Jordan Burns: School of Hard Knocks
By Andrew Lentz Originally published in DRUM! Magazine’s November 2009 Issue
Injuries are a way of life for drummers. So when Jordan Burns, drummer for metal-punks Strung Out, fractured the tip of his thumb while playing in a preproduction session two days prior to entering the studio to record Agents Of The Underground, he did not fathom the mind games it would play on him.
It’s 40 minutes before show time, and we’re sitting in an RV parked behind Santa Cruz, California’s iconic music venue The Catalyst as he recounts the misadventure. “I could talk about all the things that were said back and forth,” Burns says, ensconced in a beige velour swivel seat. “It caused a lot of drama and head trips for me. Let’s just go with that.”
In order to stay on schedule, the band unanimously decided to hire another drummer to lay down scratch tracks, but they had to pick one quick. On a tip from Agents’ producer, Cameron Webb, they went with Jarrod Alexander (A Static Lullaby, Death By Stereo) for the job while Burns’ thumb healed.
“It was one of the weirdest things ever to sit back and watch this guy I didn’t know practice with my band and record in the studio,” he recalls. “I had a hard time not saying anything while he did his best to quickly learn the songs as well as my parts I previously laid down in preproduction recordings.” Unfortunately, those preproduction tracks were recorded in 2-track stereo, which meant that the band couldn’t isolate Burns’ drum parts to use as scratch tracks during the recording.
As soon as the other bandmembers finished their parts, producer Webb would subtract Alexander’s drums so that Burns could punch in his tracks at a later date, but the die was cast. “I had certain sections I had already figured out that I had been playing previously that I thought were killer where those guys ended up playing it a different way because they had now played it differently to Jarrod,” he explains. “And now instead of them matching me, I had to match them, and sometimes Cameron had to really stick it to me and say, ‘Dude, no. You’re going to listen to the guitar here and see that what you’re doing right now doesn’t work. You’re going to have to create something new.’” Burns always ended up agreeing with Webb in the end.
Historically, when tracking, Burns doesn’t hear the vocals until they’re on the album. This time was different, as he heard the band as a whole, which offered a new rhythmic perspective for how to track, such as when to back off, or add a fill, and so on. The experience of tracking drums at the end was so enjoyable he wouldn’t mind doing it again for the next Strung Out album (preferably without injuring his thumb). “I learned that both Chris Hess from Hoobastank and Tommy Lee tracked drums last on their recent recordings, and it just gave me even more positive reinforcement that this would work out to be a great thing.”
Heading into The Catalyst, we walk past a practice-pad kit with a double-pedal setup, which Burns had been treading away on furiously when I arrived. He used to rock two bass drums, but that kit — along with the rest of Strung Out’s gear — was stolen in 2007. At that moment his tech, Metal Bob, pulls the double pedal off and goes inside where he’ll hook it onto a Silver Sparkle 6-piece Mapex kit waiting for him on the riser. In Strung Out’s scene, twin pedals are the shibboleth that separates the real punks from the posers — or so the myth goes. “A lot of drummers always want to know if you are you using it for the double-time punk beat and the answer for me is no. I use it for more intricate fills and beats, like what a double kick drum should be used for. I don’t use my double bass pedal as a cheater pedal. All my punk beats are all played single foot.”
It’s a key distinction for Burns, whose signature fills incorporate a floor-tom stroke alternating with single foot on the bass, which frees up his left hand and foot to do other things. It’s a trick he’s been using ever since his drum teacher taught it to him at age 15. “He was playing that pattern on this crummy kit and it sounded like a huge kit with double kick.”
About the closest Burns gets to formal instruction these days is jamming with good friend Dean Butterworth, his first choice as the substitute during the recording of Agents, but the Good Charlotte drummer was too busy. Another drum buddy is Glen Sobel, a studio pro who’s now working with American Idol runner-up Elliot Yamin, among others. “Most of the time when we jam I’m just watching what he’s doing because he’s unbelievable. I’d say he’s about the best drummer I know, though Dean Butterworth is pretty much on that level too.”
Strung Out has always used a click in the studio, but lately they have incorporated it into practice sessions, and have even discussed using it live. Such an addition would be welcome if only to put an end to the stink-eye from certain bandmembers. “Our guitar player Rob [Ramos] is king of ‘the look,’” Burns says. “He’s the one that knows everything that’s going on, so when we’re playing live and I get the look I know something went down there.”
Armed with past nominations from DRUM! and other magazines for Best Punk Drummer, Burns says the accolades motivate him to out-do himself with each recording. “It kind of makes me be conscious of doing my best to stay creative, in further developing my style, and living up to those prestigious readers polls I’ve somehow, with great honor, been included in.”
When asked just what it is that separates him from other punk drummers, he winces. “I don’t know — it’s nothing I really want to over-think. You just want to roll with it and be stoked so many others appreciate your playing.”
Band Strung Out
Current release Agents Of The Underground
Birthplace Los Angeles
Influences Neil Peart, Paul Bostaph, Brooks Wackerman, Tommy Lee, Jordan Samolesky, Ilan Rubin, Tommy Aldridge
Web site myspace.com/strungout; strungout.com
Accessories DW Pedals, Danmar Percussion, Cadence Academy Warm-Up Sticks, Protector Cases
Pro-Mark Stick Wraps