Barry Kerch: All The Bright Moves

barry kerch

If the only certainties in life are death and taxes, Shinedown drummer Barry Kerch has just added a third: no flams on the new record. The 35-year-old drummer does not remember exactly which tunes, all he knows is that singer Brent Smith got bent out of shape over something Kerch was doing during the Amaryllis recording sessions at Oceanway Studios in Hollywood. “I was playing a fill and he said, ‘I don’t like that,’” Kerch recalls from the Shinedown rehearsal space in Nashville, where the band has been spending 8–10 hour days for the last week. “I was like, ‘What don’t you like about it?’

“‘I don’t know. That thing you do. What is it, a flam?’

“I said, ‘Yeah, it’s a flam.’ He goes, ‘No flams on the record!’ I was like, ‘Okay, that’s like telling the guitar player not to play the C chord.’” [laughs] “Being the main songwriter, Brent has a vision, and if anything veered from that, then it wasn’t happening. God love him, he’s so neurotic and so passionate about what he does.”

In Full Bloom

Unless you’ve sworn off video games, never seen a WWE match, or failed to catch season six of American Idol, one way or another you’ve heard Shinedown’s music. The Jacksonville, Florida–bred band have steadily built a following over four releases starting with 2003’s Leave A Whisper. But it was 2008’s The Sound Of Madness that vaulted them into hard-rock’s top fraternity along with Switchfoot, Seether, and Nickelback.

For Amaryllis, the quartet once again brought on Rob Cavallo to produce. “It was definitely a pressure-cooker making it,” Kerch says. “That’s what makes the album special.” Kerch isn’t talking about tracking drum parts (more on that in a second) or pressure from Atlantic Records to surpass The Sound Of Madness’ sales. Nope, Amaryllis was nothing less than a quest to be the best musicians they could. Corny, maybe, but for this band of soul searchers, it trumps pleasing suits, maybe even fans. It’s a sentiment summed up nicely by the album’s namesake, the lonely South African flower that springs up beacon-like in a barren landscape. “We wanted to push ourselves musically, try some new things without losing the Shinedown sound and be better musicians,” he says. “And for me that’s the drummer being the first one to lay down the tracks. It was, ‘Okay, here’s these new songs: Play them like you, but also play them the way we demoed them out, and also make it musical and try something different.’” In other words, deliver a performance so finely calibrated it could reduce Kenny Aronoff to tears.

During the Amaryllis sessions, there was an attention to detail that would make most bands look like slackers, including the band’s elbow-deep involvement in the mixing and production stages. Kerch and his singer, Brent, sat down with the mix engineer, Chris Lord-Alge, who got a nice blend of retro warmth and modern hard rock. “As a drummer you spend so much time getting real drum sounds, but to keep up with the modern music you’ve got to do all of the computer trickery. It was nice to see some balance come back into the music.”

Before delving into postproduction, Kerch had to worry about getting a solid take. He was able to do most of the songs in one run-through. “That’s not saying they can’t go‚ ‘You know what? The fill you played last time was a little bit better or a little bit different and that will fit better in the song.’ And they’ll take that fill and make a track out of that, but they want a very cohesive track overall.”

In order to do that, Kerch has to come correct. Cavallo expects a drummer to come in and know the parts and play like a professional, or at least to the best of his or her ability, the drummer says. “And if you can’t do that, he will mix it so that you can listen from the sidelines.”

Kerch is not one of those drummers who wants the wizard behind the curtain to make him sound good. “The pressure was from me; it was definitely not coming from Rob — he’s actually pretty cool to work with,” he says, adding that the whole record took 19 days with weekends off. “So thank goodness I spent all those years practicing for a reason!”

The Price Of Success

In the last three years, Shinedown has played 450 shows but took a break for most of 2011. The time off was essential for starting a family, with whom he’s been looking forward to spending some QT back in Jacksonville. “It’s my daughter’s first birthday,” he says. “So I’m going to get my butt home for a couple of days.”

The last year has also been essential for Kerch to clear his head space, which he mostly achieved through wing chun, a mixed martial art he’s become addicted to because it’s so fun but, more important, it’s helped his drumming. “The teacher is focusing on things that maybe will help my posture,” Kerch explains. “I told him I’m this rock drummer and he didn’t care at all, which was great. He’s not a drummer but we’ve found correlations between the two arts. One of the basic principles of wing chun is elbow position. With drumming it’s very similar.”

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Kerch also found time to take a few Skype lessons with Dom Famularo. The sessions were supposed to be an hour long but ended up being at least two because the legendary educator is so entertaining. “We never touched a drum set once,” Kerch marvels. “We were using drum sticks and a pad and went over our hand technique. Just seeing those basic bad habits that I’ve built over the years and going back and taking control again, which I hadn’t done in forever. It changed my playing.”

Brushing up on technique was just the tip of the iceberg. Kerch used the downtime to reinvent his playing, or as he likes to say, “get back into the art of my drumming.” As any touring drummer can yell you there are two musicians within us: the drummer playing for the song, and the drummer as artist. It was the latter that Kerch feared he was losing touch with from so much time spent on the road. “Just playing the songs, it’s so consistent and monotonous you become a robot,” he says. “But you’re not embracing that full drummer persona and that’s something I’ve always tried to focus on.”

On Becoming Barry

Kerch calls his introduction to drums “your typical kid’s story,” but it seems more austere than most. After a year of lessons with a practice pad, he finally got a snare at age seven, and then it was four more years on that until he got a full kit. “My parents were supportive, but I had had to prove myself and prove my loyalty to the craft,” he says. “And I thank them for it every single day because I had to really learn how to play an instrument before I could expand on the instrument.”

At University Of Central Florida, Kerch majored in anthropology. After graduation, an environmental company hired him to boat along the shorelines of inland lakes to monitor algae growth resulting from pollution. “Florida is covered in lakes,” he says. “There were all kinds of snakes and alligators out there; it was actually a very fun job.”

While immersed in the life aquatic, Shinedown was making waves of a different sort with a new record deal. Kerch learned of the Shinedown opening from his older brother, a radio DJ who was an acquaintance of Steve Robertson, the Orlando-based A&R guy for Atlantic who had just signed Shinedown. Robertson put out feelers when it was apparent that Shinedown wasn’t happy with the current drummer. “I was the seventh guy to try out, but the band was still just coming together,” he says. “They didn’t have a permanent guy or anything like that. They had a couple of guys that they had done some demo work but they either weren’t up to speed or it just wasn’t a good fit.”

Shinedown’s singer handed Kerch a couple of demos a day or two before try-outs. On audition day, he upped the ante to see if Kerch could handle “Lacerated,” which was in 7/4 and which would become the band’s earliest hit. “They hadn’t heard a drummer that was able to play that in seven with the right kind of feel,” he explains. “They wanted a kind of ‘Spoonman’ thing going around the toms.”

But Kerch is prouder of a different accomplishment. After nailing “45,” a feat which landed him in the band, Shinedown immediately entered the studio to rerecord it for debut Leave A Whisper. Later on, producer Bob Marlette listened back to the demo version from Kerch’s audition and went with that take instead. “So the version on the record is actually the demo version that I played on old drum heads and broken cymbals.”

Talk of odd time reminds Kerch of the title track on Amaryllis. “That song was a bear to record,” he says. “It’s in six but it almost has a four feel on the crash of the hats and an odd-time thing that goes on in the bridge. [sings it] I still have issues with it, isolating the right hand. It’s really independence-demanding to where I have to keep my right hand consistent but also keep the ghost notes and kick drum against that.”

Kerch says that back in college he wasn’t considering drumming as a career, which is pretty hard to believe. Before switching to anthropology he had been studying percussion in UCF’s music department. “It was very classic-leaning and geared toward becoming a teacher, and they didn’t have a drum set program or anything like that, so I felt out of my element.”

He continues to keep in touch with his former instructor, Jeff Moore, who is the head of the percussion department. If Shinedown isn’t playing Disney when they go through Orlando, then the band makes a stop at the UCF arena. “It’s kind of odd because I was not a good student for him and now I’m playing the arena on campus. It’s crazy.”

In Love With The Struggle

With Amaryllis in the can, it seems Kerch has all the heavy lifting done. Now he just has to knuckle down for the remaining practice sessions in Nashville to learn the songs before the European tour.

But it’s never that simple.

