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This is Josh Robinson. He’s plays Risen Drums, lives in Nashville, and does quite a bit of touring/studio work with CCM artists. Here he displays his familiarity with Dave Weckl solos, his comfort with the traditional grip, and his sharp imagination…
Josh has an artist profile at risendrums.com, and you can check out some of his studio performances on You Me and the World by Dave Barnes, Imagination by Bethany Dillon, Beauty In The Broken by Starfield, or Everything In Between by Matt Wertz.
I don’t watch much TV, but I’ve been following Idol a little bit this season because I used to play drums with Jesse Langseth. She’s from Minneapolis, and she did the bar band thing with cover tunes and some originals. She’s a really cool girl, and does a killer Robert Plant.
Actually, on a random note, I had the WORST gig experience of my life with her when she was auditioning a new guitarist. This guy did not prepare at all for the gig, and most of the tunes we played were riff-based and relied heavily on the guitar. Botched chords, forgetting riffs, wrong notes… I’ve never been involved in a performance where someone blew it so badly. Pretty soon Jesse just put her guitar on (which she normally used on only one or two songs) and she, the bassist (Steve Oakes), and I just played the rest of the gig pretending this awful guitarist wasn’t there.
Anyway, I found this article on her performance from last night’s American Idol episode. She’s a good musician – and it’s cool to see the press recognize that. Be sure and vote for her if you’re into that kind of thing.
UPDATE: Looks like Jesse didn’t make into the top 12. Oh well. She still rules, and maybe now she’ll play more local shows in the Twin Cities.
This week I’ve got another RD player on the hot seat. Matthew Tobias is the owner/operator of Emtpy House Studio in Omaha, NE where he plays on AND engineers/produces records for artists all over the country. Matt also currently plays with Nashville CCM artist Geoff Moore. He brings some cool insight to the SIS because of his combo player/engineer perspective.
What kind of heads do you normally use in the studio? Do you use different heads for live playing? I always play 2-ply coated heads on snares – both live and for sessions. A little 10” or 12” aux snare might get a single-ply coated. Toms will vary based on the amount of cut and point I need from them. Obviously, a clear head has a bit more point than a coated. On any given day, my preference is probably coated 2-ply all the way around.
It’s pretty common knowlege that a different snare can bring a different vibe from one track to another, but how often do you switch out your kick/toms in a session? If I am doing a full-length record, I will listen through and try to group the songs into similar “vibes.” That way, I can maybe knock out 2 or 3 songs with the same kick and toms if it’s appropriate. But, I am totally OK with tearing everything down after each song as well. Not only can different drums sound more appropriate for a given tune, but they will also really impact how I play. I guarantee you I will play fewer notes on 26” kick with 13” and 16” toms, vs. a 20” kick with 10” and 14” toms.
Have you found different woods to have much effect in creating a snare sound? Mahogany vs. Birch vs. Maple vs. “exotic brazilian black bubinga whatever”… does it really matter? For kicks and toms, yes. For snare drums, it’s probably a bit harder to get a handle on a real difference. Colors and amount/type of overtone can vary, but the snares underneath seem to level the playing field a bit. In the same wood, obviously, depth and diameter will help determine a shell’s inherent sound, but what I have found to be big factors are the number of plies and the bearing edges. Shell thickness and what type of edge the head is resting on are major influences on a snare’s sound.
How many snare sounds are there? Do they fall into predictable categories, or does EVERY drum bring something different that’s maybe worth having at some point? I’ve got to go with every drum having something unique to say. I have an 8×15” Ludwig snare from the 40’s that gets mic’d up maybe once a year, but man, when it does…
Can you weigh in on the kick drum depth issue? What has been your experience with kick/tom dimensions… what works best? I read your post on that topic and couldn’t agree more. I have kicks ranging in diameter from 18” to 26”- all of which are 14” deep (except one that’s 15” deep). The front head can’t resonate and give any tone if it’s a mile away, or if the kick is too stuffed with stuff. I also like that, at least on a larger diameter drum, the shallower depth seems to improve the action of the beater a bit. On any given day, I might be jumping quickly from a 20” to a 26″ kick. One feels like a brick and the other a pillow, so I’ll take any “feel” help I can get. Same principles apply to tom depth. Having said that, I do love taking the front/bottom heads off the drums when it’s appropriate.
