Jul 19, 2013

Drummers to Check Out

Over the years I have had many conversations with people who wanted to know who I had been inspired by as a musician while seeking a path to my own voice.  I have also had many conversations with people who were sure they already knew my influences.  I'm not sure that those in the second group have ever been close except for once or twice.  I came along early enough in underground metal that there were not very many "superstars" to look up to as inspirational figures.  Metal was pretty clumsy at first, and its sheer aggression was still exciting enough that bands didn't have to find so many ways to set themselves apart.  The term "underground" was synonymous with "not so slick" which meant that only the guitarists had really developed ideas at that point in metal's evolution.  Rhythm sections had not caught up yet, though they would in a very big way years later. 

I would like to run through some of the drummers who really made an impression with me as I have tried to refine different aspects of my own style.  Not all of these guys have had the same kind of impact on me, but they have all made me think about different things I might be able to try in the bands I have played with.  Some will be well known to other drummers while others, even if they are famous in their own right, may not be so well respected or often considered when dude talk leads to drummers.  I like different drummers for different things, which is the same way I process music.  I don't listen to a handful of bands with really similar sounds.  Instead, I like to find the one band that paints a picture the way I like and then I look for something different .  It's easier for me to hear the subtle differences in drummers than it is to hear noteworthy differences in similar bands.  Most drummers are at least good enough at what they do that they can pull their weight, and plenty are far better than that.  The ones that stand out to me have more than just subtle finesse and solid chops.  Those drummers are a dime a dozen.  The ones that raise my eyebrow apply something familiar in new ways.  They seem much more creative to me than everyone else, or they find ways to be busy without jumping out as the star of the band.  You may not agree.  Agreeing with me is essential to the success of this blog, so I suggest you rethink your positions if you find yourself at odds with my own.

Okay, so here goes!  This is the point at which you guys say to yourselves, "This fool is delusional if he thinks he sounds like the drummer from N'Sync!"  I would never try and put myself on a pedestal that high!  You don't want to mess with the boy band legends...  That always ends messy, sticky and sore.  It'll be the longest two and a half minutes of your life! Then the shame sets in, but you still can't stop thinking about brutal pillow fights and Underoos.  Hang on, I need a minute to collect myself.  Anybody got a cigarette?

Early Days - Neil Peart, Rush:

My fourteenth birthday found me searching all over our house for the ten or twelve records, that's right, giant slabs of black vinyl about one foot in diameter ( very convenient for travel, by the way ) that my parents had hidden for me.  When you only got three or four channels on television you had to be creative to entertain yourself, so I guess watching your pimple-faced pubescent teenager rifle through magazine racks and look under furniture gave my Mom and Dad a chuckle.  I won't describe how they made me clean up the yard after our dogs, but I will tell you that they wipe tears away from their faces laughing about it now.  Let's see how hard they laugh when I bring trash bags and "The Spoon" into their rooms at the nursing home in a few years!  Remind me to call my psychiatrist when I finish this post.

I made out like a bandit that day, but thirty plus years later the only record that I still remember from my fourteenth birthday was Rush's classic, 'Moving Pictures'.  That's when everything changed for me.  I kept playing the beginning to "Limelight" over and over to hear the flatulent tom fill that comes in at the ten second mark of the song.  After about twenty listens I knew I was going to be a drummer.  I had to abandon the role I believed had been chosen for me.  I was to be an overly muscled and heavily oiled barbarian with a heart of gold, saving busty and scantily clad damsels in distress wherever they might be.  I had already developed an exercise for my right arm that was working brilliantly, even if it did usually put me to sleep after three or four minutes.  Chained maidens with heaving chests would have to wait for some other savior, for I had work to do.  

Neil Peart was the musician who inspired me to play drums, as was probably true for thousands of other kids back in the early eighties, but he never lived up to his promise.  I learned every album of theirs before I got my drums.  Having a mission probably went a long way towards giving me a head start before I ever sat down behind a drum set.  Don't get me wrong.  It wasn't pretty when I finally did get my first kit, but at least I knew what I needed to do.  Neil Peart gave me a very high bar to shoot for as a beginner.  As key to my development as he was, I am glad that I moved on to heavier music when I did.  Rush became irrelevant in so many ways at the same time I started digging into hardcore and early underground metal.  It was kind of painful to watch a band like them run out of ideas, but no band that sticks around as long as they have can stay relevant forever. 

I never heard the argument that Neil Peart sucked the soul out of drumming until years later, but I kind of see what people mean.  You won't find a drummer who looks like they are just going through the motions more than him.  He never seems to enjoy what he is doing, even though he is phenomenal.  He chose robotic precision over any kind of human "feel" and their music lost all of the dynamism it had on earlier records.  He used the same bag of tricks for so many albums that his drumming became tedious.  Aside from peppering in a few double bass measures here and there, he never expanded his vocabulary or tried to continue pushing his own creativity.  Here's a perfect example; Monica and I went to see them in 2008 and the snoozer drum solo he performed was basically the same one he recorded on a live album back in 1989.  That is called taking your fans for granted.

