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Rat Sound Relocates

By Chris Kathman

For many years, Rat Sound occupied a warehouse in Sun Valley, outside Los Angeles. Recently, they relocated their operation to a much newer space, in Oxnard, California, about 50 miles northwest of L.A. I drove up to the new space to salute the Rats, and was quite impressed.

You can read the history of Rat Sound on their web page, written by company founder Dave Rat. He and Brian Rat started the company back in 1979, and I first encountered them in 1985. Their system rocked; it was more brutally powered, and had more headroom, than any I had used, up to that point.

Their primary client back then was Black Flag. Over time, they added the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sonic Youth, and eventually Rage Against The Machine and Ben Harper, to the list.

In 1999, I could rent any system I wanted for three California shows mixing the band Cake. I called Jon Rat (who, when asked if he would like to be referred to as the shop manager, replies "I am a bar-coded piece of gear, and never allowed to leave"). I arranged for a system, for the Palladium in L.A., the Warfield in San Francisco, and the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, with a Rat set-up crew trucking the gear to the three gigs.

We were already carrying several mixes of Rat monitor wedges, amps, and a monitor desk, in a trailer behind our bus. For these shows, we added more mixes, plus an FOH desk and effects rack for me, and mains, the classic Rat Trap 5 cabinets, which have dual 15's, dual 10's, a 2", and a 1", along with double 18" sub boxes. As Dave says in his manifesto, "The Rat Trap is in essence a highly modified, high power, flyable studio monitor."

Dave Rat

Karrie Keyes

I was busy tour managing as well as mixing. I needed to know that I would not have to worry about technical issues, for the most part. I discussed the cluster configuration, but to be honest, in the case of disagreement, I would defer to Jon or Brian, because they live with the boxes year around. And it sounded great.

The fact that I could win in a room like the Palladium, one of the most horrific in America (you are squirting sound across the short throw of a shoebox, instead of having the stage correctly located at the end of the room) is testament to the excellence and controllability (is that a word?) of the Rat system.

Dave is not just a mixer, but a highly talented leader (or is that hypnotist?). He was with Social Distortion for one tour years ago, and they came into a club where I was doing monitors. "You're going to have an easy day," Dave said to me. I looked at him skeptically. Come on, this is Social D.! But he was telling the truth. We imitated the ambient throw technique used by Neil Young, who they had just been touring with, and life was good.

I will reveal for purposes of full disclosure that I have worked for Rat, prepping rigs for Beck, and other tours (I have also worked for most of the sound companies in the Bay Area, and Clair Brothers, and nobody gets any favors from C.K. on this site!) I commissioned an in-ears rack for Cake from Karrie Keyes, a Rat partner since 1986, and known worldwide as Pearl Jam's monitor mixer.

I watched Karrie at work when the band played the Greek Theatre in L.A., a couple months ago. Her uniquely shaped road case contains, not a shotgun, or a fishing pole, or pool cues, but rather two Ramsa 852 modules. Karrie runs Eddie Vedder's vocal and spare through them, no matter what master board she is using. She and the singer just prefer the tonality of those modules, and this way they have it wherever they go.

Pearl Jam does not use in-ears, the whole stage is hard-driving wedges. Karrie will also work for the Chili Peppers in January, 2001, on some South American dates, and told me that their bassist Flea has gone to a set of in-ears. Dave Rat is the long-time FOH mixer for the Peppers.

Speaking of the Palladium, Rancid is using a Rat system there this weekend, and then coincidentally trucking it up to the Warfield. Rat will supply two New Year's Eve shows in San Diego, one for Blink 182 at Cox Arena, and one for radio station 91X, with Moby and Ben Harper. In addition to the proprietary Rat boxes, the company has added a number of VDOSC cabinets, which right now are out with the Offspring, doing arenas, with supplementary boxes from U.S. Audio's VDOSC inventory.

The Rat VDOSC's are also sub-rented by ATK, and have been used at the Oscars, the Grammys, and the Super Bowl. And, there is even a full Nexo system available, which is at Rat through an arrangement with England's SSE.

Out in Tucson is the madman known as Tommy Rat. Tommy helped me advance a Cake show there; I will never forget how I tortured the poor promoter. Yes, I really need Tommy's rig; no, I will not use the house system. I'm sorry it will cost more, that is not my problem; Cake is very picky about how they sound. I hear the power is flaky; Tommy, hire a big-ass generator, and tell them to bill the promoter. Tommy LBC is a different person, hailing from Long Beach City. Smitty, who was a tech on Pearl Jam tours with Karrie for many years, is now that band's tour manager.

All in all, along with the workers added for specific projects, what you have is a basically convivial bunch of people who run a business that has grown over time in an authentic manner. I'm sure they have gone on the warpath against each other, gotten mad, stomped off, come back, apologized, forgiven each other, and moved on, more than once.

Like any other group of people, in any business. The difference is that, along with the mega-companies like Clair and Showco, Dave and his merry band were true pioneers of the art and science of sound for rock shows, that has become so formalized today. When they started out in their Toyota Celica, there was no Full Sail or USC program that they could have attended, and they wouldn't have been able to afford it, if there was!

So what they have, they earned the old fashioned American way, by working their asses off, and giving a square deal.

Rat Sound Systems
321 Bernoulli Circle
Oxnard, CA 93030
(805) 278-2826

Tommy LBC

No Caption Necessary!

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