Deftones' Abe Cunningham's drum setup
The last couple of years have brought no few challenges to the Deftones camp. A car accident in November 2008 resulted in bass player Chi Cheng being left in a “minimally conscious” state in hospital, a condition that continues to this day. An album - Eros - recorded just prior to the tragedy was shelved in the light of Chi’s situation, leaving one of the world’s most inventive metal bands in limbo.
But Deftones are a strong little gang. And 2010 saw them regroup with bass player and old friend Sergio Vega (ex-Quicksand) for Diamond Eyes, a huge slab of lurching riffs, soaring melody and gut-wrenching drums. It’s truly Deftones at their incandescent best and a record of which drummer Abe Cunningham is rightly proud.
Rhythm magazine caught up with Abe and his drum tech Sean Bates to talk drum kits, recording Diamond Eyes with producer Nick Raskulinecz, and settling in with the new half of Deftones’ rhythm section, Sergio Vega.
Among the exclusive shots of Abe’s kit you’ll see in this gallery are snippets from Rhythm’s interview, finishing off with a Q&A with Sean Bates. You can purchase this issue (184) for the unedited version or check out Rhythm’s current issue 186 featuring an exclusive interview with in-demand session ace Keith Carlock. Or subscribe to Rhythm here.
First up: Abe’s kit
You remain devoted to your Tama Starclassics, we see…
"Absolutely, I love the Starclassic, so that’s still my kit. I’m blind and I used to have smaller toms, but I have bigger toms now so I have a bigger target. They run 12", 14", 16" and 18" toms with a 22" kick, so I can’t miss them. We have three rigs - one in the UK, one in the US and a ‘c’ rig. It’ll be either green or gold that I use on tour and they all sound amazing."
Tama Starclassic Bubinga kit: 22"x18" kick; 12"x9", 13"x10", 16"x16" and 18"x18" toms
Next: snares, heads and sticks
Snares, heads and sticks
Tama Starclassic Bubinga 14"x5.5" and 13"x6" snares
Snare: Remo Black Max marching snare head
Toms: Remo Emperors, coated or clear
Kick: Remo Powerstroke 3 clear batter, Remo Ambassador resonant
Pro-Mark Abe Cunningham signature sticks
15" A Custom Mastersound hats
22" A Custom ride
21" Rock crash
20" Medium Thin crash
19" Rock crash
8" and 10" K splashes
Deftones' rhythm section
How has having Serge in the band changed Deftones and your approach to the drums?
“It’s definitely changed things. Serge made us be tight again. He has a catalogue to learn, so we’ve all had to go back and revisit and address things that we haven’t done for years.
“I’ll be honest and admit that over the years on the road and in the studio I’d deliberately do stuff that would p**s Stefan [Carpenter, guitarist] off. He wants everything to be exactly like the record and my background means that I want the live thing to allow songs to change and develop.
“Over the years it means that maybe things get too loose - Serge coming in has seen us get rid of that, play tighter and better than we have done for years. He fits like a glove.
“I’m more relaxed as a person now than I have ever been, and actually more confident with Serge on stage. Chi is a great player, but it’s just a different situation. I have more eye-contact with Serge when we’re playing gigs, whereas I’d been playing with Chi so long that he’d be at the front of the stage, which is cool, but there’s a togetherness in the rhythm section that’s new.
“I always played off Stefan. Now I play off Serge more - we hang together more on stage. Honestly, I have never been happier in a live situation.”
Next: the studio kit
The studio kit
Tell us a bit more about the making of the record. You recorded in LA this time…
"We did. LA is only an hour flight for me, so we did the record there. We did it at The Pass, which was great. Nick has truckloads of gear, loads of amps and he brought loads of that stuff in and we had fun.
"In terms of the drum set-up, I switched snares out for different songs but it’s pretty much the same as my live kit in terms of size and set-up. We made a Frankenstein kit - Nick did the last rush record and got real close to Neil Peart and he gave Nick a kit, so we used the rack and the floor tom from his set-up with some of my Tama stuff. But it was a different snare for every song, pretty much."
Next: recording drums
And what impact did working with Nick have on your drum parts and the recording of them?
“We’ve worked with some great producers over the years, I’ve always trusted Terry [Date - Adrenaline, Around The Fur, White Pony, deftones], Bob [Ezrin - Saturday Night Wrist] and Nick to do their thing. One thing that made these sessions with Nick so enjoyable is that I love gear and Nick has so much, it’s cool, I really dig that!
“Terry is a complete minimalist - an Sm57 on the snare, one mic on the kick, a couple of overheads and that’s it. Nick’s totally different. We had three mics on the snare, toms were miked top and bottom, the kick was miked back and front, every cymbal had a mic, and then there were overheads. It gave a huge amount to work with when we came to mix and the record sounds huge as a result.
“It doesn’t sound over-produced though, everything’s subtle. Nick’s amazing in that respect. He’s worked with so many great drummers and I knew that I was in good hands - he’s funny as hell and very relaxed.
“I don’t really change much between live and studio and he allowed me very much to be myself. There was no pressure to be anything different, he just wants to encourage you to give the best natural performance you can give.”
Recording with a 'live' feel
And there’s a real ‘live’ feel to the record too.
"We use Pro Tools, but we use it as a recorder, not as a fixer and not to comp performances together to come up with arrangements. There have been occasions where our communication hasn’t been great and we have relied on the technology to piece things together. It’s fun to do that sometimes. but this time we were in as a band, it was much more back to the old-school."
Q&A: Abe's drum tech Sean Bates
Does Abe’s kit or playing style give you anything particular to worry about on tour?
"Abe’s a great player, and he hits pretty hard, so I definitely have to make sure everything’s locked down tight before each show. I keep trying to get him on a rack, it would make my life a bit easier, but he likes to use stands, so that’s what we have right now!"
You’re using an interesting choice of snare head on this kit...
"Abe’s snare sound is a real characteristic of Deftones’ live set and I had an idea a while ago to use a marching snare head, to give us that real ‘crack’, but from a head that holds up to the abuse he gives it. It’s a Remo Black Max, which looks cool too!
"Other than that, it’s a pretty standard set-up, with a few nice little twists. Abe likes big hats, so we have him on 15"s with a big 22" A Custom ride and 20" and 21" crashes. But there’s also a couple of smaller K splashes in there too, to give extra flavour.
"The Starclassic itself is a fantastic kit and Abe’s using fairly large sizes, with a 22"x18" kick, so it sounds huge."
Now check out Rhythm’s current issue 186 featuring an exclusive interview with in-demand session ace Keith Carlock. Or subscribe to Rhythm here for a monthly dose of new gear reviews, kit buying guides, pro drum lessons and all-star interviews.
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