Interview by Steven Rosen
Bob Rock was either going to be a geologist or a musician. What else could you be with a name like Bob Rock? Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Rock set aside ice hockey for electric guitar and began playing in a series of bands. When he was 14, the family moved to Victoria in British Columbia to a town called Langford and finding himself alone and without friends, began to immerse himself in music. He heard the Rolling Stones on Ed Sullivan and that became aware of the blues. “The [Jeff] Beck ‘Truth‘ album and ‘Led Zeppelin I,'” he says by way of the type of English blues that caught his attention. “I bought those and that was it. It was a done deal for me. Luckily enough Victoria happened to have a kind of blues scene as well. So I started playing guitar in kind of a bluesy, Doorsy kind of band and played high schools and all that stuff. It was a great breeding ground for me.” He eventually coerced his parents into paying for a local recording course and would go on to work with everybody from a series of Canadian punk bands to Motley Crue, Judas Priest, Metallica and Black Veil Brides. Here he takes us through his history.UG: What happened when you moved to Victoria?BR: I formed the regular kinds of bar bands and tried to start out there. I moved to Vancouver and it wasn’t until 1976 when I heard an advertisement on the radio about a recording course in Vancouver. I asked my parents if they would pay for it.Which they obviously did.It was a six-week weekend kind of school. I’d always been interested in the sound of records and really that was the big thing for me. “All Right Now,” “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Good Vibrations” and all those songs had a sound to them. That was as interesting to me as of course guitar and of course those all have great iconic guitar sounds. I wanted to know how to do that.
What happened after you took the recording course?
When I finished school in 1972, I went to England with Paul Hyde to be a rockstar. I was really into what was happening at the time, which was the whole glam thing with David Bowie. David Bowie, Ian Hunter and the New York Dolls and that aspect before punk was also a big period. That was another huge thing for me and that of course ends up with Mick Ronson.
You worked with Mick Ronson with the Payolas?
Who ended up producing the second Payolas record [“No Stranger to Danger“]. I had a picture of Ronson on my wall as a kid. He actually asked us to produce our first record [“In a Place Like This“] and he didn’t get the information on our demos until we were actually ready to record our second record. I produced our first record and I didn’t really know what I was doing.
You really didn’t know what to do?
It was a good record but it could have been a lot better.
You must have been dreaming having Mick Ronson in the studio?
That second record Mick came in and said, “I want to produce you” and it was just like a dream come true. Working with him is really another huge point for me in terms of not just guitar sounds but guitar playing, arrangements, and pretty much producing. He was basically my muse from then forward. Really even though he’s passed away, he taught me so much about music et cetera.
In a different world, if the Payolas had found big success would you have remained with them and not become a producer?
Really since I was 11, 12, 13, I just wanted to be a guitar player in a band. Where I am today, I realize is kind of the whole thing – it’s not just a guitar player. I think I play better now at my age than I’ve ever played. I think I appreciate it. I think music is a journey and this is why I’m so blessed. I’m very happy with my guitar playing and I still love sounds and creating guitar sounds.
You have found the best of both worlds.
I’ve had a life in music and I’ve made a living and supported my family and done my whole life what I’ve always wanted to do, which is make records. Even my guitar playing as it turned out and the more I learned about guitar playing and making records, you realize that records is actually my art. My guitar playing is not so much as a flash soloist but it’s all encompassing in terms of making a record. That’s seriously what I love to do more than anything.
What did you do when you returned to Canada?
Out of the course I got a job at Little Mountain [Sound Studios] in 1976. 1976 is where I started at the bottom. That was also just before the punk era and I’d formed a band with a guy named Paul Hyde who was my school chum who I was in a band with. We both ended up in Vancouver then and really I was learning how to engineer and make records along with when the punk era happened, it gave me an opportunity to start writing songs.
When the punk thing hit, that’s when you started writing?
I was starting to figure out how to put songs together and records together. I did a lot of the punk bands in Vancouver that came out in 1977 through 1981. I recorded and produced a lot of those bands that nobody really wanted to do at that time.
You worked on projects like the Young Canadians’ “Hawaii” EP, the Subhumans and Pointed Sticks. Did you dig that kind of music and that kind of guitar playing as much as you loved Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page? LED ZEPPELIN GUITAR LESSONS
For me the difference is the punk era in Vancouver allowed me to be part of something. Whereas I’m a kid in Vancouver trying my best to learn to play like the guys I idolized, which were basically Clapton, Beck and Page. They were the guys for me and still are really to be quite honest. And [Paul] Kossoff. Those guys were the four to me. There were plenty of others but I did my best to be like them but I just wasn’t good enough.
