Danny Thompson: The Invisible Hand

Danny Thompson

Danny Thompson constructs his drum sounds from the ground up — literally. In addition to his musical abilities, he’s also a seasoned drum builder. In 2008 he was busy crafting a kit for the drum company that he co-owned when his business partner, Kenny Livingston, received a phone call from Face To Face. Although the legendary punk group had broken up in 2004, they were now getting back together for a handful of festival dates. Their former drummer, Pete Parada, was busy playing with The Offspring, so they wanted to know if Livingston was interested in auditioning for their band. “Kenny was like, ‘Yeah, I can’t play this fast punk rock stuff, but I know someone who can,’” Thompson recalls. “[At the time] I was playing in another band called The Uprising, which was real fast, Pennywise-style punk rock.” And so Thompson got the audition.

As soon as he found out about the opportunity he planted himself behind his drum set for the next couple of weeks, wood shedding on a potential set list that the band had given him. His hard work paid off, although the talented punker contends that his successful audition was more a testament to the band’s high level of musicianship than his drumming skills. “The first time I sat in with these guys it felt amazing, and I always credit that to the bass player being so solid” Thompson says. “Moving into a band like this where the quality level of songwriting is so good, and getting to play with Scott [Shiflett], who’s probably one of the best rock and roll bass players in the world, it makes it that much easier for a drummer.” After landing the gig, a few reunion shows turned into a nationwide tour, which eventually lead to the band recording their first album in nine years.

As far as comeback records go, Laugh Now, Laugh Later is as solid as they come. It’s everything you’d expect from Face To Face — Trever Keith’s catchy vocal lines and dissonant guitar riffs mixed with second-six-stringer Chad Yaro, all laid on top of Scott Shiflett’s busy melodic bass lines. But, at this point, you’re probably wondering how a new drummer fits into the mix.

“Trever and Scott are the primary songwriters,” Thompson says. “Trever was emailing me mp3s with drum machine parts on them, so the general feel of the song was already in there. I took his basic framework and just added a little bit of a different feel to it. More of what a drummer would play.” And as every drummer knows, it’s not what you play, but how you play it. Thompson was given the difficult task of adhering to the songwriters’ structures, while also putting his own stamp on the tunes.

The mid-tempo track “The Invisible Hand” was no exception to this machine-spawned songwriting process. “The drum machine part had a tom intro, and Trever had established that rhythm with that accented 1, 2 &, 3, 4,” he says, emphasizing the & of 2 and the 4. “So then I just created a more groovy kind of natural tom intro for that part, but kept it true to that rhythm and accent he created.”

For the verse, the demo Thompson received only had a simple rim-click programmed throughout the entirety of the section. Thompson decided to build the verse’s intensity instead, where halfway through the section he adds a backbeat on the snare drum that he embellishes with hi-hat hits that snap shut. Right before the chorus he opens up his hi-hat completely, propelling the song forward. Notice how the palm-muted guitars are percussively driving the majority of the verse — most drummers might be temped to overplay on a simple part like this. Not Thompson. He stays out of the way and supports the music instead. Also make note of how the entire band pushes and pulls time throughout the song. The chorus is a slower groove, so they move things forward during the verse, using a tactful blend of tension and release that’s a hallmark of good music of any style.

The song’s payoff comes in the bridge, which is colored by some classic Face To Face guitar interplay reminiscent of earlier material like “You’ve Got A Problem.” The band loves to have one guitarist loop a riff while the rhythm guitarist and bassist melodically move around the line. Thompson crescendos on the toms at first, adds some accents that transform the crescendos into grooves, moves into a straightforward tom-and-snare groove, returns to a basic crescendo, and then fills into the final chorus. Thompson impressively doubles most of the bridge on his toms and snare.

“That was the hardest part of the song to play. That’s a fairly long section to ride those toms with snare with accents on them. Those are the parts where having proper technique comes into play. Recording a part like that is hard to do — to make it sound good, and not have to edit it.” The good technique most definitely paid off in the studio — Thompson captured his drum parts in just two days, recording live with the bassist and rhythm guitarist.

We happened to catch up with Thompson the day before he embarked on a two-month tour. When he returns home he’ll continue running The Music Factory, a music school he cofounded in Orange County. In addition, he’ll also be recording a DVD focused entirely on drum tuning, another obsession of his. Although he’s momentarily shelved his drum building business, you can still hear his craftsmanship on Laugh Now, Laugh Later, or if you catch the band live. But for the time being, Thompson is just amped to begin touring.

“I’m really excited that now we actually get to play some songs that I recorded,” he says, “It’s an interesting situation because the two previous drummers played totally differently. [After first joining the group] We’d go out and play a 22-song set, and I’d go from a Rob [Kurth] song to one that Pete [Parada] had recorded. I would have to change up how I was playing, but at the same time be able to interject my own feeling into the song. [laughs] Maybe ten years from now there will be some other kid who’s got to figure out how to play my songs.” Something tells us it’ll be sooner than that, Danny.

Danny Thompson

Drums: LTD Classic Maple
1 24" x 16.5" Bass Drum
2 14" x 5.5" Yamaha Snare Drum
3 12" x 10" Tom
4 16" x 16" Floor Tom

Cymbals: Sabian
A 14" AAX Hi-Hat
B 17" Vault V-Crash
C 18" Vault V-Crash
D 21" AA Ride
E 20" Vault V-Crash

Danny Thompson also uses Yamaha hardware, DW 5000 double pedal, Aquarian heads (Super 2 Clears on all tom batters, Classic Clear on resos, High Energy Coated snare head, and Super Kick II on bass drum), Vater Fusion sticks, Humes & Berg cases, and Cympad cymbal felts.

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