Tales From Strange Advance 4
At some point, after listening to old recordings (cassettes, dats, 1/4"), I realized that I was listening to a good part of what the next Strange Advance album would have sounded like, circa 1990. After touring 'The Distance Between', Darryl and I were both exhausted. We decided to take some time off, and suddenly it was another century.
Songwriting is a bit of an addiction to me. I always have music in my head. Now that I think about it, you could probably make a case for me having OCD. Sometimes it's hard to have a conversation because I often have a tune running through my mind that can distract me from the points being made by others. Sorry bout that!
My point is, that although there are literally hundreds of musical ideas that have presented themselves in the intervening period, going through those old tapes made me realize that I was listening to many of the songs that would have ended up on SA 4.
So consider this a peek into the past. What will the future sound like for SA? Stay tuned.
I'll add stories about specific tunes as soon as the CD is available. Hope you enjoy!
PS I included bonus tracks from earlier compilations for those that never heard them.
The full story behind the hit single: 'We Run'
We Run Pt 1
I couldn’t tell you when exactly I wrote it. Sometime in 82 or 83? I have a terrible memory and have always thought I'd like to contact everyone I ever met and ask them what I was doing at the time.
It started with a dream. I have strange dreams. I was on the side of a hill / mountain, looking down on the harbour. It was a beautiful sunny day but strangely there was no sound or movement anywhere. I could see a large warship in the harbour drifting aimlessly. On deck were the lifeless forms of sailors. Scattered bodies lay randomly in the streets of the small town below.
“Frozen smiles for men returned. They never even left this place…”
I should interject here and say this. Explaining songs to people can be a letdown. I know that when I listen to a song, I take away my own meaning. Sometimes it might be just one line that resonates with me. One time a fan came up to me and told me how Worlds Away held so much meaning for him, as he had just gone through a divorce and clearly, that was what the song was about. I couldn’t tell him the real story. I wanted him to take what he wanted from it.
So, my question is:
Does learning the writers inspiration for a song help your understanding or destroy your personal interpretation?
We Run Pt 2
Okay then, on with the story.
I’m not sure what I’ve ever said about We Runs lyrics in public. One recurring theme for me is “the end of the world as we know it”. Yeah, I know. I’m a cheery guy. For some reason, I keep dreaming about the way the world will end. To be specific, how we will mess up and kill ourselves (and everything else) off. Lots of nuclear holocausts etc sprinkled with a bit of alien invasion!
Don’t ask me why certain imagery or words were chosen. “You’re on your own and meet a friend, who doesn’t kill but wounds for life. The sun blinds you, through the trees, while watching clues fall from the sky”. The ‘friend’ is radiation. The blinding sun - the explosion. The ‘clues’ - fallout. I’ve seen some people post lyrics that say “You’re on your own and need a friend” which is a good thought. We all need friends.
More about lyrics later.
For the gearheads out there, the song started life on the Roland JP8 (Jupiter 8) which is an awesome synth. When Strange Advance was first signed, the record company gave us money to live on and buy gear (you don’t see that these days). Getting the JP8 was a big deal to me. It directly inspired Worlds Away and many other tunes.
On a side note, I also fell in love with a new drum machine – the Linn LM-1. It was the first drum machine to use actual samples of drums and it sounded amazing. I’m a drummer and I couldn’t believe the way it sounded. We had previously been using an old Roland drum machine (CR-68?) so this was a HUGE step up! The only problem was, no one in Vancouver stocked them. So Bruce Fairbairn (our producer) decided to book us tickets to LA where they were in stock. (side note – we had such a nice record company and we spent so much money. As a matter of fact, we’re still paying them off!) So there was Bruce and I at the Guitar Center being sold an LM-1 by a salesman who tried to convince us to fly him up to Vancouver to ‘program’ the drum machine for our recordings. Now, first, it is not a complicated drum machine and second, the salesmans big claim to fame was that he had ‘programmed’ the drums for Rod Stewarts “Do You Think I’m Sexy”. If you listen to that song, you will notice that the drums are pretty much kick and snare repeated. Not an impressive resume.
So there I was in my basement, working on We Run. I think I had the song worked out when Ed Shaw came in to add some guitar.
