Mastering Engineer at Chicago Mastering Service Bob Weston (Shellac, Mission of Burma) discusses what made the reissues of the Jesus Lizard's Touch & Go records, Pure, Head, Goat and Liar sound better and louder.
Chad Radford: Did you have any reservations about whether or not the Jesus Lizard's records should be touched-up?
Bob Weston: Well, "no" is the simple answer. But the question is wrong. We didn't "touch them up." That implies that we took the mastered versions from the original mastering jobs and made some changes to those. Instead, we did an entirely new mastering job from scratch... Like the records had just been recorded and mixed the week before we started.
There have been major improvements in analog to digital conversion quality, and in digital audio level metering in the years since these records were first mastered. Simply playing the stereo master tapes back through modern mastering-grade analog to digital converters will immediately make the CDs sound a lot better. And then the ability to properly meter the digital audio as it is being converted allows us to take advantage of all the headroom allowed in the digital audio domain. Whereas in the past, engineers needed to be more conservative with digital audio levels in order to prevent any digital "overs" (which would cause the Master CD to be rejected by the pressing plant).
Even if we had done nothing different from the original mastering sessions in terms of processing the sound with equalization and compression, these new masters would immediately sound better and louder.
What was the process like? Did you listen to the records and eyeball sounds that needed to be made louder or brought up in the mix?
We didn't do any A/B listening with the old versions. I've heard all those records and seen the band live as much as I have with any band. And Steve [Albini] was there. He recorded and mixed the records.
We just put up the tapes and started playing things back. Steve and I would make some very minor equalization adjustments for each song, and then capture the audio into the mastering workstation. The original mixes on the stereo tapes already sound amazing. Steve and the band were happy with the mixes when they mixed the albums, and so there were no problems to fix or fires to put out. Then I'd assemble the CD and make some reference copies for Steve, the band, and Touch and Go for approval or comments.
To set the playback level (or perceived loudness), I just turn up the level of the audio until the loudest bits start hitting the maximum (0dBfs), and then use a digital peak limiter to reduce the highest peaks by 1 or 2 dB so they don't reach that 0dBfs limit. This way, we don't waste any of the available digital audio headroom like they did the first time around due to lack of metering. If the listener wants to hear the music louder or quieter, they can adjust their volume control.
The song that's streaming with this interview is "Mouth Breather" from Goat. Did you work more extensively with that or any other song to get it up to where is now?
Nope. None of the songs needed anything special. It was all there in the mixes. We did very minor broad eq changes. Nothing surgical or radical on any of the songs.
Do you have a favorite Jesus Lizard record?
My favorite was always Goat. But, on having this chance to spend a lot of time with all the records, I have come away with a new found appreciation for Down. I don't think I ever listened to that one as much as the others. It's really strong and David Sims' bass playing goes above and beyond his normal awesomeness!
Also, when working on the records I paid a lot more attention to the vocals than I ever had in the past. I think that I used to just figure it was a bunch of cool random screaming. But David's vocal parts are really integral to the music. They're perfect and nuanced to a degree that I had never appreciated before.
They are the ideal rock band.
The Jesus Lizard "Mouth Breather" mp3
(Photo by Bob Weston)
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Yes, 14 is the correct answer. I'll pass your info along to the group's manager,…
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