Neil Peart became complacent at about the same time Rush's music became predictable, sterile and very, very weak.  Their last decent record was Signals, but even then you could hear the beginning of the end.  They sold their souls for wimpy keyboards and juvenile lyrics. It was a shame because they were able to combine prog rock with harder rock in a way that wasn't overly snobbish for the high school stoner crowd.  They appealed to the nerdy outsiders ( ahhh... my people! ) and the rockers.  After 'Moving Pictures' they began to read their own press and they seemed to change just to be able to say they were evolving.  Oh they evolved alright!  They turned into a group of forty year olds singing about high school peer pressure who played increasingly wimpy songs that didn't "rock" even by toddler standards.  Before they slit their own throats though, they were something else.

If you want to check out some of Rush's best work, play what used to be side two of 'Moving Pictures'.  They poured all of their creativity into that album, though songs like "Xanadu" from 'A Farewell to Kings' or "Natural Science" from 'Permanent Waves' are tough to beat, as well. There are no points on any of the albums I have played on where I can say "See there, that's a Peart-ism" but I can tell you that Loincloth named the song "Stealing Pictures" after the overall vibe of the opening section.   

Jeff Olson, Trouble:

Once my musical tastes left the high school smoking court I eventually found myself drooling over the first two albums by a band called Trouble.  Heavy and dark with melancholy dripping off of the guitarists' fretboards, Trouble spoke to me in a way no other band had before.  Their drummer had a lot to do with the impact of their music. Jeff Olson used classic rock principles to highlight the bands' heaviness in completely organic, powerful ways.  He was basically a heavier, more aggressive John Bonham.  If Bonham had played double bass consistently their similarities would be more obvious, though I think Cream was a bigger influence on Trouble than Led Zeppelin.  Jeff Olson was a very dynamic drummer, but my own experience with Confessor steered me away from dynamics.  We were much more one dimensional, whereas Trouble's music was really quite moody.

One thing that Jeff Olson did pretty frequently, which I have never heard anyone else do other than myself ( thanks, Jeff! ) was to hit both of his bass drums at the same time.  Every time I do it, it has a powerful impact.  Olson is a much smoother drummer than I will ever be, but I spent far more time and energy searching for counter rhythms than getting a handle on the basics.  Unfortunately, Trouble's singer might make it really difficult for people to get into them these days.  He did get better with time, but the only two records of theirs that matter are the first two.  Once Jeff Olson left the band they put out one more record with a few good ideas, but after that they just weren't the same. 

Confessor covered two Trouble songs live, and recorded them for a single that Earache put out not long after 'Condemned' was released.  Trouble were never going to be a technical metal band, but they did throw everything they could into their instrumental masterpiece, "Endtime" from their first album.  To hear how impactful a drummer can be using basics alone, check out "Endtime", "Victim of the Insane" or "Revelation: Life or Death" from their first album, 'Psalm 9' or "Prey for the Dead" and "Wickedness of Man" from their second album, 'The Skull'.  Hopefully the strange mix of the first record and the abrasive vocals won't distract too much from their music.  They are the only band in the "Sabbath Wannabe" category that stands out as having their own vision.  You couldn't pry me away from Trouble's first two albums for about three years!

Mikkey Dee, King Diamond:

No other drummer that I can think of in underground metal capsulizes the spirit, precision and skill that is required to push the genre forward as much as Mikkey Dee. King Diamond will be remembered for his extreme vocal approach, but his music is equally visionary.  I was never a fan of Mercyful Fate, so I was very surprised when I heard the first King Diamond solo record.  I guess the closest mainstream band I can compare KD to would be Ozzy Osbourne, but you'd have to go back to songs like "Bark at the Moon" and "S.A.T.O." to hear the similarities.  Once Ozzy became Paula Dean's twin sister he lost any of the mystique that made him seem like a genuine conduit for evil.  King Diamond however, had occultism oozing from his pores.  I have never been creeped out by someone's presence in a room like I was by King Diamond lurking in the shadows during their sound check so many years ago.

Mikkey Dee's performances on the first four King Diamond albums are flawless.  He is precise, aggressive, and just flashy enough to make you wonder what else he might be capable of while exercising enough restraint to keep from taking over the albums.  He is a lot like Scott Rockenfield of Queensryche, or even Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden.  All three are incredibly smooth, precise drummers who sound completely in control of what they are doing at all times.  That is something to aspire to... creating the illusion that I know what the hell I'm doing!  

