Brad Morgan Gets To The Heart Of The Matter
Explaining His Drumming On "The Part Of Him" by The Drive-By Truckers
In August of 2013 Brad Morgan and The Drive-By Truckers spent two weeks recording English Oceans, their first album in three years. As usual, they were in their hometown of Athens, Georgia, with David Barbe, their producer whom they consider a member of the band.
When Morgan sets up his kit to record, they mic his tom-tom and floor tom. He rarely uses them. He only hits them, in fact, if he feels that the tune needs them. The tune rarely needs them. Necessity of the part is practically a band philosophy--they only care about the music. "Everybody's playing for that song" Morgan explains, "Not 'Oh, I learned this hot lick. Nobody gives a shit about that. We're all about the song."
The drummer spent part of 2013 touring behind Patterson Hood's newest solo release. They hit the road in a trio format with just Hood, keyboardist Jay Gonzalez, and Morgan. During a sound check Patterson first introduced the song "The Part Of Him" to the two others, and they started messing around with a structure. Things came together effortlessly, and soon enough they were opening sets with the song.
All of The Drive-By Truckers' music naturally develops in this way. While discussing the vibe in the studio, the drummer explained "We record real quick. We go in, we play the song, and we're out. We listen to it, add whatever needs to be added. It's rare that we spend an hour or two working on a song. If it's not working at that moment, then we'll just come back to it. We don't beat nothing to death at all. When I listen to it, I hear mistakes in my playing, but that's just part of the charm of those takes. It's the feel more than anything else."
And Morgan just felt the drum groove on "The Part Of Him." The beat is busier than many of his grooves, and this also developed out of necessity, because there was considerably more musical leeway in a trio setting. "That whole tour we pretty much didn't have bass guitar, so I was kind of just overplaying in a way, to fill the space."
Morgan tried to lay back while Hood was singing, and fill the instrumental gaps in between. This has become second nature to the drummer after playing with Hood for 15 years. "It came out naturally" he explained. "When I heard it played back to me, I heard that I dropped the kick drum real simple during the verses when he was singing, and then when he wasn't singing I would complicate the part a little more with that backbeat kind of thing. Then in the verse I jump back into that straight, solid part."
It says a lot that Morgan added a new level to his drumming on English Oceans by counter-intuitively removing even more from his already restrained style. “On a lot of the songs on the record, I'm not hitting the hi-hat on the snare beat, so that all you're hearing is the snare. It's a very Charlie Watts thing. It helps establish the groove with me a lot of times, so I understand why he does that." For those who aren't familiar, Charlie Watts is known for the fact that when he plays a straight rock beat, he doesn't hit his hi-hat when he hits his snare ("1-e-SNARE-ah!"). It makes the snare sound that much bigger, Morgan explained, which is why he used a similar approach to his bass drum playing as well.
Occasionally The Drive-By Truckers will demo tracks. And as it turns out, two of Morgan's demoed drum tracks were used on English Oceans--the songs "The Part Of Him" and "Grand Canyon." Morgan was able to lay down what the song needed the first time around.
Polar Bear Club: Clash Battle Guilt Pride
I get nostalgic about punk groups that I grew up listening to whenever I hear Polar Bear Clubs record Clash Battle Guilt Pride. I initially became a fan of the group after hearing their strong debut album Sometimes Things Just Disappear--it was the right combination of aggressive vocals, emo-esque guitar licks with a pinch of Dag Nasty twang, driven by Emmett Menke's creative drumming. I'm sad to say that Clash Battle Guilt Pride was group's third, and final, full-length recording with the drummer.
Menke's drumming style is a solid amalgam of pocket pushing mid temp punk grooves and melodic tom patterns. He had this way of throwing in spontaneous hits and crashes that catch your ears off guard, thus keeping you, the listener, on your toes. One of my favorite examples of his "groove meets melodic tom patterns" can be heard on the track "Hollow Place" off of Sometimes Things Just Disappear.
