A Conversation With Tony Reed
20 years old after a short stint of living in Phoenix, AZ in 1997, I ended up back with parents, where I was born and raised in Purdy, WA. That November I finally got the job I had been trying to get since coming home, working at Ted Brown Music. Originally it was my plan to work at their Downtown Tacoma location (which has long-since moved) and then move to Tacoma to pursue my music career. Instead I got hired at their still-new branch in Silverdale. Back then I barely knew anything about Kitsap County, let alone any ONE. I happily took the job, and almost immediately started meeting people here. I turned 21 in Spring of 1998, and later that year decided to make my move to Kitsap County in Bremerton. I have been here ever since.
In the last 16-plus years here I have met and gotten to know a ridiculous amount of hugely talented, and amazing humans. Outside of Kitsap we are probably more known for being heavily tied to the Navy, as we have Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, and the Bangor submarine base in Silverdale, but it is my goal in writing about KC to focus on the amazing music scene we have quietly been brewing here for many years.
In early 2000 I was playing in an electric blues band here called the Chebon Tiger Band with Chebon Tiger (guitar, vocals), Marshall Trotland (bass), Bruce Ulrich (drums), and me also on guitar. We were looking to record, and Marshall told us about his extraordinarily talented friend that had recorded his pop-punk outfit Magnetic North. His name was Tony Reed. We booked the session, and went in and recorded 8 songs with Tony, and I was immediately floored by his no-nonsense attitude, and his unparalleled ear for what we were trying to do. One afternoon while we were taking a pause between takes, he pulled up some recordings he had been working on with his new band called Mos Generator, which would eventually turn in to what would become their first album “School Of Hard Rock.” I was immediately awe-struck. This was some of the absolute best pure rock & roll I had ever heard in my life. I was hooked. For the last 14 years Mos Generator has been recording, touring, and rocking harder than just about anyone in the PNW. Tony (T. Dallas) Reed has built an enormous resume over the years with other projects, as well as recording, mixing, and mastering other artists (he also recorded my band Rocky Point All-Stars’ first album in 2004, and just mastered my first solo album “Homegrown” this past May). This past week Tony invited me to his home recording studio Heavy Head Studios in Port Orchard for this conversation.
JP: What were your earliest experiences/exposures to music growing up?
TR: It all started when… my parents were into music. So there was always records around the house that I was trying to get my hands on, and there’s memories throughout my youth of certain records that touched me, even with K-Tel Records that had tons of different bands on it, like there’s one called Rock Power that had Al Green and Black Sabbath, and everything in between, so a lot of musical things were being kind of built right there. I always knew that I wanted to play something, but I really didn’t get my hands on an instrument until I was twelve.
JP: Was guitar your first instrument?
TR: Actually drums, drums and guitar… everything sort of happened at the same time. I knew I was going to play something, I was interested in it all, and things just started coming to me… being available at that time. So I started both instruments around the same time.
JP: So how old were you when you got into your first band?
JP: You didn’t waste much time…
TR: No, and I have a recording of the first time I ever played drums, and it was me and my buddy playing Judas Priest, and Sabbath, and I’m drumming and singing on it. He and I would jam on boxes and stuff… I didn’t have a drum set, so we were making all these recordings of him playing bass… his Dad was in Iron Butterfly which was really cool, and that’s how we met actually. I was telling someone at school that I was really into Iron Butterfly, and told me about this guy who’s Dad was in that band, and I was already into them years before that… as early as 6, 7 years old. So we started beating on things and recording, and we finally found a couple of other guys who were into Iron Maiden, Sabbath, Priest, etc. so the first gig was playing a biker party playing all those covers without a singer… so I was around 14 for that first gig.
JP: Was that here in town (Port Orchard)?
TR: I grew up in Port Angeles actually… all the way up until I was 18.
JP: So what brought your family to Port Orchard?
