An Interview With Mixer/Recordist Stephen Barncard
by Matthew Greenwald
I. CREATING THE RECORD
Matthew Greenwald: Im curious how you went from being an assistant engineer on Déjà Vu to developing such a great relationship with Crosby and working on his solo album.
Stephen Barncard: For one thing, I had stopped assisting, earned my stripes, and became a real mixer with credits with acts like Brewer & Shipley, Seals & Crofts, and the Grateful Dead. But my experiences earlier during Déjà Vu as an assistant were different. Crosby was a very uptight guy during that CSNY record. He had little respect or patience for people like studio assistants or roadies. Support people were only there to serve him. These people would also be a convenient target if things went wrong. So needless to say, I was not visible or useful to him during the recording of Déjà Vu, and he said a couple of things to me that made me feel bad. So I vowed to avoid working with him again. At that time I did not know of the loss of his lady, Christine.
I had started at Heiders Studio in San Francisco in 1969, and by the fall of 1970 I was a Firstmeaning First Mixerand I had some credentials, and had just finished the tracks and overdubs for American Beauty. Jerry [Garcia], Phil [Lesh], and I were just getting ready to mix. At this time Garcia was also hanging out with Crosby, and David was getting ready to do his solo record, so I assume David had conversations with Jerry and asked, Who would be good for me to work with on my solo record? So, lo and behold, Crosbys calling me and asking me to do his record.
MG: This is the guy who you said youd never work with again.
SB: Right! I told him, I dont know if I want to do this. In fact, I avoided his calls for two weeks. I really didnt want to do it.
MG: Probably made you more attractive . . .
SB: [laughs] Probably did! I probably made it better for me, being cosmic [laughs] or whatever place I was in. It was so funny. And he said, Ill make it worth your while, or something to that effect. Finally I gave in and said, OK, Ill do it. Today I look back on that moment and say, What was I thinking? I could have blown this whole experience! But, then, I guess I was naive at that time. As it turned out David was in a very happy period and incredibly creative and very nice to me. And that was the beginning of our friendship and the adventure to follow.
Man, seriously, it was scary . . . [laughs] Some of the best music Ive ever heard, let alone be involved in. I think one of the first things we did was Laughing or Orleans, and it was just he and his acoustic guitar, and we layered on vocals and guitars, and it just clicked. We knew we were on to something pretty good here. He was jumping up and down and cheerleading.
Almost immediately Jerry Garcia and his buddies started showing up. Jerry, Phil, and I were working on the mix for American Beauty in the daytime for a while, and then I worked on Davids record at nightdouble sessions. Members of the Grateful Dead and the [Jefferson] Airplane started hanging out and coming in. It was interesting to see these folks benot sycophants, but just standing by and waiting, and being there almost at Davids beck and call. They were truly awed by what strange lands David was leading them through. The chemistry was so good and the songs were so great that everyone really enjoyed the hang. So every night it was a party. Sometimes it was just David and I, sometimes it was ten people. Graham Nash was there often as well. And I never, ever knew what was going to happen on any given night.
Since the studio required a complete breakdown every session anyway, I waited until David came to the studio before setting up microphones each evening and to maintain a clean slate. I developed a technique to record quickly, because I knew David wanted every bleep, squawk, and fart to be recorded. I set up a wall of tape machines:_a 16-track 3M, an eight-track 3M, a couple of two-tracks, and a new-fangled cassette machine to make him a nightly copy with which he would go home to his boat in Sausalito and listen that night and the next day.
MG: Would David know what he was going to do?
SB: Not necessarily. A few times Graham would show up unannounced and use Davids studio time and work on Songs For Beginners. I was the uncredited recordist for the track on Man In The Mirror and Used To Be A King.
During some sessions David would have a rough idea [of] what he wanted to do that day. But it wasnt like these songs appeared out of nowhere. As I did research for the [CSN] box set and the Nash tape vault, I would find demos of these songs from as early as 6768. Some home tapes had some of these songs. I think Laughing may have gone back to even the Byrds days. There was a bracketed period of a few years where most of these songs were written, but they werent all used until this project. He cut demos at some decent studios, worked with home tape recorders, and developed things in his head.
So when we started the project, on November 3, 1970, I had a feeling this would be an amazing experience. A typical evening would go like this: We would get a track, he would add a vocal part, work on another guitar part, build a vocal stack, and finally make a rough mix at the end. The rough mix usually ended up being pretty close to what the song would sound like in the final version. In fact, I started making a rough-mix reel right away, and it started accumulating, and it became the tape that we would play for his friends when they would visit the studio.
MG: For playback parties?
SB: Yeah. Joni Mitchell would come in, David Freiberg, Paul and Grace, you know, and David would say, Listen to this! Also, at that time I got into the habit of recording things at 30 ips [inches per second], which was pretty unheard of at the time for pop records. I said, Hey, theres 30 on here! Lets go for it! [laughter]. I was really glad it did, because it just sounded fantastic.
There were times when I had to ask, Is it a Crosby session or a Planet Earth Rock & Roll Orchestra session? There was so much collaboration. With Crosby we would always start with a song, work on it, and sometimes finish it that night. The pace was relaxed, and that was a good thing, because in the daytime I was mixing American Beauty.
The Dead would be in at 11:00 or 12:00; Id work on that, take a dinner break, and then do the Crosby session. Hed come in at 7:00 or 8:00. He was living on his boat in Sausalito. He would quit about 11:00 p.m. He never worked really late, so it was good for me. Then it would start all over again the next morning. I didnt need sleepI was 23!
MG: Different than the CSN&Y sessions.
SB: Exactly, because of Stills. He liked to work all night.
MG: Did David do most of the acoustic guitar tracks?
SB: He did almost all of the acoustic guitars. David loved the time-machine aspect of multitrack recording. There are a lot of tracks that he did himself. Orleansthats all him. Theres no Nash on that, even though David sang a Nash-like part. However, Graham was there a lot, played and contributed greatly to the project, yet at the same time intentionally has a low profile on this record. In going over the source tracks for this Surround remix, I found guitar tracks that Nash put in there that I had completely forgotten about.
David wanted to prove something, I think, that he could stand alone. Laughing is almost all his vocal, except for Joni Mitchells in the sun . . . part. All of the guitars are David, the electrics and the acoustics.
MG: And Jerrys playing the pedal steel . . .
SB: Right. And Phil Lesh on bass.
MG: I dont think Ive ever heard a pedal steel sound like that, before of since.
SB: Jerry was just learning, tooperhaps why its so cool: the not knowing any better genius player on a new instrument.
MG: He got such a non-country sound out of it, that drone . . .
SB: Mm-hm. Jerrys performance was so magical. I just put some echo on it and printed it as we recorded it, because I only had one chamber that I could work with that was really good, and I committed it to tape. I like to print effects to tape because it travels with the overdubs. Its always there; its part of the music.
MG: You were also using your intuition, too. You were on a creative roll.
SB: Yeah, and if Jerry didnt like parts of his steel track he just went, Whoa. We just looked at each other, and we knew where it was right. Id remember the moves and bring down the fader in those placeswe had no fader automation, of course. Theres even that major-minor clash that he plays near the end thats followed by the biggest, fattest steel chord in history. We just had to leave it all in, at that point.
MG: It goes along well with Crosbys modal D drone thing.
SB: That was my dream, to record a guitar album like that. Id probably prepped myself for that for years, and a Chet Nichols record I did earlier that year [Time Loop, on Kama Sutra Records] helped me a lot to warm up to the sounds. I was able to have an incredible creative hand in this record. No one was telling me what mics to use or how to place them or eq them. It was like a mental telepathy thing with David where it would just happen, like we were following a cosmic script or something.
MG: To step back for a second, with American Beauty and Davids record, were you aware of how extraordinary the music was, apart from everything else theyd done, not even knowing how its holding up now?
SB: I knew Crosbys record was turning out to be something special. I got the same feeling during the recording of Déjà Vu, which is an ultimate Crosby song. I was just sitting there drooling when David tracked that thing during my assistant days.
American Beauty was more of doing my job at the time. I mean, I loved the songs, and it was going really well, and it was fun and very pleasurable. It was definitely nothing like anything else Id ever heard them do. And it was acoustic music, which I love to record very much, and it gave me a lot of room to get in there and work with it. I had nothing else to base my opinion on, because like everyone else I thought the Dead [were] a cult group, and I hadnt heard much of their other recordings. I probably underestimated the impact of Truckin, for instance. I thought it was a nice shuffle, and Garcias great solostill, the songs had a hypnotic edge.
But I knew something really special was happening with Crosbys record. The experience of working in a facility does not always offer one a choice in clients, so working with Crosby and the Dead were truly a wonderful gift. There was a sense of equality and camaraderie in these projects that Ive seen rarely in sessions since.
MG: There are great acoustic guitar sounds on Crosbys record, as we spoke about. Did you replicate, say, if Crosby said, Ive got a great acoustic guitar sound here, and this is the mic placement every night?
SB: No. It was more like, Im playing this song, go ahead and do your thing and make sure it all gets recorded. There was never an attempt to make it like anything. David basically said, Freak outgo nuts! I already had some techniques worked out:_placement, EQ, how much to do the limiting, but no preset methods. There were no expectations. I didnt have a formulaintentionally. Because Ive found that every guitar is different, every mic is different, and every night is different. The barometric pressure has something to do with it, the temperature and lighting of the room, the attitude, the song, the capo, the tuning . . . .
MG: The player . . .
SB: The players, right. Its always different and such a delicate bubble. You know, I have to laugh when I read in some recording magazine where somebody says, Well I always use a so-and-so on the kick,_and on and on. Thats a bunch of crap. Anybody who thinks theyve got it down, walks into a room, and has their equipment preset is a fool, because youre just trying to make the music and audio fit your vision, your box.
There are certainly some types of microphones that are better than others for different instruments, but placement and microphone type [cardioid, omni, figure-8] are far more important than any particular microphone brand. And I continue to this day to use placement as opposed to equalization as much as possible.
With this quality of players that were talking about, the more room you leave for serendipity the better it is. Sometimes the recording comes out bad from a technical viewpoint because of the haste involved, but if the songs are strong it doesnt matter. On Cowboy Movie, it was a dirty track because of the haste, and really hard to mix. I tried several times, and finally we fell back on an early rough mix that used lots of compression and echo, and it just somehow made the dirtiness round, nice, and compact. So I just transferred that rough tape to 30 ips for the master.
I never had time to get a drum sound. The performances sometimes were lucky to be on tape, as the jams would turn more melodic and original, so the two-track log became a 16-track log tape.
It seemed incredibly loose, even compared to Grateful Dead sessions. People would come in the studio, sit down in the plastic chairs, and just start playing. Id start the multitrack tape first with a room mic, then run out and start plugging other mics in. I had very little live time to mix and tweak and get it into shape because just by the time I got a headphone mix the song would start to happen. When it came to drums, man, sometimes Id have to get a snare and a kick and a couple of overheads set up fast, because I might not get it at all if I stopped the proceedings. In my earlier days at Heiders I learned some really quick and simple drum mic techniques from Glyn Johns, another one of my main influences aside from Bill Halverson, engineer on Déjà Vu. I do regret never being able to have time to build a real drum sound during these sessions.
MG: I find it interesting that you say youd roll the tape first and then run out . . .
SB: This happened on What Are Their Names. Youll hear crrrkkk clicks on the phantom power when Id plug in mics.
Anyway, Ive always looked for things external to the center of the music, like Crosbys foot keeping time on Kids And Dogs [an unreleased bonus track, heard on this DVD for the first time], where I put a microphone on his foot tapping to capture it as a metronome track.
MG: The first track, Music Is Love, has something like that.
SB: Yes. In this case Id have to work with source material that came in the door from another studio or unassociated session. Music Is Love is really interesting, because it was another one that wasnt supposed to happen. Henry Lewy was recording a demo session with Crosby, Nash, and Neil Young [at A&M in Los Angeles]. They were just sitting around working on a song with a room mic. Henry recorded it directly to a full-track mono machine. Then he transferred that mono track to the first track on an eight-track, one-inch Scully.