[yet another side note! Ed Shaw and Derrick Gyles were the guitarist and drummer for an Albertan (I think?) band (or was is it Winnipeg?). Darryl and I fell in love with them and stole them away. They were great musicians, very cool, and we needed a band for touring. We rehearsed for a tour after the first album but due to circumstances beyond our control, we had to cancel it. Instead, we started work on tunes for the next album. When it was decided that we were going to record in London, the record company refused to pay for Ed and Derrick to go with us. Much to my shame, I did not put up a big enough fight and we lost Ed and Derrick. Fortunately, they landed on their feet and joined Images In Vogue, creating classic Canadian new wave tunes. I’ve often wondered what would have happened if we had stayed together…]
Anyway, Ed loved playing with delays and suggested using a particular delay on the keyboard line. It vastly improved the feel. Thanks Ed! By the way, the keyboard I’m playing in the We Run video is the JP8.
Now I am leaving to go to the studio. Sorry! More to come as we take We Run to London, Buttonville, Toronto, New York then back to London!
And thanks to Shane Hebert for getting this ball rolling!
We Run Pt 3
We started the sessions for the second record with Bruce Fairbairn again at the helm. He had the time available and the studio was booked. The only problem was that we weren’t ready. Didn’t have the right selection of tunes. I was always bugging Bruce (harassment really) about musical stuff and I think he just got sick of me. He had a long list of other bands to produce and I must have pushed him over the edge. He decided to let someone else produce SA.
Side note: Bruce and I were never friends but we respected each other. He invited me to play on several sessions for bands he was working with. My last session for him was with Yes who I was a huge fan of. I weaseled my way into the sessions and had an amazing time working with legends. Then Bruce passed away. You never realize how much you’re going to miss someone till they’re gone.
So, Deane Cameron (our Canadian A&R guy, along with his assistant Tim Trombley) started to help us look for a producer. We were looking for someone with similar musical tastes. At one point, we met with another legend, Bob Ezrin. He produced many huge records but I loved him for his work on Peter Gabriels‘ first solo record (Solsbury Hill etc.) He told me how he was going to make our record and that he would play the keyboards. Well, being the bands keyboard player, that idea didn’t sit too well with me. We kept looking.
An interesting point – we learned that just because someone had a ‘producer’ credit on a favourite album, did not mean that he actually had anything to do with it. We heard stories about producers who would show up at the studio, lock themselves in an office and conduct business all day (lining up other acts to ‘produce’, I guess) while the band and engineer would actually make the record.
One person whose name came up was Michael Kamen. We knew of him from his work with Pink Floyd but it was actually his soundtrack work on “The Dead Zone” that clinched the deal for us. We met, got along, and agreed to have him produce.
Michael wanted to make the record in London and that was just fine with Darryl and I. Arrangements were made to ship our gear over and soon we were living the good life in London. Michaels assistant had set up appointments for us to see several houses/flats in London and we chose one in Knightsbridge. It was a couple of blocks away from Harrods, so that’s where we did our grocery shopping. Anyway, there were lots of stories about London. More another time.
We worked out of Britannia Row, a great studio owned by Pink Floyd. Michael produced and Andy Jackson engineered (Pink Floyds engineer. I just learned that he mixed “I Don’t Like Mondays” – Boomtown Rats). The sessions were great.
One day we started work on We Run. We laid down the drum track and JP8 part. I must have done a scratch vocal. Then Michael went to work.
He had called in a favour from a friend. Hans Zimmer showed up one day hauling his Fairlight sampler along with him. Hans is now one of the biggest film composers in the world. Check out his discography. Impressive!
While the track was running, Michael stood at the keyboard, asking for different instruments, which Hans would find for him. It was awesome. Music just flowed out of Michael. He was scoring the song on the spot. He would ask for particular strings or horns and the parts came out, prewritten. It was quite a performance.
Michael was a great keyboardist but his actual instrument was the oboe. Another point in his favour was that he had been David Bowie’s musical director on tour and we were huge Bowie fans. When he asked us who we wanted to bring in on guitar, we asked for and got, Earl Slick. Check this out for a sample of Earl’s work with Bowie. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=or1dyvCgzMw
Watching Michael basically vomit out music (sorry) gave me a good indication that the life of a film composer was not for me. People had asked me before, but knowing that the deadlines were so intense and realizing that you have to write instantly… I knew that as King of the Procrastinators, I should probably choose another line of work.