Punk guitar playing was much easier to do than that English rock.
When punk came along, it gave me an opportunity to be me. Working on those records like the Young Canadians, et cetera, once again we were all just trying to make records and that’s where I really learned how to make records. Just to cut to a little further along, it also allowed me to start writing songs. I learned about the sonics of a record and the songs; structure and arrangements.
You really cut your teeth as a producer doing punk records?
Through that and then becoming an engineer because of the stuff I had done, a guy named Bruce Fairbairn who was a producer asked me to work on this record with him.
Which band was that?
A Canadian band called Prism. I did that record and they did quite well and then that moved on to Loverboy.
Loverboy was the second project you did?
Talking about Loverboy is I think important because that was really the album where I met musicians that were into their sound especially Paul Dean the guitar player and Scott Smith the bass player. They had particular sounds that were their identity and their sound.
What was Paul Dean’s sound?
A 50-watt Hi Watt that was actually a Canadian Hi Watt that was bought in the late ’70s, early ’80s that was modded in Toronto. It’s a very rare Hi Watt amplifier. For some odd reason the guy that imported them into Canada rewired the two channels together. They were clean amps at the time, right? They didn’t really distort so he modded them so they would all distort like Marshalls. Anyway that loss was part of Paul Dean’s sound along with this guitar he made.
Paul Dean’s tone was really the first time you became aware of guitar sounds?
He really made a huge impact on me as the sound – the sonics of a guitar. I was interested in it but he made me really focus on that being a signature. He was the first guy that really took it seriously.
What did you do before Paul Dean?
Before that it was always just whatever showed up. Whatever the guitar player brought, he could have a Fender or something and you’d put a mic in front of it and try and do your best. Paul showed me there was more to it. So that was key. The same with Scott Smith, the bass player. He had a certain and it had a certain sound so they were a big part when I did the first Loverboy album, that’s what really kind of headed me onto the path and just forever searching for great guitar sounds.
Working at Little Mountain and watching Bruce Fairbairn produce records must have had a profound influence on you.
The thing is with my relationship with Bruce, he didn’t get sounds. What ended up happening was he wanted me for the sounds I was getting. You know what I mean? Bruce’s talent was organization, arrangements, vibe and ultimately his perspective. Whereas as a team, I was the sonic guy. He put me in the studio with great people that taught me. As an engineer and a guy that learned how to make records, what you find is you work with a whole pile of people, right? I worked with so many people that came through Little Mountain and you kinda get one or two things off everyone of them and that forms who you are. Even the guys that taught me were amazing engineers but there were certain things I didn’t take from them. You know what I mean?
Your production style is really the combination of things you learned working with all those different bands?
Really it’s the wisdom you get through working with a lot of people. I’m lucky that way. Having been around so long is you learn from different people and pick up certain things. Bruce had an amazing talent for perspective and for work ethic; his organization skills and his vibe skills. Sonics he kind of threw it to me, which was great because that’s where I really learned about things. I had to, hah hah hah. I was thrown in the hot seat, which was the best thing for me. He just put there and gave me the confidence to do it.
You came from an analog background using tape. Did that have a huge influence on the productions you’d later do?
Oh yeah, there’s no question. Having made records in the late ’70s and going through the transition from Neve [recording console] and tape to various versions to digital machines through the legacy of digital recording ’til now, it’s just a great place to be. I still have great talks with people about analog versus digital. Back in the analog days, as soon as we recorded something we’d have to EQ the playback to get the sounds we were trying to keep.
Why did you do that?
Because the tape and the Neve took so many transients out of the drum and guitar sounds, we’d have to EQ right away for the loss. Only old guys would know that, right? There are so many young people who go, “Analog makes it sound warm.”
Recordings on tape do sound warm.
Well, of course it does because you lose the transients and those upper mids which are irritating and it softens it. Compression was big but the first Loverboy record there’s no compression on the whole recording. That was just balance and mixing. Maybe George [Marino, mastering engineer who passed away in 2012] when he mastered it added some compression but I didn’t mix to a buss compressor. It just wasn’t in my world, hah hah hah. I guess what I’m trying to say is and getting to in terms of digital is right now compression is such a big thing because we actually would retrain the transient.
