Jacob Slichter, the well-known music writer and drummer for Semisonic, has written a brilliant 5-part series called Hearing Musical Time. The articles captures and comments on elements of groove, tone, Drummer Disease, listening perspective, playing to a click, and a boat load of other important concepts. All five parts are worth reading if you’re the kind of person who likes getting wiser.

Part One is linked above, others below…

Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five

If you know anything about Dave King then you’re not at all surprised at the nature of Rational Funk, his new series of drum instructional videos. Deep musical truths couched almost unidentifiably in humor. Funk lives, and is rational.

Ants on a log. I like it.

I haven’t done a “recent listening” post in a while, so here’s a long-ish (but not comprehensive) list of of what I’ve been listening to lately.

1) Aphex Twin – Syro… It took me a while, but I eventually stopped caring about the technique or technical difficulty of a drummer’s ideas. Instead I’m almost exclusively focused on the ideas themselves. That’s why I love programming and samplers and geniuses like Richard D James. He thinks like a drummer but isn’t limited by physical ability. His latest record is perhaps my favorite of his entire discography.

2) Blake Mills – Break Mirrors… Another thing that took me a while was the development of my appreciation for songwriting in it’s purest form. Lyrics married to melodies and chord progressions in a storytelling effort. Understatement alert: Blake Mills is a good songwriter. The drums on this record (played at least in part by Stuart Johnson) are also pretty interesting, and after a little digging I discovered that they were recorded LAST… meaning, without click and without influencing the rest of the instruments and their respective performances. Listening to this record with that in mind has taught me a lot.

3) Dawes – North Hills… More great songwriting from Taylor Goldsmith, a former bandmate of Blake Mills. His brother Griffin plays drums… AND SINGS. Dang it. I hate it when drummers play and sing and do both really musically. I mean, I love it, I just wish I could sing too.

4) Ryan Adams – Self-titled… This is my second favorite record from 2014. I love everything about this album, especially Jeremy Stacey’s hihat sound.

5) Christina Courtin – Self-titled… I had the pleasure and privilege of spending my summer touring and performing with Christina in the Sara Bareilles band. She plays violin like an angel and sings like a badass (visible in my latest DrumCam vid), and she also writes songs and fronts her own band in NYC. Oh and no big deal but Jim Keltner plays drums on her record.

6) Dexter Gordon – Go!… I’m rekindling my love for jazz in 2015. It’s fascinating to go back through records that I’ve listened to a ton but not for a long time. Billy Higgins on this particular record is taking me to SCHOOL, not to mention Dexter Gordon’s incredible tone on the tenor.

7) Civil Wars – Self-titled… Aaron Sterling does a masterful job of putting groove behind a categorical acoustic singer-songwriter duo, and producer Charlie Peacock does a masterful job of settling Sterling’s parts and sounds into the mix. Also noteworthy on this record: A beautifully creative reworking of Billy Corgan’s ballad “Disarm,” complete with a very effective time signature shift from 4/4 to 6/8.

8) D’Angelo – Black Messiah… My entire face blew up when this album dropped out of nowhere a few weeks ago. I listened to it 5 times every day for a week straight, not because I thought such saturated listening was a good idea but because I just couldn’t help it. My absolute favorite record of 2014, a total masterpiece, and a DEEP lesson in groove.

9) Emily King – Seven EP… Emily was the opening artist on the Blessed Unrest Tour, and hearing her every night was one of my favorite parts about the tour. This EP is inspiring and grooving and subtle and sexy and a perfect bull’s eye for her sound. Her live drummer James Williams is a BOSS, but interestingly enough, all the drums on this EP are programmed… and the tones are incredible.

10) Bill Frisell, Ron Carter, Paul Motian… This trio album featuring three of my favorite musicians reveals something new every time I listen to it. Paul Motian plays brilliantly on these tracks, and all three of these guys are such amazing listeners. They improvise with the same attention to detail that I hear in carefully produced electronica (like the above-mentioned Aphex record).