TR: Work… my grandfather was a contractor, and there was just no work up in Port Angeles, so we moved here. We had a bunch of property with 3 houses he built on it, so the whole family lived in these 3 houses, so we all just hung out together… it was out in the woods, so you’d get up at the crack of dawn and go running through the hills and mountains, and come back at the end of the day when the sun was going down. You know it was a farm too, so we had chickens and cows… we grew things, had an outhouse…
JP: Very rural…
TR: Yeah… and I’d be taking baths in rain water when I was really young, and yeah it was just a really cool way to grow up as a kid.
JP: Very cool. So once you started playing music how/when did you get into recording?
TR: It was always there. Like I said there was recordings of my first drumming gig, and there was recordings all through that era of all the playing on boxes, and all that stuff… and then when I was probably about 16 I had just a PA head and a tape recorder, and I would put mics around the room and run them into the tape recorder mono, and try to record our songs where they sounded better. That was really where I started with that, just working on concepts of mic placement, and I’d have to sometimes use headphones for a microphone, or the weirdest little things to try to get better sounds. Then I moved to 2 tape decks with a Realistic mixer in the middle, and I could play one, and overdub on to the other… and of course you’d get all kinds of tape noise by your 4th generation, and it was hardly audible. I even started recording demos for bands (including my own) when I first moved here using that system. Then I got a 4-track, which was totally amazing in comparison when I was 19, and I recorded a lot of bands around here for free. They’d come to my house and set up in my living room, and we would do 4-track recordings… for years I did that just trying to get the craft down. Listening back to them now, I made some really great productions on 4-track, so I spent a lot of hours working on placement, and all of that kind of stuff… bouncing tracks, and just trying to get the best out of it. Those were still the days of having the bass and drums on the same track. After the 4-track I got an 8-track, and I had a studio in in Manette (Bremerton) across the street from the (Manette) Saloon back when it was the East Side Tavern, and that went for 2 or 3 years. I recorded a lot of bands there on a little Tascam quarter-inch 8-track. That was a really fun time. Cool room… really great drum sounds. I lived in there too… no shower… (laughs). Lots of great memories in there… and great recordings. After that is when I started at Temple Sound in ‘98. Mike (Skylar) just wanted to build a studio and asked me if I wanted to run it, and I immediately said yes. He immediately started making money off of it from my clientele, which we split, and that working relationship still continues to this day, even though I’m spending most of my time here (Heavy Head) these days. I owe Mike a lot, because I got to work in a place that was my own area to experiment the way I wanted to, which was super cool for me. Now I travel quite a bit and record people… last year I went to Denmark a couple times, Australia, or around here… I also mix/master a lot of records from other places that are just sent to me over the internet. I just mixed 3 bands from England in the last 2 months. I guess I’m becoming more of a mix engineer, which is the way I like it. That way I can record my own music, and then mix other people’s stuff that’s already been tracked, and I can usually talk to the engineer beforehand to tell them where to place the mics, etc. Now days I try to keep recording as simple as possible, and have bands set up just like they would play live, and try and capture their live sound, instead of a stale studio sound. My goal is to get a great performance, which is sometimes hard when there is too much separation going on. Also I think if the concept of no headphones can be applied…
JP: Yeah, I hate recording with headphones…
TR: Like recording the new Mos Generator record, just at full stage volume… I’ve got a 100-watt amp that’s all the way up. I’m standing there getting all the feedback, all the response that I always get that I can’t get if that amp is in another room. I don’t always record like that of course, and if I’m recording by myself I can’t necessarily do that, but generally that is my technique these days.
JP: So analog vs. digital… do you have a preference, or do you still do both?
TR: I still do both. I would say it’s 50/50. I would say they’re equally cool, and equally a pain. You know, you sacrifice one thing for another… you can marry the two, that’s really common.
JP: For those that don’t know, how does that work?
TR: You can hit record, and it tracks on the tape, and goes immediately to the computer… using the same piece of tape, meaning you can record on the tape over and over until you get the take… or you can record it to the tape, and then dump it to the computer, or vice versa. There’s lots of different ways to go about it. Overall I also mix differently. I don’t apply as much stuff… I also don’t layer takes. I want you to get the take… I don’t want you to choose from 20 of them. If we knew those other takes weren’t going to work, then why is it still sitting there?
