Deadly by Desire


Left to right: Ben Cortese, Mark Fern, John Deley, Dave Cattley
around 1988...

The above player is playing a band that I produced in the mid to late 1980's - - Deadly by Desire. This is one of the many bands I worked with in Pittsburgh, and it's a shame they never got further than a niche following in their hometown. I know John made it up in NYC, that's all I'll say... If he looks familiar, Google his name...

Please note: these are low-fi digital clips from a remaster of  a 15ips 1/4" half-track safety master of sessions done in the 1980's - no samples were used, no pitch change, no fixing. What you hear is what they played, sung, farted, etc... For instance the keyboards in Shot in the Dark were played, yep, all the way thru... no sequencing, no loops. The drums, nope - real drums. No click. Just direct to the multitrack via the console.

 Even real cowbell

They way they used to do it - they actually had to be able to play. So unheard of nowadays...

I was introduced to them by a fellow named Phil Isaly, a relative of one of the Isaly's that founded a chain of deli's. The term chipped ham, which is colloquial Pittburghese, is said to have described the type of lunchmeat they prepared - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaly%27s .

I was working with CZ Sound for the Pittsburgh Symphony - Symphony in the Park - Point State Park series with him at the time. Since he was aware that I had built a few larger studios in the area, he mentioned the band and asked if I'd be interested in giving them a shot. It was typical that at the various studios I worked at, I'd usually trade time for labor, either for technical work or for actual running of paid sessions of walk in clients.

And it just so happened I was helping Frank Carolla build a studio in McKeesport, Alphastar Studios, just east of the city. It was still in the construction phase, it was to be one of the most palatial studios in the area. I recall the spiral brick staircase, with the studio totally built from the ground up to be that - a recording facility.

The band showed up one evening at Point State Park , and asked if I'd be interested in helping them out. I mentioned that I'd like to hear what they had first, so they invited me to the strip district, a warehouse area known for old buildings and the birthplace of Primanti Brothers (ask any 'burger what that means).

About a week later I stumbled into the strip district and heard what appeared to be a very loud noise coming from a second or third floor of some dilapidated building. I wasn't sure if that was them, but seeing that  all the winos were heading in the opposite direction, I figured I found the right place. Rode up some nasty elevator and lo and behold, there they were.

After talking and listening to what they had, I recalled mentioning that maybe we'd start small, and first cut a quick demo at an 8 track studio (no, not that kind of 8 track; actually a very nice studio, Joe the owner rocks)  I did some work for, Blue Diamond Studios out in Canonsburg. Just a quick run through of some tunes and a few overdubs...

They agreed and headed out to the country, at the time Canonsburg wasn't really developed, and we tracked a few songs. They tracked quickly but had the typical doubts as all young bands do, a bit of second guessing and figuring out the terrain of recording. That's something I miss nowadays, tho it still happens, just that most modern, sample driven stuff, and the plethora of home computer recording equipment has tempered it a bit; maybe mutated it into something a little different.

So I left with some 1/4" reel to reel mixes; thinking, hey they sound a bit like a rough Pretenders, but that's ok - there's definitely something there.

So right around that time, I get a call from another studio, Evergreen Studios in the South Hills. Seems they had a break in, and not from a normal petty thief.

Seems that around 3AM one morning, an Upper St. Clair cop was driving down the road where the studio was and noticed that all the outside flood lights were out. Knowing what was in the building (a decent sized 24 track facility with a new Amek console and Ampex MM1200) he decided that he might want to turn around, call it in and investigate.

As he's turning the squad car around after calling dispatch, he sees a white van with Michigan plates roaring past him. He immediately calls it in, and goes to the studio.

The first thing he notices is the grand piano's lid (the owner was a well known pianist) sitting in the fresh snow on the gravel driveway with the  huge Amek console sitting on it. He sees the door's open so heads in. He notices a police scanner blaring the call from the other officer up the road that stopped the white van.

Seems that they [the thieves] were hacking the multicore cables apart that went from the patch bay to the deck with a hack saw as he noticed the lights being out, and they must have heard his call to dispatch on the scanners.

Turns out that the thieves were fairly sophisticated and were well known all over the country for stealing and fencing pro audio gear (back in those days, almost all gear was  actually worth a lot); in one instance going into another studio while people were tracking, tied them to chairs at gun point, and walked with massive amounts of gear.

So I get a call to help the owner get the place back together. The day I had a tooth pulled and totally numb from Novocain. So there I sat soldering a zillion connectors, thinking how's this guy gonna pay to have his whole studio rewired? That's not cheap... and studio's are like opening a restaurant for the homeless - ain't no cash there. But the hourly rate back then for 24 tracks was pretty nutz.

Hey, I know, I can track Deadly!!!

So I call them up and ask if they'd mind doing a midnight session. They agree and cut a few tunes, Beauty and Sacrifice are two I recall.

So there we were, tracking at about 3AM and I recall having them do a bunch of things that kinda made them think I was nuts. One was the vocal sounds Ben and crew did on Beauty. I remember it was about 4AM by then and I'm like, "ok... I need a bunch of jungle/Caribbean kinda noises..." as they were doing background vocals.

