When your studio is temporarily set up in a spare bedroom (I’m doing some more work on the carriage house) and your wife is taking a nap (apparently, pregnant women love to nap), knowing how to play quietly becomes an essential part of the production process… and a happy marriage. And playing quietly doesn’t just mean grabbing some brushes and making everything 30 db lower.. it also means keeping the intensity up. Put some fire in the mezzo-piano.
By harnessing the energy of arena-rock style drumming and funneling it into the quiet side of the dynamic range, today’s loop is perfectly suitable for coffeeshops, jazz clubs… and nearby naps.
For this loop I decided to take the opposite approach to producing. The “Costanza Method” of recording, if you will. As I’m sure most of you already know, effects and audio processing are typically applied during the mixing process, after all of the tracks are recorded. However, for this session, I applied a variety of sonic sculpting tools to the master bus BEFORE recording a single note. Sure, I checked the levels to make sure everything was copacetic, but I wanted this random stack of effects to play a leading role in the creation of my loop.
What you hear in the mp3 below is the exact same thing I heard in my headphones as I was recording and ultimately, dictated what I played. The signal chain; absurd amounts of compression->massive Whitesnake-style reverb->super fast and tight gating->crazy stereo delay with pitch-shifting.
What sounds like a pretty busy groove (and a bad acid trip from the 80’s), is really just me playing a very minimal 4 bar phrase with a tom fill at the end. It’s the 16th note delay that fills up the rest of the track, precisely bouncing around the stereo spectrum due to the abundance of gating applied to the entire track. Had no gates been used, this loop would be messier than a groupie at a Monsters of Rock festival.
When I put out a call for loop requests the other week, I received an outpouring of emails asking for every type of genre and beat you could imagine. Everything from tangos, odd meter math rock, slow bossa novas, death metal (I don’t own a double bass pedal and my trenchcoat is at the dry cleaner) and merrengue. Quite a spectrum. And while I’ve kept all of these responses on file for future sessions, it was one particular request that immediately caught my ear and sent me running to the studio.
A message was sent in with a link to the following Bill Withers track, telling me to check out the drum groove (played by the great James Gadson) in the intro:
OMG. How tasty is that shit? How have I never heard this song before?? Gah!!! I’m definitely aware of a vast majority of Bill Withers’ collection, but somehow this deep cut from his 1972 release, “Still Bill”, managed to slip through the cracks and never made it into my library.
This opening drum groove is so funky, I almost didn’t even want to go there. It’s sort of like covering a Beatles song. Some things are sacred and should just be left alone. But the more I listened to it, the more I knew recording something approximating it would be a great learning experience, both musically and sonically.
On the music side of things, it’s the FEEL of this groove that makes it so special. The way Gadson plays the 16h notes on the hi hat with his right hand, spacing the notes in that magical place that lives in between straight subdivisions and triplets. This is the kind of groove that a quantizer would instantly suck the life out of.
Sonically, it has the classic, warm, round but crisp, Motownesque sound. This is a sound that’s become sort of a lost art, now that we’re all armed with a wide array of DAWs, fancy mics, plug-ins and digital processers. It’s an art that I plan on focusing on for years to come.
So here it is, my ode to James Gadson and his magical right hand. At eight measures, it’s longer than one of my typical loops, but I wanted to include some phrases that pay tribute (but definitely aren’t carbon copies) to the original track.
On the production side of things, I only used two mics: one overhead (panned in the mix soft right), and one in front of the kick to capture just a bit of low end. I deadened a double headed 18″ bass drum (no hole) with blankets touching both of the heads from the outside and placed a few sheets of paper on top of the snare to keep everything dry.
I took all of the toms and cymbals off of the kit to keep any sympathetic resonance from making its way into the track (kids, you can’t use gates when there’s only one mic above the kit). To top things off, I used an old, squeaky kick drum pedal, just like James.
It’s the details that count.
With the toms on my bebop-sized kit (18″ kick, 12″ tom & 14″ floor tom) cranked up high, this four bar loop is a somewhat hypnotic, tribal pattern ending with four 16th note flams on the snare (with the strainer turned off).
