How Kiss Got That Massive ‘Creatures of the Night’ Drum Sound
Producer Michael James Jackson has explained the three-part formula he used to help Kiss get the massive drum sound featured on their identity-reclaiming 1982 album Creatures of the Night.
In a new interview with the Three Sides of the Coin podcast, Jackson answers in-depth questions about his work on the three records (1982's half-new Killers and Creatures, plus 1983's Lick it Up) that rescued Kiss from a commercial tailspin that had hit rock bottom after 1981's ill-advised concept album Music From the Elder.
"There was a commitment on Creatures to do something that really clarified the definition of what the band sounded like," Jackson explained. "The concern was [that] Elder may have kind of obscured that somewhat. Just to make sure everybody was clear who Kiss was, we focused on a lot of different things, and one of them was the drum sound. [Drummer] Eric [Carr] wanted to sound big and great."
The first part of the plan was to use the right tools. "I grew up in a world of some really remarkable recording engineers," he noted. "Just like everybody learns from whoever you work with, I learned a lot from them. One of the things I learned in particular was the value of a Telefunken 251 microphone, which may be one of the greatest microphones ever made. It's a German microphone, it's got a particular low-end response. By the time I met Kiss, that's the way I recorded drums."
Next, Jackson and the band worked to take full advantage of the studio where they recorded the album. "We moved Eric's drums from one area to another, trying to find a place where the drums could really speak," he recalled. "And we got this really powerful sound, and Eric was really pleased with it. ... We recorded the drums at Record One. Niko Bolas was the engineer for the drums, and he was way into the idea of trying to capture something unique. We took a lot of time with it, until we found that unique sound."
They brought the same creative thinking to the mastering process as well. "When we were back in New York at the Power Station, it was Bob Clearmountain who had the idea -- and he had done it on some other records that he did," Jackson said. "They had a defunct elevator shaft there at the Power Station. He'd send the sound of the drums into the shaft and there would be a tube microphone way up high inside, and it would pick up that huge sound. The two things" -- presumably the elevator-enhanced version of the drum tracks along with the original recordings -- "would get mixed together, and, with a good degree of taste, you'd wind up with the sound of Creature's drums."
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Of course, the most important element was the actual performance by Carr. "On Creatures, Gene [Simmons] was eager to try and find a drum sound that was as close to [Led] Zeppelin as could be made," Jackson recalled. "I'm a record producer, so I know if you want to have the drums sounds like John Bonham, then you have to give me John Bonham, you have to give me John Bonham's drum kit and you have to put me in the same room where John Bonham plays that the drums sounds like that. Nobody can turn something into something it is not. ... [Carr] played his heart out. ... If anybody ever felt that Kiss was a personal mission, it was Eric Carr. He was the proudest guy to be the drummer for Kiss. I had great respect for how much he loved this band."
Jackson was also quick to point out that this account is an oversimplification of the work that went into Creatures of the Night's drum sound and the album as a whole. "There were so many different elements involved," he said. "It was a real dedication on everybody's part to do whatever it took to make it special."
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