Then Neil took the tape and overdubbed vibes and bass and vocals, and Nash put on a harmony vocal. The two of them put this eight-track together after David had left. Nash brought it up to San Francisco as a completed two-track and said, Hey, heres a gift. Heres a song, your song that you developed with us, and this should be on your record. And I said to him, Well, dont you have a multitrack of this? I want to remix it. Nash was kind of put off because he thought it was finished, but I thought I could improve the mix, so he agreed to have the tapes sent up.
When I listened to the one-inch eight-track master, the first tracka transfer of the mono log tape demowas very distorted. I guess they were really pushing Henry to put the demo on the eight-track immediately, because he recorded on an obviously unaligned machine. When I listened to the original 1/4-inch mono log tape [the initial demo prior to the transfer], it was not distorted. So I decided to fly in the undistorted original tape onto the eight-track to replace what was on track 1.
I was in the middle of an attempt to wild synch that and put it on an open track on the eight-track [laughter]. I was trying to lock it in and flange it with my thumb, and it makes this sound: [makes phasing sound] whiss shooo wsss, of course. Crosby walks in and goes, What is that? [laughter] That is fuckin great! [laughter] I said to him, Im just trying to synch this up. He says, No, man, weve gotta do this! This goes on the record! So thats how the phasing got in there. I used the clean track in the beginning, brought in the phasing track to open it up, when he starts playing the opening riff, da da dada, and then the other instruments came in there.
MG: Yeah, that one note of the vibes . . .
SB: Then I had something more than one mono track to work with. Before that point in the song, I had no stereo at all. Then I just panned it open. I still get chills whenever I hear that section. It wasnt as clean a recording as Laughing, but it was so musically cool that we had to go with it.
Four hundred years into the future people will still be listening to Crosby, Nash, Stills, CSN, and CSNY. When working with talent of that caliber, one has to take great care and love in capturing and preserving their muse. I like to view all recording projects as works of art while I work on them, but of course only a few of them will endure. Davids solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name . . . . will be one of them.
MG: And it tells me how important it is to be able capture the moment, and it sounds to me like the thing that youve been able to excel at.
SB: Thats what I sell myself on, you know. I feel like these traditional approaches to recording can be applied to new-artist projects of today. Theres an increased desire by record buyers to favor artists that do capture the moment, as opposed to being force fed manufactured art radio tells them to buy. Thats why I like working with great talent combined with live tracking, because I get to delve into that serendipitous area where sometimes it works and sometimes it doesnt, and [I] try to take the best of what really happened instead of trying to manufacture it.
So this record was an aural and musical wonderlandthree months of sheer recording bliss. You know, Laughing is probably the most near perfect recording that I could hang my reputation on, I think. I was just glad I was the guy that had the opportunity to capture it and work in close proximity to such magic. I guess Im always searching to get involved in another thing like that, and it doesnt happen too often.
II. INSIDE WALLY HEIDERS
MG: Could you describe Wally Heiders Studio at the time ?
SB: The room was smaller than control rooms are today, but it had pretty much the same layout. It really was derivative of the Bill Putnam [United Western Studios] school of studio design. The console was on a little six-inch rise, with a ramp to get the machines up to the back wall. There was a speaker soffit over the window, a little couch in front of the console, a big gray rack next to the right of it for the power amplifiers, and another rack at right angles next to the console to put the small amount of outboard gear that was there.
MG: How about the console?
SB: The console was a DeMedio 24 position 8 bus with 8 meters, one for each buss or track coming back from the tape. It was really designed for eight-track work. If you wanted to check meters for level on more than eight tracks, you had to look back at the machine. A lot of people today think that console was tube, but actually, everything in the room was solid state except for a couple of Pultecs and the monitor amps.
The DeMedio was not constructed with module strips like consoles are today. It was one big plate and everything was mounted to it. No circuit boards behind the plate. The one-per-position UREI amplifier cards were in a cage accessible from the back. The linear faders werent that goodthey were Gotham Audio, I think, a dB-and-a-half per step sliders. They werent really linear faders; they were dial cords attached to sliders to a rotary stepped attenuator. Gliss faders replaced those later.
