Billy Rymer: Math-Metal Masochist
By Andrew Lentz
Originally published in DRUM! Magazine’s April 2010 Issue
The Dillinger Escape Plan’s new drummer, Billy Rymer, vividly recalls his first performance with the band. He was so nervous that he practically threw up before the set. But that wasn’t the worst of it. He recalls, “People were yelling at me: ’Chris Pennie’s better than you.’ ’Where’s Gil Sharone?’ I felt kids wanted the gratification of watching me train-wreck songs.”
That was nothing compared to the death threats on his cell phone, warning he had better not muck up a cherished hardcore institution. “I was, ’Alright, that’s how Dillinger fans are.’”
Music is in Rymer’s genes. His dad plays in an Allman Brothers tribute band and collects Hammond B3 organs. For his ninth birthday, Rymer got a ’75 Ludwig kit with giant chrome-wrapped shells. “It even had a Slingerland snare,” he recalls. “I had no appreciation for it whatsoever. I just remember thinking it was old.” In high school he formed Dec. 84, managed by Biohazard frontman Evan Seinfeld. It was when Seinfeld and his now ex-wife, adult film star Tera Patrick, were eating dinner with his parents that Rymer had an epiphany: “Weird things are happening and it’s because I play drums. Maybe I should keep playing drums and weird cool stuff will keep happening.’”
Roughly a year later, local band The Rivalry asked Rymer to join after drummer Chris Guglielmo left to join Bayside. The gig was fun but the band wasn’t getting anywhere, so Rymer hooked up with Morning Fuzz, a Brooklyn-based melodic rock band. During this time, the drummer continued taking lessons with Manhattan-based instructor (and Jojo Mayer roadie) Guy Licata, who tipped him off to the open slot in Dillinger.
The proactive Rymer immediately set about familiarizing himself with older Dillinger tracks, first loading them into Pro Tools to slow down and equalize them enough to hear the notes. Next he charted out every three-second increment of music, played it slow, then brought it back to speed before posting videos of himself playing to them on YouTube. That got Dillinger bassist Liam Wilson’s attention. Wilson tested him further, requesting filmed auditions of “43% Burnt” and “Sugar Coated Sour” from 1999’s Calculating Infinity. “The band’s feeling is if you can play those songs you can do any of their songs.”
Hanging out with guitarist Ben Weinman one weekend, an unassuming Rymer was bowled over when the Dillinger leader told him to get ready to go to Australia to play the Soundwave Music Festival. “I thought I was still in a trial period and he just kind of popped it in there.”
Coming off the three-week jaunt, Rymer had not only grown a thicker skin, he was now ready to begin contributing to Dillinger on a deeper level. Last summer, he moved into Weinman’s place in New Jersey for a month to begin demoing Option Paralysis.
Though he is an accomplished reader, he had to learn a whole new musical vocabulary to write the drum parts. “It’s not like we’re going to play in 5/8 and then 7/8 and then do this. It’s more speaking,” he says. “Like DAGGA-dagga–DAGGA-DAGGA–dag-DAG-dagga–DAG-dagga-DAG. They’re like little words, just memorized. It’s not even thought about in terms of numbers.”
With the aid of a Zoom H4N recorder and an Mbox MIDI system, Rymer laid down his parts. Weinman’s Line 6 Toneworks could take in four channels – kick, snare, and two overheads – enough kit separation to insert the guitar into Rymer’s intricate beat grid. “We wrote every day and if we got eight seconds of music done we were ecstatic.”
When asked if any of the sounds were triggered, Rymer is incredulous. “Uh, no. They’re all real.” Because the athleticism and technicality of Dillinger is now taken for granted, to even bring it up seems silly. “Yeah, I need to maybe get some lighter sticks,” he adds, in what I later realize was sarcasm. As for metronomes, he thinks “Gold Teeth On A Bum” used one but not “Parasitic Twins,” “The Widower,” or “Chinese Whispers,” a fact that delights him. “All the basher songs are off the wall. There’s no click there.”
For the upcoming tour cycle, Rymer isn’t ruling out the occasional heckler who thinks the new guy has yet to earn his place. If that sounds self-pitying, he knows those early taunts were a blessing in disguise. “That kind of intensity from fans is part of what gave me drive.”