With Confessions, Buckcherry’s most ambitious album yet, drummer Xavier Muriel is back to preach the gospel of real American hard rock. Despite the album’s heady concept, Muriel continues to deliver the pile driving beats he always has – and maybe a few surprises along the way.
Backstage at the Knitting Factory in Spokane, Washington, Xavier Muriel feels like a man waking up from a dream. Seems like just yesterday he was in the turmoil of the studio, trying a new beat here, and doing a retake on some track that didn’t have a name yet, just living in the creative moment. That in roughly two hours the 44-year-old drummer will get to sit down and play what only last week was a random bit of inspiration, is tripping him out – like reality finally caught up with imagination. “It was no holds barred,” he says. “I mean, it’s always been like that with this band but at the time my head space was like, ’Maybe if we change a kick pattern here, or if I did a sixteenth note thing there, I could make it better.’ I’d go back and listen to verses and choruses over and over and just try different beats to see if they work with it. It’s really weird, man, when you get really deep into writing a track, and I think that whole thing has been kind of lost lately in music.”
Buckcherry recall the best of the FM dial in the seventies and eighties, a guilty pleasure that evokes a summer night with a six-pack in the back of a Trans-Am with a pair of blown tweeters. No sooner is vocalist Josh Todd playing the gravel-voiced hellion, ready to do damage, than he becomes a soft-lit balladeer reopening his wounds. Confessions, the band’s sixth full-length release, is easily their most wide-ranging, veering from Aerosmithesque funk-boogie (“Wrath”) to dramatic soaring strings (“Sloth”). It’s the whole big-rock circus wrapped in an allegory based on medieval Christianity’s seven deadly sins.
And because the Cherry are a composite beast, it gives Muriel room to play with different drum feels. “When you create music and you go into a recording situation you’re always going to have varying opinions. ’Try this or try that.’” In Muriel’s case, it was Buckcherry guitarist Keith Nelson at the band’s studio in Los Angeles, and later, producer Marti Frederiksen, who did the drums in Nashville. Luckily for Muriel (or is it unfortunate?) Frederikesn is a working drummer and Nelson started his music career on drums so, uh, lots and lots of opinions were aired. ““It was kind of intimidating sometimes where I’d have two guys coming at me and I’m like ’Whoa, wait a second,’ you know? But that’s great, because all that does is basically push me to do the best tracking that I possibly could.”
Confessions’ heady religious themes, which Todd is adapting to a screenplay for an upcoming film, have no bearing on Muriel’s parts, but at this point in the band’s career the topic seems predictably grandiose: The fruits of success, show biz’s dark heart, blah-blah. Maybe the singer stepped back to assess the life he has chosen. Perhaps he even sees personal travails in Biblical proportions. Whatever it is, it’s Todd’s trip and Muriel is content to leave it at that. Ironically though, the music was jammed out first with Muriel and Nelson – the “seven sins” device only emerged after Todd got the demos. It is as if, Muriel posits, the dark, angry direction of the music put the singer in an existential state of mind.
The mood of Confessions is more nuanced, less party-rock-kick-it-to-11 like previous album All Night Long. Muriel wrote his drum parts accordingly. “Creative kick and snare patterns are everything,” he says. “That is what drives the song. The difference between the verse and then the pre-chorus into the chorus over the solo, etc., etc. And, you know, once you can really come up with those bitchin’ kick-and-snare patterns, then each individual song starts to really make sense.”
Whoever said a band isn’t a democracy? To have the main guitar player and songwriter be a co-producer, and also have a great head for drums, is a distinct advantage. “What you’re playing isn’t what somebody else is hearing. And what they’re hearing isn’t necessarily what you’re playing. So once you can get that relationship going, then it becomes a much easier process than trying to go, ’No, I want to play this part because it’s going to make all the drummers out there go, oooh.’ Well, that doesn’t really make a song better. It just makes you look like every other drummer blowing chops.”
Over the last few years, Muriel has turned into a tone fanatic. In the past he blindly followed the rock and roll credo of bigger is better when it come to shell dimensions (“I’m a child of the 80’s, a hard metal guy, hello.’ I always went for big drums”). On previous releases he was recording with 26" bass, 14" rack, 16" and 18" floors. This time he went with a 22" kick, a 12" rack, and 14" and 16" floors. (He reverts to the regular big-rock setup live.)
Muriel also experimented with a wide range of heads, coated, clear, multi-ply, black, CS snare head, whatever it took to manipulate the tone via shell-based acoustic science. “Smaller drums always produce tighter sound but if you find a proper head composition you can actually highten and lower that actual tone and pitch to where it becomes a deader sound or projects a little bit more in the midrange area. A lot of my friends that came down to the session were like ’Dude, you’re playing a 12" rack? That’s going to sound like a jazz kit.’ I was like ’Let’s go into the control room and you can hear what this ’jazz kit’ sounds like,’ and they were ’No way!’ and I’m like ’Yes way.’ Just smaller, tuning a little bit lower to keep the tightness and the point that I call the bulls-eye point of the actual note, and get these really great, warm notes.