JP: That just clutters your workspace when mixing…
TR: Absolutely. I feel like I get warm recordings… they sound good, and they’re not over-processed. People have all these options, and they just start killing everything with too much stuff. I still have to do some of those things in modern mixing, because that’s what people want. In my mastering jobs I get a lot of people asking to make it louder… because everything these days is so slammed that there’s no dynamics anymore. That’s not really my style. Like when doing your record- it’s not that kind of music, so slamming it just doesn’t make sense. When it’s a really heavy rock band that I tend to do a lot, they always want it just horribly squished and lifeless, and I try to stay away from that. I try to argue with them…
JP: That’s something I’ve definitely noticed in modern music is that everybody tries to master everything as loud as they can to where it is literally distorted, and it just takes all of the dynamic range away from it, which is my favorite part of music- dynamics.
TR: People are coming to me because of one thing or another so they generally have a tendency to listen to me in the end. I just mastered this record that took me six days… back and forth, back and forth, back and forth… and it ended up being almost what I gave them the first time.
JP: Of course! (laughs)
TR: They kept saying “can you make it louder, can you make it louder? Oh wait it’s distorting…” Then it was like, “yeah we like the one that had some breathing room.”
JP: Do you find it easier to master something that you also mixed?
TR: Oh yeah, because I mixed it for mastering. I do need to get more into making the final mix really close, so mastering is easier. I’ve been reading some stuff, trying to learn a little bit about certain aspects of it. I don’t need to be stuck in my ways… I need to learn something sometimes, you know. It’ll help me in the end.
JP: I know you have done a ton of things throughout your career, so can you pick out and talk about some of the highlights?
TR: Early on there’s those bands that you start out with. You play, and you kind of figure out what you want to do, and that was those bands that I mentioned earlier, but the first real record I was on that was released was a Tree People record. I did a couple of records with them…
JP: Were you the drummer in that band?
TR: I was the drummer on one album, and the bass player on another, and I toured on guitar for the album I played bass on!
TR: That was a learning experience… I was in my early 20′s and it was cool to be out on the road. I had already started playing with Scooter (Haslip) and Shawn (Johnson) who I play with now in Mos Generator, but I went off and did that, and they went off and did other things. We would play on and off, and then I did an album called “Goodbye Harry,” with Scott Reynolds the singer from ALL, with Art Gillett (Artimus Maximus) and Mike Moen (Neutralboy), and that was amazing because we’re all big ALL fans. We got to record in California at Greg Ginn’s (Black Flag) studio, and he would come and take us out to breakfast every morning, so I was trippin’ because Black Flag was/is one of my favorite bands. I played drums on that album, and after that Twelve Thirty Dreamtime was continuing to play (with Scooter and Shawn), then Shawn left and we got another drummer (Mark Bruggerman) and we made a record (Gorst) in the late 90′s, and that was a milestone because we finally made a proper release. Then in 2000 we started Mos Generator with Scooter, Shawn, and myself (on guitar) and we started making tons of records… for the last 14 years now. Inside of that there would be the Stone Axe stuff… Mos took a break, and Stone Axe took over. We released 2 full-length records (Stone Axe, Stone Axe II) where I played all the instruments, and Dru Brinkerhoff supplied the vocals. We did quite a bit of touring with the live band (Mike Dupont on bass, Mykey Haslip on drums). Over all of my career I’ve guested on countless releases because I was recording a lot of them, or I just get sent files to play on.
JP: I wanted to ask you about the newest Mos record (Electric Mountain Majesty), which I really enjoy…
TR: Thank you.
JP: It seems very reminiscent of Black Sabbath (especially Master Of Reality), and I know you’re a big Sabbath fan… how did that factor in to your writing this record?
TR: A lot of it was just riffing, and of course almost all of my riffs are Sabbath-based. That’s just the whole blueprint… and even though that sounds… at this point in time in the genre that we play, saying you’re into Black Sabbath is cliche, but Sabbath has been in my blood since I can remember. I mean my parents had Sabbath records when I was a little baby… and I am moved by them. I’m literally emotionally moved by Sabbath even after listening to them for all these years I can go put it on now, listen to Killing Yourself To Live, and I would get hairs standing up, and get all amped. It’s supposed to be this “downer-rock” thing, but I get all amped up when I hear them you know? So Sabbath mixed with the classic heavy rock sound. On this record I allowed natural influences to come in to the Mos sound, because when we did the first record in 2001 we said “here’s our sound.” We formulated a sound that we’re gonna stick to, and every one of our records uses that as the center, and we move out from there… but I’ve never really moved into other styles that I like musically, and allow them to creep in to the band. I did more on this record… made a more natural song-writing outside of heavy rock, and I think it shows on a couple of numbers. We also went heavier because a lot of the bands that we tend to play with are heavier than us, so we thought we would see what it was like to go heavier… it actually feels unnatural to me. Some of those heavier tunes we don’t play live… we tried, but I feel a bit contrived doing those. Not that they aren’t good songs, it just doesn’t feel right. Like the song with the cellos (Into The Fire), is pretty experimental for us. My buddy who I went to high school with is actually in the Seattle Symphony, so he sent me three different cello styles to choose from, and it ended up sounding killer. That is actually the first time we have ever had a guest musician on a Mos record. So yeah, me and Shawn wrote a song (Nothing Left But Night) where he came up with the riffs… he actually demoed the drums and guitars. He’s done that a bit over the years, and that helps take some of the pressure off of me being the main songwriter.
JP: Where do you find some of the inspiration for your lyrics?
TR: Most of the Mos stuff has been based on science-fiction, and religion of an alien kind. I found on Nomads (2012) and this record I’ve started to go into more personal things, so when I’m writing the music that tends to be heavy rock the lyrics can comply with that, because you can’t write a song with sappy lyrics and put it to a heavy riff, but if you write things the right way you can totally explain how you feel about things. You know to be totally honest, this isn’t my favorite record.
TR: It’s getting more exposure, and it’s the least stifled album as far as me overruling it, and just taking a lot of our feel away and making it perfect… This one is less of that. This is like… there’s mess-ups, there’s meter problems, there’s all that stuff you’re gonna see live. It has most of the energy of our live shows, and that really came from touring Europe last year. Somebody released a live record from that tour, and when it was reviewed people were saying “this is a really good band, but these live versions are way better than the studio versions.” So that’s really want I wanted to capture with this record. But yeah, I think my favorite of our records is still the second one (Late Great Planet Earth) from 2004. For songs I dig playing though, I think Nomads is up there too. Of course now it’s becoming difficult after having 6 or 7 records, and we’re still playing a 35 minute set, and we’re trying to cram in our discography and we’ve got two 7-plus minute songs in our set… When we play hometown shows like at The Rendezvous (Port Orchard, WA August 15 w/ Sower) It’s an hour and a half/2 hours. It’s a long set because we end up jamming… we end up a lot of times getting really drunk, and doing what we call the heavy metal juke box where people just scream out stuff…
JP: (laughs) because you know the first minute of every song!
TR: (laughs) exactly! So that’s fun. I don’t know if we’re gonna do that at the one coming up…
JP: I’m sure you will if people feed you enough Jägermeister.
TR: We have Wright Park the next day, which is a day gig, I can’t be all worn out for that even though it’s only 25 minutes… Yeah there’s been some times at the Rendezvous… the only time in my life I’ve ever blacked out… there’s film of me, and I’m like I don’t even remember doing that. I actually fell over and Scooter had to come pick me up… with my guitar on. It was really bizarre, because I don’t do that kind of stuff, you know. It was pretty comical.
JP: I think it was on your Soundcloud, but I heard you guys do a cover of Bennie And The Jets…
TR: Oh that was that show! We start doing drunk covers. That one we had rehearsed at least, or we would have never made it through, that’s a weird song.
JP: Well you pretty much nailed it… so much fun.
TR: When I try to do that falsetto, and I just laugh… I left the laugh in there because it just shows you that we’re having a good time.
JP: So you’re doing one of those shows coming up on August 15th? I hear that might be one of your last shows for a while.