I never realized how much Mikkey Dee directed what I shoot for until I checked out my old King Diamond records for the first time in years.  It wasn't that I wanted to sound just like him, but I really do think that he set the bar for underground metal drummers.  Classic rock is more dynamic, but his style suits the aggression and technical nature that sets metal apart from hard rock.  I'll never be as polished as him.  I only sound like I'm in control of what I'm doing at times, but let's keep that little secret between you and me.  I don't need Confessor or Loincloth evaluating my playing with new ears.  It took me years to get them to fall for my schtick, and I don't know that I could rehab my image were they to really scrutinize what I do.  Let's just keep the illusion going, if you don't mind.

There are no specific songs I can point to as shining examples of Mikkey Dee's drumming aptitude, because he always brought his A-game.  Like I said, he never leapt out at any point to show you all that he was capable of but chose instead to slip in and out of the pocket whenever necessary to keep the flow of the song just right.  The drum beginning to "Welcome Home" off of 'Them' is an iconic bit of Dee.  Fans of the movie, "Clerks 2" will recognize it from the beginning of the film.  The song "Tea" from the same album also has a very simple but effective abstract beat that is one of my favorites from those records.  The only spot I can think of where I sound like Mikkey Dee is in the Loincloth track "Theme", but I was really shooting for a little hint of Opeth.  At one mintue, twenty six seconds I come in with the beginning of our outro with a half baked Mikkey Dee kind of vibe.   We got lucky with that outro.  The song had been written up to that precise point for a long, long time but we could never figure out how to wind the track down.  I finally finished that idea within a couple of weeks of going into the studio.  It's one of my favorite spots on the album.

Terry Bozzio: Missing Persons

I'm going to have to go easy on you guys and avoid prattling on and on about the most creative, exploring and gifted drummer I can think of.  Terry Bozzio is on his own planet as far as I am concerned.  He's all over the place with the bands he has recorded with, which is not necessarily a good thing, but he provided me with a lifetime of inspiration with what he had done by 1990.  Anything good he has cranked out since then has been gravy, if you know what I mean.  

Missing Persons were a quirky L.A. band in 1980 that sounded like a cross between early Police and the British wave of post-punk pop that was about to flood the airwaves.  Terry Bozzio and his wife Dale, who was the plastic dress wearing singer of the band, were the driving force behind the band's sound. They were all coming out of Frank Zappa's band when they formed Missing Persons, so you know they were all gifted musicians.  I was a fan before I considered playing drums and it took going back to their hit machine "Spring Session M" for me to realize how unique his playing really was.  The term "abstract thinker" doesn't begin to touch the kinds of ideas Terry Bozzio throws at you, but he finds a way to disguise a lot of it in straight forward time signatures.  They were a pop band with a singer who could be hard to take for a lot of people, so the thing that drew people to them was not necessarily the technical ability of the individual musicians so much as it was their overall presentation.  

Terry Bozzio has had a long career as a solo drum performance artist.  That means a lot of things, actually.  He has been a gun for hire, a touring drum clinic soloist, a one man show composer/soloist... you name it!  He is able to play patterns that are so independent of one another at the same time that he begins to look like a robot, or some other kind of life form doing something so alien that you aren't sure what you might be watching.  If you like watching musicians do their thing and you have the patience for the internet, check out some videos online.  There are dozens of them, but look for the term "ostinato" when you select a video.  If you give it a minute, you will definitely see an art form taken to the extreme.  You will also see Bozzio's sweet faces of "air love making" which is an unfortunate phenomenon that happens while Mr. B whacks the skins.  Think John Holmes in some eurotrash clothes being directed by Felini and you'll start to get the picture.  Bozzio is a much better drummer than he is an sensual interpretive lip dancer, but he does go for it which you have to respect.

Terry Bozzio showed me that there was never a good reason not to try something.  I go ape shit with my effects cymbals because of his experimentation with cymbals as an actual intregal part of beats instead of just using them to mark the end of a meter.  In Fly Machine I began to apply that principle in ways that were more like what Bozzio did with many of his projects, but my uninhibited use of effects cymbals is a common thread throughout the music I've recorded.  Whether any particular patterns have the quirky Bozzio feel or not, the concept was originally a byproduct of listening to Missing Persons.

If you listen to 'Spring Session M' you'll hear countless interesting drum ideas.  There weren't many metal bands using their double bass kits back in 1980, much less radio friendly New Wave bands, so keep that in mind when you check Bozzio out.  I have snuck in the drum beat from "U.S. Drag" at Confessor shows between songs for years which is one of the stand out performances on 1981's 'Spring Session M'.  The last two songs on the album are also great examples of not just a visionary drummer, but an entire band that found a completely bizarre way to crank out pop songs.  Terry Bozzio filled their follow up record with great ideas too, but the record doesn't really jump out like their first one.  People who might really be turned on by Bozzio's drumming might be able to make that leap, but they started to get dancier as they leaned more heavily on keyboards.  Seriously, if you dig what Terry Bozzio does in spots on 'Spring Session M', spend a few minutes tracking down his ostinato videos. Unbelievable stuff.

