The Continuing Saga of Erin

I’ve talked with some people about mixing/producing “Erin,” by Brendan Loughrey, and it comes up, often, that I’m not completely happy with the album as it is available, now, via iTunes, Amazon, Google, CDBaby, and so on.  Now, that is not to say that I think it’s a badly produced or mixed album.  My dissatisfaction, actually, is largely because I’m a freaking perfectionist, for one thing, and secondly, and most importantly, we were in a time crunch and I don’t think I gave Brendan’s music that he poured his heart and soul into enough time, love or attention.  There are some mixers out there who would say that three to four weeks was ample time to mix 13 songs and, on some level, I concede that fact.  That said, when you’re learning things from the ground up and having your utopian little mixing world turned upside down as you encounter things you’ve not had to work with before, a month is nowhere near sufficient. 

I think what I’ll do, here, is a track by track look look at challenges that each track introduced and how, now, in retrospect and in practice with new attempts at mixes, have addressed them.

Track By Track

01 – Tiocfaidh Ár Lá

If you look up the definition of “Irish Rebel Rock,” this should be the definition you find.  Full of vitriol and bite in the original versions you can find smattered across the youTubes, this song lost some of that when we recorded and produced it.  It sounded…produced.  Weird, right?  Well, part of the charm from the originals that was missing were doubled vocals and some fairly yelled.  Now, we didn’t record any that were that up front, no yelling.  That said, we did several takes.  So, when listening to the version on the CD, it always felt…softer…than I wanted.  Part of that is the violin.  It adds a lot to the song, but also introduces a kinder, gentler dynamic.  That’s OK – it needed a little polish, especially since it’s to be featured in the film “Dougherty,” later this year.  Anecdotally, it would seem they chose to use, at least for the trailer, the version of the song from YouTube.  I’d rather they use the version I have, now.

So, the biggest challenge was keeping the bite while giving it some polish.  There were other factors involved, but what I have in front of me, now, is a much better mix, in my opinion.  Also, I believe I was able to get better dynamics out of it, as well.  The waveforms look better and are only marginally different when played at the same volume, back to back, with the new mix being ever so slightly quieter…maybe 0.5dB, tops.

Finally, and this was just a personal “I wonder if this will sound good” addition, I placed Liam Neeson’s delivery of Michael Collins’ quote about “refusal” leading into the music.  I think it worked.

The CD version of the song:


The new mix:


02 – I Believe

“I Believe” is a fun romp that will get your toes tapping and your hands clapping.  Seriously.  It’s a fun song and it’s got a lot going on, even though it’s just the guitar, bass, vocals and drum.  Brendan’s strumming style is actually what opened up some challenges, this time around, as it tended to eat the high hat with the sound of the strum.  Equally problematic, the drums sound, to me, like “metal” drums and not necessarily, “Irish Rebel Rock” drums.  When it went to press, I felt the vocals were too far forward, the dynamics of the drums were less than I wanted and the drums, themselves, sounded too “big,” if that’s the right term; they just didn’t fit, to me.  I didn’t know what to do with with, then.  The more I tweaked the vocals, the more the guitars disappeared.  The more I tweaked the drums, the more subdued the vocals got.  The more I pumped the bass into the mix, the more everything got overwhelmed really quickly.  So…

I wanted to try the multi-take, vocal doubling on this, as well.  It wasn’t really as good, in a lot of ways: it actually lost power – softened it up, a bit. So, I basically just worked on stereo expansion at the “power points” in the chorus.  My problem is, I don’t like how a lot of the stereo expanders sound, so I knew I couldn’t just apply it to the main vocals and go.  I ended up copying the main vocals out four times, setting them at –100, –45, 45 and 100 degrees, respectively, and applied volume automation to make them come in at the correct times.  It sounds fairly seamless, which is what I was going for.  I also just had a problem with just how dry everything was, except for the drums, which leapt out of the mix, so this time, the big focus was balance.  I think I found it while still retaining a decent dynamic range.  There’s only a miniscule difference in volume between the two, but this is a MUCH better mix.

The CD version:


The new mix:


03 – Lyrics of Your Own

This was a hard song to get a handle on.  First and foremost, the snare on the CD version, in the intro, is harsh, snappy, way too forward and kind of painful to listen to.  On the release, though, the vocals were just about right.  Actually, pretty much everything else with the song made me really happy as it got sent off to press.  It all came back to the snare, for me.  Well, that, and the overall volume pushing and lack of dynamic range.

So, what I set about to do was get that snare reigned in – mostly an EQ issue, as the “honk” tone was really what stuck out, to me.  From there, it was just getting everything to sit nicely in the mix and balance each other out.  Thankfully, like I said, I was pretty happy with the one that went to press, so there wasn’t really a lot to do.  Now, it just came down to keeping the dynamic range in check.

The CD Version:


The new mix:


04 – Happy Days

A nice, shuffl-y, groovy song that, really, my only kibitzes revolved around how out front the vocals are and how overly pumped the whole song was.  Well, that, and I really wanted to give it drums that didn’t sound like they would be at home in an Amon Amarth song – they just didn’t fit, to me.  That, and we made the executive decision to cut out the whistle because I didn’t know how to wrangle it into the mix without just cutting through and stabbing your ears.  I wanted to see if I could put it in, in some capacity.  The dynamic range, as was the case with mostly everything, needed a little caressing, as well.

So, a lot of re-balancing and EQing.  I also wanted to give it more depth and give the vocals a bit of reverb.  I ended up with light reverb almost all around, but mostly on the back edges, since it wasn’t really a song that needed much more than just that little sprinkling of depth.  The whistle fit in, but needed automation.  I ended up with it coming in during the intro and then, sparingly, during the chorus.  It seemed to fit and work pretty well.  Overall, I like the balance a lot better and I reclaimed some precious dynamic range in the process.  I also tweaked the bass a little to give it more of the “precision” sound.  It fits well.

The CD version:


The new mix:


05 – I Quit Drinking

Another romp of a song that could very easily be a country hit, if given the chance.  This song was a bear, mainly because it is such an upbeat and busy song.  There’s a lot going on with the high hat.  There’s a lot of strumming.  The bass guitar line is rocking.  That said, the vocals had to be pushed hard to stand out in this mix and the bass was a different bass than was used on a lot of the songs and cut through with aggression to burn.  So…dynamic range was out the window with this one when sent to press and I cringe when I listen to it, now, hearing the vocals crisp out, or the guitars get a little thin or the bass crunch.  So, really, the challenge was to get the song to the same level of energy and at least close to the same volume without pushing the song into the realm of absolutely pumped out.

