Deities work on a different astral plane than we mere mortals. Our time frames are days, weeks and months; theirs are eras, epochs and eons. Those who belong to the subset of deities known as Rock Gods are no different. Take Steve Vai, for instance: The veteran guitar virtuoso, who got his start in the late ’70s with Frank Zappa and has gone on to win a mantel’s worth of Grammys over the course of his hallowed career, is a noted perfectionist who can take ages to craft an album. “Yeah, a lot of Steve’s work takes a long time — it takes a couple of years to put out a project,” Vai’s longtime go-to engineer, Greg Wurth, says with a laugh.
But sometimes even the gods need things to happen quickly, and that’s when Wurth — who shares his wealth of knowledge experience via a video series, “Inside The Studio With Greg Wurth” — set his sights on Focusrite. Wurth had just finished work on the remastered version of Vai’s 1990 classic Passion and Warfare. “The plan after that was for Steve to go on tour, Wurth says, “and his idea was that he was going to play the entire Passion and Warfare from start to finish,” he explains. “And he wanted some nostalgic videos playing during the show — things like Steve and Brian May playing “Liberty” together; they’d be on a big video screen behind him, and he would play in sync with the videos. And there would be backing tracks as well — all the extra guitars and effects that the four guys on stage couldn’t play themselves.”
Wurth has the know-how to get the job done — “We had used backing tracks before, so it was pretty simple to get a foot switch to act as the stop and play for Pro Tools,” he says — but there was a catch: “I only had two weeks to figure it out and build the rig!” Actually, make that two catches: “On top of that, I had to send this rig out to guys who knew nothing about Pro Tools, so I had to make this thing idiot-proof.
Enter the Clarett 8Pre. “To make all this happen,” Wurth says, “one of the things I needed to do was to put together a rig that would let the drummer hit a foot switch, which would trigger Pro Tools to play the backing tracks — all the extra guitars and effects that the four guys on stage couldn’t play themselves. That would then trigger the video that goes along with the audio. And that’s where Focusrite came into the mix. I needed a Thunderbolt rig that was MIDI capable and had a lot of versatility. The Clarett 8Pre seemed perfect. The price point was great, for one thing, and it didn’t seem too confusing.”
Wurth purchased the 8Pre, stuck it in a road case and got to work. “It actually ended up being perfect, because we needed the I/O,” he says. “I needed to send six or eight different tracks out of it, because I had backing tracks going to front of house, and I had a click track and backing tracks going to the little mixer we had at the drum stool. It was a pretty complicated thing, but I had to make it simple — and the Clarett made that easy.”
Keeping tabs on all those tracks can pose its own problems, and the 8Pre came to the rescue. “I really like the routing in the software,” he explains. “I was sending parallel feeds — identical tracks sent to different places for different purposes — and I was easily able to monitor that. Which is really handy — the drummer might need something EQed a certain way, for instance, so I’d need to do some level balancing which might be different from what the front-of-house guy wanted. I was able to easily monitor all that, just through the headphones, by changing the routing within the internal software.”
The 8Pre was the right tool for the job — and now Wurth’s a full-fledged fan. “If we were going to go with Thunderbolt, the Clarett was the leading option, unless I wanted to spend several grand more,” he ways. “Another cool thing is that it enables us track an idea quickly while Steve’s on the road if he wants to.” And, of course, there’s Focusrite’s attention to sound quality. “The 8Pre is really clear,” Wurth says. “The rig we had before was an Mbox Pro running off FireWire 400 — so the 8Pre was a significant upgrade, not only in terms of sound quality but also physically. It just feels so much more solid.”
But for Wurth, like many engineers, the 8Pre’s real appeal is its pure practicality. “Quick simple connection, very reliable… it really works for us,” he says. “I needed something which really did things the way I needed it to — and that’s exactly what the Clarett 8Pre did.”