I had two parties one night that couldn't have been further apart in the music spectrum. The first was for a heavy metal band, and the second was hosted by a woman who works at a jazz station. I went to the metal party first. It started early, since they were recording three songs at Signature Sounds on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. This is where U2 worked when they were in town, and the studio has a platinum record on the wall from the Irish band.
As I walked down the hall of the studio, I laughed when I saw a sign that said "Quiet, recording" handwritten and taped to one door. I thought that was stating the obvious. Besides, I assumed these studios were all soundproof, so unless a bomb went off in the hallway, it wouldn't be picked up on a recording.
When I asked guitarist Mark Evans about the sign, he said, "Oh, Switchfoot is working in there right now." They're a San Diego band that has gotten popular nationally. I was at a Tower Records in La Jolla when a thousand fans showed up for their CD signing. I wondered -- if word got out that they were here, would fans be waiting in the parking lot?
The party was wrapping up as I arrived. I had seen the band, Kicking Kate, a year earlier at a military party in P.B. I was glad I remembered the singer, Frank Valenti, doing great covers of Van Halen songs. It's embarrassing when you forget somebody, especially when you watched their band play for an hour. And that's what happened when the guitarist mentioned playing the national anthem. I didn't remember, and he said, "How can you not remember? You wrote about how moving it was." Oh.
I asked about the name of the band, Kicking Kate. The band (who was without their drummer Bill, who was in Chicago on business) all started talking at once. Mark said, "It's like those signs you put on someone's back when you were in school. They say, 'kick me,' and you tape it on without the person knowing." I asked who Kate was and didn't get an answer. Frank said, "At first, I liked the name 'Bent' for our band. But 'Kicking Kate' is cool. 'Kicking' can mean so many different things. If you are hanging out, people say, 'We're just kicking it.' And someone might be trying to kick a heroin habit. It has so many meanings."
A studio isn't the best place for a party. The friends, fans, and groupies all want to talk and party. The band wants to lay down their tracks, mix songs, and talk with their producer. I talked to one guy who was leaving, and he said, "Yeah, the party was cool. The guys didn't cut loose like they normally do. We heard the three songs they recorded about a thousand times. They will always be in the hemisphere of my brain now. Just like 'The Piña Colada Song.' " I thought about how, in Mick Fleetwood's book, he mentions the band spent a million dollars on drugs and booze recording one album, just on the parties in the studio. All I saw around here was a few cans of beer and soda.
When the band played their cover of the Beatles' "Come Together," I looked at Mark's wife on the couch. She looked tired but smiled. I said, "How many times have you been forced to hear this?" She said, "A lot!"
I told them the song sounded like Aerosmith (who also covered "Come Together") meets Pantera. Frank raised his fist and was thrilled I said that. Pantera was one of his favorite bands, along with Tool and Metallica.
I asked what they had to do to get the rights for the song. Mark said, "It was $42 because of the length of the song. We had to pay the standard rate, which is 84 cents a minute. Since we are only doing 500 pressings of this CD, it wasn't that expensive."
Frank added, "We were doing three songs, so we thought we'd do a cover. I like the fact that the lyrics don't mean anything. And we wanted to really punch it up. The Aerosmith version sounds just like the Beatles. We didn't want that. On the ballad we do, called 'I'll Do Anything,' I didn't want a slow song at first. They talked me into it and I realized that could work. It was our pop song." He went into an elaborate explanation of the song and the lyrics, making fun of the fans who like those poppier-sounding tunes.
The last song they recorded was "In the Dark." I asked Frank if he had heard the Billy Squier song of the same name. He hadn't.
People were leaving the party, so the band had to give hugs and shake hands as I peeked around the studio. Producer Joe Marlett was showing me how the console works (which I knew a little about from my days in radio). Mark yelled, "We call him Joe Jitsu because he moves his hands so fast over that thing, like it's a martial art."
Mark told me Joe had worked with a lot of big-name bands, but Joe didn't want to get into that, though when he overheard me talking about Nirvana, he told me he was in the studio with Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic when they mixed the last new song by Nirvana.
I Googled Joe's name the next day and saw that not only has he worked with San Diego artists blink-182, A.J. Croce, Switchfoot, and Jewel, he's also worked with acts as big (and diverse) as Korn, Seal, Destiny's Child, and the Foo Fighters.
Frank is this good-looking, muscular, dark-skinned guy with a shaved head and devilish eyebrows. I said, "For a heavy metal singer, it's refreshing to see your arms aren't covered with tattoos." He laughed and said, "It's strange, because my stepmom in New York, she's one of the top ten tattoo artists in the U.S, and she did a tattoo for Scott Ian, the singer of the metal band Anthrax. She always said if I want a tattoo, go to her. One time, I wanted this Pantera album tattooed on my back. She said, 'Come back in a year. If you still want it, I'll do it for free.' The next year, I wanted something around my arm instead. Again she said, 'Come back in a year, and if you still want it, we'll do it.' I realized that having a tattoo is permanent. I wouldn't have regretted having the tattoos because they would show what I was into at that time in my life. But having ink done might not be something you want years later. I still don't have a single tattoo."