Daniel Platzman: Dream The Wildest Dreams
Daniel Platzman: Dream The Wildest Dreams
There's the itch again. He can feel it — and it has nothing to do with the seven-course Vietnamese meal he had last night. (Though, let's be honest, there was something near-religious about the grilled beef slices rolled in bacon.)
He's had it for a while, this itch. Long before he left the tarmac in Las Vegas, Daniel "Platz" Platzman has wanted to scratch it. He's wanted to show the world his work on Smoke + Mirrors, the new album from his rock band Imagine Dragons. He's wanted to hungrily turn to the next chapter in his young band's life and leave its breakthrough Night Visions era behind him. He's wanted to justify his months in the studio, toying around with timpani and quads and Roto Toms, trying to find the right thunderous tones he hears in his head. And he's wanted to explain why a meat-and-potatoes drummer like himself, who typically doesn't even bother with a second rack tom, suddenly shows up to a gig in Seattle with a punchy, nine-piece, half-maple, half-birch kit thinking he's the second coming of Terry Bozzio. ("I got saucy," he concedes. "There's a part of every drummer that wants to play a huge kit.")
No, he won't be able to scratch that itch tonight. During our chat, the title of the band's new album was still a secret. Its track list is not yet finalized. The new percussive gear will be discreetly set up in a small club the band rented out as a rehearsal space so the new material can be tested and evaluated for future shows — just not for the one tonight. Without question, Imagine Dragons will later take to the expansive stage at Seattle's Keyarena and just rumble — but the bandmembers will resist going further than that. They will close their set with a booming deconstruction of the hit 2012 single "Radioactive" that will end with Platzman, guitarist Wayne "Wing" Sermon, and frontman Dan Reynolds jumping and thrashing at drums in the shadows, getting louder, louder, louder — but they won't tip their hand. Seattleites must wait until Platz and company return to the city next year to fully understand what all the pounding is about. They must wait to hear what happens when a band often categorized as indie rock takes a shine to prog and plays the result in a massive arena.Not that Platzman doesn't want to keep them guessing. "We're the kind of band where, when we hit the stage, we have an idea of what we're going to do, but it's very in-the-heat-of-the-moment. It's very Vegas of us, because you have those casino audiences — a new audience every 30 minutes, because of tourists. Tonight, I wouldn't guarantee anything."
Sound Of A Dragon
If there's a patron saint of drumming on the new Imagine Dragons album, it's Phil Collins. Yes, really: the ringing, tribal thumping of the legendary Genesis drummer seems to infuse Platzman's playing on Smoke + Mirrors at every turn. "Phil Collins is a boss," he says with a laugh. "We would be bumping a bunch of that on the tour bus."
On the new album, "It Comes Back to You" starts with the twinkle of atmospheric guitar notes before giving way to Platzman's reverb-heavy drop-step shuffle. "Shots" is almost electronic in its rhythmic drive, but reduces to a simmer of bass drum thumps and spare snare cracks before breaking into rat-a-tat tom work. The album's title track is almost Coldplay-like in its ambience before Platzman roars in with his drums, only to back into an angular pocket. (Almost trip-hop like, I scrawled in my notebook when I first heard the record at Universal Music Group's offices in Manhattan. The snare sounds like a small thunder sheet. Ticky-tick tick tick crack!)
The chorus of "I Bet My Life," the album's first single, is so massive and joyful it sounds like it could be part of the soundtrack to a new Lion King film. (It's not.) Even the slower "Dream" has '80s-style tip-taps on the toms.
Despite Platzman's prog-rock leanings — he cites King Crimson, Gentle Giant's John Weathers, and Yes-era Bill Bruford as inspirations — on Smoke + Mirrors, there aren't more drum notes, just a hell of a lot more drums. "There are different tones because quads don't have a bottom head. I can keep one stick on my floor tom and shape the toms with Roto Toms. I'm a nerd about my sound. I try to match the lowest frequency of my tom with the highest frequency of my tom or cymbal. I try to make the most musical choices I can. It's actually pretty challenging to play an independent quad part with my right hand while holding down the kick-snare combo with my left. I love this stuff. I'm having fun with it. But some of these songs are going to be challenging to play."
That's not to say it's Genesis redux. Platz, who is 28, takes a more rigid approach to his tones than Collins, who is now 64. There is a restraint to his stick work that, at first blush, seems to have been informed by the unyielding era of electronic music. For example, at moments during the song "Hopeless Opus" you can hear a tom, bass drum, or snare strike in near isolation. The effect comes off less like "In The Air Tonight" stadium theatrics and more like a sprinkle of Kid A. In "Gold," the album's dirge-like second single, there are artificial studio cuts in the organic clanking that carries the song forward.
Smoke + Mirrors was recorded in a house in Las Vegas, the band's hometown. The financial and logistical flexibility of that decision lent to the sessions a spirit of experimentation that Platzman and company would not have been able to enjoy on the clock at a professional studio.
"We had a lot more control over our time, so I picked up some timpani and trash-can drums and a mahogany-maple SJC kit that had a super-sweet, haunting low end. The K Rock Zildjians, which are super dark. All of that was helping shape the tone. Also, our demo-making process changed. We started messing around with new programs; pushing ourselves to think outside the box."
Given all of this, is it a new Daniel Platzman, a new Imagine Dragons? "I don't think it's going to change my whole philosophy," he says of the new tones he's tapped. "It's just a new option."
Four Cool Nerds
"A lot of bands are awesome musicians but total rock-star cool people who do super-cool things," Platzman tells me. "Not to be self-deprecating, but we're four nerdy dudes who like doing music and think it's the only thing we can do."
It was clear from an early age that Platzman was going to take the intellectual route to stardom. He started playing violin at age four. His father wanted him to sight read chamber music as soon as he was old enough to do so.
Today, the Atlanta native is a composer, a film scorer, and a multi-instrumentalist (from viola to trumpet to bass).
"I was a cocky music kid," he says. "I wasn't the kid who was practicing for hours — at all. But then I went to the Berklee [College Of Music] summer program in high school and met kids who were so clearly better than me, forever better than me, and had worked harder than me. It was a huge, important, eye-opening experience. It was inspiring. Sophomore year of high school, I found a program at Rensselaer [Polytechnic Institute] to do acoustic architecture. Junior year of high school is a time when everyone wants to know what you're going to do with your life. I was driving in my car around Atlanta and I thought, ‘I have to try this. I'm going to go for it.'"
"It" being a career in music. At a place like Berklee, it's de rigueur to ask your classmates to jam. Any time anyone wanted to play, Platzman said yes. "I wanted to put myself in situations where I'd be the weakest link. Challenge myself." Combined with his formal studies, Platzman gradually flushed out his cockiness and learned what he needed to become a professional musician.
For instance, the jazz trombonist Hal Crook taught Platz what a "musical decision" is and which moments call for which music. Drummer Jackie Santos helped him develop his technique so his hands became fast enough to physically express what he mentally created. Ian Froman, the jazz drummer, taught the future rock drummer how to play with extreme restraint. "One of the pitfalls of drummers is playing loud — you play better when you're louder," he says. "It really bothered me that I couldn't control that. So I really worked at that. Ian helped me with that. I wanted to be the one to play the quietist. That was a musical thing for me. It didn't matter how good I was playing if I drowned out everyone else I played with."
Platzman pauses for a moment, contemplating the obvi- ous tension between his statement and the new music his band is about to release. "It's funny. Today we have a reputation for being a band with a lot of big drums. Stereotypically that's a loud sound. But what is loud if you don't play soft? It loses its effect. We definitely try to make each song dynamic and shape the whole show to have peaks and valleys."
At Berklee Platzman also took a clinic from Victor Wooten, the Grammy-winning bass player. "He talked about playing simple. Which is crazy! He's known for playing these crazy fast parts. You should play softer, because everyone in their seats is leaning in to hear you."
Combined with lessons from local Atlanta musicians — such as the drum instructor Billy Degnats, who taught Platzman to take a page from a classic lesson book like Progressive Steps To Syncopation For The Modern Drummer and turn it into hours of practice by designing new exercises from it — Platz slowly laid a musical foundation that would help equip him with the tools he needed to turn pro. "It's so hard for drummers to know if you're getting better. I still do the rudimental ritual to warm up for a show backstage. I take warming up really seriously. I need 45 minutes of warming up to really do it. Every time I don't, I regret it."