TESTING, TESTING 1-2-3 – A Chat with Bob Cowan and Adam Correia
On every WorldWired date, Bob Cowan and Adam Correia are the men who make sure the band like how they sound. Monitor-men supreme, their jobs are both unique and finite. Steffan Chirazi is all ears as they explain the process.
Hidden away from the arena floor on this indoor WorldWired Tour, Bob Cowan and Adam Correia could look like DJs hiding in the wings. Instead, it is fair to call them the Siamese twins of WorldWired. Monitors are traditionally a one-man job, with said-man holding the keys to not only how the artists hear themselves as they play, but what they hear, whether it is dialed to their taste and quite possibly whether the artist has a good show or not. To ensure maximum efficiency in such matters, Bob and Adam work together, and as such, their work often appears to have much in common with how Siamese twins supposedly live. Each man works their own console, and each are responsible for the direct requests that come from Lars, James, Kirk, and Robert during a WorldWired show. Despite their location in the venue, Bob and Adam utilize technology by using video cameras which allow them to see each band member. No request is missed, whether it be more “crunch,” more “drums,” or more whatever is required in a personal mix.
Both are genuine, friendly individuals who could pass as being brothers if you were first meeting them, and it’s fair to say that they’ve had to develop a sixth sense, both when working with each other and when determining specific needs of the band in any given situation. As you settle in for a chat with Bob and Adam, it is clear that their working chemistry dovetails with a genuine shared-friendship that lies beyond the simple parameters of the working day. James, Lars, Kirk, and Rob are the grateful recipients of the resultant work these two get through together on WorldWired.
Steffan Chirazi: First things first: starting this gig. I think you should bring people into what that job entailed when you first walked through the door.
Bob Cowan: For me, I came in behind Paul Owen who was here for 23 years, so I had done a lot of other monitor mixing jobs where I had gone in behind a guy who was no longer there, and I was starting something new. I hadn’t ever experienced going in behind a guy who had been there for 20-plus years, having to go in behind that guy! So that added a whole different element to the challenge of it. I guess the closest thing I could think of is it was like being a guitar player in a cover band, and you’re trying to emulate that guitar player’s sound, solos, and all of the things that that guy does to make his tone and what he does unique to him. That’s probably the closest thing I tried to do when I came in behind Paul Owen. I didn’t want to change anything too quickly, because I wanted to show the band that I could do what they were used to doing and what they were used to hearing. And then slowly, after I became comfortable with what was going on and the band became more comfortable with me being in the chair, I started making some changes. Also, at that time Big Mick [Hughes – legendary Metallica front of house engineer – ED] started making some changes with the microphones onstage, and some other things started changing, so I was thrust into adapting to those changes as well yet still trying to maintain this “constant.” And then Adam came along shortly thereafter. We were in an analog situation at the time. There was one console, and he had about ten inputs on one side of the desk and I had the whole rest of the console, so it was a tight working space.
SC: How – or why – did Adam come in?
BC: Adam came in because he was on tour with one of the support bands with us on Death Magnetic, and he would come in at load-out, and periodically at load-in, like clockwork every single day, and be like, “Hey, bro, can I help you load-out? Can I help you?” And I was like, “Sure, man. Thanks, bro. You can absolutely, yeah.” So, when the position opened up, he was the guy at the top of the list because he was already familiar with the setup. He’d already seen the stage, he’d seen the show, and had a lot more insight than most people coming in cold.
SC: And there’s some camaraderie as well. I would think that’s pretty important. If you’re splitting the monitors, you have to have a connection as people as well.
BC: Yeah. You’ve gotta be able to work with that person. You have to be a good team. It’s important that we get along, but it’s more important that what we do as a team works for the band.
SC: What turned this into a two-man job?
BC: The reason there’s two of us doing the job is, in the beginning when Paul Owen was here, he was like a madman, like an octopus. He was turning things on, turning things off. He had built this thing up over 20 years… it was almost like you start with a shed and you end up with a mansion. Because he just built and built and built and built this thing up, right? And for someone to come in and try to jump into that was a bit much, right?
SC: I remember when you came in. I remember everyone saying, “This is a thankless task. I don’t know how he’s gonna do it.”
BC: Initially, I went to James and Lars and said, “Hey, if Adam is able to look after Kirk and Robert, that focuses my full attention on you two.” So they were happy about that of course, and then of course Robert and Kirk were happy because they’re getting someone who focuses his full attention on them, right? So we’ve split the duties up and we each have our own console. He totally mixes everything for Kirk and Robert, I don’t do anything for them except for maybe some playback intros, and that’s about it. He pretty much does everything for them. So that makes it easier for me to look after James and Lars, take care of them, and give them that much more attention. That was something Paul wasn’t able to do as much. So when something broke or whatever, Paul coined that phrase, “I can fix it, or I can mix it, I can’t do both.” So that’s where having the extra guy comes in.
