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This week’s SIS installment features another Billy – a West Coast player named Billy Hawn. Hawn is an in-demand drummer in the Los Angeles area, and although he’s somewhat of an up-and-coming name, he’s already got a solid reputation and an impressive resume. In addition to maintaining a busy studio schedule doing sessions for artists like Mandy Moore, David Crosby, and the recently surging Joe Purdy, Hawn has also performed live with The Indigo Girls, Jackson Browne, Damien Rice, Glen Phillips, Colbie Caillat, Nickel Creek, and many others.
(Me)Who are some of your favorite drummers that have influenced you the most?
(Billy Hawn) Wow. So many. This is an ever changing list as I continue to grow as an artist. I’m a huge Jason McGerr fan. I think he is very innovative and musical when it comes to supporting a song. That’s what’s it’s all about, unless you’re doing solo project.
In your opinion, who’s the best session player alive right now?
Wow. Again, there are so many. I think I would have to pick Vinnie Colaiuta as an all-around player. He’s amazingly versatile. A close tie though would be Matt Chamberlain or Kenny Aronoff. Whether you like these drummers or not, if you listen to mainstream music then you’re hearing these 3 guys everyday.
How do you choose grooves for a track? Do you have a formula or system?
No real formula. All songs are different to a point. I usually listen to and feed off of whatever the “key” instrument is that is that driving that particular song. Example: Listen to any Jack Johnson and listen to how great Adam Topol supports what’s going on with Jack’s acoustic guitar.
What’s your approach to fills? Strategically planned or “feeling it” in the moment?
I’m definitely a “feeling it” in the moment player… unless I’m learning a gig for a showcase or a tour and the song needs some signature fill that is on the recording. Then it’s planned.
What’s your favorite snare for a wide-open rock sound?
That’s a great question. I don’t play a lot of wide-open rock stuff but if I did it would have to be my 1968 Ludwig Supraphonic (5×14) out of my collection. Other great choices would be anything Brady, a Ludwig Black Beauty or a Ludwig Bronze (6.5×14)
What’s your method of choice for the dampened, thuddy snare sound?
Hahaha, that sound is usually my only sound and I get A LOT of compliments on my snare sound, both in the studio and live. I simply cut out an old snare batter head from its hoop and lay that on my snare. Presto: deep thud!
Have you discovered any other cool/unorthodox tricks in getting unique tones that you’d be willing to share? Yeah… In 2008 I put out a percussion album that is 80% homemade sounds from around the house and studio. I like to think that those sounds are very unique. Shower dripping on a cymbal, mason jars filled with different amounts of water, coco pods thrown into an aluminum paint roller tray, etc.
What are your preferred heads for studio playing?
It really depends on the song, artist or session, though I usually prefer coated heads.
How do you deal with hihat bleed and other cymbal-related issues?
Honestly, I don’t really have a lot of bleed or cymbal issues. I play Paiste and they are very musical and they blend well in every situation that I am in and they sit right where cymbals are suppose to in the mix, both live and in the studio. I always have a great cymbal sound.
What’s your all-time favorite piece of gear for session stuff?
Well, judging on the one that gets the most compliments, it would have to be “Woody”. Woody is my 1960 Mahogany Ludwig snare drum (6.5×14).
For more info on Billy, check out his myspace page. Also, Billy released a very cool solo percussion record last year, and he runs his own studio in LA. By the way, did you notice he uses the cut-out-drum-head-on-your-snare trick too?