Later Inspirations, and a Few Others to Consider:

Because of the way Confessor fell apart in slow motion, it took a pretty long time for us to settle in and write another album's worth of material.  By the time we had enough music to record again we weren't Confessor anymore.  Other influences had come into the mix by the time we became Fly Machine, as well as the different writing styles of other musicians.  Fly Machine played with dynamics where Confessor would have decided to keep everything at full throttle.  I had never spent much time learning rock principles, which really are very different from metal's "always on eleven" approach to song writing.  I am finally pretty comfortable screwing around with playing like a rock drummer when we goof off at the practice space, but it took spending several years in and out of other projects for me to develop any sort of concept of what to do in a rock setting.  There is a little glimpse of that here and there on Confessor's second record 'Unraveled', and a little more on Loincloth's debut, 'Iron Balls of Steel'.  The last project I was involved in was the biggest challenge for me because I really wanted to be able to sound like a completely different drummer.  Without having developed an appreciation for a few rock albums I don't know that I would have had the kind of reference points to pull it off.  Even though I knew what I wanted to shoot for, I had never played with much finesse because I was always at full blast trying to compete with towering Mesa Boogie stacks and because that was what metal required.  Rock requires more reserved drums much of the time, and my arms didn't know how to deliver that.

None of the drummers I am about to write about can be considered "original sparks" of inspiration for me, but they are drummers whose approaches to playing helped me refine things in my own playing as I have tried to fulfill whatever my role required in different songs and in different bands.  In either Confessor or Loincloth, I will always be a metal drummer first, but having a more rounded background has already helped me continue to discover new ways for me to express my musical ideas.  It's all about learning after all, is it not?  Of course it is, and about trying to turn other people on to what you hope might be a new way of thinking about music or absorbing the kinds of things that might inspire them.  I hope that this post might make you think about your own influences, or maybe even convince you to try something that you've thought about for a long time but have yet to apply to your own craft.  

Matt Cameron, Soundgarden:

When the Seattle scene exploded into pop culture there was nowhere anyone could go without being slapped in the face by grunge bands and coffeehouse culture. It had its pluses and minuses, and ultimately I understand that it could have been a lot worse.  I never fell for it, though I did like Soundgarden.  I didn't like them as much as a lot of the people I knew at the time, but I don't think they found their true calling until the last two releases before their long hiatus.  Those are not the albums most people recall when they get misty eyed about Grunge and the 90's, but they are the two best records the movement has to offer.  Matt Cameron had a lot to do with the band's impact, and when they opened up their creative wings for albums like 'Superunknown' and 'Down on the Upside' he really made it possible for them to leap past everyone else lined up at Starbucks who had their MTV Unplugged video shoot planned out without ever writing anything other than a woe-is-me style faux suicide note to legions of flannel shirted fans.  Soundgarden actually created something very distinguished and complex while most of their contemporaries were content to sit on their laurels and cash in on a movement steeped in self-loathing for attention, androgyny and the heroin weight loss plan.

I met Matt Cameron before I became a fan of his.  Confessor's first drummer ( Brian's brother, Jim ) had been a lighting guy and drum tech for increasingly popular bands, and he was traveling with Soundgarden when they came through town for Lollapalooza ll in 1992. Actually, Matt Cameron had just been exposed to Confessor by Jim, and was completely intrigued by the way I thought about drums.  It seems more remarkable now than it did back then, but it took a few years for me to realize how great he was, and while they were already a big band, they became much bigger a few years later.  Up to that point, Soundgarden had floated just outside the realm of metal but weren't extreme enough or heavy enough for me to really perk up.  It took them cultivating their own brand of dark, brooding, classic rock inspired music for me to notice them instead of their packaging.  Matt Cameron was the energizing force behind their music and he is one of those rare drummers that I truly believe has the ability to make almost any band better.

Matt Cameron is the kind of drummer who is able to hide how busy he is in part because of how tastefully he throws his little bells and whistles into songs.  I never caught how complex his drumming was until I became such a big fan of 'Superunknown'.  He stays busy, but not with such contrasting beats and jarring accents as I use.  He throws in smooth rolls and lots of subtle hi-hat, snare and bass drum basics that all become part of the flow of the song.  I got to where I was by almost playing against the song and trying to create new micro rhythms within estblished patterns, so while we are both busy drummers, his approach was almost 180 degrees from mine and I really began to appreciate his subtlety once I noticed his approach.

There are countless examples of Matt Cameron rockin' out on Soundgarden records.  That's what he does.  But the simple hi-hat, snare and bass drum patterns he uses that I like so much are best highlighted in songs like "Limo Wreck" on 'Superunknown', or "Rhinosaur" and "Zero Chance" from 'Down on the Upside'.  Actually, "Zero Chance" is my favorite song of theirs instead of their heavier tracks.  They do heavy well, but I think "Zero Chance" outshines everything they did to show how much they could rock.  They created something more vibrant in those dark, moody rock pieces.  Chris Cornell was at his best when he was cautiously emotive instead of wailing all over the place as was the case with their first few releases.  I know those older albums are the ones most metal fans relate to, but I like music that takes you somewhere new, and that is precisely what Soundgarden started to do before they went their different ways.

