Monday, June 22, 2015

LA History: Big Sir

Lisa Papineau was good friends with my then-girlfriend Anne Kadrovich. In 1999, Lisa and bass legend Juan Alderete asked me to do some recording with them for their new project, after being left high and dry by a previous partner.

Lisa was well-known in the music scene at the time, and had sung with several other bands I knew and on several records. I mostly knew her through Pet, the band she was in with Tyler Bates. Pet was the first band on Tori Amos' label, but was in a bit of a tough stretch when I encountered them.

Juan was also well-known, though I had also most recently seen him playing bass live with Pet.

Big Sir, May 20, 1999. Juan Alderete and Lisa Papineau

I leapt at the opportunity. I had already learned the most important part of making good records was to start with good musicians, and Lisa and Juan were the best of the best.

They showed up at the garage, Juan with his bass, and Lisa with a Casio keyboard, which provided the basic sounds and drums. We tracked the drums straight out of the Casio. I had suggested using other sounds or loops, or beefing up the Casio sounds, but Lisa and Juan would have none of it. That's the sound they wanted. Nothing else.

Lisa also brought a special borrowed microphone that probably cost more than my car. It came in a little suitcase. It was worth it, for her beautiful, magical voice. Juan plugged his bass into a DI and went more or less straight to tape.

After the basic tracks, I had all kinds of ideas for how to enhance or improve them, generally involving synthesizers, weird effects, drum replacement, too much reverb, or all of the above. The band was reluctant to adopt most of my suggestions, and I was too young and green to handle it well.

Wasn't I supposed to, you know, DO something to make it sound good? I added what I could, and wished I could add more. I was worried they wouldn't like the results, because as great as they were, the plain Casio backing just didn't seem to work well enough. Distinctive? Maybe. But not great.

I briefly rehearsed with them a bit for their live band, too. But my temperament (and perhaps creativity) was a poor fit at the time, and we parted ways in a rather contentious fashion (pretty much all my fault, and we set things straight later...but I still feel like I fucked up real good).

Big Sir ended up finishing the record with L.A. fixture Mickey Petralia. This was a smart move, because Mickey had credibility, connections, and a similar vibe. The album was released to great critical acclaim.  This time, I was well-credited...even if I was a little miffed that much of Mickey's work seemed to be the exact same things I had wanted to do.

As for me, I went on to join Widget with the other two members of Lisa's old band PET, Tyler Bates and Alex Locascio.

I remain proud to have been a part of Big Sir. It was a treat to work with such great artists. Big Sir has continued to make records, even as Lisa and Juan have pursued their own projects.

This is my rough mix of a track that made the first record. I prefer my mix to the released version, but as it is a rough, it is flawed, and unfortunately diminishes the band's character in favor of my production aesthetic and studio limitations of that era.

Here's Big Sir's video for "Nonstop Drummer", directed by Brad Kluck:

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