the billie joe and mike of green day guitar center interview

Few musicians can claim a successful career that spans thirty years—let alone such a career that involves just one band. But that’s exactly the type of career Green Day’s singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong and bassist Mike Dirnt have meticulously crafted . They’ve spent all thirty of those years not only playing music alongside each other, but they’ve transformed their small Berkeley-based punk band into full-blown rock royalty, with 11 studio albums under their belt and 65 million records sold worldwide.

     “I first wanted to play guitar when I was really young, but my hands were too small. I was like 5,” says Armstrong, spending the afternoon with Dirnt at Guitar Center Pico & Westwood in West Los Angeles. “But then I started taking guitar lessons from a guy named George Cole when I was 8.” Dirnt chimes in with his introduction to the world of music, “My mom’s roommate played guitar, and he used to let me play it—as long as I took my belt buckle off,” he laughs. “That was kind of it. When you’re a little kid, I can’t think of anything cooler than a guitar.”

Even with their long and rich history, Armstrong and Dirnt can recall their earliest collaborations. “When Mike and I first started playing together. we were in this band where everyone was playing guitar—there was about four or five guitars players—and we were all trying to play ‘Purple Haze,'” Armstrong says. “So Mike and I kind of split away from that around 7th grade, and we learned three songs together. We had a big variety of tastes—everything from heavy metal to punk rock when it first started coming up, to very basic stuff that was on MTV or the radio.”

Though Green Day sells out entire stadiums today, the band started like any other up-and-comer, playing small clubs, backyards and even basements to gain fans. “The hardest part was just trying to get a qiq,” says Armstrong. “One of the first times we jumped on the bill was at a party in San Francisco.” Dirnt takes over. “Yeah, we played on the top floor of somebody’s place, between this tiny living room and the bathroom. I mean you’re talking about 22 people standing in a room that only holds 11—but it was such a good time. you know? Just add beer.” he laughs.

Green Day would go on to sign with Reprise Records in 1994, and has been with them ever since. The two reflect on their decision to join a major label. “When we started out, we didn’t know the kind of music we were playing could become popular,” says Armstrong. “And then Nirvana came along, and it seemed like there was this small window where we thought it seemed like a good time to do it. I mean, we just wanted to be able to play forever,” he laughs. Dirnt adds, “We were at a place where we were selling more tickets to shows than the clubs could handle, so we really had to make a choice,”—Armstrong interrupts. “We were selling more tickets than we were selling records. There were a few naysayers that felt like maybe we were gonna get burned or something by a major label, but it’s been nothing but good—I can’t think of a bad record or even a bad situation that we’ve ever truly been in.”

Immediately upon signing, Green Day headed into the studio to record their breakthrough album Dookie. “We were just so excited to hear our stuff recorded really well—and not have to knock it out really quick in the same room without any isolation of any instruments,” Dirnt says of the recording process. Armstrong adds, “Our first record cost $600. our second $1,200. This time, we actually had a good budget, and we were like. ‘This record rules, and it’s better than anything on the radio.’ But we didn’t know if everyone else was gonna agree with us,” he laughs.

Key to the success of Dookie, and an undeniable part of the band’s sound since, is producer Rob Cavallo, who also worked with them on Insomniac, Nimrod, American Idiot and their upcoming triple release, ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré!. Says Armstrong. “When we first presented him with the idea of doing three albums, I think he thought we were crazy. But then when he came into the studio, heard us rehearsing, and saw the set list for the three different sequences we were working on, I think he was like, ‘This is awesome. This is gonna happen, and it’s something that’s never been done before.'” Dirnt adds, “Rob’s great at helping us with recording techniques, getting good guitar sounds—he’s a great translator, able to go from what we’re going for to the technical aspects of laying it down.”

At this stage in their career, Green Day can afford countless studio hours writing and perfecting new material, but the band still prefers to have everything well thought out and prepared beforehand.” Says Armstrong, “You can’t create a whole chapter of your life inside a studio within a two-month period. I think it’s important to keep documenting things within those couple of years leading up to making the record.” Dirnt continues, “If you want, you can be 90% ready and then leave 10% up to spontaneity and fun—that’s great. But otherwise, it’s just mailing it in—and being haphazard about it.”