What does that mean?
The compressor has so much more effect on the sound than it did in analog days. Because in analog days a lot of that would disappear because the couldn’t handle the information and now you can. To me if you use the right mics and Neve console and put it into ProTools, I mean it’s kind of a dream come true. It’s a less of a fight when I mix even to the point now where the way I mix is almost where I started.
You’re using vintage mixing techniques with digital recordings?
I’m manually mixing something that is 16 tracks on an analog console. It’s virtually what I do now.
Do the digital guitar and drum sounds stand up to what you did with analog back in the day?
I’ll tell you a story. I was mixing an album called “American Bang” – a band from Nashville that I did – and this is in my studio. I kind of said, “I wonder how far I’ve gone?” and this was maybe four years ago. I put on “Working for the Weekend” and compared it to the song I was mixing and sonically they were exactly the same.
Were they really?
I was stunned. Basically I’ve gone nowhere, hah hah hah. But really what came to me is that’s just how I hear music. Do you follow me? It ends up in the same place and that’s just how I hear it.
If we took a track from one of your digital records and compared it to one of your analog recordings, could you tell the difference?
Umm, that’s a tough one. I guess what I just told you is you get to the same place. OK? Listening to James‘ [Hetfield] sound soloed from the analog tape and actually where it got to be mixed, there would be a difference. OK? Because from what I described what we lost in the transients in the top end from tape, we actually had to put back in. And of course when you mix, you shape the guitar sounds to work within the mix. So basically it ends up being in the same place I believe but that’s if you record it properly.Â Â METALLICA GUITAR LESSONS
When you’re recording someone like James Hetfield – or any artist – you have to do it perfectly. Right?
It comes down to a guy that plays like James who really – like all the great guitar players – could play through a Fender amp and it would still be James. It’s the way he plays and it’s in his fingers. But having said that, he has a sound much like Paul Dean has a sound and much like all the great guitar players have a sound. It’s like it always end up kind of being there by the equipment they use and the way they play. Having gone back to analog a couple times lately just for technical reasons like Vari-speed because I had to change a track and I didn’t like using a computer. So I transferred the whole track onto tape and brought it down just slightly, which was perfect. But I loved the sound of it and it did something wonderful to the sound. There’s something to it.
When you were listening to those albums by Jeff Beck and Free, do you think you were trying to emulate those productions? Were you trying to recreate those guitar sounds in a way?
Absolutely. I’m an old guy now but the thing is that’s what I love. One of the great things about English records at the time is they didn’t have any Shure mics. They didn’t have a lot of the mics that were being used. They used AKG dynamic mics and I use those now because those are the sound. Like [Paul] Kossoff’s guitar sound is a [Neumann] 67 and an AKG D20 or D25. When you put that up against my [Marshall] Plexi with my ’59 Sunburst – I know I’m kinda bragging a bit but anyway – I’m just saying it’s close to the sound. That’s the sound I heard, OK? Then when you put it on tape, it all makes sense. It’s taken me years but now I know that’s one of the reasons.
So those amazing guitar sounds on those old English records were based on what they didn’t have?
That’s all they had, right? That’s part of the sound and the style of recording. You learn that the bottom sounds and part of the reason why it sounds so big is because it’s three mics and the brilliance of Glyn Johns and Andy Johns and their miking techniques and the way they learned. But also it’s brilliant in the way Jimmy Page made the drums so big because his guitar sounds were not big, hah hah hah.
Everybody thinks the Zeppelin guitar sounds were huge but they weren’t.
There was room there for Bonham to breathe. And the other thing of course was Bonham’s natural dynamics. He didn’t play live like he played in the studio. I talked with Joey Waronker about that because Joey plays quiet in the studio and I was going, “What’s going on?” And yet the drums just breathed like Bonham’s did. You learned that’s what Bonham did – he played lightly in the studio and he’d choke up on his sticks. He played lightly but that translated into bigger sounds.Â Â LED ZEPPELIN GUITAR LESSONS
That is a great observation.
These guys all had their thing and the brilliance is the combination of all those people and what they did. Which still just blows my mind. I was talking to my good friend about the reissue of the Led Zeppelin albums. We were both kind of going, “Oh, my god” but we’re all going, “Did they remix this? Is there a different balance going on?” ‘Cause it’s so clean and you can hear everything and it’s fantastic. It’s unbelievable. But is it different? I don’t know. So I’m still trying to figure things out.