So, I had gone the route of a billion tracks in order to give the vocals some beef without compressing the hell out of them, and, well…I trimmed those back down.  A compressor here, a limiter, there, and it started to sit well, together.  The one thing that I started doing was not only mixing in mono, but without anything on the master bus – leaving the mastering to…the mastering.  It was interesting, though, because the song didn’t have much punch, that way, in mixing, but I could hear where everything was sitting and could make sure everything could be heard.  Now, in this case, to squeeze this for everything it was worth, I have less dynamic range than I would have liked, but it’s still much more shapely than what we shipped and, volume-wise, they’re close, with the CD version winning every time.  That’s OK – this still rocks and I don’t hear anything sizzling, crisping, crunching or otherwise cringing under the weight of the compression.

The CD Version:


The new mix:


06 – Another Year

This track is why I started writing this blog entry, originally.  It was Brendan’s brother Barry’s birthday.  The crux is that Barry died 15 years ago, leaving Brendan with a huge hole in his heart and what, after hearing the story behind it, is a very hard song to edit.  If there was a song you just want to *be*, it’s this one.  So, criticizing it, in any way, is hard, too, because of how close it is to the heart, anyway, so it was something I tried very hard to make “the perfect track” (there’s no such thing…) for Brendan.  I, ultimately, wasn’t happy with the result.  Sort of the same reasons that have been cropping up – the voice a bit too up front, the flute was almost invisible, there was a note on the guitar that was just off.  I’m glad Brendan went with the thunder in the beginning – he was initially afraid it would draw quick comparisons to Garth Brooks’ “Thunder Rolls.”  That said, I did a poor job transitioning that into the beautiful guitar and violin parts on the album version.  So, bottom line – this song deserved better and I was going to give it a go.

What I really wanted to do was get it to where it was right after the first listen with Brendan after we did a rough mix with the violins.  For reference, it hit everyone and was pretty emotional – we were all awestruck at how much that violin added.  The mix on the album, though, I don’t feel had that same raw, emotional feel.  So…how to capture that – that’s the question.  I think I did.  We’ll see.  There’s not a huge difference in waveform or dynamics because it wasn’t horrible, it just needed finesse.

The CD version:


The new mix:


07 – Pack Your Bags

I’ve described this track a number of ways – freight train, monster, behemoth, and so on.  The bottom line is that it is an absolutely huge track with a massive amount of sound, the proverbial “wall of sound,” if you will.  Basically, I was happy with how it ended up on the album, but, again, vocals that were a little too up front and there was a deplorable lack of dynamic range.

One of the biggest challenges, and why the vocals kind of stick out more than I wanted to, was because the vocals employ a good deal of dynamics, themselves, moving closer to and then away from the mic, giving it enough variation that just picking a level and going will lead to one line being way too soft – almost unintelligible – while the next line will blow your ears out.  The key was automation and taking the time to learn some different techniques, as well, for making vocals thicker and louder without crisping them out.  I started looking into other methods and found an interesting method by which I wrote a vocal track with a rider to an automated track.  This gave me a leveled, partially processed track that didn’t sound as forced or crackly as what I had gotten when trying “normalization” techniques.

The biggest challenge was something that I discovered with compression on this track for the CD – the more one thing gets bumped, the more something else disappears.  It was really frustrating to try to get each element to sing on its own: the voice, the guitar, the drums, the violin, the bass and the bagpipes all needed room to breathe and it was really crowded.  This time around, I used a bunch of different methods, but the thing I really tried to do was make sure the frequencies weren’t battling it out.  The guitars and violin are the main challenge, as they occupy a lot of the same frequencies and I couldn’t just use ducking because of the strumming style on the guitar – it would ALL be ducking. So, I just shifted where they were in the sound field and it seems to work pretty well.  The waveform doesn’t look a whole lot different, but there is room to breathe – though, not much – so there’s, to me, at least some feeling that I brought some dynamic range to this monster powerhouse.

The CD version:


The new mix:


08 – Most Days

This was a song that was much easier to work on before knowing the stories behind it.  It’s wasn’t as much from the “oh, man, what a downer” or anything along those lines but more from the same standpoint as “Another Year” and that’s wanting to make it perfect.  Of course, that is the bane of any mixer/producer’s existence, that fabled “perfect.”  In this case, though, I was really happy with the overall feel of the song.  The violins were perfect.  The voice was emotive, though, again, forward for my tastes, and the drums didn’t sound like they were borrowed from Arch Enemy.

So…again, the main focus, here, was getting the vocals to sit better in the mix – and the mix allow them to sit and still be heard clearly – and to get the dynamic range back because even for a ballad-esque song, this baby was pretty beefed up, signal-wise.  So, my goal was give the mix enough headroom that everything was crystal clear but still able to amplified, tweaked, compressed, you name it, and still maintain a good waveform with dynamic range.

Now, it’s quite obvious the new mix is quieter.  It’s consistent with the rest of the album thus far, though, and I prefer the more sedate version where I let the vocals get crisp – gruff, even – in a couple of spots.  I could have used automation to “iron it out,” as it were, but, you know what?  This is such a visceral song when it comes down to it…I don’t see it as out of place.  I would actually pay money to have a version of this where Brendan duets with Tom Waits.  At any rate, the drums don’t sound “metal,” the bass is still quite present, the guitars carry through and the violins soar while Brendan croons, which is as it should be.

The CD version:


The new mix:


09 – Jack

“Jack” is another jamming song full of vitriol and catchy hooks.  It also had, when we sent it to press, vocals that were too far forward, drums that sounded a bit too “metal,” and, again, very limited dynamic range.  That said, this is a song that is meant to be in your face and pushy.  So, there was a balance I had to find with it to give it aggression as well as a mix that had gotten a bit more massaged and opened up a lot.

The vocal rider wasn’t as necessary, but was a good first step.  I was able to trim down from my original attempt to beef the vocals without over-pushing them, which ended with 10 parallel tracks at different pans with different levels.  So, it was nice to have only two tracks – main and the reverbed background vocals.  The drums just needed a little massaging since they needed to have the power they had, but needed more life.  Reverb on the snare brought that out.  From there, it was just a matter of getting things to sit, properly and not overwhelm each other or disappear, completely.

I managed to keep the apparent volume almost identical.  By apparent, I mean, obviously, it’s reduced in the overall dB output, but it still *feels* loud and in your face enough to be considered “Irish Rebel Rock.” 

