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.
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).
Some albums totally blow your mind when it comes to production. Other albums inspire you by the incredible musicianship. And some albums hold their own just by the level of songwriting. But it’s not that often when an album comes along and takes all three of these elements to transcend the high bar of awesomeness (wow, what a horrible analogy). D’Angelo’s epic 2000 release, Voodoo, is one of these special records.
Just as I was about to graduate college, thinking I knew everything there was to contemporary music, this album sent me scurrying back to the practice room. Not because of the complexity of the drumming, but the feel and the SOUND. I remember spending hours sitting in front of my Gateway computer, with the adapter speakers blaring (tiny sub woofers kicking out the bass), soaking in every measure of ?uestlove’s drumming and D’Angelo’s production, arranging and composition. It was a humbling experience which would usually lead me to tears, then some nachos, and finally a game of 007 with my roommate, Bob, to help clear my head.
Today’s loop takes some of the production and performance cues found on Voodoo. To get the super dry, ultra-present drum sound, I didn’t use any of my usual overhead and room mics. I pulled out my super thin and trashy hi hats and went heavy on the gating and compression of the cross stick. I also did 3,845 sit-ups, waxed my chest and oiled up my abs.
PS – I just realized that 99% of my recent loops have been in the 80-90 BPM range. I put in a call to my Red Bull dealer, so look for some 200+ BPM loops soon.
Yep, it’s still completely freezing in Boston. This makes two things certain:
1. my gas bill will be higher than my car payment.
2. my frame drum will sound awesome.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this ridiculously cold winter, the dry air combined with the heat pumping out of my furnace provides for ideal frame drum conditions. The calf skin head naturally tightens up and lends itself to some nice overtones and extra resonance.
This was especially true today, as I was cleaning up my studio and realized my prized frame drum was sitting directly on top of one of the heating vents. Oh shit. The hot air had tightened to the drum to a pitch that I’ve never heard it produce. If you listen back to the recording from October, you’ll hear that the drum is practically an octave lower from the state in which I picked it up today.
Rather than freak out and detune the drum to avoid any tearing of the head, I decided to fire up some mics and capture this unique tone the drum was creating. Before it was all over, I recorded a set of 25 different loops (a mix of hand, finger and brush playing), which will be released next month to all of my loyal subscribers. For the rest of you cheap bastards, here’s just a one measure taste of the session:
Last night I had my ass kicked by a bunch of girls. Lez Zeppelin, the all female Zep tribute band, came storming through Boston, rocking a capacity crowd at The Middle East. I should have been prepared for what was to take place. My good friend and former bandmate (and current Lez Zeppelin bassist), Megan Thomas, contacted me a few weeks ago, telling me about her latest musical endeavor and inviting me to their upcoming Boston show. Megan is an amazing musician, so I knew she would nail all of the classic John Paul Jones bass lines. What I didn’t know, however, was how well everyone in the band would nail EVERYTHING. Especially the drummer.
Today’s loop, while not a direct copy of any particular Bonham groove, highlights the same underlying ghost notes found in many of his beats. In this case, the notes appear directly after the 2 and 4 of each backbeat, almost giving a sixteenth note type delay effect on the snare.
Editors Note – No mudsharks were harmed during the making of this loop.
Today’s loop is my hat tip to J Dilla and his incredible 2006 album, Donuts. While I had been familiar with Dilla’s work as a producer through his collaborations with Common and Talib Kweli, it wasn’t until the release of Donuts (and his untimely passing) that I got to know Dilla as a solo artist. Funky, warm, inventive, melodic and inspiring, Donuts is the kind of artistic statement that every musician should strive to create. Just take a listen to “Stop” and you’ll hear what I’m talking about.