Over the past two months, I’ve had a blast recording for DonCat‘s new upcoming record, Easy Cowboy, due out August 2015. Here’s a video of us playing a tune off the album live in Santa Cruz.
There aren’t many things that I’ll get out of bed for at 4:45am on a Saturday. DonCat is one of those things. We zipped down to LA for a video shoot with Darren Rose (of 98.7 KROCK fame, and many an astute interview), and a gig at Villan’s Tavern.
As soon as we opened the door to Darren’s place, we were greeted by his adorable dogs Otis and Penny, and loaded our gear on his deck. He was incredibly gracious and dealt with our zombie-like demeanor as the coffee we got in Gilroy at 7am started wearing off.
We played 3 songs, did a quick interview and headed off to Intelligentsia for another round of coffee. On a caffeine high, we headed to Sam Ash and I bought God’s tastiest hi-hats: 15″ Zildjan K Light Hi Hats. I’ve been creeping on these hi-hats for years and years, since I first saw Killers drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. The timing couldn’t be any better because we are recording the 2nd half of DonCat’s second album this weekend.
The gig at Villan’s felt like a marathon, in the best way. Almost immediately, thanks to a combination of PBR + cold brew coffee, I hit some “empty mind” vibe and sunk into the grooves. It’s always a pleasure playing as a trio and responding to each member’s inflections. In the Villan’s set we opened up a few solo sections so we had more room to experiment.
It was an incredibly fun 24-sleepless hours in LA. Can’t wait to do it again.
I’ve been a sideman for most of my musical life. It’s awesome. It’s like showing up to a construction site with the scaffolding already built. The songwriter did the really hard part, and now I get to add whatever body and details I want to it, in hopes of building something special. I’ve had the good fortune of working with seriously killer songwriters like Jesse Cafiero, Debbie Neigher, Duncan Neilsen and others (just to name a few). I’ve been nothing but elated to contribute to the songs they build. This past January through June I took a crack at actually writing songs and what came out was Edwin Valero.
In January, Jess Silva, Andrew Nelson and I began working on tunes with absolutely no plan. We were just fleshing out melodic and rhythmic ideas, and enjoying the experience. Eventually those ideas became structures, those structures became songs and now we’re sitting here with a 3 song EP. It’s exhilarating and terrifying.
These songs came from really sweaty nights at Lennon Studios, and from me scribbling chords that made absolutely no sense on little notebooks, left for Andrew to sort out. The process was long, at times arduous and something that I’m sure is pedestrian to any/every songwriter. But as a newbie, it was fascinating to me.
I tried not to sing along with Jess as she sings “lost all your spontaneity” in El Inca at 2:01. It’s hard not to. I’m a sap, so I get easily excited at certain parts in songs, but this was different. A large part of what I loved about writing these songs is seeing tiny moments grow up and mature. Scrutinizing those moments is part of getting a song to a complete state, and when it’s finally there and you can just enjoy playing it, and experience it, it’s a fantastic feeling.
From a drum performance perspective, this feels true to the math rock haven I grew up in, the Circa Survive I listened to as a teenager, and the jazz impulses I still tap into sometimes. That honesty feels good, and it’s something I chase in music. Thanks for reading.
Special thanks to Ian Pellicci, Jacob Winik, Jess Silva, Andrew Nelson, Jesse Cafiero, Debbie Neigher, Chris Sigura, and everyone else who helped with this. Thank you.
Last week I played one of my favorite shows in the city – SoFarSounds. The lead up to the show may seem like a nightmare – you don’t know where you’re playing until the day of, you don’t know what bands you’re playing with, and you don’t know what the venue will be like (because it’s someone’s house). I think SoFar might do this deliberately. The only thing you, the artist, can worry about is the music. That’s a great problem to have.
DonCat played in a living room full of about 50 people sitting on the ground, listening to every little detail, every harmony and brush stroke. It’s a gift to have an audience that attentive, so you need to make the most of their attention and realize it’s in limited supply. This means making the right choices when it comes to what you bring and what you play.
Duncan and Jess sound pretty damn fantastic together. Their vocal exchanges and Duncan’s guitar work are the focus of the show. It’s their job to add the color and they do it well. I wanted to outline that color, and not muddy it up with my drum noodling. Bringing toms or playing with sticks would have interrupted their vocal work. With this in mind, I brought a really minimal set up: Slingerland Radio King snare, 13″ Zildjan Hi-Hats, my trusty 22″ Istanbul Agop ride, and a suitcase for a bass drum.
I came in thinking of two primary things: sections and dynamics. I wanted to punctuate each verse, chorus, bridge and each little lick – draw out the nuances of the song and make clear choices to accentuate them. As far as dynamics, I wanted a lot of room to work so I tried to make my quietest beat super freaking quiet so that my minimally loud playing with brushes sounded pretty loud in comparison.
It’s always a pleasure playing with Duncan and Jess, and playing for such an awesome audience. Here’s the recordings from that night. Stay tuned to my Shows page for upcoming gigs with Jess and Duncan (respectively).
This is what my June looked like time wise:
Here’s what I learned.
Anytime you get an email for a potential rehearsal or gig, do two things immediately.
1. Put that hold or that date in your calendar.
2. Respond to the email.
The more you delay your response the more stress you cause the band leader. People’s calendars fill up fast. Make sure they’re not holding potential dates, missing out on cool shit while awaiting your reply you were too busy to send during a Netflix binge.
