Jose Pasillas: Sinking Back Into The Beat
Machine-assisted or not, little deters from the sheer luxuriousness of Pasillas’ pocket. From the pulsing shuffle of ‘Thieves,’ to the Stewart Copeland–styled groove of ‘The Original,’ the super funk of “Switch Blade,” and the album’s most aggro track, ‘Adolescents’ (propelled by sweltering open hi-hat work in 6/8), Pasillas’ power and groove are impossible to deny. And unlike his concert work, which is exclusively delivered on his DW kit, Pasillas followed O’Brien’s directive to use the producer’s classic 1960s kits, including some Black Beauty snare drums, and cymbals so ancient and weathered their brand names were worn off.
“We usually record the body of the kit — usually a 22" or 24" kick, a 10" and 12" rack tom, and a 14" and 16" floor tom,” Pasillas explains. “They stay the same for the majority of the record and then we’ll change out snares and cymbals. Snare drums get changed from song to song. I am not even sure what they were — a couple Black Beauties, some 3" x 15" snare, a no-name beat-up snare from the ’60s. There’s no names on a lot of his cymbals, too, but they just sound good.
“When it comes to live, I am in control of everything I am playing. That’s a different world. I recorded a couple records this past year with my DW kit for a friend’s project, but it’s a more contemporary sound. Using these old drums, you get this old warm wood sound. We like that plush sound for our records.”
And of course, back in Calabasas, Pasillas’ personal kit fills an entire rehearsal room, where he practices to music of every era.
“I have my DWs upstairs, where I play all the time,” he says. “I play with my iPod, a freeform jam. I shuffle with what comes up. Could be Gypsy Kings, Fugazi, Jackson Five, Jamiroquai, Jay Z, Jeff Buckley, Led Zeppelin, Louie Armstrong. I have a DW tour kit set up and a stripped-down 5-piece, the classic kit from DW that emulates an old Ludwig kit from the ’70s. I do focus on technique, and sort of break down parts I need to work on — a little bit of everything. Or I work on rudiments.”
In Pasillas’ 2006 DRUM! cover story, he revealed some studio tricks he used to achieve certain sounds. Layering drumheads figured prominently into his fat, cushy snare drum sound.
“That’s a staple,” he says. “I will get a bottom snare head and cut it in half. Or I will cut a ring. I put that on the top head and it changes the sound. The stick lands on the regular head, not the extra head. I don’t tape it down. I even do it live. I will take half a head and put in on my snare. It slaps around sometimes and if I’m not watching I might hit it and it will fly off. But just being conscious of it helps avoid that. I’m focusing on hitting the drum in the right spot. It dampens the head a little bit, makes a thick sound. A lot of funk drummers from the ’70s would put a towel on the snare; it has the same effect. Putting a towel on it dampens it like crazy. But it’s a different sound. Those snare sounds from the ’70s are big and thick and that’s a lot of it. But we did that on a quarter of the songs. It’s those little tricks to find a different sound for a part, but not completely different and drastic. We’ll add a dampener, maybe put a tambourine on a snare drum. I play rimshots most of the time.”
Unlike some mid-height drummers who might prefer to look over the kits, and perhaps raise their visual stature, 5’ 5” Pasillas goes as low as possible, even castrating the legs of drum thrones to place his center of gravity practically on the floor.
“When they send my seats we have to cut them down,” he says. “When I record, usually we will have drums carted, and I always leave the set however they’ve left it. It’s never going to be my own kit. And I can pretty much play any kit comfortably. I just play it the way it is. I am always going to be uncomfortable on another kit. I can’t set them up the way I have my DW kit. My kit is so low; I have a custom seat, so nothing’s ever going to match my DW live setup. Playing live I wouldn’t be comfortable playing a set that’s not mine. But I can record a record with the way they set up the kit.”
But when recording, doesn’t he want to dial it in and make it as perfect as possible? Not adjusting a kit to suit your physical requirements seems like creating unnecessary obstacles.
“I’m comfortable,” Pasillas replies. “I can play a set like that and be totally cool. It’s this personal challenge to conquer [the drums] anywhere I’m sitting. I look at it like that in the studio, too. If there is a cymbal I can’t reach I will move it. If there’s a tom that’s too flat I will move it. But I don’t spend a lot of time moving the drums around.”
Pasillas tilts his snare drum to get a rimshot, and though he sits low, he generally uses a heel-up approach on the bass drum pedal.
“If I am playing soft, it’s heel down,” he says. “But our music is pretty hard-hitting usually. To get the drums to sound right you need a certain amount of force. I am not playing heavy handed but I am putting some force into it. ‘Anna Molly’ was smashing. ‘Adolescents’ is the most aggressive song on the record. There I am using some force cause I am really into the song. But it’s not killing it. None of these songs called for smashing down.”