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SIS #3… nice. So far I’ve featured a New York player and Nashville player, and this week it’s all about keeping it local. The Twin Cities has an incredibly large and diverse music scene for it’s size, and one of the top dogs around here is Michael Bland. Michael’s playing was highlighted in AOTW #14, and you can of course hear him on hundreds of other recordings over the last two decades. If you live in the Twin Cities, then you can see Michael every Monday night at Bunkers! At the very least, do yourself a favor and google him… but first check out his direct and insightful answers in this exclusive interview…
(Me) What are some of your favorite records that have had a big influence on your playing? (Bland) “Fresh”- Sly and the Family Stone. “Sgt. Pepper’s”- the Beatles. “Greatest Hits”- Al Green. “Genius + Soul = Jazz”- Ray Charles. “Physical Graffiti”- Led Zeppelin. “What ‘cha Gonna Do For Me”- Chaka Khan. “Live”- Donny Hathaway.
What’s your favorite snare for a wide-open rock sound? I use a Yamaha 5.5×14 Paul Leim Signature snare.
Do you go tip-side or butt-side with the snare stick… and why? I play butt end, mostly, because it works for me, somehow. Also, if I want to play a cross stick, then it’s more pronounced, and easier to get a good crack.
How do you go about “doctoring” the drums with muffling and such? I tend to deaden the toms with duct tape till there’s no sympathetic ring. On the snare, I’ve taken to cutting moon gels in half, and placing three in a triangular pattern. It controls the ring, but doesn’t choke the drum.
Vintage Ludwigs… are they over-hyped or are they everything they’re made out to be? Over-hyped.
Fills… are you playing pre-planned stuff strategically, or are you just feeling the moment? Somewhere in between. I have my devices, but my best takes are always where I’m just channeling… just doing what the music says.
How do you approach your relationship with the producer? Are you just waiting for him to tell you what to play or are you pushing to make a case for your ideas? I don’t wait. I initiate and stay proactive. I ask what he’s after first. Next, I cite examples or players that we both might be familiar with. From there, I satisfy his requirements. And, I’ll usually do one or 2 additional passes after that, which exemplify what could be done, just so he can see.
How do you handle an artist who wants you to play lame parts/ideas? If he’s also the producer, then I just give him what he wants. The sooner I do that, the sooner I can leave and forget the session ever happened. If there’s another person to reason with, like a producer, then I make an appeal to them. If that doesn’t work, all I can do is satisfy the need, and move on.
What’s your perspective on the “renaissance man” issue… do you prefer to be very diverse but perhaps mediocre at everything, or do you focus on just one thing and risk being pigeon-holed as a player? My perspective, in general, is that I want to be good at playing MUSIC. There’s no such thing as a pigeonhole for someone who simply plays music. I don’t worry about genres, strong suits, and whatnot. Music is music… what kind is irrelevant. Either you know how to listen and play appropriately, or you don’t.
I recently got a chance to hear some of the rough tracks from Sara Renner‘s upcoming record, for which Michael Bland played all the drums. Oh man. That guy is so good. Hearing his playing on Sara’s music prompted me to revisit the latest Jonny Lang record, Turn Around, which also features Bland on drums, and is now the AOTW for this week. Turn Around is currently one of my favorite albums, and definitely Lang’s best so far. But, if you’re looking for a standard review of the record, then click here, because this post is going to be about Bland.
Michael Bland is known for basically one thing: Solid. Other appropriate descriptions would be words like “precise,” “exact,” and “perfect.” Nowhere is that more evident than on Turn Around. Bland’s grooves and fills are so tightly and cleanly executed that it literally sounds… well, perfect. BUT, he can also pull out some sick chops whenever he wants to, and the cool thing about Turn Around is that Bland delivers a heavy dose of BOTH the solid and the chops. Nice.
Take, for instance, the 3rd track on the album, “One Person At A Time.” The shuffle feel is so crisp, but Bland also manages to drop in some very cool ideas… ideas that are NOT easy to play. You can really tell that playing a deep shuffle doesn’t take every ounce of his focus, and he’s able to easily throw curve balls of all kinds into the mix while not sacrificing any of his trademark precision.
Also noteworthy is Bland’s approach on “Thankful.” Listen carefully to this one, and notice how he doesn’t bother with any cymbals other than the hats for the whole track. No crashes, no ride… nothing but hats. The song just relaxes in the thick gospel 4 on the floor that Bland is throwing down, and nothing else is needed.
And then there’s the final track, “It’s Not Over,” where Bland lays out the deepest swung 6/8 cross-stick groove that anybody’s ever heard, and proceeds to mercilessly drive through every rudiment he knows at the tune’s closing. Honestly, I’ve never heard anybody be so grooving and so busy on the same track. It’s refreshing.
I’m gonna try and track down a few more albums that Michael Bland plays on, and I bet they’ll soon make their way into Album of the Week fame. Until then, go get Turn Around and listen to it 20 times in a row. AND, if you’re a Twin Cities local, you can see Bland playing every Monday night at Bunkers with a really great funk cover band called Dr. Mambo’s Combo.
This week’s installment is the absolute embodiment of the term “Power Pop”… an album called Redhead, by the prolific industry insider known as Bleu. Super hooky melodies, smart yet interesting production by John Fields, slamming grooves by various L.A. studio players, and tons of unexpected but pleasant twists and turns. This record is a winner.
Redhead, Bleu’s first major label recording, was released by Columbia in 2004. The opening track “Get Up” got a little radio play but didn’t really produce any momentum for the record. Bleu was also able to land the track “Somebody Else” on the Spiderman soundtrack, but that association was also unable to gain any significant notoriety for Redhead, and the album remains somewhat unknown. But seriously… it shouldn’t be. Bleu’s voice is a killer blend of control and passion, with a very pleasant pop tone. Picture what Rufus Wainwright would sound like if he really BROUGHT IT… energy-wise. The playing is great, the songs are even better, and the listener is left with a very clear picture of what a cohesive album is supposed to sound like – a rare thing in these days of EP’s and itunes singles. (If you feel like I’m getting a little out of hand in my praise of this recording, read this…)
The drumming on this record, similar to the Dogs Of Peace album that opened the AOTW series, is a great blend of interesting and emotional playing, with restrained and disciplined pop sensibility. The tracks are evenly divided between Dylan Hallacy and Dustin Hengst, with Jamie Vavra and William J. McAuley making single-track appearances. I’d never heard of any of these guys before buying Redhead, but they all sound GREAT. And then, a special appearance by the great Michael Bland for one song makes this a must-own record for any serious student of studio drumming. A high point on the record is Hengst’s treatment of the 7/4 signature in the record’s second track, “I Won’t Go to Hollywood.” He groups the measures in pairs and then doesn’t turn the groove around at the end of the first bar (so the snare hits the downbeat of bar 2, and the pattern proceeds through the 2nd measure with that “backwards” feel)… but somehow, despite the rule-breaking nature of that move, the groove sounds very cool and works really well within the tune.
Go listen to this record immediately. I’m not kidding… right now.