Pinkertoneither was or wasn’t exactly what it was supposed to be, depending on who you ask and when you ask them. That’s one of the key parts of the album’s shtick; this was an unsettling album to make, release, and listen to. Just ask Joe Barresi, one of the main studio engineers who worked on the album both when it wasSongs From The Black HoleandPinkertonand being recorded both at Electric Lady Studios in New York,Fort Apache in Boston, andlater at Sound City Studios out in LA.
“The whole process was crazy dude, beginning to end.” It’s late afternoon on a Monday and Joe is taking a break from a circus of various projects he’s working on in his studio in LA. “We went into [Electric Lady] to record this album and I was thinking we were making a logical follow up toThe Blue Album….I had no idea what I was in for.The Blue Albumhad been so polished and precise, but this album took on a life of its own.”
Despite the added difficulty, it was working. Well, for the most part. Recording the album was a bit of a roller coaster ride from a schedule perspective with Rivers enrolled in Harvard and most of the rest of the band working on solo projects, but that wasn’t the only thing making things tense. This was also the first album Rivers had written on his own and it wasn’t going over all that well. That, combined with the burgeoning popularity of said side projects and the farm to table recording methods, made the studio a pretty tense spot but the sound they were look for was definitely coming together.
“We discussed not using headphones and going for a more live feel than the previous record, so I used the headphone mixers to drive some floor wedges/monitors and that allowed the band to hear each other better. Other than that, it was 4 guys in the room playing together through a bunch of takes of the songs. Then I’d sit and edit the various takes together into the song. The sound in the room was massive because it was all bleed — 2 half stack amps and a bass rig all on stun in the same room with the drums. The wedges bleeding into the room didn’t help either….the only way I could make it work was to add more dirt and distortion to glue it all together, so the sound of the room mics became a big feature. This also was a challenge when it was decided to change a note —-it was easy enough to punch the new note in but since it was recorded live that meant that old wrong note would be in the room sounds as well—-sampling the room and pitch shifting it and flying it back to tape was the only solution.As far as recording the vocals goes, it was three guys standing in a triangle singing together—if one guy messed up then I had to punch all three in because the offending note would be in the other two mics….quite a challenge, but ultimately a cool way to work, and so different than today when all a singer does is mouth words that can be fixed later—-these guys had to try and get it right the first time.”
It was worth the effort though as we now know, and all of that work led to one of the most important albums from the 90’s. “It was an honor to be on the project, and it was one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever been a part of. I mean it’s crazy man. Think about it. We were working on the birth of emo rock and we had no fucking idea. That’s so wild to me.”