Do you have a formula or system for determining which drums to use for which tracks, or do you just know your own personal gear really well? I look for the tuning where each of my drums (particularly snares) want to “live” and then leave them there. Since none of my stuff gets tuned too far away from that zone, I tend to know pretty quickly which drums to grab for. Songs are really great about telling you which colors and textures to pick. For instance, what’s the primary instrument… a bright acoustic playing very rhythmically, or a vibey, laid-back Rhodes part? Is the bass throbbing big eighth notes or playing a tight, syncopated pattern? Stuff like that will determine the textures I go for.
What’s your perspective on Protools and the advent of digital recording? Is it a good thing or a bad thing for the art form? I record to Protools because all the projects I do seem to come in on that platform, but I don’t even know how to open up Beat Detective. If it’s not in time (or in tune) or played up to someone’s potential, my go-to editing tool is the “punch in”. Just do it again. Music is art, not science, so I’m not looking for calculated perfection. I certainly do my fair share of “cleaning up” sessions, but I won’t fix something that I could just replay, nor will I create a part on the screen that I couldn’t play in the room. You won’t get less than my best, but you won’t get a massively edited misrepresentation of what that is either.
What can a drummer do to practice being a better studio player? Any specific exercises or concepts that you can share? Time, time, time! Have your time/groove together. Play to a click as often as you can. I’ve tried to come up with a time concept that is not attached to the notes I’m playing. To help with this, when practicing I like to listen to a 16th note click (for a normal 4/4 groove) so that I am hearing all (or at least most) of the moments in time that are related to the tempo I am playing at. I try to think of the notes I am playing then as simply marking some of those moments rather than those notes being the entirety of my time awareness. That way, if the chorus groove I’m playing is a really busy syncopated thing, then to signal the fact that the bridge is about to bail, I can play that measure-long fill with only 5 notes in it without going off the rails. My awareness of the space between my notes is as important to that fill as the notes I choose to play. I really feel like this will help so many of the typical issues drummers deal with. I think the next thing is just learning how to “get” a song. Songs are journeys – they start somewhere and end up somewhere having been a few places along the way. If we can figure out how to get the band (and listener) to those places, then we’re playing MUSIC, not just drums. The color/texture/width of our parts are just as important as rhythm.
Who are your favorite studio guys? What are the best records to hear them on? Anything with Steve Jordan, Abe Laboriel, Jr. and Shawn Pelton. I really like Matt Chamberlain – his playing on the new Missy Higgins record “On A Clear Night” is fantastic… just perfect. He plays with an interesting band called Critters Buggin – their first 2 CD’s (“Guest” and “Host”) are pretty great… he stretches WAY out on those. Josh Freese makes the “this all sounds the same” radio rock pretty great when he’s on it. Poe’s “Haunted” and Abandoned Pools’ “Humanistic” are great records that he played on. Jay Bellerose, Jim Keltner, Charley Drayton, JJ Johnson… man, there are so many great players!
Tell me some more about your upcoming video series. What can we expect from that? Later this Spring I’m doing a series for Risen Drums that will focus on the various factors in a shell’s sound (all the stuff we talked about… plies, depth, edges, etc). We want to help guys pick out just the right drums for the music they’re playing, and help them realize they can order more than just “a drumset” from Risen. The guys at Risen have been really cool in helping me find some great sounds – some of which have been a little off the beaten path, so we just want to let people know about the options they provide. The format will be in a studio with different artists I play with- playing through tunes and talking not only about what drums I chose for a particular song and why, but also about the parts I chose to play. I would love to see players considering the music they’re involved in when they are deciding what drums to play and how to play them.
