This week we will be taking a leap back in time. While the focus of this blog entry is intended to unearth underground musical gems from the midwestern USA, digressions are inevitable and necessary. Michigan basements is more about the spirit of the process of creation against the practical obstacles of equipment, money, studio time, etc. My experience with music making process in the past ten years has been about discovering what is possible with cheap equipment in a bedroom or basement. Creative constraints can often be the essential ingredient for some of the best artistic creations. I remember being a teenager and recording drums, trying to find the right sound…I walked around the bedroom with headphones on and placed the microphone in different spots until I got the sound I wanted. One time I turned both reverb and tremolo all the way up on my fender amp, leaned the guitar up against the speaker, and started getting insane feedback. Then I started beating the top of the amp with a hammer….all I was doing was trying to get a different sound. Something weird.
We take weird for granted these days. Now we can get a synthesizer, or effects pedal, or use a computer to edit a recording with whatever alteration we want. We’ve come so far with technology that we can’t realize how difficult it once was to get a different sound. That is why this week I am bringing attention to the career of Joe Meek.
Many of you might not know about Joe Meek, or if you do its simply his work on the song “Telstar,” which featured the use of the clavioline, a distinctly electronic sounding keyboard that was very different in its day. He should also be noted for his solo album, “I hear a new world” which was actually one of the first true concept albums, written and recorded in 1959. His knack for creating unusual sounds can be heard on this album. It stands alone in its day as a truly revolutionary album. There was no precedent for this kind of music. Here is a product of imagination and technical constraint like no other. You can hear over driven keyboards and guitar mixed with echo and delay, washed against percussive sounds.
Joe Meek pioneered the use of echo and delay in recording. He was the first to record a bass directly inputted into the mixing board. These kind of techniques are what got him fired from working as an engineer in a professional recording studio. Meek then built a studio in his apartment! This may not sound very unusual but in the 1950s nobody, except maybe les paul, had a home built studio. Meek used his bathroom to build an echo chamber. He recorded strings in the stairwell of his apartment building. This ramshackle home made bedroom style recording studio was far ahead of its time… But Joe Meek was able to make quality records. He charted three number one hits that were recorded in his home built studio. Tone deaf, he simply had a knack for making hit songs, and the vision to pioneer a whole range of different sounds that wouldn’t appear on wax by other artist for years to come. Meek essentially started the trend, which wouldn’t truly be grasped until decades later, of home built recording studios.