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Blood, Sweat And Cheers: The Art Of Playing Live

(Above) Tony Thaxton

DRUM!: So even the pros struggle when you’re playing in front of your idols?
THAXTON: I have to not think about it. If I see them watching it sort of gets me excited and probably hitting harder — getting into it a little more. Usually, though, I’m best just going into autopilot mode. If I start thinking about what I’m doing, that’s when I screw up.
McVEIGH: I totally hear you. There’s like this place where you go where you do it without thinking about it — it’s all muscle memory. Once you start over-thinking or worrying about screwing up or who’s watching you … look out.

DRUM!: How much input do you have into constructing the set list?
McVEIGH: I write pretty much every set. I have a really good idea of what songs should go together, what songs we should go straight into, when we should take breaks. Eric [Sean Nally], our singer, does a lot of banter. If I let him, he’ll speak between every song and he’ll just go on and on. I like to be really hands on with the flow of the set.
TATE: With us it all depends. We have to base our set around sampling. We’ll play two songs and then take a break while our guitar player, Dave, builds riffs and samples on his pedals. Also a bunch of songs are in different tunings and all that so I often don’t really have a lot of say.

DRUM!: How do you handle pacing yourself on stage so you keep the energy up and avoid injury?
THAXTON: I try to pace myself, but every now and then I let it get away from me and I’ll come out a little too eager and I’ll regret it by the third song. That’s one of the things I really try to be conscious of. I prefer to open with a mid-tempo song and ease into the faster stuff if possible. We’re opening with a fast one tonight, though [“Attractive Today”].
McVEIGH: Yeah, it depends on the set. If you’re opening with a fast, ballsy song you kind of have to bring it. We’ve been opening with this slower song [“The Only Way To My Heart”]. It gets insane at the end, but I get some time to work up to it, which is nice.
TATE: I always try to play as hard on the last song as I do on the first one — no matter how tired I am. I definitely do burn myself out early sometimes, but then I just psych myself out by pretending there’s, like, a gym teacher on stage yelling at me.
McVEIGH: [in an authoritative voice] Hit that snare harder! [laughter]

DRUM!: Do you change your parts when playing live or are you pretty faithful to the recordings?
TATE: I try to stay pretty faithful. When it gets to the live setting I’m like, “I wrote this part for a reason.” But there are songs on our record where I wasn’t exactly confident when we were recording — it sounds fine, but after we were done I was like, “Aw, I should have done this instead.”
THAXTON: Yeah, I feel like that’s the only time I change stuff. I stay pretty true to the recording, but every once in a while you have that feeling of “This could have been better,” and it just sort of comes to you one night and goes from there.

DRUM!: Aaron, being that you didn’t record with Foxy Shazam, how do you approach performing the songs live?
McVEIGH: Obviously, guys like Josh Freese and Thomas Pridgen [who played on Foxy Shazam’s 2010 self-titled release] know what they’re doing. But yeah, night-to-night I kind of do things differently. I feel as long as I keep the integrity of the song — the beat, the tempo — I can kind of do what I want. Daisy, our bass player, locks up with me on the stuff that I’ve changed so it still makes sense. I really enjoyed learning the Foxy record. I wish I had played on it, obviously, but it kind of took me outside of my own little box that I was in.

DRUM!: Which do you like better — playing new material or the hits?
TATE: I don’t know what you mean by “hits.” [laughs] There’s something to be said about the excitement you get from the crowd with older songs, but man, playing that song that’s on your first record that you’ve been playing every show for the last ten years gets a little boring.
THAXTON: Yeah, but if there’s that moment where you can hear people singing the song back at you, it makes it more exciting. That doesn’t get old to me. That always feels good.

DRUM!: You guys all play to a click track live. Do you like it or do you view it as a necessary evil?
THAXTON: I thought I’d hate playing to a click live, but I love it. I used to hate seeing a recording of us playing and everything was way too fast. I like knowing that’s not happening.
McVEIGH: Yeah, no one in the band can look back at you and yell, “You’re playing the song too fast!” [laughs]

DRUM!: Do you match the tempo of the recording?
THAXTON: We bump it up a hair. It’s generally, like, two bpm faster.
McVEIGH: Same here. It’s all about how it feels to us when we’re in the room practicing. I’d say on 99 percent of the songs I play to a click. We do a Misfits cover that I don’t play to a click. That wouldn’t be too punk rock. [laughs]
TATE: No one else in my band likes the click, but I love it. It’s become so second nature now that I don’t even listen; I just know I’m on it.
McVEIGH: You only really notice it’s there if you fall off coming back from a fill or something. It’s kind of this thing that’s always going on in your ear, but you don’t even really pay attention to it.
TATE: It’s tricky with sequenced parts, though, because if you’re one beat off and a vocal line comes in late … That makes me really nervous. But I try not to think about it.
THAXTON: [to Tate] Does everyone in the band hear click in their ears?
TATE: Oh, yeah. I make ’em. You?
THAXTON: Yeah, because some guys aren’t exactly great with tempo. [laughs] Any time there was a moment with no drums I would sit there and count it out.
TATE: Yeah, if there’s like 30 seconds of just guitar or something, I want a drink of beer — I don’t want to sit there counting off for some other doofus. [laughs] Plus, you don’t want to hear some dude hitting his hi-hat to count off songs. It just sounds so much tighter if everyone’s on it.

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