Welcome to the next installment of Ultimate-Guitar’s classic album series. This installment we look at Quiet Riot’s Metal Health album. Metal Health was the commercial breakthrough album for U.S heavy metal outfit Quiet Riot. Produced by Spencer Proffer, the album was released on March 11, 1983 and eventually made its way to #1 on the U.S charts on November 26, 1983 knocking The Police's Synchronicity off the top spot. Metal Health also holds the distinction of being the first American heavy metal debut album to ever reach #1 in the U.S. The album eventually sold more than six million copies and is considered a true classic among the legions of heavy metal fans to this day. Joe Matera tracked down Quiet Riot guitarist Carlos Cavazo to look back on the making of this American classic.
UG: Let’s start by first discussing the background to the songwriting process for Metal Health.
Carlos Cavazo: Everybody in the band usually contributed to the song writing process. Usually one person would come in with parts of a song, and the rest of the guys would finish it. But, on the Metal Health album, a lot of the songs were already written prior. Some were brought in by Kevin [DuBrow, vocalist], and a few were brought in by my self and the rest were group written.
Do you remember what the budget was for the album?
I think it was approx $80,000, but I know it wasn’t over $100,000.
And when it came to the recording process, how did you approach it?
Performance wise, I played like if I was playing "live" to give it as much energy as possible and concentrated on playing tight with the band. But obviously "live" is different than studio, and certain things you do have to be approached differently.
How long did the whole recording process take?
"Everybody in the band usually contributed to the song writing process."
It was probably around three to six months. We would record for a few weeks then take a break for about a month and then return to the recording sessions. It all depended on Spencer’s schedule as since we were a new band, he was paying more attention to the other bands. And we had no idea that it was going to be as big as it became.
Were there other songs recorded during those sessions that were shelved for later use?
Yes, one of the tracks Mama Weer All Crazee Now was later used on our next album, Condition Critical . We recorded both those Slade covers; Mama Weer All Crazee Now and Cum On Feel The Noize at those same sessions for the album. The reason we recorded those covers was because Spencer really thought that Kevin sounded like Noddy Holder from Slade.
What did producer Spencer Proffer bring to the recording process?
He had great ideas when it came to background vocals, certain arrangements, and vocal melodies such as expanding certain parts. Things like hanging onto certain words longer. He also had the ability to get great performances out of us. He also came up with suggestions for overdubs like getting me to put down a clean guitar part over a certain guitar track. It was really a lot of recording ideas on his part because we didn’t really have that much of recording experience at that point in our career. There were times when we fought with him a lot as he was very controlling. And though we would fight back, he would get more his way than we would get ours. But we did get our way on certain things though.
Did you have a sonic template in mind for what you wanted to achieve with the album musically?
We were influenced by a lot of ‘70s bands, and so we wanted big drums, big guitar sound, and thundering bass, and loud vocals like they had. We also wanted memorable songs. Songs we hoped would get on the radio.
What sort of gear did you use?
"We had no idea that it was going to be as big as it became."
Amp wise, I used early ‘70's Mark ll 100 watt Marshall amps. I also used a Roland Jazz Master amp for clean tones. I also hooked direct for certain clean tones. When it came to guitars, I used a Charvel Telecaster that I assembled myself, and a Fender Stratocaster. For effects, I used a MXR Distortion Plus, a BOSS Chorus, a MXR Flanger and I also used studio effects; delays, reverbs, pitch bender, and harmonizer. I also used a Leslie cabinet for certain sounds.
For microphones: we usually put a Shure SM 57 or SM-58 up close to the speakers, and moved the mike around to find the sweet spot, and usually used higher end mikes placed in the middle of the room and at the back of the room.
When it came to the guitar parts, how did you approach them for the album?
I usually had all my solos prepared ahead of time. Certain parts were adjusted while recording and sometimes suggestions would come from Spencer or the band members. Like they would suggest playing a certain part longer or shorter, and if it was a good suggestion, I would keep it. Sometimes you may come up with a solo that sounds great at home, but when you get to the studio the next day, it doesn’t work, so you have to change it.
How did your instrumental track Battle Axe come to be, was it pre-planned or constructed from a jam?
It was a pre-planned solo that I was doing "live" at the time. I think I added another part or two and recorded it. Then it ended up on the album.
Was there much overdubbing done?
Yes, vocals were over-dubbed, keyboards, and harmony vocals. We weren’t that much into keyboards but Spencer would have all the keyboard ideas. We were just a four piece; vocals, guitar, bass and drums. We did have a couple songs written that did have keyboards in them like Thunderbird that Kevin had written. But Spencer would get a keyboard player to come in to color the sound on certain things and who also played the piano at the beginning of Thunderbird.
Did you do much double tracking of guitars?
Yes, we doubled the rhythm guitars, clean sounds, and doubled some lead parts. We’d record a track once, and then double my guitar exactly how I did it the first time. And sometimes, maybe even triple it so it sounded really big, especially in choruses. For clean sounds, Spencer would record double also, so he could split wide left and wide right in the mix to get a good stereo effect. So it was mainly to strengthen the parts or to spread it really far in stereo.
I have the original vinyl and cassette and noticed that the higher frequencies tend to dominate the mix overall, was there any reason behind this as most albums in this genre, tend to have the lower frequencies primarily dominate?
"We wanted memorable songs. Songs we hoped would get on the radio."
It was either because Kevin and I were pushing to get our parts louder or the way it came out in the mastering. I remember the first mix of Bang Your Head, the guitar wasn’t loud enough and the band fought for another mix with louder guitar.
You mentioned earlier you had no idea how big it would become. Metal Health really kicked off the whole ‘80s metal scene, so you obviously were surprised by it all?
Yes. It came into the charts in March of ‘83' in the top 200 somewhere. Eight months later, after a lot of hard, persistent touring, it went #1. It felt like a relief, like all the work we did had paid off. We had a lot of big acts pick up and take us on tour, ZZ Top, Loverboy, AC/DC and big bands like that who took us out and exposed us to a lot of people and helped us sell a lot of records.
Finally, how did the album cover concept come about?
It was an idea created by the whole band. It's supposed to be a guy who goes crazy banging his head, and they had to put a straight jacket and an iron mask on him, so that he wouldn't hurt himself. I remember the mask was Rudy's [Sarzo, bass] idea. He got the idea from the movie, ‘The Man In The Iron Mask…
Interview by Joe Matera
Ultimate-Guitar.Com © 2009