And, when it comes to writing and preparing material, they’re quick to clarify it’s a collaborative effort. Says Dirnt, “Billie writes the majority of the stuff, but at the end of the day, we all know how to structure songs, write songs, write melodies and put everything together.” Armstrong adds, “I usually come in with a skeleton of a song, but the more we rehearse, the more the song evolves, and everyone starts adding.” He continues, “For example, with ‘Kill the DJ,’ Mike said, ‘Why don’t we try something more four-on-the-floor, a cross between Blondie and Gang of Four?’ So, I came in with a riff and a melody, and Mike and Tré jumped all over it.”

Most bassists can attest the spotlight is typically reserved for lead singers and guitarists . Dirnt has this to offer about his role as Green Day’s bassist, “It’s the same role as everybody else in the band,” he says. “If everyone’s doing their part right, the song will sound appropriate. Sometimes you have to step out and be on Broadway and carry the song—other times you have to sit back, It’s about finding what the song is calling for.”

With decades spent on the road and in and out of studio , Dirnt has had a lot of time to perfect and hone his signature bass tone—an iconic part of Green Day’s sound. “It just kind of happened,” he says, “Number one, I play with a pick, and I play with a lot of power, so I think that punches it up a little bit. Beyond that, I think over the years I’ve had to cut through some pretty big guitars, and that helps formulate me finding my spot. And then, it’s just a matter of me playing peak-a-boo with certain parts of the song,” he laughs. Armstrong adds, “I think with the new material, the bass comes across a lot more. [¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré!] has a cleaner kind of guitar sound—we’re using more vintage amps like early ’70s Marshalls, Vox, stuff like that—and Mlke’s bass lines are able to cut in and really compliment the melody of the song.” Dirnt chimes in, “There’s some songs on the new record where I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a rhythm guitar being played—because it sounds so full with just one bass.”

As far as recording a triple release, the duo say it was a natural progression of events. “We originally went into the rehearsal studio with a handful of power pop songs,” says Dirnt. “But we kept our noses down and kept writing, and when we got to around 30 songs, we realized there were three different elements going on. ¡Uno! is more like classic Green Day. ¡Dos! is more garage rock—a little dirtier, like you’re in the middle of the party, and ¡Tré! has this more self-reflecting, epic nature to the songs. Once we saw that each of the three records would have their own personalities, it just kind of made sense.”

With ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré! being Green Day’s 9th, 10th and 11th albums, Armstrong and Dirnt definitely have seen how advances in technology influence the way albums are recorded and bands are made. “The quality of recording at home is so much faster and so much more usable today—so much cheaper, too. And for me, I think when you hear a good band, everything truly goes back to what the kids are doing in the garage, or in their bedrooms—just trying to get that gig. That’s the way 1look at it.” Dirnt adds, “It’s never been cheaper—guitars are so cheap now. I remember when I bought my first Squier Strat. It was like 350 bucks. For $350 now you can get a Fender especially on a good sale.” Dirnt laughs. Armstrong has also once again teamed up with Gibson for his new double cutaway signature Les Paul Junior. “We wanted to do something a little different, so this one’s based on a 1960 model—the neck is thinner and it’s finished in TV yellow. No tricks or anything like that—just plug it in, turn it up, and start rocking out.”

As seasoned musicians with three decades of experience. Armstrong and Dirnt still know the struggle of picking out the perfect guitar. Their advice is simple, “Plug into everything there,” says Dirnt. “People say, ‘I don’t know what I want.’ Well, go plug into everything—and for that matter, actually turn the knobs and see what they do,” he laughs. Armstrong adds, “Don’t be afraid of the instrument—control the instrument. Don’t let it control you. Strum hard. Turn the volume up as loud as you can. Do your Pete Townshend windmills. Don’t walk on eggshells around the instrument—break the thing in—that’s what a guitar or bass wants.”