11) Dave Barnes – Golden Days… Paul Mabury on drums. Man, I mean I’ll listen to ANYTHING that he plays on and end up really enjoying it. Not that Barnes’ latest record is a disappointment on some level outside of the drums, but the thing I keep coming back to on this album is Paul’s pocket and ideas. Noteworthy: Really creative use of subtle but effective “organic” drumkit loop overdubbing.

12) U2 – Songs Of Innocence… The backlash that U2 received for giving away their record still blows my mind. Haha. I loved it! I loved seeing that they had a new record and then realizing that it was already in my iTunes. I also enjoy all these tunes, Bono’s voice, and Edge’s guitar parts. I usually don’t relate super closely with Larry Mullen’s drumming, and this album is no exception, but I do really like the minimal sonic role that the drums play in the mix. These days it’s almost fatiguing how often I hear mixes with drums compressed and boosted to the point of drowning out the vocalist. Larry’s playing works directly alongside the way it sits in the whole mix in a way that really helps the song and I can’t argue with that.

Happy New Year, blog readers!

A few months ago I had the privilege and pleasure of joining my new friend Billy McLaughlin and a pile of other great Twin Cities musicians in recording Reinhold Niebuhr’s powerful Serenity Prayer. What an important message.

Be blessed in 2015!

This is some pretty inside humor, but I loved every second.

HT: Robert Christenson

According to Tony…


HT: Cindy Blackman

Do you want to watch any more of my miscellaneous drumcam footage? If not, don’t watch the video below.

That tune was one of my favorites to play from this past summer’s LBD tour. The arrangement leans a little more funk than the studio recording, and the pocket between me, Chris (bass), and Misty (keys) was always fun to sit in. A full gear breakdown can be found here, but specifics for this tune include 16″ hats (Paiste 602 ME crash top and Twenty Series med light bottom) and a 5.5×14 Canopus ash snare.

Also, a significant difference between this footage and my previous drumcam vids is the audio source… I didn’t record my in-ear mix this time and instead synced the FOH recording to the GoPro footage. So what you’re hearing is a direct feed of the board mix, which is might sound strange because nobody ever actually hears that. Consider this: the FOH engineer uses the board to send audio signal to the speakers, which then cranks through the room and is accompanied by stage volume, crowd noise, and natural room reverb. The pro in a board mix is the clean and clear sound – the con is the somewhat unnatural presence of the tones compared to the actual live environment. But I’m not complaining. It’s cool to have the board mixes to listen back to and learn from.

And, of course, all hail Bryan Mir, our fearless tour photographer/videographer. He put the GoPro on my rack tom, and captured a ton of other great footage from various shows. Check out his tour documentary montages if you haven’t seen those yet.


Today’s installment of my “From The Archives” series is a list of exercises based on the legendary 3-limb pattern made famous by John Bonham. In short, “Bonham Triplets” are a constant circle between single strokes on the hands and a kick drum added as a sort of third hand. The order of the strokes can vary, as well as the rhythm application (i.e., actual “triplets” aren’t the only place to use this idea).

While you’re at it you should rewatch this Jojo Mayer solo if you haven’t seen it already. His rhythmic and accenting prowess within a BT context is incredible.

Lastly, I want to take a sec and unpack this statement from my original BT post: “These patterns sound pretty cool, but aren’t necessarily very useful outside of a soloing context (in my opinion). I’ve found them more helpful as an exercise/rudiment than as a staple ingredient in my playing.” 

My point is that I have gained a TON of helpful and useful feet-to-hands coordination through BT exercises, but I end up utilizing that coordination mostly in non-soloing contexts. I suppose this is partially because I rarely do drum solos of any kind at all, but what I want to communicate is that the Bonham Triplet integration of hands and feet is a profoundly useful thing in general. It was maybe misleading for me to say that I only use BT patterns as exercises. In actuality I use small moments of BT patterns almost constantly in my day-to-day freelance sideman playing. Linear grooves, fills, ghost note ideas… all of these benefit tremendously from a good grasp of the BT idea.

Jojo’s playing above is in a solo setting, but don’t let that make you think that a solo is the only place for Bonham Triplets.