Big thanks to Matt for sharing all this wisdom, and his artist profile at risendrums.com has more good info to check out.
The long-awaited 3rd release from Minneapolis super group Halloween Alaska, Champagne Downtown, will be landing in a couple weeks. They’ve got a release show booked for April 10th at First Avenue. The record was mixed by the renowned Tchad Blake, and the word is that the music is heading in a “different direction” from previous HA records. An interesting quote from guitarist Jake Hanson: “There’s gonna be some folks who dig old Hal Al that maybe aren’t going to feel the same about new Hal Al.”
UPDATE: Food For The Beloved blog has an advance copy of Champagne Downtown, and Tim wrote a good review of the record.
I’ve got a great RD acrylic kit that I use specifically for the Bill Mike Band (you can see footage of this kit in the RD video lessons). The dimensions are pretty extreme, but I like that. I actually just ordered some additional toms to go with the kit (15″ rack and 18″ floor) so I can use it for studio stuff beyond just BMB music.
Anyway, last week I found a great article on acrylic drums. It’s a good read for anyone who’s interested in the history of drum building and why certain shells sound the way they do.
I have a Facebook account, and I admit – I love it. I’m not going to sit and here and act like I’m too cool for that kind of thing. It’s been great to reconnect with old friends and be more involved in the lives of current friends, even if it’s only online. Anyway, the one thing about Facebook that I haven’t participated in is the “25 Random Things” craze. If you don’t know about it, it’s a “note” that you post to your Facebook friends, and in it you list 25 facts about yourself. All the cool kids are doing it, but… I’m not one of them, because the random part of the idea seems pretty unproductive. However, a few weeks ago one of my musician friends altered the idea and started a “25 Records That Changed My Life” version. Anyone who reads this blog knows how I feel about the importance of listening to music, and the geek/nerd part of me enjoys listing out influential records. It was a ton of fun to think back over my junior high, high school, college, and recent listening and pinpoint the records that were responsible for the major shifts in my perspectives on music and the drumset. Here’s the list I posted:
1. Pearl Jam, Ten… This record is what showed me that music could be more than just something you listen to.
2. Counting Crows, August and Everything After… This is where I learned that music doesn’t have to “rock” to be cool. Furthermore, I know now that Steve Bowman’s playing on this record is definitely not “normal,” but I didn’t know that when I bought this disc at age 13. So, I repeatedly listened to this album, all the while thinking that the unorthodox drumming I was hearing was just “how it’s supposed to be done.”
3. Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream… Jimmy Chamberlain plays a lot of complex stuff on this album, or at least it was new/interesting to me at the time. For example, his hihat foot is always going, and it’s really hot in the mix, so I learned to do that from this album.
4. Green Day, Dookie… Tre Cool plays a lot of fast fills in these tracks. I sat in the basement practicing them for hours so I could show off to my other drummer friends, and it probably produced some chops that I wouldn’t have otherwise had in junior high.
5. The Posies, Frosting On the Beater… The fills and energy on this record are completely awesome. I was in a band with some older kids in 9th grade, and they introduced me to The Posies.
6. Phish, A Live One… In 10th grade I thought I had “rock drumming” all figured out, and I was getting bored with it. The instrumental complexity of Phish drew me in immediately, and for about two years they were pretty much the only band that existed to me. The “jam” nature of their music put an improvisational tendency in me that has never left.
7. Medeski Martin and Wood, Friday Afternoon in the Universe… This band is the logical next step for someone who liked Phish for their instrumental qualities and not their connection with the drug/hippie culture.
8. The Motion Poets, Standard Of Living… In 11th grade this band came to my high school and did a clinic. This was the first time I had heard/seen a real jazz drummer play jazz. I could not believe my ears/eyes. I bought their album and listened to it 10 times a day for a month, and I tracked down their drummer, JT Bates, and took some lessons from him.
9. Miles Davis, 1964 Complete Concert… My band director realized that I liked jazz but only owned a Motion Poets album, and he told me to buy some Miles Davis. I bought this – a live recording with Tony Williams on drums. Williams remains in my top five favorite drummers list even today.
10. Happy Apple, Blown Shockwaves and Crash Flow… In 12th grade, my new bass player friend, Chris Morrissey, took me to see this avant garde band at the Artist’s Quarter. I again could not believe my eyes, and I again bought this album and listened to it 10 times a day for a month. I also tracked down this drummer, Dave King, and studied jazz with him for my first 3 years in college.
11. Radiohead, OK Computer… Dave King turned me onto a ton of cool records, and this is one of them. I completely missed it when it originally released during my high school years, because I was so wrapped up in jazz. Interestingly, I’ve never really liked this drummer, but I learned from this album that music was about more than just drumming.
12. The Love-Cars, I’m Friends With All-Stars… The Love-Cars were a Minneapolis indie band that King played in. This album, along with OK Computer, helped me to fall back in love with rock, after my long affair with jazz.
13. Bjork, Homogenic… This album showed me how musical electronics/programming can be. Bjork also helped me to see the difference between commercial music and true art – not that the one is mutually exclusive of the other, but there IS a difference. And, her phrasing as a vocalist is unreal.
14. Keith Jarrett, Standards Live… Toward the end of college I became more interested in melodic players than drummers. Keith Jarrett plays the piano with more melody than anyone I’ve ever heard… plus, Jack DeJohnette plays drums with Jarrett, and he’s had a tremendous influence on how I comp behind a soloist.
15. Bill Frisell, Live w/ Kermit Driscoll and Joey Baron… This is another album I listened to in my “not-interested-in-drummers” phase. However, Joey Baron totally rips too, so his playing definitely affected me.
16. Branford Marsalis, Requiem… same as 14 and 15. Jeff Watts on drums. Killing.
17. D’Angelo, Voodoo… Besides the great live drumset hip-hop playing from Questlove, and Neo-Soul just being a really cool sound in general, the heavy lilting on this record is so grooving I can’t even stand it.
18. The Police, Synchronicity… It wasn’t until after college that I discovered this legendary band. Stewart Copeland’s level of energy and creativity is more than one man should be able to produce. This album also helped in my decision that rock music was cool again.
19. Pedro the Lion, Control… This was the first record to really hit me hard lyrically, and the album’s musical interpretation of the lyrical content gave me a new appreciation for the art of crafting a song.
20. Peter Gabriel, Secret World Live… Manu Katche on drums. He totally tears it up, but he also accompanies sequencing and drum loops, and his performance on this record taught me a lot about how to play along with tracks live.
21. Aphex Twin, Come To Daddy… I went through a period (and it hasn’t really ended) of listening to a lot of straight up electronica (drum ‘n bass) records, and this album birthed that. The rhythmic ideas of programmers are especially interesting to me because they aren’t hindered by the physical difficulty of having to actually play their ideas on an instrument.
22. The Wallflowers, Bringing Down The Horse… I had this album in high school but didn’t listen to it much. A rediscovery of it a few years ago prompted my current preoccupation with studio playing. Matt Chamberlain’s time feel is incredible, and his groove/fill vocabulary is both innovative and accessible.
23. Jonny Lang, Turn Around… Michael Bland = solid time feel. I met Michael right around the time this record came out, and I gained some wisdom from conversations with him that really changed my approach to hitting cymbals.
24. John Mayer, Continuum… Steve Jordan demonstrating how to play pop music, serve the song, and still be creative as a drummer. The drum tones on this record are crazy good.
25. Keith Urban, Love Pain and the Whole Crazy Thing… Another record I listen to for time feel and studio inspiration. Chris McHugh is as good as it gets.
I think I’ve come up with a pretty accurate list of records that LITERALLY changed my life. It’s not necessarily a list of albums that I currently think are cool, nor am I just name dropping to make other people think that I’m cool because of the music I like. This is, as far as I can remember, the actual listening progression of my evolution/development as a musician, and without these records I would definitely be a different player than I am now, for better or worse.
