Dan Trapp: Thrashing The Cradle

By Robert L. Doerschuk

It’s not like Dan Trapp’s parents hadn’t been warned. “I’d been telling them for years, ‘You know, if this ever happens, you’ve got to let me go,’” the young drummer with Senses Fail explains. “And my dad was always like, ‘Well, show me the record contract and we’ll talk.’” >>

The topic was Trapp’s determination that nothing would get in his way if rock stardom beckoned – not family, not school, not even the prospects of idling through adolescence in northern New Jersey. Of course, dad probably felt the odds were on his side. After all, how many kids wind up on the road, wowing audiences from Japan and Australia through Europe before they’ve even left their teens?

And here we could almost hear the smile in Trapp’s voice as he remembers the day, shortly before his sophomore year at Lakeland Regional High School, when Drive-Thru Records offered to sign his band. His parents looked over the contract, asked only that he earn his degree or a high school equivalency someday, and wished him luck.

“So on February 11 I signed out of school,” he remembers. “And a week later we were on the road with The Cinch.”

At age 16, Trapp was the youngest member of Senses Fail; bassist Michael Glita, all of 21, was the oldest. Yet already they had spent most of a year morphing from a weekend garage band to one of the hottest acts in Bergen County. With a sound that combined the tight thrash of nü metal with emo lead and harmony vocals, they unleashed a debut EP on ECA, which summoned Drive-Thru like a flare in the night.

Their first album, Let It Unfold You, picked up where the EP left off, with the same raw, rough energy and on-your-sleeve passion. Trapp found his place within the din by playing like – surprise! – an actual drummer in a band, as opposed to a chops factory running at full speed.

Sure, he had technique, which he’d refined through six months of intense study with Steve Hodes. How intense? Let’s just point out that the guy who taught Hodes was Henry Adler, whose students in previous years had included Louis Bellson and Buddy Rich.

The point is, Trapp can fly with the fleetest, but most of the time he plays like a kid who really enjoys being in a group at the peak of its power. He listened to everything, from Foo Fighters and Smashing Pumpkins to NOFX, Goldfinger, and Blink-182 – it didn’t matter what it was, as long as it burned. But as the time neared for their second album, he started thinking, like the rest of Senses Fail, that maybe they should see whether that fire could blaze a few new trails.

And so they dragged a ProTools setup into guitarist Garrett Zablocki’s basement for a writing marathon. When they emerged they had documented the results on demos that were persuasive enough to bring Battery lead singer Brian McTernan onboard to produce.

“Originally, we were shooting to get some huge producer,” Trapp points out. “But Brian was really excited about our demos, and that’s the kind of attitude you want in the studio, rather than having some big shot tell us what to do. Plus, he’s got a great résumé, he’s a great engineer, and he’s really easy to work with.”

McTernan does much of his recording in Baltimore, but for Still Searching they trekked to Woodstock to cut at Bearsville Studios, whose history dates back to the late ’60s. “I’m pretty sure I lived in Janis Joplin’s room for a month,” Trapp marvels.

They showed up ready to play; in fact, they had locked their material down so tightly that much of their week of pre-production could be spent writing and working out more new stuff. With that, they filed into the barn and got ready to roll – analog, of course – tape.

For Trapp, this meant setting up to sound live. “On our last record [producer] Steve Evetts miked every drum and every cymbal, top and bottom,” he says. “We even made a giant kick drum tunnel. The problem is that when there are that many mikes, it presents phasing problems when you get to the mix. With Brian it was more like a live setup: two mikes on the kick, one inside, and one on the porthole, top, and bottom on the toms, hi-hat, two overheads … and that was it. Brian kept telling me, ‘Don’t worry, man. You’ll hear everything just fine.’ And it does sound great.”

The drum setup was basic too, with one exception: the greatest snare Trapp has ever heard. “It was a 14" x 7.5", 10-ply maple snare made by the Maryland Drum Company,” he says. “It cracks, but it’s also deep; it hits you in the chest. I wanted to use it on every song. I even tried to get Brian to sell it to me, but he wouldn’t give it up.”

Sound aside, Trapp’s playing radiates polish and power, a combination you might expect from a drummer twice his age. There is definitely some rocks-off blowing here, especially on the title track, whose double kick frenzy and crisp but precise execution might bring Dream Theater or Meshuggah to mind. But where simplicity and space work better, as on the booming, echo-drenched accents of “The Priest And The Matador,” he’s happy to hold back.

All of which was his ticket to tour the planet through late ’06, at an age where most musicians are still in the first steps of chasing the dream. “When you live this kind of life, people think you don’t have a care in the world,” Trapp muses, the weight of experience in his words. “That’s completely false. You’ve got a lot to think about. You grow up faster. But that’s fine. I’d rather be an old 20-year-old than a stupid, young adult.”