Mike Costaney of River City Extension
Hometown: Red Bank, New Jersey
Welcome to the new acoustic revolution. Formed in August of ’07 in Toms River, New Jersey, River City Extension has already shared the stage with Cake, The Avett Brothers, Robert Randolph, Nicole Atkins, and Glen Tilbrook (of Squeeze). The band’s unique instrumentation (which includes cello and trumpet, among other rarities) has enabled the members of River City Extension to fashion a sound that combines fiery country blues with the energy of classic punk rock. The band’s bold debut full-length album, The Unmistakable Man, immediately caught our attention at drummagazine.com headquarters, and is scheduled for release in May 2010.
What is your favorite drum part on The Unmistakable Man?
I really like how the end of “Our New Intelligence” came out. It was a last-minute idea to put a two-step punk beat over a quick 5/8 rhythm. It feels nice when something a little wacky winds up working in the context of a song.
It isn’t always easy to be spontaneous in the studio, while the clock is ticking.
The most difficult part of being spontaneous is keeping both interest and confidence. One is rushed, frustrated, stressed, inspired, excited, tired, and more of that good stuff within the first two hours of studio time — I think it’s only natural to act a little crazy. With that being said, as long as you keep confidence in yourself and interest in the music, you witness a lot of your inner colors.
Did you change your drum parts much throughout the recording process?
Not too much, unless our producer [Eric Sanderson] had a distinct vision. The drum track on “Too Tired To Drink” was changed completely — he threw a bunch of ideas my way, which wound up giving the song a lot more sonic space. I was totally overplaying it prior to recording.
What was it like working with your production team?
I loved it. Eric and [engineer] Pat Noon are really open minded and encouraging. I also trust them, so it’s painless finding drum tones for the album or just shooting around ideas.
How do you and percussionist Nick Cucci divide the rhythmic responsibilities? Do you make suggestions for each other?
He’s a real creative guy, so he winds up coming up with counter rhythms, but we do toss around ideas at practice. When we’re playing we make sure to make as many ridiculous faces at each other as possible — very important.
Do you have to adjust any aspect of your drumming to play with a hand percussionist?
Sure. It’s important to lay back with some fills to give the other percussion room in the music.
Do you have any hand drumming experience?
Nothing serious, I played some stuff in concert band throughout high school. I played the congas on the track “Mexico.”
Why did you play congas on “Mexico” instead of Nick?
When I thought up the beat for “Mexico” I heard the drum kit and congas simultaneously. With the period of time we had to track it, it made sense to just lay it down instead of having Nick drive an hour at 1:00 a.m., learn it, and record.
How much room do you have to improvise on stage?
Tons. I improvise most of my fills and try to throw the newest musical concepts I learn into the songs. Plus, I have a little solo in the song “Something Salty, Something Sweet,” that changes every night.
Do you have a handful of "go-to” licks for your solo in case you don’t feel inspired at a given show?
Yeah, I do sweeps between my rack-tom into some offbeat quarter-note triplets. That tends to fit the solo stylistically. I try my hardest to not think about the solo live until it comes up, though. It kind of blindfolds me — I wind up learning a lot about my playing when I get hit with the nerves and pressure.
What techniques have you learned by listening to or watching other drummers?
I’ve learned 80 percent of what I do from watching other drummers, but I have learned a couple things recently I can point out. I’ve started using a lot more sweeps and linear triplet fills around the kit since I discovered Thomas Pridgen’s drumming. Stuff like footed hi-hat grooves from looking at Steve Gadd and Jason McGerr.
Do you feel perfect time is mandatory in creating a groove?
Perfect time is definitely the starting point for me, personally and whomever I teach. There’s no reason not to reach for a goal of perfect time before you start experimenting with pushing and pulling the beat or changing tempos. However, with bands like Minor Threat and the Circle Jerks, their time fluctuations sound awesome, but that’s a different world.
How many students do you teach?
I only have time for about three students outside of work and the Extension, but it totally helps me. It’s weird when you think about explaining an abstract idea like music to someone who just bought an instrument, but the more coherent one’s teaching style becomes, the more second-nature musical concepts are. It’s like printing information on a different part of the brain.