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.