A lot of modern metal guitarists interpret Jimmy Page’s guitar sound as huge and when they’re creating their own guitar tones they sometimes tend to overdo things with multiple rhythm parts and overdriven sounds.
Let’s look at the modern day. I actually just finished a record and I’m gonna mix it in L A starting in two weeks: the Black Veil Brides. BLACK VEIL BRIDES GUITAR LESSONS
I just spoke to Jake. Very good band.
They are a really great band. I haven’t done a lot of heavy records lately and when I met them and did preproduction, once again even at my age I learned. One, they’re incredibly talented and incredibly motivated and I think we made a great record. Now, Bob Rock the guy that has a warehouse full of vintage amps and collecting tones – realistically it’s insane and I’m so lucky – and I meet Jake and Jinxx.
What were they using for rigs?
They played through the Kempers [Profiling amplifier] and I’m going like, “Yeah, right.” So we’re doing preproduction in Mates Studios in Hollywood and we’re doing these quick demos where we just recorded in rehearsal and then we overdub. Jake starts using the guitar sound he had off the last album and we’re putting it into ProTools.
What did you think?
I’m going, “Wow, that sounds pretty good,” hah hah hah. I said, “Wow, that actually sounds really good.” Then we go into the studio and we cut drums and we basically model a new sound for Jake and Jinxx and I bought a Kemper. It’s kind of scary because we had the best amplifiers there are and we modeled them and just found a great sound. KEMPER AMP MODELER
Was it as good as if you’d used the original amps?
It’s an amazing sound but it was done through the EMI Neve with proper miking, right? Great amplifiers and great players – both of those guys are great players – and basically this model by Kemper captured it. But it sounds great.
Lots of players are using these modeling amps?
Metallica is using the Fractal thing live now. OK? Everybody’s using this stuff now. This is part of this new generation. The Black Veil Brides can afford to tour around the world and still make a living because they don’t have a huge backline. They play with the Kempers and you’re going, “That’s so weird for Bob Rock. What happened to the Marshall stacks and the vintage equipment?” It’s a new thing but the bottom line is they’re great players, great performers, great songs and it sounds amazing. I’ve got to start mixing and it sounds like stuff I did on analog.
The “Blue Murder” album you did in 1989 was important because of the guitar sounds you were creating with John Sykes.
The story of that is when the Whitesnake record [“Slip of the Tongue“] was being made in Vancouver and John was there with Mike Stone, Mike Fraser was the assistant on it who was my assistant. But he was the best at the time so he helped out on that session. They were trying to get a guitar sound for a couple weeks and they could not get a guitar sound. They tried putting John’s sounds through a PA and just tons of stuff. Mike Fraser came over and I was thinking on the Cult or something but he said, “Bob, would you come over and help us get a guitar sound?”
What did you do?
I said, “You’ve been trying. I don’t know if I’m gonna do any good.” I went over and I just did what I did. I split John’s sound with a delay and a little modulation, which I had been doing and I split his sound. I think it was a Mark IV Mesa Boogie head and the EV Celestion cabs. What I did is he had his sound through one and then I split it with a DDL and made the other cab using that as a slave with a slight modulation. I just put up flat mics in the balance and miked it and he went, “Oh, my god. That’s it.”
It was amazing you got a sound when Mike Fraser and Mike Stone couldn’t.
Once again it was his sound and just knowing what not to do. Now Mike Stone was a genius and one of my idols because of the Queen and Journey stuff he did. But he at that point, whatever he was doing just didn’t [work]. Maybe they just got into a place where they were over thinking it or whatever. I just put up a [Sennheiser] 421, a [Shure] 57 and an [Neumann] 87 on both cabs and the sound was there.
You really did have your signature guitar sound by this time.
That’s the amp and it’s John Sykes who is not just a great player but he’s phenomenal. He still blows me away. I saw him last year. Just unbelievable. The power in his playing is just ridiculous. It’s a combination of that so that was the beginning of our friendship and when he did “Blue Murder” he said, “Will you do it?” Basically we ended up doing that record based on that same sound and that’s just him doubled with a great sound.
When you were asked to do what would become the “Dr. Feelgood” album in 1989, did you know who Motley Crue were as musicians?
I didn’t know where they were as musicians. Not at all. But what happened was I was aware of Motley because being a New York Dolls fan, I’ve always been a fan of that aspect of live music. So I knew who they were and they’d be in the rock clubs sometimes. This is earlier on and then of course they started to have hits so I was aware of them. I heard them and said, “Yeah, it’s OK.” But really what it came down to is I met them.
