By Bryce Segall for Revolt Magazine.
A longstanding argument around the REVOLT office maintains it takes 20 years to declare any album a true classic, taking into account – time necessary to infiltrate culture, proof of lasting worth, and ultimately, influence. There are certainly exceptions however, records that feel classic long before those two decades pass, and Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven is most definitely one of them. Entering the Billboard charts at #1, the heaviest record ever to do so, it set a new precedent for what metal could be in the early 90s – a time when it was far from “cool” to to fly the flag of heavy, and a period in dire need of central identity for the genre.
Pantera not only took the challenge upon themselves and succeeded, but managed to redirect the mainstream if only for a moment, leaving their lasting imprint on metal forever, and a classic LP in their wake. In celebration of such a monumental accomplishment and legacy, we sat down with the only person who was there to witness it all first hand, the band’s producer and longtime friend, Terry Date, who worked with the group on four of their five albums, including Far Beyond Driven, and has no doubt left a mark of his own.
Bryce: When did you find out you’d be working on the record? Was it an ongoing conversation or was it a nice surprise?
Terry: It was an ongoing conversation, and bear with me because 20 years has gone by and that’s a lot of brain cells that have disappeared. But you know, once we did the first record – those guys are incredibly loyal guys, once you’re in with them, you have to really hurt em to get out. So we were in really close contact, even after the records, they really were like family. So it wasn’t – I don’t remember exactly the conversation that went down as far as ‘you’re gonna do the next record or not’, it was just an assumption I guess. It never was talked about as far as I remember but obviously I was thrilled.
B: What was the next step? Did they send you some demos? Were you already in the studio when you heard the songs for the first time?
T: Most of the songs, except for the Cowboys From Hell record, were written in the studio. There were riffs that – you know, Dime had hundreds of riffs. He’d stay up all night, basically every night, and after studio was done, or work was done for the day, he’d always lock himself into a room someplace, usually with a bunch of people and a bottle of some kind… and he would just write stuff, everything from stupid country western songs to really heavy riffs. And I can’t remember… these songs all blend together, but “Suicide Note Pt. 1”… was that on this record? Whatever, there’s a few songs I remember which record they’re on but most of them I don’t. That song in particular he wrote in his little closet there, late night, and he brought it in and said he liked the song and wanted to re-record it. It was just on a little cassette, and I listened to it and said there’s no point in re-recording it, just do some overdubs to what you’ve already got. And that’s where a lot of his really great ideas came from.
Now, on Far Beyond Driven, again, they wrote in the studio, most of the stuff – ideas came in with them, but the songs were constructed in the studio. And usually it’d start out with somebody had a riff of some kind and it would just build off of that you know, either Vinnie had a Drum Beat or Dime had a riff, or Rex – somebody had something. And because the studio was owned by their dad, and it was sort of a home studio, definitely a home studio, it basically was their rehearsal space that we actually recorded in, or that’s pretty much what it felt like. And the song “Becoming” which was on Far Beyond Driven, I remember that one really well because Dime had just got a new digitech wami pedal, the red one, and he was playing with it, and that’s where that riff for “Becoming” came from, was him just messing around with that pedal. So the song just started with Dime’s riff and Vinnie was with him and started doing a beat to it and everybody filled in the gaps after that.
B: Coming off Vulgar Display of Power and heading into the studio, would you say the band was at their peak at this point or had the chaos already sort of set in?
T: Well the chaos was there from day one, before I even showed up for the first record, that’s the way they were, they never changed. The difference was the world tours, and all the attention and a bigger audience I guess, but I would say that I never saw a peak with them, let me put it that way. I think after Cowboys they found their stride and they kept that. There were obviously more distractions, and they’re well documented – certain things, but that was the only thing that would slow things down at all. They reached a level and they just stayed there, there was no decline with them. There were the normal personnel frictions that happen when you’re on the road together for ten years or whatever, but as far as the creative flow and the flow with the band as far as making the music and performing the music, once they hit their stride – until drugs took their toll on Phil it pretty much stayed the same.
B: Listening to a now classic record like this, it just sounds, for lack of a better word, “Easy”, were there hard days or periods in the studio?
It’s never easy. There are some that are easier than others but on those records – for me, those guys were so much fun to be around that it was always mayhem, which was the only hard things about it. You’re trying to get stuff done and everybody had a good work ethic but they also had a good party ethic too. So sometimes it was hard to get focus and concentration going to keep things moving along…. But none of the songs were… they were all equally hard, let me put it that way.
B: What do you remember about the performances as they happened some of these things on here, Dime’s solos and what not that are legendary, what was that process?
T: He was such a natural, I don’t know what he did to prepare himself, but Dime is the kinda guy where, when it was time to do a solo, you go in and ya do it. During that record, and I believe part of Vulgar, and definitely Great Southern Trendkill, but that record for sure, when it came time to do solos, Vinnie and Dime would work together a lot on those, because their communication level was so refined. Dime could play something and Vinnie would just look at him and go – do that Randy Rhodes thing there, and I have no idea which Randy Rhodes thing he’s talking about but – you know, they’re brothers. So it was very efficient for those two to do solos together. But what we would do is I would set it all up and we would get all the sounds together and back then we’re using tape so we have basically three channels to record solos onto, and he would record on those 3 tracks, and then go over one that he didn’t like, and once he got piece together, we’d bounce the best pieces of those three solos together onto one track. So it would all be combine sort like that, but mainly when it came time for those solos, I would just let Vinnie go with him and let those two communicate together and it was really effective and really comfortable to work that way.
B: And when you say bounce you’re talking solo and muting because this is pre-Protools right?
Yeah, you’ve got three solos running at the same time, and you listen and pick the best beginning lets say, and maybe that’s on track one, and then you record that onto another channel – you’re constructing a solo onto a fourth channel is what you’re doing. And so you take your favorite pieces out of the three solos he has, and creating a new one out of the best of those three and the fourth channel becomes the solo.
B: Phil said this was the first time the band kinda left him alone to do the lyrics how he wanted, what was his headspace like during that time? It’s obviously both sonically and thematically a fairly heavy record.
T: The difference with this record from the previous record, is – Vinnie and Dime’s dad had moved the studio from Arlington to Nashville. So we all traveled to Nashville and stayed in a hotel, Phil included. And on previous records, the band kinda worked on the music themselves and then Phil would come in and kinda give his opinion on how the riffs worked with the lyrics he had in mind, but on that record he was there from the very beginning, so he was sitting in on all the stuff that went on and the dynamic changed a little bit as far as opinions about riffs early on, but I don’t really remember a lot about doing vocals on that one. I believe most of the vocals were done when we moved the project back to Dallas and went into a corporate studio. But Phil at that point pretty much was like, I got this, I’m gonna do what I wanna do here.
B: Rex was quoted as saying he thought they drove you crazy with a bunch of takes and experimenting and it was that it was their most expensive album. How much truth is there to that and was there any interference from the label or did they just kind of let you do your thing?
The label always – I mean I personally never got any comments from the label about budget, I don’t even know what the budget was. But it did take a while to do that record, a lot of it was, the band tends to be very much perfectionists. I remember one instance, I believe we were in Dallas at the Dallas song labs. Once again, when you fade a song out, this isn’t Protools, you can’t just automate it or draw a fade in, this was all done by hand with a fader, you fade it as the song is going out. And I remember spending the good part of a day fading one of the songs, I cant remember which right now, but we ended up doing probably 200 different fades on that song to get it exactly right. And I had Vinnie and Dime over each shoulder every time I did it – they didn’t drive me crazy or anything, it started getting kind of funny after a while, but we probably got over 200 different versions of a fade, on one song.
B: Is there anything you were particularly proud to capture or wished you had captured from those sessions?
T: Nothing comes to my mind, because the process was always – they were so good, the guys were so good, that there was never anything – I mean things would stand out as far as performances, and the performance on ”Becoming”, both Vinnie and Dime – Vinnie’s drummer pattern just to this day, I talked to him about it and he goes ‘oh it’s easy, this is how I do it with my feet”, and it looks really simple, but it’s crazy what he does and it was just such a great combination of everybody on that song, form Dime’s crazy riff to what Rex was doing and… there were four great musicians in that band, and it just so rarely happens that you have four people that are at that level of ability. That’s really what I take away from that record and every record with those guys.
B: Was there ever any clue the album would go to number one? Was that even a possibility?
T: You know, I don’t remember anybody talking about that. There was no talk about it, nobody thought about it, I mean we knew the momentum was right for them to come out and enter high on the charts, but I don’t remember anybody talking about that kind of stuff you know?
As I recall it was like, ‘well that’s really great’ but I was in the studio and they were on the road, and there were other distractions, and everybody was excited but it was just excitement for a few minutes and then head down and move on to the next thing.
B: In retrospect has it sunk in what that meant for the genre?
T: I hear that comment, how much it meant [to metal], and it’s really hard to tell. I think more than being #1, I think what the band did, is they were so different and so good at what they did, that you know, just them being who they are, as the years go by, you realize what an influence that was on that style of music, and what a big mark they left.
B: Do you remember anything about the original cover art?
T: The original idea was more comedy and the newer idea was definitely more serious and more appropriate, I don’t really… [laughs] I think I know who’s idea it was, but I’m not sure. But yeah the original idea was shut down, and I think improved on.
B: When was the last time you listened to the record? How does it hold up in your opinion?
T: I don’t usually go back and listen to records, just because I’ve heard it a thousand times before it’s released and when I listen back to it sometimes, you know I’m hearing things I wish I’d done differently… so it usually takes about 10 years before I listen to something again. So it’s been a while, you know, I listen to bits and pieces of it, just to reference myself to things I might have done back then when I’m working on something currently but… It’s a classic record, just like all their records. I always look back on those and go, I wish I’d mixed them a little different, I wish this sound was a little different, and you know, what I would do if I could fix it again right now, and when I mention that to people they go…’well, why would you wanna do that? That’s the record that was made in that time period and it wouldn’t be the same record if it was mixed differently now’. Two years ago when Vulgar was re-released for it’s 20th anniversary, it was re-mastered and I happened to be in Los Angeles when it was being re-mastered, and I kinda sat around with them while they were doing it. And you know, you listen to the original, and then you listen to the re-master, and the re-mastered version, I dunno, might be better? But you’re constantly trying to match the original so it’s like why mess with it.
B: Is there anything we wouldn’t know to ask about that stands out from the original sessions, maybe a funny or cool story?
Well it’s not really a funny story, but it’s a good one. We were in Nashville staying in this big Holliday Inn high rise plaza or something, a big high rise hotel, and Dime liked to change rooms kinda often, and I remember one day, he came in the studio and said ‘Yeah, I gotta change my room so I just packed all my stuff up and someone from the hotel’s gonna move it into a new one for me’.
And the next day he comes in and he goes, ‘I lost a DAT tape”, which I don’t know if you remember DAT tapes, but he would record his – late at night he’d get a riff idea and he’d just record it onto this tape, and he had a tape with 250 riffs on it, that just ended up missing. Probably left it under a bed or something, whatever, never showed up.
So for that record, that was the early stages of the record too, when they were writing songs, so for that record he had over 250 riffs on there, that he was gonna draw from, to use for the record – and he just lost em. So there’s 250 Dimebag riffs out there someplace, and here’s Dime, you know, lost all of his riffs that he prepared, and he says, ‘eh I’ll just write some new ones’.
So he just wrote new ones for the record, just on the spot, that’s just how amazing that guy was. But yeah, so there’s a DAT tape out there someplace with 250 riffs from Far Beyond Driven that never got used.
B: And in the interest of not dwelling completely in the past tell us what you’ve been up to lately.
T: Well, Bring Me The Horizon was about a year ago. I just finished Miss May I’s record – heavy band out of Cincinnati, basically. And that record is coming out any day now, that was a great project, we did that up here in Seattle. Great guys, really great band, great live show, excited about that. I’ve been pretty focused on getting my studio built, so I’ve been dealing with that, and doing single song mixes around the edges. In December I have one project that’s not confirmed so I can’t say who it is up here in Seattle, and then there’s a number of mixing projects I’m gonna start on in late April, early May. There’s 3 or 4 projects lined up this year but they’re not confirmed yet, but a lot of it is about getting the studio together.
B: How do you take work these days? Through management? Your website?
T: I get a lot of emails from the website (http://www.terrydaterecording.com/), and I’m always looking for stuff, fun finds – good bands that are unsigned, or signed bands too, but usually those guys go through my management. But I’m always looking for, especially, stuff nobody’s heard before. I’m looking for bands that haven’t had the opportunity, or the ability to be heard yet.
By Bryce Segall for Revolt Magazine.
Click here to see the original interview.