Sam Loeffler: Sound Seeker
When they stepped into the studio to record their fifth album, Sci-Fi Crimes, the guys from Chevelle had a clear, simple goal in mind: Bring the energy and authenticity of a live show into the recording studio. “Sure, every band says that,” admits drummer Sam Loeffler, “but at the end when you go into the studio and you lay down your drum tracks separate from everybody else, then they go and they get quantized, and it takes samples from each drum and makes each one of them sound exactly the same as the last one and perfect, that’s not really live. So we just went the other way.”
Not a complete 180, mind you — they still recorded their parts separately (drums together with bass and guitar), and then cleaned them up a bit later. But the cosmetic flourishes were strictly minimal. “We didn’t tune the vocals. We didn’t use samples for the drums — not even our own samples. For the most part it’s a full take. Each drum is one drum. It’s the sound of me actually hitting that drum. Which sounds stupid. It sounds stupid to say that’s actually me hitting the drum. But it’s true. It’s not a sample of four different drums coming together.” But if forgoing the push-button convenience of modern studio wizardry sounds like a pointless slog, you’ve probably never experienced the pleasures of an old-fashioned musician’s treasure hunt. “We shopped around with the guitars. We shopped around until we found the right amps that we liked and that sounded different from other things.” And when it came to drums, after Loeffler had pushed his 4-piece Pearl Masters Custom kit to the limits of its natural tuning range, he went looking for new toys as well.
“I firmly believe that a drum wants to be a certain tune,” he explains. “So you have to kind of find what that is and then it’ll hang out there. And if you don’t like that tone then you’ve kind of got to find a different drum.” So that’s just what he did. As a result, those big, boom-y tom hits you’re hearing on “Sleep Apnea” and “Jars” come courtesy of an old clear Pearl acrylic kit with a whomping 26" bass drum that Loeffler scored off the floor of a Nashville Guitar Center, across town from where the boys were recording with a new producer, Brian Virtue (Janes Addiction, Deftones, Audioslave).
“He doesn’t have a formula,” Loeffler says of Virtue. “And I really like that because I feel like producers are going into that whole team-formula thing lately. You know, they’ve got the team and a lot of them don’t even need to be there. Because their team knows what to do, and I think that when you do that you end up with a bunch of the same records.”
Along with Virtue’s fresh input, Loeffler relied, as usual, on the give-and-take with brother Pete (vocals, guitar) and bassist/brother-in-law Dean Bernardini, who he says has “been a drummer for longer than I have.” And as such, Bernardini’s suggestions on everything from sticking sequences to fill ideas once again worked their way into Loeffler’s playing (Ex. The China accent at the end of the tom fill going into the bridge on “Sleep Apnea”). “It was cool because he does make me play new stuff. And as a drummer, you can find new things forever to play. You know, you’re never done.”
No doubt, it must have felt that way after 15 days of putting in 10 or 12 hours a day in the studio trying to nail each track. “I mean it took me a lot of takes to get through what I liked and what Brian liked too,” Loeffler says. But thoroughness is nothing new to this hard-charging family trio, with their history of demoing songs to perfection before even taking them into the preproduction stage. This time that thoroughness was simply directed at the fundamentals of the process, toward the simple act of capturing pure sound. The effect, on listener and musician alike, is intoxicating.
“This will definitely be the way that we will continue,” Loeffler says. “It feels more like our band. It’s funny how the first record we did, which was Point #1, we did with Steve Albini, which was very much like that — first takes, the whole band together. Now, on our fifth record, we’ve gone to a very similar setup. It’s too bad that it took us ten years to put it back into play.”
CURRENT RELEASE Sci-Fi Crimes
BIRTHPLACE Grayslake, Illinois>
INFLUENCES George Hurley, Matt Cameron, Neil Peart, Danny Carey
STICKS Vater 5B
14" x 6.5" Pearl Copper Free-Floating Snare Drum