Hometown: Okemos, Michigan
Previous Bands: Tribe Of Gypsies, Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden)
Drums: Pork Pie
Hardware/Pedals: DW, Yamaha
Sticks: Vic Firth
The Young Dubliners can be traced back to Los Angeles' vibrant early-'90s pub scene where two transplanted Dublin natives, guitarists Keith Roberts and Paul O'Toole, first met. Assembling a rag-tag team of Irish transplants and like-minded American rockers, The Young Dubliners grew into a pugnacious music machine resulting in their debut, the Rocky Road EP in 1994. The band has since issued six more releases, including its new album, Saints And Sinners. Building a fervent fan base comparable to that of jam band rockers like Phish and Dave Matthews Band, The Young Dubliners have become notorious for the whirling "jig pits" that erupt at their live shows.
Do you have a favorite drum part from Saints And Sinners?
I like what I did on the verses of the instrumental "Saoirse." It's got a cool triplet-derived syncopation that gives the groove a nice momentum. It's a variation of a groove that has been used in a lot on other songs of ours -- a traditional Pogues-esque type of groove. Generally speaking, Irish music is somewhat limited rhythmically, so the challenge is to come up with different variations of the same few grooves. Fortunately, as an Irish rock band, we stress the rock part just as much as the Irish part, so we don't limit ourselves. We're able to branch out and try just about anything, even if it means eventually reining ourselves back in a bit.
Did you change your drum parts much throughout the recording process?
Not really. At the suggestion of one or both of our producers, Tim Boland and Ken Sluiter, I simplified a verse groove, or left a note or two out here and there, but for the most part, I stuck with what I came up with in pre-production. I always try to have a firm grip on what I'm planning on playing, sometimes note-for-note, so that I can enter into the recording process with as much confidence as possible and know that I'm going to nail it in the first three to four takes -- preferably the first or second!
How prepared were you before going into the studio?
Just prepared enough, but barely! In all honesty, I think this was the most rushed I've ever felt when making a record. After being on the road for a large part of the year, we locked ourselves up in a rehearsal studio, and started bouncing our ideas around. Everyone brought song ideas to the table and most of them ended up on the record, but with that said, we wrote the stuff in an absurdly brief period of time -- only a matter of a few weeks, really. It wasn't until the last few rehearsals that the stuff started to gel and then, next thing I knew, I was recording. It was pretty stressful because I really didn't feel that I owned the songs. The whole process was such a whirlwind, by the time we were done and back on the road, we really weren't sure whether we'd made a good record or not. Many months later, when we put the finishing touches on and mixed it, we were all pleasantly surprised at how good it sounded. Listening to it, you'd swear we knew what we were doing!
How long did it take to track your drum parts?
Probably around five days or so. My average is around three songs a day, four on a good day. One song wasn't fully written until later, so I left my drums set up and tracked that the following week. I like doing that, because you've got the bulk of your work under your belt, so the pressure is off and you can just relax and have fun with it. That was the one song -- "Don't Think I'll Love Anymore" -- that I hadn't rehearsed at all. I'd listened to the demo a few times, came in and ran through it maybe two or three times, and that was it. It ended up being one of my favorite drum tracks.
Did you record to a click track?
Yes, all the songs were to a click. I prefer a click because it's one less thing to worry about: I don't have to wonder whether I'm rushing or dragging. The problem is, I'm so used to playing to a click, I think I've become too reliant upon them. I remember reading an article with Kenny Aronoff, where he said something along the lines of "The first challenge is to learn how to play to a click; the second is to build enough confidence to where you can then play without one." I'm still working on the latter!
Did you record your tracks with the entire band or on your own?
A lot of it was with the entire band, but a good deal of the tracking was with just guitar, bass , and drums. There were a few songs where I'd play it through with the other guys and then, if we didn't nail it in a few takes, I'd go back in and play to the click, using the last take, without the drums, as a guide. That way the other guys aren't getting too burnt out. On the song "This Time," we played it through as a band, and then we had a long, head-butting discussion on the arrangement. Eventually, Ken and Tim chopped up our performance in Pro Tools, trimming a lot of the fat so to speak. But this meant that we'd now have to learn the new arrangement as a band, and I knew it would go a lot quicker if I just went in and played along to their new arrangement on my own. But due to that last-minute process, it's probably my weakest performance. It just doesn't sound to me like I own it.
Do you play to a click or samples on stage?
There's usually about four songs in our set that we've sequenced and that I play along to with a click. The rest of the show is click-free; I always use a Tama Rythhm Watch for tempo reference. I really like using a click live because it's a great way to gauge what headspace you're in: If the click feels fast, you're probably relaxed and maybe even tired. This means you should probably push the non-sequenced songs a bit -- play them a little more on top of the beat than what you're feeling. But if the click feels slow, look out! You're probably too excited or nervous and are at risk of rushing. Breathe deep, and lay back! I'm still trying to master all this. Oh, and if a bandmember turns around and says "it's too slow," I say, "The click doesn't lie!"
What's your favorite part of touring?
Coming home! No, seriously, the best part is the music. Once you've been doing this for years -- you've seen the world, done the tour buses, the partying.-- that all wears thin after awhile. What you're left with is a love of playing music. When you have one of those elusive nights when you're in the zone, the band is gelling, and there's that symbiotic, reciprocal interaction with the audience and band, that's when you walk off stage thinking "Ahhh, now I remember—that's why I put up with all the exhaustion, stress, and monotony of the road!
I bet you have a "worst gig" story.
I've probably suppressed the memory! I do remember a time with the Young Dubs at the Vegas House Of Blues where I'd gotten a pre-show deep-tissue massage to my forearms and hands -- big mistake! I then went back to my room and took a nap, but overslept. I awoke in a panic, threw on my stage clothes and rushed down to the venue. Before even getting a chance to warm up, we were on stage. But my arms froze up on me and I could barely play! I had to simplify my parts just to get through the show. I felt like a caveman playing with clubs! All finesse had gone out the window. Needless to say, I now save all arm massages for after the show!
Do you wear earplugs, in-ears, or monitors with no earplugs?
I alternate between Vic Firth Isolation Phones and conventional in-ear monitors, depending on the venue and gig. If the venue is really boomy with a lot of slapback, I like using the isolation phones because they cut out all of the ambient noise and I can hear the rest of the band really clearly without having to crank my mix too loudly. After decades of high-decibel abuse, my ears are hypersensitive, so I protect them religiously at this point.
How much room do you have to improvise on stage?
Probably more than I take advantage of. But, with that said, I try to be as consistent each night as possible, and that comes more easily when you're reproducing the same parts night after night. As far as pop music is concerned, I always believed that a good drum groove and musical, appropriate fills can be just as much a part of the song as the melody. With that in mind, I try to play the same basic framework every night, while leaving room for variations.
How do you stay healthy while you're on the road?
I try to get as much rest as possible, eat healthfully, drink loads of water, exercise when possible, and abuse alcohol in moderation!
Do you warm up before going on stage?
Always, even if that only means some quick rudiments on a practice pad and some brief stretches. But I try to get on the pad for at least ten minutes or so whenever the situation allows.
Have you ever been injured on the road
In all honesty, it's probably been hearing damage. I don't have hearing loss, I've got the opposite: painfully sensitive hearing. It's not just from drumming alone. I know that listening to too much loud music as a kid and all those rock concerts I went to without protection played a large role. But quite a few years ago, while doing one of my first sessions, I had the click too loud in my cans and did some permanent damage, mainly to my left ear. It hasn't quite been the same since, and I now don't leave home without earplugs in my pocket.
Do you mute your drums or tune them wide open?
In theory, I like the idea of letting the drums sing to their fullest potential, but I usually end up sticking a Moongel or a little gaffers tape on the snare and toms. My Pork Pie drums are so resonant, I'd rather mute them a bit myself, as opposed to the sound engineer gating them.
How often do you change heads?
I always go into the studio with fresh heads, and they'll usually last me for the whole session. On the road, depending on how long we're out for, I'll eventually change the snare head. But I can usually get through a whole tour with the same tom and kick heads.
Do you do your own tuning?
Always. Back when I played with Bruce Dickinson, I had the luxury of a drum tech who would do that for me. Nowadays, my tech is also our stage manager/tour manager/monitor engineer. Needless to say, he doesn't have time to tune my drums! That's okay though, I don't mind. I tweak them a little bit everyday, depending on the room, to get them to sound how I like them. Tuning your own drums is a good way for a drummer to stay in touch with their instrument and to play a role in creating your own trademark sound.
Do you use the same setup on stage and in the studio?
For the most part, yes. When in the studio, I like to change my cymbals around, maybe pulling out some darker ones depending on the dynamics of the song, and I'll try different snares too, but it's still the same set up, as far as the amount of cymbals and drums.
Do you feel perfect time is mandatory in creating a groove?
No. As a matter of fact, it's probably mandatory not to have perfect time. If you clock some of the best groove drummers with a metronome, you'll hear their time stray. But when you're just listening to them, you're only thinking about how good it feels. With that said, I'm always trying to play with as perfect time as possible, while, more importantly, trying to make it groove. Mind you, I don't always succeed, but that's what I'm always striving for.