About The Torch: A monthly series, The Torch aims to help musicians of all ages and talent levels learn more about their respective instruments. Each issue features band members from around the world discussing their craft. They provide our readers with advice and insight towards their person experiences, as well as talking about the tool of their livelihood. Whether you’re an aspiring musician, beginner, fan, or expert, there’s something here for everyone. I truly believe it takes one generation to inspire another. With each issue, I hope we can motivate more and more readers to become the forces they admire.
Written & Produced by Meryl "LJ" DeWitt | Edited by Rachel Rosell | Photos credit to owners
As the end of the year grows near, so does the end of the first season of The Torch. With only one more issue left after this, I thought it'd be fitting to do a little something special! Instead of our usual three-person cast, today we'll be featuring four drummers. Ranging everywhere from punk to fusion, hard rock to death metal, we've sampled flavors from across the Midwest; Chicago natives Tiny Kingdoms, Milwaukee's own American Zeros and American Bandits, and the Toledo based Blood of the Prophets!
Meryl "LJ" DeWitt: How old were you when you first started playing? What was your first drum set?
Jake Newling (Tiny Kingdoms, Gardens): I picked up the drums when I was 13, and it actually happened by accident. When I was in middle school, my group of friends came up with the idea of starting a band, even though none of us had any idea how to play an instrument. Everyone else refused to play the drums, so eventually I just said I would do it. It ended up being a great decision. The first kit I owned was a Sound Percussion four piece kit. It came with a set of hi-hats and a ride cymbal that sounded like trash but the kit itself wasn't all that bad.
Ben Boswell (American Zeros): Like any great urban legend, the origin story is always a bit fuzzy. I honestly cannot remember a time that I wasn't playing drums and that's not my 20's talking. I have pictures of me at super young ages in diapers playing. How the story goes is my father was in a band in the 70's called "Cheaters Proof" and unlike modern parents, the concern for my hearing was back burner to ability to find a babysitter, so I was at every band practice. When they took breaks my dads drummer would pop me up on the drum stool. I'm talking about 4-5 months old here. My dad told me that they would have records playing during break and that it was his drummer that noticed that I wasn't just whacking the drums with my sticks but I was actually trying to play the drums to match record. Putting the fills in where the drummer on the album did and hitting the crash cymbal as well as crossing sticks to play the hi-hat/snare. He tried to convince my dad I wasn't just "messing around," that I was actually picking out and understanding the drums and the basic function of playing. Fast forward to my first birthday and a present from my dad's drummer; a little 4 piece junior drum set (like in the song remains the same) where the bass drum became a future 12" tom on my next kit. So to make a long story short I officially start playing at 12 months old when I got my first drum set; a 1/2 scale Remo red sparkle drum set.
Ryan Roberts (American Bandits): I was 13 when I first started the drums. My first drum set was a Pearl Export 6-piece black on black. I still have it!
William Clark (Blood of Prophets): I started playing at 4 years old I got a little "toy" kit for Christmas, and just went from there. I beat the crap out of that thing. I broke most of the heads and played on rims for about a year or two! Haha
LJ: Through trial & error in your career, are there any mistakes you would warn young drummers to be cautious of?
Jake: I think a mistake a lot of drummers can make when first beginning to play is developing the mindset that you don't have to practice too much, or becoming complacent with the skill level you get to. You should always practice! The drum set holds an infinite amount of possibilities and it's so important to always continue expanding your vocabulary on the instrument.
Ben: I like to consider myself self taught, yet I did do a stint for about a year with a drum instructor when I was 4, and of course through concert and symphonic band in High school as well as being part of jazz ensemble in High School. All those experiences taught me so much but I was always more advanced than my instructors (except when I was 4), they were only there to get for me what I needed when I said I needed it and I would teach myself. With this came, as you put it, a lot of trial and error. Unfortunately that trial and error lead to a lot of bad habits that I have spent the last 10 years of my life trying to break.
There are, I believe, three things that prevent a drummer from making the transition between good to great and that's Physical, Mental and Ability. The greats have all three in spades and if you only have two you can't be great. Unfortunately I am a firm believer that if you don't have the given natural ability you will never reach "great" status. Mental and Physical can be learned. Don't get me wrong, if you practice hundreds and if not thousands of hours you can become really really really... really good. You will never be great. I'm not trying to be a buzz kill or anything, I just see a lot of new drummers that play because they love it get frustrated because they are missing that elusive great quality that is only recognized by other drummers, and the common listener or even other musicians don't even notice. If you understand that not everyone can be the top 1% of the top 1%, then when you are in that 99.9% range that's pretty damn good as well, and you should be happy, not frustrated, because there is nothing you can do to get to that point.