The look on Ben's face was like "WTF? This guy's lost it...." but after two measures he was more into it, and having a blast.  And it was right after I made them do about a zillion vocals on Sacrifice. I kept saying "...and another" and playing the tape back after moving to another track.

So a few months later, Alphastar opens. We got the son of the owner of Mastersound to commission it, and we were open for biz. During that time Frank had heard some of the Deadly stuff, in fact, I think besides the alignment tape, the multitracks for the Evergreen sessions were the first 2" tape played in the studio. Frank was like, "well, if you want to do it on your own trade time, sure, I have no issues." In the long run he ended up sitting in on a few and was as amazed as I was, especially the sax parts Matt Ferrante laid down. I ended up trading about $10,000 worth of labor to do Deadly.

By this time, the band had evolved; just like anything -  even nowadays with software and video game developers -  good stuff comes from evolutionary processes. You begin to get tight with the process, the ideas become more concise with the medium and the people involved get a hell of a lot more relaxed and let the music flow.

Sort of like Bob Ross - More on that on my Marketturd Quarterly site (see marketturd - Bob the Painter_MILFs_and How to Make Music ).

So over the course of a few months we record some killer stuff. The band's tight with what to expect, to the point that almost everything is done in ONE TAKE!! 

Yea... the way I like it. So fresh, so in the pocket.... a bit rough here and there, but just like freshly shaved pubic areas, just awesome...

So as we continue to track, they get into it more, doing things like Curiosity's Sake which has a ton of improv. In fact, the entire sax part was a spur of the moment decision, with Matt nailing it on the first take. Never rehearsed any of it.  See if you can hear the chest slapping and beer bottle flute part at the intro...

Like Bob Ross painting happy tress...

So cool in fact that as I was dealing with the WDVE-FM Christmas Rocks CD (no credit on the website I saw - fuck it) or whatever it was called, I had a few string players come in from the Pgh Symphony led by assoc. prin. cellist Irv Kaufmann, and track someone's song (the band with the female singer).

After we were done with the local "hero's tracks I played the Deadly stuff,  and they loved it. More than what they were playing on, as one member told me.

Next came in WDVE DJ's and head folk. They were there to hear their bands stuff. I recall Romano (I think he was the head radio geek for DVE) sitting behind the effect rack near the diffusers (this place had real quadratic RPG's) and some others were sitting at the console.

So we get thru all the "local hero's Xmas stuff; go smoke a joint with whoever; I do recall one DJ partaking.

So I get back in the studio and put up the Deadly stuff.

They sit/stand there at first talking away to each other, blah blah,.... then all of a sudden they're real quiet... then ask me to turn it up a bit. Asked a few more times...by now it's cranking thru the huge Urei far fields. Frank's looking around smiling with a shit eating grin... he knew something was up...

 Then it gets to Curiosity... Wow, I thought their heads were gonna explode; they're asking "Who is that?" and "They're from Pittsburgh?" "Who produced that; where was it recorded?"

After answering, by that time it got to the bass part, then the rap part, then the Sax/Floyd sounding part.

I swear, as honest as Jebus, the one DJ got so excited he started shaking.... he's like "Who is this? Why haven't we heard of these guys?"

I was thinking  "..'cause your too busy jamming your nose up the local hero's asshole..."  but of course, acted like a pro and said nothing. I recall Romano saying, "...these guy's should be in rotation; not just the the local Sunday show..."

They listened to entire the digital mix tape - back in those days we had one of the first Beta (yea, Beta) running the same Apogee converters that the majors used for glass mastering the CD's using U- matic 3/4" video decks (known as 1610's).

Anyway, we finished it up and sent out the typical cassettes.

This was the only band that I ever, ever got a reply about from a major label of "Send More!" I recall seeing the letter in the mail, thinking "Oh well, another return of unsolicited material..." and was surprised that it had no cassette inside (they always return it).

C'est la vie...

ajawamnet@comcast.net


PS: Some things I always hear in  the recordings:

  • Note the first song Lies - Mark wrote (still does with Jack) some amazing lyrics. So relevant even nowadays.
  • The ending of Precious Things - drive around downtown at night with that playing.
  • Curiosity's Sake - shit, where to start? It was all basic tracks and the band just had a blast with the backup vocal tracking. Amazing bass work from Dave. And the sax working with the previous leads Mark laid down. Also note the time sig change at the very end.
  • Shot in the Dark - amazing keyboard work, and drumming. Toms kill in this.
  • Decision time - Again, another song always relevant, killer tom roll at the end.
  • Today - Matt's part at the end, where he paraphrases "if only I had a brain".
  • Beauty - Written about any of your favorite fashion models it seems. The feel change as it nears the end.
  • Sacrifice - how it builds to the gang vocals at the end.
  • Promises - again Ben's amazing tone. The funky phrasing of the vocals, John's keyboard parts. As always, amazing bass lines.
  • Spiteful - the change ups in the verses, then the choruses. Amazing bass lines. Vocals kill.
  • Up - Wow - fucking amazing playing all the way around. The line "Girls like you will never learn..."  None of us do...
  • For what It's Worth - that song used to drive my downstairs neighbor crazy - literally. She'd twitch and stuff... Now that's impact.