As the band’s conductor and metronome, the drummer exhibits more versatility than he or she often realizes, something essential to ensuring a steady paycheck. Roddy explains that this might mean moonlighting at the local drum shop, or coaching budding drummers on perfecting their chops. Maybe it’s running sound or lights for the opening band at the next gig. More daring drummers might take up another instrument, like guitar. Roddy has.
“Learning another instrument is going to kill a bunch of birds with one stone,” he advises. “And you don’t have to be a virtuoso, but you could write. Then, if you can write, that means that you can get publishing credit on the records that you’re on.”
Roddy penned a book, The Evolution Of Blast Beats, in 2007, and recently released a companion DVD on extreme-metal drumming. As a child he learned the ropes of recording and production early on from his family in Columbia, South Carolina, where he practically grew up in a recording studio. His brother played guitar; his cousin was a bassist; mom played piano; and Roddy’s father, a singer and guitarist, charted a country hit in the ’80s. Randy Roddy was determined to keep music in the family, and bought five-year-old Derek his first kit.
“I beat the s__t out of everything in the house, and my dad figured it was a good idea to maybe put some drums under me,” Roddy laughs. It was. He learned his first licks from Donna Summer’s disco records, and later embraced Southern-rock fixtures like Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Though he’s hailed as one of metal’s drum gods, Roddy honed jazz and Latin chops years before he discovered and then reset the bar for blastbeat playing.
By nine, Roddy was performing with his brother — twice his age — at the clubs around town. In high school he joined thrash-metal band Deboning Method, and would spend the next two decades backing an assortment of groups, including Hate Eternal, Malevolent Creation, and Nile.
Sometime during the late ’90s, between struggling to find consistent cash and secure work, Roddy discovered that no drummer had ever tackled the extreme-metal style at any clinic he’d attended. Once he quit the road, Roddy was determined to become the first. While these regular clinics afford him the chance to play while educating up-and-coming drummers, Roddy’s lifestyle requires doing much more to feed the beast.
“People aren’t thinking about this stuff, so that’s part of my quest, is to find out what it is about people that makes them not want to learn how to do a bunch of different things,” Roddy says. “Learn another trade. That way you can kind of do both. For me, it’s breeding snakes.”
It’s hard enough to spot a snake these days, let alone catch one. Florida’s insatiable appetite for perpetual development has sent more species slithering into endangered territory. It keeps guys like Roddy, a reptile lover since childhood, busy in this barren area of Deerfield Beach, sandwiched between the I-95 corridor and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s here where inspiration often hatches, a place near home where the drummer pulls back his long, dark curls, and searches in solitude.
“I can go out and snake-watch for a day, and spend four or five hours outside just walking through the grass and looking under logs and stumps and stuff for reptiles, and putting together an entire album in my head,” he says. “Any snake I find, I stop and look, take some pictures, and let it on its way.”
Yet during Florida’s breeding season (rain rarely falls here between March and June) Roddy keeps as many as 200 or 300 snake eggs in his incubator, located at the other end of his aptly named Aspidities Room recording studio (Aspidities, Latin for “shield bearer,” is the genus classification for Roddy’s favorite breeding species, the black-headed python). It houses everything he loves under the same roof. Most visitors inquire about Roddy’s snakes and miss out on the impressive array of microphones, consoles, and other drumming equipment piled throughout the place. Snake watching and breeding bit him at a young age, and to this day the trade nets Roddy more than half his annual income.
Roddy also allows the Internet to work for him. He makes recordings of his instrumental project, Serpents Rise, available to fans at no charge through derekroddy.com, and offers brief drum lessons via YouTube for $1.99 a piece.
Fans can’t order a T-shirt, says Roddy, which means they’ll usually support your art and come back for more as long as you’re making it available to them.
“I really don’t consider the Internet or free music a problem, ’cause I was never misguided enough to think that I could make my living from playing drums alone,” he laughs. “Up until the last 50 years or so, music was always free,” Roddy adds. “It was something we did for communicating with tribes across valleys, it was what we did to heal our souls when a death of a loved one occurred or when a birth occurred. It brought community. How did we ever think that was going to be different? I don’t care what anybody says, from here on out, music is free. It always was. And I think we were very naive to think that we could capitalize on art like that, something that’s meant for healing.”
While he offers free music, Roddy, 38, appears to be the first and only drummer to engage fellow musicians via an online forum. His Web site offers a home for musicians to wax about their day jobs as tattoo artists, short-order cooks, university professors, and company heads. They swap stories about record-label experiences, trade tips on technique, and even debate the topic of public image. And it gets personal. When forum chatters once accused Roddy’s polo-shirt-and-slacks look of conflicting with the typical metal persona, he retorted, “I’ve never been any different, and if you let a color of a T-shirt define you, I’m not the one with a problem.”