‘Cause inside everyone is a heavy metal kid

January 30, 2009

The “other interests” section of my resumé includes an entry for “heavy metal backup singer.” Most readers assume it’s a joke, or added to see if they’re paying attention. I assure you it’s true, and I have my brother to thank for it.

After graduating from NYU, Chris got a job at Greene Street Studio, where he had interned as an undergraduate in the music and recording program. (Greene Street used to be Big Apple Studios, where the famous No New York compilation was recorded.) Greene Street’s owner, Steve Loeb, was also the manager and producer for Riot, a metal band formed in 1977. Steve had been releasing Riot records on his own Fire Sign Records label for years.

Whenever I would go to New York to visit my family, I would try to meet up with Chris at the studio, both to hear what he was working on, and to watch him work. One of these visits led to a disaster with my then-fiancee, whom I had dragged to the studio to meet Chris. On that particular evening, he was fine-tuning bass drum sounds, so She Who Must Not Be Named got to spend an hour listening to thud thud thud before demanding to leave. I indelicately suggested that what Chris was doing was no more boring than her tales of life as an insurance actuary, and that was the beginning of our end.

When I met Diane, I arranged obligatory “meet my family” visits. I knew that eventually she would want to see Chris at work. I agreed to take her to Greene Street, but warned her about the possibility of a boredom-inducing bass drum session. Undeterred, Di still wanted to see Chris in action.

I had called ahead to let Chris know we’d be dropping in, but had failed to ask what he was working on that night. When we arrived, the studio was running at full tilt: people everywhere, both recording suites busy, instruments being shuffled in and out of rooms. Chris waved us over to the mixing desk, handed us both a set of headphones, and pushed us into a vocal booth with the rest of Riot, who were working on their new record.

Once we had settled down, Steve said “We’re laying down some backing vocals for this song’s chorus. When I give you the cue, just shout ‘little miss death’ into this microphone. Be sure to over-articulate, or it will sound like sludge.” After a quick playback of the track for tempo, we shouted our line a few times, then were unceremoniously chased out of the booth with a “good job, thanks, later.”

We stuck around to watch Chris shape a rough mix of the track, and then promptly forgot about it until he sent us a cassette of the song a few weeks later. It would be included on the record, to be titled The Privilege of Power.

The Privilege of Power

The band is still a going concern, and their records are still in print. So, for your listening pleasure, I present “Little Miss Death”:

http://blog.belm.com/belmblog/audio/little_miss_death.mp3

Can you hear us?

I still have a black Greene Street Studios bomber jacket with “Dave” embroidered on the front, a reminder of my day in the rock ‘n’ roll fast lane.

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