18,000 Miles On The Road – Coming Home From Tour

I covered 18,781 miles via car this year on tour. That’s about 313 hours on the highway, or 13 days straight in a vehicle.

An overwhelming amount of those days were filled with my favorite things: drinking coffee and making dumb jokes with my friends, playing drums, experiencing how massive and diverse the U.S. is in a car.

The life spent on stage, doing what you love in front of awesome crowds is well documented (look at any band’s Instagram). There’s another part of tour that doesn’t involve the stage – coming home.

Why Tour?

There are many reasons to go on tour, but when I ask myself why the hell I spent nearly two weeks this October driving around the country I never have a succinct answer.

The nights spent in hotels (if we’re lucky) or on floors (most likely) with your bandmates are like slumber parties. Who gets to have slumber parties as adults?! They’re the best. You fall asleep with your sides hurting from unexplainably stupid jokes. Does that count as a reason to tour? It’s certainly a reason. But you continue on tours even when you can’t think of a good reason to. The chase is intoxicating.

The morning after I got robbed on the Matt Pond PA tour, Shawn Alpay and I were getting ready to check out of a hotel room. He asked me if I was ready to leave. I looked at him, grabbed my ear plugs off the dresser, put them in my pocket and said, “Yup, all packed up!” The set of ear plugs was my only remaining worldly possession at the time. I had no clothes aside from what I was wearing the night before. Shawn started laughing. We continued on with the tour and played a show like nothing happened the next night. The police report waited till the next morning.

A week later, I got to play a sold out show at the Bowery Ballroom in front of my friends, family, and girlfriend who surprised me by flying in from her vacation in South Africa.

The way the highs and lows pop up is unpredictable, but you know they’re coming. That’s part of the rush, and the chase.

Tour is wonderful, the worst, completely foreign but strangely familiar, and I want to get back on the road as soon as I’m done vowing that I’ll rest and stay at home for a while — so, tomorrow.

The Pressure Cooker
Tour is an act of pressure cooking. That cooking takes place in a van (or Volvo, or Mazda 3). With the windows up, the van is an air tight oven. Whatever you put in it expands. Friendships sprout faster. It seems like you laugh a little louder than you do at home. The highs and lows are heightened.

When you come back, it’s jarring. There’s no gradual descent out of tour and into normal life. You’re just dropped off at home after driving up nearly the entire length of Interstate-5, stretching from Tijuana to Seattle, like that was some normal thing and not a moment in a life completely separated from your life at home.

The Abyss
With this contrast, you dive into the thought process my friend referred to as “the abyss”. There’s a sense that your life at home is a ruse, and touring is who you are when you don’t have an apartment, job, and hobbies to define you. That dissonance between those two worlds (and being thrown back into one of them) is the abyss.

I’ve been in the abyss many times this year. But it’s not a bad thing. Part of what I love about tour is how it heightens the contrast between you and your normal life. You’re more grateful for a bed, your girlfriend, and salads when you come off the road. In turn, after spending time in normalcy, you’re also more grateful for your bandmates and the opportunity to play music.

It’s a crazy pursuit. There’s no other job where you spend 10 hours traveling to work for 40 minutes. It doesn’t feel like work. Whether the show falls short or it’s the best show of tour, you still go on to the next town. It’s the pursuit, the dogged attempt to get better at what you love doing no matter what. Despite every logistical and financial hurdle in your way, you keep moving.

The Other
To put my freshman-year-at-Bard-College hat on, we’re willing ourselves towards The Other. This is the essence of the tragic/glorious metaphysical nature of tour. The Other is different for me than it is to my bandmates. It’s a future I haven’t met yet, but am working towards. That’s The Other to me. It’s knowing I’m relentlessly pursuing something that, even if I catch, I won’t be satisfied with. I’ll always be hungry to play more and perform better. Knowing that, there’s nothing you can do but go on the road to do what you love, even if that’s a little insane.

This makes coming home hard. There’s no easy way to reconcile the two worlds, and the feeling of being split between them. But I’m sure I’ll have more time to think about that during the next 18,000 mile drive.

Give The (Little) Drummer Some

I played a private gig with DonCat this weekend. Grown men and women danced and drank during our set. They were incredibly welcoming, and knew all of DonCat’s songs.

But, at the front of the crowd was a little girl, air drumming for her life, and making these faces that only a drummer can make. They’re the types of faces that make you question if the person donning them is gravely injured or having the time of their life. But you’re sure it’s one of the two.

It was clear the girl wants to drum. So after we finished the gig, I gave her some sticks and sat her behind the kit. It was adorable. I told her to keep the drumsticks, and she ran around the party drumming on everything – people, tables, drum cases, beer bottles. Let’s just hope she tries her hand at some rudiments too.

DonCat Goes To Shredsville, Split Screens Goes On Tour

DonCat Crowd

At 8:28 PM, Duncan, Jesse, Chris and I all paced around. Duncan was doing vocal warm ups. I drummed on empty boxes in the hoarder-esque backroom of Rickshaw before our set with DonCat. In 60 seconds it was time. We walked out at 8:29 to an absolutely packed room. We walked off stage at 9:01. The gig was a whirlwind.

We’ve been working real hard on the new album, Easy Cowboy, which is coming out next year. It’s always a pleasure to play these new songs, especially for such a supportive crowd.

Split Screens Tour
SplitScreensTourAs if Chris and Jesse didn’t spend enough time together as the rhythm section of DonCat. Now, we’re going full steam with Split Screens. It’s time to get in gear for the Split Screens tour. We’ll be going all the way down the coast to Tijuana and all the way back up to Portland. I don’t know what’ll happen in between those two stops. But I can guarantee I’ll be full of coffee + burritos and I’ll spend too much money at Revival Drum Shop in Portland.

See you on the road!

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

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 Bryan’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”

Natalie Prass (and her band) ooze cool, even while sweating the small stuff. The tonal and compositional qualitiesĀ 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, danceableĀ 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 coffeeĀ those session dudes in Richmond, VAĀ 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!


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 theĀ rehearsals processĀ 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. Ā 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.


The Importance Of Tape Study


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 DonCatĀ 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 isĀ 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


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, DeliciousĀ Poison. SaladsĀ 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 stateĀ 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 RollĀ 

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 backpackĀ 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

Iā€™ve spent a lot of time in vans the past few years, driving up and down theĀ west coast, and occasionally over the Sierras. Each day on tour and on the road is an immersive experience. Despite how sick road food likeĀ 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 Iā€™m going to have a ton of time to do just that. Iā€™m hitting the road with Matt Pond PA for the 10th Anniversary tour of Several Arrows Later.

Matt is a fantastic musician, songwriterĀ and purebred east-coaster. I am very lucky to be accompanying him on drums with the rest of the PA crew. ShawnĀ AlpayĀ (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 Iā€™ve gone on and I canā€™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).