you can have a little virtual effects rack for quick mastering that just sits in there and you just turn it off when you are recording and then you turn it on and you do a balance and it’s like, you can do all those limiting things and make it sound like …
There is a memory to digital recording that way. You can go into your plugins and the set up is already, and it can go straight back to that.
I remember going in your studio and you’d take a Polaroid snapshot of where the faders are.
That’s right. Analog recording with old equipment-
Have you used Instagram? Do you know what that is?
People should Instagram their fader set ups recording artistes. How cool would that be? I wonder what song they are recording.
The old way of recording is pretty clunky. There is a certain amount of mystique to it though that I really love the tactile sense of being able to touch things, turn knobs, hear things click into place, reel things up, hear things whir and fire up and slow down. I like the mechanical side of that too, I miss that side.
Counter-intuitively the limitations actually help creativity. I can’t run another cable, I don’t have one with me so what are we going to do? I don’t have another track, I can’t just click a button and add a track like I can on my digital set up.
It’s true. We grew that way too. I grew that way as a writer too. You didn’t have a soft option with a 4 track, you are pretty limited so your arrangements became, or at least I would say my arrangements became pretty savvy or they became-
You write songs differently or record them differently because you are planning your head that way. Like, guess what? You are going to have to play a tambourine right here next to … Don’t have the track, sorry.
I remember talking about this to Robert from Robert Schneider who in my mind is, he’d figured out some genius formula with a 4 track. He shared a lot of his ideas with me but I didn’t want to seem like I was stealing his ideas and I wanted to do my own thing anyway. He really had a system of placement and he got really quite good at doing multi tracking which will get a lot of tracks with only 4 channels so a lot of ping ponging but his placement. He would think in almost a formulaic way of what to record first and he was really quite brilliant. He had it mapped out-
To compensate for generation loss when you are bouncing, that kind of thing?
Exactly, yeah. He’d think about that, he would also think about would that generation lost, what’s going to be placed there to hide that a little bit. All that stuff. It was really quite clever. That helps you when you come to Pro Tools. It’s all about less is more anyway. You go to figure, unless you want to be a [Phil Spector 00:25:35], mostly recording and writing and anything you do it’s mostly what in the recording sense what a song needs. If it doesn’t need all that clutter then don’t put it there.
Taking a step back, talking about music, we are talking about music, aren’t we?
Recording, yeah.
By the way, you can swear on here. I don’t know if you’ve noticed.
Have I not …
Just letting you know, let your guard down.
I was just testing myself to see how […].
I forgot to tell you ahead of time. I always forget to tell people and then I’ll start swearing and then they’ll be like, “Oh, so I can swear.” When you are recording, is there another artist or musical style or style of recording engineer or producer that you have in your head that you are trying to shoot for or feeling inspired by?
I don’t know that much about, I’ve read books on Abbey Road and some of the classic studios like Capitol Studios in LA and the Nashville Sound, Memphis, Chess Records. I’ve read a little bit about that but my knowledge is a bit limited in that area. Funnily enough, you think that someone who records would avidly read stuff about recording but I got put off with that. I was so ready to record and was afraid that if I started getting wrapped up in reading about recording they would put me off because so often there is people that would more or less pooh-pooh my idea of recording my own band, “You should just have a professional do that,” that kind of stuff.

I never really read up so much on that but sounds, I know what I like, I know the sounds that I’m looking for. I have been interested in, recently anyway, going right back to where we started and also going back to real primal basic recordings. I’ve been listening to a lot of country music, a lot of country and western from the mid 50s onward and really enjoy … I don’t know if you could really call those primitive. Some of them are primitive recordings but some of them I don’t really know how they got those sounds. They are not using an awful lot of equipment but they got these huge sounds.

I heard this Chet Atkins compilation that goes back to fairly early. It’s amazing stuff, the guitar sound and it’s just him finger picking with probably the worst, oldest pick up you can imagine.
He was a technician. He was a great musician and that’s the thing. Back then, the folks that ran the studios, well the technicians today but even more so they were men in white coats, lab coats. There is a book that Larry Crane studio, it’s the Beatles Recording Book and it’s actually just about Abbey Road and all the equipment in detail. Have you seen that book?
No, but I would love to read that book-
It’s incredible. […] boards, the desks, the sound desks, the machines, the microphones, everything. Everything is in this book. It’s not about the Beatles, it’s about EMI, Abbey Road and now I pay more attention to that stuff. I think I was in a bit of a hurry. I was afraid, I listen to our recordings now and they just sound like someone learning how to record but I felt like if I just pressed record and we played we would capture something that would be totally us, unique, our sound. In a sense it kind of is but it wasn’t that unique and I wanted to live in a little bubble world, record and learn that way. Obviously getting tips and tricks along the way but learn organically. Now I probably [inaudible 00:30:32] most of, whats the word there? Not scientific but a little bit more methodical I suppose.
Whats the biggest difference when you listen to an old recording? Do you feel the drum sounded like shit [inaudible 00:30:51] is there something musically that jumps out of you? What’s the most horrible things you hear on those old recording where you are like I would never do that now. Just an obvious mistake.
Probably the performances.
Good answer.
Sometimes I can’t believe we did that. That was pretty cool and it’s perfect and I couldn’t have done it better now. I’ve tried to re-record things. When we were recording the last time I was in that was about a month ago and we were doing some recording, basic tracks and Larry was playing Jeff Lynne from The Electric Light Orchestra. He had gone out and re-recorded all of his great hits. Do you know about this?
He has re-recorded all of the big hits of the 70s like Mr. Blue Sky and-
You mean with a current band like Who Knew?
No, just him. He re-recorded everything and it pretty much sound exactly the same.
I’m not surprised by that at all. It’s crazy. He doesn’t play strings. What does he do for the strings?
From what I remember there aren’t that many strings. He did everything from Showdown, Mr. Blue Sky.
Yeah, you should check it out.
That’s crazy. I will definitely.
It’s pretty interesting. When you hear that stuff now on commercials, because he is getting a lot of commercial play, those aren’t the original recordings, those are the ones he did last year. Its pretty intense. I was listening to it and it’s really quite amazing. He is an incredible musician, his performances, it’s almost avant like. It’s strange how it-
He reminds me of Paul McCartney in terms of the way he approaches music because Paul would seem the same way too. He’d wait till everyone is out of the studio and then fuck it, I’ll just re-record the drums myself. I don’t give a shit, I’ll play everything. Like Jeff Lynne, he knew exactly what sound he wanted from every instrument and if necessary he would play it.
There is an interview in the new Tape Op and he interviews Jeff Lynne.
Larry Crane does?
Yeah, he does.
For everyone listening out there, we’ll put a link on the show notes but Tape Op is an amazing magazine. If you are recording at home you are reading this magazine. There is the only one there is.
In that depth-
They’ve interviewed Geoff Emerick on there and everyone. That’s such a great magazine. Did Larry Crane have something to do with Jeff Lynne’s recordings or just interviewed him?
No, he just interviewed him for the magazine and it was revealing because I remember reading the liner notes, if there was one thing when I was kid I’d read liner notes of records. In those days, a lot of these big bands would list all the equipment they use, right down to how many hours of recording and the mixing and all that kind of stuff. Jeff Lynne he especially did that on the gatefold of Out of the Blue which is their 1977 record. There’s a pretty in depth list of equipment but he just went into all of that, the whole process in the interview, as much as there wasn’t that much time in the interview it seemed but he shared some secrets, the way he records and it was pretty fantastic.

He has a studio at home. He mentioned this, he was a recorder, he preferred recording music to performing music in live. That makes sense but you should read the article, if you like that band and you like that brand of pop I would check it out.