Some honorable mentions would be…
– Toad The Wet Sprocket, Dulcinea
– Stone Temple Pilots, Purple
– Rage Against The Machine, Evil Empire
– Led Zeppelin, all
– Bela Fleck, Live Art
– Jellyfish, Spilt Milk
– Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin
– Mile Davis, In A Silent Way
– Owsley, self-titled
– Bob Dylan, Time Out Of Mind
– 12Rods, Lost Time
– both Halloween Alaska records
– Jeff Buckley, Grace
– Brad Mehldau, Trio Vol 3
I came across some great youtube clips of Lester Estelle, this week’s SIS feature. The footage is from the sessions for Pillar’s latest album, For the Love of the Game. Lester played with Pillar for quite a few years, and For the Love of the Game was the last record he did with them. These are clips from the actual takes used on the album, with Lester giving some commentary on why he used the grooves and fills that he did…
Another week, another installment in the Studio Interview Series. This week I’ve got a fellow Risen Drums player on tap… a ripping Kansas City drummer named Lester Estelle Jr. Lester built his rep playing with KC rock band Pillar, and now he’s freelancing all over the US doing everything from hip-hop to country. He’s most known for his chops, so before you read the interview, check out this video and you’ll get a feel for this guy’s relationship with the drumset…
(Me) Protools and digital recording… is it a good or bad thing for music? (Lester) There are pros and cons depending on who you talk to. Lots of different issues with this subject. To me, Protools or any other DAW is just a tool. Some people over do it, which may be understandable depending on the music. Tons of editing allows bad players to sound good which sucks for the guys who practice on getting better. The cool thing is, it’s allowed me to track from my home and email waves or session files to artists/producers, which is great. On the other hand, album budgets are down, studios are closing… people can’t afford to go to a “real” studio anymore. So the magic that happens when tracking together with other players doesn’t happen. It’s a tough subject!
How do you handle producers/artists who have bad attitudes and are hard to work with? If you’re are hired for a session, your job is to give the artist/producer what they want (for ANY instrument). Do your best to find out what they’re after, ask for a reference tune, and have the gear to make that happen. That’s all you can do. If none of that is working I guess you can just leave and not get paid! LOL. You gotta be cool with producers especially, because that’s how you get called back for more sessions. People talk… word will get around about your attitude and your playing.
When is it ok to just cop somebody else’s ideas or go with the obvious stock option, and when do you push yourself to break new ground creatively? I’m sure this is different for everybody. Most of the sessions I get are to replace a drum loop or re-do a poor performance, so stock option is the key for that. It’s different when I’m tracking with other players, because you can create more… so if the artist/producer is cool with it, you can throw more of yourself and YOUR sound into their tunes.
What’s your opinion on being a renaissance man in your abilities and therefore risk being mediocre at lots of things, vs being real good at one thing and risk pigeon-holing yourself? If you’re wanting to be a session guy, you have got to be able to play all styles fairly well, because you want to be the go-to guy! All the “A-list” guys play every style. I saw Eddie Bayers (well-known country drummer in Nashville) the other day playing jazz and he was killing! Vinnie Colaiuta can go from Frank Zappa to Sting to Faith Hill etc… I could go on forever with him. There is a reason why guys like that stay busy!
How do you come up with grooves for a track? Do you have a method or system? This is where a reference tune is handy, especially if you’re tracking by yourself. Or, if you’re tracking with other players, your bass player may have a good idea or something like that. There’s a certain magic that happens when you’re creating alongside good players. Drum loops can also help you come up with some cool stuff too.
How do you approach fills… strategically planned or just “feeling it” in the moment? Depends on the style of music. In most sessions, for me, the fills are for taking everybody to the next part of the song (i.e., verse to the chorus or chorus to the bridge).
What’s your favorite snare for a wide-open rock sound? Any metal drum (brass, steel, bronze, etc…), OR any deep snare that can get loud!
Have you discovered any strange/unorthodox methods in getting cool tones? For me, some cool tones have come when I’m playing quiet. I wasn’t expecting it. It’s amazing how huge the drums can sound when you play quiet. I’ve only done it on blues, some hip-hop, and some singer/songwriter stuff.
What are some of your favorite records that have influenced you a lot? These records changed the way I play…
DMB – Crash & Before These Crowed Streets (Carter Beauford)
D’Angelo – Voodoo (Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson)
Sting – Ten Summoners Tales & Mercury Falling (Vinnie Colaiuta)
Stevie Wonder – anything he played drums on!
John Mayer – Continuum (Steve Jordan)
James Brown – Anything! (Clyde Stubblefield, Jabo Starks, Melvin Parker)
Christian Scott – Rewind That (Thomas Pridgen)
Sevendust – Seasons (Morgan Rose)
Fred Hammond – anything (Marvin Mcquitty, Calvin Rodgers)
Israel Houghton – anything (Big Mike Clemons, Chris Coleman, Cledell King)
Incubus – Morning View (Jose Pasillas)
Louie Bellson, one or the fathers of modern drumming, passed away last weekend. From Wikipedia…
He performed and/or recorded scores of albums (approximately 200) as a leader, co-leader or sideman with such renowned musicians and leaders such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Woody Herman, Norman Granz’ J.A.T.P. (Jazz at the Philharmonic), Benny Carter, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Hank Jones, Zoot Sims, Sonny Stitt, Milt Jackson, Clark Terry, Louie Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Shelly Manne, Billy Cobham, James Brown, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Pearl Bailey, Mel Tormé, Joe Williams, Wayne Newton and film composer John Williams. He is also credited with pioneering the use of two bass drums.
This morning I was listening to Thom Yorke’s solo record, The Eraser, and it reminded me of something I noticed when I first heard it a couple years ago. I don’t know if I’ll be able to communicate this well in print, but I’ll try…
Each and every track on this album has a rhythmic “bait-and-switch” happening in it. What I mean is: the groove, when it starts, gives the impression that the downbeat is in a different location than it really is. Each song begins by hinting at a groove that doesn’t actually exist, and then the reveal happens at various points depending on the song. Some of the tracks develop almost immediately so that the REAL downbeat shows itself, while other tracks are able to maintain the ambiguity for quite a while (until the syncing of a vocal melody and a chord change make the real groove impossible to miss). In each tune, there’s a moment where my head “shifts” from my misinterpretation of the groove to the true groove.
It’s like when you’re driving in the car listening to the radio, but it’s not too loud, and you hear the sub-harmonics of the bass, and they make you think the song is in a different key than it really is… so you turn the radio up to sing along with it, and you realize that you’re singing along in a totally different key than the actual song. Maybe nobody can relate to that analogy, but that’s always the feeling I have when listening to each track on The Eraser.
The totally rad part about this, to me, is that I’m a drummer. I play and teach rhythm for a living, and Yorke gets me every time with this groove trickery! I love it. His patterns are cool from both perspectives, but only one of them is the “real” groove for the track. I have to assume that he’s aware of the deceptive nature of his programming, and I can probably also assume that he’s doing it intentionally, especially in light of this lyric, buried in the middle of Black Swan (track 5): “This is your blind spot… it should be obvious, but it’s not.”
It’s as if Yorke, as the performer/composer, doesn’t want to let the listener in on the perspective that he has on the track until he’s good and ready. In most/all other circumstances, a recorded piece of music leaves the performer/composer on an even playing field with the listener. The performer/composer no longer has exclusive rights to the sounds he/she is imagining – now anyone can just listen to the recording and hear the same thing the performer/composer hears. But Yorke, in pulling this “bait-and-switch” with the grooves on his tunes, still manages to have 10 seconds (or even 2 minutes) in each track where he’s the only one who knows what the true sound of the song is, while presumably everyone else is getting duped by the displaced downbeat. This concept is FANTASTICALLY interesting to me.
Needless to say… The Eraser is a brilliant album.