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The SIS for this week features a juggernaut LA drummer. Brian MacLeod has played on numerous chart-topping records from artists like Sheryl Crow, James Blunt, Tears For Fears, Jewel, John Hiatt, Seal, Stevie Nicks, Madonna, Ziggy Marley, Chris Isaak, Melissa Etheridge, Sara Bareilles, and MANY more. Actually, for those of you who are fans of NBC’s The Office, Brian even played the drums on that theme song.
A quick story before the interview: Brian has a very distinct feel and sound to his playing. I was recently listening to a Michelle Branch record called Hotel Paper, and I read in the liner notes that Kenny Aronoff played drums on the album. I didn’t read close enough though, because toward the end of the record this track came on and I was amazed at how similar Aronoff was sounding to a player like Brian MacLeod. It was so similar that I checked the liner notes… sure enough, it was MacLeod – on that track only.
Anyway, I’m excited to share all the wisdom that I picked up from my interview with Brian. He is a genuinely nice dude and a KILLING player. Enjoy…
(Me) What’s your favorite snare for a wide-open rock sound? (MacLeod) It took me forever to find this snare… Its a Valley Drum shop custom. That shop closed in the early 80’s, but Bill Bottrell had one and I used it on all the Sheryl Crow records. Bill offered to give it to me but I refused. Its got that fat 70’s sound. I finally found one on eBay recently… its the bomb! Also, I have a couple of 1920’s Ludwig two-piece snares… an 8 lug and a 10 lug. They sound great… fat with a crack!
I would REALLY like to know how you got the sounds on that Vegas track from the Sara Bareilles record . Unbelievable. On Vegas I just had loads of tape on the snare, and the engineer used tons of compression. Compression is a drummers best friend. And, I think that was my 26″ kick wide open. cool right?? Hey, also check out Ziggy Marley “True to Myself”… I played a toy drum kit it sounds rad! 18″ kick wide open.. 12” snare!
Vintage drums… are they over-hyped or everything they’re made out to be? Vintage drums rule. Nothing beats a “keystone badge” Ludwig kit. Those drums are on all your favorite records!
How do you choose grooves for verses/choruses? Do you have a system or anything? Because I’m also a songwriter, I like to play lyrically. Drums are important, but the lyrics come first!
What’s your approach to fills? Are you strategically planning what you play or do you just “feel it” in the moment? All my fills are spontaneous. It’s kinda like falling down a staircase. I like it that why… on the edge!
How do you relate to the producer? Do you just wait for him to tell you what to play, or are you proactive in lobbying for your own ideas? I always work with the producer – we are a team! I never lobby for my ideas. I’ll make suggestions, but the producers make the final call, and I always trust them!
Are Protools and the world of digital editing a good or bad thing for the art of recording? I can’t say I’m a pro tools fan. 16 inch tape still sounds the best for drums. Just fat. Also, all the editing gets to be too much and sometimes it ruins the feel. I mean, can you imagine “fixing” John Bonham’s feel?
What’s the best way for an aspiring studio drummer to “practice” session work? I think if you want to be a session player, you need to practice to a click track a TON. Just get comfortable and groove to it, and don’t let it lock you in!
Your feel… it reminds me a lot of Matt Chamberlain. Do you know Matt? Yeah, me and Matt are pals. I love that guy! Both of us are also buddies with Jim Keltner. (Jim and I have the same birthday even!)
Many thanks to Brian for taking the time to participate in the SIS. Stay tuned for next week’s interview, which will take a turn toward the jazz side of the studio scene.