Source | At: Guitar Center, September 2012

the lords of sound | guitar center interview with the lord-alge brothers

Producers and recording engineers get much praise for how a record sounds, but much of that credit should really go to mixing engineers, who transform raw performances into the polished final product.

Two mixing engineers in particular – the brothers Chris and Tom Lord-Alge — deserve much praise for crafting the sound of hundreds of influential and chart-topping records over the last quarter century. Between the two of them, they mix an average of 70 records a year (that’s more than one a week) for everyone from pop stars like Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brother and Pink to perennial legends like Santana, Tina Turner and Steve Winwood to today’s biggest bands like Green Day the Dave Matthews Band and U2.

The Lord-Alge brothers have remained some of the music industry’s most sought-after mixers for so long because they’re more concerned about making great sounding, timeless records than keeping up or competing with current trends. “It’s all about the music, and it has always been about the music,” says Tom. “What we do as artists and mixers is try to be creative. We can’t be creative when the only thing we’re thinking about is technology.”

“The mix has to sound awesome,” adds Chris. “Not to pat ourselves on the back, but it’s just that something has to be at a very high level of quality for us to like it. If we like it, the artist or band we’re working with almost always likes it as well because we’re way fussier than they are. We favor wearing the mixing hat because we don’t have to worry about how a recording gets there. We just have to worry about where it’s going. We’re the last guys in the creative chain, and we’re the most important part of the process. We make sure that the music gets to the consumer the way it was intended to. We take the dreams of the artist and the producer, merge it into one, make them all completely at ease and deliver to them their finished product.”

Over their long and illustrious careers Chris and Tom Lord-Alge have grown accustomed to working with the best of the best – both artists and equipment. While the studios they work in may be equipped with high-end and vintage mixing consoles, compressors, EQs, preamps and microphones, they’ve been instrumental in making these sounds accessible and affordable to aspiring engineers, producers and mixers. For example, Chris has worked closely with Waves Audio to develop the CLA Classic Compressor plug-in software packages, which were modeled from favorite classic LA-2A, LA-3A and 1176LN compressors from his personal collection and feature a variety of his own custom presets.

In fact, Waves CLA Classic Compressor software is the first thing both Chris and Tom recommend for anyone who wants to soup up their recording and mixing setup. “I use them all the time, and not just because I’m his brother,” jokes Tom. “His presets are great starting points. They are truly great plug-ins.”

“I highly recommend spending your money on a variety of good plug-ins and virtual instruments,” says Chris. “Hopefully you should already have a good audio interface to start off with. Pro Tools is an industry standard, so I would recommend the Digi 003 with Pro Tools LE software. As far as recommended plug-ins go, the Waves API Collection bundle and their LI Ultramaximizer are just a few of my go-to, everyday necessities.”

The legendary SSL 4000 console, introduced in the 1980s, is the one piece of hardware that Chris and Tom say they cannot live without. “The SSL 4000 remains the biggest tool in our arsenal today,” says Tom. “It has a very specific sound. It was the first console to have compression and dynamics built into every channel. I couldn’t do one mix without my SSL.”

While most home studio engineers don’t have the space or budget for a real SSL 4000, they can enjoy the same sounds and sonic advantages with the Waves SSL 4000 Collection bundle, which includes the SSL G-Equalizer, SSL G-Master Buss Compressor and the SSL G-Channel and E-Channel channel strip plug-ins. As an added bonus, each plug-in includes a wide variety of Chris Lord-Alge’s own presets, which he consistently uses when mixing records. His drum presets can add new life and added punch to otherwise dull and lifeless sounding drum tracks, and his vocal presets can help you achieve that elusive professional quality that will make your recordings stand out.

These plug-in packages share a lot of the mixing know-how that the Lord-Alge brothers have developed over the last 25 years, but both feel that home studio engineers would be wise to also invest in equipment that will help them capture pristine performances before trying to make mixes that compete with their seasoned experience. “You can always call one of us to mix your recording,” says Tom. “Performance is king. Music is about emotion, and most of the emotion is based on performance. Don’t let mediocre performances make your record, and don’t expect technology to fix it. Rather, use technology to enhance your recording to your advantage.” Today’s technology can perform virtual miracles when it comes to fixing things in the mix, but Chris and Tom prefer to work with recordings that sound as good as possible before they reach the mixing stage. As a result, they recommend that aspiring engineers invest in a variety of good microphones and mic preamps to help them lay down initial tracks that sound great from the start.