If you care about the specifics on the kit I’m using these days then this post is for you.

Sara’s summer tour launched 3 weeks ago and runs for about 3 more weeks. All the venues are 5,000 capacity (give or take 1,000) and most are sold out! The performances so far have been fantastic. I really love working with this band, and I’m especially pumped about the setup that I’m using.

Screen shot 2014-07-22 at 4.55.16 PM

Kick and toms
*All RD padauk stave shells with tube lugs and diecast hoops
– 9×13 rack
– 16×16 floor
– 14×24 kick


- RD 6.5×14 black-polished brass shell with tube lugs and triple flange hoops
– RD 5.5×14 nickel-plated brass with tube lugs and single flange hoops (seen above on the kit)
– RD 7×14 walnut stave with triple flange hoops
– Canopus 5×14 ash ply with triple flange hoops

Screen shot 2014-07-26 at 3.43.11 PM

*All Paiste
– 14″ Dark Energy Mk1 Hihats (on about 3 tunes)
– 16″ 602 ME Thin Crash (as top hihat) w/ 16″ Twenty Series Medium Light hihat bottom (on the rest of the set)
– 21″ Dark Energy Mk1 Ride stacked on a 22″ Traditional Light Ride (in place of primary crash on 2 tunes)
– 20″ Traditional Light Ride (primary crash)
– 22″ 602 ME Ride
– 8″ Dark Energy Mk1 splash (resting on the snare for 1 tune)


Other Misc Gear
- Remo coated Emperor on toms, coated P3 on kick, coated CS and Ambassadors on snares
– Vic Firth SD2 Bolero sticks, SD1 General mallets, and VicKick felt radial beater
– Roland SPD-SX
– DW 9000 series hardware
– Ableton 9 on a Mac Air with Motu Mk3 Ultralite
– BFSD “Original” and “Steve’s Donut” snare muffles
– generic goat hooves resting on snare for a tune
– Toca Caxixi, RhythmTech hihat tambourine ring, and LP Cyclops brass tambourine
– Booty Shakers leg resonators on floor tom and Gauger Ring on rack tom


The padauk stave shells are so beautiful. The natural color is a surprisingly bright orange (see below), and Grady left the insides of the shells unstained. The contrast between the dark chocolate brown finish and the unfinished orange is really striking, and for that reason I was originally using clear black dot heads on the kick and toms (so the inside shell would be visible). These sounded great to my ear when sitting at the kit, but our front of house engineer wanted to try the coated heads to compare and ended up liking those better. I think the coated Emps probably sound more like the classic “good” tom tone when EQ’d and cranked through a PA, but the clear black dots had a cool and unique vibe which is more what I was hoping for. I have a lot of great sounding “classic” drums and I like exploring other options with the kits that RD makes for me (acrylic, mahogany, etc).

Screen shot 2014-07-22 at 4.46.35 PM

Not to give up on the clear black dot, however, my tech Kris threw one on the 14″ Walnut snare and it sounds AWESOME. I use that drum on the tunes that use the vintage “fat and dead” sound (Love Song, Uncharted, Gravity). It’s tuned really low with just a few moongels. The NOB and Black Brass snares have coated CD reverse dots, and those are feeling great. The BB is tuned low but wide open for a big rock sound (used on Hercules, King Of Anything, and Brave), and the NOB is cranked pretty tight for the more funky Bernard Purdie vibe (perfect for Sara’s cover of the En Vogue tune “Never Gonna Get It”). I also use the NOB on “Wanna Be Like Me,” “I Choose You,” and “Little Black Dress,” but with a donut muffle on LBD and the splash muffle effect on ICY. The Canopus sits in a similar tuning to the NOB (with a coated Ambassador), but the ash ply has a nice “thud” even when tuned high so it doesn’t replicate the NOB exactly (NOB has a ping while the Canopus is more of a slap). The Canopus appears on “Love On The Rocks” (wide open) and on “Chasing The Sun” (with the goat hooves).