The CD version:


The new mix:


10 – Sweet Road

This is a song that would fit perfectly playing in the background of a bar scene, black and white, with a man holding a glass of whiskey – Irish, of course, alone while the rest of the world bustles around him.  Capturing that feeling was my primary goal and I feel like the album version falls short, in that regard.  Again, a lot revolves around the vocals.  In addition to them being too far forward, I missed a LOT of distortions – mainly as a result of pumping the 44KHz audio further than it should have been – that, for me, took away from the overall feeling of the song.  That said, I could see how some distortion in the voice could definitely add to the song, giving it more of an air of that desperation that would fit.  Unfortunately, it was the peaky, crispy distortion that makes me cringe.  Also, the drums were too “metal” and the bass could have used some EQ shaping.  So, what to do, what to do…

My main goal was to give roughly the same volume while dialing back the vocals to a point where they fit well and sound good and opening up a lot more dynamic range throughout.  I felt the vocals needed some reverb, too.  Not the 80s “every song sounds like it was recorded in a cathedral” reverb, but some plate reverb to give it a little more life and breath and fill in some of the hollow parts of the mix.  The snare needed some reverb, as well, to help it poke through the guitars.

The “perfexion” mix sounded a LOT more polished than the CD version, making it sound more like a demo, something that makes me both happy and sad.  I wished I had been able to give Brendan *this* version for the CD.

The CD version:


The new mix:


11 – Tattooed on My Tears

This song was really fun – it’s a great song, with a great vibe and great movement.  The violin shines, the drums fit nicely, the guitar sits well, the bass is rock steady and the vocal line is really engaging.  So, what’s my problem with it?  Like the previous song, I have a hard time listening to the CD version because the vocals are a bit too up front, but more important, are victimized by distortions and compression issues that came from only having a limited experience in trying to get the vocals out front.  Now, it’s sort of another wall of sound song, inasmuch as just about all frequencies are spoken for at one time or another.  That said, there was still “space,” and it needed reverb.  Not whooshing reverb, but some life to the vocals, snap to the snare and maybe some delay/verb on the violin to just make it pop.  There was also a need for dynamic range because, well…the top waveform looks like a little stuffed sausage.

The most important part of “perfexion” was to get the vocals to work – and be loud enough – while keeping everything else in balance.  I think it turned out nicely, and, again, wish that this was what I could have given Brendan on his CD.

The CD version:


The new mix:


12 – What’s the Use?

Another song that would fit perfectly in a bar scene, it’s another one where I listen to mix and feel sad that I wasn’t able to do better – the bass is audible, sometimes; the guitar sits nicely, but doesn’t have much personality; the violin feels like an afterthought and the vocals are a bit far forward. 

So, again, the challenge was to keep the perceived volume in line with the CD version while giving each instrument its own voice and space within the mix and still having breathing room in the dynamic range.  In actuality, the violin actually fit better In a more background capacity, this time, and fit well, while still adding depth.  Overall, I really like how the new mix sounded: more subdued but, in my opinion, more powerful than the CD version.  I think the biggest change was simply pulling the vocals back a little, but also reigning in the drum so that it wasn’t making the overall track compression go a little overboard.  I reclaimed a bit of the dynamic range and gave it to the guitars.  I think it worked a lot better.

The CD version:


The new mix:


13 – Old Ireland

A slow building rebel-rock tune, this builds in volume and energy from the beginning to when the first chorus kicks in, bringing the full force of the song to bear.  If it weren’t for crisping out of the vocals and a little bit of “burying” in the overall mix, I would say this is one of the ones I was most happy with on the produced CD.  My main complaint was that the “reentry” portion of the song lacked enough dynamics to give it a lot of power.  By re-entry, I mean where the song lulled to a slow drive and then jumps back into the full-bore, driving, song. That said, I really like the “perfexion” mix a lot.

I EQ’d the drums a bit better.  I put reverb where it needed to be – mainly the snare.  I reigned in the volume a bit, but without stifling any of the energy.  There’s a lot to be said for a CLA76 thrown into the mix, so to speak.

The CD version:


The new mix:


In summary, “Erin” was an amazing album to be a part of, and I’m forever grateful for the opportunity.  My only regret is that I wasn’t able to give Brendan that album I feel he deserved because I didn’t have the skill he needed, then.  I’m glad things are changing and I’m learning a lot and producing better music and, like I said, I’m so grateful for the learning opportunities and experience.  Oh, and as a bit of a shameless plug, you can find Brendan Loughrey’s “Erin” on Amazon, CDBaby, GooglePlay, iTunes, and from Brendan, himself when he’s at shows. 

Maybe, at some point, I’ll play the new mixes for Brendan, if he wants, but for now, I’ll keep refining and learning – not necessarily on these songs, but will be getting to a point where if there’s a new album to record, or simply wants a remastered version of “Erin,” I can give him what needs and what I wanted to give him, the first time.


Oh, the PMRC…

Apparently, it’s the 30 year anniversary of the senate hearings revolving around the Parental Music Resource Center, or PMRC, spearheaded by Tipper and, championed by Al Gore.  After having listened to a very level-headed and well-spoken Dee Snider, of Twisted Sister fame, if you were unaware, these are my thoughts, looking back.

I would have had a lot less restraint than Dee had at these hearings. It would have been hard not to ask Al and his completely self-righteous asshat delivery (sorry…he just sounds like such a tool when he thinks he’s asking Dee "hard" or "gotcha" questions)…it would be hard not ask,

"Why do you care so deeply, Mr. Gore? Is it because you don’t believe you’ve equipped your daughters with the ability to discern for themselves what is good for them or to decide for themselves what is offensive to them? Have you not instilled in them a moral compass determined by their own values of doing the right thing on their own without a parent holding their respective hands? Why are you afraid your daughters won’t make the ‘right’ decision?"

As a metalhead and a father of two metalheads, there’s one thing that kind of carries through all of this — words have the power we give them. Period. I’ve instilled in my boys the ability to think for themselves, ask questions and determine for themselves if it’s offensive, challenging to some belief they hold and if it is, why it is. It’s not rocket science but it’s not considered particularly good parenting to a lot of folks, since I’m not filtering what they learn through my fingers around their throats. Control is control, understanding is freedom. Two of my favorite memories are of my younger son singing along, from his carseat, at the top of his lungs to "Dreaming Neon Black" and my mom coming back from a trip to the store with my older son and saying, "Well, I didn’t think I’d be buying this album, twice 20 years apart" as she shows me the "Master of Puppets" CD my son asked her to buy for his birthday.

It’s not about shielding and protecting and deciding for our children what we keep from them based on what offends us. I was raised very Lutheran. Pretty much anything that came onto WNOR was considered … evil. It took a lot of convincing to bring home the Creeping Death picture disc, but it also put the trust in me and in what I’d been taught. I’d say I turned out pretty well, though I swear a lot…again, words have the power we give them. That said, I have tried to keep my boys well clear of misogynistic or degrading crap, but that just goes along with teaching kids the value in all people. To that point, though, it’s about equipping them with the ability to understand and cope with those things they encounter outside of our protective, often stiflingly so, wings. I’m proud to have raised two boys who enjoy music for music first, lyrics second and message when it suits. It’s the difference between teaching our children how to think rather than putting a subjective label on a record and telling them what to think.

