Dave Brogan Of ALO: "Speed Of Dreams"
The gauntlet had unquestionably been thrown down for drummer Dave Brogan. On the cusp of recording the new album, Sounds Like This, along with his Bay Area bandmates in the inventive funk/pop/groove band ALO, Brogan got an intimidating challenge from his drum teacher, famed jazz drummer Pete Magadini.
“He said, ‘When you go into the studio, do something that no one’s heard before,’” Brogan recalls. “So I decided to alter the foundation of my drums.”
Recording in San Francisco’s Mission Bell Studios, Brogan surrounded his drum set with virtually every exotic cymbal and percussion piece in his collection. Then he completely reconfigured his kit, with toms set up symmetrically on either side of the snare and hi-hats, creating a jazzy side to the right and an ’80s power-tom zone to the left. Denied of his tried-and-true patterns by the fresh setup, Brogan pushed himself into a new creative space.
One of the many tracks on Sounds Like This to benefit from this rewiring act is “Speed Of Dreams,” a distinctive rock song that sees Brogan starting in at 0:05 with a different kind of drum beat: halting, danceable, and ’80s new wave–inspired at the same time. “I was trying to respond to the syncopated, jazzy piano stabs,” he explains. “There’s not much going on around that piano part — the bass is doing the same thing as the piano, the guitar is doing an altered backbeat — so I thought it was up to me do some variation around those hits. The beat is kind of Devoesque: It’s dancey, as long as you dance like a nerdy robot.”
ALO doesn’t wait long to give their listeners a helping heap of space, as Brogan drops the beat for a full measure at 0:51, just before the first chorus. “When you leave space, you can drop the beat back again,” he observes. “That’s the best excuse for stopping — so you can start again, and drop that beat with that excitement of the first time. As drummers, it’s tempting to want to fill all the space — you’ve got to have variation to have balance, otherwise its just monotony.”
The song’s highly satisfying first chorus kicks in at 0:55, riding comfortably on a straight 4/4 rock rhythm — it’s not a radical beat, but it is a radical change for the song’s groove. “There, I just wanted a pushy, forward-leaning, driving beat and feel,” Brogan says, “because that moves with the lyrics: ‘She moves / with the speed of dreams.’ It’s trying to create this forward motion and energy. To give even more of that effect, I overdubbed maraca over the hi-hat in the second chorus, to give it a really even, steady feel.”
In “Speed”’s post chorus at 1:24, the opening intro/verse beat returns, only this time it’s slightly more spare than the first time around. “I stripped it down a little more before the verse pops back up,” Brogan says. “The idea is to provide delineation, and change the foundational role that the drums play as those sections hit. It’s about pulling the ear along and keeping the listener interested — our intent was to possibly make it a radio track, and that requires keeping the audience engaged.”
1 18" x 16" Maple Custom Absolute Bass Drum
2 14" x 6.5" Yamaha Manu Katche Brass Snare Drum
3 12" x 8" Maple Custom Absolute Tom
4 14" x 14" Maple Custom Absolute Floor Tom
5 12" x 10" Recording Custom Tom
6 16" x 14" Recording Custom Floor Tom
A 14" Dream Hi-Hat (or 14" Zildjian New Beat hats on Yamaha stand with remote pedal connected by a DW shaft.)
B 20" Zildjian K Ride
C 16" Bosphorus Thin Crash
D 22" Zildjian Constantinople Light Ride
E 22" LP Rancan China
F 18" Sabian HHX Crash
G 10" Sabian HHX Splash
H 6" Zildjian Custom A Splash
I Finger Cymbal
Dave Brogan also uses Yamaha hardware, Aquarian heads, Vic Firth sticks, and a Korg Kaosillator
In the second chorus, at 2:06, listen for Brogan’s swing quotient to pick up slightly, foreshadowing a dancey disco feel that will come on strong a little later. Then, at 2:46, there’s a slowdown as “Speed” downshifts noticeably. “That bridge builds up a bunch of steam — it’s got to release at some point,” he says. “So that’s the release. The tension and rhythm build, then we hit that and start winding it back down so we can move forward.”
Following a transitional phase sans drums, the chorus returns, and his straight rock beat begins to get unabashedly bigger and heavier at 3:54. “We’re trying to build up a lot of force to send the song home,” he says. “The guitar solo opens up and we let go of the form, but we compensate by really bringing the energy up. For me, that’s going to involve more cymbal work, as well as more kick.
“I also like to create more energy on the hi-hats — making that white-noise wash by playing half-open on the hi-hat or riding on the crash cymbal. You know: rock. I came up in the ’90s, when Nirvana ruled, and they were all about dynamics. Super soft, then just explode. That’s one of the bands that taught me how important dynamics could be in creating an emotional experience for the listener.”
At 4:23, a syncopated ride lifts the action even further. “That beat — upbeat eighth-notes on the bell of the cymbal — I learned that in junior high school, and I’ve been doing it ever since!” [laughs] “It’s my homage to ’80s rock, it fits with the disco feel, and it supports the guitar solo. As drummers, that’s really our role most of the time: to support what’s going on, and to acknowledge it with little shifts in energy. As the energy comes up in the song, there has to be an emotional response in the drums. All the decisions play into that.”