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.
Top Rocks From Two-Ten
By Eric Kamm Published January 1, 2011
Good records are few and far between these days. Reflecting back on this past year, there is one record and two songs written by two different groups that I can recommend with confidence. The passion and sincerity of these two groups can still spark a little light in my cold dead heart, much like a cigarette lighter flickering in a completely dark room that never lights. No, I take that back, the tracks "Birthday Boy" and "The Queen Of Lower Chelsea" do get my blood pumping.
My favorite record of the year was The Drive By Truckers The Big To Do. This is a band from the Southeast who has two new releases on the horizon--a full length called Go-Go Boots, in addition to a new documentary on the band entitled The Secret to a Happy ending. The documentarty will focus on "the redemptive power of rock and roll." Believe me, I saw them perform at The Fillmore in May, and even as they sound-checked, hours before the doors opened, they were playing their hearts out. They dig their Skynrd and Neil Young while shootin' whiskey, they're great storytellers of the grotesque, and they're not about to apologize for any of it. Around a year ago the band recorded 25 tracks at one time and released 13 of those songs on The Big To Do. They will place the remaining tracks on their upcoming release Go-Go Boots (to be released February 15th). "Birthday Boy," the track that you would most likely label their single off The Big To Do, is a great song. How they recorded the tune is just as exciting (more on that later). But...if you are going to check out this group, I would recommend beginning with the records Decoration Day and The Dirty South, then simultaneously moving forward and backward in their discography. Believe me, it's all good. The Big To Do felt to me like the Drive By Truckers telling Southern stories accompanied by a great soundtrack. The record is solid and consistent--it's a tortoise, not a hare (which is why I don't think it would be as good of an introduction to the band as some of their other works). But, I'm going to move on now because I'll soon be posting an entire article on drummer Brad Morgan.
My other favorite track came off The Gaslight Anthem's American Slang. The song "The Queen Of Lower Chelsea" finds drummer Ben Horowitz playing on rims of his drums for part of the tune, and laying down a beautiful pocket. Like Brad Morgan, Horowitz plays for the song. He said in the September 2010 issue of DRUM! that "anything I do is always based on some kind of gut reaction based on what I'm hearing. If my process has changed at all I'd say it's more cerebral now than it used to be. I'm a lot more conscious of the flow of the song and fitting in with other people, finding my place in the arrangement. I definitely think about that stuff a lot more. Working with producers probably opened my eyes to that level of song writing that I wasn't exposed to before." Horowitz puts his money where his mouth is on his latest.
I love the lyrics to "The Queen Of Lower Chelsea," I love the descending bass line at the end of each verse, I love the catchy guitar work, I love how Horowitz puts ego aside and lays down a creative groove for the song (including the cool drum break in the middle of the song), and I really appreciated vocalist Brian Fallon's sincere note to the listener in the liner notes of the record. Fallon thanks his audience for enabling him to play music. "When I was a kid," Fallon writes "I wanted to play guitar and sing songs...I'll never forget that you all helped me along the way." The title track to the record also hits in the right place--I especially liked how the band bridged the first chorus into the second verse on this opening track.
Producer Ted Hut is worth mentioning too (since Horowitz brought him up). He appears to be Side One Dummy's go-to producer and engineer, and for good reason. My first exposure to him was his work with Flogging Molly, where the sounds he captures tend to have a dynamic range and raw quality to them. American Slang is no exception. I wondered what advice he might have had for Horowitz and the rest of the band on the two tracks mentioned above...
Anyhooo...have a Happy New Year! -Kamm December 31, 2010.
Eric Kamm writes about jazz and punk drumming.