I do like that brand of pop. On the first episode of our podcast I talked about how I’m really into some 1975 era of Bee Gees album right now. It’s the one with Jive Talkin and Nights on Broadway. It is a great album but I get a lot of shit about it.
Those guys were great.
In a lot of ways a lot the studios were at their apex in that era and those recordings, same with the Stones in the ’70s. Those recordings, they sound like they know what they are doing, they are just going right through, nailed it like one day. They probably record these songs in an afternoon and they sound great like the drum sound is so good, it’s such a warm sound.
There’s a good documentary that just came out in HBO, it’s another Stones documentary because Scorsese put one out last year or the year before.
Shine A Light?
Shine A light and then there is another one that just came out around the holidays, around Christmas time and it’s more of a Rolling Stones-
What is the subject? Is it a general Stones?
They actually talk about Exile on Main St. a bit which I found interesting. I already knew a little about Exile on Main St. but they spent a lot of time on making that record and it wasn’t very smooth. It was pretty rough.
Did they have a lot of vintage footage of them?
Yeah there was footage-
I totally saw that documentary. It was basically about that album. I don’t remember what it was called but that was amazing. It was something like they’d have their kids down there, someone on the other side of the room is doing heroin, they are just hanging out in some castle in France.
Keith Richards was going through the height of his research there but that entire experience, well, there were tax exiles, they had to leave England because they were broke. They moved to the South of France, recorded the record in subterranean basement, Keith Richard’s basement of his mansion that he had. I don’t know if he had bought it or rented it. To me that is their magnum opus, that’s their greatest record. It’s so live, it’s so real, it’s a living record but-
We have that here, it’s nice. It’s funny because it has such a visual style. I don’t know if Warhol did that album but it’s scattered roughly laid out black and white photographs but they carry that style though the two liners that are full color.
It’s a difficult color to look at.
It doesn’t have a subject, it’s kind of a more of a texture of visual-
There are some images in there that are hard to look at but the cover itself is just the subject matter and I think you know what I’m talking about. I know that they were going for a certain thing.
Personally I prefer the Sticky Fingers cover. It’s just me. Did you ever see that letter from Mick to Andy Warhol about the cover that went out in the internet a year or two back? I’ll put that on the show notes as well but it was basically he is saying, “Andy, so you have the okay to make the album cover just don’t do anything weird or the new weird textures because that will damage records and stuff,” so Warhol comes back. That letter went out but it was a brief thing with Mick Jagger and of course Warhol came back with the albums with the zipper on the cover which destroyed literally like half the records they ever printed because there was like, great you are putting a zipper, record, zipper, record in a big stack, like that’s going to go well. What could go wrong? It’s so awesome.
Can I get a beer?
Of course you can get a beer. I’ll just talk right through it.
You keep going.
This is good, I’ll come up with another question. Do you still buy vinyl?
All the time.
If there is a record on vinyl you’ll buy it on vinyl?
Well, nowadays you often don’t have to make a choice because you’ll buy the vinyl and have a little download card in it.
I have something to say about that. I remember, as I said we talked about this earlier on, I moved to the States in ’84 and within a couple of years I remember I lived in this real suburban area of Colorado Springs, pretty suburban. They had a Sam Goody in the mall and up until, I think it might have been ’86 or ’87, probably 1986, it was all vinyl and then gradually the CDs crept in and one day I went in there and all their albums were gone and it was all CDs. I was shocked. I remember I was looking at this new format, it wasn’t new new but it was pretty new.

First off, one of the main reasons why I have a vinyl fetish is it’s just, you have the cover, you have the format, you have the artwork, everything is … I don’t know, again it goes back to that art project. An album is a piece of art and a CD is, I suppose a certain CD is like if they are packaged well it can be considered art.

Some of them got to that point but really for the first decade at least of their existence, a CD was this fucking awful plastic shell, the couple of pieces of paper in it and a plastic shiny disc. It was like, you look at it and it just radiates cheapness, a plasticness of-
Yeah, I was very disappointed. There had been a few disappointments along the way int he music business and that was probably the first really big one and I didn’t know what to do. It’s sort of similar to today with the, this is probably me groping a little bit but I get really freaked out by these nooks and all that stuff, the electronic books. I love buying books, I love collecting things, I’m a collector. Obviously not everybody is and that makes sense. I love having something in my hand, again it goes back to having the experience of something real but yes, to get back to your original question, I always buy vinyl first. Once in a while I still buy CDs, I just bought some CDs the other day but I picked up a Bob Marley record last week and I’m always getting-
Which one did you pick up?
It was, I’ll think about it in a minute. It’s 1970, it’s-
Something with a bus, the tour one is it?
No, I think it’s a reissue because it just has him on the cover. It’s a live shot of him but I’ll think of it in a second. I’m having a brain fart right now but it has Mr. Brown on it, it’s got-
[Singing] Mr.Brown
Right, exactly.
Didn’t Lee Perry produce that one?
Yes, it’s produced by Lee Perry. It’s really great, it’s fantastic. It’s all rebel. 1970, fantastic record. I was just really craving it. I don’t know about you but this time of the year in Portland I started to go a little fucking crazy with it […] and I’m starting to think about sunshine and joints and-
The lack of sunshine.
Yeah, I started dreaming of tropical islands and smoking big fat doobies and just laying in the sun so I can say that, right?
[…] Bob Marley.
Am I allowed that? I’m allowed that, right?
Of course. I think a lot of that has to do with mobility. Some people are predisposed they want to move around and listen to their music and be on the go and not have to carry things and be able to read their book on their phone and some people Martyn might value being at home more and that works if you have records. I feel the same way, I come here but if I get a craving like, how am I going to walk home from here? It’s going to take an hour and I want to keep listening to my Bob Marley record. We have arrived at a great place if the records that we buy come with digital downloads because why should we have to choose. I’m paying for the record, the digital download is essentially free.
There is also something to be said about the format of the album and there is a sort of ritual and I like that ritual with an album, getting at home and rushing it onto the turntable. I was quite excited about this. Reggae records are really hard, not Bob Marley records per se but I’ve been looking for this Harry J all stars record, it’s just an instrumental record, I can’t find it anywhere on vinyl, in fact I’ve found a hard time finding it on CD too. I really love Scar and early reggae and that’s really hard music to find on vinyl.

