Carter Beauford’s Odd Meter Workout On “Seven”
Written by Dave Constantin // Transcription by Wally Schnalle Originally Published In DRUM! Magazine's October 2009 Issue
Band: Dave Matthews Band
Album: Big Whiskey & The GrooGrux King
For anybody who ever said seven isn’t right for radio, Carter Beauford has one word for you: “Money.” As in Pink Floyd’s infectiously airwave-friendly ode to the almighty dollar, which, in addition to holding the not-so-shabby distinction as one of the top-50 most-played classic rock songs of all time (according to Jacobs Media), just happens to be in – you guessed it – seven (save for that pesky guitar solo section, but who’s counting guitars?).
“That tune is one of my favorite tunes of all time,” Beauford says. “And I heard a few A&R guys say, ’No, you can’t have a tune on the radio in seven. You can’t have a tune in a different time signature.’ And I’m like, ’Bulls--t,’ you know? So after that I stopped listening to A&R guys because obviously they don’t know what they’re talking about,” he laughs.
And so it is that whenever Beauford and company have found their jams drifting outside the confines of the old Western standard, more often than not they land comfortably in 7/4 territory, as they did again during the recording of Big Whiskey & The GrooGrux King.
“It was somewhere in the midst of our Seattle sessions when that tune came to light,” Beauford says, referring to the meat-and-potatoes leg of the recording process, where the song skeletons they’d outlined at their Charlottesville, Virginia studio, Haunted Hollow, were made whole during some intensive, full-band jam sessions under the guidance of producer Rob Cavallo. And one of the first of those was this little oddity, named for its most distinguishing feature.
“When we did it, it kind of hit right off the bat,” Beauford says. “It was one of those things that we just, we fell into something and it just took off right away. I’m not sure if I started playing a thing and Stefan [Lessard, bass] fell into it, and then Dave fell into it – I’m not exactly sure how it came about. But it was pretty much off the top of our heads. And we just went with it from there. Which a lot of the songs take their shape that way, you know? And then we’ll grab it and we’ll decide to put stuff to it to make it do what we want it to do.”
For Beauford, following in Floyd’s footsteps, that meant this sucker needed to groove. “What I was shooting for was, I knew this was going to be a radio thing, so I was trying to get, as best I could, a 4/4 feel out of that seven. By keeping that seven just as strong as it can possibly be there, but in the same breath making sure that that 4/4 was clear. It’s a weird sway that you get when you play a 4/4 against a seven, it’s a cool kind of thing that goes on. But I was trying to make it as comfortable as possible for the listener.”
And while Pink Floyd found their seven-beat cash-register groove worked best with the downbeats on 2, 4, and 6, Beauford drops the hammer only on beat 3, adding ample space to the tune while giving both the listener and the band something juicy to latch onto. “For this particular thing it kind of went there just to get everybody to identify where this thing was going to happen, so they could find a mark, so to speak, and take it from there. But it varies, you know? I’ll put it anywhere,” he laughs. “I’ll lay it anywhere.”
It helps that this particular odd-time pulse has become a band favorite “Yeah, that seven seems to be one that everybody’s quite comfortable with,” Beauford says. "I’m not sure why, but you know. I don’t know if it’s because of the four feel that’s behind it. I don’t know if everyone’s doing a lot of subdividing in that fashion. But whichever way they’re doing it, it seems to work [laughs]. Seems to be happening for them.”
As for Beauford’s method, wherever that downbeat winds up, you can bet it wasn’t a mathematical consideration. “I feel everything unless it’s something that needs to be counted,” Beauford says. “And if it needs to be counted in that fashion then the music is not playing. I’m sitting down and I’m critiquing a piece of music that we’re going to try and work on, or I write it down on a chart or something like that and then I’ll study that and then go to the drum kit and put it down and give it the feel that I’m looking for. But for the most part, when we’re up there creating stuff, I’m feeling everything that were’ doing. And that’s just the way it’s always been for me.”
By the time this song came about, he says, “Everybody was feeling the studio. We were all on the same page. We knew exactly where we wanted to go with this particular record and with these songs.” For those who missed last month’s DRUM! cover story on Beauford, the process for most of the songs on this album was that the ideas were hatched at Haunted Hollow, fleshed out in Litho Studio and Studio X in Seattle, and then re-recorded and cleaned up at Piety Street Studio in New Orleans.
And while they kept a few in tact from the Seattle sessions, “Seven” is one that they did go back and clean up at Piety Street. Still, though, the fixes were minor, and everything is, by and large, a one-take run-through. As a rule, Beauford doesn’t splice drum tracks. “I’ve tried that before and it just never worked for me,” he says. “Because a lot of times I would hear something, and once you break down the drums or switch a snare drum or re-tune everything, it’s going to sound totally different from what you did on a take or two before – so you have to reset everything, everything has to be set up again, and it’s just so much production. So I just feel it’s better to run it all the way through as one big piece. I feel it’ll flow better that way.” And one thing’s for sure: If “Seven” turn into “Money” for DMB, it’ll be because radio always goes with the flow.