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Wengren, Larkin & Drover On Metal

Shannon Larkin

Shannon Larkin

Adapt Or Die?

Before he joined Megadeth in 2005, Drover played with Canadian power-metallers Eidolon for 15 years. It made for a smooth transition to the baroque if somewhat old-fashioned style of Megadeth. When we asked if he feels any pressure to match today’s young speed demons, we could see his eyes rolling from 3,000 miles away. “I’m from the Tommy Aldridge, Neil Peart generation,” he says. “Aldridge was about as fast as you could play back in the day. If you’re looking for crazy double bass and stuff, he was right at the top of the heap as far as I was concerned.”

Today’s bands with their ludicrous speeds are losing sight of the music, he implies. “They go, ‘I can play 250 bpms.’ I only heard the phrase ‘bpms’ like two years ago,” adds Drover. “I really marvel at what these guys can do but I don’t aspire to do any of that because none of that applies to Megadeth, so why would I spend years to master an art form I wouldn’t use anyway? I’m quite content with how fast I can play.”

Larkin seconds that emotion. “The pressure and competitive nature of drumming kind of left [me] when I became successful,” he says. “My thing is if I go into the studio or walk onto the stage, I can play what I want. I’m at the stage where I’m comfortable in my skin.”

But Larkin is game if someone wants to throw down. “If I’m in the studio and somebody said, ‘I want you to do this double bass pattern at this speed,’ I might have to say, ‘All right, give me 20 minutes of practice to get it down, but I can do it.”

Wengren is a bit more equivocal on whether he feels the pressure to adapt. “I am very confident in my abilities; I am very confident in my band and what we do,” he says. “But, you know, I like to be on top of things. Some of these guys today come out and they are just so ridiculously quick, it’s like, is this a human being … ? And then you go out and see them [live] pulling it off. It’s pretty intimidating.”

Metal Does Not Exist In A Vacuum

When you tour the world as widely as Megadeth, you can’t help but have the latest drum methods rubbing off on you. If old dogs can’t learn new tricks, Drover never got the memo, and if he did he’d wad it up and bin it. He recently observed the newer players’ tendency to keep the foot as close to the pedal board as possible to achieve high velocity, whereas for old-school guys it’s always about using a lot of leg to get a similar result. “I sometimes think, How can I play this longer with less effort put into it? That’s kind of where I’ve adapted that to a very small degree.”

Drover has also taken note of that ubiquitous swerving motion on the pedal he likens to a pendulum. The first guy he saw do it was Raymond Hererra, then playing with Fear Factory. “I was looking at him at several shows, and thought, ‘That’s interesting.’ For the new album, there were four or five songs, pretty speedy stuff, and for the first time in studio, I adapted that kind of dancing-on-the-pedal approach,” he says, adding that he practiced the heck out of it before tracking. “The results were quite good; it was quite pleasing.”

For Larkin, it’s not so much that he is influenced by what other players do as he is entertained by it. It’s a constant (and encouraging) reminder that what might seem like an undifferentiated pummel has subtle differences of flavor. “I’ve probably seen all the great metal drummer gods, from David Lombardo to Chris Adler to Danny Carey,” he says. “Everybody’s got some little thing they do behind the kit that is unique. If they didn’t, then they wouldn’t be making records. I’ll think, ‘That guy’s got something, but it’s his something.’ I don’t try to rip it off.”

Wengren, a no-b.s., precision player, is unlikely to be impressed by new-fangled licks or tricks. “There isn’t a whole lot of stuff that has necessarily influenced my playing, but I’m always trying to learn something from anybody, whatever genre. It doesn’t matter if it’s new or old.”

Drummers these days, especially the extreme-metal crowd, treat their cymbal setup like mini percussion orchestra, accenting every other stroke, even playing musical notes. Wengren isn’t busy like that, but he has that tendency more than the other guys in our study. (He’s especially partial to his Sabian Mike Portnoy Signature Stackers.) “Cymbal intricacies like maybe a little hi-hat fill or a little splash accent or something — I like little tasty stuff like that.” The Disturbed drummer’s kit echoes today’s trends in other ways too: “I like everything to be very symmetrical,” he says. “I think it just looks proper to me but also especially from the field perspective. If I’m feeling like doing a cymbal accent on the right, I want to be able to do it in just the opposite position.”

Larkin suggests that if you have a confidence in your style, unique flavors will present themselves no matter what time, place, or gear you use. There was one instance a few years ago when he was loading gear backstage and happened to overhear a certain someone sound-checking. He couldn’t see who it was at that moment but he had a pretty good idea. “As soon as he hit the snare I was like, ‘Wow,’ and before I looked up I knew it was Chad Smith,” he recalls. “It’s the way he hits the drum, and no machine can ever replicate that.”

Mechanics Of Style

One of the most critical issues facing today’s metal drummers is the increasing sanitization and dumbing down via Pro Tools, Beat Detective, and other killer apps. Is today’s climate of increasingly easy-to-use technology fostering a race to the bottom? Or will there be a return to a more innocent time when flubbed notes, stray resonance, and all those other delightful imperfections made it into the mix?

Drover is no Luddite in the studio. Hell, there are bass drum triggers on the upcoming Megadeth record. It’s a first for Drover, who was sold on them after discussing it with the sound engineer. “You want to make the performance on a record as good as possible because it’s something you’ve got to stand by for the rest of your life,” he says. “But having said that, I don’t necessarily agree with making it to the point where everything is 100 percent perfect. We don’t do that in Megadeth. I mean, we’re a pretty organic band for the most part.”

In a refreshing twist, Larkin hates hipster drummers with their stripped down setups and vintage kits bought for way too much on eBay. “There’s always going to be these renaissance movements where everybody’s like, ‘Screw technology,’” he says. “There will always be dudes like, ‘Man, you need a ’63 Ludwig,’ or whatever.”

In any case, he acknowledges you can’t stop recording advances. He respects a producer’s request to slot in a specific snare sound or other sample. Having done session work (Glassjaw’s Worship And Tribute) and drumming in at least one other commercially successful band besides Godsmack, Larkin has long gotten used to being flexible on this point. “But what sucks is when you see a band live and the dude’s up there tapping and they sound like thunder. Then I think he’s used electronics as a crutch.”

Wengren relates the story of his wife’s teenage cousin, an aspiring drummer who, understandably, wants to impress his rockstar-in-law. When the kid finally worked up the nerve to pass along a demo, Wengren was stunned at the overall slickness of it. “I was like, ‘It’s really cool but it doesn’t sound like you,’” he recalls with a chuckle. “Sure enough he got himself a little Pro Tools M-box and they sat in the basement and edited the s__t ouf of it. I told him, ‘It’s cool if you’re trying to be a little more perfect, but you are losing some of the human element of it. You’re losing the rawness of it.’ The younger generation definitely embrace the technology, but I think you got to find a happy medium.”

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