Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Physically, Mentally, Sensibility

You know, when I was growing and up learning to play the drums, the only thing I ever wanted,was to be the drummer in one mega-successful rock band. I had no desire to be a studio musician, jumping around between several artists, or even performing live with multiple bands. As my drumming and musical career developed over the years, I didn't have the fortune to walk into that elusive, mega-huge rock band gig. But then again, I guess, I'm fortunate to have had a long and thankfully ongoing career of playing with many different bands and artists.

So this leads me to a question that I've been asked on several occasions: "How is it different playing with HALFORD, FATES WARNING, SEBASTIAN BACH, RIOT, etc.?"

On the surface, one can say, "How different can it be? All of these bands fall into the category of being Rock/Progressive/Heavy Metal bands." Of course, there are the many different songs that I need to learn for each band. And, of course, when I'm playing with an already established artist/band, I need to learn songs which were previously recorded with another drummer. These songs could range from obscure fan favorites to huge radio hits known by even the casual radio listener. During my early years of learning (pre-recorded) songs, I always paid close attention to the beat patterns and fills and learned how to copy and re-create the parts note-for-note so that I could play them correctly. But "my process and methods that I use when learning, memorizing, and executing these drum parts" is a blog for another day.

What I want to talk about is a realization that was enlightening to me this past summer,as I had to make quick transitions between my working with various artists/bands. I always knew that (beyond the actual drumming itself) I had to adjust my playing and thinking to adapt to the different situations, but I never took the time to define and categorize how I was successfully making this happen. Recently, within a couple of months, I made my way into the studio and doing summer festivals with RIOT, more studio work with HALFORD (visit www.metalgodshop.com/ to watch the 'Winter Songs' Christmas album trailer and purchase music), to my September performance with FATES WARNING at ProgPower X in Atlanta.

With all due respect to these bands and artists, I have discovered that there are 3 elements that encompass my musical drumming approach to each of the artist/bands that I am currently working with. These elements are: Physicality, the Mental Aspect, and Sensibility.


Physically - This is a complete physical (hands AND feet) drumming workout for me. Rob, being the metal icon that he is, has covered the entire spectrum of metal throughout his career with Judas Priest, Fight, and Halford. And with the Halford band, the songs can range from 'Handing Out Bullets' (quick double bass and sticking patterns) to 'She' (ballad with a lighter touch). And for live performances, the Priest stuff is always challenging for me physically because I need to adapt to all the drummer's styles within the 30+ years of JP's career.

Mentally - This can change from song to song. I would say that the Halford "Crucible" songs have always been the most challenging songs to play live. Pretty cerebral stuff !

Sensibility - I need to play the up-tempo stuff with aggression, and also be able to lay back and finesse the songs which have more dynamics. This is also especially true with the Judas Priest and Fight stuff that we play live which ranges from the classic metal drumming of Scott Travis on 'Painkiller' and 'War Of Words', to the Dave Holland 'play all the hi-hat eight notes the same volume'-approach, to the style of the drummers during the 'Rocka Rolla' and 'Sad Wings Of Destiny' era where the vibe is more loose and groovy.


Physically - It's interesting - this is the only gig in which I use finger muscles in my hands rather than concentrated wrist muscles. It's a whole different drumming approach for me. I also need to mention that Mark Zonder (who played on most of the Fates stuff we cover live) is a great drummer. Since there is not a lot of quick double bass work (as opposed to other gigs), I find myself sitting a bit higher to focus when executing the many various sticking combinations and linear patterns.

Mentally - This is the hardest gig for me mentally next to my clinic material. I have to be focused 100% of the time. I cannot go on 'auto-pilot' and sit back and play. During our recent performance at ProgPower X, I came down from the kit to share an on-stage toast of Patron Tequila with the other members of FW and the founder of ProgPower. This was toward the end of our set, before playing our last couple of songs. That was a mistake! Believe it or not, with only one shot of tequila and I could definitely tell the difference. My brain was swimming, haa haa!

Sensibility - The music is progressive and involved and I always have to maintain a mature approach to this material.


Note: even though I didn't work with Sebastian this summer, I thought it would be interesting to include my thoughts:

Physically - Technically, this isn't the toughest gig for me, but I definitely play harder on Sebastian gigs than any other gig. I have been fortunate to play with Sebastian in many arenas and outdoor festivals throughout the world and the physicality of playing those huge venues really makes the Sebastian shows rock.

Mentally - The whole mental thing comes down to watching Sebastian at all times. He's all over the stage and and he can change things up at the drop of a hat. It's a true SHOW! And, with Sebastian's spontaneity, I'm always looking for ways to incorporate drumming ideas into those moments.

Sensibility - it's all about the ROCK !


Physically - This is where I sort of made my mark as a hard rock/heavy metal/progressive drummer. My first stint with the band was for 10+ years (off-and-on) from '88 to '99. And being that I was developing my craft as a drummer, my drumming matured and evolved somewhat during those years. As I am now doing a reunion with the band, re-learning the material that I recorded 20 years ago is interesting physically because I made things tougher for myself back then, than an I do now. When creating parts for a particular section of music, I have always thought things like, "aggressive heavy low toms on the bridge", "half-time building sixteenths on the ride and hi-hat", etc.. Well, in certain sections, the sticking is a bit awkward (for no good reason) and I wonder why I choose to play things that way ? HAA !

Mentally - Nothing too extreme here. Most of the time, I'm playing parts that I created. I just need to make sure I'm focused when executing some of the more difficult sections.

Sensibility - Similar to learning Judas Priest material when playing live with Halford, I am also playing previously recorded material from the Riot catalog, which dates back to '77. That's 10 years before I joined the band. But unlike the JP material, I tend to modify and modernize the drumming of the older Riot songs. This is sort of a collective decision among the band members to update and 'metalize' the hard rock approach of the older material.
As for the my 10-year stint with the band and the reunion, the vibe is all about where I am as a drummer and my experiences. And even though we had a producer on a couple of the early recordings, I always have free reign to play whatever crazy ideas I come up with.

A final thought: It's very self-satisfying to me as a drummer (and musician) that I can successfully play with a crazy progressive metal band as well as a pop band. And as a musician, I don't think there's anything more important than possessing the ability to understand (and play) very complex music while also having the sensibilities to make the simple music feel good.