The next step was for Michael to take what he’d done with the Fairlight demo and transcribe the parts for real musicians. He worked with the London Philharmonic and was a great conductor (you might have seen him conduct for Metallica amongst others). Finally the day arrived. The musicians were assembling at the studio and Michael was going crazy. The sheet music hadn’t arrived and we had a dozen highly paid musicians standing around waiting. His copyist finally showed up and off we went. I remember standing in the control room watching Michael conducting. Just being thrilled to have all this talent being focussed on one of our songs. Brilliant.
Then the roof fell in.
We Run Pt 3.5
Did I mention the part where my cousin John and his pal came down from Glasgow to join us in London? (John, if that’s you playing the maracas in the background, and I forgot to give you credit – please forgive me)
We Run Pt 4
We were planning on visiting David Gilmour at his houseboat on the Thames. He had a recording studio onboard and had agreed to add some guitar to a couple of tracks. Michael asked him why he didn’t make more guest appearances on other peoples records and David said “Cause no one ever asks me.”!
We had changed studios and were now at Mayfair, another great studio facility that we shared with Queensryche. One day, Darryl and I were sitting in the lobby when the doors opened and the force of nature that is Tina Turner blew in. She had on a huge fur coat that could have kept a village warm and was followed by a large entourage. Much to our surprise, our old friend Lisa Dalbello was part of it (Tina’s manager was thinking of handling her and I guess they were trying each other on for size). I can remember standing next to the studio door listening to “What’s Love Got To Do With It” then talking to the producer who told me Tina nailed it in 2 takes and was gone. I usually take 3. Ha!
So we had David Gilmour, a bunch of keyboard overdubs and a session with a large orchestra left to do (Michael had cut a deal with James Guthrie, the producer of Queensryche. Michael would score one of their songs for orchestra and SA would get to sneak in and borrow the orchestra for one tune) We were close to being finished but still had a lot to do. So you can imagine our surprise when Michael announced that we would start mixing the record the next day. “But what about David? The orchestra? The keyboards?”!! He wouldn’t budge. We had to start the following day.
The record was not finished and we couldn’t let this happen. I’ll skip the dramatics and believe me, there was drama. Darryl and I packed our bags and went home.
Remember that great record company I was talking about? Deane Cameron, head of A&R, was our champion. He later became the President of Capitol Canada and really, was the heart of the operation. When we sat down after the London sessions and realized that Michaels work, as good as it was, did not cut it, Deane eventually turned to me and said “Why don’t you produce it?” Crap. I had so many opinions about things and now I was being asked to put up or shut up.
Darryl and I moved out to Toronto for the next couple of months. Deane found a studio and engineer that he thought would work well for us, so after London, we ended up in Buttonville, Ontario. Never heard of it? Neither had I. It was miles from anywhere, in the country and let’s just say, there were no distractions. Except for one.
Dee Long was one of the owners (along with John Jones) of ESP Studios. He had 2 things going for him. He was one of the geniuses behind the legendary Klaatu and he owned a Fairlight. He and John would later move to London and hang with George Martin etc.
When we started, I think Dee quickly picked up on the fact that I had no idea what I was doing. I could have told him. It was called “flailing”. He was very kind and offered to add parts wherever needed. He was another one of those annoyingly talented people that could just create on demand. He could spit out Beatlesque motifs at the drop of a hat.
Eventually, we got round to We Run. We put up the tapes we’d taken from London and couldn’t wait to hear all those glorious strings. Except, they weren’t there. Oh, there were strings all right but they were not glorious. In fact, they sucked. I couldn’t understand it. I was there! They sounded great! But in the cold light of a Buttonville morning, I had to admit; they were out of tune, thin sounding and just rough all round. Dee and I looked at each other and knew we couldn’t use them. It hurt but we had to erase them. Fortunately, Michael had left us the gift of his awesome Fairlight tracks, which ended up being the strings etc. that you hear on We Run today.
It was time to leave Buttonville and take We Run to the big city. Toronto.
We Run Pt 5
This is where it gets fuzzy. If you were there, please correct any errors in memory.
After taking a bit of time off in Vancouver, Darryl and headed back to TO. We ended up at a slightly cheesy hotel downtown. No restaurant, which meant I got real familiar with the pizza joint up the street. I ate a lot of panzerottis.
