We began preproduction for our major label debut in the fall of 1991. Preproduction, for us at least, generally consisted of running through songs for David and discussing arrangements, etc. We felt we had the material to make a great record. A large part of that responsibility rested on David’s shoulders; he needed to take a bunch of great songs and make a great album from them. The record needs to play well, song flowing into song, mood elevating and evolving throughout. His ears mattered.
Preproduction required more room and better sound than was supplied by our small rehearsal space; we needed a bigger studio with a better PA. Our manager Kat Sirdofsky told us we would be using Capp Street Studios. I took pause at that; I was friends with the people that ran the studio, but as studios go it was basically a dump. I went to NA meetings there sometimes. Midnight meetings cramped with strung out musicians. And the studio was located in one of the worst neighborhoods in San Francisco, between 16th and 17th on Capp street in the Mission. A plethora of drug dealers and street hookers, gangs and junkies littered the neighborhood 24-7. Why didn’t our manager take some advance money and get us a decent studio? You’d have to ask her. I recall her saying “Well, you guys are from the street – and I thought you’d be more comfortable there.” She didn’t have a fucking clue as far as I could tell.
I used to live nearby, on 14th street, right up until I entered rehab. But back then I always carried a weapon of some kind. And I could get my crazy face on if I had to, no problem. That area was a dangerous, depressing shithole. I remember feeling self conscious about the area and choice of studios when David first showed up. It was just a sleazy area and he was not a sleazy guy.
We wrapped it up one evening, a little after 7:00 pm. It wasn’t even dark yet. As the five of us walked down Capp Street towards 16th Street two men approached us. The one with the gun grabbed Dawn around the throat from behind and put the gun up to her temple. The other man demanded our money. We had less than $5 between the 4 of us, and David had just returned from France and only had a bunch of french francs, and he handed them over. The man insisted we hand over our backpacks, which lacked any contents of monetary value. Mine had some demo cassette tapes of some old friend’s bands, and were not replaceable. I told the man that I had no money and he punched me in the face. He had a cast on his hand, so it hurt like hell. I gave him my bag and the two men ran off to a car waiting around the corner.
I remember running after them, trying to get a license tag number but not being able to see it clearly. There was a little police booth on the corner of 16th & Mission, only a block away. I ran to the booth and told the policeman inside that we had just been robbed at gunpoint. Cops came, a report was filed. Everyone went home. My lip started to swell up like a balloon.
I was still attending groups at Waldenhouse, but suddenly I wasn’t really participating. I was in groups that included several men who had been in prison and I think the vibe just shut me down. I didn’t want to say anything, didn’t want to make myself vulnerable at all. I was there physically but emotionally I was checked out. For awhile I felt uneasy going out at night by myself.
It happened so fast that we were somewhat shell shocked – and then we moved on. Soon afterward we took off for Los Angeles to begin recording. I don’t remember ever discussing the incident with any of the band members, not that there appeared any real reason to. But that guy that hit me, well, I never forgot his face. And later on, several months later, my memory of that evening would serve to convict him and put him in prison.
We began basic tracks in November 1991 at Groove Masters studio in Santa Monica. The eventual instrumentation, vocals, and mixing would be done at David’s home studio – “the Bunker” – in the mountains of Calabasas. Basic tracks are, in layman’s terms, generally the bass and drums – and Dawn and I nailed our tracks. Every day we would run one song over and over until David felt like we had given the performance he was looking for. We were focused and tight and I liked what I heard. I thought that our tracks sounded amazing.
The process of recording magnifies everything; if you are playing well it can be magical, but if you are off your game a little it becomes obvious very quickly. As the rhythm tracks and acoustic guitar tracks were completed it was time to record the electric guitar parts, and Shaunna was having problems. David was unhappy with her playing and the project came to a grinding halt.
4 Non Blondes was a band but it was also a collective, a churning mixture of personalities, common goals, and individual aspirations. In the band’s infancy Shaunna wrote most of the material. But as the band evolved it became clear that our strongest songs were Linda’s lyrical compositions because, simply put, she liked to sing her own stuff. And we had already gone through changes: the foundation of the band had been rocked by my addiction issues and Wanda’s departure. Dawn didn’t have a long history with Linda, Shaunna, and I and so the sentiment that perhaps serves as the glue in some bands wasn’t there for us.
David wanted to pull in a session guitarist to record Shaunna’s guitar parts. Shaunna asked for more time and we gave her a month, but nothing really elevated except the level of tension in the room. We took another break and Shaunna was asked to go back to San Francisco. Linda, Dawn and I had a meeting and considered, among other things, adding another guitarist to the band. Instead we collectively decided that Shaunna was out. We would find someone else to complete the record and eventually tour with us.
In a later interview with Joel Selvin (SF Chronicle 8/93), Shaunna was quoted as saying:
“I had a choice. I was asked to let a session guy come in. I probably could have stayed with the group. But I couldn’t do that. I was a very young musician with little studio experience. Recording was a hardship for me. But I don’t feel like I got any support from my friends. It came down to a big money and ego trip. Linda had a dream and she wasn’t going to let anything get in the way, even if that meant writing off your guitar player.”
As for me, I knew the devistating effect the decision would have on my friendship with Shaunna. But I was also, in ways, fighting for my own survival. I continued to deal with my addiction issues. I had been clean and sober for 9 months and was away from my support system of groups and meetings for the first time. The process of recovery, when successful, needs to be a very selfish one. It’s the only way to get through it. My playing was better than ever and my playing was the one thing that kept me in the band. I did feel I was absolutely irreplaceable musically. Right or wrong, I wasn’t worried about my future with the band as long as I stayed clean. And I wasn’t going to fight about Shaunna. I wanted to do whatever I could to support Linda and that enthusiasm would continue for the life of the band. I felt very confident in Linda’s ability to lead us to success. And more importantly I loved playing in the 4 Non Blondes.
We auditioned several guitarists and none of them clicked. It was somewhat discouraging until a tall, handsome guy named Louis Matoyer walked in. He was amazing; his versatility and tone sounded perfect along side our music. We had already been through so many changes. The three of us – Dawn, Linda and I – were solid and strong. Adding another new person in the middle of your first record is ridiculously stressful. But we were feeling that no obstacle would keep us from making a great record. Many of the parts he played were written by Shaunna but she wasn’t able to execute them with the skill and masterful tone that he could. We had found a guitarist who, at the very least, had the experience and chops that we needed. The mood lifted and, once again, we were excited about the future.