When Sam Loeffler arrived in Los Angeles to record Chevelle’s latest record, Hats Off To The Bull, his migraines were raging in full force. The aches became so debilitating that he was bedridden for three days during the first week his group was scheduled to record. When the vocalist and guitarist in your group happens to be your brother (Pete), and the bassist your brother-in-law (Dean Bernardini), there’s a familial chemistry that requires collective recording for the raw energy and fluid interchange that have become Chevelle signatures. Loeffler’s family members made the best of the situation by working on a couple of acoustic tracks while the drummer sat at home recuperating. After a week of head-splitting pain, Loeffler’s doctor finally injected a shot into the top of his scull, right next to the base of his brainstem — a procedure known to help some people with their migraines. Fortunately, it worked for Loeffler as well.
For the next five weeks the alarm clock went off at 10 a.m. every morning as Loeffler and his brothers rose in the home they rented in Studio City, California. They would eat breakfast before piling into their rental car and heading out to the recording studio in Pasadena. For the entirety of this half-hour commute absolutely no music was played in the vehicle — the time was spent discussing their previous days’ work and mapping out exactly what they needed to accomplish that day.
Drums Pearl Reference Pure (Black Cherry)
1 22" x 18" Bass
2 13" x 6.5" Reference Snare (Silver Sparkle)
3 12" x 9" Tom
4 16" x 16" Floor Tom
Cymbals Zildjian A Custom
A 14" Hi-Hat
B 14" Custom EFX (bottom); 8" ZXT Trashformer (top)
C 18" Crash
D 10" Splash
E 19" Crash
F 21" Ride
G 20" Crash
H 20" China
I 10" 105X Dual Trigger Mesh V-Pads (for snare and 808 sample)
Sam Loeffler also uses Pearl 2002c double pedal with wood beaters and Pearl 1000 series hardware, Remo heads on toms and snare, Aquarian SuperKick2 on bass, and Vater 5B sticks.
When they arrived at JHOC studios they would sit with producer Joe Barresi and analyze the demos that they had brought with them from Chicago. When the discussion was over the drummer would sit down behind his kit and take a few swings at the tune. The first couple of takes were always warm-ups. Around 2 p.m. the brothers would take a break, go outside, and enjoy the California warmth.
After the breather, the band would listen back to its early afternoon’s work, then Leoffler would continue pounding away behind his kit until dinnertime. While they ate, the band, producer, and engineer took turns playing disc jockey as they evaluated their favorite albums for things like inspirational guitar and drum tones. Recording would resume until about 11 p.m. most evenings, after which the brothers would pile back into their rental car, drive home, have a couple of beers, and call it a day.
Make no mistake, this was not the first step in Chevelle’s recording process — it was the last. Songwriting had begun five months earlier in Chicago, when Pete presented his brothers with around 35 new musical ideas. One of these song seedlings was just a riff. As the trio began structuring this particular guitar line, a lyric quickly popped into the vocalist’s head — “to pick up the tip doesn’t mean a lot.” The line was referring to corporate greed, and more specifically, Bernie Madoff. The tune they would call “Face To The Floor” came together relatively quickly, and the first demo was laid down within four or five days. Like most of Chevelle’s songs, several more demos of the same track were recorded until the band felt that the song was sufficiently structured. After six records and twelve top-ten hits, songwriting has become a science for the trio.
“For us,” Loeffler says, “songs are all about building, without making it too simple. Your intro is something to get somebody hooked. Your first chorus is your first real introduction to the melody. Your second verse needs to have something more than the first verse does. The second chorus needs to bring in a new melody on top of that already-established melody. And your bridge needs to be a different song — a song within a song. Or, once in a while you can get away with a cool solo on guitar or something,” he laughs.
Whenever the drummer is presented with a new musical idea, his jumping-off point is usually a four-on-the-floor foundation. “It’s weird, because Pete, in every situation, will want me to play four-on-the-floor — that’s his favorite thing. If I just throw everything out there at once, he’ll just go ‘no, no, no — we can’t do that.’ So I have to give it to him a little bit at a time.”
What this translates to in “Face To The Floor” is a driving rhythm that subtly changes throughout the track. “It’s really not about the beats; it’s about the feel of it,” Loeffler says. Listen to how economically the drummer uses texture and space to accomplish this. Like he does throughout the verse, during every prechorus he opens up his hi-hat to rev things up a bit. During the chorus Loeffler rides on his crash to push the section along. Using texture to convey structure is always a simple but powerful tool. Changing things up texturally around your kit is key for any drummer — if you’re playing your verse on the hi-hat, move your chorus to the ride or crash. It’s a lesson Loeffler understands well.
He also makes subtle use of space as well. As he transitions from the verse to the chorus, he simply hits beats 1, 2, and 3 on his crashes and bass drum. The lack of a snare hit lets the tune breathe momentarily before driving into the chorus. Throughout the bridge Loeffler adds a hesitation to the beat produced by a snare drum flam and bass hit. The lick adds a great deal of tension-and-release to the section. And don’t miss the forceful drum fill in the prebridge just 'after the second chorus. Loeffler constructed the part with Bernardini, who also happens to be a drummer. The two musicians liked the fill so much, in fact, that they are currently using it during the introduction to the live performance of the track.
The single “Face To The Floor” hit rock radio in October, and the new album comes out the first week in December. But with an arsenal of new material, Chevelle has to be careful about how many tunes they perform live before their new record is released. Technology, while it’s a great promotional tool, is also a double-edged sword.
“People record them [the unreleased songs] and put them on YouTube,” Loeffler says, “which is fine. We’re happy that they do that. We just want the record to be almost out before we start playing four or five songs. You really like people to be able to hear the recorded version of the song before they hear the other, because people get stuck on versions. They’ll be like ‘Oh, I like the live version better.’ Well, there is no live version. That’s on your camera phone!”