Talking Drums

Unspoken Double Kick Punk Code

Throughout life there are many unspoken rules acknowledged by everyone. For example, you always give a pregnant woman your seat on the bus, and you don't address your elders by their first name. I've even heard rumors that in the criminal underworld there are laws like no one ever touches attorneys in or outside of the courtroom--they're just understood to be off limits. And then there's that unspoken rule in the EpiFat punk genre--where every drummer has to play the Bomber Beat (straightforward punk beat) with a single kick pedal. There is, of course, one exception where a double pedal is permissible, and that's when playing drum fills. But, if you're going that route, those better be some mind-bending fills, and you must immediately move back to your single pedal for timekeeping. It's kind of like shooting the moon in the game of Hearts--it's an all or nothing deal.

So lets go back to 1999. That summer The Warped Tour had a solid lineup, including the likes of The Bouncing Souls, H20, The Vandals, Jimmy Eat World, Blink 182, The Deviates, Dropkick Murphys, Pennywise, Royal Crown Revue, and Less Than Jake. Back then my friend was interning at Side One Dummy Records, so in addition to getting us into Warped for free, he also hooked me up with the Suicidal Tendencies's latest release, Freedumb. At the time, I had only been familiar with Suicidal Tendencies through their connection to Infectious Grooves--a funk sideproject fronted by the same vocalist, Mike Muir. I had been drawn to Infectious Groove's record Groove Family Psycho because of the funk beat played on the opening track "Violent & Funky.

I had read the drummer's name in the liner notes to both records, but had never heard of him before. Both groups had elements that were extremely funky, aggressive, raw, but always extraordinarily technical. It was not music that you listened to in the same way that you did a pop-punk record, where pleasant melodies and harmonies are spoonfed to your ears. This music got right up in your face, and had to respected, whether you liked it or not. If you listen to Freedumb's third track "Scream Out," you'll see what I mean.

So as Suicidal Tendencies took the stage that day a tall extremely skinny drummer sat down behind the kit. He bent forward over his drums, almost as if his upper back were leaning exactly 45 degrees forward. His posture was either like that of a skilled boxer mid-match, or a tall scientist bending over a microscope. His arms flailed in every direction, but looked completely relaxed while doing so--relaxed like Tiger Woods looks when taking a practice swing. The precision in which he took aim with those sticks was like watching a skilled surgeon use chopsticks at the dinner table.

What followed was something that honestly has left an impression on me since. I will never forget the drummer's footwork that day. Every drummer can remember seeing things done on kit for the first time, where you say to yourself "I didn't know that was humanly possible." This drummer was playing some of the fastest fills I had ever heard before, and he was playing parts of them with just his feet. Now this was 15 years ago, so most of what's left of the memory is an overall impression of how he performed the tunes live that day. And I don't want to mistakenly describe someone else's style, so please don't quote me--but I have this vague recollection of these lightning fast call and response sixtuplets played between his hands and feet--where he'd play the first six notes on just his snare drum, then respond with six bass drum notes played simultaneously with crash hits. But, I'm positive that those forceful fills kept coming, and they certainly sounded improvised.

To this day, that was the single greatest reason that I've ever heard live, or on record, for an EpiFat drummer to use a double-bass drum pedal. That drummer, of course, was Brooks Wackerman.

The Right Book

About three miles from my place there's a used bookstore that I've spent a lot of time in. I like this particular shop because they never have what I want--but next to what I'm looking for, I always find something else that looks good. Consequently, I've ended up reading a few different novels that I never would have opened otherwise.

The employees at this place have always been extremely friendly. As I'm buying my books, I learn a few things about the authors, or I get a good recommendation on other things I need to read.

About three years ago I walked in and a new employee was behind the counter. He appeared to be in his mid-sixties, and he had a sour look upon his face. He was playing good jazz though—something raw, but not too raw. Avant-garde, but not too avant-garde. There was structure and communication going on in that music. It was the kind of music that someone who listened to a lot of Coltrane Quartet would put on in order to keep his or her ears sharp.

Now most of the local bookshops ask that you check in your backpack before you enter the store. Fair enough. But never had I been asked to do so at this particular store—most likely because the entire shop is roughly the size of a large bedroom. So as I'm looking around the store for about five minutes, all of a sudden the man curtly asked me to leave my backpack next to the counter. He's not checking the bag in, mind you, or placing it behind the counter. He wanted me to set it down next to the counter, just leaving it there up for grabs. There was something valuable in my backpack that I wasn't about to leave unattended, so I inquired as to whether their policy had changed. It had not, he informed me. This was news to me. And so we were off to a rough start.

This pissed me off. I had given this bookshop hundreds of my dollars. I threw around the idea that perhaps I wouldn't be doing that anymore—especially if this guy was behind the counter.

As a little bit of time went by I became less indignant. Every few months I'd go in there looking for some book or other. When this guy was working, I'd always get the same cold response. What was this guy's problem? And what's he so bitter about, anyway? He's got good jazz. He's surrounded by thousands of books. What else do you want?

As I kept going in there, at a certain point I decided that I'd try to connect with the guy if the opportunity ever presented itself. After all, I like I jazz. I like books too. Why can't we break some bread? But, whenever I get to the counter, even if I ask him about what he's listening to or reading, all I ever get are curt answers with that sour look.

On The Road

So last year my parents visit. My Mom's an English teacher and tutor in the inner city, and she is responsible for planting her love of books in both my brother and I (which she tries to impart to all of her students as well). She spends at least half her salary on books. Her entire garage is full of stacked boxes filled to the brim with books. I had to take her to this bookshop, because I knew she'd be in seventh heaven. Sure enough, she gets in there, starts browsing the shelves, and finds a book that my Grandfather's friend had given her as a small child. The copy she found was printed before she was born. She decided to purchase the book.

As she and my dad approach the counter, I stand off a bit so the guy behind the counter won't know I'm with them. I want to gauge his reaction with some other people. Now my folks talk to everyone, and I know this guy will be no exception. My Mom inquires about the book she is purchasing. With that same sour look on his face he gives her those same stereotypical curt answers. He rings her up coldly. As we leave the store I tell her about the employee. She's more excited about her new book than anything else.

So last week I woke up, and decided that it was time to read On The Road. I crawled out of bed, went to my bookshelf, grabbed a few books that had been sitting there for years—books I knew that I was never going to read—and headed out this other huge bookshop that does used trade. After selling back the three books and getting my used credit slip, I wasn't able to find a copy of On The Road that I liked. With books like that, I'm sorry, but you have to get the cover and font right. They had a new copy with some lame cover that embodied everything I understood the Beats to be not, so I decided to tuck the used credit slip into my wallet, and save it for a rainy day. When I left the shop it was a beautiful day out, so I went for a walk.

As I headed home I found myself a block away from the smaller bookshop. Why not go in real quick and see if they had the version I was looking for? I walk in, and there's that same curmudgeon, busy at work behind the counter restoring an old book, sour look upon his face, as always.

I go to the K section, and sure enough, there are 3 different used copies of On The Road. They, in fact, have the exact edition that I was looking for. Now, broke as I am in my current state of never-ending unemployment, I certainly don't have the cash to burn on this right now. But, you can't think about cash with these types of things. You could probably even steal this particular book and go to bed that night with a clear conscience. ("You know what President Truman said? 'We must cut down on the cost of living?'")

I took the Kerouac up to the scowling man in order to purchase the novel. The man put down the old book he was restoring, and took On The Road in hand to ring it up. His face lit up.

On The Road

"You know when I was younger, after I read this book, my wife and I hitchhiked from here to New York. We hitchhiked back too—all in one week. That was back when hitchhiking wasn't as dangerous as it is now," he explained.

And so we began talking at long last. We discussed Kerouac. We moved onto to other subjects like Bob Dylan's autobiography. As I left the shop the man assured me that I was going to enjoy On The Road. We even exchanged names.

Walking home I finally understood what our problem had been—I had just never grabbed the right book.

When not playing drums--punk or jazz--Eric Kamm is reading books.

Brad Morgan Gets To The Heart Of The Matter

Explaining His Drumming On "The Part Of Him" by The Drive-By Truckers

English Oceans

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

Polar Bear Club

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

Matt Kelly

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.

Meanest Of Times

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.

Live

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.

Dropkick Murphys at the Warfield

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.