I AM IN MODERN DRUMMER!
by Sir Millard Mulch
It took me about 6 months from the release of my first really serious album, “How To Sell The Whole F..@!ing Universe To Everybody… Once And For All!” to achieve a personal dream: getting reviewed in Modern Drummer. They’re the biggest drumming magazine in the world, from what I understand. I’ve always thought, “Damn it, one of these days, I am going to be in that magazine.”
For years I have attended drum clinics, read drum magazines, and I have even gone to big drum festivals. I’ve taken expensive private drum lessons, just so that I really understand the basis of their techniques. I wanted to know what makes a great drummer. Anything I could do to hang out with drummers, you could sign me up and I’d be there. I’m an all-around drum groupie.
When I listen to music, I listen first and foremost to… of course, the drummer. My understanding of rhythm came from years of obsessing over players like Dave Weckl, Dennis Chambers, Tim Alexander, Neil Peart, Vinnie Colaiuta, Terry Bozzio — and later on, guys like Virgil Donati, Morgan Agren, and Nick D’Virgilio. Even drummers who don’t grab the spotlight: George Hurley (Minutemen / firehose), Tim Soya (Victims Family), John Wright (Nomeansno), Brooks Wackerman (Vandals, Bad Religion) have affected me profoundly. These drummers are all technical monsters in their own way, and they all have a unique creative voice. They are all great orchestrators.
I also spent a great portion of my personal musical development playing with my friend Brad Murray in various local bands, way back before I was famous. He showed me a lot of really interesting tricks early on (that I stole), during which time I developed my rhythm section ideas with him. He would construct drum beats out of what at first seemed to be the wrong drums, and come up with really backwards things that were strangely melodic but lopsided and intricate. I was never quite sure what we were doing, and neither was he. With me playing bass through a guitar amp, we had a very subtle instinctual vocabulary, and we would watch each other for signals and inside jokes all the time. People who would watch us play were always surprised at the stops and starts we’d work into the songs. It was unpredictable and volatile and even fun sometimes. Brad is very creative and talented in everything he does, but he hasn’t played drums much in years. But those hours spent in that tiny room, destroying my ears and playing punk-prog music paid off, as it was my first real musical relationship with another person.
I have always believed that music without drums is… boring. Drummers are people who bring TEETH to the music. Without percussion, it’s just a lot of vague humming. They are the ringmasters; the conductors. They are the eye of the hurricane. Anyone who has played in a band knows that if the drummer ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
I realized long ago that if I wanted to create strong music, I would have to start with the rhythm section. In my opinion, if you are going to have a weak player in the band, first of and foremost, make sure it’s NOT the drummer. (Bassist second, guitarist third. Example: Primus. I rest my case.) Make sure the drummer plays with courage and commitment. There is no room for insecurity; a drummer has to fearlessly push outwards, not hide behind his drums. This is why I have so much respect for great drummers who go above and beyond what is expected of them and conquer their craft. When they fail, they fail big.
On top of that, to be a really great drummer, you have to have both talent and skill. You need to be inspired and intense, yet studious. It is both conceptual and physical.
As a comparison, I have found that MOST guitarists and bassists are mouth breathers who could care less about the delicate techniques involved in double-strokes, ghost notes, and other basic things called “rudiments.” There is really no counterpart on guitar and bass. These techniques take years and years of daily meditative practice to perfect and incorporate in a truly musical way. (Steve Vai is the only guitarist I know who has reached that kind of personal mastery and finesse.) A percussionist is faced with utilizing all four limbs and mastering independence, strength, and feel over the entire drum kit. In addition, they have all of their mechanical gear and pedals to mess with and tweak endlessly. It’s a VERY technical and athletic sport that requires a lot of training and self-brainwashing. Those neural pathways need to be built at a very young age or overdosed with practice to get to the level of some of these guys.
Ironically, I am not really a drummer myself. I can’t keep a straight beat, even with one drum stick and a hi-hat. Guitar and bass are much more forgiving instruments in the realm of timing. I am more concerned with the big picture, but that does not keep me from believing that drums are the most exciting instrument in the world. When I arrange my music, they are at the center of my consciousness. I think of myself as The Stephen Hawking of Drums. Whether I am programming in Cubase or directing a real drummer, I feel I am the one playing. I get to sit there and vicariously believe I am that amazing fire-juggler.
My musical philosophy is a drummer’s wet dream. When I worked with Virgil Donati, the only instruction I gave him was, “Just come up with something really creative and fun, and be as over-the-top as you want.” When you are working with someone like that, it’s all you really need to say. They know what to do from there.
I am very proud and amused that I finally get to go to the local Barnes & Noble and pick up a magazine that has Terry Bozzio in it… and on the facing page, a picture of my album. And the review is the best I have ever gotten! Of course, I realize that I would have never been mentioned if I didn’t have such amazing and notable drummers involved with my project. Still, I got to go along for the ride and see my creation succeeding.
Thank you very much, Modern Drummer!
-Sir Millard Mulch