Signed to Harvest, Janus made one album — and hated the way it sounded. Four decades later, they finally got the chance to mix it properly...
Nineteen seventy-one was a very good year for Janus, an English band that EMI Germany signed as their first contribution to the legendary Harvest label. I was the guitarist/writer in the band, and have been lucky enough to have lived through many ups and downs over the last 40 years as a consequence.
We began life in Krefeld, in what was then West Germany, and soon developed a local following, thanks to a combination of rock and classical influences. Our weird musical hybrid sound has, over the years, been credited with founding several entire genres in Germany, including Acoustic Rock, Krautrock and Prog Rock.
I doubt we were ever that influential, but being signed to Harvest in 1971 was a terrific moment — the party we held to celebrate it might well have earned a more legendary status than our first EMI-released LP, an album called Gravedigger. We went into the EMI studios in Cologne, knowing that we were the first rock band to use what was then a state-of-the-art 16-track studio, with engineers in lab coats. We knew nothing about recording, so took in our full stage rig, and soon discovered that we were completely overwhelming the studio monitoring system. The album had to be completed (including mixing and orchestral parts) in 24 hours, so at one stage I was trying to play an overdub solo through a 200 Watt rig with two 4x12 cabinets, singer Bruno Lord standing behind me, hands clamping headphones to my ears, while drummer Keith Bonthrone clapped time at the other end of the studio. My amazing timing on the track 'Red Sun' is actually what happens when you have to guess whereabouts in the track you are. For the track 'I Wanna Scream', we had to concede defeat, as it wasn't possible to get the timing right under those circumstances.
After EMI mixed the album, the first time we heard the finished product was in our publisher's office, where we went from rock-star-happy to traumatised in the space of a few seconds, as it became clear that we'd been turned into a West Coast psychedelic band. I hated it. However, we had made an album, and a subsequent single, and therefore became stars of TV, stage and radio. We did our best to adapt to the sex, drugs, and rock & roll lifestyle, strictly in that order. This inevitably led to some misunderstandings with the German authorities, including being stopped in mid-festival set by police with drawn guns during a performance of the German National Anthem in the style of Hendrix's 'Star Spangled Banner'. Complaints about the noise were coming in from three miles away (there might also have been a question of how tasteful my interpretation was).
We took up residence in a commune in the town of Krefeld, peopled by various crazies, including German Army deserters, heroin addicts and East German revolutionaries determined to teach us the necessary urban guerrilla warfare skills needed to survive the coming revolution. This led to yet another somewhat confrontational discussion with police and fire brigade when we inadvertently burned down an outbuilding while learning how to make anti-tank Molotov cocktails. Inevitably, there came a point at which our attempts to influence future population growth, and a national shortage of hallucinogenic medicines being blamed on the group, led to our being thrown out of the country, and EMI tore up our record contract. We had a brief career extension back in England, but after becoming probably the only band in history to have been turfed out of the Cavern Club in Liverpool because of our volume and behaviour, that was the end of Janus. Part One.
In 1989, it turned out that Janus had become a cult band, and our album was now extremely collectable. We were also viewed as a 'turning point' in German popular music. That led to Janus Part Two, which in the last two decades has seen the band reach the charts in Holland and Canada, and be featured on the soundtrack to the BBC series All The Small Things. During these 40 years, Gravedigger has remained on sale commercially on CD, while vinyl copies in good condition regularly fetch £300-plus on eBay.
Since 2010, however, more and more "mint” copies of the vinyl album and shrink-wrapped CDs have appeared, not only on eBay, but with online retailers. A Sony executive I asked about this intimated that a warehouse in France had recently been opened for the first time in 20 years. A huge cache of vinyl which had been sent for destruction had been discovered within, which canny operators were now dribbling back into the market.
That was convincing until July this year, when I got a call from Bruno, the original Janus vocalist, telling me that the Gravedigger vinyl and CD album was back in shops throughout Europe, and, although very close, was not the original. I called EMI Germany to ask if they'd licensed the album to a third party. They knew it was going on, but said that it was the work of bootleggers. I was told to contact Gert Gliniorz, EMI senior product manager, who shocked me rigid by telling me that EMI were intending to re-release Gravedigger remastered in November 2012, as part of a major release from their prog-rock catalogue, and specifically the Harvest label acts.
Gert also sprang quite a surprise by telling me that EMI still had the master tapes for the Janus sessions. That led to a discussion about the band's view of the original album, and the possibility of remixing it to make a version that more accurately reflected the music and character of Janus in 1972. Fortunately, EMI were more than happy with this as a concept, even suggesting that Gravedigger be released as a double CD/vinyl/digital product, containing the remastered original plus a remix of the album "as the group intended”.
