Jim Anderson is a sound-engineering nobleman and sage. For nearly 30 years, his ears and soundboards have helped to mix sound for Seattle music. He has a meticulous audible sense of where sounds should be placed, and at what levels. He's patient, pleasant as can possibly be, and he treats bands with respect, no matter who they are. In the 1980s, he was at the old Central Tavern in Pioneer Square, and then at the Crocodile for 16 years. As Seattle's music has evolved, Anderson has been behind a mixing board, making bands sound as good as they can. The respect he has earned over the years is well deserved. Lately, Anderson has been traveling the world to exotic locales and running sound for Seattle garage-rock icons the Sonics. Jim's been jet-setting, hitting places like Greece, Norway, Bangladesh. Another exotic locale Jim has sonically touched is in Seattle's own Georgetown neighborhood, where he did sound design for the great Slim's Last Chance.
What kind of speaker cabinets does Slim's have?
Mackie S408s. They're interesting cabinets. They're meant to be mains or a monitor wedge. When you're looking at it, it's got four eight-inch speakers that are in the corners, and a strip in the middle is a horn. The coverage pattern when it's on its side as a monitor is 70 degrees up and down and 40 degrees side to side, so it's a fairly narrow horn pattern. Mackie told them to put them sideways as mains, but that would have meant a very narrow strip of high end that you'd hear in a couple places in the room. So I flipped them up on their side, and that way the wide part of the horn pattern is covering more of the room. Also, Mackie had originally said to put four of these cabinets up there, but that would be total overkill for that tiny of a room. Two of these are plenty loud for Slim's. I can get this PA loud enough to keep up with Zeke's vocals, when Zeke plays. And that is saying something. Those boys like loud guitar.
What's the sound like in there? Any sonic oddities that are peculiar to that room?
It's a smaller size room, so if someone has a loud stage volume, it tends to take over. This is something that takes a long time to deal with and not be frustrated. If they are cranking their half-stack, it gets to be too much.
Are you talking about cock rock?
Well, sometimes guys do play too loud. And not to say that it's bad to play loud, but it's just that for a space that size, acoustically it's a little difficult to deal with. It gets back to the idea of sound reinforcement, meaning that I make something only as loud as it needs to be. The difficult part for some guys is if you don't have to make it any louder, then don't. With a bunch of mics up and a guy playing really loud guitar, it can be too much. Then they get frustrated because they can't put any guitar in the PA.
Half of your job is basically to be a psychologist—dealing with volume as an extension of the phallus. What do you say to those guys who are too loud?
For years I've learned to let the band play the music that they want to play, and then I adjust to that. My job is to be a chameleon. If it doesn't need to be any louder, I won't make it louder. There are lots of times bands will come in, and all I have in the PA is kick drum and vocals. If that's all you need to balance the stage volume, then that's okay. It's not a crime. That's where some sound engineers get into trouble. They try to be control freaks about how loud the guy's going to play guitar, telling them, "You have to turn your guitar down so I can put some in the PA." That's bullshit. You gotta let guitar players play how they want, let them get the tone they want, then work around that. With tube amps, they have to be a certain volume to get tones. Sometimes it's just really loud and you have to deal with it. I'll put my earplugs in and be fine with it.
Do you encounter female guitar players who play too loud? Do women suffer from cock-rock syndrome?
They can, yes. It's not necessarily a gender issue. I think it's something more associated stylistically with the music. Plus, there are just more dudes who play guitar. I certainly have been in situations where there were female guitar players onstage who were too loud.
And let it be said that volume is an inherent facet of rock music.
You can't have a quiet death-metal band. At the same time, if you have someone playing solo acoustic guitar and it's so loud it's feeding back, that's just as inappropriate.
What do you want for Christmas?
A plasma cutter.
What's a plasma cutter?
I've been doing metalwork lately. I took a class down at Bates Technical College in Tacoma. The instructor demonstrated a plasma cutter. It's basically like an arc welder except that it has a stream of air that goes through it so that it actually blows the molten metal out from the cut. It makes really precise, neat cuts, quickly into any kind of conductive metal plate.
Sounds like cock rock. Is the welder an extension of the phallus? Come on, Jim, you can be honest with me.
Not so much. It's blacksmithing, not cock rock. I built a porch railing for my house.
What's your next metalworking project?
One of the reasons I got into metalworking was because of all the busted mic stands I end up acquiring. It ceases to be useful as a mic stand, but it's still good metal tubing. It's serviceable, it's good for something.
Like cock rock.
I have visions of giant yard-art dinosaurs made out of mic-stand tubing.
We'll put it in the sculpture park. They're cool with giant yard art. You have to paint it orange, though.
I'll get to work.
Georgetown needs a sculpture park, too. Wait, so how did you get involved with Slim's?
Michael and Celeste, the owners, who are also the owners of the Pig Iron Bar-B-Q next door. Michael used to be one of the regulars at the old Central in Pioneer Square when I was running sound down there in the 1980s. He was in a couple bands and I had worked with him before. When Slim's decided they wanted live music, they called me up.
Is that your system in there?
It started out being my system, then they got a Mackie sponsorship and went with more of their gear. Mackie gave them a bunch of stuff and kind of said, "We'll give you these cabinets and you just put them up here and here." I took a look at what they had given them and was able to help them make a lot more effective use of the cabinets in that particular room. I was able to make a little more sense out of it for them, with respect to the coverage from the horn patterns from the cabinets.
What are some other bands you've run sound for at Slim's?
Dusty 45s, Cicada Omega from Portland, who are one of my favorites lately. The Rainieros. Lots of good rockabilly and country stuff, but cool variety, too. Eddie Spaghetti did a solo acoustic show. A bluegrass band I really like called Hillstomp. A few jug bands. Baby Gramps has played a couple of times. It's a solid eclectic mix of stuff. And there's good rock, too, with Zeke, Neon Nights, the Midnight Idols. Having all the different types of music really keeps me on my toes. Obviously, you run sound way differently for quiet acoustic music than you do for loud rock.