No Ordinary Day #NeverForget

It was a Tuesday like any other: Gary was in from Indiana, Andre and his boss were in from Agawam, and it day two of meetings before the Mitem folks headed back around 2pm.  The call center was plugging along as they always did and Scott and I had just gotten back from getting coffee at the Klatch.  Ready to face the day, but not really moving all that quickly to the meetings, we were all just loitering around my, Roberta’s and Mark’s cubes, talking about things that were, probably, inconsequential, killing time until the 9:00 meeting.  Then everything changed.

Greg’s exclamations from the charge desk were echoed from the folks in the break room.  Reps were starting get up from their desks to see what was going on and the busy chatter than normally gave life and energy to the call center was all but gone. Rep and manager alike were gathering around the television, watching with incredulity and increasing shock and disbelief.  At first, it didn’t seem real – it looked for the world like a scene straight out of “Die Hard.”  Then, the second jet hit the second tower. 

Surreality was enveloping everyone watching – just amazing and horrifying and continuously unfolding before our eyes.  So much confusion on the television, disbelief and lack of information made for confused and scared witnesses.  Andre and his boss had just been told that there weren’t going to be any flights into Boston Logan for the rest of the day.  Then the third jet crashed into the Pentagon.

All at once the contentious, usually heated meeting all but disappeared with more situational panic than a desire to discuss the finer points of middle-ware compatibility issues with legacy applications.  The meeting turned into everyone on their individual cell phones getting ahold of loved ones and co-workers close to the targeted areas.  Andre shrugged an affable, but obviously agitated shrug as he announced that he was just told that there were no flights going anywhere…indefinitely.  The US had just grounded all fights for the first time in recorded history.  Our group was regrouping in the cube hall by the main entrance, discussing options both for what we were going to do for the software development and how we were going to get our consultants back home to Massachusetts.  This discussion was interrupted by “What the f…” and “Oh my god!” from the charge desk.  The South Tower just collapsed. 

We moved back to the break room, again, just in time for the breaking story that a fourth jet had crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, but it was unclear as to the reason.  We were glued to the news – every channel was the news – while continuing to find a way home for the Mitem folks; so far, all rental companies were out of cars – and the hold times were amazing, by that point.  Then the North Tower collapsed.  It was standing room only in the break room.

The rest of the day is largely a blur of emotion and that’s about it – the calls to the call center turned, for the most part, from calls about issues with power or gas to counseling calls.  Our reps were awesome, handling each call professionally in the face of a national tragedy that touched every person, deeply.  I don’t remember writing any code.  I don’t recall doing any unit testing.  I just remember sitting with Scott and Andre back in the server room trying to come to terms with what was going on in the world around us.

We all stayed a little later than normal.  I seem to remember the Mitem crew’s rental being a quasi-compact that would be ready after 6, so we all stayed as long as we could with those fellows, since they were going to have a 14-hour drive ahead of them.  We pumped them full of a LOT of coffee.  So, I remember leaving about 5:45pm, after everything had happened, and being completely drained.  It was the most surreal drive home I’ve ever had.  Basically, all traffic disappeared once I passed 275, heading north.  I believe, for the most part, schools were let our early to get everyone home because, at that moment in time, every square inch of the United States was considered a target zone.  So, it was just me, my thoughts, and 25 miles to go.  Equally surreal was how empty the sky was.  I encountered only one jet flying during the entire drive, and, from what I’ve been told, later, it was the backup to Air Force One being moved to Wrigh-Patt Air Force Base. 

That day, the nation, as a whole, was struck a blow.  Nearly everyone I know has been affected in a profound way as a result.  It’s still something that evokes strong feelings and is another “Where were you when?” milestone for millions of people.  I don’t remember a lot about the majority of the day, or even the drive home, really.  I just remember being exceedingly glad to arrive home, hug my wife and two sons, and move on from there. 

Chris Caffery – Your Heaven is Real

Chris Caffery – Your Heaven is Real

It’s funny…I remember seeing Chris on the “Gutter Ballet” tour and he just kind of hung back a little and let Criss do his thing.  From that point on, though, I’ve watched him grow as a guitarist, musician and producer.  His most recent work is something that we saw come to life through myriad postings on Facebook and it was an amazing process to watch unfold.  That’s kind of why I have resisted writing a review, to this point.  I had just finished producing an album, myself, so watching the process here, knowing what goes into it from a recording, producing, mixing and mastering stand-point, I have a different approach than I used to.  It kind of becomes a little club (you, the artist and thousands of his closest friends Smile ) watching a project grow and come closer and closer to fruition and wanting so badly for everything to pan out perfectly and become a sort of cheerleader.

That’s why *I* felt a little too close to it, even though I, really, had nothing to do with other than a few posts of encouragement along the way.  Then something changed.  I read a review.  Now, it wasn’t a horrible review, mostly.  It’s one of those that looks like it comes from a place of expectation that may or may not have been in line with what the point or purpose of the album actually was.  I feel a little sorry for the reviewer inasmuch as the full fury of Chris’ fans have been unleashed upon him.  For the most part, this is because the reviewer barely reviewed the music and, instead, chose to review Chris, himself.  That’s not how reviews work, really.  That said, as reviewers usually do, he brought it upon himself.  This is because no matter what your opinion is, someone will disagree.  Additionally, when you go after a person a lot of people care about, they’re going to push back, hard.  With that in mind – I’m going to talk about what I know with Chris, my perspective on the album and, towards the end, the music.

I’m not going to address much more of the other review, really, save for a couple points.

So, first and foremost, this is an 80s metal album.  Sure, there are some modern aspects to it, stylistically, but it conjures up — without sounding overly like — Savatage and Dr. Butcher with ease, and shows a lot of influence from those bands and from the songwriting he was exposed to, contributed to and learned from.  So, here’s where the divide, I believe, comes in.  I *love* hearing 80s metal musicians producing 80s metal.  I just do.  I loved a band from Richmond called Claude Zircle for exactly that reason — there were no pretentions.  They played their 80s metal hearts out, and that’s exactly what “Your Heaven Is Real” does.  Chris isn’t trying to win the nu-metal crowd.  He’s not looking for the prog-metal crowd.  He’s looking for people who enjoy honest, solid, metal.  In this, he delivered, in spades.  There’s something for every metalhead, here — there’s so much groove on this disc, it’s quite tasty.  If you don’t feel the 80s screaming through in “Just Fine,” I don’t know what to tell you.  The album, itself, also has a consistency across it — the tone, the energy, the love, the effort.