TR: Yes. For an unknown amount of time. Honestly we should be in Europe right now. We played those 2 festivals this year that were really amazing. We played for a lot of people.
JP: I saw some of those photos… what were those called?
TR: There was Freak Valley in Germany, which was a couple thousand people, and Hellfest in France, and where we were playing there was about 7500 people that were really appreciative, and we got a lot of great response from that in reviews and magazines and stuff. I definitely want to do more touring. Because this record did so well… I think it’s already in it’s 3rd pressing, and it came out in April. The label told me that they wish we could tour more, because it would do even better if we did.
JP: So is it that Shawn and Scooter can’t tour as much?
TR: Correct. I have made my life for that.
JP: Because that’s all you do… those guys have other jobs…
TR: And it’s been that way for years, so I have to make decisions because I don’t necessarily want to call it my job, but it is my career…. so we’ll see what happens. I mean I can’t imagine looking over and not seeing those 2 guys…
JP: You’ve been playing with them for 20-plus years…
TR: Sometimes when I get really frustrated about it we’ll have one of those really good gigs, and I’ll just look over and go “youuu bastards…”
TR: You know… no one could understand me like those guys, and vise versa.
JP: So what’s next for Tony Reed?
TR: I’m working on Heavy Pink, which is my other band. It’s just me playing everything, and I put out a 7″ record a couple years ago. I have some label interest from a German label to do a full-length, so I’m working on that. I’m doing a covers album that just got mixed, so that’s 10 songs that’s coming out on vinyl only on a Dutch label… it’s all these 70′s rock covers. That should be out in the fall. I’m also working on a country-rock record called Hot Spring Water with Mike Dupont and Mykey Haslip (from Stone Axe), that’s been around for a couple years and I just keep adding on to it… there’s some label interest on that too, which is weird because it’s nothing like the stuff that I’m really known for. There’s some heavy Leon Russell rip-offs on that…(laughs).
JP: Did you hear he’s playing the Admiral Theater (Bremerton) next month?
TR: That’s pretty cool, but I’m afraid that he’s just gonna be too old, and everybody else around him will be taking up all the slack. He was so awesome.
JP: I heard a couple of the guys from New Grass Revival (Pat Flynn, and John Cowan) are gonna be part of his band…
TR: Yeah that’s what Mykey (Haslip) was telling me, that’s pretty interesting.
JP: Yeah, I was a big fan of those guys.
TR: Yeah and that was Scooter’s influence growing up (bluegrass)… his Dad (Butch) was in Rural Delivery, and that record is great. Have you heard that record?
JP: I have! It is great. Mykey actually gave me a live recording that he got off of a VHS tape…
TR: Oh I did those DVD’s!
JP: Nice! Yeah those guys are great. That was my upbringing… bluegrass. My Dad took me around to all the bluegrass festivals when I was a kid. We even saw and jammed with Rural Delivery way back then.
TR: Oh cool! Yeah that’s a great record.
JP: Absolutely. So tell me a crazy tour story…
TR: We get asked that quite often…
JP: Me too…
TR: Usually the crazy stuff happens when there’s alcohol or some substance involved, but we really aren’t this hard-partying band. Or the van breaks down, catches on fire… really touring stories usually come from the traveling aspect, you know. That’s really the dangerous part of touring. We did get to tour on a bus finally last year in Europe. That was amazing because we did that tour with St. Vitus. We did 26 shows in a row, and I just didn’t think my voice was gonna handle it… but getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep every night, and getting up and being able to make tea and stuff, and just relaxing instead of sleeping in some weird cold place, or on somebody’s floor, or in the van…
JP: And then having to get up and drive…
TR: Yeah, it really kept my strength up. I may never get to do that again, but who knows?
For all things Tony Reed, head to HeavyHeadSuperstore.storenvy.com and be sure to check out Mos Generator “Into The Long Sleep” w/ Sower, at The Rendezvous Tavern in Port Orchard on Friday, August 15 @ 9pm, or at Music and Art in Wright Park in Tacoma Saturday August 16