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Whew.  Haven’t posted anything since last week.  Oops.

But now, in an attempt redeem myself, I’ve finally edited the last installment of the Studio Interview Series: a chat with Aussie drummer Paul Mabury.  Paul currently lives in Nashville and does quite a bit of session work there, but cut his teeth at Hillsong in Australia.  He’s a great player and has tons of insight for the studio side of things.

And, as I conclude the SIS, I’m happy to announce a new series of interviews featuring more extensive discussions with some of the cool/influential/innovative drummers that the Twin Cities has to offer.  Look for the Twin Cities Interview Series to kick off next week, but for now, enjoy Paul Mabury’s perspective…

(Me) How long have you been playing drums, and how much of that has included studio work? (PM) I am 35 years old now and I started drumming as a 13 year old. I didn’t get serious about it though until I went to the West Australian Academy of Music to study Jazz under Frank Gibson Jr. This was an amazing time of rich musical development. I quickly started getting out and playing shows in the club scene and was soon playing every night of the week. This lead to me playing on records in my early 20’s… and it hasn’t stopped, thank the Lord.

How has your career played out as far as “hired gun” vs “band member”? Do you think there is more chance for a drummer to find work in one situation over the other? I think the ultimate is to be in a band… isn’t it the reason why we wanted to play in the first place? Music needs to be shared!  I have found that my session work has come from my work in bands.  Just find people that make you sound good.  I have been playing a ton here in Nashville with a bass player named David Labruyere (or “dela” and most people will know his work from Shawn Mullins, John Mayer). The truth is we try to get a lot of work together because we make each other sound good… yeah, it’s a selfish relationship… ha.

What’s your take on being a diverse player vs a highly specialized player? Oh, I appreciate the specialized player. But I say, “play it all man!”  You will have more of a chance to get a gig if you have more than one feather in your cap.

How much practice time do you give to “chops” kinds of things vs other skills? Not much… there’s just no time… I have to little boys now and when I start to play they always hear it and sneak down stairs to come and play with me.  I spend most of my time (when I do get to practice) playing a groove at a difficult tempo for as long I can handle it.  It isn’t too enjoyable but I get better as a player.  I think practice should sound good. We should be working on our weaknesses so that one day others will enjoy them as our strengths!

What are your thoughts on being an analytical player vs just playing by feel? I would like to be more analytical but I am just not!  Music should make you feel something… I admit, great things happen when “Art & Science” meet, but I would prefer to make something great happen and then have others analyze it.  A great example of this happened when I was at music school studying Jazz. We had some of the greatest musicians/lecturers in the country standing behind their instruments waiting to play while students were throwing back debates on what “improvising” was!  Just when I couldn’t handle it anymore Frank (my lecturer) said, “Lets just play something.”  Another lecturer said, “what?” and Frank replied, “lets just play… improvise!”  They went on to show us improvisation… they did it, and think that’s how we learn.
The truth is, if you have to ask the question, “what is improvising?” then you’re probably going about it all wrong.  Music is a language – it’s a way we communicate – and it’s powerful. It’s important that we learn to understand what we are doing when we play music but it’s more important that we actually do it!

Who are some of your favorite studio players, and what are some examples of why you like them? Steve Gadd… for obvious reasons! (he is one of the most “musical” drummers of all time.) Check him out on most of the contemporary music ever recorded… ha! “Chuck E’s In Love” by Rickie Lee Jones would be my favorite though. That fill into the chorus out kills me, I ran the needle over the record to learn it but no one can play it like him! He makes lazy feel so good.
Mike Clark, his tone… the way he strikes the drum is wonderful and he plays so tight. You MUST check him out on “Thrust” – Herbie Hancock.
Andy Newmark, for a lot of the same reasons I like Mike Clark. He is incredible on Sly & The Family Stone between 1973-75. His most amazing work in my opinion is on the groundbreaking record, “Fresh.” Own it! He’s playing to drum machines and he is a beast!
Man there are so many, Jon Bonham, Charlie Watts, Ringo, Mitch Mitchell… oh and I love Steve Jordan. All these guys groove.  Tony Williams for his innovation, Max Roach… this guy played melodies! Bill Stewart… he is a very “hip” drummer… he implies 2&4 better than anyone! I can find great things and stuff to learn about most players I hear. Here is a great quote, “music is not about being competitive, it is about being creative and not letting the instrument get in the way of the music.” -Frank Gibson Jr.
I should shut up… I could go on and on… the truth is in the records.

What do you think of Pro Tools and the way the digital revolution has influenced recording? I love it.  As a producer, I am having a ball with pro tools.  I think of it like a sampler.  I love taking 2 or 4 bars of what I played and then mixing up drums and brushes and sticks and then playing to what I just recorded… layers of goodness. Man, I recently played on Dave Barnes’ new record and Ed Cash was producing it. I asked him if I could take the sessions home each night to add tambourine, shaker and loops and the like… he said, “don’t edit anything… I like it just the way it is!”  That was a refreshing experience… thanks Ed.

How do you go about choosing snares for a track? Does that normally take a lot of time or is it immediately clear which drum to use? Picking a snare for a track usually happens very quickly. I am usually on sessions where the producer (if it isn’t me) wants that “dry crack” with little ring, if any. I love older snares that have in-built muffles so I can use them to get the desired sound. I mostly tune snares low. If it’s a really live sound that is desired I will tune up accordingly to a pitch that compliments the track and for this sound it will usually be a Black Beauty. For the dry pop sounding songs I use mostly an old Ludwig Superphonic School Studio Standard. I think mine is a 1975? I got it for $100 on ebay and so far I’ve used it on every session I rock up to… funny.  This is the Superphonic being recorded at dela’s… (with a book on it).  If the track is needing something a little left of center then I will start pulling out some snare drums with a more unique character. Like my 80’s Yamaha 8″x14″. This snare has a lot of body with a long note. But hey, I still put a muffle in it and if I drop the snare tuning right down and put my wallet on the top head I can get that old school funk thing going.  Here is a good example me playing this snare on a Dave Barnes track at the Smoakstack.  Oh and one last thing: if you’re ever having trouble making a snare sound right then once you have it tuned evenly all the way around (with the bottom head tight) loosen the 2 lugs closest to you… all the way, this seems to always work for me. I do it time and time again saying, “how about now?” and the engineer has always replied, “yeah, yeah… that’s it!” (or words to that effect!)

Tell me about your cymbals… why do you choose them and how often do you mix it up? I use all Zildjians… dark cymbals. I love the K’s and the Constantinople’s. I use big cymbals mostly in that you always loose a few inches of sound in the studio. So it’s 22″ 20″ and I usually match 16″ crash cymbals for Hi Hats.  I have been using an A Custom Projection Crash on the bottom and a K Dark Crash on the top.  I will very rarely use 14″ Hi Hats.  I never have many cymbals set up… no need. Here is what I am using at the moment, and here is the typical rig.  It’s a bit like a Bonham set up.

If you could have any piece of gear besides what you already have and use, what would it be? Gretsch round badge drum kit… one day you will be mine!

Here’s some footage of Nashville’s favorite Aussie drummer, Paul Mabury, tracking some stuff for Dave Barnes’ next record.  Note the use of the “heel-toe” technique on the hihat 16ths…

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