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stevebrewsterdrumsThe SIS is back.  Last week was New York’s Aaron Comess, and this week is Nashville’s Steve Brewster.  Brewster has been apart of the A-list session player circuit down in Nashville for decades, playing on hundreds of CCM and Country records (including the Michael Olson record featured in AOTW #13).  There’s not much to be found about Steve on the web, so I’ve got nothing I can link to for more info on him… which I guess makes this already cool interview that much cooler…

(Me) What are some of your favorite records that have influenced your playing a lot? (Steve) Anything Pat Metheny has ever done… anything Gino Vanelli has done (for instance, check out Nightwalker with Vinnie Colaiuta on drums)… 70’s pop and rock… Chick Corea three quartets… Earth, Wind and Fire… Jonatha Brooke… any of Jim Keltner’s stuff…. PETER GABRIEL with Manu Katche on drums… Sting… Jellyfish… Elvin Jones… Jack Dejohnette… Joni Mitchell… Shawn Colvin… Tori Amos… Fionna Apple… English rock… Radiohead… Keane… Coldplay… Death Cab… DANIEL LANOIS… Abe Laboriel Jr… Matt Chamberlain… Steve Jordan….  ok, I gotta move on or I’ll never stop.  There is so much more…

How do you approach the working relationship with the producer? Are you waiting for him to tell you what to do or do you try to make your case with your own ideas? Listen to everything that the producer says.  Everything.  Even when he is giving ideas and direction to other players – it will help you get the vibe for what he wants.  If he doesn’t tell me what to do then I’m gonna fly with my instinct.  He’ll direct you when he needs to.

How do you handle an artist who insists on having you play lame parts? Hey… BE TEACHABLE AND APPROACHABLE.  Sometimes a lame idea is a lame idea.  Too bad.  But then again, some cool things can come out of a suggestion that doesn’t resonate with me immediately.  Turn it into music.  Just go for the music, man.

How do you approach fills?  Are they pre-meditated or are you just feeling the moment? Fills: WATCH OUT FOR THE VOCAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I have screwed that up so many times.  When you listen to the demo, make note of the phrasing of the vocal going into choruses, out of choruses, anywhere that you might fill.  Is there a guitar hook happening at that moment?  Phrase with it.  And yes, always feel the moment – but have your ears open to what’s going on around you.  Sometimes a fill can be a hook and repeating it is the vibe.  And then sometimes you just shut your eyes and fling…

What’s your favorite snare for a wide-open rock sound? Anything goes, man.  I love Black Beauties, of course.  I have a new 6.5×14 Joyful Noise snare that also rocks.  I have two Craviottos (a 5×14 and 6.5×14) that kill for the warmer thing.  It just depends on the day, how the drum is translating through the speakers on that song, in that room, with that engineer, with that guitar tone, etc… you get it.

How often do you use a clean head on a snare at all, as opposed to lots of muffling? Well, yes and no.  It just depends on the music.  I am not afraid of a wide-open Ambassador, or a billfold duck-taped to the head, or anything in between.

What kind of muffling on the snare is your favorite? Moon Gells are great.  Try cutting one in half when it’s too much dampening.

How do you deal with hihat bleed and other cymbal issues? OOOHHH!!!!  The infamous hihat bleed.  That’s a tough one.  There is no way to totally get rid of this problem, so here’s the deal: just play the hats softer and use darker cymbals.  There is a way to rock without overly bashing.  Sometimes you just have to bash, but controlling your dynamics on the cymbals will give you a better drum sound and help make the mix bigger and fatter.  Also, sometimes I put a dishtowel over the hat (I poke a hole in the middle of the towel and put it over the rod down onto the hat).  If the snare has a lot of compression on it this will help, like when doing weird mono loops with tons of compression.  The towel will help that situation for sure.

Are vintage Ludwigs overly-hyped or are they everything their made out to be? I have a set of 60’s Ludwigs in my studio, as well as a custom kit.  They’re great.  Are they a “must-have” for everybody?  I don’t think so.  Just stay true to your thing.  I mean, give me 5 minutes with any kit and I’ll make it sound retro.  Well, maybe 10 minutes.  I’m not boasting… just saying it can happen many different ways.  A vintage kit is a great idea though, as an alternate sound.   And, it makes you play differently.

So, what’s your opinion on the “renaissance man” issue? Do you try to be as diverse as possible and risk being mediocre at everything, or do you focus on just one area and risk being pigeon-holed as a player? To me, diversity is an essential makeup of any studio player.  An expansive vocabulary will NEVER hurt you if you know how and when to use it.  As an artist, there is a certain amount of my personality that is going to be there, but I can turn it up or down.  Don’t think of diversity as spreading yourself thin. but as a way of building your strength/depth/ability, so you can go deep in a lot of different situations.


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cdmichaelolson_longarmofloveIn honor of the record I’m working on this week with Nate Sabin, I think the feature album for this time around should be one that he’s produced. My favorite in that category is a Minneapolis native named Michael Olson’s debut album called Long Arm Of Love. Overall, the record is definitely a Nashville, “Contemporary Christian” vibe, and yet there’s an artistic integrity that most CCM records don’t quite capture.

First of all, Olson has a killer voice. If you like a great vocal performance, then this is the record for you. After that, the songwriting is wonderful. Great arrangements, thoughtful lyrics, and catchy melodies. But like I said, the real draw to this record for me is the production, which is just dripping with cool tones and ideas. Odd time bars that still feel good, unorthodox instrumentation and parts, and lots of smart but abrupt left turns make the record feel at once like a great pop album AND an art concept.

All that being said, the real reason that I first listened this album was the drummer. Steve Brewster has been an A-list studio guy in Nashville for decades, and his playing on this album is SO GREAT. His sounds, his feel, his ideas… they are all top notch and very inspiring. I learn something every time I listen to his playing on this record. In fact, the Brewster’s performance on this record is what prompted me to write the post about the “less is more” concept. See… he plays a lot of notes, but it doesn’t FEEL like he plays a lot of notes, and how those two things coexist is amazing to me. His patterns often take strange turns and his fills are very big and full, yet you would never accuse him of overplaying.  Awesome.

Also, I should note that I learned something really important from Steve Brewster… via my friend Aaron Fabbrini. Aaron was sitting in on a Brewster drum session down at Dark Horse studios in Nashville. He came back and told me that Brewster always uses some kind of sock (or washcloth or something) on the hihats. Yep, just drapes it across the hats and then hits on top of it. The towel dampens a little of the brash high end that make the hihat every engineer’s bitter enemy. Hats will normally bleed into all the other drum mics and make it difficult to mix levels properly, but the towel decreases that effect quite a bit. I’ve been using a towel on my hats in the studio for about a year now, and it works great. All you drummers… try it for yourself.

So, check out Michael Olson’s Long Arm Of Love and I promise you’ll like it. (Actually, click that link and also check out the new website I found with VERY cheap prices on discs.)

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