Mike Peterson, Owner and Founder, Loud Round Records
The semi-amazing true story of my life in music
Part 1: The Very Ugly Beginning
In 1967, when I was in 8th grade, I was the school photographer. One of my assignments was to photograph the best band in the junior high school. They were called the Loading Zone, and were fairly good by junior high standards. In the process of shooting them and arranging to make copies of the photos for the members, I found myself being sucked into the addictive madness of Rock and Roll.
In high school, I got a van. Now I was the band roadie as well as the photographer. I have always been an engineer/builder/inventor and so I became the custom band equipment maker as well. But still, I wanted to play.
So I bought a cheap drumset and asked the drummer to teach me to play. He gave me a total of about 3 hours of instruction, and I started making spastic, obnoxious, loud percussive noises, which drove my parents crazy (but then again, ALL beginning drummers do that) . Being more than a little lazy and undisciplined, I didn't spend years of intense practice, I wanted a band NOW!
So, I found a really bad bass player and guitar player and formed my first band. We didn't have a place to practice, so we rarely did. It seems that as soon as anybody heard how bad we were, they withdrew the offer of free rehearsal space. Our name was chosen to reflect the dismal quality of our sound. The band was called Swamp Rot. Ooh we were BAD!
We actually played in public once at a biker party. We were lucky to escape alive. The bikers hissed and booed and yelled insults, but they wouldn't let us stop. Guess they like pain. When we finally did stop, they started stealing our equipment. I had to chase down dudes running away with my cymbals. We finally gave it up, and I returned to being a roadie and equipment builder.
The equipment business got fairly successful, and so after college, I opened a custom manufacturing company specializing in speaker cabinets, recording consoles and other music related stuff. Soon my shop was building equipment for all the sound companies in San Diego. Now, I had an industrial building, and access to sound equipment, let's see if you can guess what happened next.
If you guessed "get another drumset", you win!
Let's interrupt this story and go back to high school. As you remember, I was the roadie for the Loading Zone. Well, the band also had an artist, John Branscom. We worked together on a number of different projects. I built a practice room for the band, and John painted one entire wall with a very good copy of Roger Dean's cover art for the Yes Close to the Edge album.
John was a colorful character. He could be intellectual and philosophical, or obnoxious, rude and insulting, but never boring. One day he disappeared, he hitchhiked to Alaska. After working on an assembly line gutting fish and getting cut up in bar fights, he appeared one day in the parking lot of my shop. At first, all he wanted was a place to park his camper(he was living in a really disgusting camper shell on a piece of shit pickup truck with bullet holes in it).
Soon, he was working in the shop. (He actually became a very good spray painter). He had played acoustic guitar off and on for years, mostly country songs, and eventually the subject came up, "hey, ya wanna form a band?". So, I loaned him the money to buy an electric guitar and amp, and we were on the way.
One of John's old friends was another odd bird named Joe Greene (not the football player). He was a quiet, bookish guy who had studied almost every religion in existence. He was at one time or another a Christian a Scientologist a Hare Krishna and a few others I don't remember. He worked for me as a parts cutter (very accurate but slow). At the time he was studying the Kaballah. He had once learned the basics of guitar, so he decided that he could learn to play bass. So I loaned him the money to buy a bass and amp and another piece fell into place.
Since they only worked part time, and the pay was not great, they couldn't afford a place to live. So they constructed a makeshift habitat above the office in the shop. Even though it was only about 5 feet tall, and had no air conditioning, it was free. They called it "The Hole" in reference to solitary confinement in those old Nazi prison camp movies. A little side note: I thought I was doing them a favor by letting them live in my shop for free, they thought they were being kept as slaves.
Meanwhile, the band formerly known as Loading Zone had become the top band in San Diego. Their keyboard and guitar player, Dennis Bales, was also a teacher. He supplied his best student, Ken Sluder, and the band was complete. We called ourselves Shoes for Industry (after the famous Firesign Theater skit). We actually did practice a lot, several hours a night, and even managed to play live a couple of times. Our finest moment was probably New Years Eve 1979 at the One Night Stand in Ocean Beach CA. It is truly AWFUL, but everybody has to start somewhere.
Unfortunately, quiet, philosophical Joe had a dark side. When he got angry, he turned from a quiet reasonable guy into a raving maniac, screaming and yelling and threatening murder with the veins bulging out on his forehead. He seemed to get angry over almost anything, like "that note should have been an A". Remember that since they shared living quarters, the threat of murder could not be taken lightly.
Finally I had the unpleasant task of firing Joe and kicking him out of the band. It was not a pleasant thing. Later, when we were practicing with a replacement bass layer, Joe came into the practice room with a sledge hammer and started destroying his speaker cabinet. What a sight, I was calmly, quietly and slowly saying "Joe, put down the hammer", and it seems like the quieter and calmer I got, the more it enraged Joe. In the end, he never did kill anybody, except that speaker cabinet.
We advertised in the local free paper "The Reader" to find a permanent replacement. At first we were honest, we advertised for intermediate level musicians to join a developing band. Boy did we get a lot of really awful losers. So we changed the ad to read something like "Working band seeks bass player, PROFESSIONALS ONLY!". And we still got nothing but bums.
At this point, John decided that since it was hard to find bass players, and he wasn't that good of a guitarist, he took up bass. (but isn't that how all bass players start?).
After going through many more disappointing auditions, lady luck smiled on us and Joel Dillon arrived with his guitar. He was HOT! I mean REALLY HOT! Way better than we could ever have dreamed of. And guess what, he actually wanted to join us! (well, we did have a cool place to play, good equipment, and a van).
This was a major boost. He brought up the level of the entire band almost immediately. Soon we were actually getting paid to play.
We mostly played military bases. For those of you who don't know, military bases are the world's greatest paid rehearsal. The auditions are easy to pass and the soldiers and sailors are starved for entertainment. When we did play civilian clubs it was usually on Wednesday. (Needless to say, we were not the hottest band in town).
We always suspected that Joel had some deep dark secrets. He never carried an ID, and we occasionally found letters on his table with a different last name. We suspected that he was a fugitive. Later we learned that he was a deserter from the Navy! Picture this if you can, The Urge are sitting in the van at the Navy base, during our break, smoking a joint, watching the MP's walk by, and one of us is a wanted man.
Finally, long after the band broke up, he decided to go straight. He turned himself in and went to jail. But he didn't waste his time in the slammer. He studied, and now proudly displays a diploma in small business administration from the Navy brig. Last time I talked to him he was managing a pizza joint.
Possibly the oddest coincidence of all involves the tune "None Of Your Business". Joel came to practice one day and announced, "I wrote a song". We learned it and started to play it. Remember Dennis Bales? He was still my friend and music teacher, and I frequently played him tapes of our band. He heard the song and complimented it, saying that we should try to market it.
Some years later, Dennis and I moved to Los Angeles. Dennis had a somewhat successful working band, and along the way, hired a bass player who had previously released a record. We were listening to that record one night, and I couldn't believe my ears. The band "Detective" had actually written and recorded "None Of Your Business" and released it locally in LA. I guess Joel got that record, stole the song, and thought that nobody would ever find out. Weird ain't it.
Unfortunately, in late 1980, things were going downhill for my business. My critics say that the business failed because I smoked too much pot and spent too much time with "that damn band". The truth is a little more complicated. The recession of 1980 killed all of my customers, and I was deep in debt, and to be quite honest, was never that good a businessman.
We recorded the band using a cassette recorder, hooked to the PA with no engineer. Our last show before breaking up is captured in:
Unfortunately, John decided that life just wasn't worth the trouble. He killed himself in 1996. We all miss him, he was a very talented guy.
In 1981, I moved to Los Angeles and got a job in the aerospace industry. I met a Jewish insurance salesman who played guitar, and I joined his band. I borrowed a 4 track recorder and bought a mixer, and attempted to record the band in his living room. The semi-successful results are preserved in:
The Church Of Knobs, Needles and Loud Round Things
In January 1982, I joined Fender Musical Instruments as a keyboard design engineer. Almost immediately, I started planning to build a studio. For years, I suffered the pain of trying to rock and roll in houses and apartments. I was sick of complaining neighbors and rapid police response. So, I decided to build a studio inside of an industrial suite
The first problem to be overcome was finding a building. It seems that there are three kinds of tenants that all landlords hate
Auto Mechanics - They stink, fill the parking lot with derelict cars, and sometimes burn down.
Cabinet Shops - They also sometimes burn down, and raise the fire insurance rates of the entire area.
Rock and Roll Studios - They are loud, attract drug crazed undesirables and usually don't pay the rent on time.
So, after many days of failure, I found the College Business Park. When I entered the parking lot, I noticed that they had several auto mechanics and cabinet shops, I knew then that the studio had found a home.
Since I didn't have a lot of money and could not afford an apartment, I was forced to live in the industrial suite. So in February 1982, I moved into a bare, cold, empty industrial building. In the beginning, I slept on the concrete floor in a sleeping bag with only a flashlight for illumination.
Construction started immediately.
The main studio room was built first. The best way to build a soundproof room is to build a building within a building. The real pros even build a second concrete slab, supported by rubber blocks. I couldn't afford that extreme, but I did build a complete freestanding room inside the space. The room was designed to have almost no parallel walls, since a small cube is the worst possible room for music. It was heavily insulated, and when complete, had adequate sound isolation. We could play hard rock without offending the neighbors, and record classical guitar without hearing the train pass outside.
The main building was complete in July of 1982. Living conditions were improving as well. I found an ugly sofa bed, abandoned by the side of the road, that smelled like urine. Now I didn't have to sleep on the floor. I even had a kitchen, my culinary equipment consisted of a microwave on top of the tool box and an electric hotplate perched on top of the toilet tank.
At the time, I still smoked the evil weed. Since I couldn't afford to buy good dope, I set up an artificially lit hydroponic farm above the main room. It produced barely smokable hemp, but hey, it was free.
For the first few months, the main room was used as a rehearsal hall. I was trying, with little success, to organize a club band. I auditioned a wide variety of strange characters and really bad musicians in the process. Meanwhile, my buddy PJ Geerlings kept saying "I don't want to play in a club band, but I would love to do an all-original recording project". So, we recruited Paul Gagon, who also worked at Fender, to play bass, and began rehearsing. We practiced our material every day at lunch for many months.
By November 1982, construction started on the control room. It was obvious by then that the future of the place was as a recording studio, not a club band rehearsal hall. By January 1983, the control room was finished.
During the next months, I scrounged for equipment. I was once asked to help clean out a storage room at Fender. After moving what felt like tons of junk, I stumbled onto a Ramsa 16 channel mixing board. Evidently they gave it to Fender as a sample; part of a plan for Fender to sell their equipment. I asked my boss, and he let me "borrow" it indefinitely. Drums, a guitar, a Rhodes piano and a bass were constructed out of Fender reject parts, covertly saved from the scrap bin. Speakers, effects, microphones, amplifiers and cables (LOTS of cables) had to be purchased. The hardest part was saving to afford the 8 track recorder, but by June 1983 it was in place.
Little by little, all of the pieces were coming together. You wouldn't believe how many little pieces are needed to build even a small studio.
By November 1983 it was time to try a recording.
John Cermenaro, the Rogers drum engineer, had been following the progress of the studio. It was a fortunate coincidence that the studio was ready exactly the same time that Scott Nisula was in town for Thanksgiving.
John, Scott and Jeff once played in a band called the Smoking Creebars, we all agreed that it was the perfect time for a reunion jam.
The music immortalized on this CD is the first recording ever produced at the Church. The studio was not yet completely finished, but was close enough for rock and roll.
In February, 1984, substantially all of the pieces were in place and the Church was officially Open For Business.