Between 2003 and 2010, I'd been involved in teaching Music Technology at a local sixth-form college, which had led to contacts with Mid Tennessee State University, Nashville, and even some student visits to an establishment which is justifiably considered to be at the very leading edge of teaching recording skills to the new generation of US sound engineers. The man in charge, Professor Chris Haseleu, possesses two of the best ears in the business, and facilities most commercial studios can only aspire to. He is also a self-confessed analogue aficionado, and still teaches analogue recording to his top students. Naturally, a lot of commercial work is carried out at the MTSU facilities, which regularly works with, and is seamlessly integrated with, Music City in Nashville.
I called Chris, explained the situation, and asked if he would be interested in a project to remix the 1972 album. Fortunately, the answer was yes, so the tapes were despatched from Germany to Nashville (incidentally, I never realised how much a two-inch tape spool weighed until I saw the FedEx bill). On arrival, Chris and his students Nick Marrow and Alicia Bognanno set to transferring the tracks from tape into 24-bit/192kHz Pro Tools Sessions. The actual tape was in good order, and Chris reported that much of the recording itself was very well done. Unfortunately, one of the album tracks was missing, as in the end, for the commercial release, 'I Wanna Scream' had been taken from a demo session. So while Chris set up the sessions for our marathon remix session, I called up the original Janus members and set up a session to re-record the missing song. I readily confess that 21st Century technology played a major part in that session; the track count, and use of various plug-ins, made the production process very different from the original, but the end result was remarkably close. After a disastrous journey, I finally met up with Chris and Nick at MTSU Studio B, and I heard my 40-year-younger self, voice trembling with nerves, count in the first Gravedigger track. I immediately wished for a time machine that would let me go back and retune several instruments — it's amazing how in the years that have followed, we've all become used to perfect tuning and intonation on instruments, and to perfectly pitched vocals.
However, my wonderful wife Julie, and other band members, had expressly forbidden me to replay any parts, to use copy and paste, or to saw up the arrangements. Julie had even tipped Chris Haseleu off, so the studio had been cleared of guitars. We were only allowed to work with the original recordings. Although from the technical viewpoint the recordings were good, it was clear that we did have problems. Firstly, although my memory tells me that five mics were used on the drums, these had been summed to one mono track. There were phase issues, and the overall drum sound was paper-thin. At the time, the EMI technicians had spent at least an hour of our precious recording time damping the drums, and I was both surprised and impressed, 40 years later, to hear how well Keith had managed to play, despite literally having to find bits of drum skin amongst the blankets. We eventually managed to get a passable drum sound, but to be honest, if I'd had the individual drums in the clear, I wouldn't have been able to resist triggering samples.
At the time, EMI had just acquired one of the first phasers, and had clearly had this one set to stun, as it was horrendously over-used on the original album. Sadly, the effect, as with reverb, had been printed to the tracks, leaving little room to give back to the guitar sounds the depth and power they'd originally had. Again, if I'd been allowed, I'd probably have re-played guitar parts.
Throughout the next two days (luxury), we worked intensively, with Chris and his team dragging many analogue boxes from his treasure trove, or "store room” as they call it in the USA, including a mint AKG spring reverb. For a brief moment, I almost wavered in my belief that modern gear is vastly superior. Probably the most unexpected result, from a personal point of view, was that I had never appreciated what a good band we were — and had certainly never appreciated before the unique style and skill of bassist Mick Peberdy, or the quality of the other musicians and vocalists, particularly knowing the circumstances of this session. As the tracks began to come together, and we heard the 'true' sound of Janus emerging from the mists of time, this became more than a technical exercise, and one in which — without wishing to sound maudlin and emotional — I finally learned to respect who we had been.
Highlight of the remix session probably had to be visiting the culinary delight known as the Slick Pig, which did tend to make the afternoon session a little sleepy — but any establishment that sells stew by the gallon, and buffalo wings in buckets of 144, has to be appreciated.
I returned to England with the mixes and set to mastering the tracks through my Universal Audio Apollo, with a different chain of UAD plug-ins for each track. It was a constant battle to decide whether the music should be compressed and limited to 21st Century standards, or if dynamics should be as 1972. Tonally, in the final analysis, what can be achieved with multi-band compression and EQ proved too much to resist.
My own studio has been assembled over 25 years. Suffice to say that if Paul White came on an SOS studio rescue mission, he would probably have a nervous breakdown trying to trace the routing, and would certainly be calling the Samaritans about the acoustics. But it works for me, and mastering is possible with checks via different speakers, headphones, and trips to various vehicles. This project has proven unbelievably difficult, as that balance between 'old' and 'new' sounds is a lot more difficult to achieve than might at first be apparent. However, the masters are finally done, and en route to EMI. If that was the end of the story, I'd probably be quietly satisfied that we've gone a long way towards making Gravedigger the album I think it should have been — but there's another twist in the tale.
After the release of Gravedigger, we had been due to record a second album for Harvest. At the time, we had believed this would be a massive jump forward: we'd had a year as professional musicians, and a chance to develop some of the more unique aspects of the Janus hybrid. We'd had discussions with the production team at EMI, knew a lot more about the recording process, and had some clear ideas about the 'light and shade' character of the music, including sampling techniques we probably would have been the first band to develop.
