Mixing Motörhead with Cameron Webb [Excerpt]
Motorhead sound is Lemmy — Lemmy’s bass, and that growl, and that meanness, and you take a normal artist and you mix that artist and you take this bass that’s usually smooth, and silky, and full of bottom end… That’s not what Motorhead is. That’s not what Motorhead has ever wanted to be.
Lemmy plays his bass guitar like a guitar. He doesn’t play it like a bass.
When I first met Motorhead on Inferno, we were tracking bass at a place called Paramount Studios, and I showed up early, put up his half stack, plugged in his bass and rig, checked his tone, I got this great, full, round sort of sound, and he walks in the door and says, “Alright, I’m ready to do some bass.”
So we plug the bass in, he hits his first note, and he’s like, “That’s not my bass tone.”
I was green, I didn’t know what his bass tone was. Yeah, I’ve listened to records, but I always thought that was the guitar. I didn’t know what the bass was, and I’m a bass player, so I should know these things.
He proceeded to beat me up for hours and hours about how this wasn’t his bass tone. So I would tweak little things here and there, still trying to keep this full bottom end, all of this nonsense, and he would just — we would fight, and we would battle, and he would yell at me, and at one point, I’m like, “Okay, what do you want?”
He went over to his amp, he took all the bottom end out, added all the mid-range, and took the high end out, and added presence, so all of the sudden, his amp was just, “shhhhhh.” It was noisy as can be, and I was sitting there going, “Oh my god, what is this?”
He goes, “That’s the tone, right there.” I’m like, “Are you kidding me?”
And at that moment, things changed within my world of what was acceptable in the recording of music, and recording and mixing, and all of this stuff. Like, there was no longer a rule. Now, my new rule was, “How do I make that work in a song?” Like, this is just, like, there’s no bass now. There’s no bottom end, and when you build your mix, you build your drums with the kick drum and the bottom end, and you roll your bass in there, and the guitars sit on top, and it’s this perfect little pretty thing.
Now my pretty thing has been destroyed, and it was — it was difficult right at first, so I realized, I’ve got to find a way around this.
So we — luckily, that first day, he was learning the song. So he was working on the song, and by the end of the day, we had a performance, but it wasn’t — it wasn’t the done performance yet. We went home, the next day, I went down to my studio, and I picked up my Ampeg SVT cabinet, and my Ampeg head, and I brought it up to Los Angeles where we were tracking, and I had his amp setup the way he wanted it, and I took this other amp, and I set it up the way I wanted so I could capture some bottom end.
So at first, I showed him the two amps, and I rolled them all together, and he wasn’t very happy. He liked his thing, and he didn’t like this extra thing that I had, and our first deal was — I kept recording it, and he would just ask me to turn it down, so I would just turn it down, and eventually, it got to the point where if he would walk through the door and it wasn’t the tone that he wanted, he would basically say, “Cameron, you can’t have that other amp in there. You’ve got to just turn it off.”
So he’d ask me to turn it off, and I wouldn’t turn it off, I’d leave it on and I’d just hide it and tuck it away in case I needed it for later for a mix.
So flash to twelve years later. Now, I understand what his tone is. I know how to basically take what he wants, turn his amp the way he wants his amps turned, whether he has a variety of amps, he has an amp called Marsha, which is his favorite one. He has an amp named Freight Shaker, he has an amp named Murder One. And they’re all great amps.
Most of them are old Marshalls from the 70’s, Super Bass 100s is what they are. They’re beat up and they’ve been on the road since the 70’s, and he’s owned most of them for years and years, and in general, most of the records I did with him, we would use Marsha, because that was his favorite one.
This song actually in particular, we used Hammer. I think Marsha was broken that day.
Most people would look at me and say, “Really, that’s your bass?” That bass is awesome.
We have this amp over here that they remade for Lemmy. This amp over here was a replica of that Marsha head. It was supposed to be similar to that. It doesn’t sound exactly the same, by all means, it sounds a little more modern, but it’s what he liked, and when he would play live, he would have Marsha, or Hammer, or Freight Shaker, as well as this amp on stage live, and he would use these like crazy.
Marshall came to him and they specifically made these for him with a cab that matched it too. So in general, similar amp.
I want to explain something really fast. When I met Motorhead, I was probably 30 years old, and that meant Lemmy was 58 or so, and we’re definitely different ages. We’re different people, and they had a lot of success, and I really hadn’t done a big record. The biggest record I’d started on was the social distortion record, which I hadn’t even finished that record yet.
So to me, Motorhead, not only was it a big band growing up, but it was a bigger band than I was as a producer and a mixer, and it still is a bigger band than I am, and every day I work and try to get bigger and more successful, but it’s — you would think it would be intimidating, but the thing is, I was never intimidated by them. I was excited.
I was excited that I could help them create something that I think would be amazing, and part of my excitement for this, and my schooling, I had spent a lot of years assisting. I had spent years engineering records on my own and producing smaller records with smaller budgets, and I was getting — I felt like I was an accomplice engineer. I had worked with lots of producers, lots of engineers, I learned a lot of different techniques, and I knew how to deal with people, I knew how to schedule things, I knew how to be efficient with budgets, and all of the stuff that an experienced producer needs to know.
But a big thing to me was tones and sounds, and I was — I felt like I was pretty competent with tones, and I still believe I am. I enjoy getting good sounds, and I enjoy listening to records with big sounds, and records with small sounds, I don’t even like. Even if the songs are good, I don’t like them.
So when I met Motorhead and we spent this time doing pre-production, they had their way of doing things. My goal was — was to make them a great record, hands down, so we went into NRG Studio A, and we started tracking drums, and the first day we were tracking drums, the very first song we worked on, Mikkey went out, he played this take, and it was great. He was hitting hard, it was exciting, it was fun, and he finished the take, and I’m listening and I’m waiting for the cymbals to die down, and I reached to press the talkback button, and as I pressed the talkback button, Mikkey walks in the control room, and he’s like, “Alright, let’s work on the next song.”
I looked at him and I said, “Next song?” And he goes, “Yeah, that one’s done. Let’s do the next song.”
I said, “Mikkey, you made a mistake or two.” He looked at me like, “I didn’t make any mistakes Cameron, what are you talking about?”
And I said, “Well, there are a couple of spots that I think you can do better, can we just do another take?”
He said, “We don’t need to do another take, it’s good!”
So I said, “Okay, let’s listen to the song, and here’s what I want to do with you Mikkey.” I kind of made a little game of it, and I said, “Here’s the deal, I think you made some mistakes, you didn’t make any mistakes. What I’m going to do is I’m going to press this button right here every time you make a mistake, and what it does is it puts a little tab here; it puts a little yellow marker so it shows me where a mistake is.”
So I hit play. Drums are going, I hit the tab. He looks at me and he goes, “Yeah, okay.” Two times. “Yeah, okay.” We get to about seven times, and he goes, “Oh, just turn it off, I’m going back in the room.”
So he goes back in the room to play the next take, and I could just — I could feel the energy — I mean, it was intense, because I was telling Mikkey that he wasn’t good enough and he could do better. So there’s this side of things where there’s a little bit of adrenaline going. I look at Mikkey, and I look at Phil and Lemmy, and they had these little grins on their faces like, “I’m glad you stood up to that guy.”
They didn’t say anything to me at that point, but I later had a conversation with Lemmy, and Lemmy said to me, because I asked, it was the end of the record and I said — no, it was the next record actually, and I said, “How come you like working with me and why did you choose to work with me again?”
He says, “Here’s the deal, Cameron. The first day we walked in the studio and you stood up to Mikkey Dee, I was so excited, because if you’ll stand up to Mikkey Dee, which is a lot, you’ll stand up to Phil. If you’ll stand up to Phil, you’ll stand up to me, and if you stand up to all of us, we’re going to have a great record.”
I had the same conversation with Phil — similar conversation with Phil. That was the moment where they started to respect me, whether I was young, old, it didn’t matter. They knew that I was in there and I had — I was not scared of them. There was nothing to be scared of. I just wanted a good product. I just wanted those guys to be the best Motorhead they could be, and that’s why I’ve had this experience with these guys for all of these years, and Bad Magic is record number six, and they trust me, and I trust them, and they know what buttons to press on me, and I know what to not press on them, so we learned to work together.
So you take that, with that bottom end, that bottom end is going to match that kick drum, and everything is going to be more alive, and I’m going to have a bass, I’m going to have the subs so you can turn it up loud in your car.
He didn’t love that sound. He always would tell me, “You’ve got to turn that down,” or he’d tell me to turn it off, but I knew that it was important in the final product.
You’ve got to understand a couple of things, and I don’t want to — I don’t want to say this in a bad way, I want to say this in a good way. Lemmy has been doing this for a long time, and his hearing, when you play that loud, that often, obviously, your hearing suffers, so his high end wasn’t as good as it was when he was a kid, obviously. So basically, when you have someone with hearing loss, it’s the high end you lose, it’s not the low end. Because you’re hearing the rumbles all within your head.
So in general, he didn’t like that because it was too rumbly, so he liked things that were brighter. So in general, I was always asked to take that out, because he would hear more rumble than I would hear, so our ears are totally different. We’re listening to two different things.
Over all those times, we used to fight, and I used to call the manager Todd, and say, “Todd, Lemmy is messing up my bass tone, I need to have bottom end so this mix is full and we can turn it up.”
Todd would just say, “Dude, your ears are different. It’s just the way it’s going to be. You’re going to have to find a way to talk him into doing things.”
One of the ways was when I work on NS10s, the NS10s are the speaker I know best. I usually work with a subwoofer, but when I worked with Lemmy, I would turn the subwoofer off, so any of that low rumble stuff, he wouldn’t — it wouldn’t bother him. It wouldn’t annoy him.
But when he would leave and I would work on my own, I’d turn the subwoofer back on, and be like, “Okay, yeah, I have the fullness that I’m searching for,” and I think as someone who’s a fan of Motorhead, they’ll respect that, because they want to be able to turn it up loud too, and if you have all of this distortion and brightness, you’re not going to be able to turn it up as loud.
So I’m doing it for the fans. I’m doing it for myself. I’m doing it because I want it to sound big and full, so Lemmy, that’s why I chose to do what I did.