Jan 1, 2013

Challenges, pt.3: Performing on a kit other than your own...

It is not always practical to travel with something as monstrous as a metal drum kit. They tend to take up a lot of space, and airlines charge twenty five bucks for your first checked bag, thirty five for the second and one hundred for every bag beyond that.  My own kit would have to go in eleven cases, so you can see how impractical it can be.  I have had to play on rented drum kits before, and it is always awkward.  Even setting up my own kit at shows can create some difficult playing environments.  My drums move ever so slightly away from me at the practice space so sometimes at shows I end up setting them up closer to me than I may have grown accustomed.  I'll know within a song or two because my shoulders will get tight right away. Kick ass!  Ten songs to go and I'm already fatigued!  Yes indeed, playing on a kit other than your own provides some interesting challenges.

My own drum set is a twenty piece behemoth.  That sounds insane, but twelve of those pieces are cymbals.  Still sound like overkill?  Well, I'll have you know I recently downsized from twenty one pieces, but I do miss that third china type.  Any artist or landscape architect will tell you things are better in groups of three, and that logic holds true for really cheap china type cymbals as well.  Before Loincloth went out West, I knew I'd probably end up on a drum set consisting of a snare, bass drum, floor tom and one mounted tom.  Exactly half the amount of actual drums I have played for a quarter of a century.  There was a list of things I knew I would want to bring in order to feel as comfortable as possible behind the strange, Lilliputian sized drum set in the photograph above.  As it turned out, it was a damn good thing I had played on different kits before and knew to bring some things above and beyond what was requested of me.  We would have been in quite a bind had I not brought all that I could shove in my bags.

Okay... the basics.  Pedals!  I play with mine really loose.  So loose in fact that the springs sometimes fall off because there isn't enough tension to hold them in place.  I have to have them that way to hit some of the faster notes in triplets.  If there is enough tension on the springs that I feel resistance I can't do most of the finer things I do regularly in Loincloth and Confessor.  The muscle that runs along my shin gets super tight in no time if I have to fight the pedals.  I pick up my whole leg for the lion's share of what I play, so I could play things in a really minimal way, but that's no fun at all.  Bring your most important cymbals too, and don't be afraid to ask the other drummers to bring theirs.  I have only ever loaned my cymbals out for people to use at shows twice in my life and both times two or more came back cracked.  I don't think they were abused, I just think cymbals get hit the same way and at the same angle by one person.  When someone else plays them they get hit in new ways and vulnerable points become exposed.  Though it must be said there are those drummers who look for chances to wail on other people's drums.  I have never been like that myself, but I have had conversations with other drummers who seemed to relish the chance to do things with other kits they would never consider doing with their own.  In fact, two of the three drummers in town that I really looked up to bragged about trashing other drummers' kits.  I am not sacrificing my cymbals just to be a nice guy.  Fortunately for this trip the drummer for Dead in the Dirt had had similar experiences with loaning his cymbals out, so we were on the same page as far as bringing our own went.

I play with my snare really low.  Low enough that drummers often comment about it.  Not every snare stand will go as low as mine, so I bring that with me as well.  As luck had it the snare stand we planned to use for these shows had to be used for the one tom we had.  The tom and the bass drum were "virgin", meaning there was no bracket to attach to a stand on the tom and no bracket to insert a tom stand on the bass drum.  Having a second snare stand kept us from having to buy one for five shows.  Trips like this one are expensive enough without something like that sucking up valuable resources.  I also decided to buy some extra nylon sleeves for mounting our cymbals, and a few felts.  I ended up using all of them as there were no... I repeat... NO NYLON SLEEVES for the cymbal stands.  Wanna crack your cymbals in a flash?  Take the sleeves off of the stands.  At the last minute I grabbed both of the hi-hat clutches ( editor's note for non-drummers: a "clutch" is what holds the top cymbal onto the stand for the cymbal that opens and closes, otherwise known as a "hi-hat" ) I use.  Damn good thing I did too, because the one that came with the kit was worthless and was trashed at the end of the first show.  Another thing we didn't have to buy because I thought to bring my own.  Experience pays off!

So far I have described only the things that I have run into before when playing a kit other than my own.  There is only so much you can do to prepare for a different drum set.  I stripped my own kit down to emulate the "worst case scenario" when we got back from our shows in New Jersey and New York to minimize the shock of sitting behind such a small drum set.  Better to get used to having far fewer options ahead of time than to play like crap for a couple of shows while you're getting acclimated to a different set up.  

One thing I did not think of ahead of time, but will never let happen again... the sticks that I prop up between the feet of my hi-hat stand and cymbal stand might not be there when I need them on a different kit.  Same goes for the stick I sometimes wedge between a lug and the shell of the bass drum.  At our very first show, fourth song into the set with the owner of our record label right there at the edge of the stage, front and center, the drum stick in my right handed liberated itself from my grip.  Clearly, a plan it had hatched months ahead of time!  I hit the bottom of the mounted tom with my stick as I was coming up from playing the snare drum and the stick went sailing up and over the rest of the drums, landing a good six feet in front of the kit.  No problem!  I'll just grab one of the sticks I always shove by my left foot...  Wait a second, they are in on the escape plan!  Good thing I have one on top of the bass drum too... awww, Crap!  That one looked suspicious to me too, and now it's gone!  The only stick I could see was the one that had rolled to the front of the stage.  I floundered away for a good ten to fifteen seconds on the floor behind me while I tried to play bent over with one stick.  It was so ridiculous that it became comical, even to me!  I actually thanked the powers that be I was on such a small kit because people could actually see what was going on and laugh at it.  My kit would have been too big to see around and no one would have known what was happening.  Of course, my sticks would have been there when I needed them.  Fortunately it was the very end of the song ( "Clostfroth" for the curious among you ) so losing a stick didn't derail the entire track.  At any rate, it was pretty funny and Greg, one of Sunn's guitarists and the owner of Southern Lord gave me a hard time about it later.  The one time I ever played with a stick bag I couldn't get a stick out when I needed it, so I just prop them up around me.  A bag doesn't help much if I need two hands to get a damn stick out!

The first time I remember having to play on a different drum kit was on a tour in Europe.  I never got accustomed to where the smallest toms were, and every time I tried to hit them I missed.  I have had to play rented kits a few times at all day festivals and it always created problems, not the least of which was making sure the toms and snare were set at the same angles I had my own drums positioned. If you have a chance to set your kit up ahead of time to match the size of a rented kit, I highly recommend doing it.  I think things went relatively smoothly for me this time because I was prepared for it.  You can't prepare for everything, but you can minimize the surprises by thinking ahead.  Hopefully this post will help any drummers who might find themselves in a similar situation think about what is essential to them, and maybe even a few things they might not have considered.  I was lucky to have the extra nylons, felts and hi-hat clutches with me on this last trip.

Here is a shot of my own kit in it's diminished, twenty piece grandeur.  Do I feel naked without that twenty first piece? Nah, not really, but I did use the hell out of the china I took out. Don't be surprised if it comes back some day soon...


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