When Long Island-based emo rock band Bayside tragically lost their drummer, John “Beatz” Holohan, in a devastating tour van accident, few people thought they would endure the catastrophe. But they’ve since persevered through a string of hardships to find success in an already tumultuous business.
After massive drummer turnover, they’ve settled on Chris Guglielmo to fill the big shoes left empty by the tragedy and to push the band to further success. “After the accident,” recalls Guglielmo, “I learned that they were looking for a drummer and I thought that was really cool of them. Most bands would give up and stop playing, and when I found out they were going to keep playing it made me want to really be a part of the band.”
Guglielmo dove headfirst into the new gig. He was already somewhat of a journeyman in the metal scene, and the transition to the more straightforward sound of Bayside took a bit of work and self-evaluation. “I was in a metal/hardcore band before Bayside and it was pretty difficult going from double pedal to a single pedal. I kind of prefer playing single pedal now. I feel like it allows me to be a lot more creative around the drums, rather than relying on the double bass for fills. Plus, I’m a really short guy, and taking away that second pedal definitely gets my hi-hat those 3" or 4" closer to where it needs to be. So it’s a lot more comfortable.
“Playing with a double pedal really helped with how I play a single pedal because I look at it in a different way. I’ll use my floor tom more like an extra kick pedal instead of using an extra foot. It’s a more linear drumming approach.”
Bayside tours incessantly, usually at least nine months of the year. And the hard work has paid off well enough for them to tour primarily in buses, with occasional short van tours sprinkled in. The luxury of the bus allowed them to work on the road while writing their new album, Shudder. “I was definitely frustrated with being on the road and trying to write out these drum parts in my head without playing them on a kit. I had to imagine what everything was going to sound like. I’ve been in a lot of different bands, so that helped a lot, but I was literally playing on my lap, banging on my thighs.”
All that time on the road also allowed Guglielmo to dig deep into his iPod in search of inspiration performed by drumming heroes from his past. “Basically that whole tour I had my headphones on with blank sheets of staff paper, and I’d listen to songs and write down when I heard something cool. Then I’d kind of work that into the songs we were working on. I’d write out fills and other parts and add spice to transitions, stuff like that.
“I started listening to a lot of Bonham and Copeland stuff. I wasn’t blatantly taking things from songs – just getting the vibe they created and listening to transitions and stuff like that. I also listened to a lot of NoFX, Rancid, stuff that really influenced me and made me who I am. It helped me get excited and it put my head in the right place to do this record.”
When it came time to track, things went quickly. After about a month of rehearsing in their practice space, the band headed to California where, in three days, they tracked drums for 12 songs. “I think momentum is very, very important when a band goes to record a record,” says Guglielmo. “Everything flowed well, we did drums really quick, and it was really relaxed. I’m glad we had such a short time to work it out. There was no time to dwell on the different parts and second-guess everything.”
While Guglielmo can nail a studio session, tracking four songs a day without looking back, playing live hasn’t always come as easy. He admittedly suffers from stage fright, which results in a tenseness that causes overplaying and dramatic fatigue. “I do play different live than in the studio, and I feel I play better in the studio. I’m definitely a lot more relaxed in the studio than I am live, and a lot of it has to do with stage fright. I clench up a lot. That’s a big battle I’ve always faced, trying to get myself to relax and not be just a showman but a great drummer. I’m really excited to be at that point where I’m not walking off stage bummed out because I was cramped up and couldn’t hit certain songs the way I wanted to.
“I always thought it was a physical problem. I would stretch and warm up more and more. Now I still warm up, but I also mentally prepare myself before going on stage. I think of when I was a younger kid and how much I would’ve killed to do what I’m doing right now. And I think of my family and my friends who are so happy for me and I try to translate that into my playing.”
Guglielmo is a constant student, always looking to improve what is already a solid, creative palate of rhythm. One experience jumps out to him as a turning point in his drumming life where he suffered possibly the worst insult any drummer could hear. “I once played bass on a friend’s record and he told me I was a better bass player than a drummer. I took it as a compliment, but at the same time I was really hurt because drums have always been my passion. So since that day I’ve made it a point to get better: play to a click, concentrate on my velocity, try to become the most solid drummer, not necessarily the most flashy. It’s something I’m still working on, but I did get a lot better.
“I think it’s really important to be a well-rounded drummer with both the performance and the technical stuff. I want kids to be excited and I want other musicians to be excited, so I’m just trying to find that balance, and I think I’m finally reaching that point.”