CHRIS CAFFERY - Solitary Refinement

January 26, 2009, 11 years ago

By Carl Begai (photo by Bob Carey)

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If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Or at least let ‘em know you’re paying attention.

While guitarist/vocalist Chris Caffery wasn’t thinking in these exact terms while putting together his new album, House Of Insanity, it’s fair to say he took the last several years’ worth of bitching and moaning by the diehard Savatage fans to heart. As active as he is online, Caffery is well aware of the number of Savatage followers out still pining for another full length album followed by a tour. He’s also come to realize that trying to avoid the realms of Savatage in his own music isn’t the way to go, a point that was driven home by the lukewarm reception of his last album, Pins And Needles. The record was far from being a failure, but its dark and somewhat brutal Doctor Butcher(ed) execution took people off guard, especially in the wake of Caffery’s more melodic and notably schizophrenic debut, Faces. House Of Insanity sees him doing what many consider a welcome 180, mixing the heavy of Pins And Needles with the warmth of Faces and throwing a healthy dose of tried and true Savatage-ism in to bind it all together. This is not the lost ‘Tage record by any means, though; this is simply Caffery being true to himself.

He offers his thoughts on why Pins And Needles wasn’t as well received as it should have been.

“I don’t know if it was necessarily a mistake with Pins And Needles, but unlike Faces and W.A.R.P.E.D. where I obviously had too much material for one album, I think I opened the door to the creative process a little too much. That included the sonics of it. It’s not that I don’t like Pins And Needles; I think that record’s really cool, but I think it went over everybody’s head. I never realized that people picture who you are and what you should sound like. That’s what they listen for on the first spin of a record and I didn’t know how much of an impact that would have coming out of the gate. It was really strange with that album because some people thought it was one of the greatest records they’d ever heard and others couldn’t understand what kind of drugs I was on (laughs). I think it was a bit too different from what I’d done before. It’s not that I tried to write something different, but I think we consciously produced it differently. There were songs that were rewritten in the studio that sound absolutely nothing like the demo versions, and I that’s where the changes came from.”

He digs a bit deeper: “We went into Pins And Needles thinking ‘Okay, it’s 2007, we’re going to make the record sound like it’s 2007…’ but the fans and the critics that were fans who had been listening to me since the ‘80s had a rough time with that. So this time and decided to write and record the new album by myself. I was brought up in the time of records like Iron Maiden’s Piece Of Mind where it was just vocals, guitars, drums, bass, and there wasn’t a shitload of background vocals, and I wanted to make that kind of record. The song ‘I Won’t Know’ is that; there’s not a lot of crap holding it up. There are moments on this album where I threw in layers of vocals to get a certain feel, but for the most part it’s just me and my music. That’s what translating with people with House Of Insanity.”

The album was and is a labour of love in the truest sense. It was Caffery the metal fan writing from the heart, alone and on his own terms.

“I wrote this album completely for myself, and that’s me being the fan. And when I say ‘myself’ I include the fans in that because I know what they want to hear. It was a question of ‘What do I want to listen to? I’m a huge fan of Savatage and I always have been, so what do I want to hear me do?’ That’s what I did for House Of Insanity. I didn’t listen to a soul. I locked myself in a room and I wrote the entire album myself, and that made a big difference. If it gets a bad review or somebody doesn’t like it, it’s my fault. I can’t say ‘I was trying to do this’ or ‘I was in a bad headspace’ or ‘I wasn’t focused when I was writing.’”
“It’s funny because the title House Of Insanity came out of the fact that I was going a little bit nuts while I was making it,” laughs Caffery. “I spent so much time by myself, literally. From the beginning of February 2008 to the middle of August 2008, with the exception of the week that I recorded the drums (with John Macaluso) and a few things in between with family and friends I was literally locked in a room by myself. Seven months. It was kinda weird because I did it in my home studio, so the only thing there was my cat (laughs). No engineer or producer to bounce ideas off of, just me. It took a couple months longer to finish than I’d planned, because other than the drum tracks I recorded and engineered everything myself; bass, vocals, guitars, background vocals. There were a few background vocal things and some keyboards done by Lonnie Park, the guy that owns the studio where I recorded the drum tracks. Paul LaPlaca from my solo band also did a few keyboard tracks, and Brian Gregory from Doctor Butcher came in to help me get a bass sound and work on a couple parts, but other than that everything was done by me.”
“There was a lot of trial and error with certain things” he adds. “The mix also took a bit longer than I expected. In the end I decided to mix it myself, but I wasn’t going to. Once I got further ahead into the recording process I just really didn’t think there would be anybody who would mix the record the way I would have. There might be somebody out there who maybe would have made things sound a little bit better, but I didn’t think they’d capture the feel of the album the way I was going to. So, I just took what was left of my hearing and went to it (laughs). I think it came out pretty cool and I’m happy with the sound of it. It may not be perfect, but in the end the songs came out the way I wanted them to.”

Whatever imperfections Caffery may hear on House Of Insanity, they only add to the album’s charm. Unlike his previous records this one has an uninterrupted flow regardless of the stylistic changes along the way, making for an easy listen. And while the Savatage references are welcome (‘Back’s To The Wall’, ‘Solitaire’ and ‘Winter In Hamburg’) they don’t overshadow the material that has a distinctive Caffery-metal sound. With that in mind, is the “me, myself and I” approach to recording going to be used next time out given the reactions to the new album?

“Probably. I’m not in a hurry to go back and record. It’s really tough when you’re sitting there working alone, and I’m not sure people understand that unless they see it. I had a switch, and I was either stepping on it to punch in guitar or bass, or I was standing there holding it while I was singing so I could start and stop recording. Basically, I sang the vocals for each song five times, then I went back and listened to the takes to decide which ones I liked. I had to do all of this myself. Usually you’ll have an engineer who will fade the .wav files together so you don’t get all these little pops and things between tracks. After you’ve done a guitar solo or a basic track you’ll sit there and have a drink, screw around on your computer or whatever until the engineer is ready and decides he wants you to do it again. I didn’t have that luxury because it all came down to me. My hearing had been kind of beaten on throughout the years, so I had to do a lot of that stuff with headphones and at louder volumes because I needed to hear if something was there that shouldn’t be. It was definitely a challenge.”
“Even with my guitar solo playing, I didn’t feel like I had to do something perfect the first time and I didn’t feel like I had to get it done at that moment because I wanted to be under budget with studio costs,” Caffery adds. “With the studio time I spent on this record my budget would have been a fortune if I’d been working in someone else’s studio because I was working eight, 10, 12 hours a day and I didn’t have to pay anybody or buy food for people or worry about travel expenses. In the end I think that had a lot to do with the way the album came out because I didn’t care that I went back and did three remixes of the whole album.”

For all the do-it-myself talk, Caffery made sure someone else heard and touched up the material (as needed) before he unleashed it. He didn’t go very far to find that second pair of ears, ultimately keeping it in the family by calling on John Oliva’s Pain drummer / studio guru Christopher Kinder.

“I was trying to figure out who was going to master it because mastering is a really difficult thing,” Caffery explains. “Sometimes it’s better if you don’t do it at all. Faces was destroyed in mastering, for example, and I’m actually thinking about getting together with Chris with the original mixes of those songs and have him remaster it. He did a great job of mastering House Of Insanity. There were a couple people that I had in mind, and even though I have the mastering software at home I didn’t want to do it because I needed another pair of ears to hear the album. I got some stuff back from Chris and he kept getting better at finding the feel of the record, making things sound louder and fuller and clearer, which is what mastering is supposed to do. He really brought things together.”

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