Dan Whitesides: Pumping Power With The Used
Back in junior high school, Dan Whitesides was pretty much a failure, a loser, a nobody with nowhere in particular to go. He couldn’t get a date with the ugliest girl in class. Food servers in the cafeteria laughed at his PBJ sandwiches. And when he tried out for the percussion chair in orchestra, of course, he failed.
“But I still played a lot!” Whitesides says exuberantly. “There was a point when I was in five bands at once and practiced ten hours a day. I would show up before anybody. I would watch DVDs. Everything from Dave Weckl to Tony Williams’ Lifetime to The Mars Volta. I would take what they did and sort of get inspired, really. I would watch or listen to great drummers, and catch the vibe more than what they were actually doing.”
No longer an abject failure, Dan Whitesides is the drummer for multiplatinum selling modern rock band, The Used. The band – which includes guitarist Quinn Allman, bassist Jeph Howard, and Whitesides (who replaced original drummer Branden Steineckert in 2006) – formed in Orem, Utah in 2001. The band has racked up one million or gold selling album after another, arriving at their latest release, Vulnerable.
Whitesides is the kind of drummer your geek orchestra conductor just wouldn’t understand. He plays it in the pocket, not quite polite, but totally foot-falling fast and demonstrative. He’s a classic rock pounder, his drums propounding deep power and warmth, which is also a trademark of his from-the-groin beats. And not confined by tradition, Whitesides plays with machine beats, robo synths, and programmed rhythms as easily as swallowing that PBJ whole.
There are sections in “I Come Alive” and “Hands And Faces” that sound like programmed drums. How did you get comfortable with those transitions?
Live, I just play over the top of it and turn the track down in my phones. In “I Come Alive” there’s a straight up electronic drum section, over which I play on my first tom and some double bass. I play a really quick robotic thing to match the electronic part. I am playing off it; I don’t try to replicate it literally. I try to hit when the electronic snare hits, and in between that I just do my own thing on the kick and snare. Even way back on the second album there are electronic drums. And I just sort of play over it. I play to a click on 85 percent of the songs live.
How did you become comfortable with the click?
Just knowing that I am a spazz and I can speed up any song at any time makes the click a lifesaver. I love playing to a click track and for some reason, it wasn’t hard for me to get used to it. In the studio you play to a click, so coming out live and playing to a click is easier for everyone really. For instance, if a song is at 130 we speed it up to 135 just to get more of a live feel to it. I count the songs off and control my click. I have a pad over there.
You play with a lot of volume and power but also smaller dynamics: cool rolls, things on the rims, you play with great dynamics. How did you develop those dynamic levels?
I honestly think it’s just paying attention to what the song needs and just the feel. I am heavy handed, that’s for sure. And I have a heavy foot too. I’ve been in 30 bands since I began playing. Country to rap to straight edge hardcore to everything in between. I’ve had people in the band say, “Hey, can you just lay back here or there?” I think it’s all feeling. You really have to feel what you’re doing. It doesn’t always call for major power.
Did it help you to play all these different styles?
It opened my mind. For a while I thought like a drummer: “I want to play the craziest things anyone has ever heard.” I want people to look at me. But after a while you realize you have to play what is best for the song. Now I pay more attention to the song, more than I ever used to. And that comes from being in bands that actually have songs with verses and choruses. It’s about paying attention.