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A-T Summer Sonic 2010 interview with Slash FOH & Monitor Engineers

Ken “Pooch” Van Druten (FOH) & Kevin “Tater” McCarthy (monitor) handle front-of-house and monitor engineering for Slash at Summer Sonic 2010.

Ken “Pooch” Van Druten (FOH) & Kevin “Tater” McCarthy (monitor) handle front-of-house and monitor engineering for Slash at Summer Sonic 2010. We’re grateful they shared an hour with us in the midst of a busy afternoon in Tokyo.

Audio-Technica: Do you want to introduce yourselves? We’ll start with Pooch.

Ken “Pooch” Van Druten: My name is Ken “Pooch” Van Druten, I’m the front of house engineer for Slash featuring Myles Kennedy. Today we’re playing the Summer Sonic Festival in Tokyo. The lead singer of the B’z is joining us for one song.

Audio-Technica: And you are?

Kevin “Tater” McCarthy: I am Kevin “Tater” McCarthy, monitor engineer for Slash.

Audio-Technica: It seems like we’ve done this a bunch and it seems like I see you more in Japan than I see you in the States—but how’d you get your nicknames? That’s something I truly don’t know.

Pooch: Really, you don’t know the story? Go ahead Tater, you go first.

Tater: I have to start first? Well mine’s short for dictator.

Audio-Technica: Thank God you ended up with Tater! And Pooch?

Pooch: Mine’s a little bit longer story than that, but it started with Vince Neil from Motley Crue. I was a little bit heavier than I am now. Vince started calling me Big Dog, which evolved into Pooch. Then, right after that tour, I went from doing Motley Crue to working for Whitney Houston. Whitney Houston’s camp loved Pooch, and wouldn’t let it go. And there was a time, for a couple of years, where people couldn’t make the connection of Pooch or Ken, and, that it was the same person. So I just went with it, whatever.

Tater: You got to go with it.

Pooch: At some point you just got to go okay, can’t fight it. Not that I hate it, I’m just saying that at some point your have to accept it and move on.

Audio-Technica: That’s how you know you’ve arrived. We’ve had a relationship with you guys for quite some time. Can each of you like tell us your favorite Audio Technica microphone and why?

Pooch: I think all time favorite for me is the 4050. It’s a microphone that I put in front of anything, and it translates. It is to me the ultimate acoustic to electric transducer. Anything you put the 4050 in front of, it sounds like you are standing there in front of it. Guitars, basses. I’ve used it for percussion, I’ve put it in the weirdest places and it just works. And it’s [tough], I mean you can use it to bang in nails. It’s really, really a great microphone. To me the sister of that microphone is also excellent. The 4047. All the large diaphragm microphones that you guys make are fantastic.

Audio-Technica: Cool. Tater?

Tater: I’d say the same thing, 4050 and 4047.

Pooch: That’s not true. Which one do you like?

Tater: 450. The side address. I also really like the 3000. I see it used here in Japan a lot and in a lot of other places.

Audio-Technica: It’s kind of another one of those Swiss army knife microphones, with a different flavor than a 4050.

Tater: Exactly. I’d say the 3000 is my newest favorite, I mean obviously 4050 is unbeatable, but the 3000 is a really nice microphone.

Audio-Technica: Any piece of gear that you feel is indispensable to your job? Like you can’t go without it.

Tater: Right now I’d say that would be the WAVES SoundGrid.

Pooch: What sucks about this is I’m going to sound like a WAVES commercial, but I would have to say that WAVES plug-ins are a piece of gear that I cannot be without. I’m using plug-ins everywhere these days.

Audio-Technica: That’s kind of an interesting lead-in because I think anyone would consider both of you to be at the top of your game. I mean, you are definitely the ultimate front of house and monitor kind of dynamic duo, to such an extent that Pooch you are now actually repping a company. Not only are you doing the sound thing, but they look to your talents to translate that, to try to get product into the market, and that’s WAVES, right?

Pooch: Yes.

Audio-Technica: So how do you like that as opposed to doing road work? I mean you’re still doing both, so –

Pooch: I am, yeah. I like it very much and here’s why: To me it is along with the connection that I have to you guys, to Audio Technica, it’s ultimate feedback with the company. Feedback coming from an end user. Literally I can call the guy that designed a specific plug-in, for instance, and say to him okay, yesterday I was using it on guitar, I had this thing happen, and I really didn’t like how it sounded, can we try something else to make it better? Usually they respond with a new version in a week or so. As the end user, you can’t ask for anything better than that. Tater and I talk about this a lot in regards to Audio Technica—we feel that same kind of love with Audio Technica, we really do.

Tater: And I’m looking for a job anyway.

Audio-Technica: We actually have some offline discussions on product development, so that’s worked really well. So you guys have worked with the cream of the crop as far as artists. Is there anyone you wish you could work with or you’d love to mix. Tater?

Tater: That’s a tough one. I’ve done a lot of my favorite people, and they still are my favorite people.

Audio-Technica: That’s cool that you actually got to mix people that you liked personally. That’s pretty awesome.

Tater: Including Slash right now, he is a great guy.

Pooch: Oh yeah, it is the ultimate. The situation that we’re in right now is unbelievable. We work for a lot of bands that are great bands, but maybe not necessarily everyone in the band is a super hot musician. The band that we’re working for right now are unbelievable musicians. Not only just Slash, but everybody in the band. And having the pleasure to watch him play every single night, the guitar is a true extension of Slash. It’s not something he plays, it’s part of him. And so it’s a real pleasure to work for him for sure.

