The Levelheaded Bouncing Soul Of Michael McDermott
Published September 24, 2010
Artist Michael MDermott
Michael McDermott is the drummer for New Jersey's legendary punk group The Bouncing Souls. He joined the group in 1999 after stints with Skinnerbox, Mephiskapheles and Murphy's Law and fit right into their fast, lighthearted sound. The band celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2009 with a world tour and a 20th anniversary compilation. We spoke with Michael during the Vans Warped Tour in June, 2010.
How many years have you been playing?
Oh my God, I’m forty-one, started when I was about three. Lots of big buckets and coffee cans, Remo practice pads, drum kits like that. The basement was always my home. My mom was a concert pianist and every one would always come to my house. Aside from the fact that she would always ask the guitarist to play just one more chord… [She’d say,] “Just one more chord, please. Just one more.”
So you graduated from coffee cans?
Currently I play a Dark Horse percussion kit made by a fine gentleman named Anthony Cartinella in New Jersey. I do a bit of studio work so I had to build myself a lot of drums. I have a 22" x 20", a 22" x 22", 10" x 12", 14" x 16". I have a side snare with an internal muffling system that kind of lets me doanything from an '80s Linn drum sound to The Cure. I play Zildjians--big cymbals. Pete [Steinkopf, the group's guitarist] likes when I play big cymbals because it gives it a little more punch. There’s a little more air moving. For the longest time I’ve had a Pro-mark endorsement. I play 808s, which I guess now they’re the Paul Wertico model. Years ago they used to be the Billy Cobham model. I’ve been playing Pro-mark 808s since I was a toddler. So when I got the endorsement they asked "What size? And I was like, "The Billy Cobham model!" And they said, "You must mean the Paul Wertico model." I was like, "Whatever, they’re always gonna be the Billy Cobham 808s to me!"
How do you approach writing and how does that process evolve as you get into the studio?
We bought a mobile Pro tools rack off of Adrian Belew, actually. We have that in our manager’s basement in Asbury Park, New Jersey. We do a lot of pre-production there, a lot of demo-ing. It’s really just a matter of everybody getting in the room and really going for it. It starts out with the bass drum and guitar, and we just sort of share a lot of ideas, a lot of notebooks are out. And then we bring in our singer and have him start to throw some stuff on, give him some of our ideas, maybe push him in certain directions, if he’s feeling it. But just that way, it’s a very organic process of four guys in a room.
When you get down to really tracking, is it still just four guys in a room?
Oh yeah. If you can get bass tracks and a nice rhythm track, you can keep it organic that way. Unfortunately we don’t run tape anymore. My first two records (How I Spent My Summer Vacation and BYO Split Series we rolled tape with the band and that was great. There’s nothing like that. The sound of it and the things you can do to it, you can reproduce that now but it’s not the same. But it’s really just us in a room. For vocals, if you get some scratch vocals, anything that has that feel, that’s really what you’re trying to get.
Last year you really got to travel the world like you never had before. How was that experience?
We’d always gone everywhere, but we made a conscious effort in that year, our 20th anniversary year, to circumvent the globe. And so we did that and it was super cool.
We got to go to some new places, like I’d never been to Bogota, Columbia. I tell you what, the air there, you have to make a conscious decision whether you wanna take a breath of air there or a drink of water because you can’t do both. After that first four-song block, I went for a drink and I got guzzling in the drink and I was like, “Oh my God, I need oxygen.” because you’re so high above sea level. And we went to Greece, things like that, it’s the non-musical experiences that make the musical experiences kind of count. Going to the Parthenon for God's sake or going to the Acropolis. Even on the Warped Tour you get to do a whole lot of cool things. We’ve played at the Gorge in Washington, we’ve done Red Rocks. Like my father says, “Michael you’re rich with experience. In a bank account of experience, kid, you’re a millionaire!” But that’s really what you’re doing it for. Sure I make a living, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I spend 23 hours and 20 minutes a day waiting for that 40 minutes when it’s really like the most glory I ever receive, you know, other than hanging out with my daughter.
When you guys are these days and you’ve been playing so long, do you approach the material different
than you did before?
I think I do. I think drummers will understand that. You play less and less or more and more, depending on how bored you are. If you’re not tired from walking around the Acropolis all day, you might tend to overplay a little bit. By the end of that first initial tour, the take on certain songs are different. The idea of road testing songs is great because you get to see how it feels live, not in a basement. You start to find your way, the pieces are like a puzzle and they fall into place and you say “Oh, that’s how we should have done that.” What works in live context might not always work in the studio.
Do you mix it up every show or are the songs performed the same on every show?
It depends, we start to figure that out when we get some guest players coming in, and for us, it’s really an unspoken thing and we sort of feel it out on stage and the next day we say, “Hey, let’s do that thing with one of the guests today.” It’s never really that controlled. For us, that’s where the spontaneity comes out.
I’m just so grateful that I have this job, that it never gets old. Playing a song a thousand times, it doesn’t matter. Today, it's Saturday in Mountain View, California, and it’s gorgeous, and I get to play in front of people.
There’s 40,000 readers who would love to trade places with you.
Yeah, I mean when you get that chance, there’s no being grumpy face about it. I have not a care in the world. We played at 11:55 today and 4:55 yesterday, we had bagels and orange juice this morning before our set, You have to love it. I have the rest of the day off now. Now I get to go and hang out and meet some kids. It’s fun.
Do you use the same rig on the road that you record with? br />
Yeah, a couple of records ago we were out in LA and we went to Drum Paradise and it’s amazing. There’s a rental area in the middle and I rented a Gretsch that was used on an Audioslave record and a Red Hot Chili peppers record. I can understand why because it sounded great, but as you’re walking around, in the inside of the building, on the walls there’s sections, like a Ringo Starr section, you see five cases, It’s a Beatles kit. You’re in awe walking around. There’s these cubbies filled, some guys have a lot of stuff, some guys don’t. Ringo can definitley afford to have sets there, all over the world.
Do you obsess about your equipment on the road?I do. I have a drum tech, but I don’t bring him all over the place. Even just for cost efficiency, and I mean there’s times when I have a lot of different gigs but I’m not big enough that I can’t set up my own stuff. My dad used to always say “If you maintain and upkeep you’ll have it forever.” And it’s true, I’ve had [my drums] for years because I care for them. Things like snares and pedals, proper care of that stuff, you don’t need to replace it.
You also have to maintain yourself. We’ve all known drummers that started a band themselves have been kicked out because of substance abuse or behavior.
It’s true, you have a responsibility not just to yourself. It’s not a party, there’s other guys in your band and you’re responsible for the band. Do they have wives? Do they have kids? What you do affects so many people, even down to management crew. If I screw up, I mess up all those guys. You’ve got to keep yourself levelheaded, especially for a drummer.