Guitarist Michael Goldwasser (aka Michael G) is the musical core of Easy Star Records, an indie record label in New York City specializing in reggae. Goldwasser produces, arranges, and writes music for Easy Star's artists. He also serves as a recording engineer and is the label's principal session musician.
Dub Side of the Moon is Easy Star's most recent release and the brainchild of label vice president Lem Oppenheimer, a Pink Floyd fan as a teenager who later immersed himself in reggae. In 1999 Oppenheimer re-imagined Dark Side of the Moon as a reggae album and persuaded his label partners to develop his vision. “I enlisted Ticklah [longtime musical collaborator Victor Axelrod] to coproduce,” Goldwasser says. “We worked out some bare-bones arrangements on sequencers to feel it out.”
The producers decided that Dub Side should line up with Dark Side bar for bar. “We had to write reggae arrangements for all of the songs while figuring out how to keep the flow of the original [album],” says Goldwasser. “Reggae only works at certain tempos. We tried to be true to the original tempos, but on some songs, we had to change them.” Goldwasser and Axelrod recruited drummer Patrick Dougher and bassist Victor Rice to complete their rhythm section. They also sought out guest musicians from New York's reggae and drum ‘n’ bass scenes.
Dub Side has an analog foundation. The All-Stars recorded basic rhythm tracks without EQ or compression to 1-inch tape on a 16-track Tascam 8516 in a basement studio. They later added horns, vocals, percussion, guitars, synths, and pianos. “Most overdubs were done at Ticklah's studio,” Goldwasser says. “We transferred all the 16-track stuff to ADAT. We were going for an analog sound using analog and digital equipment,” he says. Their outboard equipment included an Aphex Model 109, a Lexicon MPX 100, a Line 6 Echo Pro, and a homemade tube compressor. Goldwasser feels that a Roland Space Echo produces delay effects best suited for reggae. “That's what was used back in the ‘70s,” Goldwasser says. “That's how the dub sound came to be. The final tracks were noisier than we wanted, but it's a trade-off we had to make.”
The tracks “Money” and “Us and Them” feature sequenced drum parts that feel live. “Due to technical problems, we had to re-create some drum parts that we recorded live by sampling our own sounds [with an E-mu ESI 4000] and sequencing them on an old version of [Steinberg] Cubase Audio XT,” Goldwasser says. “The original drums were recorded onto 1-inch tape, so we were just sampling those.”
Out of necessity, “the entire thing was mixed in a little less than a month,” Goldwasser says. “We mixed to DAT and to a 2-track, ¼-inch machine: an Otari MX-5050.” They decided to master from the analog-tape mix. “The DAT version sounded bright and clean, but the tape version sounded so much warmer, like the reggae that I love.”
The mixing process was critical to ensuring the success of Dub Side's mission. “There are certain standards we had to meet in terms of making the arrangements work,” Goldwasser says. To preserve the album's continuity, he says, “we had to think things through before we did anything. We messed up a few times, and it was a good example of how you have to be prepared before doing a session.”