During the period from February 1984 to November 1985, we produced enough material for 15 complete CD releases. It was a very productive time.
In March 1985, Fender was undergoing yet another reorganization. It separated from CBS to become an independent company. In the process, they eliminated the keyboard and drum departments to concentrate on their core business, guitars.
I was suddenly unemployed, and we all knew that the end was near. Now we had a deadline, and the pace of recording accelerated.
The studio was sold to an idiot in December 1985. He attempted to make it into a commercial business called Emerald Isle Records. It failed quickly.
I sometimes return to see what happened to the building. It is still being used as a studio, probably by loud, drug-crazed undesirables who don't pay the rent on time.
Part 3: The Church Of Bits, Bytes and Quiet Round Things
In 1990, I got a job in the medical industry. I was the Senior Systems Engineer for a start-up called Innovision. We attempted to make some truly revolutionary equipment for Vitreo-retinal eye surgery. Much of what we invented actually worked, but the company failed anyway.
Having done live, loud rock and roll for years, I decided to try computer composing. I looked for a decent MIDI sequencer program, but was very unimpressed with the state of the art at the time. So, I finally decided to write my own. It was written for the PC under DOS in C and assembly. It could sorta sync with tape, and it worked reliably most of the time.
After finishing the software, I got another 8 track analog recorder, another mixer another bunch of supporting hardware and set up a studio in my apartment. Since it was an apartment, we had to be careful bout our noise level. Everything was recorded directly into the mixer, and we monitored with headphones.
This studio was not nearly as successful, we only finished one project:
Part 4: Loud Round Records
In 1989 I was hired by Walt Disney Imagineering to work in their R&D department. Definitely the best job I ever had. I got the crazy idea to buy a house, so I sold all of my studio equipment, and saved like a maniac to afford the down payment. Almost as soon as I moved in, I started planning to remodel the house. I wanted to see if I could successfully pull off a major remodeling project WITHOUT ANY HELP.
During the next 5 years, I completely rebuilt the house, doing ALL of the work myself. It turned out VERY well.
Unfortunately, after the death of Frank Wells, things got politically awful at Disney, and in 1994 I resigned.I joined most of my former co-workers at Sony Development.
Now that the house was finished, I decided once again, to start YET ANOTHER studio. This time I had more money, and technology had advanced substantially.
The new studio was direct to disk digital, using Cubase VST for the PC.
One of my first projects was to gather up all of the analog recordings I had made over the years, and make CDs. With the help of Bill Giles, we created cover art for ALL of the old projects.
In the process of making these CDs. Various friends asked if I could put THEIR stuff on CD. So, even though I didn't engineer or produce the original recordings, I put them on CD anyway.
When my old friends from Listen were having their 17 year reunion show, I packed up the computer and recorded them live, direct to disk
The next projects were:
Along with the PSGG release, I put up a website "loudround.com". I quickly lost interest, and let the domain name expire. I think some squatter is still sitting on it in the hope that I will someday pay him for it
Part 5: Mike Peterson and his Virtual Progressive Rock Band
After years of fumbling in ignorance, depending on more experienced musicians to help me write and sing my pieces, I finally learned enough to do it all myself
Virtual Instruments continued to improve, and finally electric rock guitar became available
So, I composed some new pieces and redid some old ones for the next release, completely produced on the Digital Audio Workstation with Virtual Instruments
Part 6: Mike Peterson and his Virtual Progressive Rock Band..with live players
Making music by programming robots is challenging..it's hard to make the result sound musical and non-robotic
Adjusting start times and velocities of the sequenced notes helped, but there is a lot of sublety and complexity in even the simplest live performance
Making really good music with robots may be possible, but it's tedious beyond belief. Kinda like editing a photo one pixel at a time
So, I asked two old friends (and fine musicians), Bill Giles and Denny Bales to join the project
Sometimes they played my parts as written, sometimes they composed their own parts, but regardless of the composer, live parts added the "magic" that the robots never had
We are now trying to figure how to write some new pieces..as a team..where the members live thousands of miles away