MG: That must have been a challenge for you.
SB: It was the finest audio rig I had ever worked on to that point, so its all how you look at it. If it was good enough for CSN&Y, it was good enough for me. This was what I used on American Beauty and Crosbys solo record, too.
There were four monitor speakers, ALTEC 604-E, mounted in the control room soffit. A soffit is just a big space above the window, and each speaker cabinet was made out of a single piece of plywood, the dimensions dictated by the stock size of the plywood rather than much science. We usually used only the first and fourth speakers. The 604s, when they were set up right, sounded pretty good. They had the high frequency knob right up there, and anyone could turn it and change it. Wed put a little grease pencil mark to remember where we set it [laughs]. That was it for the room eq!
MG: What about monitoring in stereo?
SB: Buses 4 and 5 were the stereo busses. There was a switch that would take those two busses and spread them out to the far speakers, 1 and 4, for monitoring, then you could do a stereo mix. The other busses could be used as pan pot sources with a lever switch located about the 6 pans. It was a little weird, but it worked. To the right toward the back of the console there was this rack that held all of the power amplifiers, and it had its own patch bay, so you could rearrange the speaker and the amp feeds. Heiders used nothing but McIntosh amplifiers, two 275s for the control room monitors and two 240s for the cues. Right next to the mixing position they had the outboard gear, and there were four of the blue-faced UREI 1176s.
Also in this rack there was a patch area dedicated for the tape returns. Sixteen of these returns had UREI 500A Passive EQs coming right off of the machine, because the EQs on the board were very limited. There was also a couple of Pultec EQs, a Altec Graphic EQ and couple of Lang EQs, but they werent that good, except for bringing up a snare. That was about it for outboard gear.
And we had no digital delays at that time [the Delta-T was introduced the following year], but we always could use tape delay and had some excellent live chamberstwo or three. I think we had an EMT, and there was like an echo central, a master patch in some room somewhere that we could assign it to the three rooms that we eventually had, and we could tell it where to send.
MG: Were you pleased with the McIntosh?
SB: Yeah, they sounded pretty good, although they could have had more power. But for the time it was loud enough.
MG: What was the material on the walls?
SB: Outside of the studio construction methods of the timemultiple layers of sheet rock and isolated wallsI think it was just straight plaster.
MG: Wood and carpet?
SB: There was carpet up to maybe chest height, and there were these square ceramic blocks that would break up high frequencies at the surface at least. Some musicians delighted in turning them around at odd angles, just to make Wally angry, and he would go around and put them back.
MG: How about the recording room?
SB: It was your regulation L.A. Heider-style combo room, about 30×40 feet with a little iso[lation] booth, where you could put an acoustic guitar or something. But Crosby didnt use it much, as he preferred everyone to be in a circleeye contact, you know. We didnt even use gobos [baffles] most of the time.
MG: Tape machines . . .
SB:_I used the 3M M56 model, which I still think to this day was one of the best-sounding 16-tracks ever made. It was compact and very reliable. I used both 3M and Ampex 440b two-tracks.
I had decided for Crosbys project that I would only use the 3Ms. Having worked with him before as an assistant on Déjà Vu, I knew how quickly things could change with this particular group of guys, and so I set up an array of machines ready to do anything: one 16-track, one eight-track, two 2-tracks, and a cassette machine for David to take home at the end of the night to his boat in Sausalito. This filled up the entire back wall of the control room, except for a tiny space for a stool for Ellen Burke, my lady at the time and assistant on all the Crosby and PERRO [Planet Earth Rock &_Roll Orchestra] sessions.
There was one 24-input microphone panel in the recording room. My microphone selection reflected Heider Recordings standard practice as a remote recording company. Although I would probably not make these mic choices today, these are the mics that I used for this project: Shure SM57 (kick, snare; guitar amps; piano [live tracking]); Sony C-37p or Neumann U-67s (overheads); AKG C-60, with omni capsules (acoustic guitars); and RCA 77DX and Neumann U-67s (vocal overdubs).