Dit artikel hoort bij het verhaal 1984 en het einde van de klassieke Van Halen line-up.
In 1983 startte Eddie Van Halen met de bouw van zijn eigen thuisstudio. Nooit meer afhankelijk van anderen, geen pottenkijkers en nu kon hij experimenteren en uitproberen naar eigen inzicht. Een droom die eindelijk uitkwam.
In de lente van 1982 werd Eddie Van Halen uitgenodigd bij Frank Zappa thuis om te jammen. Zappa was onder de indruk van Van Halen’s “reinventing” de gitaar. Er werd die middag gejamd met Zappa, Van Halen, Steve Vai en nog een bandlid uit de Zappa band van dat moment. De 12-jarige Dweezil Zappa luisterde mee.
Eddie Van Halen zag met eigen ogen wat een eigen studio kon betekenen. Op de vraag of Van Halen met Donn Landee (Van Halen’s engineer) Zappa’s zoon Dweezil’s debuutsingle wilden produceren, antoorden de mannen ‘ja’. In mei en juni 1982 namen ze het nummer My Mother Is A Space Cadet op in de Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, de naam van Zappa’s thuisstudio. Het idee waar Van Halen toch al mee rondliep kreeg vastere vorm. Zappa had onafhankelijkheid gekregen met zijn eigen studio, waar hij naar hartelust kon experimenteren, opnemen, proberen en spelen op elk gewenst tijdstip. Geen bemoeienis van producers, platenmaatschappijen of andere mensen, zoals lastige zangers.
Een eigen studio
In 1982 werd het Van Halen album Diver Down uitgebracht, een album waar Eddie niet achterstond. De band had afgesproken een pauze in te lassen en nam (Oh) Pretty Woman op als zoethoudertje, een single voor 1982. De platenmaatschappij wilde echter meer en de band liet zich overhalen. Het resulterende album bevatte uiteindelijk 5 covers. Eddie Van Halen voelde zich onder druk gezet door producer Ted Templeman en zanger David Lee Roth. Een eigen studio zou hem meer controle over de muziek en de productie opleveren.
Nog tijdens de Hide Your Sheep Tour, de Van Halen tour ter promotie van het Diver Down album, ging Donn Landee op zoek naar apparatuur voor de te bouwen thuisstudio. De studio werd begin 1983 daadwerkelijk gebouwd op het privé terrein van Eddie Van Halen.
Guitar World, februari 2014
In de februari 2014 uitgave van Guitar World werd Eddie Van Halen geinterviewed voor het 30-jarige jubileum van het 1984 album. Ook werd stilgestaan bij de bouw van de 5150 Studios. Onderstaande werd geschreven over de studio.
But perhaps the most noteworthy attribute of 1984 is that it is likely the only Diamond-certified (sales of 10 million or more) album that was recorded entirely in a home studio.
Of course, the facility now known as 5150 Studios is not the ordinary home studio. From the very beginning, 5150 was a fully professional facility, starting off as a 16-track studio equipped with classic gear that, while it seemed outdated during its time of installation in 5150, was more than up to the task of capturing Ed’s ideas in a polished, finished state that was suitable for release.
1984 was the first album to come from 5150 Studios, and the studio has remained Van Halen’s home base for all of the albums the band has recorded since then. The studio was built during a particularly fertile period of creativity for Ed that was also marked by his desire to protect his creative vision and oversight of how Van Halen’s records should be made.
Fortunately, engineer Donn Landee, who had recorded all of Van Halen’s previous five albums, saw eye to eye with Ed’s thinking and played an instrumental role both in building 5150 Studios and recording the 1984 album.
Landee even came up with the studio’s name, adopting 5150 from the California Welfare and Institutions Code for involuntary confinement of a mentally instable person deemed to be a danger to themselves and/or others.
Donn overheard the code number one night while listening to police broadcasts on a scanner, and Ed and Donn jokingly called themselves “5150s” after many around them said that they were crazy to build their own studio. Both agreed that 5150 was the perfect name for their new “asylum.”
What inspired you to build your own studio at your home?
I used to have a back room in my house where I set up a little studio with a Tascam four-track recorder to demo songs. I really wanted to record demos that sounded more professional than what I was doing.
I used to spend so much time getting sounds and writing. I have a tape of me playing in the living room at five A.M., and you can hear Valerie [Bertinelli, Ed’s ex-wife] come in and yell that she’s heard enough of that song. That was another reason why I built the studio.
The bottom line is that I wanted more control. I was always butting heads with [producer] Ted Templeman about what makes a good record. My philosophy has always been that I would rather bomb with my own music than make it with other people’s music. Ted felt that if you re-do a proven hit, you’re already halfway there.