It’s funny, though, because it’s at this point in a lot of reviews where the comments start veering into “you’re a fanboy” or equally derisive terms that basically are implying that because you honestly like something and have good things to say about it, you’re a kiss-ass.  That always baffles me.  Me?  You get what you get.  If I like it, I say so, if I don’t, I say so.

Another aspect in which I felt a little too close to really review the album, objectively, was knowing the stories behind a lot of the songs, as revealed by Chris over the creation of the album via Facebook.  Once I know what something’s about, and how deeply personal these things are, and how much of an artist gets exposed by “putting himself out there” in a way that few people ever know — how the hell do you criticize that?  Even on the album I was just working on, it was much easier to be critical, as a producer, about musical and production choices, when I didn’t know that it was a song, for example, about the brutal hole left in the artist’s heart after the untimely death of his brother.  It’s at that point that it becomes the artist’s complete game – even as producer and mixer, there are things about which you just accept you have no say.  The same falls, for me, into that realm, here.  “Your Heaven Is Real” isn’t some attempt at a catchy chorus (have I mentioned that the song *crushes* and the chorus will get stuck in your head for a while?) without substance, but a very personal revelation about a pretty damned scary situation and brings, to me, two interpretations of the song that aren’t disparate — as a result of the experience, there’s a new appreciation of what is an isn’t real to Chris when it comes to the afterlife, and, really, it’s more of an affirmation and uplifting message than we’ve gotten from Chris, previously.  To me, that’s awesome — he’s in a happier place, which is exceedingly obvious if you follow him on Facebook.  Chris has always worn his emotions on his sleeve and produced music from the heart, and this is no different — something for which *I’m* grateful, though, I do understand how some folks aren’t always comfortable listening to songs that aren’t just about political rants, sex drugs and rock’n’roll, or any of the impersonal, banal topics we’ve come to expect in recent years.  That said, I’m in no position to criticize personal experience and expression for reasons I’ve mentioned before.

Oh, but make no mistake — Chris has socio-political rants, too, but there are more songs, here, about new and more personal topics, and are addressed with the same lack of compromise as “Pissed Off” though handled with more experience, wisdom and maturity.  What?  We all mature as we get older and, in this case, it just means the music is growing, proportionately, with Chris.  That’s not a bad thing.

I will address a comment from the review within one of the points from the review I wish to focus on, just because it’s something I didn’t have an appreciation for prior to last winter, when I was in a similar situation.  So, here’s the thing the review stated, “While the mix is clear, the overall sound is muddy and not sharp enough…” We’ll pair that with one of the comments on the review that stated, “…sounds like it was recorded on a PC.”  Here’s the thing — in several ways it probably was – so what?  There’s a lot of the home studio that is now piped through the PC to record and from what I’ve seen of Chris’ studio, I have no reason to believe any different.  Even in a larger studio, again, the trend is to pipe everything through a PC. That said, having just produced an album that was recorded in its entirety on a Mac (so, kind of PC…) and mixed/mastered on my studio system, I have a new appreciation for what went into this album.  I know how bloody hard it is to get a good, consistent sound that sounds good on your monitors, in your car, on your phone, and so on, and I also know what happens when you either don’t have the right monitors, the right angle on the monitors and the right distance from the monitors, ignoring the fact, for the moment, as to whether the room is treated, or not.

So, with that in mind, there are parts that I, as someone who has just spent time mixing songs until my eyes glazed over and my ears were so fatigued, and I dreamt of the songs for weeks, recognized right off the hop while listening to the album.  I believe it was on “Why” that I thought, “Ah, the monitors were <so>” when mixing the acoustics, as there were a couple of spots where they came hard through the back-side of the mix, on the sides a bit louder than probably intended, but was probably the result of a lot of late night sessions, you know – when pouring his heart and soul into this project.  It’s one of those things that I don’t think I would have given a second thought to if I didn’t have this stupid new quasi-curse of listening to albums like a flippin’ mixer/producer.  That said, “Why” is probably my favorite track on the album.

It’s kind of like once you’ve run your first kitchen as a chef, eating out is a whole different experience where you’re all at once over critical of everything and how you would do it differently, and here’s the thing — it doesn’t change the experiences of the people around you.  The real joy of a chef is peeking out from behind the swinging door and seeing someone take a bite of a dish you put your soul into and watching their eyes roll back and that “Mmmmmmmm…”  There’s nothing like it.

Likewise, as an artist, watching people start to close their eyes, bob their heads in rhythm and get taken to someplace else for a while through the music, that’s what it’s all about.  How they get there is subjective, and that’s I think what we’ve run into, here, with the review’s mention of “clear” yet “muddy and not sharp enough.”  One thing you learn pretty quickly when mixing an album is that your ears adjust.  So, if you’re working on a song, the small changes get absorbed into the song.  Try this — if you listen to music with your EQ flat, boost your treble up for about 5 minutes.  Now, change it back.  It sounds weird — even dull and kind of lifeless, doesn’t it?  Then, however, after another 5 minutes, it’s the “new normal,” again, and it just is how it is.  I would wager some of this happened not only when producing this album but when listening to it, as well.  I know it came into play on the one I worked on.  Good gravy, it did.  At any rate, the point is this — the mix is clean.  You can pick out every ingredient — the drums (Brian Tichy is absolutely on point), the bass, the guitars, the vocals, the spices (some synths, some choir-y parts).  There are times that the bass eats the kick, a little, but that’s also something that comes into play with this observation — this, like any album, depends upon that on which you’re listening to it.  In my case, I listened on my studio rig through my monitor speakers.  I’m very used to the tone on these, now, so I know their tendencies and I also have tried to keep them as flat as possible, response-wise.

So, this album is “flat,” and what I mean by that is that it’s not jacked one way or another, not over-bassy and not treble-heavy, and it is definitely not “lifeless.”  It has a good balance.  Now, there are places where there’s a little mud right in the 120-500Hz range where ALL the instruments want to play, but that is, to me, to be expected in metal, and, honestly, in pretty much everything short of piano concertos or pan flutes.  So, the clatter about “muddy and not sharp enough” really comes down to this — poke your EQ, sparky.  I know that when producing, there’s that goal that you produce an album that won’t “need” EQ-doinking, but reality comes crashing in when you realize every human on this planet has not only different tastes, but different ears that are more sensitive to different frequencies than others and, really, in order to make everyone happy, everyone’s going to have to put in a little effort.  Hmm…That came out funny, but I stand by it.