Bobby Jarzombeck, Spastic Ink:

Okay, let me start by saying that Bobby Jarzombeck is the most unbelievable drummer you will ever hear in metal.  Like Bozzio, he is absolutely not someone you would want to hear in every band.  His style is so distinctive that it would ruin any band that isn't technical enough to fit what he does.  I can't even describe what he does.  You know when your cel phone freaks out and hits all ten numbers of a phone number on its own in about a quarter second and BOOM!  You've made a call?  That's what he does.  His drums sound like computer code chirping through speakers.  It sounds as though he has spent so much time going through every transition he could ever conceive of that he can recall them at will without even having to waste a nanosecond thinking about it.  He is a force of nature, or of the cyber realm.   He has done some things that were more straightforward, but he and his equally gifted brother ( the guitarist of Watchtower ) have created their own language together in a band called Spastic Ink.  

Bobby and Ron Jarzombeck write the most twisted, complicated riffs I have ever heard.  At times Ron's parts are even mean, and I mean seriously vicious in a way that most people don't even think of.  But what they spend most of their time doing is making all self respecting musicians want to burn their instruments.  It seems as though there is nothing those guys couldn't do if they wanted it bad enough.  They actually do a lot of the things I don't like about metal, but they take it to such an extreme that it becomes a brutal beat down of superior talent.  They write million note parts in which the guitar and drums are inexorably entwined, but they also change speed and time signature randomly.  It goes way beyond absurd, but it's very different in no small measure because there is no singer.  You can just lay there and let them pummel you without having to listen to any interminable screaming or barking about "feelings" or a lack thereof.  Ahhh... it's nice to get a break from such negativity and fatalism.

Not everything Spastic Ink put on their two records is enjoyable.  It is all mind blowing, but it is not all pleasing.  They are so extreme that they not only take on cartoon qualities, they actually write some tracks that are meant to be metal soundtracks to cartoon scenes.  I 'get it', but I can do without it, especially since they can be one of the meanest riff writing duos known to Metal when they feel so inclined.  I have their first album.  I wish I knew what happened to my copy of their second, but I could find it if I really needed more shaming.  I saw Michael Jordan play professional basketball in person once, and he made everyone else look as though their feet were in molasses.  That's what Bobby Jarzombeck does to every other drummer or every other band that tries to lay claim to the technical metal crown. Check out these songs from Spastic Ink's first record, "Ink Complete":  "Mad Data Race", "Just a Little Dirty", "Suspended on All Fours", "Harm and Half-Time Baking Shuffle", "That 178 Thing" and finally, "Mosquito Brain Surgery".  Then go to the gas station, fill up a five gallon gas can and burn your drums.

Alex Van Halen, Van Halen:

From one set of rockin' siblings to another; the Brothers Jarzombeck and the Brothers Van Halen have kicked tremendous amounts of ass.  There is one big difference between their respective bands.  No one can walk away from a Spastic Ink record without acknowledging Bobby Jarzombeck's talents, but Alex Van Halen's contributions are always overshadowed by the more famous Van Halen, Eddie along with their outlandish singer, David Lee Roth.  It is my contention that Alex Van Halen is the most underrated drummer in hard rock. He is powerful, heavy, finessed, and willing to try anything.  And, he's damned good.

Van Halen were a special band that took the over-the-top "rock star" image to the extreme. No parent would have wanted their daughter within five miles of the band, but nearly every girl who smoked and drank in high school would have sliced a hole right through their boyfriend if that was the only way, or the quickest way to jump into a dressing room with the band. David Lee Roth actually had "paternity insurance" through Lloyds of London for Pete's sake, and Eddie Van Halen single handedly changed the sound of hard rock and pop.  No matter how much praise he gets, he could never be overrated.  Everyone had to have a blazing lead after he came onto the scene, and even pop giants started looking for ways to throw some finger tap leads in their songs.  Somehow poor Alex got overlooked in all of the press they received, and I really feel like the band would have been a one or two hit wonder without the creative chemistry shared between the two brothers.

Van Halen had a reputation for being the biggest partiers the world had seen.  It may or may not be deserved, but they took that title and ran with it.  They were heavier than you would've expected given how big they were.  It really is difficult to believe that something so raw could have gotten so much radio attention.  It would never happen today.  Back then it took radio play to break the top 40, but now it's based on units sold.  Van Halen's first record is their rawest, and has some songs that are almost punk in that unbridled, in your face way punk bands presented their angst.  Alex Van Halen used his crashes a lot to give parts more energy just like punk and hardcore drummers.  He also used a lot of cymbal chokes, which was a lot more powerful than what most drummers on the radio were doing those days.  By the time 'Van Halen 2' came out the band were more focused, and he in particular had become a much more thoughtful and creative musician.  But they had not recorded their best records yet.

