Recording ‘Chinese Democracy’: Axl Rose At The Palms Studio


November 26, 2008

Next month will mark two years since audio engineer Mark Gray, 31, dropped by the studio at the Palms to say goodbye to his co-workers before departing for a vacation. His boss asked him if he would be willing to come back early to do some just-booked sessions. “I went from ‘no way,’ ” he recalls, “to changing my plane ticket right away.” All it took to change his mind is what the sessions were for recording. And, on Dec. 27, 2006, Gray found himself one of the many engineers to be connected to the legendary Guns N’ Roses disc “Chinese Democracy.”

Axl Rose arrived at the Palms Studio inside the resort and worked for 13 days in 2006 on his vocals for the finally released disc. Gray recalls a list of 14 songs (the same number as on the released version) many with working titles. Among those Rose worked on at Palms Studio he is sure are on the disc are “Chinese Democracy,” “Madagascar” and “Prostitute.” Despite the years and controversies that accompanied over a decade-long (The Palms was years from being built when Rose started work on the album) process of creating “Chinese Democracy,” Gray found Rose focused in their sessions at the end of 2006. Gray recalls:

“He had a firm handshake and looked you straight in the eye. It was all vocal overdubs or vocal leads. He would move from song to song, working on different parts. He was jumping about, but he knew exactly what he wanted. The producers set everything so the workflow is catered to the artist for anyone, and that is how it went down here. From what I saw, it was first takes or at most two or three takes. Rose would say, ‘I can get the part better’ or ‘I can tighten it up.’ “

And even if it took two more years for the results to be released, Gray was sure the album would eventually come out based on what he heard during those weeks working with Rose. While Gray was happy to play his tiny part in the disc, of course, he is happier now that “Chinese Democracy” is available to all, with Gray’s engineering work from 2006 integrated into the finished disc. Gray notes of the sessions:

“This is Guns N’ Roses. I had the butterflies in the stomach the night before each night. It was absolutely special. When you hear his voice, it was a highlight of my career. He just went in and sang. He was living with the record a long time by then, and he really knew what he wanted to do. He proved a good guy to be around. We would start about 5 or 6 in the evening, hitting tape by 7. We worked five or six hours. These were great sessions. It was a great moment in the studio for me, and it was technically flawless.”

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