Jason Sutter: Rise Of An American Rocker
If you ask Sutter about other drummers he was inspired by, you’d best be prepared for a list that goes on for miles. But that’s cool – it’s nice out here by the pool. “I was really influenced very young by Ozzy’s drummer, Lee Kerslake, who was super underrated. And then Tommy Aldridge did Ozzy’s live stuff, and it’s ridiculous, this double bass playing. Of course, Bill Ward with Sabbath for the same reasons – he’s really raw, it was passionate, and it was just so accessible to me.”
He singles out Phil Collins as another drummer with a highly individual approach, and a drummer not generally credited for his wicked chops. “He’s one of the guys who could play on any drums and it would sound great. People will complain about his time or whatever, but they’d be missing the point – it’s the sound and the swing that he gets. That Brand X cut ’Nuclear Burn’ is still one of the sickest fusion grooves – no one’s touched it. Sometimes I’ll be doing a sound check with Manson in some arena and I’ll pull out that beat just for fun, and I’ll never know how to play it like he does.”
But then, rocker Sutter had early on widened his palette for a vast array of musical modes, figuring rightly that he had at least a little something to learn from all of it. “I started studying jazz and I got really into Art Taylor, on the more traditional side, which I could relate to. And then I got really into Jack DeJohnette, which kind of messed me up, because there’s no way I could ever play like Jack DeJohnette; I mean, he has such elasticity, he could do a drum solo for 20 minutes and it’s like a symphony.”
DeJohnette’s kaleidoscopic cymbal work made a particular impact. “That’s one of the things that bridged me over to Paiste. DeJohnette devised all these dark Sound Creation cymbals that he used on everything, like that 22" China. Another drummer I really obsessed with who used those same cymbals was Al Foster, who played with Miles Davis on records like Man With The Horn and We Want Miles, great amalgams of heavy metal meets jazz. Miles didn’t want Al to swing at all, but the dude has the most amazing swinging feel, and everything else was so creative; he would do a whole blues on a splash cymbal – Who’d have thought of that?”
He cites Tony Williams as the blueprint for a long line of later jazz and rock greats. “It’s funny, but these dudes who have this kind of crazy chop feel, turning everything on its side and the beat is coming out of a place you’d never imagine it coming from, their inspiration is Vinnie Colaiuta, and Vinnie’s inspiration was Tony Williams. It’s just Tony Williams all over again.”
Matched Grip Is For Monkeys?
If it’s not clear already, Jason Sutter is a rock drummer: So what the hell use is traditional grip to a powerhouse pounder like him?
He laughs. “In college it was always a joke: ’Matched grip is for monkeys.’ Which is hilarious, because you’d never hear that now. I’d say 80—85 percent of all drummers play matched. But when I started studying jazz, I started getting into the traditional thing. Then when I got to college I got really heavily influenced by drum line and drum corps, again for the reason that I never had that growing up. I would play ’Yankee Doodle Dandy’ around the center town for Memorial Day once a year and that was it.”
From back in the day and on up to today, Sutter has been intrigued by the rudiments of drumming. “Drum corps was a mystery – I didn’t know what it was. And when I got to music school in North Texas, it was such a big deal there, and I realized I don’t know anything about this, and I became so involved. It was all traditional playing, and I literally still have calluses from the amount of time I held a marching drum stick in my hand.”
At North Texas, Sutter became totally obsessed with drum corps playing, focusing entirely on how to play marching snare drum. But when he got out of college he realized that trad grip is not the nicest thing to do to the top of the hand. “It won’t take the abuse; it won’t callus; it’ll always crack,” he says. “I practiced all the time, and it was just always bloody and open on the top of my hand between my thumb and index finger. But with matched grip, the calluses form on the inside of your hand.”
He does still play traditional occasionally, mostly for brushes, because it feels comfortable for him to be able to get that kind of side motion with his left hand. And in clinics he’ll pull out some drum corps snare drum solos and play a portion of that with trad grip. But it’s safe to say he’s a matched-grip monkey these days.
Keeping The Focus On Rawk
As it is with the move away from trad grip, so too has Sutter evolved as a player in other areas ¬¬– head, hands, and feet.
“I’m at a point where, from studying jazz to playing with Marilyn Manson, and playing in big bands in college like my life depended on it, being able to sight-read and then forgetting it all – it’s this process that just evolves. It’s like you’re always just where you are, at that time, and where I am right now.”
And right now it’s his feet that are fascinating him most. “With drum corps, I spent so much time getting my hands to the pinnacle of where I thought they could be, and it was like, Okay, I’ve seen the best and I’m close, I can rest now. And while I still practice my hands every day, now for me it’s a foot thing: I never really did double bass. Did it for a little bit in high school and kind of tired of it quickly, said I’m going to do it all on one bass drum.”