by J.D. Reager
Local musician/DJ/engineer Andrew "Buck Wilders" McCalla has been getting a lot of attention as of late for producing excellent recordings by the likes of the Warble, the Dirty Streets, the Oscars, Girls of the Gravitron, Tanks, the Ultra-cats and a litany of others.
We've already got a story on McCalla in this week's Flyer, but there was a ton of interesting interview material that we weren't able to fit in the paper. Here are a few select outtakes from our conversation with McCalla:
On developing an interest in music:
"When I was young, my best friend's older brother inherited his father's record collection. It was all classic rock stuff. I would hear him playing those records all the time and was really drawn to the music as well as the vinyl itself. As soon as I got a wiff of Jimi Hendrix and the like, my musical taste started to bloom. The older music stuck out pretty hard compared to the commercial hits of the '80s that I was surrounded by. I then started a pretty extensive cassette collection of '60s rock. At 15 my mother gave me her old turntable and record collection. I then started going to thrift stores, Nostalgia World, River Records and Shangri-la Records in search of wax. The better records I found, the more hooked I got. Now I'm a full on music junkie."
On DJ-ing and playing in bands:
"I started DJing in 1999. When I DJ, I'm a lot more relaxed cause it's not about me, it's about the music. I just kick back and watch others enjoy it. Playing in a band, I always had more fun just hanging out with my friends and practicing than playing a live show. They both have their ups and downs I guess.
The Perfect Fits (McCalla's former band) called it quits almost two years ago. Sometimes I get an itch to play again, but I'd rather just do it for fun and not worry about playing shows all the time. If I do play in a band again, I want it to be well thought out and solid.
Not only have I kind of strayed away from drumming, DJing has become a rare thing these days. As much as I love Memphis, it's not a very DJ-supportive town. Especially, when it comes to playing vintage music. I think I played records maybe 5 times last year, and maybe 10 times this year due to lack of interest. When I go out of town to play, it's like being in another world. People are very responsive."
On his recording philosophy, modern recording practices and Pro-Tools:
"I like to record as live as possible. Nowadays, most folks track one at a time, isolating instruments, and re-doing parts over and over until they consider it perfect. I feel this sucks the life out of the song. Mistakes are gold when it comes to recording. Having everyone in the same room, looking at each other, makes them feed off each other. Other people's instruments bleeding over into other people's mics makes the sound very organic. I love to use room mics as much as possible. I hear a lot about folks who track one at a time having to layer guitar parts because the sound is too thin. I think that's a waste of time. The months you spend overdubbing could be spent on writing more songs and practicing.
Recording drums is probably the hardest thing to get right. The way most people are taught to record drums now days involves 8 - 15+ mics. I find that a little silly. You only have two ears and processing 15 different sounds from one source isn't natural. I think modern recording techniques are lazy on the front end and too much work on the back end. If you spend the time to make the drum kit itself sound good on the front end, hang a mic or two over the kit and call it a day. The music that made Memphis so famous, wasn't recorded the way things are today. Sam Phillips and Roland Janes didn't have time to put up 30 mics. They probably had a dozen other bands to record that day. That meant you had to be well rehearsed and ready to lay it down.
I don't understand why the music industry has become so artificial. Records have been processed like hot dogs the past 10+ years due to the arrival of computer programs like Pro-Tools. Music is very important to me and I hate to see the soul taken out of it. When I mix a song, I like to be hands on. I couldn't imagine using a mouse to navigate through a recording. I don't think a device you use to make art should also be used to update your Facebook page. That's why if I do work digitally, it's going to be on a dedicated workstation made specifically for recording music. I think programs like Pro-Tools provide convenience and not as much quality. I plan on only using tape in the future. The sound is so much more real and the way the instruments saturate the tape is something a computer could never do."