By Andy Doerschuk Published July 21, 2009
Hometown: Milford, New Hampshire
This past March, Wild Light released its critically acclaimed debut album, Adult Nights, on StarTime International/Columbia. Recorded in Los Angeles with producer Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Beck, Guided By Voices), its 13 tracks of classic Americana pop received praise from numerous prestigious publications including Rolling Stone, SPIN, L.A. Times, Paste Magazine, and Billboard, among others. Since the release, the four childhood friends from New Hampshire have been tapped to play select dates with Jakob Dylan’s band The Wallflowers this July and August in addition to their coast to coast 13-date tour with Brooklyn based outfit stellastarr*. These come on the heels of a highly successful tour as main support for Doves, which found the band performing at many large and packed-to-capacity venues including The Wiltern in L.A., The Vic Theater in Chicago, and Terminal 5 in New York City.
What was it like recording your debut album in a professional studio with veteran producers?
Working with Rob Schnaff and Doug Boehm was amazing. It was also a big help having a serious drum tech around, John Oreshnick of Angel City Drumworks. Rob has a great collection of snares that he brought to the session -- some great old snares, one of which was a gift from Beck. I actually used an old floor tom from the '40s on all the tracks -- it had a great boom-tone.
How did you approach writing and tracking your drum parts on Adult Nights?
The first time I heard any of the demos -- they were done in the living room of an old house playing acoustic guitar with piano while stomping on the floor -- they had a really interesting raw feeling to them, so I figured I would keep things simple. I created a super simple set to go with this idea: just a bass drum, snare, and a ride. I made sure to incorporate shaker and tambourine as much as I could to keep things interesting and moving. Over the course of a couple years of practicing and shows, the set evolved into two crashes, ride, hi-hats, 18" floor tom, kick, snare, auxiliary mounted tambourine, and custom mounted sleigh bells. Everything evolved to fill out with the band as we defined our sound and the songs.
How prepared were you before going into the studio?
At times, because of all the song structure changes, I felt a bit unprepared. But in the end, it made for some inspired fills and helped keep things simple, which was my main goal. I wanted the drums to be thematic, and to keep to the original sound we started with through the minimal drum set up.
How long did it take to track your drum parts?
We spent a week doing drums in L.A., doing about two drum tracks a day. We would take our time getting the right snares and cymbals for each track, then setting up the rest of the band with headphone mixes, etcetera. Then we did some tempo mapping to keep things dynamic at some points. It was always an adventure getting the right tempos for the song, which is funny because the tempos are really so similar.
What's the average, give or take a bpm?
It's all about 114 with Wild Light, give or take a few. I think that is because it's the perfect "stomping in your living room with acoustic guitars/sing along" tempo, which is how all the songs started! Anyway, so by the time all this got set up, it felt like it would never happen! But then finally we would run through three to nine full takes and eventually pick the best one to run with.
Did you record to a click track? How well did that work?
We did record to a click. The challenge can be having the whole band hear the click. We set everyone up in the room with the drums and everyone had their own headphone mixes. It is something most people don't like to deal with, so we found it best to leave the click out of their mixes.
What is your favorite song to play on stage?
The song "Call Home" has my favorite part to play live. It's a really simple beat, but then it is layered with auxiliary percussion. It has four-on-the-floor kick, floor tom on the ands, then snare on 2 and 4. During the second repetition, tambourine is added on 1234. And then the custom sleigh bells are added on 1234 also. So in the end, the super simple sounding beat consists of five elements cross-sticked together.
Do you mute your drums or tune them wide open?
I keep my 18" floor tom pretty muted. I like it to be something like a second bass drum. I have found new heads to be very ringy. So I try to play them until I break them. Ends up being more cost effective that way too. I tune the snare pretty typically, just get a good sound, but then throw one Moongel on to lessen any rings that can pop up during a show.
Do you warm up before going on stage?
I don't do any warm-ups. I try not to even touch the sticks until I click off four [beats] for the first song. I haven't ever found anything that makes much of a difference. But it's a bit of a rush not warming up. It gets your adrenalin going right away. In a way it's like just jumping in the pool instead of wading around in the shallow end.