When drummers come up to me for pointers I try to stay well clear of ability and the things my ability allows me to do that others can't. Just like they might have an ability that I can't do-- like blast beats, I can not do blast beats. I've tried, but not happening. I stick to the physical and the mental end of becoming a great drummer. Holding the stick properly, the proper tilt of your toms and cymbals, the height of your drum throne and how that changes over time and the music you play. I could probably write a whole book on those aspects and way to many examples for a simple interview, but basically on drums you need to find balance. You need a solid bass just like an athlete and the "athletic stance," that balance that allows you to move left, right, forward or back effortlessly with a fluid motion. This is achieved in two things: throne height and pedal placement. There is no tried and true position other than the dreaded "what feels good to you." Everyone's body is different. What might work for your idol might not work for you, but if you feel uncomfortable than you will play stiff, and either sound like garbage or hurt yourself over time. From that you can set your Tom height and pitch, which, again, is different for everyone but is true for everyone no matter what they do. Proper height and pitch of the Tom will be the difference between blowing out Tom heads in a month or having heads last for years no matter how hard you hit. Trust me, I hit pretty hard and I don't break sticks or skins, or crack cymbals all because of proper height pitch and placement. I challenge for anyone to watch any of the many videos I have posted on YouTube and tell me I don't hit hard. I also hit soft when needed and can control my dynamics but when I'm in a section that requires me to bring it I'm not holding back.
The last part is Mental. As soon as you think you are great... You're done, that's it, you will never get any better. I listened to an interview with Neil Peart explaining how much he plays and practices and how he is always trying to reinvent himself. That, folks, is a great drummer. The guy that's jamming with the local metal band that thinks he is Gods gift to musicians will never be great. Besides checking your Ego at the door you mentally have to have patience and stubbornness at the same time. A difficult fill pattern is that; difficult. I just did a studio session where in the drum room with the click I felt like I nailed the fill. It was by far a difficult 3 beat fill requiring some cross patterns across my Toms to my floor, working off a quad bass/snare conversation but dang it I nailed it. Then I heard my producer say "take it from the measure before again, you rushed the end," then after I played it again I hear a click in the headphones. "Rushed the beginning this time." This is where the stubborn patience comes in. I played that fill more than a dozen times, sweating and panting by then end, where I needed a break all to capture a moment in time that would be gone in a second and a half. You could listen by ear to every take and you would never hear what was wrong with the take until you see it put up on the computer screen click grid and it isn't perfect. When you are recording it needs to be perfect especially when, like me, you are trying to get an organic recording not using quantization or samples. If it isn't perfect then it can't be moved without messing up the decay in the overheads and a bad recording. You can't get frustrated and you have to be stubborn enough to know you will get it.
Ryan: Be cautious of time wasters and poor practice methods. I’ve spent too much time over the years jamming mindlessly instead of focusing my effort on new concepts. If what you’re playing sounds good, you’re probably not practicing.
William: Mistakes I would warn young drummers of would be, being closed minded to new ideas. One mistake I made personally early on was avoiding things I found difficult, such as keeping the hi-hat going with my left foot while working the kick with the right. Later on this made jazz type rudiments hard for me. Meshuggah uses a lot of pedal hi-hat over the drum patterns, and I struggle with playing some of their material due to this.
LJ: Biggest stage nightmare you've had so far?
Jake: When I first started gigging with a band when I was 16, we were playing our first show and in the middle of one of our songs my ride cymbal fell over. At the time I kept thinking it was like the most embarrassing things that could have possibly happened, but now looking back it was actually kind of funny. I've learned that anything can happen when playing live so you just have to be prepared!
Ben: Not being prepared. Simple as that. I know that if I prepare myself I'm good. If I doubt my level of preparedness, or if I don't think I prepared enough that I will mess up and make the other band mates that put in their time down and to look a fool on stage. Sure playing in front of 10 thousand people is different than 10 people but to me there is no difference. It could be one person and I'm going to make sure that one person leaves thinking that was the greatest show they ever saw. So not taking the time to be prepared mentally and physically to give that performance is my biggest night mare.
A stage nightmare that has happen was a number of years back and has taught me the importance of redundancy. I always have more than enough sticks and I have a replacement batter head for everyone of my drums and bass drum as well as extra strainers and parts in my drum cases. But the one thing I never thought i needed an extra for proved Murphy's law one night. It was a number of years back and my band was opening for a touring national act and we were pumped to get the gig opening for them. I guess I was a little to pumped because half way through the second song I broke my bass drum pedal. I'm not talking about a broken beater that could get swapped out I'm talking about the actual pedal plate broke in half. and of course you guessed it I didn't have an extra pedal. My drum tech was scrambling, I played the rest of the second song and the whole third left footed on the slave pedal while he searched for even a single pedal to swap out. Luckily by the end of the third song he found another pedal I could borrow and to this day I have not used that manufacture for any of my hardware ever again.