Because singers’ vocal styles and sounds can vary so much, the Lord-Alges suggest that vocalists audition a variety of mics before choosing the ones that are right for them. “Look at your budget,” says Chris. “Guitar Center will definitely help you select the right mic that is within your budget. There are so many new microphone companies. Use your ear to pick the mic that you think sounds the clearest. And then spend a little bit more of your money on your vocal chain – the mic preamp and the limiter. That makes just as much difference as the microphone. “The Focusrite ISA 430 MKII Producer Pack offers really good bang for the buck and the sound quality is really good,” continues Chris. “It combines a mic pre, EQ, compressor and limiter in one device, which is really helpful. It’s all in one chain so it gets you familiar with how all of that stuff works together.” “Start with one of those, and as you become more comfortable and confident making recordings you’ll be ready to step it up,” adds Tom. “Then you’ll want to do some research and demo other equipment to come up with something that sounds even better. I like individual pieces, like the mic preamps and compressors that Universal Audio makes. If you can afford to spend more I highly recommend upgrading your setup with a few pieces of their gear.” If you’re recording electric guitars, the Lord-Alges both highly recommend the Shure SM57. “It’s a workhorse that really does great things,” says Tom.

“The simplest way to start is with an SM57 pointed just off the speaker cone,” says Chris. “Use one mic, one mic preamp and record straight to tape. Find the best place in the room to place your amp and dial in your sound before you record.”

“If you can’t get the sound you want with your setup, you may want to rethink what amp or guitar you’re using,” adds Tom. “Get another guitar or amp. A lot of players use two or three amps these days, but it’s better to use just one amp and get your sound from that. Simpler is always better.”

Both also suggest using a similar approach when recording bass. “I love my bass sound,” says Chris. “Put a mic on it. Let’s hear what the bass sound is. If you get a bass sound out of your amp that you like, mic it up and see how it sounds. If you have a good microphone that can pick up the full frequency range of a bass, by all means use a mic. Using a DI along with a mic can present a few phasing problems, but Guitar Center sells all kinds of boxes that will fix that.” The Radial Engineering Phazer is a highly recommended direct box that can fix phasing problems commonly encountered when recording direct and mic’d signals at the same time.

One often overlooked but crucial element for achieving satisfactory results in a home studio environment is a good set of monitors. Chris and Tom are both big fans of the legendary and now discontinued Yamaha NS10 monitors, but since those speakers are no longer available they recommend auditioning the various sets of powered monitors offered at Guitar Center.

“Bring your favorite mix,” suggests Chris. “Bring your iPod and a cable to the store or bring a CD and make sure you’re getting a flat signal from the CD player. Listen to music that you’re really familiar with through different sets of speakers. We’ve sat in front of NS10 speakers for more than 20 years, so that’s what we know and what we like. But don’t let us force you to choose what we like. It’s a personal decision and maybe you can come up with a set of monitors that work better for you. Powered speakers are the best way to go because you don’t have to worry about using a separate power amp that can change the sound.” “Powered monitors can sound great in a small home studio,” adds Tom. “You just plug them in and go. Get a pair of good powered monitors with a powered subwoofer and you’re off to the races. I highly recommend using a subwoofer because you want to be able to reproduce the bottom end that so much music relies upon nowadays. Owning a good pair of powered monitors is a big advantage if you travel to different studios to work because your point of reference is always the same.”

Not surprisingly, the Lord-Alge brothers use their own records as points of reference when recording in unfamiliar studios and when they’re working on new mixes for other artists. Tom likes his brother’s work on Green Day’s American Idiot: “It’s a great reference point for anyone making a rock and roll record. I would want my record to sound like that.” Chris returns the favor, preferring Tom’s mixing work on Steve Winwood’s 1986 classic, Back in the High Life: “That’s still tough to beat, so I play that.”

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Source | At: Guitar Center, February 2010