Morgan Rose On The Hotseat
A Sevendust Interview (About Drums)
By Glen Caruba Photos by Rick Malkin Originally published in DRUM! Magazine’s August 2008 Issue
It's 2:00 P.M. and we’re hanging out at a music venue called City Hall in Nashville when the members of Sevendust saunter through the stage door just in time for soundcheck, looking bright-eyed and exuding a swagger that suggests it’s time to go to work.
What happens next is a pleasant surprise. As I stand close to the front of the stage, doing my best to stay out of the way of the crew, each of the five Atlanta-based rockers comes over, introduces himself, sticks out his hand for a “traditional” handshake (does anybody remember that?), and says he’s eager to do this interview. Jokingly wanting to “roast” their anchoring thumper, Morgan Rose, the rest of the band — including rhythm and lead guitarist John Connolly, guitarist Clint Lowery, frontman Lajon Witherspoon, and bassist Vincent Hornsby — soon changes their tone as they reflect on not only Rose’s importance, but the key responsibilities a drummer must possess for a band to succeed.
Other drummers in the band help the groove …
Connolly I started as a drummer in a band called Piece Dogs.
Lowery I played drums in a band called Sirius. I had the hand-painted logo on the bass drumhead.
Connolly It absolutely helps the groove in the way I play rhythm guitar now.
Hornsby This whole band is based on being very rhythmic. Connolly They’re all drum cadences.
Rose For a band like us that grew up listening to bands like Led Zeppelin, the rhythm section is like one big train.
Witherspoon What makes our band so tight is the driving rhythm section. It goes well together with John being a drummer before and Morgan being the drummer that he is — both of the sounds will always meet.
Rose Me and Vin were in a band before this band — it wasn’t the same vibe at all. John comes in with these riffs, and I’m like, I don’t know how to play drums to this. I never really played this kind of music. The easiest way for me to fake through it was to copy what he was doing.
The importance of a solid drummer …
Hornsby A drummer is the backbone of the whole song. It’s the “meat and potatoes,” for sure.
LoweryY I think in our band the drums are very vital. It’s all based on drums. It’s really the heart of what the band is. It’s all about rhythm and cadences. The foundation all starts from drums and rhythm.
Connolly It starts with the kick drum. Usually Morgan says he’s jumping in with us [Connolly and Lowery] but I always feel that we’re locking into the kick drum, so I guess we’re all heading to that same point.
Rose We started off as a percussive train, but there are plenty of songs that we have where guitar, bass, and drums are doing different things. Somewhere three to five minutes into a song we will find a way to [claps hands together] go that way and go off for a minute — that’s our comfort zone for us to be locked in together like that.
Same beat and fills or vary it night to night?Rose Never [play the same each night]. I’ll be up there completely messing around and having a good time.
ConnollyIf we play the same as the night before that means you’re not having a good night.
Hornsby We’ve been playing so long together that when Morgan changes stuff up we all kind of fall into it. We all go there.
Rose Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad, and when it’s good usually it is these two [Connolly and Lowery] and they’ll turn around and smile like something was out of whack, but in a good way. Other nights I’ll do something and I can almost see the disappointment [laughs]. I’m not going to look at them, but it’s obvious that he wants me to look and acknowledge that I did something old-school or lame.
Turn up the kick and snare in your mix!
WitherspoonI like to hear everything, but a lot of kick drum and bass in the bottom so I can feel it. I don’t use in-ears, so I am old-school. I like to hear it raw.
Lowery I’ve got to have hi-hat, kick, snare, and overheads.
Connolly You can not give me anything in the world, but I have to have kick drum!
Rose I use in-ears, so I like to have a balanced mix of everyone, but you have to have a monitor engineer that knows what he’s doing. That’s very important. Then there’s my snare.
Witherspoon You can’t get away from that thing.
Rose I’m using my signature snare from Pearl, and at first I thought it was just a standard snare. I played other snares with Pearl and prior to Pearl that were very similar in makeup but just didn’t sound the same. I love my drum and I think it sounds amazing.
The drummer’s effect on the audience …
Connolly You can tell when the sound translates to the audience because they are in sync with us and what we’re playing.
Hornsby They fall into the rhythm with us real quick if it’s happening.
Connolly If that rhythm ain’t there it affects the show because we will feel like, “What do we have to do to get it there?”
Lowery I think the kids in the audience gravitate more towards the drums because it’s kind of like, superhuman. You see a guy hitting drums and Morgan is such a visual drummer, so you see him doing all of that, and you sonically magnify him through the PA system — they think that, “If I go home and hit drums like that I’ll sound like Morgan.” Obviously, it doesn’t since it’s not through a PA system. The drummer is the superhero role of the band. I’ll go see a drummer, especially a drummer like Morgan, and be fascinated how he does his whole deal, but it’s the volume that makes it magical.
Rose After seeing my first band I went and got a CB700 drum set and brought it home, but it didn’t quite sound like that [laughs]. The best thing about Morgan Rose is his feel …
Witherspoon I love all of his drum playing, period, but I really like when he’s jamming in between the song and just feeling it and not forced to play something that he is meant to play. When he’s doing this [emulating Morgan’s swaying body movements], that’s the purest form of playing drums to me. That’s the real deal.
Connolly His straight-up feel. He can play 2 and 4 and the same beat that ten other drummers are playing, but it just feels better with him doing it. I don’t know how and why, but it just does.
HornsbyI’ve played with this guy forever and I’ve jammed with other bands with great drummers, but I just know what he’s going to do. I mean, his feel is great.
Rose Me and Vin have played a bunch of different styles together and never once did we look at each other and say, “Why don’t you do this when I do this?”
Hornsby I just feel comfortable with the guy, and he’s my friend first and foremost. I mean, I’m playing with one of the best drummers in the world.
Lowery He plays what the song requires, and he plays what the guitar requires. He’s like a lead guitar player on drums, and on top of that very animated. He’s a songwriter behind the kit. He’s got a piece in everything, like, when he’s playing a certain feel it’s like he’s got an extra limb because he’s playing something that we’re all doing. I can play a muted guitar riff that he’ll do on the ride, and the bass guitar is mirrored by the kick drum. I don’t know how to describe it other than he plays like a songwriter.
A piece of advice for a drummer in an up-and-coming band …
Rose Play guitar [laughs]!
ConnollyTry to do your own thing. Pick your influences and make it your own vibe.
Rose With me … my laziness, my failure to be responsible, my just complete disregard for anything that was good for me made me somewhat original. I’m not saying that I’m the guy that anybody needs to follow because that sounds arrogant. I can’t see myself sounding like somebody else, just because I listen to somebody [and realize that] I can never play one thing that he can play. I listened to Neil Peart from Rush and that’s who influenced me to play, but try to find one thing I do that sounds like Neil Peart and I’ll shoot myself. I was able to get somewhat influenced without actually ripping anybody off. I would say that more than anything: Take whatever you can take from anybody, because that’s the best thing to do, but try not to blatantly take it into your playing.
Connolly Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top said, “Learn to play what you want to hear.”
Witherspoon Play what you feel.
Hornsby Keep an open mind and don’t stick with something that won’t make you versatile.
Rose One more thing — get a good chiropractor. If you’re going to actually play the drums and use your body as part of the experience, get a good chiropractor, masseuse, and a good girlfriend that won’t mind giving you a good back rub every now and then.
Connolly And don’t sign any contracts of any sort, ever [laughs]!
Lowery Buy an AC/DC record and learn that first, but don’t stay out in the perimeter. Push yourself. You don’t have to hit the snare every time; you don’t have to play a typical hi-hat beat in the verse. You can do anything, but first learn AC/DC, then break the gates.
Rose I think that’s a great answer! Learn Back In Black first before you attempt something from Lamb Of God.