Ryan: One time on stage I had my double bass pedal fall apart on me, so I was left with just my single pedal for the remainder of a pretty double bass heavy song. It's crazy what you can do with one foot and a whole bunch of adrenaline.
William: Biggest stage nightmare I've had so far was, my left beater came loose and flew out of my pedal. Lucky I use axis e-triggers that mount to the pedal, so in theory I don't even need an actual drum in front of me because my kick drum is a sampled sound from a Roland TD Six V and the whole mechanism is triggered off my pedal. I just made adjustments and kept on going. But you can bet I had it fixed by the next song haha.
LJ: What's your current stage set up?
Jake: The kit I'm currently using consists of:
Pearl Masters MCX kit - 24x20 Bass Drum - 12x10 Rack Tom - 14x13 Floor Tom - 14x5 1960's Ludwig Supraphonic Snare - 20" Paiste 2002 Ride - 18" Zildijan A Custom Rezo Crash - 14 " Zildijan A Custom Master Sound Hi-hats.
Ben: I'm a firm believer that for a musician, their style is a marriage between the player and the instrument and one set up might work for one style and another might not work for another even though the player is the same. In my solo project "Decathect" I use my Pearl '88 BLX all birch kit. single 22" BD 10", 12", 13" toms and 16" floor, a 14" Premier Project One snare drum with Meinl Cymbals.. way too many to list but mostly Dual Crashes, dark Hats and chinas and a couple custom stackers. It's very prog metal with touches of groove metal so I like the ability to expand the kit and the pallet that I'm working with. The first thing people will notice is that with that set up, I do not use a conventional set up with my toms. I go Low High Mid from left to right. This allows me to do complicated fill patterns without crossing sticks and gives me the ability to play 32 note single roles instead of having to double each hit on a tom to make a transition at high speed. Think of a tenor drum player in a marching band. That's actually where I got the Idea from before finding out that some of my idols were already doing the same kike Kenny Aronoff and Jimmy Chamberlin.
My second kit is for my original band American Zeros and is a more straight forward bash and smash punk metal set up. It's a European made Ludwig Maple classic (so different lugs than the american made) 24" BD. 14" tom 16", 18" floor tomes with a 14" Pearl Chad Smith snare. On that kit i like the Zildjian's bashing sound to really cut through the guitars. I also don't have as many but I still have a couple splashes, an Ice bell and my 20" custom stacker using an old WuHan china and a 13" Master Sound Hi Hat top.
Each kit has its own character when I sit behind them and persuades me to play them the way they want to be played.
Ryan: I am currently playing a 4 piece Pearl drum set with a mix of Sabian and Saluda cymbals.
William: I play Shine Drums birch kit. With 10" 12" 14" 16 Toms 13x6.5 Holloman custom snare (cherrywood and birch, walnut) and two standard size kick drums. The TD6V provides my kick sample. And I also use Roland SPD-S pad for additional sampling. Two axis longboards with e-kit, and Evans heads all over. A Gibraltar rack provides all mounting and I use Soultone cymbals. My complete Soultone setup can be found at www.soultonecymbals.com under my artist page. Ahead drumsticks hooks me up with product as well and I have an artist page there that gives away all my secrets too. I employ personal monitoring with Shure 425 in ears.
LJ: Best piece you've ever owned? Worst piece you've ever owned?
Jake: I'd have to say the best piece of gear I've ever owned would be a toss up between both of the Ludwig Supraphonics that I currently own. One is a 14x5 from the 60's and the other is a 14x6.5 from the 70's. They both sound fantastic! I can't necessarily think of a piece of gear I've owned that was terrible. I remember having a Pork Pie Snare way back in the day that could never stay in tune, which was kind of a bummer.
Ben: My Premier 14" Project One snare drum is by far the best purchase I have ever made that I bought a second one in case I ever needed parts. Its been on all my studio recordings and I have had engineer after engineer rave on how good my snare sounds recorded and acoustically. The project one utilizes a double shell so it is able to maintain a very thin outer shell. in doing so it has the crack and warmth of a wood snare but the sensitivity of a steal or metal snare. best of both worlds.. plus it looks cool. The worst piece I have ever had was that not to be named Bass drum pedal that busted on me two songs into the night. I won't touch that company with a 10 foot pole cough* Gibraltar.
Ryan: My favorite piece of my kit at the moment is my Saluda 20” dark thin crash. Definitely check out Saluda cymbals if you haven’t had the opportunity. They make beautiful custom cymbals that sound amazing.
