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!

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Tape Study: Natalie Prass “Bird of Prey”

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!


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.


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).


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.

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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.


SoFarSounds With DonCat: Play Less, Deliver More

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).

June: The Month of Recording, Gigs and Drum Whoredom

cacGreat googly moogly June is busy. I will make it out of this month on the coattails of Americanos and post-band practice burritos.

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:

10014579_10152300431937767_2131227472_n 6.12 – Secret Show w/ Debbie Neigher (shhh only the coolest kids know about it)
doncat6.18 – 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]

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 11.40.38 AM6.22 – North Beach Bacchanalia Festival at The Emerald Tablet w/ Edwin Valero (come see us perform the songs we recorded) [info]

628x4716.24 – Amnesia w/ Split Screens (we’re playing with Picture Atlantic + Rin Tin Tiger aka the solidest bands ever) [info]

doncat6.27 – Slims w/ DonCat (Did I mention Duncan’s mustache already? Come for that.) [tix]

10014579_10152300431937767_2131227472_n6.29 – 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.