Last year, a Canadian prog rock writer, Ian Gledhill, asked me whatever happened to that second album. I told him that I had written most of it, and had started rehearsing parts of it, in 1972. But after the collapse of the original band, my subsequent musical direction had taken me on a very different journey, so that concept album had never progressed any further. Ian suggested that I should think about making that album now.
It was an interesting idea, so last year, I did begin to play in the parts for that album, and what I remembered of the intended tracks. The intention was never for a commercial release, but an almost academic exercise in seeing what Janus 1973 would have sounded like. In my conversations with Gert Gliniorz at EMI, the same subject came up. Gert asked what the second album would have been like, so I found myself in the strange position of being able to say, "I'll email you an MP3 of the title track now.”
Happily, Gert liked what he heard, and one thing led to another, to the point that we now have that second album, Under The Shadow, scheduled for release in the EMI package, on the Harvest label, at the same time as Gravedigger, in the same formats. It might be 40 years late, and if you'd told me in 1973 that it would eventually be released in 2012, and that it would feature my daughter singing a duet with President John F Kennedy, I might have thought I'd been over-indulging in creative medication.
So where next for Janus? We're being asked about festival gigs in Europe next year — and I have to admit that, having worked again with the original band for the first time in 39 years, and seeing that we can all still walk without artificial aids, it's tempting. Perhaps I'd better not play any national anthems, though.
The 16-track analogue master tapes of Janus's Gravedigger album presented some challenges. The good news was that they were recorded on EMI tape, so there was no need for baking or lubricating, as would have been the case if American tape had been used. The bad news was that the tapes arrived with no documentation and no tones. In the best case, the tapes would have come with 'take sheets' listing song titles and so forth, and with track sheets showing which instrument(s) were recorded to which tracks. In addition, there would be information on the tape speed, reference level, and 'reproduce' EQ standard. Most importantly, alignment tones — a few seconds of 1kHz, 10kHz and 100Hz recorded at the reference level, speed, and EQ standard — would have been found at the head or tail of each reel. This, however, was not the case. Without the documentation or the tones, the team was left to guess, adjust and listen when setting up our Sony ATR two-inch, 16-track tape deck.
The most difficult problem was the reproduce alignment of the tape deck. The team assumed that the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) reproduce EQ standard had been used in the German studio. In addition, we assumed that this early 1970s recording was most likely done at a 185 or 200 nWb/m (nano Weber per meter) reference level. Using the in-house alignment tape, which was at a 250 nWb/m reference level and with NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) EQ we set to work. We first had to locate a NAB to IEC EQ compensation chart, which we found in John M Worman's classic Modern Recording Handbook (1989). We set the reference level so that the 1kHz tone on our 250 nWb/m alignment tape reproduced at +2.5 VU — this being the difference between 250 and 185 nWb/m. We then set the low- and high-frequency reproduce EQ using 10kHz and 100Hz tones from the alignment tape, with the levels compensated according to the chart. Listening to master tapes and checking the levels seemed to confirm that our original assumptions and setup were correct.
Dubbing the masters over was a simple matter of choosing a bit depth and sampling frequency, and patching the deck outputs directly into our Avid HD I/O. In the end, we choose to dub the tape at 24-bit, 192kHz sampling frequency. We considered going to the 32-bit floating-point option, but as we planned to mix in the analogue domain with minimum digital processing, the main advantage of 32-bit floating-point — improved dynamic range during DSP — was not relevant. In addition, the 24/192 option would ensure compatibility across multiple DAW platforms that might be used in mastering or future remixes.
During the dubbing process, the tracks were run up into a rough mix, and careful notes were taken as to the content and quality of each. The original German engineers had provided clean, well-recorded tracks. The main mix problems were that the drums, while well recorded, had been bounced to mono, and that on a few tracks, reverberation had been mixed with the direct sound and printed to the tape.
The goal of the remix was to use modern and vintage technology to achieve a 1970s sound. The difficulty was how to improve on the original mixes without losing their authenticity and feel. To that end, we mixed in the analogue domain on an SSL Duality console, using analogue outboard processing wherever possible. In-the-box digital processing was limited to a single LoFi plug-in, and outboard digital effects were only employed where a truly 'special' special effect was called for. The problem of the mono drums was addressed by splitting the track into two modules. On one module, a low-pass filter was used to remove everything but the kick drum. This was then compressed and EQ'ed to turn it into a separate kick track. On the other module, a high-pass filter was used to remove most of the kick sound, leaving everything else in the kit. This was then EQ'ed and processed to give some sense of space to the kit. Our main reverberation was provided by a vintage AKG BX20 spring unit, which provided a truly 1970s sound and worked well with the reverb printed on some of the tracks. The tracks were mixed back into the Avid Pro Tools system.
How successful were we? I am sure the legions of Janus fans will let us know. Christian Haseleu