Good drummers are like grandma’s cooking; you won’t find it just anywhere, they are superior to any other meal, they make you feel loved and they roll the groove backward like a bounce bomb used by The Dam Busters.
At the risk of sounding like a late nineties dance remix: the groove is eternal. It is the long-heart-beat that has been beating since we first realized that we could realize. So to tap into that and translate it into something tangible and recognizable is a skill that is on par with cooking a meal that wraps you in sublimity and helps you forget the weariness of the work-a-day. The drummer is a pillar and his drum a divining tool. We should regard them the way we do a doctor.
If you think of the beat as a spinning wheel there are specific permutations to wit the spinning might occur and affect the song. For our purposes we will focus on the most simple, subtle and important direction: backward. Spinning the wheel backward allows for all of the hits to land just behind the beat. This is important because it is…think of it this way; is it easier to push a length of rope or pull it? If you spin the wheel backward it is like pulling that length of rope. You don’t try to control the beat, you allow the beat to respire like the chest. Pull the length of rope, entice it to lead its own way to you rather than chasing after it; the relationship needs to be peaceful, even in its most seemingly tumultuous.
Think of the live recordings of Otis Redding where he is backed up by the great Al Jackson Jr. Especially in songs like ‘These Arms of Mine’ or ‘Pain in my Heart’, there is no degree of imprecision or sloppiness; instead there is a supreme feeling of ease and locking in to that long-heart-beat that pounds in the chest of every human. Good drums should almost be invisible like the hypnotizing sway of a praying mantis, only to strike your vitals right at the correct moment, ensuring a hurrying to ecstasy.
Too often drummers these days think of themselves as loud metronomes. They forget the divine place drums and percussion have in the human experience. It is the percussive elements that drive into the deep brain and seduce the centers that are responsible for joy and procreation (the ultimate creation forces). So, with that in mind, the drummer should stroke those skins with such aplomb and delicacy as to think of themselves as a shaman enchanting the air with the magic that lifts and transforms. I’ve heard too many drummers say “I can’t get the sound I want if I don’t hit the drums hard” or “Dude, I can’t play right if I don’t hit the drums hard”. I propose a counter point: let us all live by the maxim that was taught to me by a wizened jazz man one night in New Orleans. He taught this saying to me in response to our discussion of how he was able to drum behind acoustic guitars and singing with so much power yet so little volume. According to him this is an almost secret password that, those who know, trade in wordlessly as they work together: “If you can’t hear what I’m playing, then you are playing too loud.”.
Music is just a language. It is there for the purposes of agreement and communication. Granted it is divine communication and supreme, time-transcending agreement, but it still must fulfill its function. If you aren’t communicating anything or worse not even trying to communicate anything, then I’d ask you, on the behalf of the rest of us, stop wasting resources and energy that could be going to making something great. Listening is so important for musicians. The ability to listen comes first before any other practice.
If you’re like me, you wish for specific things in a drummer. Ideally they would:
-spin the wheel backward (for reasons discussed above)
-have a sweet, but small kit
-listen (for the reasons discussed above)
-be about 6′ 9″
-be able to sing harmony
-find my jokes funny
Well we’ve found all those things in a feller from Hickory named Brandon. Brandon is another of our miraculous North Carolina acquisitions. There’s something in the soil there; perhaps it is the two naturally-occurring radioactive isotopes tobacco plants produce? Well whatever it is we like it. Maybe the good lord just wants us southern boys to continue to keep the sweet magnolia-scented traditions wafting on the breeze. Regardless we are all happier than a whole mess of hound dogs with a basket full of chicken-fried steaks
Brandon does all the things above (including the being 6′ 9″) and he does them with the supreme preternatural delicacy of a master woodworker. This is our third or fourth time playing with Brandon but our first time really going the distance around the horn. I’m sure it will be fine. He is a listener, he rolls that wheel backward and (even if he’s pretending) laughs at my jokes.
He loves to hear about weird books that either are out of print or out of cultural relevance. He loves a good documentary film and speaks three languages…that we know of; you see Brandon is a bit of an enigma. Just when you think you’ve nailed down something about his personality and say to yourself “Damn, it’s almost like I made most of this up…there’s no way he’s all these things and more” Brandon throws you a curve ball and you feel like you need to go back and re-frame your picture of him that you have in your head. The kicker is that it’s all good stuff that you find out about him. He is the wine that only gets better.
Brandon’s a beer man, so in Portland we are going to rely heavily on the collective fine beer knowledge of the populace to treat our boy to the finest and wine-est. For the rest of the USA let’s make sure he has a man’s-man’s frosty one.
Raise one for the drummer and his elemental drum
It is his ecstatic pulse, for which we all will come