· By Grover Biery
Slow Down Sounds - The Beginning
Who doesn't love vinyl? Today started with playing the Queen of Rock 'n' Roll on 78rpm... RIP Little Richard. A legend of all time.
Then I listened to the new reissue of Horace Tapscott Quintet, "The Giant is Awakened." I picked up the Neon Green pressing and it does not disappoint. Lacquers cut by Well Made Music and pressed at Gotta Groove in Cleveland, dead quiet pressing, sounds amazing! Oddly I then put on Suicide by Suicide to wake up or something, the Superior Viaduct reissue, a record that belongs in every record collection. This pressing is just ok but THE MUSIC is great on any pressing. Sonic Boom has a new record which got me to go back to the early Spacemen 3 records, especially "The Perfect Prescription." I forgot how brilliant it is. This was the original US pressing on Genius (RIP Randy Kaye) that he sent me over 30 years ago. Lacquers cut at K Disc and pressed at Record Technology Inc. (RTI) As I write this I am listening to early Orange Juice music, pressed decades ago at MPO in France. Yeah, we LOVE Vinyl!
To trace the inspiration of Slow Down Sounds will take a couple of posts I suspect, but I worked at Warner Bros. Records for 20 years and somehow managed to scale the executive ladder... even as a massive music junkie. Sadly uncommon in the biz these days, but that is another story.
Whenever Neil Young made a new record he would simply come in and play it - what a thrill that always was. In 2004 he came in and played us his Greatest Hits record on DVD Audio. After the playback Neil gave one of the most inspired speeches I have ever heard about sound, SOUND QUALITY and how as a big record company who actually owned the sound, well, if we didn't care who ever would? He ended it with these words, "Because Sound Matters." And in that moment I knew I would re-launch vinyl at WBR. I even knew our slogan, "Because Sound Matters!" That is why those words appeared on that very Greatest Hits release... and why we created an online store for vinyl, becausesoundmatters.com. It is still happening.
I knew that we needed to stand for quality so the first records I did were true classics from the incredible WB/Reprise Catalog and made with tender loving care. I had Steve Hoffman and the legend Kevin Gray cut the lacquers on those first few releases. This is when Kevin had his studio inside of Record Tech so the lacquers to plating was all "in house" as was the pressing. I didn't know at the time how important that little piece of vinyl making was, and even today most would argue it doesn't mean much, but both both Kevin and Dorin Sauerbier (Plating genius from Record Tech) have said to me, "the time between cutting the lacquer and getting the metal process started does indeed have a slight impact on the final sound.". That could be one reason we have had such glowing reviews of Grant Green "Sunday Mornin' - the turn time from cutting to plating was under an hour!
For those first few titles I relied on some of the smartest guys in the vinyl chain to guide me and answer all my questions. In addition to Kevin and Steve, there was Chad Kasem (Acoustic Sounds/Quality Pressings), Brooks Berdan (the foremost analog expert RIP), Michael Fremer (Analog Planet), Gary Burden (art director for Neil and so many others RIP), Stan Ricker (1/2 speed Mastering legend), Don MacInnis (owner RTI) and in my opinion still to this day the best plant manager/ vinyl expert ever, Rick Hashimoto. These folks and others were generous in sharing their knowledge with me in order for these first few reissues to sound incredible. Many fans still think these are the best sounding pressings of these immensely popular records ever made... Because Sound Matters. That was the goal then and is still my goal today here at Slow Down Sounds.
By now you must be wondering what those early titles were that in many ways were the beginning and influence of Slow Down Sounds. Best I can recall they were James Taylor, "Sweet Baby James" & "Mud Slide Slim," Van Morrison "Moon Dance," Joni Mitchell "Blue," ZZ Top "Tres Hombres," and Rickie Lee Jones debut.
These artists cared so much about the recording process, using the best studios, best engineers, best musicians to ensure a superior sound. A sound that stands the test of time. That is what I try to do today, make vinyl pressings that will stand the test of time!
Since we license nearly all our titles we can't always control the audio source. Many of our titles were originally recorded in the digital domain to begin with which is totally fine with us because we are not an audiophile label, we are a label that just tries to make the best sounding pressing of the releases we are lucky enough to release. Instead of using a final CD master for our releases, we have direct relationships with the artists and ask for the final mixes... Kevin then uses the CD master as a guide and does his magic cutting lacquers from the mixes. It certainly helps when the person who originally recorded, mixed, and produced the albums was Greg Kurstin. 2 time Grammy Producer of the Year Winner and the sound genius behind the bird and the bee.
Hopefully that gives you an idea of the foundation we are built on. And you know what, it took me nearly 4 years after that first conversation with Neil Young to finally convince him WB/Reprise was making some of the best sounding vinyl in the world and deserved to reissue his catalog. Finally he agreed.