From: "Radley D. Hirsch" <>
Subject: Re: opiv question
Date: June 27, 2016 at 2:50:17 PM PDT

Hi Todd,
I just read that interview with Matt & Tim. It didn't happen quite how they remembered it. I told them I wanted to make a good quality hi-fi record. They agreed. I didn't like the tinny records that Kevin Army made, although we were friends. I drew a calendar up and marked out the dates, basics at Gilman, overdubs at my place, mixing and done. I made xeroxes and passed them out to everyone. They did have really crappy amps so I did borrow a Marshall (that was never used) and a SVT bass rig. We did everything quick on our end, the band took longer. I had already done records in professional studios, so I knew about time & budgets. We wrapped up the basics at Gilman and started the overdubs at my house. We had done "Hanging Out" and they wanted to put that out on "The Thing That Ate Floyd". They were real happy with that. Then they announced we had to go back to Gilman and re-do Freeze Up, Sound System and add a couple more new songs. What? It'll blow the schedule but ok. The schedule was for Lawrence and David Hayes to plan the release and book time for pressing the records. So we do another session at Gilman and that went great too. When the mixing date arrived, they never showed up. I called them and they said we knew what we were doing so go ahead without them. They said make it sound like The Ramones. Mark Brooks and I mixed it and then they came over a week later to listen to it. I had just gotten a new 27" Sony TV that had stereo  (!)  speakers in it. I played the tape through the tv, it sounded great. It was like hearing your stuff on the radio. They were shocked. Tim said "every song sounds different". (Really? Like Sgt. Pepper?)  I honestly do think they were embarrassed by how good it sounded and what their friends would think and call them sell outs. I mean you listen to The Ramones and they had some big sounding records.

All the extra time they took was on them. Dragged out months? They kept adding more and more stuff. I ended up arranging half of the songs because their songs weren't much more than rough drafts. So I suggested stuff like having the drums open "The Crowd" and helped Tim with a solo. They asked for horns so I got them real professional musicians (paid them out of my pocket) and did the horn arrangements too.

They enjoyed coming over to my house because my wife and I would always feed them. It was always fun, friendly and like family. I stayed friends with them too. I turned Dave Mellow on to Brave Combo and he would turn up to see them whenever they came to town. Tim & Matt- I helped them a ton with Rancid at the beginning. I saw Rancid once on tv years later and guess what amps they were using? Marshalls and SVTs!  Mark bought "Here Comes The Wolves" and told me they used everything on Wolves that they hated on Energy.  By the way, Mark Brooks and I did "Turn It Around" live at Gilman. David Hayes had wanted to put a record of the show so we did it with a huge mic splitter. I ran the live sound and Mark did the recording with another mixer in the Gilman office. That was a long night. The problem was the bands played so crappy they had to go to a studio and re-do all of it.

Mark Brooks at Giman with our house Yamaha PM1000-16 doing some sub mixes into his Tascam board and a Tascam 8 track recorder.

Matt & Tim with baffles. Dave Mellow with earphones.

Lint overdubbing in my backyard. He showed up one night with his guitar humming and buzzing so bad that the only way to get the noise down was to actually move him away from his amp. We tried changing guitar cords, lifting grounds, everything to try and get rid of the god awful buzz. Ended up with his amp in the bathroom and him outside. Finished one song and then I called it because it started raining and I didn't want to electrocute Lint.

This is the boys doing backup vocals. They wanted that big English sing along sound and we recorded them singing one pass then overdubbed them singing again so 5 voices sounded like 10.

Hi there Radley!

Better late than never, eh?  At least I hope you'll see it that way!  I don't think I ever let an important letter go unanswered this long, but when I realized that it was coming up on a year since you wrote to me, I was deeply ashamed and thought, well, the only thing I can do at this point is get off my ass and answer it, no matter how late it is.

I hope you know how much I appreciate and admire you for everything that you contributed to Gilman and the Bay Area scene in general, and how hard it was for me when Op Ivy said I was going to have to be the one to tell you that they didn't want to work with you anymore on the album.  I tried arguing that if that was their decision, they should be strong enough in their convictions to give you the news themselves, but I guess you know how those guys are.  Lint always quoted me as saying (I don't remember if I actually said it, but this is how he remembered it), "You can tell Operation Ivy, but you can't tell 'em much."  They pretty much always got their way in the end, whether or not it turned out to be in their best interests.

