Hannah Ford: The Princess Ride

hannah ford

Ford's 3rd Eye Girl Setup

Drums Gretsch USA Custom (Piano White with Gold Sparkle Inly and Gold hardware)
1 24" x 18" Bass Drum
2 20" x 16" Bass Drum
3 14" x 5.5" Snare Drum
4 12" x 7" Snare Drum
5 10" x 8" Tom
6 12" x 8" Tom
7 14" x 14" Floor Tom
8 16" x 16" Floor Tom

Cymbals Zildjian
A 14" A Rezo Hi-Hat
B 8" Z Hybrid Splash
C 17" A Rezo Crash
D 10" Z Hybrid Splash
E 18" A Rezo Crash
F 21" A Rezo Ride
G 22" A Swish Knocker with rivets
H 19" Z Hybrid China

Electronics
I SPD-SX pad

Nitty Gritty Girl Band

Besides reading, rudiments, and technical abilities, Ford’s keen eyes and receptive ears are essential to her reactive drum approach. Much of this skill was forged with her four years of study with noted instructor Paul Wertico at Roosevelt University (she also studied with Wertico privately for two years before enrolling.). “I love to say this about Paul: He really makes you feel comfortable outside of your comfort zone,” Ford says. “He pushes you to do things you wouldn’t normally do but makes it feel natural. Things like putting towels on your drums throughout your solo or putting your feet on the snare drum.” She recounts a performance where Wertico suddenly threw a large black tarp over himself and began soloing underneath so only the swishing of the fabric was audible. “Just really random stuff. [laughs] So he would really encourage me to think of drumming as more than just time keeping.”

With the 3rd Eye gig, there are nuts-and-bolts things that Ford has adopted into her approach at the urging of Prince. “There’s one technical thing he really likes [and that’s] for the hi-hat to be consistent and even strokes where normally drummers tend to put accents on the downbeat, and almost ghost note the upbeats on the hi-hat. I had to train myself and make it become muscle memory. But there are also certain songs where that doesn’t fit, but for the most part, like for funky stuff, he really likes that consistent hi-hat to be there because it sounds better. That’s something I never even thought about all the way up until playing with him and I was like, ’Whoa, man this is so cool!’ It makes everything come together and it sounds so much better and I totally would have never thought about that just because of how I naturally played the hi-hat. That’s something I also had to get used to because it requires a lot of forearm support for the even strokes rather than a looser wrist technique.”

Too chops-intensive for pop; too slick and consistent for funk; too straight ahead for jazz. Nailing the sort of player Ford is cannot be summed up in a catchall phrase. Her setup reflects this with a double pedal on a single-kick setup plus a smaller second bass drum on the far right operated by a slave pedal next to her main one, à la Stanton Moore. “I just kind of slide my foot over to the next pedal whenever I want to use the auxiliary bass drum, and it’s just kind of for a little flavor,” she says. “Just on certain sections of songs for a different sound and different bottom.

I don’t use it all the time. I tend to stick to my 24 [inch]. But every now and then that 20 gives it a little oomph.”

On the straight-to-board mix DRUM! heard from last night’s set, Ford’s use of double bass is spare, mostly as a way of accenting at the end of groups of phrases. Sometimes when doing bass drum doubles she’ll alternate strokes between her main bass and the auxiliary one. “I haven’t really been doing that recently because it tends to sound, I don’t know, it just doesn’t always work. But in solos and stuff when I’m not [the one] keeping the band together and I’m just kind of just playing by myself it sounds pretty cool because it’s almost like a stereo effect. But as far as a player and how I use double bass, I use it more as an accessory. I use it a lot more in this band because it’s such a heavy rock band, but I don’t go too wild with it. I can get down to metal every now and then and some days I want to blast Shadows Fall and all kinds of crazy metal, but for the most part I tend to keep it simple. But when I do [add double bass] it totally adds like a whole new level of excitement.”

The pressure of playing for the cameras is a whole other element that’s been ramped up with this gig. On a recent performance on Jimmy Fallon just minutes before going live, the show’s producers changed her setup to two bass drums with single pedals instead of the double-pedal/single-bass configuration. “Especially doing it after sound check was a surprise,” she chuckles. “It didn’t alter the playing or anything but it was just one of those last-minute decisions like, ’Hey, let’s add another bass drum to show off the 3rd Eye Girl logo [on the resonant heads].” She’s since added a third, but only for show.

As a brand-new band with its own feel and identity, there was no previous Prince drummer Ford could use as a reference for the 3rd Eye gig, but she could not, at least subconsciously, help but think of the drummers that preceded her, such as Sheila E. “I’ve been familiar with her playing for a long time,” Ford explains. “In high school she became one of my favorite drummers. Years later I’m getting this call to come play for Prince and two of my favorite drummers had played with him.”

It wasn’t as stressful to follow drum stars such as John Blackwell and Sheila E. as you might think. Because 3rd Eye is a whole new trip for Prince, there are really no shoes to fill. A slavishly faithful approach doesn’t work with an artist who constantly reinvents himself. “It’s really easy to allow yourself to fall into comparisons and people are going to do that anyway so there’s no point in allowing yourself to do that. It’s unhealthy and I really wanted to make sure that I didn’t lose myself,” she explains. “He called me to the gig and that meant that I had something that he hadn’t seen in other people. I wanted to make sure that I really stayed true to myself [in the audition] rather than trying to add anything that I thought might increase my chances of him wanting me to play.

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