I’m playing drums for my friend MattiBurns tomorrow night here in Columbus.
I produced a couple tracks on his latest record, and one in particular (a clip of which is attached), was from a track MattiBurns brought in. He had a rough outline of a beat and a sample, and I started tweaking on it and added whatever here and there as I’m wont to do.
Anyway, I wasn’t intentionally jacking with anything specifically on the beat; I was just making it feel interesting with no real thought as to what was being manipulated. When dealing with sample-based music, the interactions between the various elements and samples are what can make it interesting and what can make it feel groovin’ and alive.
On this particular track, I never played any live drums over top of it for the record cut, so I didn’t have to pay attention to the intricacies of what was happening in the drum part. Like I said, I was just making it feel interesting.
Well, come to find out, the drum loop is TOTALLY WHACK to actually play along with. If you listen to the cut—let’s say the tempo is 95bpm or whatever—the loop is actually cut up and tweaked in various places to be playing around 93 or 92bpm, but then it “speeds up” really quickly again at the top of each bar. It creates this interesting feel—like this cool lurching—in the track as it moves around that bass and organ sample, but, MAN, is it weird to play live drums to! I have to speed up my first four 1/8th notes on the hi-hat at the top of each bar, then slightly and continuously drag the rest of the bar, every bar.
Anyway, try it. Play along with it for a few bars. Turns out it’s kind of cool. The tempo is constant, but the groove moves around in a relatively major way every bar. That’s interesting in-and-of-itself, and something worth examining at some point.
This is what I feel like on my practice-pad kit at home.
This guy’s a total pro, though: catastrophic equipment failure (rack tom at :21), but he plays on through while fixing it like nothing happened. He also pulls a Vinnie and puts a bar of 15 in there at one point. Not an unintentional dropped beat. No, no. It was a bar of 15.
And then two more catastrophic equipment failures, one of which launches the hihats into orbit, but he finishes strong. Color me impressed.
I’m going to go ahead and say everything happening in this video is interesting.
Bill Stewart is just awesome. But so are Scofield and Steve Swallow. And I had no idea Swallow used a pick! I had never seen him play—only heard.
Back to Bill Stewart, though: of all of the modern straight-ahead players, the way he tunes his drums and how he hits them (i.e. the tone he gets)—one of my absolute favorites. And I love his cymbal sounds, too.
Side-note: he’s a fellow born-in-Iowan. Rock. Err…jazz.
Jesse had one of my all-time favorite bass players Jeff Ciampa—a Columbus guy who I’d put up against anyone in the world—playing with him. He was righteous as always. As was Tyler (my brother on guitar). They killed it. Interesting songs. Great playing. Two sax players to boot.
Anyway, it reminded of a great record Jeff wrote and produced several years ago with some local heroes in a band called Omnipop. I busted that out this morning (still awesome), and that reminded me of a list I began in the Reuben Van with Jonathan Hape (Reuben’s bass player, and of Room & Board fame and several other incarnations of great musical things).
This list was our personal top 50 records, but the criteria were specific. This list wasn’t our favorite records or “best” records; it was the top 50 records that have influenced us heavily, i.e. changed the musical trajectory of our lives, in one way or another. So I dug out the list I had started (Yeah, I had it in a spreadsheet. Whachu gon’ do ‘bout it?). It’s not complete, but I’m now going to complete it then post for the influence and/or judgement of everyone. I think you should, too.
The top five so far are as follows (subject to change):
1. Jellyfish - Spilt Milk 2. The Beatles - Revolver 3. Omnipop - My Imagined Life with Alfred Moore 4. Jon Brion - Meaningless 5. D’Angelo - Voodoo
In honor of Etta James’ death, I’m taking a break this afternoon from my all-week obsessive listening party of the 12 Rods album Lost Time (more Dave King on drums!).
Etta James, Otis Redding, Mavis Staples, Al Green, etc. etc.—all of these absolutely unreal singers with amazing bands grooving so hard are gracing my airwaves with greatness.
One thing has struck me over and over as these tracks pop up: epic intros as the tunes start. Intros that make you take notice. Intros that boldly state, “Hey, you, what you’re about to hear is worth giving it your time to listen to. We are creating something with real soul, and we are going to introduce it in a way that will make you take notice.”
Or another description: “YO! <SLAP>” Hoooorrnnnnns! BASS! DRUM EXPLOSION! “HEADS UP!”
And the intros prepare you for what’s coming emotionally, as well. It’s such good arranging—something lacking in so much of today’s music as I listen, but I haven’t given it much thought until today.
My point is that these intros point to the worth of what’s about to happen. “This is valuable, so I’m letting you know up front, so pay attention!”
In the fits of discussions I and the rest of anyone paying attention are having about copyright laws in the U.S. for the past couple weeks, I have been thinking a lot about content quality. And these intros have churned these thoughts even more. This music is worth something; it’s valuable.
Think about when many of these records came out; people couldn’t wait to get their hands on new music. Whether it was the new 45 at the record shop or the new hit on FM, people were excited because it was content worth being excited about. It was exciting because it was deep, artistically driven and full of soul (broad definition, not genre).
However, we can nostalgia-cize ourselves into misery, so we have to remind ourselves that this still happens. Think about a new Radiohead release: it’s news for people. It churns up excitement and wide eyes of anticipation. Or insert any relevant-to-your-artistic-senses album in the past few years—this still exists; it’s just that we’re inundated with more “others” than we’ve ever had to deal with. How much music from the 60s, 70s, 80s & 90s will we never listen again because it was crap? A LOT. And with the advent of quality, home-based production capabilities and the thousands of ways to self-distribute content, we’re all in constant state of digging out of an avalanche of most-likely mediocre stuff.
But there has always been music worth getting excited about, and worth real money to people, and worth our attention.
So when you’re creating, keep this in mind. Make your music worth something by making it with real soul and care, and perhaps throw an epic intro in there for good measure.
There’s something primeval about guys banging on wood. But the New York percussion group Mantra takes such primitive pounding to a surprisingly refined level. For composer Michael Gordon’s mesmerizing new work — Timber, written for six two-by-fours — Mantra set up a public performance of the piece in the lumber department of a big-box hardware store in Alexandria, Va.