Job For A Cowboy’s Jon “The Charn” Rice
If you detect more of a feel-oriented style on Job For A Cowboy’s Demonocracy, credit Jon “The Charn” Rice for that extra bit of human touch. Eschewing sound replacement, scientific Pro Tools quantizing, and the usual by-the-numbers approach favored by most death metal bands (and their power hungry producers), Charn and JFAC did it old school; well, almost. While the band certainly used computers to keep the perfect beast drummer in perfect time, they didn’t follow the typical click track route. Similarly, Charn opted for natural drum tones and sounds. All this anti-machine behavior gives Demonocracy a serious kick to the groin, and on songs like “Children Of Deceit,” “Imperium Wolves,” and “Fearmonger,” 24-year-old Charn smacks down single strokes, bleeds double pedal profundity, and generally rips the heads off your favorite death metal destroyers.
What was the process for recording drums on the Demonocracy and how did it differ from past albums?
Actually, it was a little bit different. Most of the guitar parts for this record were programmed in MIDI in Guitar Pro. Usually most of what we do in death metal is recorded to a click track. But instead I played to the MIDI guitar tracks, which was kind of odd. But it made everything better because I knew the songs and the MIDI tracks never screw up and they’re always in time. So it was nice to play to those and it was a little bit different, but you get used to it after the first song; you fall into it. Otherwise, the recording process was pretty similar to everything I’ve done in the past: mapping out the click tracks, getting takes, etcetera. Anything that needs to be fixed you go in and do it.
You recorded the drum tracks to MIDI guitar tracks; the actual programmed parts and not the guitar parts?
Yes, the programmed guitar parts. It’s kind of odd playing to the synthesized guitar from Guitar Pro. But if you know the melodies and the structures and the arrangements it’s really not that far of a stretch to record to the MIDI rather than scratch guitars.
Did that enable greater precision on your end?
Yeah, and even with playing to the MIDI guitars you have room to work around them and stretch a bit because a lot of the riffs had a little bit of feel to them. Knowing that in advance I singled out those riffs and played a little more loosely around the click instead of being so precise with certain parts. But mostly the MIDI parts allow you to be much more on the click and on point.
After the fact, do the drums sound differently to you when recorded to the MIDI parts?
Yeah, for sure. Because it’s odd, recording to scratch guitars, they are so fast in the studio. There are definitely some parts where you can hear a guitar player speed or up slow down. Afterwards you hear your part and when I played to the guitar parts not the click, I can hear that variance. Playing with the MIDI helped tighten up everything.
You drums sound fat and real, but also very precise.
Playing to the MIDI track tightens up everything in the long run. There’s still feel to it, and you can still hear slight imperfections on the record just because most metal records are quantized and edited and sound replaced everywhere. That drives me nuts, to be honest. I laid the hammer down this time: real tones on the toms and snare drum and minimal editing, I just wanted to capture my performance as opposed to capturing my initial performance and then perfecting everything in Pro Tools.
That’s why the drums sound so fat and the drumming still sounds natural. Why did you initially want to record to MIDI?
It was just a lack of time. We went into the studio with all these MIDI tracks mapped out because our guitar players tabbed everything so they wouldn’t forget their parts. Having everything tabbed out in Guitar Pro and going in the studio, at first they wanted to record scratch tracks, but Jason and I listened to the MIDI tracks and wondered, “Can I track drums to these?” I thought I could. It was just because of the lack of time and the simplicity of it and that I already knew the songs well.
Why does everyone sound replace in death metal and other genres? The computer and the producer seem to have taken over the recording studio.
In the death metal genre, the producers are so Hell bent on having super crisp and perfect sounding records that they look past what the musicians can do. They step into the computer realm where they can do whatever they want to make a record sound absolutely perfect. There wasn’t that element in the records we listened to in the ’80s and ’90s. Those records had that raw aggression and energy, which is removed by sound replacing and quantizing everything and re-amping every guitar. There’s something to be said for going in and capturing a real live performance and having that energy transferred through to the listener via the record. As much as we can, we’re trying to stay away from the whole sound replacement thing, but within reason, just because we want to keep everything clear and precise.
There are producers in metal who think differently, like Kurt Ballou and Steve Albini, some producers are even into analog recording. It’s a difference in mindset with different producers. I am really hoping a lot of the drummers today – especially the guys playing the more modern versions of death metal or metal in general – revert back to working hard to get good tones and crank out good performances on their records.
How did you build up your single-stroke roll technique?
I definitely employ the five-stroke roll as well, just because it has that swingy, groovy vibe when you throw in the double strokes, but most of what I do is definitely single strokes. When I was younger it was more about playing along to records, especially before I joined Job, because I was working on my stamina and trying to incorporate death metal styles into my playing rather than just playing thrash metal or playing to Led Zeppelin. I was trying to build this on top of my foundation, so playing along to Black Dahlia, Metallica, Sepultura, stuff like that, really helped my singles.
Did you go through Stick Control or other books?
Definitely during middle school. And I went to a year of music school at Capitol University in Columbus, Ohio. All through middle school and high school and in college I played symphonic band and marching band and jazz band. The four years of marching band and being the drum captain, that hammers your technique so fast you’re ridiculous. We played matched grip, but I learned traditional grip for jazz band, you need that certain feel for jazz that you get with traditional grip.
You can hear that sense of swing in your drumming, that flow. And what did you do for your double bass technique?
It’s funny, because my dad is a drummer, and he got an Iron Cobra double pedal when I was maybe 11. I got into that pretty young. That allowed me to get the simple eighth-note stuff down really early, and have that ingredient. But the technique aspect of it, I got to that later, just doing it playing along to records and figuring out what works at higher speeds. Above 200 bpm you have to not work from your hips but from your ankles instead.
What advice can you give for integrating the hands with the feet or practice routines?
To be honest, my practice routines are pretty dull – especially as I don’t practice much on tour. And it’s hard to warm-up on tour. It’s hard to transfer the energy from a pad to the stage. Still working on the warm-up. I might play some rudiments or drum corps cadences from Blue Devils. More of what I have incorporated in my playing has come from everything I did in high school with the feel aspect, and listening to music and drummers and incorporating that into my style. Most of what I did is coming from a select few drummers in metal and a few outside the genre. George Kollias from Nile, Derek Roddy. I really like two guys in particular because their styles are so groovy, Kai Hahto from Wintersun, who has this interesting way of integrating his hands and feet, his parts are mind-blowing. And then Martin Axenrot from Opeth, he is taking so much Deep Purple and Ian Paice and these older drummer’s styles and incorporating it into his style. I also liked Buddy Rich, and all the old jazzers, like Louis Bellson. They are more big band, but that was the stuff I listened to in high school. But also Jojo Mayer, and Thomas Lang’s four-way independence. They have their technique down and it’s really innovative, especially Jojo Mayer. He is an alien to me!