When we first got to Toronto, someone at the record company had booked us into a crap hotel. Darryl and I, under the impression that we were rock stars, left that hotel and booked ourselves into a much nicer place. Our reasoning was, that since there were only 2 of us and the average band had 4 or 5 members, we were costing the label much less money and they shouldn’t mind spending it on a nicer hotel for us.
They minded. I argued with Tim Trombley but to no avail. “If YOU get a nicer hotel, then everyone will want a nicer hotel!” Keep in mind that they had already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on us. Our greed knew no bounds.
We worked out of a few studios. We did some recording at McClear Studios and wandering the halls, I found a friend. Hanging on the wall was a gold record awarded to The Friendly Giant. I told the studio manager that if our record went gold (it did), I wanted it to hang beside The Friendly Giant. Remember him?
My favourite Toronto studio was Phase One. Owned by Doug Hill and Paul Gross, it was the most comfortable studio I had experienced since Mushroom Studios in Vancouver ( hey Charlie!). It had a great vibe and was filled with the best engineers and staff. Many SA hours were spent there.
Lenny DeRose was our main guy there. You couldn’t find an engineer with less ego or with more patience. If I walked in after he had been working on a mix for a few hours, and I didn’t like it for some reason, he would just tear it back down and start again. With a smile. (could have been shooting daggers at my back though ;)
We Run was the product of so many talented people. One high point was getting Howard Ayee (Carole Pope) to play bass on that and many other tracks. Listen to the song again and focus on the bass. I can’t imagine the song without it. Howard is one of the few musicians that can deliver greatness on demand. We liked him so much that we asked Howard and his engineering partner, Joe Primeau, to help produce The Distance Between. Great guys.
After adding more overdubs ( a nice session with a harpist, a great kybd part from – Holy Crap! I just remembered something…David Tickle!)
Okay, it’s slowly coming back to me. If I’m not mistaken, maybe Deane thought the track needed some outside help and David Tickle was the man of the month. He was an English producer who had done some great work. He produced “I Got You” for Split Enz and worked with Mike Chapman on “Heart of Glass” and “My Sharona” but he was in Canada to work with Platinum Blonde and Gowan (“Criminal Mind” etc.) Pretty good track record. Well, we spent a day or two at Metalworks Studios. David thought something was lacking and brought in Steve Sexton to figure out what. Steve was Ann Murray’s musical director and a great keyboard player. I remember him sitting in the studio just fooling around and the next thing I knew, We Run just got better. If you listen to the second verse, you’ll hear an added 8th note pattern. Don’t know how to describe it, but it definitely lifts the song from that point.
David seemed satisfied but I think he got called away to another project. Didn’t matter, We Run was ready to be mixed. Twice. Then again.
It was epic!
We Run Pt 6
Toronto to New York and back to London.
What you have to remember is that We Run was just one of many tunes on the album. It wasn’t written as a single. It was only after listening to the album that Capitol (mainly Deane and Tim) decided it should get ‘the treatment’.
Back at Phase One, Lenny was busy mixing the album. As an inexperienced producer, I was giving it all I had. And I had a lot. Of ideas, that is. “What about a bell part at the end of the verse?” “Should we double that guitar line?” and the ever popular “I think it needs some tambourine!”. You should have seen our track sheets. Every spare inch of those 24 tracks was covered. If there was a spare minute on the harp track, I would find it and fill it. But seriously, I was just having fun. Lenny would filter things out, which is the job of a good mixing engineer and at the end of the day, I was happy with what we did.
But Deane wasn’t. I guess he liked We Run (good ears – very handy for an A&R guy) and wanted a fresh take on it. Deane had been approached by an American mixer/producer who wanted to get some work in Canada. Deane was always willing to try new combinations of talent and agreed to let Scott Litt take a crack at mixing We Run. Since Scott was so used to working at The Power Station in NY, Deane let him take it there. I didn’t go, which was a good thing. Scott was given the luxury of a 2 day mix (most songs got maybe 1 or 1.5 days per mix). He also asked for, and got, a wack-load of dough to cover gear rentals. In the States, you just got the basic room. You want mics? Extra. Scott was used to mixing with stacks of outboard gear. Lots of AMS (popular at the time) and Neves, etc. It cost – a – fortune! Then he called Deane and begged him for another day. Who did he think we were - Frankie Goes To Hollywood!?
