By Andy Doerschuk Published September 8, 2010
Hometown: New York
Previous Bands: Rest In Pieces, Straight Ahead
With a career spanning more than two decades and hundreds of thousands of albums sold worldwide, Sick Of It All certainly deserves being labeled a living legend and proof that classic New York hardcore is alive and kicking. The group released its vicious new offering, Based On A True Story, last April through Century Media Records.
How would you describe the feel of the new album?
Very aggressive, very punchy, with a lot of teeth. I’m very happy with how natural the takes are. Overall, it’s the best sounding record we’ve ever done.
What is your favorite drum part on the new album?
The chorus of “The Divide.” It kicks in strong with the floor tom, which has a real drive to it, and then alternates with the crash, so the energy is kept really high.
Did you change your drum parts much throughout the recording process?
The main challenge for me in the studio is to pace myself and not play things too fast. We’re a band who play with a lot of urgency, so when a certain part needs to sit back in a groove, it almost feels like I have to relearn it. It’s a matter of changing what your body feels while playing the part, and getting used to a different energy.
How prepared were you before going into the studio?
I wasn’t fully prepared, because I only practiced with a metronome at home, without the rest of the band. I think if we had all agreed to play songs at certain tempos and had actually done so in rehearsal, individual interpretation might not have played as much of a part in the recording process. At least I knew all my parts, and was comfortable playing them.
What was it like working with your producer, Tue Madsen (The Haunted, Heaven Shall Burn, Dark Tranquility)?
He’s the best. He doesn’t try to control or oppress you in any way. He's the only producer we've ever worked with who knows exactly what we’re supposed to sound like. The sound of the kick on this record is really extra satisfying because it has such a thump to it. During recording, he appreciates the human touch and is very accepting of tempo changes and little imperfections — I’d say more accepting than I am! There were many times where he’d be happy with a take that I wasn’t happy with. There are too many producers nowadays that put everything into Pro Tools and correct the timing to make drummers sound like machines, which is an easy fix when the drummer in question sucks, but it does eliminate normal fluctuations that we all grew up listening to, and changes the feel of a band.
How long did it take to track your drum parts?
Seventeen songs in a day a half! I guess there's something to be said for that. Probably the quickest recording session I’ve ever done. Pro Tools makes a huge difference in being able to punch drums. It cuts down a lot on the amount of time you need to lay down something you're satisfied with. Back in the day, I’d be stuck playing the same thing over and over because the engineer was too afraid to splice tape. This recording was weird — some of the most daunting songs ended up being one or two takes, and some of the ones I thought would be really easy were more challenging than predicted.
Did you record to a click track?
On a couple of songs, but usually the tempo does need to change from part to part. For whatever reason, that’s the nature of our music. But even when I didn’t play along to a click, we still used it for guitar and bass breaks.
Did you record your tracks with the entire band or alone?
I tried recording with the band at first, but we realized that it wasn’t working out. They tend to rush me like crazy, and the drum parts end up sounding sloppy. When it’s just me, it’s not as stressful and the recording lights don’t get to me as much.
Describe your favorite aspect of touring.
I love the travel. Waking up in a new country everyday, seeing and experiencing new places. I’m also a big beer fan, so trying the local microbrew is always on my to-do list!
Describe the worst gig you've ever played.
I think that would be New Plymouth, New Zealand back in 1995. We played a small show in a dark, depressing sh**hole full of junkies. The other bands were shooting up in our backstage room and leaving their works around. When we took the stage, the crowd sucked and then a mentally disabled guy threw beer all over our guitarist during the first song, which really pissed him off — but what can you do?! That really set the tone for the rest of our set, which felt like an eternity.
Do you wear earplugs, in-ears, or monitors with no earplugs?
Regular earplugs, but I’m guilty of pulling them out a little here and there if my monitors aren’t giving me what I’m used to. It’s a bad habit for sure.
Do you play your drum parts onstage exactly the same way that you recorded them?
I tend to keep things the same as on the recordings. Certain parts have been changed around after years of touring because I discovered better ways of playing them.
How much room do you have to improvise on stage?
If I try to improvise — or even play a different fill — I get these looks of confusion from the rest of the band, which pretty much means they don’t want me to stray from what they expect. If I improvised more, they might lighten up and get used to it, but it’s not really my thing.
How do you stay healthy while you're on the road?
The most important thing while touring is constant hydration. Water always makes your body feel better. I’m vegetarian, have a decent concept of nutrition, and am aware of how many calories I’m taking in, so my main downfall is my love of beer. I take a multi-vitamin every day and started drinking green superfood concoctions before taking the stage, which fills you with good, natural energy and endurance.
Do you warm up before going on stage?
I start with mild calisthenics to warm up my muscle groups, then do some stretching of my muscles and the tendons in my forearms and fingers. I like to start this routine about 20 minutes before taking the stage. I rarely warm up with sticks in my hands.
Describe the worst injury you've sustained from drumming.
I’ve been lucky. Just regular cuts, splits of fingertips, and callouses separating. I’ve seen drummers with much worse problems than I ever had. In the past, when I would borrow equipment more often, and use pedals that weren’t customized for my style of play, I’d suffer from something that the other guys called a “chicken cutlet,” which was a swelling on the top of my foot caused by the beater smashing into it repeatedly. I think my right foot still has some nerve damage from those early shows!
How often do you change heads?
I change tom heads about every five or six shows. I’ve been using fabric laminate marching snare heads for a long time, so I don’t have to change them very often. I can usually go a few weeks with the same snare head. I like to put a new kick head on at the beginning of every tour, but that depends on our method of travel. Nowadays, they’re cutting back so much on checked baggage, that something measuring 22" across can give you real problems at airports.
Do you use matched or traditional grip?
Traditional. But overall I’m a very unorthodox player. I don’t use much wrist, especially on my snare hand, and play from the elbow. I think it’s helped the longevity of my career because so many other drummers have wrist problems. I get a lot of power playing that way, but also have to keep my snare much lower than normal.
What techniques have you learned by listening to or watching other drummers?
Anything I know is from watching other people play, so I have a hard time describing techniques I use. I never had lessons, so my whole life has been about trying to recreate what I hear in recordings or what I see other guys do on stage. Of course, because of the nature of the music I play, I take that knowledge and apply it like a total Neanderthal!
Do you feel perfect time is mandatory in creating a groove?
Actually, perfect time can kill a groove. It’s all in the way musicians play with each other. Something can be totally imperfect and sound great, as long as everyone is in sync.
Do you practice when you're off the road?
I do, mainly for conditioning so I don’t lose the stamina I need to play shows. It stresses me out if I let that conditioning lapse. A positive side effect of that, though, is that I improve as a drummer and become more comfortable with our songs. I know I’m not a very skilled guy and my strength lies within the context of the band. The four of us make up Sick Of It All, and no one steals the spotlight because of any great musical ability. We play from the gut and elicit that kind of reaction, so as long as I can bash away with abandon, and the audience is in tune with what I’m doing, it’s all good.
Do you practice to a metronome?
When we’re putting new songs together and the feel of certain parts confuses me, it helps to get my body used to it by using a metronome. Sometimes I have to play old songs to a metronome because I find myself playing them with a strange feel years later. I can get caught up in the live setting and let my meter go for whatever reason, so the metronome helps reel it back in.