Chad Smith: Appropriately Overplaying

Wonder what Red Hot Chili Peppers mainstay Chad Smith is up to lately? Playing with his Bombastic Meatbats, of course! Though the Chili Peppers are currently touring the Eastern Block, Smith recently released the Bombastic Meatbats’ third album, Live Meat And Potatoes, this past May, following the equally Chad-licious offerings, Meat The Meatbats (2009) and More Meat (2010).

Known as the “Big Galoot” by his fellow MeatBat band members – guitarist Jeff Kollman (from Cosmosquad), bassist Kevin Chown (Uncle Kracker, Tarja Turunen), and keyboardist Ed Roth) – Smith gets to stretch his stuff and admittedly get his “ya yas out.” You don’t have the CD yet? Hit the worldwide web and search “Need Strange” for a freebie performance. After hearing the band’s slippery, slimy, good time funk swill, you most certainly will.

How do you play differently with the Bombastic Meatbats compared to the Red Hot Chili Peppers?
There are similarities. Live with the Chili Peppers we do a lot of improvisation, a lot of jamming, as well as in the Meatbats. There are verses and choruses and bridges and solos. But we stretch out more in the live than in the studio versions. And I don’t have to worry about stepping over the singer! You have to keep it interesting for the band and for the listener. But we really get to stretch out instrumentally, we play off each other and listen and take risks. Sometimes it sounds like the drums are falling down a flight of stairs and sometimes the drums sound really great! That’s all part of taking chances, and this is the kind of music that lends itself to that. This is instrumental music so you can take some liberties, hopefully, as I like to say, appropriately overplaying. Is that an oxymoron like jumbo shrimp? We enjoy making it our own every time.

Since it’s instrumental music you must have to dig deeper sometimes.
I only have so many tricks in my bag and it’s not a very full bag! So I have to keep reloading, but the music dictates that in any setting. You want to make it feel good and play with dynamics and play musically, and with instrumental music you want to inject as much personality into it as possible. So we have a lot of humor in our music and that makes us different than some of the other instrumental bands. Often there is this connotation with instrumental music that it’s serious and for musicians only and lots of notes. We just like to have fun.

I hear a little Zappa.
People say that. And we have inside jokes that we name the songs from. We all have nicknames. It’s fun to have that humor, it’s important to have humor. We play small venues, it’s great. It’s like playing somebody’s basement in Indiana.

How do stretch yourself and break out of the Chad Smith brain?
It’s the other people you play with. It’s important that you’re challenged by the other musicians you play with. I hopefully inspire them and they do me. It’s important to be a good listener; that is most important for any musician. You have to push people and inspire people to play new things and vice versa. Hopefully we take it somewhere interesting and fun – especially in the solo sections. We don’t have to worry about a singer so we get to do that, but then you’re naked, you can’t hide. We’re just having fun; I hope that comes through. I hope people hear our joy.

So it’s in the moment and having a conversation.
Yes, hopefully we are speaking the same language! For me, being in the moment is the best place to be for any musician. And hopefully in the moment you’re as free of yourself as you can be. I try to get there as often as possible, and I live for those moments.

What are your favorite drumming tracks? What is “Need Strange”?
What is that? [laughs] “Oh! I Spilled My Beer” is good. “Need Strange” is funky with some drum breaks at the end. I am pleased with the performance; there are no overdubs or fixing. We take it out and it speeds up and slows down, we’re humans and it has that human element. “Bread Balls” has a nice solo section, from marching to funk beats to Keith Moon styled figures at the end. We stretch out on the longer songs and get our ya-yas out.

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You have one of the great 2 and 4 snare slams in rock. What advice can you give now in this age of the Pro Tools grid to get a slamming, consistent snare sound?
I do play rimshots when playing a hard groove. I like that sound, a bright hard sound that cuts through. The snare drum has the most personality in the kit. For rock and roll, or any aggressive loud music, it’s important that it moves and breathes and it’s natural and sounds like people playing. That connects to people. If it’s electronic music, programmed perfect drumming works for that, but for what we do and what I do, I think the human element is more important than it being perfect. I want it to have the flaws and the warts and I want people to hear that it’s a human playing the drums. That can get lost with the modern technology. I am old fashioned, but I want to hear the personality in the instrument.

The only way to get that consistent 2 and 4 is practice. Record yourself. That helps you balance yourself on the drum set. John Bonham played the kit as one instrument. He was thinking about all of that, he was very in tune with making his drums sound like one instrument. We worked with Andy Johns who worked with Led Zeppelin. He said Bonham would listen to the playback, then adjust his drumming; they didn’t adjust his mikes. “When The Levee Breaks” is two microphones and it’s perfectly balanced. Practice emotion and where you’re hitting the drum. There are no shortcuts in becoming consistent to get your sound. Kids get their one beat and one fill and think they are ready for Madison Square Garden. Play as much as you can with as many people as you can. That’s the best way to get better.

What do you practice now?
I haven’t practiced much lately – I am doing gigs. When I warm up it’s to get my limbs loose. I’ll do flams and rolls around the kit, slow to fast to get things moving. Alternating singles on the left and right hands. I have a small kit backstage, and sometimes the band will run through some songs.

But now we’re off to Russia! Playing St. Petersburg and Moscow then Poland – the Eastern Block. And I want to thank the readers of DRUM! for voting the Holy China as cymbal of the year! Thank you! I’m stoked!

Chad Smith’s 2012 Setup

Drums: Custom Clear Acrylic Masters Series
24" x 16" Bass Drum
12" x 8" Mounted Tom
14" x 14" Floor Tom
16" x 16" Floor Tom
14" x 6.5" Sensitone Snare Drum (steel)
14" x 6.5" Free Floating Snare Drum
6" x 12" Rocket Tom
6" x 15" Rocket Tom
6" x 18" Rocket Tom
6" x 21" Rocket Tom

Cymbals: Sabian
19" AA Medium Crash
21" AA Rock Ride
20" AA Rock Crash
21" Holy China
14" AA Medium Hats
10" AAX Splash

Percussion:
Gon Bops Cowbells
Timpani

Chad Smith also uses Vater sticks, Remo heads, and Pearl hardware and pedals.