The first thing that comes to mind when I think of The Runaways is Rock’n’Roll. It’s gritty, it’s lo-fi and it is imperfectly perfect. I chose to research this band to further my understanding of the feel and the production of the Garage Punk/Rock genre. I have a recording coming up for a band named VOIID (for more info on this project go here), and The Runaways are a perfect reference for their style.
I really love their song “You Drive Me Wild,” which featured on The Runaways 1976 Self-Titled Album. I first discovered it in high school, when I decided to do an assignment on The Runaways movie (15-year-old me also had a fantastic taste in music). I suppose it made me feel edgy, rough and powerful, which is basically what they were trying to achieve.
For me, the distorted electric guitars in this song are what really sets that gritty, garage sound. Followed up by the backbeat of the drums which makes the groove, and topped off with the angsty, gravelly voices of rebellious teenage girls. The lyrics themselves also portray a racy, sensual theme which, at the time of releasing the album, would never have been done before by an all-female group, especially ones so young. The Runaways was an entirely new concept, and producer Kim Fowley, snatched that concept right up.
Fowley chose Artie Ripp’s Fidelity Recording Studio to track the bands first album. The room they hired out was actually a remade store room, Fowley calling it, “the kind of studio you wanted a garage product out of,” which is exactly what they got. Ripp also commented, saying “there was an intimacy in the room and there was a sound that was tight and alive, despite its lack of, shall we say, visual amenities.” Fowley was bringing together a lost group of teenage girls who wanted to wow the world with a harsh, real punk sound that had never been done by a group such as theirs before, therefore an intimate, lo-fi, not-so-high-end room was a perfect fit.
In regards to equipment, Joey Latimer, an engineer, composer, musician and label owner who apprenticed at Fidelity Recording in the late ’70s gives an extensive list that The Runaways would have had access to in that studio: “They would have recorded to a 3M M79 16-track machine with Dolby B NR. The speakers were 12-inch three-way JBLs…there was also a BX10 spring reverb in that room that engineers would patch into the EMT 150 plates in Studio A. Also on hand were LA-2A and 1176 limiters, Pultec EQs, Roger Meyer noise gates and outboard API EQs. Fidelity also offered a host of Neumann and AKG tube mics, as well as models such as the Shure SM57, Electro-Voice RE20 or 666, and Sennheiser 421 and 441s.” Barbara Shultz of Mix Online remarks that, “[the room] would have been quite a nicely equipped 16-track studio in its time.”
However, admittedly Fowley was much more about the attitude. He made it very clear that he couldn’t care less about what equipment was used during recordings. In fact, it has been said time and time again that he purposefully pitted the five girls against each other, and that he even performed ‘heckler’s drills’ while the band was practising, where he would throw insults and objects at the performers. He said that this is how the some audiences would treat the girls in the real Rock’n’Roll world. All of these techniques were supposed to give the band a raw edginess that couldn’t be faked. Perhaps it did, however, it was definitely at the cost of the band itself, which split up in 1979.
As well as the equipment and Fowley’s unorthodox approach to curving the bands attitude, there were a few production techniques that contributed to the band’s rough, live sound. Firstly, they recorded their tracks all at once, rather than instrument by instrument. There was also no click-track, and no baffles separating the players.
I suppose in a way Fowley got what he wanted. During the tumultuous four years that The Runaways existed, they all became harder, tougher and found it very difficult to shake off the Rock’n’Roll box that they’d been shoved into. For many band members this was a good thing, as helped to further their career in similar genres. More than this though, the Runaways did a big thing for the world. In the word’s of lead vocalist Cherie Curie, “Being in the Runaways, we were trailblazers, we changed a lot of people’s perspectives on what they could or could not do as females.” This brings me back to the present, where I am five days away from recording an all-girl Garage Rock band. This realistically would not have been possible without The Runaways influence all those years ago.
Day, E. (2010). Cherie Currie of the Runaways | Interview. The Guardian. Retrieved 16 June 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2010/jan/24/cherie-currie-runaways-sundance
McDonnell, E. (2013). Queens of noise. New York, NY: Da Capo Press.
Schultz, B. (2010). Classic Tracks: The Runaways “Cherry Bomb”. Mixonline. Retrieved 16 June 2017, from http://www.mixonline.com/news/profiles/classic-tracks-runaways-cherry-bomb/366162