If you think a recording sounds a little dull, it may be one of a billion variables, but one of the easiest fixes, if you think a recording is muddy, is to poke the mid-high and high EQ sliders up a bit and maybe even scoop the mids a little.  I mean, growing up listening to metal on my little walkman with the 3-band EQ on the side, I adjusted it for just about every album I ever played in that thing, and I played a LOT of metal.  So, I guess my point here is that if you’re thinking it’s a bit muddy, tweak a bit, because the overall production is tight.  There are some places where it’s a little *too* flat, for my taste, but I’d rather have it flat and be able to adjust it to sound good to my ears than have it so jacked to one extreme or the other I a way that I can’t adjust it to my preference.  Those spots are also few and far between and don’t take away from the listening experience of the album.  It’s just something that, for better or worse, I pick up and hone in on, now, that I didn’t used to.

So, after all this, what do I think of that album?!  It’s a solid-ass effort from Chris that shows just how much he’s progressed as a musician and song-writer.  The songs are more involved, complex and produced with more dynamics and appreciation for white-spaces.  I appreciate the growth that’s gone into his vocals and, truly, he’s found his own voice and I dig it.  Again — 80s metal, man, 80s metal!  I enjoy the songs a lot.  I enjoy knowing the stories behind them.  I enjoy how the stories are told.  This album embodies what I wish more artists would try — honest, hard-working and just pure Chris.  Hmmm…I’m not saying other bands should try to be pure Chris, but try putting in the love and effort into their work.  It’s funny — the review that shall not be named inferred that Chris basically churned this out because he needed the money and some form of pity grab.  I have absolutely no idea where that came from.

For me, the standout tracks are the title track – a perfect, blistering opener – “Why,” “Hot Wheelz,” “I Never Knew” and “2-26-15,” which is elevated that much more if you know what that date means to Chris.  If you don’t, ask him.  That’s not to say that “Arm and a Leg” isn’t heavy as hell and well executed or that “Just Fine” isn’t a bad-ass jam that channels the 80s perfectly, or that there is any filler on this album.  It just means that those were the songs that I gravitated to, thus bringing this back to how subjective this all is.  I dig the album.  More to the point, I take the album as a whole – the effort, the late nights, the love and everything that goes into taking what’s in your heart and getting to unleash it on the world.  It’s the blistering solos, sure, but it’s also the person poured into it.  Take some time to get to know it and you won’t be disappointed.

In closing, “Your Heaven Is Real” is pure Chris and executed not flawlessly (though pretty close), but honestly — and it’s honestly a great album.

Where to go if You Want to Die in a Hailstorm of Bullets

A less provocative title for this still invites controversy, and that is “At What Point do We Acknowledge a Need For Gun Control?”

My rants on this on Facebook have gotten long and emotional.  My opinion on this is constantly met with “we’ll just have to agree to disagree” when I even say the words “gun” and “control” in the same sentence.  There’s this visceral need to equate the idea of preventing people from getting guns that should not have them through mandatory background checks with taking away everyone’s guns that has ever owned them, ever.  Honestly, I’m not going to espouse the virtues one way or another.  I’m just going to put statistics in front of you and let you decide for yourself.  Actually, statistics might be wrong term, as well, since people are fond of saying that “statistics lie” or “you can make statistics say whatever you want.”  This is true, and I think I’ve been guilty of presenting data in a way to support my research a time or two back in school.  So, let’s just look at raw numbers shall we?

Here are the numbers, by state and by year, of mass shootings, per year, where “mass” is defined as more than three people being involved and “shooting” being defined as an event that involved the use of a firearm.

State 2013



Incidents Deaths Injuries Incidents Deaths Injuries Incidents Deaths Injuries
Alabama 8 15 22 3 3 11 4 4 14
Alaska 0 0 0 1 0 6 1 4 0
Arizona 8 20 16 1 1 3 5 15 9
Arkansas 0 0 0 1 4 4 1 1 3
California  53 68 200 37 47 134 14 16 51
Colorado 4 7 10 1 0 4 0 0 0
Connecticut 4 6 13 1 0 5 3 2 16
Delaware 4 3 14 0 0 0 1 0 6
Florida 23 40 72 21 42 79 15 12 53
Georgia 7 5 30 12 15 46 13 23 40
Hawaii 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Idaho 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 1
Illinois 23 22 104 29 31 102 11 7 45
Indiana 8 8 26 7 4 29 5 4 21
Iowa 1 1 3 0 0 0 1 0 4
Kansas 7 15 17 2 3 6 1 2 2
Kentucky 6 11 14 3 5 7 3 1 15
Louisiana 10 10 55 13 8 60 10 15 40
Maine 1 1 3 1 5 0 0 0 0
Maryland 5 5 19 3 5 11 8 7 28
Massachusetts 1 2 2 3 0 15 5 3 21
Michigan 15 11 62 14 9 55 6 2 36
Minnesota 5 6 11 3 1 16 0 0 0
Mississippi 2 2 6 3 6 7 2 2 7
Missouri 12 14 43 4 2 17 7 12 21
Montana 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 5 0
Nebraska 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Nevada 6 12 14 5 6 16 1 3 1
New Hampshire 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
New Jersey 12 9 46 8 8 29 9 6 30
New Mexico 4 6 11 1 1 3 0 0 0
New York 16 19 56 11 5 41 16 14 62
North Carolina 18 13 62 8 17 19 5 11 12
North Dakota 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ohio 13 14 42 9 19 20 10 12 41
Oklahoma 7 17 12 4 7 11 5 5 15
Oregon 0 0 0 3 1 12 1 1 3
Pennsylvania 17 16 63 10 11 43 5 3 27
Rhode Island 1 0 4 1 0 5 1 0 4
South Carolina 6 14 15 5 5 20 5 17 9
South Dakota 0 0 0 1 4 1 0 0 0
Tennessee 11 19 27 9 10 30 6 8 24
Texas 15 36 47 20 34 83 12 25 56
Utah 1 3 1 2 5 6 1 4 0
Vermont 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Virginia 11 12 39 7 10 24 5 3 20
Washington 4 8 13 5 8 17 0 0 0
West Virginia 3 5 9 1 5 0 0 0 0
Wisconsin 2 0 8 4 1 16 3 6 9
Wyoming 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Washington DC 6 14 37 4 0 19 2 2 6
Puerto Rico 3 11 10 0 0 0 0 0 0

Totals 363 500 1258 281 348 1032 205 260 752

So, take 2013.  That’s 500 people killed in 363 separate incidents with over 1,200 people injured.  I’ll only use my personal knowledge for comparison, here, but that 500 people is more than if you killed the entire graduating class of Wabash College for that year…two and a half times.  The year of 2014 was a little better, but still would have killed off more than the entire graduating class of Wabash College for that year, almost twice, as well.  So far, in 2015, it’s looking like another wipeout, having already eclipsed this past year’s graduating class number – which was the highest it’s been in over decade.