Finally, the big day. I went up to Phase One and Lenny, Darryl and I listened to the mix. I hated it.
Yeah, the song that you’ve heard in your car, on your stereo and through your Sony Walkman (that would be cassette, for the young folk) made me ill.
I hated it. I was so used to hearing Lenny’s rich and dynamic mix, (which was not mixed for radio, but for a glorious home stereo environment), that Scotts mix just sounded like crap to my ears. Not to mention, he cut out sections of the song! I was in shock. The tag was originally “I walked for miles and miles to the sea” followed by Darryl singing “We burned, the fire from the sun”, then “I know you never tried to deceive”, Darryl “Who can touch us when we run?” All gone. And edits in the arrangement (which admittedly it needed for the radio).
Bottom line, Scott was trying really hard to impress Deane and worked hard to deliver a hit. We were just lucky to provide the song that he had so much to prove with. He did a great job on the mix, which I now love. It’s one of those records that sound as good as anything on the radio and it’s all due to Scott. And Deane. If it wasn’t for Deane’s belief in the song , it never would have happened.
Scotts work on the song paid off for him (kidding). His next big mix was Walking On Sunshine. He went on to produce albums by R.E.M. and was famous for convincing Michael Stipe to allow him to turn up the vocals so people could hear him sing!
Next? Drew is filmed while having a stroke.
We Run Pt 7
Because We Run was the first single, Deane thought it should have a dance mix. They had been happy with Richard Burgess and his work on some Luba songs, so that was it. We Run to London.
Richard has quite a history. Not only did he record “Fade to Grey” for Visage, he is also the person who coined the term ‘New Romantic’ and designed the original Simmons hexagonal drum - before he was 15! (ok, I might have made that ‘15’ part up.)
Off to London I went, tapes under my arm. I checked into my hotel, had dinner and tried to sleep. The next day I popped off to the studio. And now I’m confused.
I just looked up the name of the studio, whose name I sometimes forget. The Workhouse, that’s it! Except elsewhere, I see credits for Battery Studios. Huh? Did we use 2 studios? I don’t remember doing that. Surprise gift for anyone who can straighten that out for me.
So there I was, sitting with Richard at the console, working on the mix (I had to explain what was used in the original mix and which parts just sucked and should not see the light of day). As we were working, a very nice man came into the control room to see how we were doing. Later, Richard said “You know who that is? Manfred Mann. He owns the place”. Holy Crap! I was in the presence of greatness! To try and impress him, I decided to not lay my head on his console and fall asleep. I was beat.
I’m just listening to the extended mix for the first time in what, 10 years? 15?
It definitely bares some elements. Random thoughts: Who was the background vocalist? David Roberts (I cheated). He had a great high voice. One time we brought in Peter Fredette (who sang on one of my favourite Kim Mitchell songs – All We Are) to sing some backups. What an amazing range. Hurts my voice just to think about how high that guy sings.
Wow. This mix is just drums and strings - 2wo of my favourite things! (an example of Darryl and I trying to be a little too clever. “So, what was it like recording 2 double-u oh?” hmm…
I’m at the part where Darryl is singing that high falsetto part. Nice! Then pizzicato’s mixed with JP8. Then the string swell and everyone’s back in. And a guitar part I’m pretty sure I didn’t play. Who did? Another great string swell and we fade out with Michael on his trusty Fairlight, riding off into the sunset…safe ride, Michael…RIP.
And now for a stroke.
When you’ve been the drummer in many bands, you get used to being the guy in the back, watching the backs of your band mates, then the audience in front of them. There’s a certain safety in that. When we shot our first videos in New Orleans for She Controls Me and Love Games, I was suddenly faced with performing (faking) keyboards and singing at the same time. That was a first. The night before the shoot, when I should have been resting, I was in my hotel room, trying to remember all the keyboard parts. “What if they focus on my hands and I’m playing the wrong inversion of the chord? I’m gonna look like an idiot!” I had no clue. I could have played the keyboard with my elbows and no one would have bothered.
