Only a small percentage of drummers are permanent members of an influential band. Smaller still is the percentage who make history in every band they play with. Slash drummer Brent Fitz — a guy who lists Alice Cooper, The Guess Who, and Vince Neil among those he has backed — is loudly and proudly the latter.
Having studied piano at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto from the ages of eight to twenty-four before taking the studio-session path in Los Angeles, Fitz has been affiliated with the Velvet Revolver axe slinger’s solo project since 2010. The kick-ass new Apocalyptic Love, however, marks the first with his recorded drum parts (2010 debut, Slash, featured Josh Freese and Dave Grohl’s parts).
Recorded live to 2" tape, Apocalyptic Love is fresh but familiar pop-metal goodness — think Mötley Crüe and Guns N’ Roses by way of Cheap Trick but with a degree of gravitas. Drumtastic details recalling FM radio’s golden age abound on this set, like the Ndugu Chancleresque sleaze-funk disco thump on “Carolina,” manic punk energy (“Hard & Fast”), counting in the song with drum sticks (“Apocalyptic Love”; “One Last Thrill”; “Crazy Life”), and of course, cowbell (“Crazy Life”). “We were all looking at each other and all feeding off each other, so things like the stick clicks were just as important as the whole song,” he says on the phone from home in Las Vegas. “Eric [Valentine, producer] left those in there on purpose because it just felt right.”
Having played out the material live for several months before heading into Barefoot Studios, in Hollywood, the chemistry with Slash and the rest of the band — billed as the Conspirators and including singer Miles Kennedy (Alter Bridge) and bassist Todd Kerns — was so good that the click track was almost an afterthought during the recording. “The [decision to use] click was song by song,” he says. “In some parts we tempo mapped, meaning if we felt this section needed more energy, maybe the click came up in tempo, but then we ended up recording them and realizing that, ‘You know what? The energy is great, so let’s not use the click.’ There were no rules.”
Perhaps our favorite beat is the ba-bump in the verses of “Anastasia.” The Bonhamesque kick, what Fitz refers to as “slap-back,” is a common enough pattern in rock, but the drummer’s choice to use it against Slash’s baroque fretwork in the verses is sheer genius. “Slash’s riff needed some breathing room,” he says. “I wanted Slash’s part to be busy but I wanted mine to kind of play with it, yet be a little simpler.”
Fitz’s playing on Apocalyptic Love is as diverse in the hands as it is the feet. Take the track “No More Heroes” with its fast hat work. “It’s got a very pop sensibility,” he says of the tune, which used a 28" vintage marching bass for the kick. “Sixteenth-notes are sometimes unconventional in rock, but then there’s Ozzy’s ‘Crazy Train’ — that’s a sixteenth-note pattern, and we all love ‘Crazy Train,’ [laughs] so same idea. I’m just a mishmash of all my heroes growing up, so that’s kind of where that was channeled from.”
If any drummer’s spirit loomed large during the making of Apocalyptic Love, it was Jeff Porcaro. “As I got into his recorded songs growing up it felt to me like he would play a little bit back and it just had so much more effect. Like there would be a section in the song where I would expect a drum fill, but he might not play one, or the actual beat of the song might be a little simpler, and I kind of felt as we were working on the songs that I was utilizing that same technique.”
Fitz distills his drumming influences in chameleon-like fashion yet makes them his own, and they crop up in surprising places on Apocalyptic Love’s eclectic tunes. Busting out licks in this way could only come from a kid secretly worshipping his classic-rock idols even as he was forced to sit at a piano.
But as someone who soaked up all the important music from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, Fitz knows that a timeless rock record takes more than just pocket and power, and he switches gears appropriately on the slow and moody “Far And Away.” “It’s probably the most different of all the tunes because it’s really dynamic,” he says. “And in a rock band, it’s one of those things where it’s kind of a forgotten art to have verses and choruses change in volume, and I’m really conscious of that. We’d just spent so much time with our eyes closed trying to feel that tune.”
It’s not the ’60s anymore, and bands seeking the retro feel of 2" tape have to pay for the privilege. So it helps to know your stuff before you lay it down, as opposed to the modern tendency to write an album as it is being recorded. “We had just enough preproduction time to make sure that we sussed out [nice Canadian-ism, Brent — Eds.] all of our parts and worked everything up, so that we weren’t experimenting the second we were actually recording,” he says. “I’m sure there was a lot of tape used on the record, but there wasn’t a lot of wasted tape.”