“With this record we’d record maybe two versions of a song, then listen back,” Cameron continues. “I’d make decisions whether I needed to add something, or if a bass drum pattern wasn’t working. It’s normally about altering the bass drum pattern for me. That’s the main thing I need to think about or change up somehow. Maybe there’s one upbeat that isn’t right or I am playing too much. Whatever the case may be that’s normally what gets changed. You have to trust your gut in that situation. In recording you have to trust your instincts. And completely go for it.”
Cameron’s Soundgarden Setup
Drums Yamaha Oak Custom (Musashi Black with maple hoops)
1 24" x 14" Bass Drum
2 14" x 6.5" Gregg Keplinger Custom Snare Drum
3 12" x 8" Tom
4 13" x 9" Tom
5 16" x 14" Floor Tom
6 18" x 16" Floor Tom
A 15" K Light Hi-Hat
B 17" K Dark Medium Thin Crash
C 18" K Crash Ride
D 22" K Custom Medium Ride
E 19" A Custom Projection Crash
F 20" A Custom Rezo Crash
Matt Cameron also uses Yamaha 900 series hardware and a Yamaha 9500 direct-drive single pedal, Vic Firth Matt Cameron signature sticks, and Remo heads (Emperor Clear, toms; Emperor Coated, snare; Powerstroke Clear, bass drum).
Does he leave more space in the groove these days?
“That is something I am striving to do as I get older – not play as much bass drum, and have the snare and the cymbals be a little bit brighter element in my drumming. I have always been bass drum heavy. I lead with my right foot, for sure, that is a big part of my whole drumming style. So I’ve been trying to take away that element just a little bit. But it’s super important to make sure that at least one downbeat is hit when you’re entering into a weird bar of five or seven. I’m thinking about that stuff but it obviously depends on the music. I’m normally trying to pull something off, so I’ve got some weird idea floating around in my head. If not, we’ll just try it again.”
In the majestically forlorn “Black Saturday,” what sounds like bars of eight, six, and seven cycle like vultures flying overhead, dead meat on their minds.
“That’s like a bar of seven and a bar of six in the main riff.” Cameron pauses. “Oh, no, it’s a bar of six and a bar of seven and bar of six then two bars of four. That’s how the main riff cycles. That’s a Chris Cornell song. The way these guys write is completely unorthodox. It’s totally guitar driven, they’re all three guitar virtuosos. There’s always something interesting happening in a Soundgarden song. We’ve really kept with the tradition of the band and the types of songs we’ve naturally done over the years.”
“Rowing,” King Animal’s final song, features a sleepy drum machine groove, something like a ’90s drum ’n’ bass loop recycled, slowed and peaking through Soundgarden’s black-hearted muck and mire.
“I did that on a Korg Electribe drum machine,” Cameron explains. “I put one of my patterns in there, then just slowed it down and added percussion on top of that. That was fun, the first foray of drum machine in a Soundgarden song.”
When the original news of Soundgarden’s reunion hit the airwaves, rumor had it that the band would tour, but not record. Cameron had other ideas.
“We played a couple gigs, then it was my idea to focus on a few months of songwriting, then a few months of recording,” he explains. “We made it happen, everyone committed, and it was the right decision. My interest in the reunion was to do new music. I didn’t just want to play the same songs we played 20 years ago. I wanted to see if we could add to our legacy, and the fact that we always made such cool records together, that’s what really got me interested in the whole process again.”
While touring, Cameron kept limber working out on a practice pad or playing to Soundgarden songs in the dressing room. Anything to keep his hands and fingers loose. Back home he continues to practice, and he doesn’t take it easy.
“I’m working out of a book called Wrist Twisters by Elden ’Buster’ Bailey. It’s crazy difficult: crazy stickings, weird patterns, ten variations for each pattern, and it’s all rudimentally based. I do an hour every other day on my Vic Firth pad.”
When I remark that Cameron is essentially faceless, a true musician’s drummer, he gets all happy.
Watch Cameron on video or in concert and he is faceless. Head down, arms flailing but controlled, he’s the non-rock star drummer, the antithesis of the long hair flying, voluminous pounder of the skins. Matt Cameron is subtle. Matt Cameron is cool. Most importantly, Matt Cameron is a musician.
“I would be happy to have all my cymbals flat up in front of me where I can’t see anyone!” he laughs. “I wouldn’t mind doing that. I love being back there with my drums and my band. I don’t always need an audience but I certainly appreciate the audience.”
Like some vanishing breed of artiste, like the grizzled men who carve angelic faces in the exteriors of Gothic cathedrals, or those skilled workers who learn a craft handed down generation after generation, Matt Cameron is ultimately a craftsman. Proud of his work and ever evolving, he understands his role, and glories in it.
“I am totally a craftsman,” he exults. “I am so old-school in that sense. I love trying to achieve art when I make hard rock music, but I know at the end of the day there is so much of a workmanlike element involved that has to be there. You can’t go 1,000 percent creative the whole time. You have to go out on the road and play it straight sometime! You have to do the work, man. I’ve never been afraid of work. That’s a huge part of my success.”