Tape Study: The National’s Secret Weapon And His Best Drum Fill

BryanDevendorf
Artist: The National / Bryan Devendorf
Song: “I Should Live In Salt”

No one is grabbing The National‘s “Trouble Will Find Me” LP off the shelves to get a party started. Unless that party is a dad-rock party. In which case, this is the first record you grab.

The National have a penchant for making records that unfurl the more you listen to them. The more you give, the more you get. You’ll hear Sharon Van Etten’s harmony buried beneath an organ on your 34th listen of “Hard To Find“. You’ll hear the way the wonder twins Bryce and Aaron Dessner captian an army of woodwinds, brass, and guitar swells that overlap but still move together like a weather pattern. You’ll hear those things, but you’ll feel Bryan Devendorf’s drumming.

There Are No Small Parts In Bryan Devendorf’s Drumming
Bryan perfectly illustrates how there are no small decisions in drumming. Every single note he plays has been carefully selected to serve the song in the most economical fashion possible. This does lead Bryan to play the same type of beat a lot, a call and response between bass drum and snare drum. (cough, cough, Apartment Story cough, cough) I’ve poked fun at it. But, his beats are variations on a theme. He knows what serves the band well, and sticks to his guns.

The National Plays In A New Time Signature, Bryan Makes It Feel Familiar
On The National’s last album, “Trouble Will Find Me” they entered new territory. They opened up the album with “I Should Live In Salt,” a slow burn of a track that oscillates from 9/4 to 8/4. The National hadn’t delved into non-traditional time signatures before, but they make this new terrain feel like home. This is largely due to Bryce’s work on the drums.

He makes the flow from 9/4 to 8/4 seamless, and demonstrates how comfortable he is in his opening fill. It’s not too flashy. He’s not accenting any weird upbeats like the “e” of beat 7. He’s guiding the listener into the song, and into the album with confidence and cool. It sets up the whole song, and in doing so, the whole album.

Here’s the fill transcribed below along with a YouTube clip that starts right at the fill. You’ll find his primary beat he uses in the verses transcribed as well.

Happy playing!

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 12.36.50 PM

Tape Study: Natalie Prass “Bird of Prey”

NataliePrass_TheRyman-Insert
Natalie Prass (and her band) ooze cool, even while sweating the small stuff. The tonal and compositional qualities of Natalie’s self-titled record makes that crystal clear.

Natalie recorded her debut LP on a “virtually non-existent” budget, and still managed to capture a warm, danceable sound not unlike early Stax recordings.

The hit single, “Bird of Prey” off her album captures the dynamic that makes Prass’ music so irresistible. After nearly three minutes of straight up groove, the band shows off their chops in the back as Natalie steps forward vocally on the bridge.

The band could go with the cliche stabs to punctuate Natalie’s bare vocals, but what they came up with is rhythmically genius, pretty complex and still somehow serves the vocalist.

I don’t know what kind of coffee those session dudes in Richmond, VA are drinking but I want some of it. Here’s my transcription of the hits + a video that autoplays at the start of the hits for you to follow along.

EDIT: Since posting this on Twitter members of Natalie’s band/arrangers Scott Clark, Trey Pollard and Pinson Chanselle have chimed in and given me edits on the transcription. It’s up to date. Thanks guys!

 
PrassEdit

Matt Pond PA On NPR Music

My name is not on Matt Pond PA’s new album. I didn’t play on it. I did play a bunch of the new songs when we toured this past spring. From the way Chris and Matt guided the rehearsals process when we were working out the new songs for their first live performance, it felt like the songs were labors of love to them.

Now, that whole damn album is streaming on NPR Music. My dumb face and Shawn’s awesome beard are on NPR Music. I’m stoked to have a second of NPR glory, even if I might not deserve it.  Matt and Chris deserve all of this. It’s awesome to see their work come across so well in the album itself, and on a huge cultural space like NPR.

