A Mix Master and his Mac

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Brooke C. Wheeler

Modern-Media Girl

Eli Janney is very busy. Today is Tuesday and he is again taking the train up to New York.

These days he spends three days every week in New York working on new songs with his bandmates in Girls Against Boys. The other four days he's in Washington, D.C., working on remixes for Blondie, Garbage, Morcheeba, Sneaker Pimps, Duran Duran and whomever else is beating down his door. Plus, he's putting together an album for his other studio project, Americruiser.

So he's usually got his PowerBook G3 with him –his traveling mini-studio.

Eli Janney
Late last year, when Girls Against Boys ( http://www.geffen.com/gvsb ) (a k a GVSB) was on its Freak*on*ica tour, Eli bought the PowerBook in the hopes of working on the road. Before, whenever the band was touring, his producing and remixing projects would come to a screeching halt.

It threatened to get worse when, in 1995, GVSB got signed to Geffen Records (which put out Freak*on*ica last year, their fifth record). That meant more tour dates and driving around the whole dadblast country in vans and trailers, both as headliners and as the opening band for Garbage's 1998 U.S. tour.

You can't, after all, do a Morcheeba remix riding around in a van. (Can you?) Well, apparently he did.

"I've been making music on the Mac for almost 10 years now. I've been recording and producing other bands ever since I started engineering," Eli told me in the middle of a six-week GVSB tour. "But it's always sort of taken a back seat to Girls Against Boys, so if we were going on tour I couldn't do any work. I've constantly been looking for a solution, and so I may have found one.

"It's only been a week," he said about the PowerBook. "I bought it when we were in Phoenix, because I had one on order but the delivery date kept getting pushed back and I couldn't wait anymore."

(Even rock stars have to put up with Apple's ordering lag time.)

"So right now I'm sooo happy with it," he told me. "I'm working on this Morcheeba remix –I had already done a remix for them, a DJ mix like 8 minutes long, a really mellow dance floor kind of thing. They liked it so much they want me to do a radio version, so that's what I'm doing now."

Shortly before Eli had PowerBook in hand, his remixing/sequencing partner Steve Raskin burned a bunch of CDs with all the files Eli needed and FedExed them to him on the road.

"I loaded up all the software, loaded all the files, and I was working on the remix two hours after getting the PowerBook. It's about three-quarters done now; I'm going to probably finish it tomorrow," Eli said.

Me: "Which song are you doing? Has it been out yet as a single?"

Him: "It's called 'Part of the Process.' The album's out but I don't think the song's been released as a single commercially in the United States yet. So if my radio edit is what ends up being played on the radio it'd be really funny. I have my doubts, just because my style doesn't ... well, radio isn't very adventurous."

"Do you kind of like things to be freaky?"

"Yeah, we like a lot of noise and stuff, but radio's so pop-heavy now it's kind of hard to get odd music on the radio. I think we're going to go through one of those periods where a new musical form comes in and sort of revitalizes it. Right now it's sort of like everybody's playing it safe."

The city of Washington is responsible for starting Eli's music career. Not just because he took piano lessons there in grade school, and played in bands in high school with his buddies, and not just because of D.C.'s potent punk music scene, not just because of cool clubs like the 9:30 Club. No, the City gave him his first actual cash earnings for playing music through the city's Summer Youth Employment Program.

During the summer, all D.C. city parks and schools would employ teenagers in whatever jobs they could invent and pay them minimum wage for it. The neighborhood planning commission where Eli lived started the Modern Music Workshop.

"Basically, kids got bands together and practiced from 9 to 3 or whenever it was we were supposed to 'work,' and we got paid minimum wage for it," Eli said. "So really the city started me off."

He was playing keyboards, and also played drums in one of the bands. His brother was heavy into the D.C. hardcore punk, so Eli got into that scene for awhile. And the usual classic rock stuff, The Who, Led Zepplin and so forth. Then Gang of Four, Birthday Party, Wire, Killing Joke, all the early '80s English stuff.

He recorded local bands on four-track tape recorders. But he didn't get to mess around in a real recording studio until college in 1988, when he started working at one during every free moment that he wasn't doing collegiate things.

"I worked at this studio for six years, and it moved from this guy's basement into a commercial facility with two studios in it. A big, expensive place. Then I also started working at another studio in Baltimore, which was 45 minutes away."

He began engineering for a producer by the name of Ted Niceley. Ted was all over the place –France and England and the U.S., so Eli would travel with him and they would work on stuff. And then Eli started doing Girls Against Boys as a studio project.

"That's what we started out as. We actually turned GVSB from a studio thing –we had one EP out with six songs –into a live band over the course of a few years, during '89, '90. ...I had played live in some other bands, we had some shows here and there at small venues, but this was the first band I actually toured with. That was in 1992."

They toured Europe first because of its strong punk rock circuit. The other three boys in Girls Against Boys –singer/guitarist Scott McCloud, drummer Alexis Fleisig, bassist Johnny Temple –were in a band called Soulside, which was on the D.C.-based Dischord label. They'd already toured Europe with Eli doing live sound for them, and they'd made a lot of contacts. So when they had GVSB together and wanted to play live there was already a network established, people they knew who would give them shows and put them up for the night.

Girls Against Boys soon had a three-record deal with Chicago's Touch and Go label. Eli nimbly straddled various duties on the albums: keyboard, sampler, No. 2 vocals, organ, vibraphone, bass. After the second album, "Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby," the interest in GVSB from record labels had gotten to such an intensity that they had leverage. So they worked it and signed with Geffen in 1995. But they still honored their agreement with Touch and Go and did their third and fourth records, "Cruise Yourself" and "House of GVSB," with them. Their fifth album, "Freak*on*ica," was the first one Geffen got to handle.

Then, a few months ago, the record industry started to cannibalize itself: merging, downsizing, consolidating. Dropping bands from their rosters, firing legions of A&R reps. Rumor had it that any band selling fewer than 100,00 copies of its last album was in danger. But GVSB finally got the word in early February: they were OK. Moved over to the new label, Interscope Group or IAG (Interscope, A&M & Geffen) –the name hasn't quite congealed yet.

So Eli takes the train up to New York every week, and Scott, Alexis, Johnny and Eli write new GVSB songs. Then he takes the train back down to D.C. and works on his remixes and his side projects and, as a proper Mac music consumer, buys the latest software and hardware and keeps up with Jason O'Grady's PowerPage ( http://www.ogrady.com ). And occasionally (or too often) plays Unreal.

Check out the sidebar "Eli Janney's Specs" for the 411 on Eli Janney's Mac gear and musical history.

Also be sure to check out ""A Mix Master and his Mac, Part Two"" for uncensored interview excerpts, the nitty gritty on Eli's impressive equipment, and Eli turns the tables and asks Modern-Media Girl some questions.

Garbage, "Hammering"
Sneaker Pimps, "Tesko Suicide"
Blondie, "Mormormor"
Duran Duran, "Electric Barbarella"
Morcheeba, "Part of the Process"
Buffalo Daughter, "Socks, Drugs, and Rock and Roll"

Also remixes for Deep Porn, Ruby, Thunderball, Mike Watt, Sons of Bitches, Kristin Barry, Metrodub

Shudder to Think
Nation of Ulysses
Soul Side
Girls Against Boys

Co-wrote theme song for Comedy Central’s "Viva Variety" show
Also worked on MTV’s "The State" theme song

Girls Against Boys albums:
"Nineties vs. Eighties" EP
"Sexy Sam / I'm From France" EP
"Disco Six Six Six" EP
"Tropic of Scorpio" LP
"Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby" LP: sampler, #2 vocals, bass
"Cruise Yourself" LP: organ, vibraphone, #2 vocals, bass
"House of GVSB" LP: keyboard, #2 vocals, bass
"Freak*on*ica" LP: keyboard, samples, #2 vocals, bass

GVSB film soundtrack contribs:
"200 Cigarettes" soundtrack: cover of "Boogie Wonderland" (they are also in the movie as the band in the bar)
"Permanent Midnight" soundtrack: "EPR"
"Clerks" soundtrack: "Kill the Sexplayer"
"Mallrats" soundtrack: "Cruise Your New Baby Fly Self"
"Suburbia" soundtrack: "Bullet Proof Cupid"

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