I found this record at Everyday Music last week and rushed it home and it was being a kid. It’s the same experience. Sure, pulling it up on my Pandora or my iTunes, it’s the same thing but there’s still the ritual. What I’m always trying to do is relive that ritual from when I was a kid. There are little things or I would say these days very few things will give me as much excitement. There is just something about it. There is a mystique and a romance to it that I really enjoy.

That too, it seems like a lot of bands will take 5 years and they’ll put something out that would have been a double LP, would have been their all things must pass or something in a box but instead that’s just their album and they took 5 years to make it and in main stream music throughout the ’70s and even really through the ’80s, there was this sort of canonical album and it was recorded with a mental pause after 20 minutes. There would be this [inaudible 00:47:04] where it was, side one might be one song or it might be 10 songs if it’s the minute man or whatever but you’d get it on the CD you’d know that’s, in the ’80s the CD was like I can still tell it’s supposed to stop here and then at some point it was like, now it’s just this 70 minute sequence of tracks sorted alphabetically. Who cares? It didn’t seem like it had that same-
I felt like in the ’90s there was a new renaissance and a celebration of recording and making an album. Records got really long in the ’90s. Like they were really, I’m trying to think of some records because we looked at times, constantly we’d look at the times of records, how long and of course we are a pop band and I primarily wrote songs that were two and a half minutes long. Our first record was incredibly short, it was like 27 minutes long.
Which no one would have batted an eye in the ’60s.
No, but in the ’90s and 1998 the record company was not pleased. I felt like it was ridiculous, you want 20 more songs on this thing? It’s just pop. My ear drops off after a while but to get back to my point as far as recording was re-celebrated in the ’90s. In the ’80s, it hit a wall. The ’70s, you can look at ELP and [inaudible 00:48:50] King Crimson, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, all that stuff, the real experimental emo stuff. We went into a different universe, it really branched off into many different genres as far as pop music rock and roll and a lot of experimentation happened. I don’t know where we are now. I don’t know if that is a good segue to wherever we are going with this.
I have no idea. I definitely remember in terms of album running time, there was a point in the late ’90s when I could afford to and wanted to buy vinyl but people were recording always even if the band knew they were going to put it on vinyl, they were still recording by an a hour long album or something. You’d get the CD and you’re just like it’s their CD really, it’s always one CD, it fits on a CD and then you’d be like, I’d rather buy the vinyl and it would be this double record set and it was like a big fucking deal and it would be 30 to 40 fucking dollars. Are you shitting me? It’s 10 dollars on CD, I’m not going to do this. This is insane. Guess what? I have to buy this CD. You’re going to bankrupt me with this record pricing and now it seems to have fallen back a little bit but it is ridiculous. 180 grand vinyl, the thing would be thicker than the CD case.
To be honest, I was disappointed with the production of some of the records I would get that were over 180. Of course it was a heavy weight but the mastering of the record had been skimped or compromised.
Like they’d forgotten that. Do you remember especially in the ’80s, for a long time people would have written things on the inside like between the grooves on the record?
Yeah, I’ve done that.
That was such a thing. That was a reason to buy the record partly. It was one of the reasons. There would be something and then there would be a lyric … I remember some bands they would write their own little couplet, there would be the A side, the B side, there would just be something there you could pick up a record and odds are you’d see it there. At some point I read there was one guy who mastered records in the UK who was responsible for an inordinate number of them, the band would request something because they knew that he did it. You mean you’ve written it out or you’ve provided words to go there on record?
I’m sorry, were you talking about actually scratching on the vinyl itself?
Yeah, I’ve done that on our first single.
How do you do that? You give a little […]
When we mastered the mother plate in Denver we went to a lathe mastering studio, the vinyl studio in Denver and the guy had a lathe in his basement and we got to ride on it. It was like a teddy, it was a heavy needle thing you scratch in there. We put a lot grove on our second 7 inch and I remember them setting that up which was kind of cool. When they cut record you can look through a microscope and see it being cut and it’s cool.
Yeah, it’s funny. Records are the foundation of recording as we know it. It’s like that’s what recording was. It was sound waves etched onto a surface. It’s amazing how it doesn’t seem possible that digital music can surpass that. It can only match that. It has an advantage in that it won’t wear, it won’t get scratched but the thing that comes off the record press, it’s hard to beat that.
I’ve been collecting 78s and-
I saw that collection of yours.
Some of the records I have are over 100 years old now and of course, there was older but they are not vinyl records, they are acetate.
They are just really hard.
They are really brittle. I should look up the material but the very brittle.
I’ll put it in the show notes, we’ve got that.
They are real brittle material so a lot of the times when you are thumbing through going through these records in stores and, more the discerning record shops that still have ’78s, they’ll have them on a separate section and there is spaces so that the records don’t get bunched up and smashed up against each other because they are very brittle and they shadow. For the most part, it’s quite amazing. I’ve got a couple of Victrola machines, hand crank machines and you get these needles you just literally screw into the head. There is a tiny diaphragm that basically it’s just a sound box that goes from the arm of the horn to the box below but the sound is incredible.

