Gil Sharone On The New Stolen Babies Album

gil sharone

Gil Sharone has risen to the ranks of semi drum stardom as a member of Dillinger Escape Plan, and as a sub for Travis Barker, but this self taught drummer is more than a sideman. With his own band, Stolen Babies, Sharone creates all manner of smoking complexity and stone cold groove machinations. The band’s second album, , is a dizzy collection of songs seemingly inspired by everyone from Astor Piazolla and Kurt Weill to Frank Zappa, Mr. Bungle, and The Specials, an inspired amalgam of diverse styles and sounds. But behind the curious melodies and drumming flagellations, Sharone’s mantra seems to be “If it doesn’t groove, it doesn’t work,” so powerful, clean, and assured is his pocket.

Most recently lending his quality approach to records by Otep and Puscifier, Sharone’s work on Naught is easily his most thrilling workout to date. Recording on a standard set augmented with oil drums, glass bottles, African bells, and various metallic percussion devices, Sharone gets a grip that never stops giving.

One of the songs on the album, “Never Come Back,” sounds like a wild gypsy rhythm played on sampled drums.
Our reference for that song, the working title was “The Pirate Song,” because it has that piratey feel and that swing to it during the verses. From the time it was written to when it was on the record it went through many changes. On that rhythm [sings rhythm] I am playing a double bass pattern off the guitar riff. There’s a three against four feel, or 12/8 feel, however you like to interpret that rhythm. So it’s not too far from a gypsy rhythm. But it’s all performed live, no cutting and pasting, or any of that garbage. It’s all me live playing to a click but the producer, Ulrich Wild, treated the toms, but I don’t know how. I think he sampled some of our oil drums for the toms. Even at the end it is really burly on the last hits. There you really hear the drum treatment. We recorded that track in a small cinder block room so you hear the natural drums and the sound replacement. But honestly, I don’t even know what Ulrich used. I just said “Yes, it sounds dope.”

The rhythm of “Splatter” sounds like it was played on junk percussion and real drums.
We use a lot of oil drums – we like industrial metal percussion. A lot of that track is entirely real. Even on “Grubbery” you can hear that, all sorts of crazy weird percussion. We use oil drums, handmade metal things that don’t have a name, old like crazy African cowbells we found ten years ago, even glass bottles, anything that makes a noise that affects us. I could play a simple rhythm with a pencil on something, and it’ll move us and carry a song. “Grubbery” is the perfect example of that. You hear all these pans, percussion and rhythms panned all over the mix and layered with each other, those are either homemade things or the oil drum; an oil drum-created backbeat with a SansAmp on it to add distortion. “Splatter” is pretty organic. I’m keeping four on the floor, riding the hi-hat, and there’s those shotgun blasts. When the verses enter I play some really heavy tom beats. Then there’s tambourine on the upbeats, and crashing upbeats on the China cymbal. There’s a really burly guitar riff and bass tone in that song.

It sounds like a mambo in places, somewhat of a Latin feel.
The main pulse of that song is definitely the upbeat Latin pulse for the chorus, but there’s the first verse where it’s very funky and heavy. It’s more Afro Cuban than Latin. Really heavy, funky rhythms. We love all kinds of rhythms, and keeping things 4/4 but layering that with different counter rhythms.

On “Second Sleep,” the drum sound is like a hurricane; a really massive, oceanic drum sound. Is that the effect of reverbs or plug-in delays?
Definitely reverbs. The temporary title for that song was “Machine,” because my brother made that cracking boom-crash loop in the beginning of the song. It’s so massive, it’s slow enough to keep it groovy and hypnotic, even when we play the song live. As soon as the band kicks in it’s so hypnotic the crowd really feels it. Even when playing big venues it’s total arena rock. The sonic sound we were looking for was, of course, very big and powerful.

“Mousefood” is manic!
To me, it’s very up-tempo, it’s got a thrashy punk vibe, but the verses are all off the bass line. It’s very syncopated, and in terms of a punk rock shuffle it really swings. It has a shuffle backbeat, but it’s not a traditional shuffle.

It’s sort of Zappa-ish; a lot of Stolen Babies music has that spirit.
A lot of people say that. They think we listen to Zappa and Mr. Bungle, but I never got into Zappa. That rhythm is very syncopated and fast. I tell drummers that even if you play a rhythm like that it has to groove. So whether it’s frantic and there’s a lot of syncopated things happening, there’s still a backbeat that people can dance to. On “Mouse Food” there’s syncopated hits against the backbeat, that’s how I describe that rhythm.

“Don’t Know” is another unusual rhythm, very late ’80s sounding like something from The Jesus Lizard.
That’s a very heavy, almost ’80s influenced Phil Collins thing, the way the drums have space there. It’s funky though. We love funky rhythms. We like things that make people want to dance and move, I can’t stress that enough. We like things to be meticulous, but we steer away from things that are rigid. It all has to swing and groove. You hear the big toms on the chorus there, that tribal aggressive thing. And the double bass breakdown, which is industrial, that’s a big oil drum with distortion on it. The verses are straight ’80s Phil Collins, like “I Know There’s Something Going On.” That’s the beat to “Don’t Know.” It’s very groovy and open; a lot of space to it. I could overplay the hell out of every song on this album, but I play for the song. Oh no, now I have Frida in my head! [laughs}

And “Dried Moat”? That’s very theatrical and dancey.
That song has a shuffle all day long. There’s a 12/8 feel happening, a lot of percussion and that triplet against the shuffle. I’m playing an oil drum again. You’re hearing a lot of triplet movement with the percussion and the drums are very heavy, four on the floor during the verses, and a backbeat on the cross-stick. The chorus is open with a busier bass drum pattern. A totally swinging rock shuffle.

You play some very aggressive and busy rhythms. What advice do you give to young drummers who admire that kind of drumming?
Start making things groove before you add anything complicated. So right off the bat your feel gets established. Before you can play a busy linear pattern, make a backbeat groove. Then as you take away or add notes or shift where you’re moving on the kit over that backbeat make sure as you’re changing gears that you don’t lose the intensity and the focus and the feel of the pocket. As soon as the pieces fall down stop and go back to the beginning. Don’t let the busy stuff overshadow the pocket. Work on the meat and potatoes and make that feel good. You can’t expect to start adding things and playing more complicated if your basic and 4 isn’t feeling good. It’s basic building blocks. Get the pocket and internalize your feel. Also, if you can’t sing it, you can’t play it.