Butchering the Beatles - EMusician

Butchering the Beatles

Grammy-winning producer and guitarist Bob Kulick is pretty damn fearless, and that’s an advantage when you invite a critical ass-kicking by launching a heavy-metal tribute to the Fab Four entitled Butchering the Beatles (Restless/Rykodisc). Not one to sidestep a challenge, Kulick and equally courageous co-producer/engineer Brett Chassen reinvented 12 classic Beatles hits by inviting icons such as Alice Cooper, Steve Vai, John 5, Steve Stevens and Billy Idol, Lemmy, Yngwie Malmsteen, Billy Gibbons, Stephen Carpenter, C.C. DeVille, Steve Lukather, and George Lynch to brutalize the Mop Tops. Typically building the songs track-by-track (due to artist availability), it took one-and-a-half years to complete the mammoth project.
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Timid types and conformists may be revolted by Butchering the Beatles, but guitar lovers will likely freak over Kulick’s vision, as the project is a fabulous hybrid of timeless songwriting and ferocious, shredderific 6-string assaults. Here, Kulick and Chassen provide EQ readers with some session details.

PRODUCTION STRATEGY

“How bad can Billy Gibbons play?” asks Kulick. “He and the others are awesome guitarists, so the recording process wasn’t a concern. Picking the songs to match the lineups was the hard part. After that, it was just a matter of inspiring the players to deliver their best performances, and to do that, you have to sell them on the fact that what they did is raging beyond belief. You have to be authoritative. You can’t let the tail wag the dog. A producer’s job is to cajole and encourage, but, at the end of the day, you also have to be able to say, ‘Dude, you’re done!’ And forget about the technical aspects. Ask yourself, ‘Is this blowing me away? Am I getting goosebumps?’ If the answer is no, then it’s not right yet. If it’s ‘yes’ — mission accomplished!”

TRACKING

“We went through a lot of different mic preamps before we got the sound we were after,” remembers Chassen. “Thank God for Chandler Limited! The company’s EMI/Abbey Road TG series preamps, EQs, and compressors were used everywhere — which seemed fitting for a Beatles tribute! For mics, we used Royer R-121 and R-122 ribbons on most of the electric guitar tracks — although we occasionally added a Shure SM57 alongside the Royers to capture a slightly different texture. We also used a Telefunken USA ELAM251 to record the acoustic guitars on ‘Hey Jude.’

“The Royers and TG preamps were a great combo that delivered a ‘modern-retro’ guitar sound with a great growl in the midrange frequencies and thick, meaty lows and low mids. We also tracked with a bit of compression from either an Empirical Labs Distressor or a Urei 1176 to put a bit more ‘hair’ on the guitar tone.”

SWEETENING

“One of the things we did when all the artists were done recording was to add some ear candy — or, more specifically, some Beatles-like textures,” says Kulick. “For example, I used a Coral Sitar to simulate George Harrison’s vibe on ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,’ EBows to enhance the texture of some guitar layers, and a 7-string to add some ‘thwap’ to big, bombastic whole-note accents.

“In addition, the good people at Engl Amps sent us a high-gain monster called the Powerball, which provided the heaviosity we were looking for on most of the songs. Brett dialed in the sounds so that they wouldn’t compete with whatever the guest stars had laid down, but would add impact or vibe to the overall mix.”

THE MIX

“As we tracked and mixed on Pro Tools HD, we spent a lot of time trying different plug-ins to come up with the vintage tones we wanted,” states Chassen. “For example, the McDSP Analog Channel helped the guitars sound as if they were recorded on an old, 3M analog tape machine. Sound Toys’ Echo Boy was the effect of choice on solos due to its thick tone and analog nature, and IK Multimedia’s Classic Studio Reverb gave us that slightly dirty Lexicon 224 vibe.”

THE FINAL WORD

“I don’t think anyone on this record would be here were it not for the Beatles,” says Kulick. “They put the train on the track, and George Harrison wrote the book on rock guitar playing. This is why this album had to be the greatest thing we’ve ever worked on.”