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To paraphrase a hackneyed expression: Excellence in drumming is absolute, its pursuit unending. “There’s always something to improve,” he says. “Right now I’m trying to work on getting back to the basics. Dom [Fomularo] really brought that out in me and I’m trying to improve my technique ever so slightly. I’d like to get my hands just a little bit better; a little more finesse and a little more speed and a little bit more independence, so I’m working on those exercises going back to the basics just to control things like that and hash it out again.”

Barry Kerch

Kerch’s Kit

DrumsPearl Reference Pure (Black Cherry Sparkle)
1 22" x 14" Bass Drum
2 26" x 15" Bass Drum
3 14" x 6.5" Snare Drum
4 13" x 8" Tom
5 18" x 16" Floor Tom
6 16" x 16" Floor Tom
7 14" x 12" Pearl Philharmonic Field Drum with Pearl ePro Live Head

Cymbals Meinl
A 14" Byzance Spectrum Hi-Hat
B 18" Soundcaster Fusion Crash
C 22" Byzance Stadium Ride
D 20" Soundcaster Fusion Crash
E 16" Byzance Dark Crash (top) / 16" Byzance Vintage Trash Crash (bottom) (played as closed hats)
F 19" Soundcaster Fusion Crash

Barry Kerch also uses Pearl 1000 and 2000 series stands and Pearl Demon Drive Eliminator pedals, Pro-Mark 747 Hickory sticks, Evans heads (Power Center with Reverse Dot on snare, Coated G2 on tom batters, Coated G1 on tom resos, EQ4 Clear on bass batters and Onyx on bass resos), Ddrum triggers (all drums except secondary snare), DrumKat module, Motu interface, Reason software, Westone ES-5 in-ear monitors, MD Sound subwoofers, Butt Kicker concert thumpers, Shure microphones. Practice Room: Dixon Jungle kit (Europe-only) with Pintech Acoustech conversion and Pintech snare, HänsenFütz practice pedals, HQ practice pad, and Samson Expedition portable P.A.

Kerch has a double-pedal setup on the main kick (separate from the custom-fabbed slave pedal that operates the 26" x 15") but it probably gathers dust more than anything. When he does two-foot it, the beater strokes are even and powerful. “I’d like to improve speed but also have the ability to have the independence of double bass where you can play different rhythms aside from just blasting out sixteenth-notes or triplets and really hone in on those things like Virgil Donati or Thomas Lang does.

“Maybe not on that crazy of a level,” he adds after a pause. “That’s what they have devoted their lives to. I’d much rather devote my life to groove playing and enjoying that side of drums more than the technical aspects.”

The appropriately named tune “Adrenaline” contains Amaryllis’ sole instance of twin-foot fury. It’s as though Kerch wanted to get this vulgar display of power out of the way. “That song just needed that, you know? I have double bass ability but I’m not going to really try to show it off. You’ve got to play through the songs and that’s why a lot of the songs are very open and the fills are very simple that anybody can pick up on. If you can make that pocket happen and make the song feel good that’s what matters.”

Down To A Science

Putting Shinedown’s songs before his own artistic needs, Kerch nevertheless allows his parts to evolve naturally over the course of a tour. “You keep the essence of the song, and if there’s a signature fill, like in “Second Chance” [from The Sound Of Madness] or one of those types of songs, you keep that fill. Other than that I like to dance around a little bit, not only to keep it interesting but as your musicianship improves and the band improves as a whole and as the song reacts with an audience, things may change here or there.”

Things like the pattern on The Sound Of Madness track “If You Only Knew,” a mid-tempo number with a Motown vibe. In the second verse, Kerch will usually switch to the secondary hats to his right and interweave the beat with floor tom to get more low end. “It would probably be overplaying for a record, but in a live setting it sounds really cool,” he says. “Live we try to funk it up a bit and have a good time with it so, yeah, I’m changing stuff all the time.”

Sound levels are another matter. As far as the instrument ratio in the in-ears, Kerch likes to keep it as close to the record as possible. The drums are probably the lowest thing in his mix because, as he explains it, he’s already playing them so he knows where they’re at. “I’ll have it pretty bass-, vocal-heavy, with a little bit of guitar in there so it’s not totally muddying up the click. So in order to keep the click audible without blowing out my ear, I keep the guitar a little bit lower than the bass or the vocals and I don’t keep the drums in there very much at all.”

