What other digital audio tools do you use now?
I started using Apple Logic about a year ago; it front-ends Pro Tools really nicely. I know everyone who uses Logic loves it for the user interface, but actually I don't. The MIDI environment on Logic doesn't match the MIDI of [MOTU] Digital Performer. Pro Tools hasn't been known for MIDI for years--in fact, it used to just be crap for MIDI--but everyone grinned and bore it because of the way it is superior for handling audio. The last couple of versions of Pro Tools, though, have been looking better for MIDI. I just want to remain in one environment and not have to have two or three programs running just to cover all the bases.
When Apple bought Logic I thought, "It's time to learn Logic." It's a great front end to a Pro Tools system, and if I can do it all native [i.e., without Pro Tools-style DSP cards] then I'll be just as happy.
You used to drive an Oberheim synth with a pitch-to-voltage converter on your Alembic bass with the Dregs. Are you using virtual soft synths and samplers today?
Yeah, I'm using everything these days, it seems. Once I got Pro Tools and started getting plugins, I started selling all my hardware. Now all I have is a computer with Logic, Pro Tools hardware, a PreSonus mic pre, and my bass preamp. That's it! No more hardware--everything else is inside my computer. One great thing about Logic is the EXS-24 sampler. Now, I like GigaStudio on the PC, but would prefer again to have one completely integrated environment on my Mac.
I use the Vienna Symphonic sample library and cross-graded it over to the EXS platform, too, and now I can do all my GigaStudio stuff in Logic with Pro Tools as the hardware component.
There's a big part of me that just wants to see these kinds of samplers built right into Pro Tools, but they don't do it, and Logic wasn't developed by Apple, so you've got this "world of Logic" feeling about the environment that's not exactly an "Apple" kind of place. But I've learned it now and can effectively write and edit music with it.
Bass sounds have certainly progressed since the Dregs days, haven't they?
To be honest, I can't even think of the last time I heard a good bass sound at a show. Really. Maybe Satriani's guy at the Dodge Theater here in Phoenix, which is a 4,000-seat hall with a real dead-carpet sound in it. Once you reach a certain size of venue or room, getting an accurate live bass sound is almost impossible.
Have any of the computer-based bass tools helped?
As basses have gotten better over the years, and with all these plugins now, I can create pretty much any tone I can imagine out of the couple of physical basses I have. For creating harmonic lows I just have this one Roland octave box thing that works pretty good for bass, better than most of the plugins I've tried to create the octave. But I haven't tried out anything else lately, either, and it's been a few years since I've been just relying on my Roland box for those low octaves. I've been experimenting lately with this BBE Subharmonic plugin, though, and there's some other stuff from Sound Toys and others I'm looking into now, too.
So you're not playing much live bass these days?
True, but when I do I'm trying to figure out a way to play my bass through nothing but my computer onstage. There are things like [IK Multimedia] AmpliTube and Native Instruments' Guitar Rig and the Waves Guitar Rack. All of those are possibilities for front-ending my bass in a live-performance system because they're completely controllable with a lot of sound variations at your fingertips. We'll see, but I see no reason not to go that route for live and studio bass.
Describe your current bass rig.
I'm using two Bag End ELF subwoofers with two SWR 8x8 cabinets, a double stack that really sounds good. But you know what? I'm convinced that I'm the only person that hears it that way. After all these years of perfecting my bass sound live, it's just ultimately been really disappointing. I saw Tony Levin with Peter Gabriel a few years ago and thought, "If anyone has the ways and means to get a great live bass sound, it would be Tony." And it just didn't happen. You can hear his bass accurately during his solo, but the minute the band starts playing again it just went, "Bufffffffffff, booooommmm."
So you've totally made the leap to digital?
Well, I just want to be able to open my song file and have everything pick up exactly as it was when I last worked on the song. That is finally a reality these days. People just starting out in music with DAWs and such have no idea the kind of crap we all had to go through to get things this far!
Do you ever A-B compare your analog and digital tools?
There are lots of discussions about using the Pro Tools mix bus versus bypassing that and sending your [individual audio tracks] out to an SSL or Neve board and all that. To me, that's all garbage. It can all be done in a computer perfectly. For instance, I really got into this McDSP Analog Channel and putting it on the front of all my channels. It's really subtle. When you have it layered across your mix on every channel, it just changes the sound in a really interesting way. For me to think about how that sound compares to a "real" hardware analog compression tool just doesn't apply. The same is true for reverbs, too: I used [Digidesign] Reverb One and the simpler Waves reverb plugins, and now with Logic I use this convolution reverb they have built into it. Each of those has different, unique qualities you can like over any other reverbs out there.
So, to try to do an A-B, hardware-to-software comparison for me is like, "Wait a minute. Can I just quickly find a reverb sound that actually adds to the music as only that tool can?" Absolutely. Or, if I'm a guitarist, do I really need a truck to haul around my 50 guitars to each session or concert? No. Can I get by with five guitars? Probably--or do I just need one Line 6 Variax [physical modeling] guitar? With all the software innovations in sound and music composition and production today, yes, you may just need a laptop and one guitar or bass or reverb or compressor program.
What's up with the Dregs these days?
We broke up officially in 1983, and then Steve went to do the trio band and then we played again together for that Ensoniq demo song for the ASR-10 sampler. This guy at Ensoniq was a big Dregs fan and so they paid us to get back together and do this demo for their new sampler at that time. By early '92 I couldn't tour because of my programming work, so Steve kept his trio bass player and brought in Jerry Goodman [the original Mahavishnu Orchestra violinist] because Allan, the original violinist, is a pain management doctor with a practice who occasionally still plays music. So it was Steve Morse, T [Lavitz], and Rod [Morganstein] in the early '90s with Jerry on violin for a couple of albums. Then in 2000 we did a reunion tour with me and the original violinist Allan Sloan, and did an album called California Screamin' with half the original band and half the new band. Steve's been having a blast with Deep Purple since 1995 as well.