music blog

Ejo #99 – The Extraordinary People I Know: Terry Oubre

 

About a year ago I stormed one of the stages at an electronic music festival in Europe (coz that’s just how I roll, bitchzzzz). Alright, technically I didn’t “storm” the stage. But I did sneak in from the back when the security guard went to the toilet. Somehow I found myself in the middle of the stage, next to the DJ, looking out at the thronging crowd. And it was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever experienced. My rock’n’roll moment!

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Make some noise!!!!  My three minutes of glory.

I’ve recently had the pleasure of getting to know an Actual Fucking Rock Star. The real deal, folks. Someone who spent years performing in front of millions of people, before moving onto a successful career as a producer. He’s the best electric guitarist you’ve never heard of – I’m talking about the extraordinary Terry Oubre. Let’s chat!

My one experience on (someone else’s) stage blew my tiny little mind. Tell me about the time you played with The Grass Roots in front of 600,000 motherfucking people in Washington DC on 4th July, 1982?
That gig was so surreal that I was totally relaxed. It’s like when my wife was giving birth to our son. The moment is so big and fraught with the possibility of something going wrong, that you just let go of the worry and roll with it.

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A news clipping of the event.  Over half a million people attended.  Let that sink in for a minute.

How long were you on stage for?
About one and a half hours. CNN and MTV were covering the event, and it was broadcast live over the radio. No pressure though.

Were you nervous?
No, I wasn’t nervous. We were so battle hardened from the road. We could have played through a hurricane. But, like I said, it was very surreal. Sometimes things are so huge that you just go with it. As long as the equipment didn’t blow up, I could handle it. Smaller clubs can be more intimidating, because people are right under your nose. At the DC gig, we were on a big stage and the crowd was a sea of people. And everybody just wanted to party. It was July 4th, Independence Day. They were ready to rock, and we did our best to deliver.

You recorded just one album with The Grass Roots, Powers Of The Night. Lead singer Rob Grill was supposed to be the heart-throb of the group, but you would have been my favourite, for sure. Definitely the cutest.
Haha! Thanks. We once played a big club near New Orleans, and the club owner and I went out for a midnight ride with a couple of women afterwards. He told me, “Women might wanna fuck Rob, but they wanna marry you!”

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A photo of The Grass Roots.  Check out the cutie on the right.

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A promotional photo of the band.  How adorable is Terry!!!!


You definitely have a wholesome nice-guy thing going on there, which is very appealing. So how did you end up in The Grass Roots? And why did you leave?

The singer of The Grass Roots wanted to go on the road, and he needed a band. My group had just moved to LA and someone recommended us. And things just began to happen. A record producer for MCA Records came to see us at a venue in LA, and wanted to sign us. The irony is, I went to LA to make it with my own band and do session work, not be in The Grass Roots. So, after about two and a half years I quit and moved to Austin, because I wanted to produce. I wanted to make serious music. Something that meant something to me, that was based on what I was about.

Can you tell me a little more about what you do? You’re a producer – what does that even mean?
A music producer is like a movie director. I do everything necessary to bring a song to fruition. Which means shaping the arrangement, sometimes helping with lyrics, coaching the musicians and vocalists on their parts and generally pulling everything together. We’re making a record – a fixed piece of art – and because my name is on it, it has to be as good as I can make it. And that means I have to be able to read people and get what I need out of them without hurting their feelings. I have to be convincing, without making anyone feel threatened. So, a good producer has to wear a lot of hats. I also do a lot of mixing and mastering. Mixing is an art in itself. It’s a performance. You can make or break a recording in the mix. I usually do a ton of editing and shaping of the sound, blending it all together which makes the sum of the parts stronger. Not unlike an orchestra conductor.

So how much of a record is your vision, and how much is the artist’s?
My job is to help the artist realise their vision. The listener thinks it’s all the artist, but I work my ass off to make it sound great.

How did you get into producing?
I think it was just an organic outgrowth of my love for music and creating music. Especially the idea of trying to create music that I wanted to hear, that nobody else was recording. So there was a strong desire to be inventive, to express myself in a personal way, rather than trying to emulate what had come before. Prior to becoming a producer, I listened to music. Decoding what they were doing to achieve certain sounds. Particularly the Beatles and Hendrix. I was interested in sound from very early on, even as a child. I would pay attention to mechanical sounds and sounds of nature. Like the way sound bounced off the walls of houses in my neighbourhood. We had large yards with a lot of space between houses and if you hit a baseball, the crack would echo in a very complex way. Also, the sounds of a marching band in a stadium, especially the drums. To hear those drums playing in unison and the way that sound reverberated. Or during a parade, hearing them approaching from down the street and how the sound changed as they got closer. The sound of trains on tracks, the horn and the “Doppler effect” always fascinated me, as did the sound of a jet flying overhead. I love that shit.

Can you study producing, like law or medicine or engineering? Or do you need to have some kind of musical experience?
I don’t know how far studying will get you. It’s more of an innate ability, based on years of listening and trying to understand how sounds are recorded and how a record is made. So, for me, it was just a matter of calling on my experience as a session musician and recording with various bands over the years. I got tired of arguing with recording engineers about what kind of EQ I wanted, so with the advent of digital recording I bought my own recorders and turned my garage into a recording studio. I would rather do it all myself than have some motherfucker tell me what can’t be done, just because the text books say you can’t do it. I remember reading about George Harrison asking the engineer to boost the treble of his guitar during Nowhere Man, and the engineer telling him, “You can’t do that”. At that point the Beatles had earned the right to demand whatever they wanted. So George said, “Turn it all the way up, and if that’s not enough we’ll run it through another channel and boost it there too!” It was good to know that even the Beatles had to put up with engineers and their rigid bullshit.

What advice would you give to someone interested in producing as a career?
Anyone with the desire to learn how to make records can start with acquiring recording gear, whatever they can afford, and just learning from their mistakes. At first, it seems really hard to make it sound like a professional record. You have to sweat bullets for a few years and continue to upgrade your gear and add to it. You have to be detail oriented. And you have to have a real passion for it. Just like any other form of self expression.

What kind of music do you produce?
I’ve produced singer/songwriter artists, old school country, hard rock, blues, pop. For myself, I plan to record a hybrid of electronic and raging electric guitar. Also, cinematic style instrumental music.


Woah, love me some raging electric guitar! Tell me more. Are you planning on recording just a few songs, or a whole album? How long has it been since you’ve made music for yourself?

If I record an album again I will make it vinyl only. With a vinyl record you have a flow, like a movie or a book. It’s a listening experience. You go on a journey. I mean, it can function just as a collection of songs, but I like arranging songs so that they have an ebb and flow. My first and only CD, Future Blues, came out in 1996. I’ve recorded since then, but not released anything.

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Terry’s album, Future Blues


Tell me about making Future Blues. And why you waited over twenty years before thinking about making another one?

The original plan was a band album, but that wasn’t working out so I decided to put out a solo CD instead. The intention was to follow up with the band album, but in the meantime I’d transitioned to full time music producer and became more reliant on that income than putting out my own music. And that’s been the case for over 20 years.

During that period, I was also raising my son. My life in suburbia overtook my previous life as a full time musician and I got stuck. My marriage was not what I had hoped it would be either. I’d lost touch with who I was and, frankly, I’m still a long way from getting my life back as a working musician. So, after a 20 year marriage we decided to divorce and I finally had the chance to get back to some semblance of my previous life, which is where I’m at now. I bought a 100 year old building in a small town about an hour outside of Houston, which I’m renovating as a studio/loft apartment. The place will be combination recording studio, listening room for showcases, man cave and Americana museum, with many artefacts from my life. And I may have some kind of teaching academy there as well. I figure I’ll get more done if I immerse myself in a lifestyle that revolves around making and recording music, rather than going back to a more conventional life. I’m happier now, and anxious to re-establish myself as a musician as well as continuing to produce.

What kinds of artefacts?
Well, when I was very young I wanted to play drums. My parents gave me a toy drum set, and I played it til it fell apart. I remember being around 4 years old playing the toy drums in the garage, along to my mum’s Elvis records, when the garbage truck pulled up. The garbage men saw me playing – a couple of black guys watching this little white boy getting after it on the drums. They were cracking up laughing, but they were loving it.  So I’m looking for a toy drum kit similar to the one I had to proudly display in my studio.

Who has been the biggest influence or inspiration for you?
Jimi Hendrix, to me, was the most important musician of the 20th Century. The Chili Peppers guitarist, John Frusciante once said that “when you hear Jimi Hendrix play, it’s a pure expression of him as a person. You see him on stage and there’s absolutely no separation between him and his guitar. They’re completely one, because he’s just putting every single bit of everything in his whole psyche and every single part of his body into his guitar playing”.

That’s how it feels when I watch the clip of you playing in Tucson. No joke. Like the music is coming from inside you, and the guitar is just a tool for that expression. It’s truly magnificent. What piece of music from Jimi Hendrix is your favourite?
I don’t think I could name one piece. If I had to choose his best album, I’d say Electric Ladyland. Listened to from beginning to end, it gives you that experience of having travelled through space and time. It’s transcendent music.

Anyone else?
Jeff Beck. One of the reviews I got for my album said, “If Jeff Beck lived in Austin, you have some idea where Terry Oubre is at.” There are many other great guitarists and musicians I love. Everything I love in music has influenced and inspired me. Hendrix is still number one for me though. I can hardly believe he walked the earth, even now.

So let me ask you something. You are an extraordinary musician. You have the talent, so why aren’t you a household name? Did you ever want that level of success? Or that level of fame?
In the past I pursued success as part of a band. My first band was considered the best around (or at least I was). But I couldn’t have gone on the road, because I was in high school. I wasn’t really driven to be famous anyway, I was more about the music. And I would have needed management that believed in me. In the ensuing years, I was in several bands and was a session musician. But bands are extremely difficult to maintain. So, if I want to achieve a higher profile, I’ll have to do it as a solo artist. When I put out Future Blues I got good reviews in all the guitar magazines. But the live music climate changed. Music doesn’t mean what it used to. People don’t support it like they once did, which is why I got more involved in producing. And I’m not someone who craves validation from people. I know what I can do.

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Are you still in touch with any of the guys from your old band? Would you work with them again?

The drummer, Ralph Gilmore, and I are still in touch. He played on Future Blues. Yes, I would work with Ralph again. He and I have played thousands of gigs together over the years. The keyboard player, Charles Judge, is working with all the big names in Nashville now. But he was jealous of me.

Why?
Because a fucking piano player can’t compete with a guitar player.

Oooh, can I publish that?
Sure, you can publish it. It’s true! I was always Charley’s biggest fan. He was the one with the problem. He can be a condescending fuck.

Hmm, I don’t like condescending fucks.
Me either. I eat them for breakfast now. I learned not to let them get away with that shit.

How do you feel about getting older in this industry? I mean the goddamn physical aches and pains of getting older versus the emotional and mental freedom and wisdom that come along with it? How does that affect the way you produce music, or play it?
Getting older hasn’t had much of an effect on me as a producer. There aren’t any physical limitations, yet. The good thing about it is that I play with more feeling, and more economically, rather than trying to play too fast with a constant stream of notes. Young players haven’t developed an appreciation for space in music. They overplay – and I did too, especially in my teens and 20’s. So the energy level has changed and I take a more thoughtful approach, which is a definite improvement.

But, what’s even more important is to explore new things, with a childlike curiosity. Experiment. And be fearless and take chances. Aging can soften you, and I personally don’t ever want to succumb to that.

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OK, this photo’s a private joke but it’s pretty fucking cool, am I right?  Just like Terry Oubre.  Also, I think he should use it as the cover art for his next album.  What do you guys think?

 

Ejo #40 – My Interview With “7 Seconds Of Sound” Blogger, Music Lover (And Friend) Svetlana

For this month’s ejo, I’ve decided to go a bit rogue and interview a friend of mine who has recently started a music blog back home in Melbourne. Why don’t you make yourself a nice cuppa, and join us for a chat?

 

This is how our interview would have looked if we didn't live 11,659km apart.

This is how our interview would have looked if we didn’t live 11,659km apart.

 

Svet, you’ve recently started a blog called “7 Seconds Of Sound” which I really love. Can you tell me a bit about what it is and what made you decide to start writing it?
 

Sure. It’s a music blog where I highlight recent releases that I like. I don’t stick to any particular genre and there’s a bit of everything in there like low-fi, Electronica, surf, rock, psychedelic and folk. I try to stick to things that are released that week but sometimes things that are a bit older sneak in if they are too good to resist.

 

The blog came about when one night I was sitting on the couch with my husband and, as usual, I was blabbering on about some new band that I’d found and he turned around and said that I should write a music blog. Basically it was a bit of a “shut up and tell someone who cares” statement but I decided to take him literally and set the blog up the next week. I think the whole thing has backfired on him though as now I talk about music plus the blog. Double whammy.

 

Poor Andrew! But really, he brought it on himself, I have no sympathy. Have you always been interested in music or is this a recent obsession?
 

I’ve always had an interest in music. It was quite a large part of my life growing up. I played the piano and sang and also learnt the drums. I quit the drums after dad quite seriously threatened to leave home if I bought a drum kit which was my next step.

 

Also, like every kid in the 80’s I obsessively taped songs off American Top 40 and got pretty angry with presenters when they talked over the music.

 

I think my obsession has escalated a little over the last few years but I blame the technology that’s emerged over that time, and sites like rdio and Spotify. They make music-obsessed people like me even more crazy as songs are available at your fingertips as soon as they are released. It’s basically like having an open bar for alcoholics.

 

I know how much time an interest in music can take up. You’re a Mum of two lovely young kids. How do you make time for your passion? Are the kids going hungry??
 

Yeap, there’ve been a few times when they’ve had cereal for dinner, but they seem pretty happy with it. They’ve actually been very supportive and if they hear something they like on the radio they tell me to Shazam it and put it on my blog which is funny coming from a four and six year old. I actually think it’s important for kids to see their parents have a passion and be able to view them as people, and not just parents.

 

So earlier you were talking about making mix tapes from the radio. Back in those days I also remember hanging out to buy my favourite bands’ new album, which I would then play on repeat for six months non-stop. These days, with the advent of electronic forms of music (i.e. mp3, iTunes etc.) it isn’t really about the record or the CD anymore. As a result music is more instantly accesible and, in my opinion, a little more disposable. What do you think about this evolution in the way music is made available to the consumer? When you find a great new tune, do you tend to listen to the entire album, or are you only interested in singles?

 

I use rdio a lot and often listen to a whole album rather than just one song but I am happy to stop a song and skip to the next one if I’m not into it. It’s kind of my blog tagline actually. With the sheer number of songs we have at our fingertips we probably are more dismissive and maybe miss out on some great tracks that take time to love. I think the flipside is that there are so many smaller bands that get more of a chance to be heard these days. In fact the last three albums I’ve listened to in full and absolutely loved have been bands that I hadn’t even heard of until I saw their albums on rdio. I don’t think that I would have picked up their album in a store let alone paid $30 as I didn’t know their stuff.

 

My concern though is that we really don’t know how much artists get from things like rdio, Spotify and iTunes. It seems to be a black hole and depends on the contract negotiated between the record company and streaming providers. That’s probably always been an issue though as the record company would get a large cut of the profits no matter what the distribution method was. At least the streaming services and online music retailers may make it easier for artists to release independently and get more of a profit.

 

So, you obviously listen to a lot of tunes (and very cool, awesome people must also send you stuff to listen to). How do you pick what you post on the blog? What criteria do you need to tick before you choose a track?
 

The track has to grab hold of me right from the start and make me want to replay it over and over again. The genre doesn’t really matter but certain styles may fit my mood more than others on a particular day. I try to stick to bands that aren’t massive as I like introducing people to things they may not have heard before and giving smaller bands a go. The music I put up is still pretty accessible though. It’s not über underground. If it’s an Australian band then that gets an extra tick. We have so many great acts in Australia so I’m always happy when I can highlight one.

 

I remember we occasionally used to go to pubs and festivals to check out our favourite performers. Do you often get a chance to go and see live music these days? If so, who have you seen lately?
 

That’s one thing I really miss. I definitely don’t go to as many gigs anymore because late nights and small kids that wake up at 6am don’t really mix.

 

I’ve seen 3 gigs in the last 2 months which is probably a record for me. I saw Weezer in January. They played the full Blue Album from start to finish which was unreal. I went to see the lead singer of Bored Nothing play solo at a cafe during the day. I had a chat to him and he gave me a record which was fun. Bored Nothing is one of my favourite bands at the moment so I was pretty thrilled to meet him. The next day I went to see Livingstone Daisies play Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque album as part of a series presented by Rockwiz where artists cover classic albums.

 

I’m planning to see Them Swoops and Bored Nothing at The Esplanade in a couple of weeks but it’s going to finish pretty late. I’m quite worried that I will accidentally fall asleep on the Espy floor which is pretty gross and sticky from all the beer/vomit.

 

I remember once falling asleep on the toilet at The Corner hotel. Not my finest hour. So, now that you and the lead singer of Bored Nothing are friends, does it give you an inside pass? Be honest, did you actually start the blog so that you could befriend bands and get to hang out with them backstage?? Is it working yet??
 

Ha. I’m just a fan not a friend. I don’t think I’m up to the inside pass phase yet. I don’t have the stamina to take advantage of any perks of being a friend to a band unless it’s The Wiggles as all their gigs are at the respectable hour of 1pm. I definitely am up for letting bands know that I like their stuff though. I think on the whole they are pretty nice to people who send them positive emails/messages on Facebook or blog about them as it’s nice to be appreciated, and free publicity is always good.

 

So tell me who your target audience is for this blog. Who are you recommending songs to?

 

Heaps of people I speak to really love music but keep playing the same old stuff over and over again. They say it’s because there is a lot of crappy new stuff and it takes too much effort to find songs and bands they like so they give up. I suppose this blog is for those people so they can find good new songs to play over and over again. In a broader sense, it’s for anyone who likes what is generally classed indie or alternative music, which is a just an umbrella term for stuff that’s not mainstream.

 

I have to admit I have two iPods – one with the same old stuff I’ve listened to since I was in my early twenties, and the other with a whole bunch of new stuff . It definitely does take effort to discover new bands and new tunes, but that’s why I think your blog is so perfect. You’re doing all the work for us!! So thanks for that. Do you ever wish you’d continued with music and been in your own band? If I recall correctly you have a pretty good singing voice.
 

I think my voice suits jazz and blues music but not indie music so I don’t think I could really be in the types of bands I’m into. I’m ok with that as I think a musicians life is pretty hard. I’m happy to just belt out a tune in the shower every so often and pretend I’m a rock star.

 

Just for fun, if you were the lead singer in a band tell me what you’d call yourselves. I’ve thought about this long and hard (about fifteen minutes) and my band would be called Twin Phagia. Do you like it? Would you come and see us play?

 

You obviously like food and play too much scrabble. I think I’d be too scared to go see your band as it sounds a bit too hard core heavy metal. Maybe put the word butterfly in there to soften up. My band name would definitely have to have the word “head” in it, as it has seemed to do well for Radiohead and The Lemonheads. Maybe the Cushionheads as I’m staring at a cushion right now.

 

The Cushionheads really works! I’d come see you play. Based on your advice (though still going with the food concept) I’ve changed the name of my band to Buttertwin. I think it’s quite awesome. So, what are your hopes for 7 Seconds Of Sound? Do you see yourself still doing it in 12 months? Five years? Until you get bored??
 

Oooh I really like Buttertwin. Sounds a bit raunchy. I would definitely go see you guys!

 

At this stage I can see myself doing the blog for the next 12 months and hopefully much longer. I think I’ll keep doing it until it becomes more of a chore than fun or until I start being really out of touch and blogging about the merits of country and western music, not that there’s anything wrong with it.

 

To conclude, I’m just going to bring up that we’ve known each other a REALLY long time – 18 years this year. In fact, I remember the first day we met. Do you? No pressure! What was I wearing??
 

Wow has it really been that long? Now I feel ancient. As I recall you were wearing nothing but Chanel No 5. Oooh, that sounds a bit gross. We are close, but not that close!

 

Well, I may not remember what you were wearing then but you were wearing some lovely black pants and a black top when you fell on your back and put your foot through the front door of our share-house while rollerblading down the corridor wearing my newly purchased rollerblades. Oh good times!

 

I don’t think we need to talk about that. Or that when I regained consciousness you had fallen down next to me because you were laughing so hard (a recurring theme over the last 18 years, I might add).
 

Quite seriously though, I’d never met anyone like you before and you actually made a really big impact on me. You were, and still are, a very special person – and everyone who knows you would agree with me. To be honest, I fell a little bit in love with you that day in 1995. Over the years our relationship has evolved, and we’ve been in and out of each other’s lives, but I’m happy to say that with your new blog and our shared interest in music, I’ve developed a girl crush on you all over again. I continue to be impressed, surprised and inspired by your curiosity and your passion.

 

I want to thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions and do all the work for me on this month’s ejo. I hope you achieve the success, recognition and Access All Areas passes that you so rightly deserve.

 

For the rest of you (in a spot of shameless self-promotion on my behalf) why don’t you head on over to 7 Seconds Of Sound right now and read MY contribution to Svet’s blog as guest song selector. I had SUCH a great time choosing a track and will keep my fingers crossed that Svet will ask me to do it again.

 

7 Seconds Of Sound

7 Seconds Of Sound