In the past, Kerch never triggered except for an 808 sample on certain songs. As far as live shows went, it was complete faith in the mikes. Given Amyrillis’ dense sound palette and extensive use of backing tracks (electronic squiggles on “Enemies,” horn stabs on “I’m Not Alright,” the soaring strings on “I’ll Follow You,” orchestral percussion on “Through The Ghost,” etc.), the band is now doubling up with a blend of triggers and miking for performances. “You never want to lose that live organic drum sound, and I have a wonderful drum tech that tunes my drums very well (see sidebar) and beautiful drums, so why not mike those? But to make sure you have a consistent mix, both at the front of the house and in your in-ears, you have to at least trigger some. But a trigger could go down so you have to have your mike [for the audience]. At the same time it’s nice to have that consistent sound from night to night no matter what venue you’re in.”

The drummer has always used a click in the studio and on stage but he never felt the metronome’s necessity as keenly until tracking Amaryllis. “Because of all the backing tracks, the orchestra parts or whatever, you better have the click for those parts or else it’s going to sound like shoes in a dryer.”

With such elaborate sound design, Kerch in one sense has to work even harder to keep it all sounding like a real rock band, paying attention to sound cues and working with the technology, not against it. “Bands that are getting to our level, and that put on a big production, are running backing tracks,” he says. “If we left those offline it wouldn’t even sound like the same song. We have to have those because we’re not going to hire an orchestra every night.”

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More Fans, More Problems

Having scaled that next level of success, Kerch and the band have learned to take the good along with the bad. “The more popular you get, the more people there are out there with baseball bats and telling you you’re a sell-out. Or a Nickelback rip-off,” he says. “I hate that.”

The way Kerch sees it, there’s a reason Nickelback has sold bazillions of records, so the comparison is not really an insult, “but that’s not what we strive for. We play music that’s in the same genre maybe and we came out around the same time, but that’s it.”

There’s another image problem that dogs the band to this day. “Because we’re southern guys and our singer has a very thick accent people think of us as rednecks or ignorant,” he says, speculating that such perceptions are due partially to Shinedown’s cover of Lynyrd Skynrd’s “Simple Man” back in 2003. “That gets really frustrating, the stigma of that. The cool kids and the cool scene it seems automatically blacklisted us. But it’s rock music. Why get angry about it?”

The thing that matters most to this Jacksonville boy is longevity. The idea is that five years from now will look much like today: finishing up another record or pleasantly exhausted in the middle of a tour. “We actually enjoy being around each other and we enjoy playing music and we enjoy touring still after ten years, which a lot of bands can’t say.”

Grateful that he doesn’t have to do a 9 to 5, Kerch says he wouldn’t hesitate to wade through snake-infested water again if that’s what was required of him. “I will if I have to because you’ve got to provide for your family but we want to keep going. We want to be — for lack of a better example — the Aerosmiths or the U2s. The people that continue to tour for life.”

barry kerch

Groove Analysis

The new release from Shinedown, Amaryllis, alternates between the metal riff-rock songs their live fans love and more accessible power ballads enhanced with keyboards, sampled strings, and even tympani that seem designed to draw more middle-of-the-road fans to the band. Barry Kerch is an inventive and slamming drummer who has to be seen live to be fully appreciated.

“Adrenaline”
This aptly named up-tempo track has explosive drum parts that nimbly shift to follow the guitar riffs. You can think of the opening as a metalized version of the Motown groove with the snare on 1, 2, 3, and 4. At the verse Kerch offers a tasty groove with the bass drum pounding quarter-notes and his snare accenting 3 & 4 & in every other bar. He occasionally opens the hi-hat though it’s hard to hear in the mix. Next, he brings up the energy by adding a snare backbeat before tearing into the chorus and moving to his crash cymbal. The last two bars of this section begin with three quick double bass drum notes before repeating. This transcription ends with a restatement of the intro riff.

DRUM! Notation Guide

barry kerch

“Unity”
This is one of Shinedown’s mid-tempo radio-friendly rockers. For this one, Kerch enters with a common yet powerful pattern that accents 1 (2) & and 4 on his crash cymbal and snare, and fills in between those accents with his kick drum. The verse has an interesting and unusual pattern with the snare on (2) & 4 and tom accents to make it flow more smoothly. It sounds as if he’s playing his hi-hat simultaneously with the toms, though it’s hard to be certain since, like many discs produced today, the cymbals are buried in the mix.

barry kerch