So, for perspective, if you were to average that out to fit within the graduating class paradigm, the number of people killed in mass shootings over the last three years would be the equivalent of wiping out the past 5.9 years of Wabash College graduates.  We haven’t even addressed the number of people injured in these shootings, which has eclipsed the 3,000 mark over the past three years and we’re just over half-way through this current year.

If you want to look at it, in totality, for the past three years per state, it looks like this:


Incidents Deaths Injuries
Alabama 15 22 47
Alaska 2 4 6
Arizona 14 36 28
Arkansas 2 5 7
California  104 131 385
Colorado 5 7 14
Connecticut 8 8 34
Delaware 5 3 20
Florida 59 94 204
Georgia 32 43 116
Hawaii 0 0 0
Idaho 1 3 1
Illinois 63 60 251
Indiana 20 16 76
Iowa 2 1 7
Kansas 10 20 25
Kentucky 12 17 36
Louisiana 33 33 155
Maine 2 6 3
Maryland 16 17 58
Massachusetts 9 5 38
Michigan 35 22 153
Minnesota 8 7 27
Mississippi 7 10 20
Missouri 23 28 81
Montana 1 5 0
Nebraska 0 0 0
Nevada 12 21 31
New Hampshire 0 0 0
New Jersey 29 23 105
New Mexico 5 7 14
New York 43 38 159
North Carolina 31 41 93
North Dakota 0 0 0
Ohio 32 45 103
Oklahoma 16 29 38
Oregon 4 2 15
Pennsylvania 32 30 133
Rhode Island 3 0 13
South Carolina 16 36 44
South Dakota 1 4 1
Tennessee 26 37 81
Texas 47 95 186
Utah 4 12 7
Vermont 0 0 0
Virginia 23 25 83
Washington 9 16 30
West Virginia 4 10 9
Wisconsin 9 7 33
Wyoming 0 0 0
Washington DC 12 16 62
Puerto Rico 3 11 10

Totals 849 1108 3042

So, if you take that over the past three years, and I’m going to fudge and make the data look “less bad” by counting 2015 as a complete year for our purposes.  I’ll address it, correctly, in a minute.  Over the past three years, that translates to 0.77 incidents per day.  Remember, this is counting 2015 as a complete 365 days. These numbers translate to  1.01 deaths per day.  That’s a person a day, every day, for three complete years.  For injuries, that translates to 2.78 injuries per day as part of a mass shooting.  Remember, that’s if we’re going on the assumption of 365 days times three – 1095 days.

It looks slightly worse if we consider that we’re only 209 days into the year.  So, that would make a total of 939 days.  This changes it to, over the past two years and this year, to date (as of July 28, 2015), 0.9 incidents per day.  This may not seem significantly different, but we’re that much closer to a mass shooting every single day for the past two and half years.  Think about that.  The death per day number is, now, 1.18 – that’s over a person a day being killed in a mass shooting.  Counting up the injuries, we are looking at 3.24 people per day.

So, if you’re looking at choice vacation spots, it might be wise to avoid Chicago or Detroit whose mass shooting violence is on the uptick.  California still shows the largest numbers, but it is a pretty big state.

I’m just putting the numbers out there.  How you feel about the numbers is up to you.  My question is only this – at what point are the lives of the dead and injured important enough to admit something needs to be done?

For those wondering, here are the data sources used.  I know the danger inherent in using a single source and I’m pretty sure they’re incomplete just because of the sheer numbers, but even if that’s the case, the picture they paint is gruesome and worth considering.

Flying Without A Net

It’s interesting…I’ve been doing an experiment. So far, in the three months since I reimaged my system back to Windows 7, I’ve not installed an antivirus application. “WHOAH! That’s CRAZYPANTS!” you say. Here’s the thing…I’ve been able to run my system at full-bore speeds. I’ve got MANY layers of JavaScript blockers going on my browser of choice (Chrome, in this case). I’ve modded my hosts file to have over 39K entries of blocked malicious sites and I add to it just about every day. I run a malware scanner ever so often, usually once a week with nary a nasty other than a couple of tracking cookies.

Honestly, I find antivirus software to be bigger hassles than the majority of viruses (other than the REALLY nasty ones that require scorched earth methods). Symantec/Norton and McAffee are, themselves, viruses – one of the banes of my work laptop experiences is the Symantec Endpoint ridiculousness that is installed.  Whomever configured it was the devil, as it will, randomly, throughout the day decide it needs to scan, no matter what I’m in the middle of doing, and will – sometimes, if it’s bored – run the scan a couple of minutes down to 30 seconds apart.  This wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t give itself full priority, shoved what you were working on to the background and do it’s thing.  While this may not be Symantec’s fault, they get the blame for writing this bloated warthog of an application that chews up 500+MB of RAM on a system only graced with 4GB.  Avira blew their chance with me when they started being SEVERELY obnoxious with the popups pushing you to purchase a paid copy of the software and all hope for them was lost when I decided to uninstall it and instead of running the uninstaller, it downloaded and launched the updated version of the software.  Talk about virulent behavior.  Honestly, the best I’ve used is Avast, but even it taxes my system at random times enough to be severely annoying at best and  production killing at worst – and this is on a 3.9GHz hexcore with 20GB RAM, so if it grinds THAT to a halt, there’s something fundamentally wrong.

So, Mr. Flying Without a Net, why do you feel safe without any antivirus software on the most susceptible OS known to man? Honestly, I’ve changed my computing behavior. I rarely download anything from the net anymore that isn’t a purchase from a reputable vendor. I visit “normal” sites — the exception being a TV viewing site that necessitated the modded hosts file to begin with (if you’ve not encountered 23 popups within a 10 seconds span, you haven’t lived) — and I never do anything unexpected… So far, I’ve managed to stay clean. Now, I consider myself lucky in this regard and know that if something goes *bing,* it will go *bing* in a big way. That said, walking the straight and narrow has done wonders. Additionally, the use of firewalls – multiple layers has made life easier.

I will recommend a modded hosts file, in general, though, simply because it has sped things up immensely to have all the ad-pushing sites stopped dead so it actually loads CONTENT on a website rather than a ton of ads.  I’ve found ad-heavy sites will load orders of magnitude faster.

