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Ten questions with Alec Palao on Seeds reissues on Ace

  • Alec Palao is one of rock's great gentlemen. That he was able to pry the closely-guarded masters for the Seeds catalogue, research the tapes and provide detailed notes on recording sessions in the excellent liners shows that he is also a devoted compiler. The first two reissues have boggled many a mind, being that the only digital versions of the Seeds catalog were thin-sounding, some in fake stereo, especially the debut which must be heard in mono.

    Here are 10 questions I posed to Alec Palao about the project.

    Q. Remastering engineer Steve Hoffman tried in vain to obtain the masters of the Seeds' debut for an SACD version on Audio Fidelity Records but was rebuffed by "Sky's people." Can you describe how you went about getting permission to use Seeds' masters?
    A. I'm not surprised, because "Sky's people" do not have control of the Seeds catalogue. It has always been owned by GNP Crescendo Records ie Gene Norman and his son Neil. While happy to license masters, they have always been fiercely protective of the master tapes, but I took time explaining my intentions, and once they understood how serious I was, they allowed me full access.
    I was deeply appreciative of this, but in truth, that's normally how I conduct myself in regard to access to any archive. There needs to be a certain knowledge of and respect for the history, and that is something that cannot be demonstrated overnight. It also helps that I conduct my own transfers and thus can set about digging in the vaults with a minimum of fuss. I feel you can't speak with true authority about a catalogue unless you have truly been through the nuts and bolts of it. Sadly, many of my peers in the catalogue business don't have the time, patience, or humility in this regard.
    Q. How receptive were the remaining Seeds to the project?
    A. Very. And this includes Sky, in the meeting I had with him and his wife Sabrina six weeks or so before his untimely passing in 2009. Rick was unfortunately already in the midst of a debilitating illness by the time I got to see him, but I know he would have been happy to see his legacy taken care of in this way. As to Daryl and Jan - well, they have been completely co-operative and are two of the nicest, most self-effacing chaps you might ever want to meet. Daryl was the true architect of the Seeds sound, and thus his many insights - not to mention his incredible memorabilia stash - were invaluable. Jan had an equal role, but interestingly had rarely been quoted in public on the bands history, prior to this reissue and documentary project.
    Q. Greg Shaw once said that Sky Saxon was not crazy but just a myopic egomaniac. Talking to the members of the group, what is your opinion?
    A. I met Sky Saxon enough times over the years to form some sort of opinion before I got started on this reissue series, and subsequently get to put him under the microscope, so to speak. His ego was huge, even insurmountable perhaps, but beneath it lay a kind and gentle soul, of that there is no doubt. Sky's ego was in place long before the drugs, but it was the drugs that destroyed any sense of logic. Knowing what I know about his childhood and certain other factors, there has to be a small but significant disorder in Sky's personality that was unfortunately exacerbated by the drugs, and from which he truly never recovered. Jan and Daryl point to a very quick decline from the moment the band started to make it in Hollywood and the arrival of Lord Tim, who stoked Sky's ego to the extent that he probably believed he was not mortal. But once agin, there was never malice behind any of Sky's actions, merely childlike naivete and a tremendous amount of unrealistic expectation.
    Q. I realize tampering with the past is always iffy when it comes to remixing. "Web of Sound" sounds great on the Ace remaster but the mix is wonky. Was there ever any thoughts to remixing?
    A. True, the original mix is wonky, but less so than the second stereo mix that has been the only version of the album available on CD up until this point. But when those mixes were made, Sky was in charge and they were his vision, so to speak, so I respect that, even if some of the balance decisions are bizarre (such as his decision to duck the fuzz/organ solo in "Just Let Go"). I guess we can consider a remix in a tighter framework down the line, if warranted.
    Q. On the bootleg of the Melodyland show, the band plays an interesting song called "Cloud Ridin.'" I had never heard of this song before. Is there a studio version or other live recording?
    A. This song was recorded in the studio yes, but after both Rick and Jan had left the band, and they had left Crescendo. And neither Rick or Jan were in the band at the time of the Melodyland show.
    Q. You have provided detailed liner notes on the sessions. Can you tell us a little about the process of listening and logging hours of tapes? It must have been difficult to choose between versions.
    A. While some non-Seeds fans might consider it akin to torture, going through the session tapes with a fine toothcomb was a necessary and, for me, endlessly illuminating and fun undertaking. Principally because of the way the band recorded - virtually always tracking live, with Sky singing along from first take to last. True, there often wasn't a lot of variance on the actual arrangements for each session, but certainly for the 1965 and 1966 studio dates, the group was firing on all cylinders, and it is rare that, if a take was complete, that it wasn't usable in some way. So yes, there is a fair amount to choose from, and I have tried to include the alternate takes that offer the most differences or excitement.
    I must add, that it was this whole process that truly made me realize the incredible focus that Sky had in those years, and to get flashes of his legendary in-person charisma. It also proved that the other members had as much say in the recordings as he did, too. The between-take banter was so fascinating, I actually went to the trouble of transcribing it all, just so that I didn't miss any clues to the creative process. Handling the actual transfers myself, I could also observe the mechanics of the recording process ie where edits were made, where one reel might actually contain tracks from two different sessions, detectable by different tape stock etc. Nerdy stuff perhaps, but as mentioned above, this is the only way you can then speak with accuracy about the bands recordings. The multi-tracks for the Future sessions were revealing in that the numerous overdubs submerge the electricity of the original takes, as well as adding a lot of noise and distortion - the engineering on the first two albums is of a far higher standard. Having Musicians Union contracts for the sessions was also useful, but they don't always correlate with the recorded evidence - so some triangulation and educated guesswork was occasionally in order.
    Q. The liner notes are incredible but the type is tiny. For us old folks, it's hard to read. Have you thought of providing a link to download or read the liners online?
    A. Well, thank you. I'd be lying if I said you were the first person to bring up the small type. An on-line version is worth considering, to be sure.
    Q. You've included the stereo version of Web of Sound as well as the mono but you didn't do this for the debut.
    A. That was a judgment call on my part - the mono just suits that era of the bands career better, and of course it has never been available on CD. I guess if there was enough demand for it we could do a stereo edition, but the truth is a certain amount of the first album is not true stereo (you could not do true stereo on Can't Seem To Make You Mine, for example, because of the way it was recorded). Apropos of your question above, stereo remixes could be done of certain tracks that have only until this point been available in mono. Funnily enough, on the stereo Future, the track "Out Of The Question" is simply the mono single master put through a stereo chamber, even though it could have been remixed in true stereo - but as it was included as a last minute substitute, that was likely done for expedience.
    Q. Ace has not published any timeline for "Future" or any Seeds release. In fact, details on the remaining three albums are hard to come by. Is there a reason for this? Inquiring Seeds fans want to know!
    A. There's no secret agenda, we just let everyone know when they are going to be released. As it happens, Future will be out in May. I'll be happy to provide details on that and the ensuing volumes.
    Q. I see you're going to present a trailer for the doc at UT's 30th anniversary. Will it also go up on youtube?
    A. That I can't say. Neil is more in charge of the documentary at this current stage, so it is his call.