“This week, write about drums.” – FATS
I don’t take orders very well. I could never have been a waiter, or a soldier, or anyone who’s just supposed to routinely obey commands as part of earning a living. But when our esteemed editor sent me his suggestion for this week’s column, I had to jump at it. See, this whole not-taking-orders business, well, it’s really not what you’re supposed to get out of a drummer. I’ll leave the jokes aside, as I’ve heard them all, and keep hearing them to this very day. I personally prefer viola player jokes, but not everyone’s tastes are as elevated.
I had no idea how to approach this column, so I just started playing some of my favourite heavy drumming records, and hoped inspiration would come to me. Instead, I spent a few hours analyzing time signatures, trying to figure out if fills are rudiments or just single strokes, whether or not drum microphones are close or room, and generally just enjoying the hell out of myself.
In the end, playing drums remains the only form of expression of which I can avail myself that doesn’t feel completely suppressed. It’s not like this was always the case. In fact, throughout most of my years playing in various bands, I’ve often been pissed at being “just the drummer,” being told what and how to play. I’m not saying that past band-mates of mine did this consciously, but it’s a mindset in rock and roll (and all associated genres) that comes with the territory. You’re there to keep the beat. Try not to stand out too much, dude, there’s a guitar solo coming up – or- a bass solo – or – the singer’s doing something. Fuck, man, when’s it my turn?
I’d listen to all these great rock and metal drummers – even some shitty ones – and wonder: if maybe I just played with the right people who would let me ‘express myself,’ that I could play whatever the hell I wanted. Turns out I was way off. Not about the people, but about myself. I’ve had great bands flame out because of this. I’ve burned bridges and friendships that have taken an eternity to repair, because we all suffer from fucking egos, and, as people, fail in the most basic tenets of communication: “say what you mean, mean what you say.” So, in 2012, when I was completely frustrated by losing one band and not being able to perform the way I wanted to in another, Mastodon drummer Brann Daillor’s cartoon avatar told me exactly what I needed to hear.
“Take on those artistic responsibilities, because it’s fun when you get to have one of your ideas come to fruition.” That’s some fucking wisdom right there (perfectly packaged by Dave Cooper), and it changed the way I approached my collaborators, my playing, and my place in a band. You could practice paradiddles and odd numbered subdivisions all day long, but until you learn the value of true artistic contribution, you’re basically sitting there jerking off for the world to see. I love great drummers, clinicians, educators, etc., but it often feels like they’re just belching up all this amazing technique onto these horribly mundane backing tracks. Watch the accompanying musicians to a Jojo Mayer or Tony Royster Jr. performance: holy fuck are they ever bored.
Ever since I read that strip, I’ve tried to make every interaction with fellow musicians – a term with which I still have trouble reconciling myself – a productive one. In turn, that’s influenced how I view the world, how I interact with everyone, and how I look back on past experiences. I still don’t take orders very well, but if a brain can learn to react differently and associate more positively with others with the end goal being art, then, in the spirit of Rocky 4, there’s hope for us all.
So, sorry I was a dick… let’s jam, sometime. – JP