Kerch also found time to take a few Skype lessons with Dom Famularo. The sessions were supposed to be an hour long but ended up being at least two because the legendary educator is so entertaining. “We never touched a drum set once,” Kerch marvels. “We were using drum sticks and a pad and went over our hand technique. Just seeing those basic bad habits that I’ve built over the years and going back and taking control again, which I hadn’t done in forever. It changed my playing.”
Brushing up on technique was just the tip of the iceberg. Kerch used the downtime to reinvent his playing, or as he likes to say, “get back into the art of my drumming.” As any touring drummer can yell you there are two musicians within us: the drummer playing for the song, and the drummer as artist. It was the latter that Kerch feared he was losing touch with from so much time spent on the road. “Just playing the songs, it’s so consistent and monotonous you become a robot,” he says. “But you’re not embracing that full drummer persona and that’s something I’ve always tried to focus on.”
Kerch calls his introduction to drums “your typical kid’s story,” but it seems more austere than most. After a year of lessons with a practice pad, he finally got a snare at age seven, and then it was four more years on that until he got a full kit. “My parents were supportive, but I had had to prove myself and prove my loyalty to the craft,” he says. “And I thank them for it every single day because I had to really learn how to play an instrument before I could expand on the instrument.”
At University Of Central Florida, Kerch majored in anthropology. After graduation, an environmental company hired him to boat along the shorelines of inland lakes to monitor algae growth resulting from pollution. “Florida is covered in lakes,” he says. “There were all kinds of snakes and alligators out there; it was actually a very fun job.”
While immersed in the life aquatic, Shinedown was making waves of a different sort with a new record deal. Kerch learned of the Shinedown opening from his older brother, a radio DJ who was an acquaintance of Steve Robertson, the Orlando-based A&R guy for Atlantic who had just signed Shinedown. Robertson put out feelers when it was apparent that Shinedown wasn’t happy with the current drummer. “I was the seventh guy to try out, but the band was still just coming together,” he says. “They didn’t have a permanent guy or anything like that. They had a couple of guys that they had done some demo work but they either weren’t up to speed or it just wasn’t a good fit.”
Shinedown’s singer handed Kerch a couple of demos a day or two before try-outs. On audition day, he upped the ante to see if Kerch could handle “Lacerated,” which was in 7/4 and which would become the band’s earliest hit. “They hadn’t heard a drummer that was able to play that in seven with the right kind of feel,” he explains. “They wanted a kind of ‘Spoonman’ thing going around the toms.”
But Kerch is prouder of a different accomplishment. After nailing “45,” a feat which landed him in the band, Shinedown immediately entered the studio to rerecord it for debut Leave A Whisper. Later on, producer Bob Marlette listened back to the demo version from Kerch’s audition and went with that take instead. “So the version on the record is actually the demo version that I played on old drum heads and broken cymbals.”
Talk of odd time reminds Kerch of the title track on Amaryllis. “That song was a bear to record,” he says. “It’s in six but it almost has a four feel on the crash of the hats and an odd-time thing that goes on in the bridge. [sings it] I still have issues with it, isolating the right hand. It’s really independence-demanding to where I have to keep my right hand consistent but also keep the ghost notes and kick drum against that.”
Kerch says that back in college he wasn’t considering drumming as a career, which is pretty hard to believe. Before switching to anthropology he had been studying percussion in UCF’s music department. “It was very classic-leaning and geared toward becoming a teacher, and they didn’t have a drum set program or anything like that, so I felt out of my element.”
He continues to keep in touch with his former instructor, Jeff Moore, who is the head of the percussion department. If Shinedown isn’t playing Disney when they go through Orlando, then the band makes a stop at the UCF arena. “It’s kind of odd because I was not a good student for him and now I’m playing the arena on campus. It’s crazy.”
With Amaryllis in the can, it seems Kerch has all the heavy lifting done. Now he just has to knuckle down for the remaining practice sessions in Nashville to learn the songs before the European tour.
But it’s never that simple.