Producer Brian McTernan was a great fit for the band, a recording engineer who has captured some heavy recordings of bands that aren't that different from Polar Bear Club. Look at Thrice, for example--a band that McTernan worked with early on (where he arguably recorded their two best records). Both bands have guitarists who alternate between dissonant and poppy guitar riffs, and vocalist who alternate between clearly delivered pop harmonies and gritty vocal lines. Much of the difficulty in recoding a punk record is making sure that all of the instruments sound huge. But, when everything is "turned up to 11," then nothing sounds big or small. McTernan seems to have a knack for figuring out these sonic Rubik cubes. Part of his magic seems to be making sure that parts develop, and that all the band members aren't playing at once. I'd love to see the process, which I can only guess at. I've heard a variety of bands mention that McTernan actively contributes to structuring the songs he's going to record--often inspiring the musicians to move in directions that they otherwise wouldn't have. The song structures on Clash Battle Guilt Pride definitely differ from previous Polar Bear Club records, in an interesting way. The band safely retains their identity, however.
On Clash Battle Guilt Pride singer Jimmy Start’s really delivers with his introspective lyrics and vocal performance. His influences push through in the way that influences should--a hat nod, and not a direct rip off from another group. Perhaps he touches on this on the albums second track "Killin' It" when he sings "we burned and buried the sounds that carried all the weight." While there are heavy references on this record, there are just as many mellower ones. You can definitely hear the singer pay his respects to Jimmy Eat World's record Clarity with his harmonic "woah-oh-ohs." You'll hear references from every band member, in fact. The opening track off Clash Battle Guilt Pride, "Pawner," has a Weakerthan's guitar vibe, from way back in their Left And Leaving days. I couldn't help but think of the tune "My apologies" by The Get Up Kids when I was listening to Polar Bear Club's "Life Between The Lines." I don't think any of this was by accident.
The first 6 tracks on Clash Battle Guilt Pride hit me where it counts. I love the way the opening track leads into the driving second track, they take it down a notch for the third tune, and then dig into my favorite section--the tunes "Kneel On Nails," and the interestingly structured "My Best Days."
If you didn't grow up in the EpiFat scene, this band and record may not be your cup of tea. I wonder, in fact, if Polar Bear Club wouldn't just sound like another generic pop-punk group. It's not, I assure you. I think a lot of us on the West Coast first discovered their general sound through the Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chord labels. And many of us later broadened our horizons with some of the East Coast's great bands (a lot of whom came from DC and Polar Bear Club's home state of New Jersey).
When I put on Clash Battle Guilt Pride, it makes me miss the summer of 2002, back in Santa Cruz, when a bandmate first introduced me to the Lifetime records Hello Bastards and Jersey's Best Dancers (the group had been broken up for a long time at that point). It makes me remember hearing a pre-released promo copy of The Weakerthan's Left And Leaving that my friend acquired back in 2000. It evokes images of seeing Jimmy Eat World opening for Fact To Face at The Palace in Los Angeles. I saw Jimmy Eat World play the Warped Tour that same summer to about 10 kids, some of whom left half way throughout the set. Back then, you had four options for emo--Sunny Day Real Estate (the Godfathers of this sound), Jimmy Eat World, The Get Up Kids, and At The Drive In. It makes me think of my college dormitory at UC Santa Cruz, when I first downloaded some Hot Water Music tracks off their records No Division and A Flight And A Crash. I had to go right down to Streetlight Records in order to buy the full albums. A few years later I remember sleeping on my friend Tim's floor for an entire year while I was trying to save money to support a drumming habit. One day he was giving me a lift somewhere in his minivan and showed me the Thrice track "In Years To Come"--piano intro, and all. I had never heard of the group before when he played it for me. I liked the track so much that I kept asking him to play it over and over again in the car. He finally just ejected the disc, and gave me the copy we were listening to.
Those days are long gone, and boy do I miss them, but Clash Battle Guilt Pride wakes up these memories for me.Clash Battle Guilt Pride
Cooking In Kelly's Kitchen: The Dropkick Murphys
Toward the end of July in 2010, roughly four years after The Dropkick Murphys released The Meanest Of Times The Meanest Of Times, the group began throwing around ideas for their next record. They started the process by cherry picking and structuring the best of forty or fifty song seedlings that the band members collectively brought to the table. Shortly thereafter producer Ted Hut arrived on the scene and got to work with the group in a location you’d least expect: Matt Kelly’s Kitchen.
The Murphys proceeded to hash out their new ideas in the drummer’s cooking quarters, strictly using acoustic instruments. This writing style was reminiscent of how the group composed their first two records, constructing the tunes on unplugged instruments before recording their electric versions in the studio.
Following Huts’ Dropkick remodeling session in Kelly’s Kitchen, it was back to the practice space for the band. For the next two months The Dropkick Murphys shedded six to seven days a week for ten hours a day, interspersed sporadically with lyric writing sessions.
Entering The Studio
When it came time to record Kelly ended up laying down his tracks accompanied by just the rhythm and lead guitarists. Atypical in today’s current state of Protools-edited recordings, there are no punches on the drum tracks. Just as surprising is the fact that the drummer recorded to a click track. Kelly’s pounds out heavy organic pockets, difficult to create with a metronome ticking away into your earphones.
After the foundation tracks were laid down, he and Hutt embellished a few of the drum parts with some overdubs. Take, for instance, the records’ opening track, “Hang Em’ High.” In order to ensure that the record started off with a bang, they overdubbed an 18” floor tom and a concert snare on top of Kelly’s original drum track. Interestingly enough, the drummer’s driving tom intro, which forcefully kickstarted the record, was merely an afterthought after the body of the tune was completed.
On June 29, 2011 I got to see the Dropkick Murphys perform at The Warfield in San Francisco. Like many of the shows that I’ve seen at this particular venue, the low end of sound was ridiculously high. Fortunately Kelly was able to cut through most of these sonic obstacles. His playing was clean, creative, and forceful. There were elements of his performance that felt loosely improvised (an extra fill here or there), which gave it a real nice edge. We live in an age of drumming that is often focused on the foppish language a player uses instead of their ability to serve a song. Kelly's style is the right blend of “technical ability meets creativity within the context of the song,” which makes sense since helps write these songs on guitar. His snare rolls really stood out, where they were both forceful and clean, which I attributed to an earlier remark he made before the show where he referenced time he spent in drum core years ago.
The Murphy’s banjo player also cut beautifully through the venue’s low end, punching through with sharp percussive notes. Banjo-driven tunes like “The State Of Massachusetts” and “Shipping Off To Boston” sounded great.
I hadn’t purchased Going Out Of Style before attending this performance, so the highlight to my evening was hearing the track “Broken Hymns” for the first time. It's now my favorite track. Kelly begins the track on the rims of his drums accompanied by the banjo and bagpipes. The song has a strong melody, with an instrumental intro that feels like sunshine breaking through fog at daybreak. It's great accompaniment to my morning cup of coffee in San Francisco, especially on days when the sunlight is burning through that early haze, if it breaks through at all.
I love how Kelly perfectly builds the bridge, coloring the thick wall of sound with musical tom fills, clean snare rolls, and offbeat crashes, often playing seamlessly over the bar line.
Check out Kelly’s style stretching on The Dropkick Murphys’ new record—it will be very interesting to hear where he goes next, being that he’s making musical choices, instead of just drumming choices.
Drummers Who Write
I recently interviewed Danny Thompson of Face To Face about their upcoming record Laugh Now, Laugh Later. The album is as solid a comeback as you can record, and Thompson does a great job driving the tunes along. In an upcoming issue of DRUM! there will be a transcription of the tune “The Invisible Hand” off the new record, so keep your eyes peeled.
While speaking to Thompson, I found out that he was quite a Renaissance Man in the drumming industry. He runs a music school in Orange County called The Music Factory (http://themusicfactoryoc.com/), he used to build drums with Kenny Livingston (drummer of The Sugarcult) at their custom drum shop LTD Drum Company (http://ltddrums.com/), and when he returns home from a two-month long tour with Face To Face, he will be recording a full length DVD on drum tuning.
One of the most interesting things I found out about Thompson was his influences. He had three names:
- Peter Criss
- Stewart Copeland
- Topper Headon
Like a lot of drummers between the ages of 20 and 40 Peter Criss of Kiss inspired Thompson to become a rock drummer back when he was in grade school. He cites Copeland as his biggest influence. And, he says Topper Headon was his favorite punk drummer and the most underrated drummer of all time. Thompson enthusiastically praised Headon for writing “Rock The Casbah,” among many other tunes.
What do all of Thompson’s influences have in common? They’re all musicians who wrote some of the material for the groups in which they drummed. Peter Criss co-wrote “Beth” and a ton of other Kiss tracks, Stewart Copeland’s percussion arrangements on tunes such as “Walking On The Moon” are compositions in themselves. He established himself as a first-rate film composer after leaving the band (including Oliver Stone’s Wall Street). And, Thompson already set us straight with Topper Headon. They were all well-rounded musicians.
It was not surprising to hear from Thompson that he gravitated toward drummers who thought like composers and singers. Thompson drives the new Face To Face record forcefully, but primarily concerns himself with supporting the music he’s playing. I recommend that you check out his drumming on Laugh Now, Laugh Later–the record is a both a great example of his drumming, along with a stellar listening sample of a kit that he personally built and tuned. If you’re not familiar with the band, start with Big Choice, move to their self-titled album, then pick up Laugh Now, Laugh Later. Listening to the progression of drummers is interesting since Thompson is cognizant of the drumming styles of two previous Face To Face drummers--you can definitely hear how he blends their styles while putting his own stamp on the tunes.
Sean Sellers: Feet Don't Lie
By Eric Kamm
Published March 14, 2011
It was 1997 or 1998 that I first heard the Good Riddance track "Fertile Fields." At the time, I was aware of the fact that according to "Punk Code" no drummer was to use a double bass pedal [Note: on rare occasions it was permitted to use a double pedal on very impressive drum fill, but this had to be one mind-bending fill. The drummer was required to return to single-pedal time keeping immediately after the fill was completed]. The thing was, the song was just too fast, and I thought that perhaps drummer Sean Sellers was using a double bass pedal on this particular song.
I knew that Sellers had only used a single pedal on their prior record, the punk rock masterpiece A Comprehensive Guide To Modern Rebellion. Take, for instance, the song "Steps," in which Sellers creative footwork pushes the mid-tempo tune perfectly--you can hear both opened and closed hi-hat work on the track, so it was was a pretty safe assumption that he was only using a single pedal. But "Fertile Fields" was just too damn fast, and you could hear him hit an open hi-hat at points in the tune--perhaps an indication that his left foot was placed on a double bass pedal instead of closing the cymbals...
As I entered UC Santa Cruz in 1998, a school located in the hometown of Good Riddance, I engaged in a conversation with a fellow student about Seller's great drumming. Shortly thereafter we began to argue over whether Sellers was using a double pedal on the aforementioned track. Mr. Contrary Interlocutor assured me Sellers was, in fact, only using a single pedal.A few months later Good Riddance played a local venue called Palookaville (which has since gone out of business). The box office was sold out of tickets, so we bribed the back door bouncer to let us into the show. Sure enough, as Good Riddance set up their equipment, there was no double pedal in sight. The only left foot modification was an additional slightly opened hi-hat located near Seller's ride cymbal, strategically placed so the drummer could play hi-hat open handed without having to cross his arms (this also explained the open hi-hat you hear him use throughout the tune). Sellers drove the band spot on that night. When they played "Fertile Fields" his bass drum was all right foot.
If you haven't heard Seller's drumming on A Comprehensive Guide Modern Rebellion or Ballads From The Revolution, you're in for a treat--they're great records with some very impressive drumming. Sellers drives every tune he plays on, always adding impressive rhythmic coloring and texture at break neck speeds.