I’m not even sure if Trent Reznor drinks coffee (he strikes me as the type that might consume it by the gallon), but assuming that he did, and that he happened to spill that coffee all over his console while mixing some drum tracks, I think the end result might sound something like this. Angry, yet precise, odd meter drumming crushed all of the way down to 5 bits. Black. No Sugar.
I know, I know…. things have been a little quiet around here lately. But trust me, I have a very good Reason for my absence. I would love to share more information with you at this time, but a team of international lawyers and a very large Swedish man who goes by the name, “Sven”, have me sworn to secrecy “or else…”. In just under a month, I will be able to provide you with all kinds of details about this very exciting project.
I’ve also been making some major strides in the upgrade of my studio. Trenches have been dug. Wiring is up to code. Raccoons have been evacuated. The next phase of construction will be insulating, soundproofing and drywalling the carriage house. It was built 200 years ago as place to keep your horse and buggy… not with the intent of some asshole recording drums in the middle of the frigid New Englad winter. I still have some work ahead of me.
While the blisters on my hands heal (remind me to wear gloves next time I use a shovel), I’m going to keep the loops on the mellow side. In this case, that means going back to playing some brushes and keeping things simple. This is what a loop would sound like if Russ Kunkel, Steve Jordan and Vernel Fournier had a baby, and that baby played drums, but only used a Gretsch kick and snare (baby drummers can easily land endorsement deals with fine drum companies). That baby would probably record loops that sound like this:
In an attempt to keep up with the highly influential likes of Heidi Montag, Kate Gosselin and the singer of Nickelback, I’ve decided to dramatically change my appearance. Well, at least the appearance of this blog. The old design had served me well for the past 18 months, but I decided it was time to switch things up and produce a fresh new look.
To celebrate the launch of the site design, I wanted to share an entire (and free) loop pack with the loyal readers of this blog. I know I’ve been spending a lot of time cranking out beats for that “other” site, but I wanted to let you know that I’m still here for you guys. I can’t quit you.
Free Summer Loop Sampler
This loop set is a nod to the one and only ?uestlove. With a wide open 18″ Gretsch kick and a cranked up 10″ Premier soprano snare, it’s some dirty hip hop (with the help of a 1×10 tweed combo amp), performed and recorded by a white guy, born and raised in the suburbs of Des Moines (the hip hop capitol of the Midwest).
Via Wikipedia: A cajón (Spanish pronunciation: [ka’xon], ‘crate’, ‘drawer’, or ‘ass box’) is a kind of box drum played by slapping the front face (generally thin plywood) with the hands.
This year for my birthday, my wife gave me a card with a picture of a cajón inside of it. This is a drum that I’ve talked about getting for years, but never got around to buying for myself. Knowing that I’m very particular about the sound of my instruments, she figured it would be best to let me be the one to pick out the actual drum. This picture entitled me to one trip to my favorite place in the world, Guitar Center, where I could select the cajón of my choice.
Yesterday I went to cash in on my gift, strolling passed the kids shredding on 7 string Ibanez guitars and into the drum department, where there were three different cajóns waiting for me to sit on. Two of them were made by Meinl and the other was manufactured by the maker of my first “real” drumset, Pearl.
I first tried out the least expensive of the bunch, the oak Meinl.. From the first slap, I could tell it wouldn’t make the cut. There was hardly any bass, let alone high end. It sounded just as the price tag suggested: cheap. It was then on to the priciest of the three, the bubinga Meinl. While this one had great low end and a cool pedal to control the wires inside of the box, it was still missing that “snap” I was looking for when playing the outer edges of the drum.
Finally, it was on to the Pearl Jingle cajón. After playing this box for ten seconds, I knew it was the clear winner. With deep, full bass frequencies and a crisp, high end “crack”, this drum possessed the full range of tone I was looking for. After a swift swipe of my wife’s credit card, I got the hell out of that godforsaken store and headed straight for my studio.
I must have skipped the Cajón 101 class at Berklee because honestly, I had no idea how you’re actually supposed to play one. I mean, it’s just a box that you sit on and slap with your hands… how hard can it be? After watching a few YouTube videos featuring cajón solos by Alex Acuña and Efrain Toro, I soon had enough technique to accurately translate the rhythms I heard in my head and perform them on the instrument (complete with the foot-on-the drum pitch bending). Today’s loop is just a two measure snippet from an entire session of Ass Box grooves, soon to be released by The Loop Loft.