By Don Zulaica, transcription by Wally Schnalle Originally published in the February/March 2004 issue of DRUM! Magazine
Morgan Rose has admitted his tendencies to “overplay,” [“I overplay a lot anyway, but I really get to overplay on this one.” Vol. 10, #7] but on Sevendust’s fourth studio album Seasons, the drummer lays down one tasty groove after another. But don’t take that to mean that he isn’t getting his licks in.
On the song “Broken Down,” he opens with an infectious beat-box pattern that originated from, well, an old beat-box. “That was a beautiful thing,” Rose gushes. “[Guitarist] John [Connolly] wrote that song and had a drum machine on there, and I really liked that sound. We had an old-school Alesis … primitive … just a step above the original Casios. It had a really cool sound, and originally we used the beat that was on the machine. When we went in to track the song, we actually tracked the chorus alone, so I only played on the chorus and we let the drum machine be the verse. That was the way I liked it.”
Producer Butch Walker convinced Rose to try to re-produce the beat organically, using a 24" kick drum, a 12" x 4.5" Tama steel snare, and two 10" Zildjian Z splashes as hi-hats. “The Alesis had a really primitive sound to it, and they wanted me to play a beat that was similar to what we had put on the machine, yet have it obviously sound like a human playing it. We came up with the idea to have it be a mixture between being something a little more hip-hop on the beat, but using more of a John-Bonham miking technique to try to get that ambience.”
Bonham ambience from splash-cymbal hi-hats? “We were predominantly using room mikes in this tiny vocal booth, and all I had was the kick and a snare and these hi-hats. And they sounded terrible. It’s just not advisable to be using 10" splashes as hi-hats. But Butch said, ‘No, let me go in the room and dial in.’ And he came up with that sound, kind of hip-hop-meets-Bonham type of sound. They sounded considerably darker in the room, like ‘this just isn’t going to work.’ You know, cymbals sound good to the ear when they’re wide open, and then you put it on tape and it’s a completely different sound. You can manipulate it in so many different ways.”
The beat itself is loaded with sixteenth-note flurries and hi-hat barks, and you might think they were played as double strokes. “They’re singles,” he emphasizes. “Normally I play stuff like that as singles, because I use sticks that have dual butt ends, so you’re not getting a lot of help [when you play doubles].”
For the chorus, Rose flushes out a washy quarter-note pulse, giving lots of room for Lajon Witherspoon’s vocals to soar. But right before the chorus kicks in there’s a tension-creating rest, or as Rose calls it, a breath. “That’s the ‘money shot’ on the song,” he explains. “The feel reminds me of having your teeth clenched. The sound of the hi-hats and some of the movement between the hi-hats and the snare with those sixteenth-notes off of it, it feels a little uneasy to me, and when you get to the chorus it’s that [exhales] breath.”
After the second time through the chorus, you’ll also notice that Rose does some funky tapping on the drum rims. You longtime Sevendust fans may remember this from earlier albums.
“On our first album I did a lot of rim use,” he admits, “and hadn’t done it since then. When we got to that part [of “Broken Down”], I wanted to do something different, do a different sound. It was kind of a flashback to our first record, and the fact that Butch had helped produce some of our first songs. So it was a little bit of a tribute to him. We went back in time.”
You don’t have to go back in time to work out some funky hip-hop and slammin’ rock grooves. You can give your best shot to “Broken Down” right now.