It’s really dynamic, these recordings are fairly primitive. Some of the stuff that gets into the 20s and the 30s more of the fox trot period there is more dynamics obviously and some of the records that say electrically recorded so the earlier stuff like from the turn of the last century, 1905 and 1908 you had orchestras play right into a horn and then you went from there to electrically recording with a microphone, like a ribbon microphone. Again, I’m probably not describing this technically very accurately.

I’m often shocked at how dynamic these recordings are and they are priceless, and they are timeless. I think vinyls are great medium, a great archival medium. It seems to have stood the test of time. The digital archival format, I think the verdict is still out on that as far as CDs, we’ve seen how CDs wear in time. I have CDS that are over 25 years old now and they are wearing out. Can you resurface CDs?

You’d try to get what you can off of it and then in a more non physical digital format, if there is such a thing.
If you are able to re-burn a CD or whatever, or not even that, just put it in an MP3 format-
Just dump it to your computer, not even an MP3 if you care about the quality. You want to just dump it in a wave.
that I know less about.
You are saying you had records that were recorded by a device placed in front of an orchestra in which it may have been powered by electricity but essentially the sound conversion never-
Those early recordings, they weren’t electric, they were just entirely-
Okay, someone cranked up the recording device?
No, we probably had this large horn that at the end of that in some way there was a lathe carving out or I don’t really quite know how they did it but in 1905 I don’t think the equipment was electrical, I think it was still entirely mechanical the recording devices. Pretty sure. I’m pretty sure it’s all hand cranked and this is pretty steamed up shit.
Yeah, absolutely crazy. It’s steam punk, exactly. Here we go, now we understand Martyn Leaper. The whole point of this interview is to get to this point. We got you to admit that you listen to music that has never even been touched by electricity. From production to consumption, no electricity.
I really get a thrill out of playing some of those records and as I’ve said I’ve got two Victrolas and once in a while I’ll take them out in the yard in the summer and kick back. It is a bit of a process because-
It is portable?
Totally portable and there is something my neighbors want to know while they’ve come over and listened and there is something about a mechanical music machine that nothing’s plugged in and you are entirely sort of … It’s cool.
That’s pretty crazy. It’s been an hour, I’ve enjoyed our conversation. Thanks so much for stopping by.
Likewise, thanks for having me.

The Job is a talk show about design, music, business, culture, technology, the web, and Portland, and featuring interviews with interesting people. Hosted by Ray Brigleb and brought to you by Needmore Designs.