Meeting Motley changed your mind?
Usually that always seals the deal with me. I met Tommy and Nikki were just such these guys who were electric, vibrant people. Mick was a guy I could see had a real great base but was nervous. The thing is, I got Motley sober. I didn’t get them when they were using. I got them sober where they had burned a lot of bridges and they had to make a great record. So they were sober and focused, right?
Was that a challenge?
It took two weeks of playing guitar overdubs for Mars to learn to play with the drums. His hands were shaking and he was so on top of it but through working with him, he got back into the groove and ended up playing amazing with a lot of work.
What was it like working with Nikki Sixx sober?
Nikki Sixx can’t remember playing bass on most of the records before then. He played it but he doesn’t know if it was used and he said, “I’m not a very good bass player, Bob.” He said that the first day and of course I laughed. But I spent the time with him and we worked on him playing. So he played every note on “Dr. Feelgood” and has done since.
It was just a lot of work and going over and over the music?
I spent the time with them but we were all sober and we were all just trying to be good. The guy that pushed me and the difference in sonic things was the drums with Tommy because he was so into other kinds of music. So he kept pushing me to make the bottom big and tight and stuff.
How did the intro to “Dr. Feelgood” happen?
We came up with a way to make the intro to “Dr. Feelgood” itself, which basically got me the job with Metallica. That sound was just a lot of work and him pushing me and me pushing him and trying to find a way to get him what he wanted. You don’t know where it comes from.
Where did it come from?
With technology we could de-tune with samples that we put in with the AMS delay so there’s a lot of that on the kickdrum, which makes the sound. I’ll tell you a funny story if you have the time?
The Payolas regrouped and played with John Fogerty for 10 days about five or six years ago. We had fun opening for John Fogerty. He came over and he loved my guitar sound and said, “Hi, Bob.” I was using my Divided by 13, which a lot of guys weren’t using but I had one and an AC30 and he loved that sound. The last day his brother Bob who was the production manager says, “John would like to see you” and I said, “OK.” Kenny Aronoff and Billy Burnette [members of Fogerty’s band] said, “The only guy that’s ever gone back to see John after a show is Paul McCartney.” They said, “We can’t believe you got to see him.”
You go back to Fogerty’s dressing room?
I go back to see him and he introduces me to his wife. Then the first thing out of his mouth: “How did you get that kickdrum sound on ‘Dr. Feelgood?'” I’m going, “What? That’s the question he asks me?” I’m going like, “I can’t even imagine him listening to a Motley Crue record.”
But see, Fogerty got it too. And that is a love of the sound of records and how to make better records. That’s the first question he asked me.
When you recorded the intro to “Dr. Feelgood,” did you have any sense of how special it was?
I had no idea. I thought it was cool-sounding and we were all going, “This is f–kin’ cool,” hah hah hah. It’s the same with Metallica – you never know when you make a record and nobody has the foresight to be able to say, “Yeah, this is gonna be big.”
Has that ever happened to you?
Probably the one and only song that I knew was special that was probably gonna be a hit in my whole career was “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Only because when you listened to “Livin’ on a Prayer” and when Bruce Fairbairn and I mixed it and had it on the big speakers at Little Mountain, it was kind of godlike. It was like you would just get shivers. Of course I’ve had that many times but we knew people were gonna like that song. That’s about the only one in my career.
Is it true Lars Ulrich heard the intro to “Dr. Feelgood” and that’s what landed you the gig with Metallica?
I think they liked the size and the weight of Motley and that intro and the sound of the record. But Lars as I found out was also interested in some of the other stuff I had done. He was a big fan of the “Sonic Temple” album [the Cult] and a big fan of the Electric Boys that I did who were from Denmark. So he was aware of me and of course Kingdom Come.
What did you think when they asked you to produce the Metallica album?
They originally asked me to mix the record but I said I just wasn’t interested in mixing it but I said I’d produce it with him.
What did they say?
Of course they were going, “The nerve of this guy to say that” and then they came up to see me. We started talking and it ended up happening.
Why did you specifically want to produce Metallica?
For me I wanted to do it because the Cult were warming up on the “Justice…” tour for Metallica. I had bought the “Justice…” album. I remember listening to it and going, “There’s no bottom; there’s no power. I just saw Metallica and they’re so weighty and huge but this record is kind of small.” I didn’t get it.
