is what I wanted to tell myself on this round… the third installment of our continuing saga of re-creating the band X’s finest recordings and bringing them back to home to their fans on 180 gram vinyl.
Of course just when you think that you have a handle on something, you realize that leaves room for something unexpected to happen somewhere else. As much as I try to think of everything and calculate for any and all outcomes, it never fails, something else requires love and attention.
The first two X re-issues “Wild Gift and “Under the Big Black Sun” for our label Porterhouse Prime Vinyl gave us some serious lessons about cutting from original master tapes back to vinyl and the ideal re-mastering process.
Lesson learned… if at all possible forgo digital capture from the source tape and cut straight to the lathe. While it’s a more expensive process, the results are of course truer to the original because that’s how it was done back then. If you need to pull this off you have to work with someone who knows what that path was and how to either re-create it or fake it. Please don’t think that by faking it I mean fooling the listener or performing a sonic short sale. What I mean is to be able to approximate the conditions that a record was created under 30 years ago, and then cutting a laquer (which we then create the pressing plate from) that will meet or beat the original signal path and sonic reproduction.
This time around we had to actually bake the master tapes to bring them back to a playable state. The reason being is that after magnetic audio tape sits on a shelf somewhere for 30 years it can absorb moisture (which makes it stick to the playback machines heads) or the actual tape itself can begin to shed off the backing and cover the tape machines heads making playback impossible. I have seen this happen on numerous occasions and there are few things more sickening than to see than a master tape with your performance on it actually shedding off onto the heads of the playback machine in goopy brown chunks.
Once the tapes had been baked we worked with Dave Cheppa from Better Quality Sound here in Los Angeles. We were able to go straight to the cutting lathe from the original 1/4” masters from the Warner Bros. vault and in the process bested the original album pressing in spades. In fact when you play our cut against the original “More Fun in the New World” pressing there is no doubt which cut is superior… ya it’s ours!
But just as we seem to have gotten that portion of production under control we were been bitten by the artwork beast. Perhaps lulled into a false sense of security by the starkness of the “Under the Big Black Sun” cover art or Exene’s home spun myriad that is “Wild Gift”, “More Fun in the New World” presented challenges that I had not foreseen.
Obviously intended to parallel the albums title, the “More Fun” cover art is bright, busy and somewhat chaotic. In question too, are the images of the band members on the back cover of the jacket. The selection of which, I never clearly understood. While they reflect movement and action, their lack of focus (literally) and the graininess of the original photos has always left something to be desired in my humble opinion. Combine that with the blockish copy in bold green and orange on the back cover and you have a recipe for “how the hell do we get this to look right?”
As I may have mentioned before in a past chapter, the original artwork and film for these records has been lost or destroyed so we have to scan the best original we can find and rebuild from there. It’s a mighty task when confronted by a record such as this. In the end we cut one color corrected version of the front cover and paired it with a different corrected version of the back cover. Even that was not close enough to the original and final tweaks were necessary on the printing press itself in order to achieve what was finally an acceptable re-creation. Printing the final product on matte stock per the original was a final touch that really brings back the look and feel of the first generation product.
The inner sleeve/lyric sheet also presented significant challenges. Originally printed on 70 lb. stock, the sleeves had a more delicate feel to the touch. However finding a press that can handle that 70 lb. stock in the year 2010 is impossible and so problematic, that it makes it financial impossible to re-create. This lighter stock jams in today’s modern printing machines and wreaks havoc. Forced to use 100 lb. gloss stock we took solace in the fact that the printing job looks sharp and the lyrics and liner notes are extremely legible.
So while we moved with more agility on one end of production this time around, we were forced to rethink parts of the process that seemed obvious on other releases. The bottom line is we have done everything we can to make these records as true or better to the originals… originals that we are still celebrating 30 years later.