Vinnie Amico of moe.: License To Jam

Roots Of His Roots

When DRUM! spoke with Amico a few days later, he was on his way to a rehearsal with Floodwood, a progressive string band he started with moe. guitarist Al Schnier at last year’s moe.down. You might say it’s coming full circle for him from his days hustling in Buffalo with Acoustic Forum. “We’re both really into roots music and I was like, ‘There’s no bluegrass band in the Northeast,’” he says of the project’s genesis before ticking off names like Yonder Mountain String Band, Leftover Salmon, and The String Cheese Incident, all of which hail from Boulder, Colorado. “‘So why don’t we put one together and see what happens and we’ll have drums in it!’ You put a drummer in bluegrass and it actually has a decent groove and takes the pressure off the mandolin and guitar player so I can drive everything and then they can play a little more.”

Vinnie Amico

Amico’s Kit

Drums Mapex Saturn (Galaxy Blue Burst)
1 22" x 18" Bass Drum
2 14" x 7" Mapex Black Panther Phat Bob Snare Drum
3 10 x 8" Tom
4 12 x 9" Tom
5 14" x 14" Floor Tom
6 16" x 16" Floor Tom
7 13" x 5" Mapex Cherry Bomb Snare Drum

Cymbals Paiste
A 10" Twenty Splash
B 14" Dark Energy Medium Hi-Hat
C 8" Twenty Splash
D 18" Dark Energy Crash
E 19" Twenty Crash
F 22" 2002 Deep Full Ride
G 18" Signature China
H 17" Twenty Crash

Vinnie Amico also uses Mapex Falcon single pedal and Mapex hardware, Evans Coated EC2 heads, and Vic Firth Extreme 5A sticks.

Playing a pared-down version of the moe. kit and changing over to traditional grip for the brushwork and train beats has been the Floodwood approach so far. In fact, mastering the brushes has become something of a minor crusade for Amico. “If you can get the bounce stuff happening really good with the brushes that’s key. It’s just a real light touch and it’s just a stroke thing, but I’m really in the beginning stage. I haven’t really sat down and had a month to just mess with it.”

Amico knows there’s room for improvement in his main gig, too. Doesn’t matter if no one in moe. requires it of him — it’s a personal goal. He recently saw Albany, New York–area instructor Ted McKenzie, an authority on Buddy Rich, for a quick tune-up. “I need to really get my left hand free,” he says. “It stiffens up and my bounce rolls get really crappy. I’m more of a single-stroke player but I would like to play more bounce and like to have it more even.”

Amico mentions sometime McKenzie student Jason Bittner, who in the past sought the instructor’s help for tendonitis. Stamina is one of the things Amico hopes to address before it becomes a problem. “I could play for hours and hours, but I’d like to feel less tight when I play for that long. If you saw me, you’d be like, ‘Wow, you play real loose,’ but it doesn’t feel that way to me.”

Except for deleting a few cymbals, there is no urge to alter the moe. setup. When the topic of double pedals is brought up (certain players in the genre, such as Kris Myers from Umphrey’s McGee, use them) Amico does consider it for a moment. “I probably should venture out and try a double,” he says. “But with the percussion player and the way our songs are, there’s not a lot of space for me to be cranking a double pedal all over the place.
And I got enough John Bonham bouncy pedal stuff happening that I can cheat my way through the double kick–type stuff.”

Between moe., side projects, open-mikes, and the occasional lessons he offers, Amico has a working spouse and two kids to look after. Obviously there isn’t much time for practicing. “Most professional drummers would be like, ‘What a lazy ass,’ because I don’t sit home and shed,” he says. “We play long shows; we have two-hour sound checks; it’s like six hours a day of playing when I’m on the road. So at home, unless I’m teaching or have side work, then I don’t play.”

Improvise Or Die

While he uses the “J” word freely, Amico’s feelings about the jam-band label are conflicted. “It’s got its pluses and minuses,” he says. “It used to be more of blessing because you went into a genre of music where there’s a live music crowd. They go to shows, they are very open minded towards music, and you’d have a fan base of 20,000 to maybe 100,000 people that you’re automatically plugged into.”

Today the competition is too fierce and the mega festivals are too many. Radio stations and movie executives are especially averse to the genre, he adds, bemoaning the loss of one of the few viable revenue streams left in the brave new world of the cloud. Moe.’s contract with Sony ended and now they’re with indie label Sugar Hill. “So it’s like you can’t really get a lot of mainstream success if you have the ‘jam band’ moniker on you unless you’re Phish or Dave Matthews.”

Did we mention moe. is a jam band? No need to ask whether Amico changes up his parts live from what they are on the album. “They actually want that,” he says of the moe.rons, the informal name for moe. fans. “If we start sounding too much alike every time, it’s like, ‘What the hell are these guys doing? Why aren’t they jamming?’ There’s times when I actually would like our songs to be shorter. They might even be better, but we’re going to explore here, so I’m going along for the ride.”

Complaining a song is too long? That’s the sort of problem most working drummers — those confined to three-minute pop songs or in thrall to the music director — would kill for. Amico’s wish is purely in the interest of preventing fatigue then, right? “No, it’s just because sometimes we lose a little focus, but we also can’t push the envelope if we don’t go there,” he says, crystallizing the jam-band paradox. “You tend to find a lot of really good stuff when you’re out there exploring music. So if you don’t go there, you’re never going to find it.”

Next Page: Transcription and analysis of Amico drum parts from .moe’s latest release What Happened To The La Las.

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