I didn’t want to be halfway there with someone else’s stuff. Diver Down was a turning point for me, because half of it was cover tunes. I was working on a great song with this Minimoog riff that ended up being used on Dancing In The Street.
It was going to be a completely different song. I envisioned it being more like a Peter Gabriel song instead of what it turned out to be, but when Ted heard it he decided it would be great for Dancing In The Street.
Fair Warning’s lack of commercial success prompted Diver Down. To me, Fair Warning is more true to what I am and what I believe Van Halen is. We’re a hard rock band, and we were an album band. We were lucky to enter the charts anywhere.
Ted and Warner Bros. wanted singles, but there were no singles on Fair Warning. The album wasn’t a commercial flop, but it wasn’t exactly a commercial success either, although for many guitarists and Van Halen fans, Fair Warning is a hot second between either Van Halen or 1984.
The album was full of things that I wanted, from Unchained to silly things like Sunday Afternoon In The Park. I like odd things. I was not a pop guy, even though I have a good sense of how to write a pop song.
How did 5150 go from being just a demo studio to a fully equipped pro facility?
When we started work on 1984, I wanted to show Ted that we could make a great record without any cover tunes and do it our way. Donn and I proceeded to figure out how to build a recording studio. I did not initially set out to build a full-blown studio. I just wanted a better place to put my music together so I could show it to the guys. I never imagined that it would turn into what it did until we started building it.
Back then, zoning laws disallowed building a home studio on your property. I suggested that we submit plans for a racquetball court. When the city inspector came up here, he was looking at things and going, “Let’s see here. Two-foot-thick cinder blocks, concrete-filled, rebar-reinforced… Why so over the top for a racquetball court?” I told him, “Well, when we play, we play hard. We want to keep it quiet and not piss off the neighbors.” We got it approved.
Donn was involved with the design. I certainly didn’t know how to build a studio. It was all Donn’s magic. We built a main room and a separate control room. When we needed to find a console, Donn said that United Western Studios had a Bill Putnam–designed Universal Audio console that we could buy that he was familiar with.
We went to take a look at it, and it was this old, dilapidated piece of shit that looked like it was ready to go into the trash. Donn said, “Let’s buy it,” and I was going, “What the hell are you thinking?”
He said that he could make it work, so we paid $6,000 for it and lugged it up here. He rewired the whole console himself using a punch-down tool. Donn used to work for the phone company, so he was an expert at wiring things.
We also needed a tape machine, so we bought a 3M 16-track. Slowly, the studio turned into a lot more than I originally envisioned. Everybody else was even more surprised than I was, especially Ted. Everybody thought I was just building a little demo room. Then Donn said, “No man! We’re going to make records up here!” When Ted and everybody else heard that, they weren’t happy.
It sounds like Donn wanted as much creative freedom as you did.
Oh, definitely. We had grown really close and had a common vision. Everybody was afraid that Donn and I were taking control. Well…yes! That’s exactly what we did, and the results proved that we weren’t idiots.
When you’re making a record, you never know if the public is going to accept it, but we lucked out and succeeded at exactly what my goal was. I just didn’t want to do things the way Ted wanted us to do them. I’m not knocking Diver Down. It’s a good record, but it wasn’t the record I wanted to do at the time. 1984 was me showing Ted how you really make a Van Halen record.
You also mixed the album at 5150. Was that a challenge?
The funniest story about the whole record was near the end, when Donn and I were mixing it. Ted seemed to think that we were already done, and we had a deadline to meet.
The original plan was to release the album on New Year’s Eve of 1984, but Donn and I weren’t happy with everything on it. Donn and I would be in there mixing and the phone would ring. It would be Ted at the front gate to my house, wanting to come in.
To this day, I don’t think that Ted knows what actually went on. My whole driveway is like a big circle. So Donn would grab the master tapes, put them in his car, go out the back gate, and wait as Ted was coming through the front gate because Ted wanted the tapes. He’d ask where Donn and the tapes were, and I’d say that I had no idea.
This went on for about two weeks. Little did he know that Donn was sitting outside the back gate, waiting for him to leave. We had walkie-talkies and I would tell Donn when Ted was leaving. Then Donn would drive down the hill and come back in through the front gate, and Ted never saw him as he was going out behind him. It was a circus!
Nobody was happy with Donn and me. They thought we were crazy and out of our minds. Ted thought that Donn had lost it and was going to threaten to burn the tapes. That was all BS. We just wanted an extra week to make sure that we were happy with everything.
Ted just didn’t see eye to eye with the way I looked at things. That was my whole premise for building the studio. I wanted to make a complete record from end to end, not just one hit. As soon as “Jump” was done, he looked at the rest of the album as filler. It wasn’t that to me. It’s a good record because it was different.
© februari 2014 Guitar World