Tomas Haake: Meshuggah’s Djentle Giant

Ends To A Means

Tomas Haake might play fewer fills than any extreme-metal drummer on the planet. Make that fewer traditional metal fills. “I only do the hits with the guitar hits,” he explains. “So the toms are doing what the guitars are doing together with the bass drum instead of being a fill that’s on top of something else.”

Rimshotting every snare hit, he carries the technique onto the toms — it’s the kind of thing that only sounds good in Meshuggah. “Even on the toms I tend to play rimshots, but sometimes you can really choke them if you hit the rim too hard.”

Tomas Haake

Haake's Kit

Drums Sonor SQ2
1 22" x 18" Bass Drum
2 14" x 6" Sonor Artist Series Bronze Snare
3 14" x 13" Tom
4 15" x 15" Floor Tom
5 18" x 17" Floor Tom

Cymbals Sabian
A 15" Artisan Vault Hi-Hat
B 19" AAX X-Treme Chinese
C 19" Artisan Vault Crash
D 20" Artisan Vault Crash
E 21" HHX Stage Crash/Ride
F 15" HH Medium Crash stacked on 19" Paragon Chinese
G 22" HHX Legacy Ride (played as a crash)
H 21" AAX X-Treme Chinese
I 16" Artisan Vault Prototype Hi-Hat (played closed)

Tomas Haake also uses Trick Pro1-V pedals, Evans heads (G2 Clear tom batters, G1 Clear tom resos, EMAD2 Clear bass batters, Hybrid snare batter, and Hazy 300 snare reso), Vic Firth Tomas Haake signature sticks, and Shure microphones.

His strike zone is the upper-left quadrant of the head because the accuracy with his left hand is, by his estimation, a little off. “Or it may also be a remnant from when I didn’t have a tom right in font of the snare drum [as he currently does].” All in all, it lends itself to Haake’s dirt-caked, trashy kit sound full of stray resonance, a tone that contrasts starkly with the subtle precision of the beats. “I know it’s got its sweet spot and you are supposed to kind of hit it at the center but I never really cared about that stuff, you know? As long as I don’t hit it so far out that it doesn’t sound like a tom anymore. I’m not at center at the snare drum either, really.”

Wearing a single glove on his right hand with grip tape on the right-hand stick is another Haake-ism. It remedies a side effect of a lopsided drumming approach. “I sweat a lot when I play and I’m playing pretty hard, so there is a certain amount of tension and effort you have to put into actually making the stick stick to your hand since I do so much riding and so much up here, too,” he says lifting his arm above his head. “So basically with the glove and the stick wrap, I don’t really have to grip it so hard. I can play really loosely. My left hand, the snare and hi-hat hand, I don’t really have that problem at all so [the tape and glove] is just on the right hand.”

By riding, Haake means crashing. He does have a ride in his setup but he ain’t pinging or tapping the bow. Also, the hi-hat is always chicking regardless of wherever else his arms are. “That one has to be going,” he says. “That’s my solid point in a sense whenever I’m not playing both bass drums.” And he’s got the x-hats on the right if he wants, so there’s no sacrifice of texture or other embellishments. “This way I can still do the chick thing with my left [hats], and still have an open trashy hi-hat and play it at the same time.”

Double bass is a given with Meshuggah. A solid 140 bpms is Haake’s comfort zone, “but past 160–170 it’s getting awkward.” Since he’s burying the beater into the heads — and therefore doing more work — 140 is fast considering the power behind the strokes.

Instead of increasing foot speed, Haake’s near-term goal is decelerating with grace. It’s a continuation of Koloss’ evolution into more stretched-out cycles, spaciousness, and hence, more groove. “To play really slow stuff and still make it swing without filling in all the notes in between — stuff like that is very important to practice.”

Since the band started using the click track live beginning with the last tour, Haake has noticed when he comes to certain parts of a song, it feels like the metronome just dropped ten bpms. “It makes me doubt that the click track is correct, you know? It’s such an eye opener: You think you’ve been playing it fairly steady and it’s like, ‘No! You haven’t.’” [laughs]

Drummer Vs. Musician

Meshuggah are perfectionists when it comes to notation and tablatures. Currently the band is in the process of transcribing the entire discography with plans to hire a developer to create an app for tablet and smart phone. “So we’re hoping if you’re at school or if you’re taking classes, or if you want to really get into it, you can do it that way, too.”

Haake has given a good deal a thought to doing clinics. One reason was in order to “give back” to all the manufacturers that have supported him over the years. Another reason was introducing a new generation to Meshuggah’s approach to meter: “I want to do something where everyone’s involved so people understand a little bit more about wh at we’re doing and how we think as far as Meshuggah’s music,” he says. His idea would be to break up the crowd into three groups. One would count on claves, another would do a snare hit, still another play the bass drum. “They would come around to see, ‘Oh, it’s still based in 4/4.’ But then again it’s a matter of are they going to be able to play together or are they just going to lose it?”

The future clinician also wants to avoid the show-drummer syndrome where “super drummers blow your mind,” because it may actually discourage potential drummers from picking up sticks. “That’s a little daunting for a kid.” Piggybacking clinics off a Meshuggah tour would be the easiest way to do it logistically. Psychologically, not so much. “Performing and clinics are two different mindsets, so that wouldn’t work for me.”

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