You thought you could improve on the sound on “â€¦And Justice for All?”
I had confidence I could make something that was more like them live, which is weight – which is “The Black Album.” That has weight to it and it has size and a kind of girth. Which is the sound of those guys to me.
You recorded the Metallica album at One on One Studios in North Hollywood rather than Little Mountain back in Vancouver. Why?
Well we actually did some overdubs at Little Mountain. But really the thought was they were going to be displaced from their homes to do it in LA and they thought it was good to displace me as well so all we had to do was the record. Actually with the Black Veil Brides, I got them up to Vancouver to get them out of LA. So all we had to do was the album. I was in Maui so I was in Vancouver and we were displaced and it’s kind of a great way to kind of just concentrate on the work, which is what we need.
There were no distractions and it was a different environment?
It was smart of Metallica to do that and of course I was excited after hearing the songs. When I heard the songs and they played me the demos, I knew I could do it.
That was when you really felt confident?
Oh, yeah. I went, “I know how to make this sound great.”
Was the band open to your suggestion of Michael Kamen coming in and doing string arrangements for “Nothing Else Matters?”
They were not open to it. They immediately said no. But the amazing thing about those guys is they think about things and go, “Well, we decided to go with what Bob says and try it.” So they allowed me to get Michael Kamen to write an arrangement and record it at Abbey Road with 80 string players. And basically as it sits on the record, I might as well have used a Solina [vintage polphyonic synth] or something. The funny this is then they came to realize the beauty in it hence the “S&M” album. Right?
After Metallica heard the orchestra on “Nothing Else Matters,” they were pushed to record with an entire orchestra?
It’s all just a learned process and that was some of the best times with Metallica. I heard on “The Black Album” some overdubs I said we needed that would just sound stupid. I forget what they are but a couple things I wish I could take back. But overall it did OK and people liked it.
Ultimately who has the final veto power during a recording – you or the band?
Being a musician and having so many experiences, ultimately I’m there to make the record the band wants. That is my goal. Every record I’ve made regardless of what they say in the press or changed their minds or whatever, when they left the building with their record with me, they loved it as much as I did. Because of reactions and all sorts of other things they may change their mind but when we’re all in the same room and we all go, “This is the best we can be,” that’s what I do. It’s always a combination of the people in the room. The best records I made with Metallica are because they were at their best and I was at my best.
Even with a big name producer like Bob Rock, an album has to be a collaboration?
The same with Motley – it’s a moment in time when everything comes together. I think the Black Veil Brides record I made with them is a combination of being the right time for me to make a record like that and I was lucky I met those guys at the time when they were ready for what I could help them with. Right? That’s the combination. It doesn’t always work but it feels really good and ultimately you see what happens.
There is always that unknown element you can’t control?
That’s what making records is about. The other aspect of it is when I played in the bars in Victoria, we used to play “Gloria,” which is a song I think every band has played.
Every bar band in the world has played “Gloria.”
For the past three months, I’ve been working with Van Morrison. He wrote “Gloria.”
When he was with Them.
He’s phenomenal. This guy wrote “Gloria” for godsakes, hah hah hah. And that’s while I’m working on Black Veil Brides. It’s not about being a heavy metal or a commercial pop producer. It’s about music, songs, sounds, sonics and making records. I can make a Van Morrison record and I can make a Black Veil Brides record or a Metallica record or a Michael Buble record. It’s about songs and how it makes you feel and how it sounds.
What was that like working with Michael Buble?
Once again it was interesting coming from where I came from. My manager Bruce Allen manages Michael. Michael was working and Bruce said he didn’t like this song Michael had wrote and he says, “Do you wanna cut it?” because Bruce knew I could do it. So I went in and cut “Everything” and it was the easiest thing in the world to cut and it became a hit for Michael. So when “Crazy Love” came around Michael said, “Would you do some more?” and I said, “Sure.” It’s really about the songs and he liked what I did in terms of the song and making a record.
Which goes back to your comment about making an album the artist wants.
Which is why it’s easy. Instead of James’ guitar sound, I’ve got 12 horn players. It serves the same purpose and that’s what I mean. The problem I guess in my world has always been the perspective of me is they think I’m one person. The people that really listen would know its really about the record and there you go.
You’re saying you’re capable of recording any kind of music?