Audio-Technica: Awesome. So I’ve heard from everyone, and you guys included, that like the real pleasure of doing your gig is it’s such an immediate response. It’s not like recording an album where you can go back and fix things, so that’s kind of the rush of it. What’s the least favorite part of your gig that’s a chore that you have to do? What do you hate about either monitor or front of house work?

Pooch: Being away from my family for so long, I mean that’s really it. We’ve been lucky enough to work ourselves into a position with getting to work with amazing people. But along with that comes being away from home for ten months out of the year. And we’re getting older now, Tater and I.

Audio-Technica: Well you don’t look it.

Pooch: I’m not that young kid 20-year-old that could go out and drink all night, and then wake up and do it again. To me it’s like I get up in the morning and bones are creaking, I wipe the sleep away from my eyes and say: I’m in Jakarta, Indonesia, what am I doing here?

Audio-Technica: How’s the Summer Sonic crew been to work with? You’ve come from Osaka to here, the transition.

Tater: So far so good.

Pooch: We always look forward to coming to Japan. It is, and always has been, a place where they take special pride in making sure that they provide good services for us as engineers. And especially since we just came from doing a bunch of other dates around the world, you come to Japan and everything’s right, you don’t have to worry about it. As long as you do your advance and tell them what you need, you show up and it’s done.

Tater: And for a festival this size, it’s impressive.

Pooch: Something to be said, for sure.

Audio-Technica: So give me a horror story from the road. Any like memorably bad gigs you guys – there’s not one that bubbles to the surface?

Tater: No. We are so good we never have those. [laughs]

Pooch: Wow. I wish that was true.

Audio-Technica: No funny road stories?

Pooch: Horror-wise, there are always those bad shows. We are our worst critics, and I’m sure that our worst show for most people is a pretty good show for the audience. I’ve had several situations where I’m just standing at the console going oh my God, I don’t know how to fix it. Mostly due to equipment stuff. We were just in Europe with Slash, and playing bomb shelters in the Czech republic. The equipment there is stuff that’s been beat up. So halfway through the show half of the PA dies, or lines go bad during the show. Those are the kind of shows I lose sleep over.

Audio-Technica: Right, definitely out of your hands.

Pooch: Yeah.

Audio-Technica: The frequencies always.

Pooch: Yes, frequencies –

Audio-Technica: Don’t we know it.

Tater: Daily.

Audio-Technica: It’s everyone’s favorite.

Pooch: Yeah, I mean I’m not a monitor guy. Thank God I’ve got Tater around, because the shit that happens over there in monitor world every single day… Sometimes we’ve got about two choices and one of them sucks.

Audio-Technica: Right, yeah we’ve talked about that before. How you guys are perfectly suited for each of your individual gigs. Like you [Tater] love the monitor thing and you’ve liked honed that to a craft, which is completely different than your work [Pooch].

Pooch: I hate that end of the snake. It’s too close to the pop stars.

Audio-Technica: Neither of you wants the other person’s job. Which is interesting, because you see a lot of people flip-flop. But you guys have honed your craft. We definitely appreciate you believing in the product and hanging with us, and obviously anything we can do in the future, we look forward to the future with you guys.

Pooch: Absolutely.

Tater: We definitely appreciate the support.

Pooch: Yeah, for sure. Regardless of what the product is, this is a people business. You can talk to me all day long about how you think this product is better, or whatever, but if I have to call somebody up from Jakarta, Indonesia and say hey, your shit’s broken and their answer is - Can’t help you dude, see you in two weeks when you get back to the states.” That does me no good. Am I going to say to my artist sorry dude, two weeks you’ll have that fixed?

Audio-Technica: The reality is it’s all a matter of degrees too. Are there other mic companies that make good mics?

Pooch: Of course.

Audio-Technica: Sure there are. Did I say that?

Pooch: Yes there are other manufacturers’ microphones out there, but nothing parallels the service we receive from Audio Technica.

Audio-Technica: But the reality is – we certainly appreciate it and the fact that you recognize that.

Tater: I have to go make sure I un-jinx myself.

Audio-Technica: We have our writer make little teaser questions, and one of them is, do you have any superstitions or traveling rituals.

Tater: I couldn’t even go through my superstition list. Unless you have a couple more hours to talk?

Pooch: You know what makes Tater the best monitor engineer in the world is what other people would consider a fault. He is the most OCD person I’ve ever met in my entire life.

Audio-Technica: No way. Do you like bring things? Just the way everything’s labeled?

Pooch: Everything is in its place, and if one thing is a little askew, he’ll come back from catering and know it instantly.

Tater: That’s how I know someone’s moved it. If I come back and it’s a different way I got to recheck it.

Audio-Technica: Wow, that’s awesome.

Pooch: That is what makes him good at what he does. How do people get away with just turning stuff on and doing a show without walking frequencies, and generally not even listening to the wireless before they put a band onstage…

Tater: They do it all the time, they get away with it.

Pooch: Eventually it will get them.

Audio-Technica: It does. And that’s why your bad gig is someone else’s good gig. You know what I mean?

Tater: Yeah.

Audio-Technica: That’s the reality.

Pooch: You watch these guys come over and flop a wireless rack on, turn it all on, and just hand the singer a mic. I see that happen and think to myself, “what are they doing?” Wow, I hope that works.

Audio-Technica: It bites them all the time.

Pooch: Thanks.