The only thing keeping me sane/slightly organized during June was my Google Calendar alerts. Don’t try to juggle dates in your head or on paper, automate that mamma jamma.
Active listening can help your practicing tremendously. I took voice memos of most of the practices I had before gigs to see what I could improve upon, made notes, and practiced staying in the pocket or picking out better fills to play while I was practicing alone. When I got back with the band for the next practice, the improvement was noticeable (to me at least).
After I played in LA this month with DonCat, we reviewed the tape of the gig. At Slims a week or so later, we sounded way better because we all talked about what we wanted to work on.
The hang. The mystical hang. It influences your playing so much. Don’t be a ball of stress when you show up to practice, it affects your playing. Have your shit together and spend time after the practice to goof off with your lovely bandmates.
Or go Split Screens style and spend 5 minutes in-between songs making hair metal references or wildly inappropriate jokes about the each others’ parents. Being relaxed and being a good dude helps the music.
This is a delicate art, getting your friends to shows. I still don’t really quite know how it works, I think it has to do with viral gifs or something. Anyway, keep the FB pleas to a minimum, and if you’re going to do it, be funny (or try). I could follow more of my own advice on this front.
Lastly, and most importantly, be thankful you’re playing. I cant thank Debbie, Duncan, Chris, Jesse, Jess, Andrew, Phil and everyone that came out enough. It’s a privilege to get to play with you guys and call you friends. Shut up I know I’m too sensitive already.
For starters, I recorded 3 songs with Jess Silva and Andrew Nelson at Tiny Telephone Studios with the wonderful Jacob Winik behind the boards. We’re working on mixing/mastering that now.
For the rest of the month, I am a drum whore. I’m playing with Edwin Valero (Jess & Andrew), DonCat, Split Screens and Debbie Neigher. Here are the gigs:
6.12 – Secret Show w/ Debbie Neigher (shhh only the coolest kids know about it)
6.18 – Hotel Cafe w/ DonCat (you know you want to drive to LA to see us play. I mean, look at Duncan’s mustache. That’s worth the trip right there) [tix]
6.22 – North Beach Bacchanalia Festival at The Emerald Tablet w/ Edwin Valero (come see us perform the songs we recorded) [info]
6.24 – Amnesia w/ Split Screens (we’re playing with Picture Atlantic + Rin Tin Tiger aka the solidest bands ever) [info]
6.27 – Slims w/ DonCat (Did I mention Duncan’s mustache already? Come for that.) [tix]
6.29 - Brick and Mortar w/ Debbie Neigher (we’re playing with our buds Rio Rio + Ghost Town Jenny) [tix]
Thus concludes my drum whoredom for the month of June. Stay tuned for more shows, lessons and whoredom.
I’m now the proud owner of a Roland SPD-SX. For those who aren’t freakishly obsessed with drum samplers, the SPD-SX is a sampling pad that lets you trigger loops, samples, live sample and play electronic kits in a live setting. It’s basically the unicorn of drum gear.
I got back from the DonCat mini-tour this past weekend and had the pleasure of nerding out on the SPD-SX to a few tunes Jess, Andrew and I are working on. Here’s a video of the results
I’m recording at Tiny Telephone with Jess and Andrew this summer, and also playing a bunch of shows with Debbie Neigher and Split Screens. This summer is shaping up to be a busy one and I’m excited!
Also, check out the full audio from Split Screen’s gig at Bottom Of The Hill here. It was a killer night and we’re stoked to play there again on 4/17.
I knew I was totally screwed as soon as I turned the corner. I was trucking down 14th street on my way to a lesson with Thomas Pridgen (of drum god fame), I turned the corner and — pothole. One Jabba the hut’s sand pit (a Sarlacc) sized pot hole.
I flew over my handle bars, caught myself partly with my hands and a little with my face. But, my bike was fine and I could still get to the lesson on time.
I asked Thomas if I could wash my (bloody) hands before we started. He was his usual chill self about the whole thing and just replied “Damn man, it looks like you got in a scrap.”
Thomas doesn’t write anything down, or slow down, and it’s awesome.
Right when you sit down at the kit, he’ll start playing 7 stroke rolls over a bassa nova bass drum pattern and tell you to switch your hands. I immediately think “What? What do you mean switch my hands? I’m barely keeping up with my dominant hand.” Of course, I say nothing and just do it. Then, as Thomas knew all along, you’re doing it. You’re strengthening your weak hand, you’re playing some crazy pattern in 7/4 that he won’t slow down so you can understand, and won’t write out. You just do it.
Thomas says that he looks at some of the drills and patterns he teaches as shapes. You can’t break them down into these little bitty parts because you lose the sound.
His advice during that lesson:
Just make the drum sound good. Work on when you hit the snare, it doesn’t sound like anybody else, it sounds like you. So when somebody wants to hire you, they say ‘I want that guy, because he just makes the drums sound like they should, like they fit.’
At the end of the lesson he complimented me on being one of a few students that could get through his snare drills. I freaked out like a little girl on the inside.
I’m incredibly excited to be learning from Thomas and I’ll post lesson updates in the future.
Here’s a cover of “Rewrite The Story” of +/- new album “Jumping The Tracks”
It was a really fun song to learn, and even more fun to play. I love the bell pattern Chris Deaner chose on the choruses. Killer stuff.
PS – Buy their album at http://www.plusmin.us/store.php