The mid-80s were marked by the last bloody days of the Vinyl Regime. The golden dawn of the Digital Liberation Front had yet to establish the day. Production techniques were still being worked out. Technology was evolving. With grim determination the Ancienne Regime was hanging on... hoary, withered and bankrupt, its death rattle audible.
Now, the Vinyl Regime, in its time, had established two mortal sins. The first sin was to record a sound that was out of phase. The other, and far more deadly sin, was to place the bass and particularly the bass drum anywhere but dead center in the Left / Right stereo mix. The consequences were fearsome. Lathe needles would literally jump out of the groove they were cutting into a master lacquer if they encountered a bass drum mixed hard left or hard right. It was fun to watch - if it wasn't YOUR record.
At this point Pere Ubu undertook its first recording designed for the digital world. Free at last - we thought - we recorded sounds out of phase, and not only did we have two drum kits, we mixed those kits hard left and hard right in the stereo mix with bass drums often sitting out as far as they would go to either side.
But record companies, against all reason, were still putting out vinyl. Further, the people who ran record companies had suckled at the teat of Grim Vinyl and were fiercely loyal to it. To physically accomplish the Fontana cutting of THE TENEMENT YEAR the engineers had to reduce the volume. David Thomas and Paul Hamann mastered this reissue in January 2007 at Suma. An alternate mix of Dream The Moon has been substituted in the running order and five extras have been added: the UK b-sides Postman Drove A Caddy and The B-Side, live in the studio recordings of Miss You and We Have The Technology for the John Peel Show (never previously released), and an alternate mix of The Hollow Earth (never previously released). As well, the sound of thunder that was found on the original Suma mixes of the tracks was added. The packaging has been updated by John Thompson and added are extensive liner notes specific to the album by David Stubbs.
CLOUDLAND fared better if only because we were more wary and cooler heads were at the production helm. Still the album does not seem to have gone through a mastering process. It sounds like a flat transfer. Paul Hamann and David Thomas prepared it for the digital domain for the Mercury reissue.
As well, the album was originally mixed by Paul Hamann at Paisley Park Studios, Minneapolis MN. Subsequently four tracks were re-recorded in London and the others remixed for the 1989 Fontana release. This reissue substitutes in the running order the following Paisley Park mixes by Paul Hamann: Monday Night, Lost Nation Road, Nevada!, The Wire, The Waltz, and Pushin. Five extras have been added: the UK b-sides Wine Dark Sparks and Bang The Drum, the Paisley Park mix of Breath (never previously released), Bus Called Happiness recorded live in the studio for the John Peel Show (never previously released), and a dance remix of Love Love Love. The packaging has been updated by John Thompson and added are extensive liner notes specific to the album by David Stubbs.
WORLDS IN COLLISION was properly prepared for the digital domain by Tim Young at CBS Studios. Four extras have been added, the UK b-sides Around The Fire, Down By The River, Like A Rolling Stone, and Invisible Man. These were demos recorded for what the band refers to as The Lost Album. The packaging has been updated by John Thompson and added are extensive liner notes specific to the album by David Stubbs.
STORY OF MY LIFE was properly prepared for the digital domain by Bob Ludwig at Masterdisk. Five extras have been added: an alternate mix of Come Home by Stephen Hague (never previously released), the b-side Fedora Satellite, and b-sides recorded for Story Of My Life but never released - Gripless, Through The Windshield and Stoughton 529. The packaging has been updated by John Thompson and added are extensive liner notes specific to the album by David Stubbs.
Looking back, what are your feelings about Pere Ubu's time on Fontana?
It was a good experience all in all. We had the opportunity to work with top name producers in top of the line digital studios, recording and writing with methods and time that we had never had access to. I think the quality of the writing is very high. We were working with people both in the company, and out of it, many of whom believed very strongly in our art, very committed to spreading the word. I'm not saying that there weren't parts of the experience that drove us nuts, that we found maddening, but the source of the irritation was often someone's passion for the band. That was acceptable.
How involved were you with having the four Fontana albums reissed in expanded form?
Completely involved. We put the package together and the artwork regeneration was done by our longtime designer John Thompson. Joe Black at Universal was keen and supportive, provided all that was needed, but left the process and decisions to us.
Are there any qualities that are common to each of the four Fontana albums?
I think David Stubbs' liner notes are very perceptive in pointing out the conceptual links not only between the four albums but also with the rest of the canon. I think the following points he makes are remarkably perceptive: the way we took the opportunity to link and reference ourselves to other pop traditions, the landscape we laid out of "perma-doom" relationships, and the links to geography, culture and sound we referenced in so doing.
Was there ever any sense you were consciously looking for a more mainstream / commercial sound on 'Cloudland'?
Not at all. I think the truth of this can be found in the original mixes that are substituted for the London re-mixes on the re-issue. I think that such perceptions of Cloudland stem from the re-mixes that came out on the 1989 release. They sound dated to us because of the delays and reverb that were deployed. Stephen Hague's production of his four tracks I think was right on. I think Daniel Miller's mixes, though alien to the Ubu sound, were effective and preferable to our treatment in the long run. Even the re-mixes that were done for the 1989 release were good and effective - it's just that they weighted the album too much in a certain way.
Why did Fontana insist on having some tracks on 'Cloudland' re-recorded and others remixed and what was it you disliked about these vis a vis the original Paisley Park material?
They never insisted. Dave Bates at Fontana wanted us to work with a producer. We were ready to work with a producer at that point. We felt the need for a new method and for a third party to be involved. Our choice was to give Paul Hamann the gig. Paul recorded the tracks at Suma and mixed them at Paisley Park. Meanhile, Bates ran into Stephen Hague somewhere and the talk got round to Ubu and it turned out that Hague, a successful pop producer, was a huge fan of the band. Bates was a great believer in re-mixes. His response to anything seemed to be, "Sounds good - let's re-mix." A deal was struck. Stephen wanted to record four songs from scratch in a digital studio instead of re-mixing the Suma tracks. He chose the songs. While we were re-recording the four songs with Stephen in London, Stephen's engineer, Dave Meegan, was remixing the Suma tracks. There is nothing bad about those Meegan re-mixes - in every case the choice between the London re-mixes and the Paisley Park mixes was a very difficult one. We naturally tend to a relatively dry sound. At the time there was some debate about the issue and in the end it was decided to go with the Meegan re-mixes as an experiment. For the re-issue the deciding factor came down to the somewhat dated 80s sound that the reverbs and delays gave to the re-mixes - not a "bad" sound, just not an Ubu sound - and the desire to give an airing to the Paisely Park mixes which tend to more accurately reflect our original vision of the songs. So the timeline went something like this:
• Record all the tracks at Suma. • Paul Hamann mixes those recordings at Paisley Park. • Dave Bates meets Hague. • Hague chooses four songs to re-record in London. • The other Suma / Paisley Park tracks are re-mixed in London By Daniel Miller and Dave Meegan.
Can you talk a little about the famous 'Lost Album'?
This was an album that was started as the last Cloudland re-mixes were being completed. It had a vision and intention far closer to Cloudland but with more of a "roots" drive. The band was Thomas - Jones - Feldman - Maimone - Krauss - Cutler. I was hoping that Van Dyke Parks would produce it. Then Chris had to leave the band and Bates began to angle for Gil Norton to produce. Gil took a very hands-on approach and under his guidance the album that was under construction was abandoned for a new approach. I think from what remains of the Lost Album you can see what we were up to or heading towards. It's a shame that it was "lost" but I have no regrets about Worlds In Collision. And in the end Worlds In Collision accomplished some things that we would never have gotten to without Gil and without abandoning the Lost Album.
Would you change anything about the Fontana albums if you had the chance to go back in time?
I would change everything I have ever done. That's why when we have a chance to remix or re-master or re-configure we have done so. A couple years ago Raygun Suitcase and Pennsylvania were re-issued as Director's Cuts. An album is a moment in time, it is not a destination or a terminus. If the opportunity comes along to enhance it because of improved technology or improved vision then it behooves one to get on with it.