SC: And let’s address you being stationed outside the main arena floor.
BC: Well, I can tie that into a couple of things. You were talking about volume and also the sight line thing. So Dan Braun [show designer and director – ED] (https://www.metallica.com/so-what-article/449494.html), who we all know and love, has great visions which don’t include [the fans actually seeing] us, which is the way it should be. You shouldn’t see the techs. You shouldn’t see all the gear except for maybe some of the band’s cool stuff that you want ’em to see. But for us, there’s a reason it’s hidden. One of my main concerns was the volume, right? Guys are getting older, and I wanted to make it less. So what we did was we created “zones” for each musician, so instead of having everything on all the time, it’s only on when they’re [in specific zones]. I mean there’s a small mix that happens, but when they appear, their instruments and everything bring that mix to life and it’s just their mix. When they walk away it goes away. And the side fills are also gone now, so there’s no side fills when we’re outside. Taking away the side fills was something that we could do to help clean up the looks of the stage, and I think it also helps clean up the audio on the stage because there’s less stuff bouncing around.
SC: How do you guys communicate with the band?
BC: Where we are now is we have a camera system that’s dedicated just to us for monitors. It’s not a camera system that changes for the video people; it’s stagnant views that are just ours. And we have [nine] of those camera shots that are just ours. I have one on the drum kit for Lars and I also have a light that’s by Lars, kinda hidden over by his drum kit, so that when he asks me for something, I make it flash and go “okay.”
SC: So is it like Morse code? You’re making it sound like Morse code, like there’s two flashes for yes, one for no?
BC: Well, I just flash it for, “Yes, I got you.” And then if he looks in the camera and says something, if I have no idea what he’s saying in the camera, I just hold the button down and keep it solid. And so he’ll tell me again.
Adam Correia: It’s pretty cool to witness. There’s a camera that just shoots at Lars, to see Lars’ facial expression. It’s pretty cool.
BC: Every once in a while, you get “the face” from Lars, so you know that you missed something, or he wants something louder. It’s not big, animated communication. Sometimes just a look, or [he] points real quick.
AC: Yeah, it’s very minimal.
SC: Interesting, so you guys have had to learn a language.
BC: Yeah, it’s discreet, so the audience doesn’t notice that something’s happening.
SC: I’m assuming you have different problems than those which Big Mick deals with. Are your audio problems different?
BC: No, [his work] definitely affects us. What Mick does definitely plays a big part in how things are heard in the in-ears as well. Sometimes the room gets “boomy” or “washier” sounding. You hear more ambience which sounds like more reverb, just because of the shapes of the reflections in different buildings. In the US, they’re more cookie cutter style arenas there, but in Europe and different places around the world, they definitely vary a little bit.
SC: Okay, let’s get into a bit of history. (Adam) how did you end up doing monitors? Like bring us through your personal history.
AC: All the front of house positions were taken!!!! Hahahaha, I’m just playing. When I first started doing this, I worked at a local club in Providence, Rhode Island and Alice in Chains came and played. I was the local monitor tech and the guy’s like, “Hey, if you really want to work, get a monitor gig and you’ll be busy.” And I was just kinda like, “Yeah, but monitors sucks, man. No one wants to do monitors.” Dude, I can’t complain.
SC: And who have you worked with? Give us a few bands.
AC: My first band was Down, which is the band that I was out on tour with when I met Bob, when we opened up on this. So they picked me up. Their front of house engineer got sick and they came to the club I was working at. So I got to mix front of house for ’em and I left that night and I haven’t stopped since.
SC: So you went from Providence, Rhode Island clubland to Down, to this.
AC: Yeah, I went from doing clubs to arenas and stadiums like overnight. I was doing monitors and front of house for Down. I was going back and forth.
SC: What are the differences between Jimmy Bower [guitarist in Down] and Kirk Hammett?
AC: It’s totally different, yeah. Everyone’s totally different.
SC: Different language?
AC: It’s kinda their gear setup. Everybody picks their things and what they want and the tools they like. With this, I mean we’re able to choose what piece of gear works best for the job, like what tool is best. Whereas with other bands, you’re kinda limited. Just little things like that make a world of a difference. The biggest thing for us is consistency.
SC: Yeah. I would think so.
AC: I look at it… if I was on stage, I’d want the same thing every night. Every single thing I’m gonna get used to.
BC: Even the packs are personalized to each guy. Like you know, Kirk’s has Velcro to keep the knob in place. James, his knob is taken off because when he sits down in certain pants, his pack is at a different level, like where it hits the heel of his boot, and it turns the volume [knob]. So we have to figure all these little things out and each guy is a little different.
