Click Tips From Bittner, Luzier & Larkin

Part 3: Massaging Time

Time, after all, is elastic. The click is a great reference point, but it’s the drummer’s job to give the beat life. One of the biggest mistakes beginning drummers make is to confuse the rigidity of the click for marching orders. “No one cares if you played to a click or not,” says Luzier. “How does the music feel? How does it sound? I hate the fact that today’s music uses a lot of Pro Tools and they lock everything up and the drums are perfect. That drives me nuts, man. I love the feel of it. If you’re meant to push it a little bit then push it. To me, the final record should be human.”

Bittner puts it this way: “There’s playing to the click and there’s also playing around it as well. Those professionals who have played long enough get in that comfortable zone.”

Larkin expounds on just what that comfortable zone is: “If you can play just a little behind the click you can get the funky pocket happening. If you can play right on it it’s good for a lot of pop and rock and metal. And if you can rush the click a little bit, man, it creates the right amount of tension for certain parts of a song, or for pop-punk or punk rock …” he pauses. “… But if it’s real punk rock you shouldn’t be using the click anyway — c’mon.”

Luzier admits this concept of playing around the click was a revelation for him. And during the eight years he played with David Lee Roth, he had plenty of time to get used to the concept. “He wanted me to push the choruses all the time and lay back the verses, so if you solo up the click to my drums there’s definitely some flaming going on,” he laughs. “But in a good way I hope, just to give it that feel or that impression that you’re pushing a little bit, you’re on the edge, you’re playing a little bit more excited, but then the verses you’re laying back. That’s challenging though. If you’re a beginner drummer it takes years to really understand that.”

Shortly after graduating from PIT, Luzier returned as an instructor, and promptly decided to share this little-understood technique with his students. He began teaching a class that specifically emphasized pushing and pulling the click. “I’d get all the students get up one at a time and play. They’re like, ’I can’t play unless I’m burying this.’”

But Luzier urged them to stick with it, knowing full well what awaited them in the big bad world of studio recording. Take what happened during the recording of Army Of Anyone’s 2006 self-titled debut album, when Luzier and Co. had the chance to work with legendary producer Bob Ezrin (of Pink Floyd’s The Wall fame). “Man, he was asking me to do all kinds of crazy stuff,” Luzier says. “Like, ’Push this pre-chorus, but I want you to lay the snare back in the pre-chorus and then I want you to play right on the click in the chorus.’ So now I had to separate my limbs, and that was a real big challenge. I’ve done 75 records and that was probably the biggest challenge of my life.”

Part 4: Show Time

Okay, we’ve heard what happens in the studio. What about the main event? Surely these professionals leave the click at home when it’s time to take the stage, right? Well, if your band is anything like Flyleaf, who opened up for Korn during their recent Bi#%h! We Have A Problem tour in Europe, then your whole band is going to be listening to the click through their in-ear monitors — even the singer. This, of course, is an exception.

A much more common, less-intrusive method is to do what Luzier and Bittner do, which is to use the metronome as a visual reference to keep the show on track. “I have a little [Boss] Dr. Beat up there with me on this tour,” Luzier says. “It just has a little LED lit. I’m not playing to it, but all the songs are programmed out and I’ll just look down at it as a reference and just see, ’Are we in the ballpark or what?’ These crowds are just out of their minds, so your tendency is to push everything, so I really like that reference to, you know, hold the reins a little bit.”

Bittner feels the same way: “What we found was happening live was, you get that adrenaline going and a lot of the times [laughs], Jason’s going in there and playing five or ten bpms faster than the songs. And when the song’s already 190 or whatever, sometimes the guitar player’s like, ’Can we play this at the normal tempo? It’s hard enough as it is.’ And we were also finding that to cut yourself short when you have a short set is really not a good thing to do.”

For two or three years now, Bittner has relied on his Tama Rhythm Watch, letting the little red light guide help him count the songs off. “If I feel it needs to breathe a little bit I might count it a little faster than what the watch is dictating to me,” he says. “But nine times out of ten we usually go with the standard settings.”

In songs with frequent tempo changes, same as in the studio, he’ll simply kill the click after the intro. “But if the song’s the same tempo throughout I’ll leave it on just because I like looking over every once in a while and making sure that either I’m in with the click or, ’Wow, I’ve sped up or I’ve slowed down.’ But 90 percent of the time I’ll look over and I’m on with it, which also makes me feel good. I’ll look over and check the light, and see how my band’s playing, and look over at my tech and smile like, ’Well, still got it.’”

Larkin prefers the actual sound of the click through his in-ears (although tone is everything for him. “I hate the bullet in the brain,” he says, referring to the high-pitched clink sound of many metronomes. “I like the cowbell. I’m all Will Farrell on that one.”) For Larkin, the click is key for syncing up to samples or programs within the show that would be chaotic otherwise. There’s one part in the song “Straight Out Of Line” (off Faceless) that features a dramatic simulation of war, culminating in the arrival of a helicopter on the screen. “I had to start the song the same time every night when this helicopter came up,” Larkin explains. “There’s a part where there’s a break in the song and it looks like the helicopter is firing and pyro goes off on the stage, so it had to be perfect. It couldn’t even be around perfect.”

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