So you know – for hosts file replacement goodness, go here:

Do I think I’m 100% safe?  Not a chance.  This is Windows.  Do I think that behavior modification has made a world of difference?  You betcha. Would I recommend this to others?  I guess it depends on the person.  If you can’t live without certain high risk behavior that tends to result in viruses being strewn throughout your system, then I wouldn’t choose this route.  Again, it also comes from experience and knowing how to avoid certain fast-tracks to infection.  We’ll see how long this age of antivirus-free tranquility lasts…

My Experience Converting a Passive Jackson Stealth to Active Pickups

I can not be the only person on the planet who has ever wanted to take a Jackson StealthEX or any other Jackson dinky or otherwise with the HB-SC-SC one volume, one tone, 5-way switch configuration and basically swap out the factory pickups with actives and replace the box switch.  I can’t be the only one.  If I repeat it enough, I may believe it.

Now, for the purposes of this article, the 5-way switch was quite generic and the pickups were Seymour Duncan Blackouts (AHB-1, AS-1b, AS-1n).  So, to review and convey the simplicity of what I wanted to do

  • Factory humbucker -> AHB-1
  • Factory mid -> AS-1b (tapped/split)
  • Factory neck -> AS-1n
  • Factory 5-way box switch -> new 5-way box switch
  • 250K Volume pot -> 25K volume pot
  • 250K Tone pot -> 25K tone pot
  • factory mono “lipstick” jack -> stereo “lipstick” jack
  • Fix any other internal weirdness encountered.

Simple, right?  Well, don’t you believe it.  Let me rephrase…don’t be fooled into thinking that this fairly thorough swapout will have *specific,* *applicable* help files on the internet to help you.  I spent close to a week pouring over stewmac and guitarelectronics and seymourduncan not to mention more obscure sites, in an effort to gain as much info going in as I could so that this would be a nice surgical strike…or as close to a surgical strike as replacing all the electronics in a guitar can be.  No dice, really.  I ended up with just about every wiring diagram available on Seymour Duncan’s site printed off as well as 4 others from different sites.  They all had one thing in common – they were all applicable to a point.  Not any one diagram covered every part of what I needed and my electronics theory is so rusty (this is the stuff I used to do in high school – over 20 years ago) that cobbling together the wiring diagrams into a happy, all-inclusive and functional wiring diagram that I could use for quick reference was not really in the cards.  Since, as we all know, using four+ schematics is about the opposite of “quick reference.”

With that in mind, I am, now, setting out to right this wrong and get a working wiring diagram out there for everyone, like me, who is/was looking for this information and could not find it for the life of them.  Here it is.  Eventually.  It would really help if I could remember exactly what I did.

An additional kibitz, on my part, was I got to a point where I got the theory quite well enough, but just needed to know what wire got soldered where, something not entirely obvious from some of these diagrams.  So, my plan with this is to draw up schematics for those who would like them and a wiring diagram for those who prefer that route.

Additionally, here’s what I did, once all the other parts were out:

After all the pickups are in their nice little homes on the front of the guitar and the wires are routed through and ready to be connected to things to make them sing, we say a small prayer, sacrifice a small goat, and set about some wiring.

Isolate all the white wires from the pickups.  These are hot, happy, and what you’re going to connect to the switch.  Go in reverse order from what your brain would say to do logically:  looking down on the switch connections on the back, numbering down the left side, 1 through four.  So, to reverse your brain’s desire, connect the neck pickup to connection 1, the mid to 2, the humbucker to 3.

Now, you’re left with one more on the left side.  Ignore it.

We’ll get to the right side in a bit.  For now, let’s just worry about getting the hot wires to their respective connections.  In looking at where the white wires originate, you’ll notice you’ve got about ¼” to work with as it splits from the main black wire as a white-bare wire pair.  Since the bare wires all go to ground, it’s impractical to run them right in to the switch, so, for what it’s worth, I added an additional short length of wire to each hot, enough to reach the switch from the volume potentiometer, basically, since that’s where the common grounds congregate.

Once the hots are soldered to the switch, it’s time to make sure the battery connections are all square.  You only need one (buying 3 active pickups, you now have three), and will take all of the red wires, one for each pickup, and solder them to the red battery wire.

To complete the circuit, the black wire from the battery connector should be soldered to the common ground of the output jack.

Now we have all of those bare wires to deal with from the pickups.  Ok, three, but still…  What I did was to do basically the red-wire trick and solder them all to a single wire and then solder that single wire to the top of the volume potentiometer (pot).  It may not be the best solution, but is a lot cleaner looking.

Now, so long as you’re soldering things on the volume pot, solder the third connector, the one on the right looking at it from the top, to the top of its pot.  A fairly painless way to do this, if you don’t want to bend the connector back to the metal of the pot, is to run a *very* short wire – like ½” – connecting the connector to the top of the pot.

Again, so long as we’re soldering grounds to the volume pot, run a short length of wire between the top of the volume to the tone pot.

The tone version of the connector soldered to the top should come with the AHB-1s in the form of a 25K pot that already has a 0.47pf capacitor soldered from the right connector to the top of the pot.  If this is not the case, then, you know what to do – solder a capacitor (at this is based on preference and desired outcome, more on this later) from the right connector to the ground spot on the top of the pot.  For your everyday tone, the 0.47pf capacitor will do just fine, but I’ve heard other companies talking about better results using a .10pf.

Finally, we’re to the right side of the switch and ready to tie everything together.  First, solder a ground line between the jack ground and the #2 position (counting from the bottom) on the switch.  Now, run a wire between the center connector on the tone potentiometer to the leftmost connector on the volume potentiometer.  Now, connect the leftmost connector to the #1 (bottom) position on the right side of the switch.

Once that’s finished, solder a wire between the center connector on the volume pot to the hot output of the output jack.

That’s it.  Now, if you’ve done it like me, you’ve got a bit of a bird’s nest going on in there.  I feel your pain.  Also, if you’re like me, and are migrating from passive to active pickups, you’re presented with a whole new problem: where are you going to stick the battery?  Well, if you are like me, then you will just wedge it in between the switch and the inner wall beside the jack.  It’s not pretty.  So, further, if you’re like me, you decided to purchase a battery box from a local electronics store, got some velcro, and attached it to the outside of the guitar on the back, close to the heel.

[Disclaimer of doom] I wrote this from memory looking at a schematic I drew…from memory…  What this means to you is that it could be completely wrong.  I don’t want you to hose up your guitar based solely on my info.  If there’s anyone out there who can either confirm or debunk any part of this, please do.  I’ll be placing the schematic and wiring diagram up, soon, maybe — I’m not sure where I put my drawings, since we moved — so those can be used as reference.

The original wiring diagram:
In progress:
Finished — note the different switch: