Pat Mastelotto: Beats By Any Means

Recidivate demonstrates there are as many ways of fitting into a 7/8 groove as there are options for making any particular song expressive. On “Jacarando,” a “Traps” track that features Mastelotto, Pohjonen, and Gunn, a busy, percolating synth pattern pushes the momentum, leaving Mastelotto with a little less space for the drum part. “I went straight to four-on-the-floor,” he says. “Then it was about figuring out where I wanted to play the top side of the kit, wherever the bongo beat and the backbeat falls in seven with Trey. I didn’t want it to feel like it was a tricky song. I wanted it to feel like 4/4. And we were playing a lot in Eastern Europe, so that’s not weird over there. You’d see a thousand people dance in the audience every night we played that song.”

Pat Mastelotto

Mastelotto’s Setup

Drums DW (Broken Glass finish)
1 22" x 18" Bass Drum
2 14" x 6.5" Snare Drum
3 12" x 8" Tom
4 16" x 16" Tom
5 18" x 8" Modified Camco Tom from late 1970s

Cymbals Paiste
A 14" Sound Edge Hi-Hat
B 18" Signature Crash with 6" 2002 Cup Chime
C 22" Twenty Masters Dark Crisp Ride
D 20" Signature Crash with 7" 2002 Cup Chime
E 18" Signature Heavy China

Electronics Roland
F SPD-S Sample Pad
G KD-7 Kick Pad
H 8" PD-8 V-Pad
I 12" CY5 Dual Trigger V-Cymbal
J Korg Wavedrum
K HandSonic Pad

Pat Mastelotto also uses DW 9000 series double pedal and hardware (occasionally swaps in a DW Flat Chrome Accent Drum for the 12" x 8" tom), Hammerax Vine Chime or Boomywang, Evans heads, Vic Firth Extreme or Gavin Harrison signature sticks, M-Audio electronics, and sometimes a Paiste Nicko McBrain Powerslave Reflector Bell Ride instead of the Twenty Masters ride.

A different approach to seven unfolds on the track that follows “Jacarando.” Recorded by Tuner for its album Pole, “Black Well Monotony” grew from the sound of a piano Mastelotto had given to his daughter Noelle. “It was inexpensive, a couple of hundred dollars,” he says. “And it was completely out of tune. Markus Reuter was arriving in Austin in a few days, and I realized we could do prepared piano. When he got here, we put paper clips, cymbals, and drums in there. We beat the crap of the piano for about an hour and a half. I recorded it all. Then, we walked through that hour and a half. We cut out the bits that sounded like they could be foundations for a song. There was a riff on that prepared piano, and that’s what we started writing to song over. We must have channeled seven, because that’s how it came out.”

Humble Pie

Perhaps the toughest song on these two discs was “Nano,” played by KTU — Mastelotto, Gunn, and Pohjonen. It also happens to be one of the relatively few pieces in the collection that breaks down into 4/4, though with subdivisions rarely articulated on pop play-lists. “That was hard,” Mastelotto admits. “I could not find a way to fit in there. It never really sat right. Kimo pretty much hates Western drumming, the idea that you’re going to slam backbeats and play hi-hat eighth-notes. Robert Fripp isn’t too keen on that either, but Kimo has this emotional Finnish quality, and he doesn’t want a Western-sounding drum kit. That’s really a challenge: How do I give up backbeats and hi-hats and all of the things that could work — but not for this artist?”

The answer came in steps. First, Mastelotto put down a minimal basic part, with breaks added via LinnDrum. “Then Kimo put a lot of his parts to tape and traded it to Trey. I let the two of them fight over these arrangements, about whether this is a downbeat or that’s a downbeat. Then I came back in. Instead of playing a trap kit, I played toms as an overdub out of the room, because at this point with KTU I was trying to think of how this would translate to a live show. It would be more exciting if the drummer ran over there and played powerful stuff standing up on toms rather than doing it within the drum kit. That’s why when there are drums in one section, there’s no hi-hat; it’s more likely bongos, snare, and foot.”

That triggers another thought, which Mastelotto is happy to share regarding studio techniques and drum kits. “When I record, I like to take all the cymbals and toms away because your kick and snare sound better without all the ringing,” he says. “There’s less phasing. I figured that out in the late ’70s or early ’80s, working with [producer] Mike Chapman. You don’t just put a blanket over them. You take them off the kit. When you get onstage, it’s, ‘I need my China for this song. I need that crash for that song.’ But in the studio, just play the drums you’re actually going to play on the take, and it records a lot cleaner.”

With this amount of thought going into each selection on Recidivate, it’s small wonder that Mastelotto’s setup can change radically from session to session. Although he uses a variety of items, depending on what’s needed, his preference for drums is DW, Paiste for cymbals, Evans for heads, and Vic Firth for sticks. “And Roland, Korg, and M-Audio have all been really nice to me.”

All these resources — the acoustic and electronic gear, as well as his own capacity for creating parts that are unexpected yet fully appropriate — trace back to Mastelotto’s admission that his chops are more limited than he would like them to be. “I realized the drum machine would be a big help to me when my technique couldn’t live up to my vision,” he says. “I could program that kick drum I hear in my head, and then I can play the rest of the stuff on top of it without having to keep that kick drum going. I’ll never be the drummer I want to be in my head or my imagination. I’m getting older and there are just some physical things I can’t do.”

He deals with these issues through lessons with Tobias Ralph, stretching exercises created by Jojo Mayer, and other means. He’s also reset his priorities for practicing. “Whenever I go through Boston, I try to ring Gary Chaffee and take a lesson at his house,” Mastelotto says. “One night, you’re coming home from a gig where a couple thousand people are like, ‘Man, you’re the greatest drummer in the world!’ The next morning I’m with Gary, trying to play like a five-year-old. And Gary says, ‘Well, yeah, of course, when you go onstage you only play what you can play. If you sound good in your practice room, you’re not practicing!’ And I used to sound okay when I practiced. I was playing all the stuff I knew and just having fun instead of going, ‘Holy crap, I can’t play this! I’ve got to slow down!’

“Most of us learn enough to play the gig and then we don’t get any further,” he reflects. “It really struck me when my opportunity with King Crimson came: ‘Wow, am I prepared to go to his next level? Did I take advantage of all the time before, when I could have been upping my game a little bit?’ That’s when I began to understand that as a person, not just as a musician, don’t work on your strengths. Learn your weaknesses, work on those, and no matter what, you’ll get better.”

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