The bands' third offering, 'Women and Children First' is an exceptionally creative and explorative record for a band famous for rocking harder than anyone else.  There must have been a lot of unity throughout that writing process because they went to a lot of different places, and Alex Van Halen had to approach several songs in different ways.  He really rose to the challenge on that record as well as its follow up, the ever famous 'Fair Warning'.  Van Halen were much more than the alcohol soaked, deflowering pillagers they were portrayed to be, even if they did their best to keep that fact a secret from the music critics. 

A Swede watched Loincloth for a couple of hours one night at practice.  He had been drinking with some friends but he blew them off because he was fascinated by what both Tannon and I were doing with our instruments.  No, not THAT!  Pervert!  He was a guitarist and our song structure, riff writing and chord selection freaked him out.  Eventually, he convinced Tannon to let him play his rig, so I threw the guy a bone and we played some of his own riffs together.  He was flippin' out!  At one point he kind of stumbled, both from the beer coursing through his veins and from having too many musical doors opened at the same time, and he said "You give [ these riffs ] so much GAS, man!"  I knew exactly what he meant.  Alex Van Halen makes songs rock more than they would with almost anyone else behind the drums.  There is a song on the Fly Machine cd called "Gun" that has an Alex Van Halen feel for a little bit.  It's really nothing more than a simple tight hi-hat pattern during the set up to the lead, and even though I wasn't very good at my hi-hat control yet, I think I understand how much fun it must be to play some of their songs.  Yeah, high energy drums with defined finesse can be a blast!  

Check these songs out if you want to get a sense of how he livens things up.  The track, "On Fire" from Van Halen's self titled debut gives a sense of how much they must have shaken things up in L.A. back in the late 70's.  It really does have a kind of punk energy, though very few punk bands were so aggressive.  Songs like "Outta Love Again" from their second record and "Romeo Delight" from 'Women and Children First' show how quickly Alex Van Halen was able to hone his craft and become both powerful and finessed, which is a wonderful combination in hard rock drummers.  The album "Fair Warning" is probably their heaviest, though their first album undoubtably turned more heads when it came out.  Alex Van Halen continued to get better at being the guy to "give it gas", but he also did some strange things here and there, like the driving beat throughout "Sinners Swing!".  The last album of theirs that mattered to anyone remotely cool was "1984", though you have to ignore the fact that "Jump" and "Panama" sullied the airwaves for so long.  Everyone knows the song "Hot for Teacher", with its bizarre stutter-step bass drum pattern at the beginning, but my two favorites are at the end of the record and are supposedly from their original demos.  Heavy and dynamic, "Girl Gone Bad" is full of high energy drumming that keeps you perked up for the coolest song on the record, "House of Pain".  "House of Pain" is a truly unique track, and Alex Van Halen shows how kick ass double bass can be in hard rock when the vocals finally come in.  This song rocks, and if you disagree you probably don't need to apply for your "I Pound It with Steve Shelton" Cool Card from The Poundry's headquarters.

Muhammed Suicmez/Hannes Grossmann, Necrophagist:

I all but gave up on the underground metal scene for several years.  No one I was aware of was carrying the Torch of Metal in a way I felt did the genre justice. I don't consider Godflesh to be a metal band, and they were the only band I felt was creating anything new with heavy music.  I heard Opeth and Necrophagist at roughly the same time and was glad to finally hear something that was more reminiscent of truly creative metal than Nu Metal.  One of the things about Necrophagist that you cannot avoid is that the drumming is phenomenal.  Hannes Grossmann was the drummer playing with them when I saw them a few years ago. The sound was not so great that night, but he smoked behind his kit.  What I learned that night was that the singer, Muhammed actually programmed all of the drums and sent the files to Hannes who then learned his parts for shows.  Muhammed Suicmez has quite a grasp of his own metal vision, and his approach to drums is very unique.

It simply is not fair that one person could write such mean guitar parts ( every song has one of the coolest parts you will ever hear in metal! ) and be able to sneeze and have vicious drum patterns drip out of his nose, too.  Both of the bands' records are good, but their second release, "Epitaph" is a wealth of sinister riffing and inspired, powerful drumming. There are things that will drop any drummer's jaw in every track, but songs like "Ignonimous and Pale" and  "Diminished to B" make me wonder what planet Muhammed may have come from.  And then there is the gloriously mean "Seven", which is one of the coolest metal songs ever.  Necrophagist are a blast band, but the way they flow in and out of blast beats is genuinely intriguing to me.  The bass drums are really punchy and clear on this record, so all of the speed fluctuations jump out in a way that shows off how well thought out the drums are.  Necrophagist is also possibly the most technical metal band I know of next to Spastic Ink.  Their 'over-the-topness' doesn't rely solely on their speed, which is no doubt why their blast parts don't bother me so much.  They have a way of slowly deconstructing their riffs and reassembling them that is really clever, and their riffs are heavy as hell and distinctive when they are not flying by you.  I won't have a chance to point out any Necrophagist inspired drum parts until we finish writing the next Confessor and Loincloth records.  Heh, heh, heh...

Other Drummers Worth Looking at Again:

There are thousands of amazing drummers.  There have always been people who were generally accepted as legendary and iconic, and for good reason.  But as with any instrument or creative endeavor, there are plenty of flavors to choose from and while popular flavors are just that; popular, they may not necessarily be what you are interested in on any given day.  Plenty of amazing drummers are in horrendous bands.  Terry Bozzio, God of All Drummers has had his share of dreadful projects over the years.  I've been lucky in that all of my bands have been amazing so far.  Does sarcasm come through in blog posts?  I sure hope so.

I'd like to mention a few drummers who have their own, distinctive styles.  I have not tried to incorporate what they do in either Confessor or Loincloth but they are drummers who have "gone for it" in their own journeys, and that is something that is always inspiring to me as I try to do something that seems foreign to my usual way of constructing the drum flow within my own musical projects.  Even if you don't like these drummers, or any of the guys I've written about, I hope that reading about how they have influenced me might inspire you to "go for it" with your next composition.  Inspiration comes in many forms after all, and I'd love to be able to help facilitate a spark for anyone who has a creative side.

Mike Bordin, Faith No More:

When Faith No More released 'Epic', I thought I was going to have to murder a lot of my friends.  I thought they were the most overrated band on the planet, and what should have been passive dislike for a band grew into near seething hatred. Mike Patton drove me nuts, and I found them to be nothing more than a cheap, gimmicky band who were able to capitalize on the newness of "rap metal". Their cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" was actually pretty damned good, but I hated that record.  A few years later I was ready to hate their next release, "Angel Dust" but as it turned out, it was a surprisingly creative and occasionally heavy record.

Mike Bordin is an awfully powerful drummer.  He's a caveman.  There is no way around that fact, but he is a tasteful caveman who hits hard as hell, and at times can really kick a song into overdrive.  If you don't believe me, just check out "Caffeine", "Malpractice" and "Jizzlobber".  You'll begin to see how much he pushes the band with his primitive approach.

Phil Selway, Radiohead:

I have discussed the minimum requirement for a drummer in any band situation in earlier posts here at The Poundry.  The minimum requirement is that a drummer be a good fit for the band he or she happens to be in at the time.  I don't need a flashy drummer in the kind of band that doesn't need one.  In fact, I don't want to hear busy drummers in the wrong band.  I have checked out two different drummers in Mars Volta at the urging of a friend and while it's true they were both fantastic drummers, I didn't feel that their styles fit the band at all.  They were far busier than the band required, and more aggressive than the music called for in my opinion.  Great drummers... bad fit.  What I can say about Radiohead's drummer is that he finds a way to fly under the radar while still contributing greatly to the overall vibe of each song.  Radiohead seem to want everything to come together to form completely different atmospheric experiences with each track, and Phil Selway delivers just that without leaping out at any point. He does change his approach constantly, and his dynamic flow has so much to do with why I think they are so successful at painting moods.  

I "discovered" Radiohead well after the rest of the world, and I have to say that with rare exception I find them to be as wonderful a band to get lost in as any.  I see how Thom York could drive people nuts, but I love the way he makes his voice a gentle, ambient presence that nudges you towards the space they create instead of being a harsh, jarring narrative voice that leaves no room for individual interpretation.  Phil Selway's role in the band requires that he understand how to play very subtly, almost to the point of not noticing his presence as in "Sail to the Moon", all the way to the spastic, disjointed, heavier beat he used in "Myxomatosis".  Both of those songs are on the album 'Hail to the Thief', but they were on quite a roll from 'OK Computer' all the way through 'In Rainbows'.  One thing that he does quite well is to use one beat throughout a song, but through use of dynamics and minimal expansion outward to his toms and cymbals he can make that same simple beat grow very, very large.

Ringo Starr, The Beatles:

Okay, I never thought I would ever include Ringo Starr in a list of drummers to check out until very recently.  No one will ever put him on the list of traditional 'greats' because he never stands out as a drummer who has an impressive flair for the instrument.  Somehow though, he has a very distinctive sound, and in trying to figure out why that is I realized something about Ringo Starr.  He was the ultimate role player.

Consider this; how many drummers can you think of who opted to avoid using hi-hats or a ride in large sections of many of their songs?  Personally, I have a very difficult time just allowing myself to play a 4/4 beat without embellishing it before the first measure ends.  Ringo Starr very often played his bass drum and snare only, which allowed every other instrument and additional tracks, of which there were many, to fill the empty space in very different ways.  With the constant reminder of meter that a hi-hat or a ride provides, a lot of the weirdness of later Beatles songs would not have been so prominent in their music.  Ringo Starr was completely capable of rocking his kit in traditional ways, but he, or they, chose the very unorthodox method of bass and snare only beats in many of their verses.  By doing that, the simple addition of a steady hi-hat line suddenly felt like an entirely new layer of energy had entered the picture.  Cymbals suddenly became their own layer, which is nothing new for a lot of drummers, but that effect was magnified by their absence in such long stretches of music.

