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Q&A: RICHARD X. HEYMAN

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Musicians generally are budget-challenged when making their first recordings, and Richard X. Heyman was no exception.

More than 20 years ago, he set out to make his first album, but as his funds diminished, so did the number of songs he finished recording for the project. The end result was a six-song EP called Actual Size, which he released in 1986.

Twenty years later, the longtime New York power-pop musician has released Actual Sighs (Turn-Up Records), which in essence is what he wanted his first album to be. Heyman explains how Sighs came together, and he also talks about working with producer/engineer Ed Stasium, a friend going back to their days in New Jersey whose credits include albums by The Ramones, Talking Heads and The Smithereens.

Medleyville: Was it primarily the 20th anniversary of Actual Size that made you want to re-record those six songs, or have you wanted for a long time to do them again?
Richard X. Heyman: “What happened was, [my wife] Nancy and I were moving out of our East Village apartment in 2003 and came across a folder that had been at the bottom of a cardboard box inside our platform bed. We were going through all our stuff, deciding what to keep and what to throw out.
“The folder contained the lyrics of the songs I had chosen for my first recording project. I had been writing songs all through the ’70s and early ’80s, but had never considered being a solo singer/songwriter. I was a drummer and had always been in bands. In ’83, I thought I’d take the plunge, so to speak, and record my own material.

“Out of the hundreds of songs I had written, I picked out three dozen for consideration for this debut release. I figured I’d record them all and then narrow it down to 14 for the album. I found an inexpensive studio, which actually was a guy with a Tascam 8-track recording deck in his living room. As I proceeded, I soon realized that even with the low cost studio time, I was running out of money fast and knew I had mastering, manufacturing, artwork costs, etc. ahead of me. So I stopped at six songs and put that out as an EP in ’86. It was just happenstance that we rediscovered those songs and have now released them 20 years later.”

On your Web site, you say that the 20-track Actual Sighs is your “would-have-been first album.” Does this mean you worked with older equipment (either exclusively or partially), or did you take full advantage of modern-day gear?

Heyman:Actual Sighs started with me recording 36 drum performances onto eight tracks of ADAT tape. Those eight tracks were then temporarily bounced down to one mono track, leaving seven open tracks to begin overdubbing. I generally put down a ‘scratch’ organ on track two and then went right to the vocals.

“After all the vocals were completed on a song, I would bounce them down to one track and then start putting on the guitars, bass, keyboards and percussion. Most songs would take up to four or five ADAT tapes. Then all those tracks were dumped into Logic and mixed. We used a Rode Classic tube microphone and a Summit pre-amp compressor for all the vocals and acoustic instruments. We had horn players and string players come over one at a time to overdub their parts.

“All the electric guitars were played through a Fender Vibro-Champ amp. My main recording electric guitar was a Fender Telecaster and a Rickenbacker 360 12-string. I borrowed a vintage Fender Strat for several songs. I also used a Neptune baritone guitar. There were three different bass guitars used — a Dan Electro long horn, a Hofner President model hollow-body single cutaway and a Fender five-string. Acoustics were a Martin 6-string and a Yamaha 12-string. Keyboards were done on a Kurzweil and a harmonium.”

Did you record any other songs intended for Actual Sighs, or did you know from the start what 20 tunes you wanted to have on the album?
Heyman: “I recorded all 36 songs from the original batch I had chosen in 1983. The remaining 14 will be issued to the ‘Actual Sighs Activists’ — those are the people who pre-purchased the album. That bonus disc will be called Intakes. I’m just starting to mix those songs. When I put those songs away in a folder back in the ’80s, I just forgot about them. I was writing a lot of new things leading up to my next project and was hot to record them. I still dipped back into my older songs, but there were many others to choose from. I was determined to put out a full-length album, so Nancy and I really saved up and completed 14 songs, which we called Living Room!! It was done in the same living room where we had recorded Actual Size.”

You’ve known Ed Stasium for a long time, and these days he lives in Colorado. How did you get him involved with mixing Actual Sighs? Were you guys together when he mixed, or did you send tracks to him in Colorado to work on?
Heyman: “I sent Ed the tracks and he would e-mail me back the mixes. It’s amazing what you can do today with all this technology. I would then listen and e-mail him back or call him with the ‘tweaks’ I wanted. On the song ‘Twelve Bars and I Still Have the Blues,’ Ed nailed it on the first mix. Some of the others, we tried different ideas. There are so many ways you can mix this stuff, especially when you have all these different layers of instruments and vocals. I also did a bunch of mixes with Tony Lewis at his home studio in Sayreville, New Jersey.”

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior