White Rabbits: The Science Of Beat Division

white rabbit

The three-drummer team of Brooklyn, New York, indie band White Rabbits don’t view their rhythmic roles so much as an octopus with six hands but as a single drummer with one multitasking brain.

“It was in vogue during the ’70s to have two kits, like with the Allman Brothers Band and Rockpile,” says vocalist/keyboardist/drummer Stephen Patterson. “They did it for that doubling effect. We were excited by that at first, but if every song has two drummers playing the same part it’s not very interesting. We wanted interweaving rhythms without it sounding too wanky. So Jamie [Levinson] might play a simple rhythm on the drum set, then Matt [Clark] will play the tom fills, and I might add a complementary part during the recording sessions. Sure, it could be played by one drummer, but multiple drummers create a different feel.”

On their new album, Milk Famous, as well as the previous Fort Nightly and It’s Frightening, Levinson, Clark, and Patterson split the beat, allowing extreme degrees of focus on the groove, fills, and effects.

“I view the drummer’s role as focusing on the foundation of the song,” says Levinson, who mans the traditional drum set. “I keep things sparse and simple and play what’s right for the song instead of the most complex idea. There are obvious possibilities of what you can choose in a beat, but my favorite music really has simple drum parts. So when there’s a fill, it means something.

“Generally I stay out of the way of embellishments,” he continues. “Matt adds the next-level fills on top of my drumming to where they sometimes sound like they are coming from a different place, but the idea is that’s it all one joint kit. That frees me to keep a beat going very solidly underneath while Matt plays something a little more complex. It’s an illusion that there’s more happening than one guy could take care of alone. I do that by habit. It’s natural.”

Clark plays a sparse setup of one cymbal, a snare drum, and two toms. His “next-level fills” resonate with jungl-y, dancelike rhythms à la Talking Heads’ classic “Burning Down The House.”

“I don’t worry about the feet so much,” says Clark, “’cause you don’t need them. I move my feet but it’s more dancing. I just make sure I’m in time. Some parts I really want to play, but you have to be realistic about it and play what’s best for the song. You have to put your ego aside. With this many people (White Rabbits is a six-piece band) we typically take votes on the final drum part.”

White Rabbits’ three drummers love tom fills, and layer them judiciously.

“When we’re working on a song we know where we want the tom fill to be go,” Patterson explains. “But we’re afraid to commit. We leave a hole then figure it out later. That offers up more sonic opportunities. Eventually we record the drum fill in another room with different mikes, to a very hot signal. We’ll bash the s__t out of the drum fill so it has a totally different sonic feel.”

Beyond their multiple-drummer approach, White Rabbits use studio software and hardware effects to heighten the music’s spacey, Kraut-rock aesthetic. Levinson’s Roland SPD-S Sampling Pad adds spartan hand claps and triggered accents, a doubled drum part is flown in from a slightly out-of-time tape reel, A LinnDrum and an Akai MPC are used to further alter the band’s sonic identity.

“Jamie’s plays the SPD-S like a drum,” Patterson explains, “or maybe we create a tom pattern on the MPC. We use it to sample really special percussive sounds that we want to cut through the mix. We made a really lo-fi drum loop for ‘Are You Free.’ If we played that entire rhythm on the drums it wouldn’t have the same feel ’cause the sampler has this squishiness to it, a longer note value. So we used the original MPC sample and Matt doubled it. And Jamie plays the really loud offbeat explosion effect in the song. Being a band on a budget means you have to make the recording sound special through engineering.”

In this era of blazing double-kick tempos, integrated programming, and otherworldly techniques, a drummer who happily executes a simple 2/4 beat must be mad. Or is he onto something?

“The drums are the foundation and everybody looks to the drums,” Levinson says. “You get to guide the band through the song. There’s no room for error. That is priority number one as a drummer, to keep the foundation as solid as possible and keep the vibe going. Sometimes the drummer has a chance to shine, but I like just plain language. Playing a beat that is in the pocket — I always strive to make that my goal.”

Vitals

Band White Rabbits
Current Release Milk Famous
Age Jamie Levinson: 34; Matt Clark: 29
Birthplace Jamie Levinson: St. Louis, Missouri; Matt Clark: St. Louis, Missouri
Influences Jamie Levinson: Jim Gordon, Pete Thomas; Matt Clark: Topper Headon, Prince, Peter Hale
Web Site whiterabbitsmusic.com

Gear

Drums Jamie Levinson: C&C; Matt Clark: DW
Cymbals Jamie Levinson: Zildjian and Bosphorus; Matt Clark: Zildjian
Sticks Jamie Levinson: Pro-Mark; Matt Clark: Pro-Mark, played with butt end
Heads Jamie Levinson: Evans; Matt Clark: Evans
Hardware Jamie Levinson: DW; Matt Clark: DW
Electronics Jamie Levinson: Roland SPD-S; Sampling Pad

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