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.
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).
As I mentioned in my previous post, I was fortunate enough to finally become the owner my dream jazz kit, a Gretsch USA Custom. After breaking open my piggy bank and selling 63% of my bone marrow, I finally had the sufficient funds to make the trek up to the wonderful Drum Center of Portsmouth and pick her up.
And why are these drums so great? Well, it’s all about the way they SOUND. They have a certain characteristic and tone that only Gretsch drums seem to possess. It’s that warm, round, and focused sound heard on so many of the classic jazz albums featuring Max Roach, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones and Art Blakey (just to name a few).
Today’s loop is a two measure clip from a marathon jazz/funk extravaganza that took place shortly after setting up the new kit in the studio. You’ll notice the nice, open tone of the 18″ bass drum, along with some very melodic sounding toms. For mic placement, I just used the overheads and (a touch of the Beta 52A on the kick) to capture the natural sound of the kit. I also completely ripped off Bill Stewart’s signature fills. Look for more Gretsch based loops to come soon…
My studio has a time machine. Does yours? For today’s loop, I set the dial to 1964 and typed in “Destination: Stax Studios“. I was only there long enough to record a three minute session, overdub some tambourine and eat a pulled pork sandwich, but all in all, the trip was a success. With the vinyl master under one arm and a gallon of BBQ sauce under the other, I transported myself back to current day Boston, where I just finished digitizing the session for your pleasure. Subscribers, look for the rest of tracks in the upcoming April release of Gruss Loops.
Take a little bit of Sublime, mix it up with a dash of 311, and you’ve got yourself some serious stoner-funk-reggae. This particular genre requires one very ringy, high-pitched snare drum, some off-beat hi hat skankin’, and an extra large brownie.
Here’s a four measure loop that will make patchouli oil ooze from your speakers.
Well, not for good… but for the next week I’ll be spending the majority of my time sitting here and drinking this. Don’t look for any new loops to be posted on this site, but for some highly insightful, tequila-fueled rants and observations, be sure to keep up with me over on Twitter.
As I pack my bags (and 30 SPF sunblock), I leave you with a loop inspired by this guy: