Jeremy Taggart: The Lesson Is Everything
Toronto alt-rock veterans Our Lady Peace found the key when drummer Jeremy Taggart joined the band at a mere 17 years old. While the now-accomplished Taggart has virtually grown up in the group, his wide-ranging style owes much to lessons learned young — and to keeping an ear pointed to the future.
“My father was a drummer in the Toronto scene in the early ’60s,” Taggart says, “and his grandfather led the Scottish drum corps in India. There’s a lot of drums in the history of the family.”
Though his dad gave up playing professionally by the time Jeremy was four years old, mom and pop filled the family’s house with great music from Coltrane to Shankar to The Beatles and Joe Cocker. Jeremy soaked it all in, and at 14 was eager to try his hands on the tubs. Three years into his drumming life, Taggart was looking around for jobs in bands in classified ads and met the Our Lady Peace crew, with whom he found an instant kinship; the group almost immediately got signed to a label, started working on their first record, Naveed (1994), and commenced to tour like fiends.
The band’s eighth album, Curve, finds Taggart exploring new ways to define a signature sound that invariably harkens back to his beloved classic rock trifecta: Keith Moon, John Bonham, and Ginger Baker. These explosive rule-breakers rocked the lad’s world, as did later game-changing studies with Toronto drummer Rick Gratton and an immersion in Gary Chaffee’s Patterns drum book series.
“It was pretty cool to learn at an early age about breaking up bar lines, odd note groupings, metric modulations, and all that kind of stuff, before I could really groove on the drums,” says Taggart. Continually reconceptualizing his craft has led him to studies with Canadian drummers Paul DeLong and “guru” Vito Rezza, the latter of whom Vinnie Colauita calls “the world’s best-kept secret.”
Drawing on the wisdom of the masters gives Taggart’s playing a vision in constant evolution. “In the ’90s we were playing at least 200 shows a year, and I was just pounding through them all,” he says. “When we start as drummers, we act like puppies — we’re so eager to play it so big and bombastic and fast, but the older you get brings a better understanding of what the groove is.”
Taggart’s gear aids his search for that crucial groove — that is, when, like his beloved Ginger Baker, he’s not throwing cluster-note curveballs over the field of time. “Those are little turnarounds, transitions, expressions, and exclamations on grooves; you’re trying to bring some excitement to another part of a song — but that excitement has to exist in that time.”
In his Toronto practice space, Taggart gets a chance to work out ideas largely inspired by his jazz idols, calling the experience “the flow of the way jazz can be, where everything’s happening at the same time.”
“For example,” he says, “a song like ‘Resolution’ by Coltrane on A Love Supreme — the way that Elvin Jones kind of tricks the three-over-four idea just to give motion. It’s a perfect example of how far you can take things.”
He calls his practice sessions exercises in “extreme time.”
“But even if I’m playing a 4/4 pattern I like to practice things that make me feel like I suck, because you always practice your faults. I like to do mundane things as well, like I’ll play slow single-stroke rolls for 20 minutes — it’s a fine-tuning process — and I’ll do limb-independence work and patterns.”
Taggart likes his Craviottos for live performance and played them on most of the Curve tracks. John Oreshnick at Angel City Drumworks in Burbank found Taggart a selection of vintage Ludwig and Slingerland drums to mix-and-match in a couple of songs (“for a true character sound”), and Pearl Jam’s Matt Chamberlain lent him one of his 3-ply ’70s 26" bass drums.
Onstage or off, Taggart uses a round felt beater for his bass drum, which he plays heels-up for extra kick. He tunes his drums nearly wide open, with just a little bit of dampening. Taggart’s stage kit employs no electronic triggers or pads, and he likes to hear the other players in his monitors. “If I don’t have the drums loud in the mix then it’s pretty hard for them to get in the way,” he says.
Taggart feels there was a fresh sonic feel for the drums on Curve, not being tracked as “big” as they were in the past, with Taggart playing more consistently to the room to find more interesting sounds. As always, he laid down click-guided tracks both alone in isolated areas of the studio as well as in the main room with the band.
“Sometimes a song can have such a great feel that you know what you’re going to do; other times it needs to have a groove first and then you put stuff on top. I prefer that we’re all playing together, because there’s more energy in it.”
It’s been a heady 20 years for Our Lady Peace, and a master class in drums for Jeremy Taggart. And, he says, he’s just getting started.
“I was able to experience music from a very cool perspective. Being 20 years old and playing with Van Halen on their 1995 tour was amazing, to sit behind the drums every night and watch Alex play. And opening for Page & Plant, that was amazing, too — the late Michael Lee was an incredible drummer.”
Maybe best of all was Taggart’s friendship with Elvin Jones, who’d guested on the band’s Happiness ... Is Not A Fish That You Can Catch album.
“And he gave me one of his ride cymbals! It was the ultimate, getting to know that kind of a genius. He’s a classic example of the possibility there is on this instrument.”