William: Best piece I've owned are my Holloman custom snares the cherry and birch hybrid, and the walnut. The worst I've owned is probably a Stock CB snare drum. That thing was garbage. It was steel and had a muffling system inside of it that would press on the head from underneath and was adjusted by a knob on the outside of the snare. It just sounded like junk but I whooped on that thing for years.
LJ: Dream pieces to own one day? (Collectors, customs, etc)
Jake: I would really love to own a Ludwig Black Beauty at some point. I've recorded with one a few times and they are without a doubt the best sounding Snare money can buy. I've also always dreamed of owning a Pearl Reference kit. I had the chance to try one out recently, it sounded unbelievable.
Ben: Oh man that's a hard one. I've been blessed to have in my possession so many great drum sets and pieces of equipment. I guess if anything (checks ego at the door) Would be my very own Tama signature series drum set. two reasons for that obviously very narcissistic answer. Ever since I purchased in the 90's a Tama Artstar II Custom drum set I was in love with its low end girth without being boomy like ludwigs. So I have a major soft spot in my heart for Tama's Maple shells. Second part is that for me to own my very own signature Tama drum kit that would mean that I had finally made it. That there is enough people out there that recognize the time and effort and love I have for playing the drums that they want to own a piece of that magic. That would be the one drum set I wish I could have someday.
Ryan: An old 60’s-70’s vintage Ludwig kit with some old worn Zildjian cymbals. That would be the dream. I love that super old vintage drum sound!
William: I really have everything I could want on a kit. I finally added a second hi-hat to my kit. So I guess that would be an answer....more cymbals.
LJ: Some drummers think I'm crazy for asking this & others find it a perfectly normal question… Do you name your pieces? If so, what are their names?
Jake: I don't actually! But you've got me thinking that maybe I should start giving my drums some swanky nicknames.
Ben: Not a silly question at all and yes I do name my kits...I don't get all crazy and name the individual pieces that would be nuts laughs* I even want to go as far as stenciling their name onto the cases to keep them separate. Right now my lovely ladies are my Maple Custom Ludwigs "Luddy" My Red Pearl BLX's "Christine" my White Tama Artstar II Customs "Otto" and my Black DW's "Chunk". The only kit that doesn't have a name is my old Ludwigs from high school. I have reserved naming them until I finish their restoration and she tells me what she wants to be called.
Ryan: Haha no I do not. I do choose favorites but I have yet to name any of them.
William: I only name my snares. My Hollomans are Pumpkintits and Nutty. I have a 13 ply maple shine snare that is named Ol' Faithful.
LJ: Who's your personal drummer hero?
Jake: I've always really admired Stewart Copeland from The Police. Whenever I listen to those old Police records, I just love Stewart's tone and the way he plays for the songs at hand. He has such great feel and his dynamics are second to none. Aside from maybe John Bonham I can't really think of anyone else who's had a larger impact on my playing. Plus he wrote the all of the music for "Spryo The Dragon" which was my favorite video game as a kid, which might I add has the sickest soundtrack of any video game ever.
Ben: There is a lot of idols, but hero? I would say Tim Alexander from Primus. He proved to me that drums do not have to follow rules and that they can be broken without sounding obvious. That's a tough thing to do. Break the rules without making it obvious.
Ryan: Benny Greb is my absolute favorite drummer hands down. I’ve never heard another drummer manipulate a groove quite like he does. He has got to be an alien or something.
William: My personal hero is Martin Lopez formerly of Opeth.
LJ: What, for you, makes it worth it to keep playing? What's your favorite part about being a drummer?
Jake: I'm just constantly fascinated by this instrument. As I said before, the drums hold and endless amount of possibilities. There's always something new to learn and practice. When you're continually pushing your limits creatively and looking into styles and methods of approaching the drums you can never grow tired of it. The only way I could ever see myself ever becoming disinterested to the point of wanting to stop would be if there was nothing left to learn to apply my playing, which is impossible! There's always something new to be learned and implement to the drum set.
Ben: I guess having fun still this far into the game is what makes it worth it. If I wasn't having fun anymore I would probably pay more attention to playing guitar or song writing for licensing purposes, and just do it for the money. I'm still having a load of fun though so that's what keeps me setting them up ripping them up than tearing them down. My favorite part might sound corny but its when I look out into the crowd and I see that one person watching me and I can tell they are having the night of their life. Its hard to be ignored as the drummer. We are always doing something to catch some ones attention and making that eye contact with a fan that is loving every moment is priceless.
Ryan: It's really just the joy I get from drumming that makes it worth it to keep playing. The feeling you get when you take a new chop or groove and lock it into a piece of music is unlike anything else. And that is my favorite part of being a drummer.
William: I keep playing because I love to create. And I love to be challenged. My favorite part about being the drummer is, the tempo is whatever I say it is. Next to that it is interacting with fans and fellow drummers.