Billy Rymer Of Dillinger Escape Plan

billy rymer

Little Things Count

In the world of high-bpm drumming, volume takes a nosedive as the speed increases. Rymer was on a mission to defy the limits of human biomechanics for his second album with The Dillinger Escape Plan – or die trying. “After doing Option [Paralysis], I knew how I had to hit for this record, for it to translate, and for how Ben [Weinman, guitarist] works,” he explains. “There’s areas like, for example, in ’Understanding Decay,’ I had to make sure those ghost notes would have been heard on that middle section, and they are. But it’s like they’re pulled out a little bit heavier normally than I would. It’s a different technique than how I normally play ghosts but they’re heard and that’s the important thing. It’s more there. You’re going to hear it as it is.” Incorporating lots of snare hoop was another way he achieved cut. “A lot of those are rimshots,” he adds. “The have to be.”

It’s a little bit ironic that the drummer for The Dillinger Escape Plan urges his students to play as slow as possible. “Now, you might ask, ’What do you mean? You play such heavy, loud, fast music. Why would you be practicing soft?’ Just as a vocalist has to expand their vocal range, drummers absolutely have to do the same thing with their dynamics,” he explains. “It’s very important to go as loud as you can and as soft as you can and play everything within the couple of millimeters from the surface, whether it be a cymbal, a snare, or pad.

“Practice everything as if you’re in a restaurant and can’t bother people because they’re eating,” he continues. “When you do that, there’s a series of almost micro muscles that you develop that you’re not even aware of that utilize a specific function. When I would watch old-school Buddy Rich videos I’m like, ’Man, that dude had it.’ Playing so fast and precise and intense and yet be able to do it loud. By doing that, and by practicing soft and doing everything soft, it’s made everything loud that I do more controlled. Try doing a simple beat accurately and groovy at 50 bpm. Seriously, try that. It will drive you nuts.”

Breathing is another technique he emphasizes in his clinics. This yogic concept seems inappropriate for extreme metal. (How often do we see guys at the gym holding their breath while doing squats or lats?) But it’s a habit that any drummer who wants to increase stamina and control should learn to overcome, Rymer insists. “For instance, in ’Panasonic Youth’ [from 2004’s Miss Machine] there is one blastbeat at the very end that I have to breathe through,” he says. “I can’t hold my breath. It’s not going to come out the same.”

Musicians have to think big-picture, obviously, but Rymer’s job pushes him in the opposite direction: Inner space is where he finds the most potential for creativity. “I talk about recognizing the space in between the notes, and what it takes to get to those notes: There’s a kind of bubble around the click where you have freedom. The measurements are so small, but it makes a difference on how things land even though people think, ’Oh, it’s off the click.’ They look [at a ProTools screen] and they see a wave that’s right before the click. But then I’m, ’Okay. How does it sound?’ If it has a pocket, don’t quantize that.”

The Number Cruncher

Arguably the most well-rounded Dillinger record yet, One Of Us Is The Killer is chock full of the usual math-metal damage, a few mid-tempo bashers sporting singer Greg Puciato’s clean vocals, and even bits of EDM-style blurps such as the drum ’n’ bass intro to “Understanding Decay.” First single “Prancer” is particularly vicious. “We have to get the heavier songs out of the way before we do anything catchy,” Rymer says. “We put so much into 30 seconds. There are phrases and micro phrases and then nano phrases.”

Songs start with drum programming with Rymer and guitarist Ben Weiman plotting out exactly what happens beat-wise. Once they settle on the exact patterns, it’s tempo-mapped and gridded out. Only then does the drummer get guitar scratch tracks to start forging the blue print. “Sometimes it’s a total accident,” he counters. “People are like, ’Oh, they must have a formula,’ and it’s so funny whenever we hear that because there is absolutely zero formula to this band.”

Well, yes and no. Once Rymer and Weinstein start brainstorming it’s like a scene from A Beautiful Mind. “The very beginning [of the writing process] it’s Ben and I in a room, ’Okay, ’Now lets take off this first note, put the phrase here. Then it repeats there, but only play half the phrase over there, so the measure splits but it’s kind of similar to the first one,’” he says, illustrating Dillinger’s maddeningly intricate process, which seems random but isn’t really. “But that’s only how it would be with some tracks. I went to Ben with this one idea I had for ’When I Lost My Bet’ where I wanted to do this Glassjaw-meets-Meshuggah thing. It’s the most basic two-over-three polyrhythm – gak-dak-gagga-da-DAK, gak-gak-dagga-da-DAK – but just throwing in Dillingeresque accents. It’s just all these building blocks that accumulate. It can be painstaking but it works.”

Even so, there is still a lot of fusing together of different recorded scraps. “I make no apologies for that,” he says. “There’s definitely a good degree of coming in and grabbing certain things from different takes. I’m not shy about that at all because we want to get the best composite take for the record.”

It might be unrock-and-roll but the upside to the exhaustive preproduction with Weinman back in New Jersey is that the songs were basically done by the time they rolled into the studio in Los Angeles with producer Steve Evetts, who also produced the band’s previous album, Option Paralysis, as well as 2008’s Ire Works. Laying down the Killer tracks was like buttah in comparison. “When we were recording Option Paralysis, I felt like it was a degree of hazing,” he admits. “When we did tracks with [Evetts] before it was like, ’Do it again. Do it again.’ [laughs] I’m still technically the rookie, but this time he wouldn’t say anything and I’d be like, ’Is it okay?’ He’s ’Yeah, it’s good.’ And I’m like, ’Are you sure?’”

Page 2 of 3
Get the How To Tune Drums Minibook when you subscribe to our newsletter