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How I Got That Sound: Ed Stasium

Living Colour ‘Love Rears Its Ugly Head’ By Joe Matera
Published March 2023

How I Got That Sound

Since starting out in the early ’70s, American producer, engineer and mixer Ed Stasium has worked with a Who’s Who of the music world, from the Ramones, Talking Heads and Mick Jagger to Soul Asylum, Julian Cope, Motörhead and many, many others. From this stellar discography, Ed nominates the drum sound on Living Colour’s ‘Love Rears Its Ugly Head’ as a particular favourite.

How I Got That Sound“I absolutely love the drum sound we achieved on this track because of its natural ambience, with no outboard reverb whatsoever. Being self‑taught with no proper training, everything I developed was through my own experimentation and experience. When I started out, my personal observation was that the drum sounds that were being recorded in studios all sounded dead. In November of ’75 I was hired as a staff engineer at Le Studio Morin Heights in Quebec, Canada.

“One of the first projects that I worked on was Pilot’s Morin Heights LP with producer Roy Thomas Baker. Before the band and Roy arrived, as it was popular in the day, my engineering partner the late great Nick Blagona and I set up the drums in the existing drum booth. When Roy and the band entered the studio for the first day of recording, Roy immediately said ‘What are the drums doing in that tiny little booth? Bring them out here in the room and let’s capture some of the lovely room ambience!’ Roy then proceeded to play back a quarter‑inch copy of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, and when I heard the huge drum sound on the track it was completely life‑changing! This proved to be a revelation for me and would inspire me to use this method until this day.”

Reading The Room

“In 1990 when we recorded Living Colour’s second LP Time’s Up that this song is included on, I suggested that we cut the backing tracks at A&M Studios in LA for the fact that Studio A was just incredible — absolutely the best room for drums I ever worked in. The main room was huge, being 39 by 38 feet, and 20 feet high. There were also two large isolation booths which we used for the bass and guitar amps. A&M had an incredible collection of vintage mics and outboard gear, not to mention the desk was the amazing AIR Montserrat custom Neve 4792 — the last desk designed by Rupert Neve — that was purchased by A&M after the disastrous volcano eruption on the island.

“When it came to tracking the band we placed the drums in the main room, using four room mics: two Neumann U87s on the largest mic stands in the building placed around 18 feet away in the far corners of the room near the ceiling, and two positioned up close to the kit. A Shure SM57 was used on the snare, Sennheiser MD421s on the tom toms, AKG C451s on the hi‑hat and ride cymbal, AKG C414s on the overheads and an AKG D12 inside the kick. I also had a carpet rolled into a tube that was six feet long that we placed over and attached to the kick drum to keep it isolated. A Neuman FET U47 was placed approximately four feet back from the kit in the carpeted tube to capture the sound further away from the kick.

Ed Stasium: What you are hearing on this song is the drums in their complete natural state, with no added outboard reverb whatsoever.

“So, what you are hearing on this song is the drums in their complete natural state, with no added outboard reverb whatsoever on them. It is only the room sound at A&M and it was a live take of the entire band with no edits. During mixing I would always split the snare and kick onto two separate channels and add very subtle compression, EQ and gating on the second channel, placing them behind the original signal for an added ‘boost’. It was my intention to keep as much of the ‘room sound’ of A&M Studio A on the drums as possible. The Time’s Up LP was mixed on an SSL 6000 G‑series desk at Right Track Studios in New York City.”