So now, for We Run, not only was I playing keyboards, but I had to sing lead on the song! Here’s a little issue I had to deal with. Ever heard of ‘Red Light Fever’? It happens when you’re in the studio ready to record a part. The red recording light goes on and you freeze or get nervous and make mistakes. Well, I didn’t suffer from that. But a TV camera? Film camera? I can remember being interviewed on TV shows, having a relaxed friendly chat with the host who is warming me up before we start. We laugh, we joke, we share stories. Then the red light comes on and I am suddenly The Tin Man before he gets oiled. Interviewer - “Drew, it must have been amazing getting to work with ______!” Me – “Yes”. (totally wooden and blinking slowly).
When the director (help me here – anyone know who?) explained the concept (which was quite awesome, couldn’t wait to get to the set, only to find that it looked NOTHING like what was promised), I told him I would need some direction. His direction turned out to be “Okay – ACTION!”
(last side note: Reminds me of the first time I went skiing. My friends said “No problem, we’ll teach you! Got off the ski lift without falling, then my lesson was someone giving me a push down the run. I was flying. No one told me how to turn or stop. Put me off skiing for a long time.)
I got no help and muddled through, heart pounding, eyes blinking slowly, hiding all symptoms of the upcoming stroke I was sure was coming. And you thought I was having fun!
Strangely, after the video was released, I got no calls from Hollywood.
But the band was great. The talented and friendliest man in pop, Ian Cameron playing guitar and surprisingly NOT faking violin , Rik DeGroot, who never gave less than 110%, Joey Alvero, resident heartthrob, David Quinton Steinberg, Canada’s answer to Keith Moon and of course Darryl, the old pro and my dearest friend.
It takes a village.
We Run might have started with me alone in the basement but my god, look how many people it took to make it what it became! When it was released, it won a “Sony Producer of the Year” award. They gave it to me but it could easily have gone to Scott Litt who worked his ass off on the mix, or Michael Kamen who injected his symphonic soul into it, or Deane Cameron who would not quit till it was a hit. So many people contributed and I publicly thank them all. And the most amazing part was that you liked it. So I thank you for keeping the song in your hearts. It’s every songwriters dream.
(reprinted from the SA Facebook fan page)
Mellotron Story #1 The story of Aerosmith and my Mellotron.
One day I got a voicemail from our old producer Bruce Fairbairn. Would I be interested in playing on a couple of Aerosmith tunes? Sure! I'm not a keyboard ace by any means (showing up at a recording session and expecting to 'wing it' was not gonna happen) so I asked Bruce to send me the tracks. He had a 'runner' (someone who runs errands for the session - pizza? drum sticks? he's your guy) drive out and drop off a tape. The songs were Angel and The Movie (on Permanent Vacation). The Movie was just a bunch of sound effects (and my Mum - more later) and on Angel, he wanted some Mellotron. For those that don't know, the Mellotron is a keyboard that plays back notes recorded on tape. An early sampler you could say. Used by all the prog bands I loved like King Crimson, Genesis, Yes etc.
So I spent the next day or two trying to come up with good parts. The Movie was easy. Just dug up a pile of sound effects and experimental stuff. Angel was harder. Tried this, tried that but couldn't find the right part. After a couple of days of this, feeling the pressure of the upcoming session I finally found 'the part'. Success! Was feeling good until I got to the studio.
Lugged in the Mellotron (with help - it weighed about 120 lbs), got set up, then in walked Bruce along with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. I was introduced and Bruce explained who I was (member of Strange Advance). Steven says "Strange Advance? That's the weirdest-ass name I've ever heard!" as he laughed. Hmm...good start.
We started with Angel. They started the song playback and I played my part. Nope, they didn't like it ... uh-oh. Steven came over and played the Mellotron part from Dream On. "I was thinking something like this". And I'm thinking, 'woulda been nice if someone told me that.' So he plays the Dream On part over Angel and it doesn't work. He tried something else, I tried something else but nothing was working. So I said, 'let me try that part again'. Mike Fraser, the engineer, starts up the tape again and I play my part. After I finished, Joe Perry, who was sitting on the couch said "You know what? That's the fastest a part has ever grown on me!" So I recorded it again and that was that. The song went to #2 on Billboard (their highest charting single to that point) Listen for the string parts, that's the good old Mellotron! Aerosmith - Angel (Official Music Video)