I usually use my brighter sounding Paiste Twenty Custom cymbals when playing outdoors, because dark cymbals tend to get lost in the wide open space of an outdoor stage. I brought them along because this tour has so many outdoor venues, but the “outdoor” venues have all actually been pavilions with tent coverings and have felt more like theaters. The Twenty Customs made an appearance for the first two outdoor stages and then I switched back to the ME and Trads, which have stuck. As far as cymbals are concerned, I’ve really enjoyed using the sharper and tighter sounding 14’s on the three tunes that seemed like they would benefit from them (I Choose You, Little Black Dress, and Wanna Be Like Me). The 16’s are still my jam, but I’m trying to approach this live setting like I do in the studio, which is to pay attention to what the song wants from me and then determine which instrument will best deliver that sound. Complex and busy hihat patterns need the shorter and crispier 14″ tone, whereas slower and thicker tunes seem to sit best with the 16’s.

Also noteworthy are the custom BFSD muffles that Kris made for me during rehearsals a few weeks ago. I’ve noticed that the official “Steve’s Donut” model cuts a lot more decibel from the drum than my homemade one. We decided that this was perhaps because of the rubber ring that Kris uses to keep the muffles feeling more sturdy. He took the rubber off of both the donut and the original and I like them way better for this specific larger touring environment. The low-decibel effect of the official BFSD models work great for volume-sensitive gigs like a church or a wedding reception, but the varying volume levels weren’t ideal for our in-ear mixes. So there’s that.

I’m not sure if the Booty Shakers and Gauger Ring are worth it or not. Kris really wanted to try them, and they definitely help the drums resonate a lot more… but then we end up needing moongels so perhaps they cancel out?

Bottom line: I couldn’t be happier with the setup I get to play every night, and I couldn’t be happier with the musicians I’m playing with or the music we are playing. I am grateful.



I first heard about Ilan Rubin when he was playing live with NIN (2009). There was a lot of buzz about him at that time: “Dude have you heard the new NIN drummer? He is crazy tight and super passionate and very creative.” People were telling me this over and over, and those attributes are exactly what I want a drummer to have. I checked him out and became a fan.

Ilan’s playing is firmly rooted in the rock world. His feel, power, and ideas are the best kind of Bonham tribute, with a bunch of the pop punk sound thrown in (he replaced Atom Willard in Angels & Airwaves and played all drums on the recent Paramore record, if that gives you an indication of his style).

Go read his wiki page if you want more biography info, or you can let his playing do the talking:

Some commentary:

First off, his ideas and chops are awesome. The solo itself isn’t hugely mind-blowing or progressive, but it’s super rad nonetheless. BUT THEN he plays it all in near perfect pocket with the sampler track that he sets up (which is pretty cool on its own). That’s what I want to zero in on in this post.

We’ve all heard drummers play dope, complex, difficult, progressive, and creative stuff… and I love it. Shredding is shredding, and it’s cool at the right time and place. But many (if not MOST) of the shreds I see online or live or wherever are marred ever so slightly by small imperfections in time and feel. In fact, it seems like subtle sloppiness is even assumed to a certain point, as if the crazy chops required to really shred outweighs said sloppiness. Rushing is common, or unintentional flamming, or just an overall looseness.

Don’t misunderstand me, the looseness that lives in the Jay Bellarose or Pete Thomas styles is not what I’m talking about. That kind of looseness is awesome, mainly because it’s an intentional groove/feel thing that serves those styles of music. Most “gospel chops” drumming is NOT aiming for that kind of looseness. The Bellarose/Thomas feel makes the gospel chops stuff sound worse, not better.

Complicated and flashy playing needs to be executed with incredible precision, and I usually don’t hear shreds that feature the kind of precision that Ilan is delivering in the above solo. He is playing some crazy stuff – conceptually complicated and physically challenging – and he is just BURYING that loop.

People. That is HARD to do. Or at least it’s really hard for ME. I like to think that I can pull out some shred-fest if you back me into a corner, and I feel comfortable playing with a locked feel in a song that has programming and click track, but doing both is VERY VERY difficult.

So, for that reason, the above solo is one of the most amazing shreds I’ve seen in a long time.

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