NPR

The Importance Of Tape Study

kylekellyyahnerdoncat

You know when you go to take a picture but your camera is in selfie-mode? You look in horror to see your haggard face staring back at you. That’s what tape study can be like after a gig. But, like flossing, the more you do it, the less terrifying it is. It’s actually good for your playing.

There’s a little tradition we have in DonCat while on tour. We listen to the previous night’s gig while driving to the next one.

We’re all usually drinking coffee, driving on the 5 and giving each other shit for little mistakes. While the critique might be wrapped in comedy, the content is serious. Scrutinizing playing with the people you play with is essential for developing communication skills you can use to express critique without someone getting all sensitive or going into a Hulk rage.

What’s good for the gander is good for the goose too. (Shhhh, let me spit out that idiom in reverse.) After doing tape study for the entirety of the Matt Pond PA tour and now the past handful of DonCat shows this month, I’m well aware of my tendencies in certain songs, in sections of songs, and overall as a drummer.

You’ll notice some ugly truths when you do tape study. But which would you rather have: some ugly truths you can improve upon, or ugly playing that you never correct?

(pick the former)

Mistakes I’ve Made On The Road And Lessons I Should Have Learned

coffee

Ahoy. I’m on tour and currently driving through some suburban town in Colorado on the way to Denver. I’ve been on the road for almost a month at this point. It’s been super fun, rewarding, super tiring and everything in between. As a noob to longer tours, I learned a few no-brainers about touring the hard way.

Fast Food is Delicious, Delicious Poison. Salads Are A Necessary Evil

I knew fast food was poison before going on the road. I read much better, more informative tour blogs that plainly state fast food is poison and you shouldn’t eat it on the road. But…chicken nuggets.

Shawn Alpay said to me “tour is a marathon not a sprint” one morning in a Hampton Inn and Suites in godknowswhere, Connecticut. I had no idea why I felt like crap. Maybe it was the nuggets, Maybe it was the fact I sweat out a pound of water on stage and didn’t rehydrate after the gig. Maybe it was because I thought I could rehydrate with IPAs.

Drink water. Eat salads when you can (hat tip to Rob Spectre). Workout if the hotel has a gym. Sleep more. Sleep again.

Be Ready To Roll 

When you check into a hotel, don’t scatter your clothes everywhere. Take out you clothes for that night’s gig. Pack em in you backpack you’re bringing to the gig. There is no way in hell you’ll pack in the morning before van call at 8 AM, after getting into the hotel from the gig at 1am. Don’t do it. Don’t stress. Just stay packed.

Put Your Phone Away When You Get To The Gig

C’mon, you’re not texting anyone about how load-in is going.

Be Positive

Sure, you didn’t get the Americano you want. You didn’t get enough sleep. It doesn’t matter. You get to play a rock show, so go our there and be happy you get to do so. Carry good vibes to the stage and get it done.

That’s all I got so far.

See you on the road.

Going On The Road With Matt Pond PA

I’ve spent a lot of time in vans the past few years, driving up and down the west coast, and occasionally over the Sierras. Each day on tour and on the road is an immersive experience. Despite how sick road food like Jack in the Box makes me feel, I still relish the feeling of focusing on music, and focusing on the friends with you in the van.

This spring I’m going to have a ton of time to do just that. I’m hitting the road with Matt Pond PA for the 10th Anniversary tour of Several Arrows Later.

Matt is a fantastic musician, songwriter and purebred east-coaster. I am very lucky to be accompanying him on drums with the rest of the PA crew. Shawn Alpay (of Debbie Neigher, Tiny Telephone Studios, and a bazillion other bands/studios) will be on cello too!

This is by far the largest/longest tour I’ve gone on and I can’t tell you how thankful I am to be on it. Please say hi and drink coffee with me on the road. You can see the full run of shows here.
Here’s where we’ll be (click on the map).

SeveralArrowsLaterTour

LA Vibes

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

 

 

Edwin Valero

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.