SC: And that’s all trial and error, right?
BC: Yeah, when he does it in the Snake Pit every night outside, then you know what’s coming and sometimes, you know, gigs are different.
SC: How about for you (Bob)? Bring us through a bit of your history.
BC: I’ve been touring for a while now. I started out, my first tour was Michael Bolton. My first kind of mixing gigs-
SC: I interviewed Michael Bolton in 1985.
BC: -were in the ’90s. So I went through… I’ve done some really small stuff and I’ve done some, you know, equally large things. Like you know, I did Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I’ve done Enrique Iglesias.
SC: I think mighta heard of them. So you did Bruce Springsteen’s monitors?
BC: Yeah, so I’ve done a lot of monitor mixing like for like, arena acts, and then I’ve also done front house for a lot of like, you know, George Benson, Marcus Miller, David Sanborn, lot of jazz guys. I also do front of house for Melissa Etheridge and I’m also her production manager and I’ve been production managers for other bands as well along the way. You know, I go from the mega tour where you got 20, 30 trucks and you know, all this stuff, to go to like a two-bus with gear in the trailers behind the buses. It’s kinda refreshing. You get to do both ends and it’s, sometimes it’s not easier, but most of the time it is easier because you have a lot less. It’s a small crew, so it definitely is a nice balance.
SC: Let me spin it a little more fiction. Let’s say Big Mick and Jay go down, and half the sound crew too with some giant food bug. Do you think you could step in and do front of house sound?
BC: Absolutely. You’d have to.
SC: And do you think, conversely, if one of you guys went down do you think someone could come in and help?
BC: Yeah, that has actually happened.
SC: What were your points into rock and roll when you were kids? What were the bands that dialed you into loving music?
BC: I actually grew up in Pittsburgh, go Steelers! But I went to school in Florida, I went to Full Sail University [which leans heavily towards careers in the arts] and that played a big part helping get me ready. I worked for bar bands before, and there was a band that I worked for probably four or five years called Crushing Day on the East Coast out of Baltimore, Maryland.
SC: What sort of stuff were you listening to? What stuff made you think, “I want to work in this world?”
BC: Oh, I grew up… my ninth-grade photo in my yearbook is me wearing a Metallica shirt.
SC: Wow. Really?
BC: I grew up on metal. Like Iron Maiden, Metallica, I listened to all of those… Mercyful Fate.
AC: Ah, man. I was DJing at 14. That’s how I got into it. When Bob called me for the gig, I knew all the hit songs from Metallica, but I didn’t grow up listening to Metallica. I grew up in an urban place. It was all Tribe Called Quest, Mos Def, Wu-Tang, all that stuff, rugged hip-hop. And I ended up DJing for a lot of people. I had a commercial radio show, I’ve done nightclubs, I’ve done a lot of stuff with DJing; I am a full-on scratch nerd.
SC: Do you ever sneak off and do a bit of DJing?
AC: Yeah, there’s a new restaurant that opened [nearby where I live that] me and my buddy are trying to get in. We do a duo thing.
SC: Do you talk about this much, do people really know?
AC: I just do it more as a hobby… but this [monitors] is my livelihood. I don’t know, maybe when this ends, maybe I’ll venture into that. That’s my dream; this is a close second. I mean this is awesome! I wanted to travel the world. And I get paid to do it and mix music? Why not!
SC: So final question. I have to ask, on this tour, has there been a “pull my fucking hairs out melt down” moment? And how would you deal with it? I mean what is the worst thing that can happen or has happened in this current setup?
BC: We do our best to avoid that. Basically, when something happens it’s a freak accident, because everybody is very thorough, we all do the same duties every day, and we try to cover every possible scenario. We try to check everything. We do check everything! We try to set ourselves up to win as much as possible. Sometimes, you know, shit breaks. It happens. Sometimes shit just happens. And it’s how you deal with it, how quickly you can get it fixed, and sometimes things are just completely out of your control and you’re at the mercy of the band being patient long enough for you to get it together to actually make it work for them. All I’ve ever tried to do over my whole career is learn from the mistakes I’ve made, and the things that have happened that aren’t even really mistakes that I’ve made, things that happened where you go, “Jeez, man, how do I prepare myself for that?!”
SC: It’s a good lesson for the readers.
BC: Because you’re gonna be drawing on all those people’s knowledge, like Dan [Braun], like Lug [John “Lug” Zajonc – production manager]. All the people that have put this thing together, if you can learn from those guys as well along the way, it’s just gonna make you better at your job, because you have a bigger picture mentality of what’s going on. That’s why I love doing production on other jobs.