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The Real World

by Gary Marks


The Real World (1988) was a cool new experience for me. All the drum parts were arranged, programmed, and played by me on my super modern “Roland R5” drum machine.

My goal was to have the tracks sound like they were played by a “live” drummer. I think it sounds pretty realistic, even 25 years later. See what you think!

In fact, have a funny secret to tell you: I used that same 25 year old R5 for a few tasty “techno” drum fills on No Turning Back, my latest CD as of this writing, released in 2013. I’m definitely getting my money’s worth from that little gray box.

A few other memorable things about The Real World:

Joining me on back-up harmonies were Bonnie Hayes, Teresa Trull, and Vicki Randall. That was really fun! And Stef Burns played the electric guitar parts. He was a wizard! Stef eventually went on to work with the Alice Cooper Band, Narada Michael Walden, and so many others.

A truly great recording engineer from L.A., Ricky Sanchez, asked to be the recording engineer for one of my sessions. So I chose the song, For Molly’s Sky. I told Ricky beforehand that I wanted to sing and play the song at the same time (live) and just get one good take. I came into the studio and something magical happened. Ricky had moved the piano to the middle of the room, mics were set up all around the piano, the lights were dimmed, a vase of flowers was on a tall stool next to the piano, and a pair of headphones were laying on the piano seat. I put them on and started to sing and play for a sound check and it felt like I was singing at the Oakland Coliseum. I started laughing. Ricky said, “Ready when you are,” and I said, “Okay, roll it.” After the first take I sat down with him to listen. Then I said, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is, that’s the take. The bad news is I don’t get to do it over and over again.” Ricky became one of my favorite engineers to work with.

My most interesting memory about The Real World was that it was recorded entirely for free. The story goes like this: I met this girl at a party. Her name was Marianne. Her boyfriend introduced me as a great piano teacher. She told me she was studying music at UC Berkeley and would love to take lessons from me but that she couldn’t afford it. So I decided to challenge her. I said, “Don’t worry about the money. Just show up, I dare you!” She did. And I taught her for free for over a year.

Fast forward the tape three years later. She calls me out of the blue and tells me she’s now a recording engineer at Alpha Omega Studios in the city. She asks me if I’m writing new songs for my next album. I said yes. She asks me, “ Are you willing to record at odd hours if I can get you a good rate?” I said, “What kind of rate are you talking about?” And she said, “Zero dollars an hour. Just show up, I dare you.” And that’s how I recorded The Real World for free. Marianne was awesome, both as a friend and as an engineer. I still love the way The Real World sounds to this day.