One of my favorite Beatles songs is "Dear Prudence" off of The White Album.  Ringo Starr goes back and forth from super minimal bass and snare only to a more driving version of the same beat by adding a tightly closed hi-hat, and then towards the end he opens things up into his signature military style marching patterns that do occasionally feel pretty heavy.  He is no Terry Bozzio.  He is no Bobby Jarzombeck.  But he absolutely provided a critical element to the most creative and uninhibited band I know of.  The Beatles weren't afraid to try anything, and I really don't think they would have been as unique with any other drummer.  

Finally, the End of this Tedious Post:

I know that many of you will have completely different impressions of the drummers explored in this post.  I know that many of you will feel as though I completely missed the boat, or several boats by not mentioning certain drummers.  "How could that douche bag not talk about Drummer X, or Drummer Y?"  Ask yourself this... do they suck?  I'm just kidding.  I truly believe that any drummer who has done his or her thing for more than a few months probably does something better than I could.  I also know that there are millions of drummers who rock over little ol' me.  The thing that I seem to offer is a different way of exploring drums.  I'll never be as smooth, as in control, or as talented as most of the guys I've written about.  That's part of the beauty of playing music; you don't have to be amazing to make a statement.

I would like to say one quick thing about the last three bands I wrote about in this post.  The Beatles, Radiohead and Faith No More all have one thing in common that I didn't consider when organizing my thoughts for this topic, but I think it's a critical observation.  For years I have thought of them as bands that could have cranked out one identical album after another and done quite well for themselves.  But thankfully, they were never satisfied with being stagnant.  They all had early hits that they could have cashed in on over and over again but they chose to keep going diving into the unknown and creating things that no one else ever could.  Not everything they did was amazing, but they never stopped pushing themselves, and that is as inspiring to me as anything in life.

Once again, I hope that someone walks away from this post with a spark.  Not one you apply to a molotov cocktail and hurl at our house because I dissed boy bands, but the kind that buzzes in your head until you apply it to some creative outlet.  Thanks for your patience, and I do apologize to anyone who found this tedious.  I have to ask though... if you did find it tedious, why are you still here?


  1. Can i be the friend (for the record) that recommended Mars Volta? hah. as usual, an amazing and insightful read into your world of drumming, very essential info to keep in mind when being in awe of your work!

    your number 1 fan and commentator for this post,


  2. Aaahhhhh... My Scro', Matei! Yes, I checked Mars Volta vids because of your recommendation. Those guys were fantastic, but I just don't understand why they were in that band. Your check sir, is in the mail. Mention my devastating charm and the next one will be bigger.

  3. Excellent article just can't believe there's no mention of Sean Reinert(CYNIC, DEATH), prob the most creative metal drummer in the last 20+ years

    1. The record he did with Death is their best. I never liked Cynic, though. They went for jazzy breaks instead of heavy, and the robot vocals were just too much. Confessor and Death were too far apart for me to really use any of the cool stuff he did.

  4. Steve I think you just ruined Rush for me! As much as I love them, you just nailed something about Peart that I've never been able to articulate. "Fly by Night" through "Grace Under Pressure" is an incredible run, but they released a long string of stinkers after that.

    1. Man! I loved everything from "2112" through "Grace Under Pressure" except for two songs ( Tears and Madrigal )for a long time! When I came back to them after discovering underground metal I could enjoy anything after "Signals" anymore, and that record is where you can hear the new direction taking hold. I finally got "Fly by Night" and "Caress of Steel" again about a year and a half ago. Love the dark, almost classic rock feel that is completely gone by the time "2112" came out.

  5. Love reading these! Is there anything you can't do? ; )
    Ireland's biggest Confessor/Steve Shelton fan...Keith

    1. Just wait until I put out my own interpretive dance video based on Loincloth and Greek tragedies. You will be blown away! Thanks for the kind words and your endless enthusiasm! We need more of your videos, Keith!

  6. I think I may be one of the FNM fans you wanted to kill! Glad that you came around to your senses when Angel Dust came out! Great list!

    1. Ha! The timing was right, Brian. When it came to Faith No More and "Epic" I wanted to kill everyone! My take was that having piano on one song doesn't make your band 'versatile' anymore than having a white kid do his best impression of black, female R & B singers. When everyone claims that a band that is maybe a tiny bit different is the greatest thing since sliced bread, it makes me hate that band even more. Pearl Jam didn't actually deserve to die in a fiery plane crash, but I wished it upon them all the same because so many people thought they invented good music. FNM were at least more creative than Pearl Jam. Glad no one got hurt in any plane crashes, especially you.