What he knew and who he knew played a big part in Ed Stasium hooking up with the Ramones as a studio mainstay for the pioneering punk band, starting with 1977’s Leave Home, out now in a 40th-anniversary deluxe edition.
By mid-1976, Stasium’s studio career was in full swing, having engineered and/or mixed for the likes of Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Chambers Brothers and Sha Na Na, among others. When he reconnected that same year with fellow New Jersey-raised studio ace Tony Bongiovi, Stasium was offered a gig at what would become Bongiovi’s Power Station recording studio on West 53rd Street in Manhattan. And while the Power Station was being designed and planned, Stasium worked on projects elsewhere with Bongiovi, and their first one together was Leave Home, the second Ramones album.
Rhino’s limited-edition deluxe package of Leave Home contains three CDs and one vinyl LP and features a remastered version of the album’s original mix, a new mix by Stasium, rare and previously unheard recordings, as well as an unreleased concert recorded in April 1977 at CBGB, the Ramones’ stomping grounds.
The California-based Stasium, who is still active today as an engineer, mixer and producer, recently checked in to discuss the series of events leading up to him working with Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy Ramone, the studio they used to make Leave Home and the positive aspects of the album’s new mix.
Medleyville.us: How did you land the job to engineer and mix Leave Home, and what was your knowledge of and exposure to the Ramones’ music up to that point?
Ed Stasium: (Laughs) “That’s a good one. It’s a long story. I was living in Canada, and I had heard nothing of the Ramones. I knew nothing about the CBGB scene. I was working at Le Studio Morin Heights [in Quebec], and I had come down to Manhattan [in 1976] to do consultation for Allan Schwartzberg, a drummer. He had a house band for Geraldo Rivera’s One to One telethon, and I bumped into Tony Bongiovi, who I had known from New Jersey. And he started telling me that he and Bob Walters were building a new studio in Manhattan. So Tony asked me if I wanted to be chief engineer, and I said, ‘Yeah! When do we start?’ I think that was in August, and I quit my job at Le Studio Morin Heights in September or so and came back to the States. One of the prerequisites for coming back was Tony was going to be working with me, watching me work as an engineer [on Leave Home] and also as co-producer — of course, when I got the record, I wasn’t listed as co-producer, and they spelled my name wrong (laughs).”
The band tracked the album in New York at Sundragon, which you’ve described as a “jingle-focused studio.” Was the equipment state of the art for its time, or were you working with older technology and needed to improvise a few things along the way?
Stasium: “The equipment was fantastic; they had great gear. It was a tiny studio, so there was no ambient sound. It was tight — the size of a big living room in a New Jersey-style Cape Cod house. We had Dee Dee’s bass cabinet in the hallway, and for Johnny’s guitar, we only used one Marshall bottom speaker cabinet, which we surrounded with these chunks of foam. All of the tracks were done live, and you can barely hear the guitar amp on the drum tracks, which is pretty amazing. There were no room mikes up because there was no space for them.”
Which songs were the easiest to engineer and mix, and which were the most challenging?
Stasium: “There were no challenges. On the second day, we knocked off another 10 songs [after finishing five on the first day], and then we double-tracked Johnny’s guitar in less time than it takes to take the subway from Queens into Manhattan. We probably did it an hour and 15 minutes. And then we started working on vocals. I did some extra guitar parts and backing vocal parts. When I got the multitrack files [to do the new mix of the album], I was shocked at how much backing vocals I did — almost every song.
“The most fun moment was at the end of ‘Pinhead,’ when you get all of these little munchkin freaks talking — that was very spontaneous. While they were doing the ‘gabba gabba heys,’ Joey and Dee Dee went into almost a comedy routine, and then I started slowing down and speeding up the tape while it was in record and got all of those funny little munchkin freaks.”
Who in the band gave you the most direction and feedback during the sessions regarding how things should sound?
Stasium: “Tommy. He was there all the time. Johnny would come in and do his parts, then he’d leave. Joey would hang around a lot. Dee Dee would do his bass and come in for his vocal stuff.
“Tommy was the architect of the Ramones. He was there for every minute — for all of the recording, all of the vocals, everything. It was Tommy and myself — even Tony Bongiovi wasn’t there for all of the recording. Tommy was very conscious of what was going on with production. He had worked at the Record Plant; that’s how he met Tony. Several years previous, Tony was on staff at the Record Plant in New York and had worked with different artists, notably Jimi Hendrix. And Tommy was an assistant. And when the record company [Sire] decided they wanted a different producer for the second record, instead of Craig Leon, Tony was the only person that Tommy knew was a record producer, and Tony dragged me in.”
Talk about your approach to the original mix of the album and what you did for the 40th anniversary mix.
Stasium: “I don’t think anybody was really happy with that original mix. We did it fast. It didn’t feature the power of the band. It was kind of hi-fi; the vocals are really loud. The guitars were split left and right. But I had the opportunity to do a remix — actually, a new mix. I hate the term ‘remix.’ And everybody involved was very excited about getting a new mix of Leave Home on the table. You get more clarity out of it — you hear all of the kick-drum beats, and I didn’t really use the double-tracked guitars all that much. I put Johnny more in your face with one guitar, and I toned down the backing vocals and overdubs.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior