Megadeth’s So Far, So Good…So What! w/ David Ellefson – PART 2 – The Album – 2022 – Jeff Young – Paul Lani – Michael Wagener
David Ellefson: As we continue the celebration of the Kings of Thrash tour coming up in October, 2022, Jeff Young / Six-Strings Inc. & David Ellefson will be checking in via their new web-a-log series entitled So Far, So Good…So What’s the Story?! providing a behind the scenes narrative and reminiscing on moments which made the So Far, So Good…So What! album one the most pivotal Thrash records to close out the decade.
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So Far, So Good…So What’s the Story?
Webisode 2: The Album
Producer Paul Lani was a natural pick for producing the album, as he was hired by Capitol Records a year earlier to remix the ‘Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying’ album when we got signed to the label in 1986. That album was actually recorded under our previous COMBAT Records contract that was sold to Capitol as part of our transition to the majors. So, the SFSGSW album would become our sophomore release under Capitol Records (although it was the third album of our catalog).
The DEF LEPPARD album ‘Hysteria’ was all the rave when we cut the SFSGSW album in 1987 and Paul Lani was a huge fan of its producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange. As a result of “Mutt’s” meticulously clean recordings, Paul set out to follow suit and innovate new recording methods himself. Not necessarily a bad thing, as our manager had even created a tour T-shirt for us which had the moniker in dictionary font “MEGADETH: The World’s State of the Art Speed Metal Band” printed on its back. Plus, this was our first real major label recording, and we had a more generous budget to allow for proper production. But cleanliness can be a dirty job in rock n’ roll….
When tracking the drums at The Music Grinder Studio on Melrose Ave in Los Angeles, Lani had our drummer Chuck Behler record his drums without any cymbals (actually hitting foam pads in place of the cymbals and hi-hat), and then later went back and had him record his hi-hat and cymbals as an overdub (this time hitting no drums)….the idea being to give complete isolation & control over the drum kit. Usually, when recording drums in a big live room, isolation is the enemy as you set out to capture the big sound created by the synergy of the cymbals, drums and the room working in unison to create a cohesive “kit” sound. That method was industry standard in the day and even boasted by such legends as LED ZEPPELIN’s John Bonham who reportedly recorded in castles and other large rooms to get that “BIG” drum sound of his. Even more, the big room drum sound was all the rave on most of the current 80’s metal records of that day, like RATT, DOKKEN, WHITESNAKE, etc. So, Lani’s drum isolation approach was bucking trends as he favored tightness & clarity over bombast, even more so given the intricacy, speed & precision of our music.
Lani did the initial mixes for the album at Bearsville Studios in upstate New York aiming for a more tight and punchy sound. However, we then hired 80s metal producer Michael Wagener (ACCEPT, DOKKEN, METALLICA) to remix the album in Los Angeles, to which he in turn gave it his signature big, modern drum and guitar sound. It should be noted that the KIMB & SFSGSW albums were the two LPS of our catalog which always seemed to beg of a remix to get it to where we felt it should be. Eventually, that would happen in 2001 & 2018 for KIMB and 2004 for SFSGSW. So, in a way SFSGSW went from initially having a rawness to it (Bearsville mixes), to a big slick sound (Wagener remix), back to being raw (2004 remix).
As for overdubbing the SFSGSW album, on Peace Sells… I recorded all the bass parts in two days, also at the Music Grinder in 1986. But, Lani, being more versed in mainstream rock and pop records, was a real stickler on timing and performances and I would usually nail only two bass tracks in a day. We even had to contend with the massive Whittier earthquake early one morning during the overdubbing, which scared the crap out me (my first ‘quake since living in LA) and the aftershocks would rock the studio for the next couple days after. But we carried on! Thus, we used a week to cut drums, about five days on bass and the remaining several weeks for all the guitars, vocals, and other overdubs. This gave the record a much more cohesive tightness to the grooves and performances rather than the rush job we’d done on the previous two records due to our budget constraints. I learned a lot about recording from Paul Lani on that album, something I’ve taken into every record since.
When we told Lani that we were going to cover THE SEX PISTOLS song ‘Anarchy in the U.K., it was he who suggested we get his friend/ex-Pistols guitarist Steve Jones to play on the track. We were stoked! What was ironic is that Jones was part of the new wave of sober rockers who had cleaned up their act. Us…not so much! But his stories were legendary, and we were like kids around the campfire when he told us of escapades with the Pistols back in the day.
The Sex Pistols were the quintessential punk band, and this would be a major coup for us to land such an icon for our album. Interesting history given that the Pistols were on EMI Records, and we were on Capitol Records, also owned by EMI! If you own a copy of their debut Never Mind the Bollocks…. Here’s the Sex Pistols, and now the story of their manager Malcolm McLaren’s ‘The Great Rock n Roll Swindle’ tale you will find the irony.
Even more, we didn’t even go to the publisher to get the proper lyrics for the song, but instead wrote down what we thought they were by listening to the original track in the studio before cutting the vocal. We would later catch some flak for this by John Lydon (previously named Johnny Rotten while in The Sex Pistols) who didn’t seem to appreciate our unintentional spin on the lyric, but in a way, it was punk rock to do such a punk rock thing like that and then get blasted by our hero! Ooops….
Fun fact: it was our guitar technician David “Gadget” White who coined the phrase of the album’s title. Best I recall, one day in the studio I said “Well, so far, so good” to which he flippantly finished the phrase with “so what!” and BANG that was the new mantra of the session: “So Far, So Good…So What”! It was a sentiment that despite our hard work and glimpses of success from the Peace Sells… album, we were still in the thick of it with miles of hard work still ahead. And considering our punk rock “lifestyle” at the time, the album title became very fitting for the next year of our lives on the road in 1988.
YOU CAN READ PART I @ THIS LOCATION.