I think part of the problem at the time of the recording was that none of us (except you, of course) had any real knowledge of recording technology or techniques, and on top of that, because of the prevailing punker-than-thou ethos, everybody was hypersensitive to anything that seemed less than fully "authentic" or "real."  As Operation Ivy said at the time, they wanted to make a record that sounded like them playing at Gilman Street, but what they didn't/couldn't realize, given their lack of experience, was that most of the magic of them playing at Gilman was created by the interaction between them and the crowd, and that just sticking them, their instruments, and some recording machines into an empty warehouse, even if that empty warehouse was located at 934 Gilman Street, was never going to replicate the intensity and connection of a live show. 

I remember having a similar discussion in the studio with Kevin Army.  I was criticizing him for all the effects and devices he was using on the recording and said, "Why can't you just record a simple guitar track like, you know, the Ramones?"  Kevin said, "I don't know if you realize this, but that 'simple' Ramones guitar track is actually about 20 tracks of guitar."  The implication being, I guess, is that sometimes it takes an awful lot of artificial devices to make something sound "real."

I'm pretty sure it was David Hayes that released the bootleg of the album.  He walked away from Lookout at the end of 1989 and said quite definitively that he wanted nothing further to do with the label, even though I tried like crazy, and offered him an even better deal than he had (half of all profits, which was what he was already getting, but for a lot less work) to get him to stay (I really didn't think I could handle things on my own).  But then when we started issuing CDs and a lot of money began coming in, he started hinting that he felt ripped off and seemed to get quite bitter about it.  

But of course by then I was paying the money David would have been getting (had he stayed at the label) to other people who were doing the work David used to do.  I tried pointing this out, that you can't quit your job and cash in your investments and then expect to still get paid if your former company goes on to do well.  Ironically, something similar would happen to me a few years later when I myself walked away from Lookout without thinking through the implications very carefully.  

Of course I wasn't expecting to keep making money from Lookout after I left, but I did expect that the new owners would carry on running Lookout in the same tradition, being conscientious about paying bands and other people who did work for them, and keeping alive the spirit of great music that the East Bay had by then become famous for.  Instead, they used the large amount of money the label had accumulated to put out a dreary succession of hipster-type bands that had little or nothing to do with the East Bay or the Lookout sound, and spent even more trying to promote those bands into popularity (a lost cause from the beginning, if you ask me).  On top of that, they started operating more like a major label than an independent, flying all over the world to attend bullshit music "conferences," taking out ads in Spin, basically acting like the same kind of over-consuming, under-thinking record industry execs that I had never wanted to deal with and had started my own label so I wouldn't have to.

People pointed out that once I left, the new owners were free to run things however they wanted, which is true, but if I'd known that was how things were going to turn out, I wouldn't have left with a mere fraction of what my 51% share of the label was worth (the other 49% had gone to my employees as part of a profit-sharing plan).  I literally walked away from millions of dollars because I thought they would use that money to keep Lookout strong and reputable, but within seven years they were basically bankrupt and had stopped paying nearly all the bands, which is why Green Day, Op Ivy, and most of the others eventually pulled their records and went elsewhere.  I mean, those three records alone were worth millions, and the new Lookout owners essentially threw them away.  More important, and more hurtfully from my perspective, they defrauded my friends, people I had signed to record deals based on those people's trust in me, of upward of a million dollars in unpaid royalties.  So not only did I throw away a hell of a lot of money by leaving the way I did, but it also meant that dozens of hard-working and deserving musicians would also end up getting stiffed.

But as you say, water under the bridge, right?  At least the bands who lost by far the most (Green Day and Op Ivy) had other resources to fall back on.  But still, a painful lesson for all concerned.  I do think it's fortunate that you didn't get involved with Chris Appelgren when it came to releasing the Op Ivy tapes, as I'm pretty sure it would have turned into an unpleasant fiasco.  For one thing, Op Ivy, or at least part of them, would have pulled out all the stops to keep it from happening, and even if it had somehow come out, the money would have almost certainly disappeared into the black hole that is Lookout's finances these days.

Ha, I just noticed your remark about making fun of David Hayes' drinking and it reminded me that when I first knew him, he didn't drink at all, and in fact often made fun of my drinking.  I wonder when he started drinking.  Maybe around the time of the Op Ivy tour?  At any rate, he went on to make drinking a large part of his life, and I don't think it did him many favors, especially when it came to dealing with the bitterness and anger he seemed to feel about the way things turned out for him.  I hope I don't sound too judgmental in saying that, but having had quite a bit of experience with heavy drinking myself, I found that it tends to amplify those kinds of feelings, even while promising escape from them.  Ironically, considering that we started out with David making fun of my drinking, he went on to become a heavy drinker himself while I haven't had a drink in nine years (though to be fair, my own drinking definitely got worse before it got better).  

Ah well, if we only knew then what we know now, right?  I'm still doing my best to make sense out of my life and not to be bitter or angry about my own mistakes or those of others.  I'm quite content to live quietly in New York and do a bit of writing now and then (though I'd definitely like to do more), and I still like to play some music now and then.  In fact, my old partner in both Lookout and the Potatomen, Patrick Hynes, is coming out for his first visit ever to New York City next month, and we're going to do a one-off Potatomen reunion at a local club, a prospect which both excites and terrifies me.  I'm sure it'll be great to play music together again, though; I just need to stop worrying about what other people might say or think.

Anyway, Radley, once again I apologize for taking 10 and a half months to reply to your very interesting and enjoyable letter, and I promise not to let any future letters languish in the unanswered bin.  I hope all is going well for you out there in San Francisco, and that if you're going to this year's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, you enjoy the heck out of it.

All the best,

On Wed, Nov 11, 2009 at 1:52 PM, Radley Hirsch <> wrote:
Hi Lawrence,
Just came across you on the web by happy accident. I wish Paula & I had run into you at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. You chose Marianne Faithful over Mavis Staples??? We saw Marty Stuart close out Saturday's program and it was the best show I've ever seen- really re-charged me.

I wish those guys would release the OpIv album Mark & I did. Chris Applecore called me one day and came over and I played him the digital masters and blew him away. I think he was going to put it out and then all the bands started pulled their stuff? I don't know, I stay out of that world.

I don't know who did the bootleg of it, no one ever talked to me about it and I've never even seen it but I'd guess the fidelity is pretty crappy?

It was funny reading your old interview with them. Lint & Matt complain about using good amps- the same ones they use now! Mark Brooks bought their "Wolves" cd and told me that everything we did on their record (Energy.0) they used on Wolves, go figure?

I don't know, I listen to our unreleased one about once a year or so and I still think it's a damn good album. I didn't want to make one of typical "tinny" records, no bass, lots of distortion.

They complained about overdubs (in your article) but we couldn't get them to stop overdubbing. Good thing now it was only 8 track tape, these days everything's digital and the tracks are pretty much limit-less. Remember we even went back to Gilman a second time for them to re-record more songs? I mean, they had a song ("Gonna Find You") that they said 'we want this one just plain- no overdubs, no reverb' and then they overdubbed the hell out of it. I remember counting Jessie had 17 punch-in's on his vocal for "Freeze Up" because he couldn't sing it all the way through.

I think Mark & I were just in the wrong place at the wrong time? I know they (and Green Day) went on to make polished records and use good amps and not put out records that were out of tune. I know I shouldn't have teased David Hayes so much about his drinking, which pissed him off. The OpIv boys were scared of what their friends were going to think when they heard the record. Matt & Lint told me "every song sounds different". Gee, really? Like Sgt. Pepper?

Oh well, it's all water under the bridge. Of course we all remained friends afterwards. In fact I had Dave Mello come see my favorite band "Brave Combo" because they had a phenomenal drummer (this like 1988?) and Dave loved them and I've seen him at their shows every time they come back, even now he makes the trip from Lake Tahoe.

A couple of years ago, Jack Boulware got in touch with me about his book. I refused to talk to him because I thought he was trying to make money off Gilman and his co-author seemed proud to have been 86'd for drinking at Gilman. Gee, thanks for contributing to the scene.

Anyway just wanted to say "Hi" and also set the record straight on a few things.
All my best,

Scott Soriano
Re: Mike Lucas vs. Lookout Records
« Reply #39 on: January 31, 2007, 05:58:20 PM »

Someone played Energy for me about a year after it came out and I thought it sounded really weak. The production was all tinny and it sounded terrible. I would hear it from time to time and it was grating. It really is one of the worst recorded records ever.

When we released the first Geeks 7" (the 70s/80s SF art punk band, not the East Bay 90s band), we went to Radley Hirsh's place to drop some off. Not only was Radley the drummer for the Geeks, but he was the sound guy at Gilman for the first ten or so years. He had a spiral notebook noting all the shows he had done and what bands played AND he had reel to reel recordings of every show he did. He also had shit like Neurosis sessions. One of the tapes he brought out was the the first version of Energy, which he had done. It had horns and the production was really fucking great. It sounded closer to London Calling than the thin shit that was released. I was really shocked because what he played us was a pretty fucking good, if not great record. I asked him what was up with that recording and why didn't it get released. He said the band thought it sounded to commercial, too polished. So they had someone else rerecord it to sound less "slick." Thing is what Radley played didnt sound slick, just a good loud, full recording. He said Lookout was thinking of releasing his version, but it never happened. Too bad and too bad it didn't come out instead of the shit version. They were big but they would have been huge.