Chris Burrow of Runaway City Talks Drums
Chris Burrow of Runaway City
Hometown: High Point, North Carolina
Previous Bands: Fighting Instinct
Runaway City formed in a small North Carolina town named Airy, on the outskirts of Greensboro, which happens to be the sleepy little burgh where The Andy Griffith Show was once filmed. Yep, we’re talking Mayberry, folks — but don’t let that fool you. The hard pop sound of the band’s debut album, Armored Heart, conjures images of soaring cityscapes rather than country back roads. Recorded at Synchromesh Studios in Birmingham, Alabama and produced by Jason Elgin (Collective Soul, Terrible Things), Armored Heart moves from huge rock songs with massive anthems and choruses to beautifully melodic rock ballads. The band’s first single, “Fade,” debuted on iTunes in April and has already begun to impact radio, while the album is slated for release in late June.
What is your favorite drum part on Armored Heart?
That’s a tough question! If I had to choose, it’d probably be this really big triplet bass drum fill I do after the breakdown in “Lately.” One of my other favorite parts of the album is the drum pattern in “Daybreak.” The verses are pretty unique and locked in tight with the bass, and it really builds towards the end of the song.
Did you change your drum parts much throughout the recording process?
I actually had most of them nailed down, although we did solidify exact snare/kick patterns so everything was consistent. The other thing we focused on a lot was getting the perfect fill for certain parts, which ended changing a little.
What was it like working with your production team?
It was amazing. Our engineer and producer was Jason Elgin, and I can’t imagine working with anyone else. He always knew how to get the perfect performance from me. He definitely challenged me, and pushed my limits even to the point of me getting a little frustrated — but that’s exactly why it turned out so great!
How prepared were you before going into the studio?
I felt pretty prepared going to Synchromesh this time. I’d been once before with Fighting Instinct, so I knew what to expect. The biggest difference this time was how cold it was! We were tracking in February, and there was no heat where we did drums, so I actually wore three layers of clothes. I really had to make sure it didn’t affect my playing and movement.
Did you record to a click track?
Yes, we used click to track the drums. I've been using click for a few years now in the studio and live, so I'm pretty used to it. It's kind of comforting now, where as when I first started I was scared to death of it.
Did you record your tracks with the entire band or alone?
I tracked drums completely alone, down in a dark basement. It was a really neat environment to record in, but it was just a little creepy.
What's your theory on the role a drummer should play live and in the studio?
I'm a firm believer in playing to what the song needs, and not taking over the song — especially in the studio. When we play live, I try to focus on being clean, solid, and fun to watch. I really think the visual aspect to drumming is just as important as what I'm playing.
The band's songs feature a lot of cool dynamics. Does this influence the volumes at which you can play?
Absolutely. I think getting the right tone out of each stroke is just as important as volume though. A lot of drummers miss this point. It's something I've really tried to focus on and perfect.
Do you play to a click or samples on stage?
We use click and a few background tracks live. I like to run click to my left in-ear, and have a floor monitor to hear the band.
Describe the worst gig you've ever played.
It was somewhere in Kansas, I can't remember the exact city. We went to a local school and handed out a ton of flyers and invited a ton of people out for the show. When it came time for us to go on stage that night, we realized there were literally two people there at the club. It was quite awkward to say the least. We later found out that school had their prom that night!
Do you wear earplugs, in-ears, or monitors with no earplugs?
I like to use one in-ear monitor for my clicks, and then a floor monitor on my right side to hear the band. A lot of people think that's weird, but it works for me!
Do you play your drum parts onstage exactly the same way that you recorded them?
For the most part, yes. My favorite thing to do when I see a band is to watch the drummer and anticipate the fills I hear on the record. It's always disappointing when those huge distinguished fills aren't there live, so I try to stick to what I played on the album.
Do you warm up before going on stage?
I like to get my hands warm, and loosen up before I go on stage. I also dry off my hands a lot, so they're not sweaty when I first pick up the sticks. There's nothing worse than dropping a stick on the first song because of sweaty hands.
Describe the worst injury you've sustained from drumming.
I once punched the hi-hats on accident during the middle of a set. I had a huge gash in my pinky, and was slinging blood all over the drums. After the set, my pants had about a 6" circle of blood when my pinkie had been hitting. That was by far the worst.
Do you mute your drums or tune them wide open?
I like to put just a little bit of dampening on them. I think it takes out some of the small overtones that sound a little funky.
How often do you change heads?
Oh wow, probably not often enough. Right now about every two months, but it just depends on our touring schedule.
Do you do your own tuning?
Yep. I used to dread it because I had no idea how to tune. It's one of those things that is just trial and error. I had to just realize that I'm not going to hurt the drums, and I'm not going to mess them up by trying to tune.
Do you use the same setup on stage and in the studio?
Right now, I'm playing just a custom maple shell kit live. In the studio we used an old ’60s Rogers bass drum, Tama toms, and a Ludwig Coliseum snare. That mix-matched kit was absolutely amazing for recording!
What techniques have you learned by listening to or watching other drummers?
Watching other drummers and touring with other bands really has helped make me a better drummer. I probably couldn't list the specific techniques I picked up from each because I think things just rub off each other when you're around it that much. But the one-handed drum roll freaks me out. I'd love to be able to do that, but I just don't understand it.
Do you feel perfect time is mandatory in creating a groove?
For most drummers, yes. I think there are great drummers who can fluctuate tempo and time, and it works just fine though. Just depends on the situation.
Do you practice when you're off the road?
I rarely am able to sit down at a drum set off the road, other than band practice. I feel like I stay fresh by drumming in my head, with my hands and fingers, and even with my teeth. I'm all the time playing out some beat, without actually being at a set.