Michael doesn’t care that I do Metallica. He thinks it’s kind of cool but I do what Michael wants on his record and that’s why I work with him. Part of the stuff I learned with Metallica comes into a Michael Buble record. I mix his kind of music aggressively where most people that do that kind of music don’t mix like that.
Michael likes that?
He likes that. He likes the energy because he’s a young guy and he sees what he does as legitimate and as contemporary as anybody.
You’ve mentioned Van Morrison and Michael Buble – what is it that ultimately attracts you to an artist?
A couple of things is in the business today it is so much about what you do. I’m lucky I still work.
You’re kidding, right?
No, I’m not kidding. Because of how people perceive things, they want to know if you can work with them and can we make a good record? I think a lot of the guys I’ve worked with through the years, a lot of them don’t do work anymore and they’re talented people. The whole musical scene is different now than it was. It’s very different. Really how you work is based on your work. I don’t really go looking for it. It comes and it comes because of the work that I do and what I have done. Right?
Your resume is pretty insane.
I still like making records. I could stop making records but why? It’s what I love and it’s my art and that’s what I do. In this day and age you want to make sure the artist makes a record where they can make a living and I can make a living. It’s a job. It’s a career. It’s a life. That’s what I would say. Guys have successes and failures and they still do it because they love doing it and I think the best artists are the same. If you’re just doing it for the money, that’s a different perspective than if you’re doing it because you write songs and you love making records.
Certainly the other huge record you worked on was Bon Jovi’s “Keep the Faith” album in 1992. How did you come to work on that one?
Basically they came to Bruce and I because of “Loverboy” and the “Honeymoon Suite” album. They liked the sound of ’em. They went, “These guys are different” and they liked the sound particularly of the “Honeymoon Suite” record Bruce and I did, which I did mix. They liked the sound of it and I was Bruce’s engineer. Actually Bruce Fairbairn asked me and said, “I can do this Canadian band” and I forget the name of the Canadian band but they did quite well. He says, “We can either do this record or we can do Bon Jovi.” I said, “We’ve gotta do Bon Jovi ’cause they’re on the cover of Circus.” And he goes, “Really?” and I said, “Yeah, we gotta do it.” So he got a band that were ready.
You mentioned earlier that the Black Veil Brides were ready.
They were driven. They were this gang from New Jersey that shot up to Vancouver and we made a great record because they were ready and we were ready. It was six weeks record and mix and it was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had making a record.
Was it really?
Oh yeah, it was phenomenal. Great music, great people and so much fun. Easy to record. Great players, great equipment. Yeah, it was amazing.
What was it like working with Richie Sambora?
Richie is a very good friend of mine and we’re very close and continue to be. Remember on the “Slippery…” and “Loverboy” records, that’s one track of guitar. Right? It’s not doubled. The “Slippery When Wet” album is one guitar and the same with “Loverboy.” Just off-center to the left and keyboards on the right. Both of those albums that is the center point and Richie did one guitar track. Most of the solos are one take. A couple of them, I can still hear the punches I did. What’s so amazing about Richie is he actually plays the punches, hah hah hah. He plays the nuance of the punch that I hear to this day.
Huge guitar sound for just one track.
That’s the thing – one guitar much like Eddie Van Halen – can sound like the biggest thing in the world in the right hands and in the right perspective. Richie is very underrated because he is a guy that plays for the record and song. OK? It isn’t about Richie’s playing but he’s always there and he’s an amazing player.
You’ve worked with the Offspring in the past and you’re now working on their new album. This is kind of a throwback to your punk days?
Absolutely. Dexter and I and the band just get together and do it. I love it. There’s definitely roots there but it’s interesting because Southern California punk as you well know is different from Vancouver punk, hah hah hah. And we laugh about all that stuff. In any kind of music scene, there’s pockets and different cities have different sounds. It’s amazing you actually know about “Hawaii,” which was an amazing song and it really actually sounds kinda good.
What kind of gear were you using back then on those early punk recordings?
That’s a 16-track “Scully” and that is just a mix done in a couple hours on the Neve manually. That stands up pretty good.
Finally, the aliens land and find the Bob Rock greatest hits album. What three songs are on there?
That’s a really tough question. Probably the ones that define me in the world of success are the “Dr. Feelgood,” “Sonic Temple” and the Metallica’s “Black Album.” Those are the three records that to the outside world define me. I think all the records I’ve named define me as the person I am and the producer I still strive to be. I still try to make great records. They’ll probably see a note that says, “I’m still trying,” hah hah hah.
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