Pendulum's KJ Sawka's drum setup
Before joining Pendulum in 2010, Kevin ‘KJ’ Sawka had already built himself a reputation for explosive drum ’n’ bass rhythms thanks to his influential YouTube presence. So hooking up with the arena-filling purveyors of “drum ‘n’ bass for the masses” was a no-brainer. And, incidentally, KJ’s dream gig.
Rhythm magazine caught up with the man dubbed The Human Drum Machine, and his drum tech Martin Gavrilovic, following Pendulum’s third album (the first featuring KJ) Immersion and a frenzied year of live dates including a sub-headlining slot with Iron Maiden at Sonisphere.
Among the exclusive shots of KJ’s kit you’ll see in this gallery are snippets from Rhythm’s interview, finishing off with a Q&A with Martin Gavrilovic. You can purchase this issue (183) for the unedited version or check out Rhythm’s current issue 185 featuring an exclusive interview with drummer, producer, songwriter, guitarist and all-round musical visionary Joey Jordison. Or subscribe to Rhythm here.
First up: KJ's kit
14" Soundcaster Medium crash with a 6" Byzance Brilliant splash on top
18" Byzance traditional flat china
18" Byzance Brilliant Thin crash with 8" Classics low bell on top
12" Byzance traditional mini-hats with 8" mini-hat on top (8" Byzance dark splash & 8" Classic China splash)
10" Soundcaster Custom splash
12" Generation X Electro Stack effect cymbals
10" Classic Mini hi-hat
18" Soundcaster Medium crash with Classics Medium bell effect on top
20" Byzance Traditional Thin ride
16" Soundcaster Fusion Trash crash
13" Soundcaster Fusion Medium hi-hat top
18" Byzance Dark china
14" Byzance Brilliant Thin crash with 6" Byzance Traditional splash on top
Have you tailored your gear to match the gig?
"I use larger cymbals. now I have 18" crashes. I’d never had 18" crashes before. I always played quick 14" crashes, really fast. now I’m letting the kit breathe in a rock sense. Still there’s all of these quick things, I’ve got a quick set of hi-hats and a normal set too. Well, they’re 12", they’re still quick."
Next: studio kit
What set-up did you use in the studio?
“We recorded in Rob’s studio. There was a small drum room, we got my Tama kit in there and set it up in a rock formation - two crashes, ride, hats, a couple of toms, two floor toms, two snares. We brought in a bunch of extra snares and cymbals and tried to cater to the sound that Rob wanted specifically as the producer.”
“I also felt a large feeling of collaboration too. Everyone I share the record with says they can hear my beats in there all over the place. That was important for me.”
What kind of sound did you go for on the album?
"I don’t like ring-y drums, I like really dead drums that have the perfect tone for the size of the drums. I use Evans Onyx heads which are controlled and perfect for electronic music. It’s like the toms are already through a compressor, they’re right in your face. Everything is very dry."
Next: rhythms and beats
Rhythms and beats
"Rhythm-wise it really worked out as well. Especially for Self vs Self. It’s metal but it’s got a 174bpm drum’n’bass tempo and when the chorus kicks in it’s got this extra thick snare and kick to give it a drum’n’bass punch. It’s got quad fills and double bass. It’s cool playing double bass again. Usually I’d play double bass builds and rolls within electronic music but now it’s more ingrained in the beats."
Listen: Pendulum - Self vs Self
What kind of electronics were you using?
"It was an acoustic drumset and cymbals and triggers. For some of the songs we didn’t even need triggers because Rob could see the attacks of each note and I think he switched over to Pro Tools, which has this beat capture thing that uses midi notes and then we synchronised the beats. but it’s all from triggers. Hardly any pads, but that’s the next step."
"Stylistically and beats-wise it really doesn’t matter if we record on acoustic or electronic kits. I guess with acoustic drums there’s the acoustic sound, but when it’s triggered you can turn it into any sound. That’s what we’re about as electronic producers, capturing that performance - the way I play each groove and the velocities of each tone, the loud hits and the quiet hits."
"Then we turn it into midi notes and go crazy!"
Q&A: KJ's drum tech Martin Gavrilovic
Why does KJ use these particular sizes and shell material?
"Kevin uses these particular tom sizes because the high notes work well with this kind of music and the range is sufficient to cover all the sounds he needs to produce. He uses Bubinga shells which are well known for having an aggressive attack yet still a nice, fat low-end!"
How does KJ like his drums tuned?
"Tuned even and quite low, especially on the floor toms, though the kick is actually tuned quite high."
Do you use much damping on the heads?
"Yes we do! Top and bottom. We use triggers on the toms for some tracks so a little damping helps keep the trigger sensitivity where we need it to be."
How often do you change heads?
"For most kits I would change all heads at the same time but not on this kit. The heads wear well and so mainly the snare and 10" tom, say every 10 shows. The rest when they need it - no pattern or structure there, I just keep an eye on it."
KJ also uses triggers and some electronics. How integral are these to re-producing the band’s sound live?
"Absolutely. Very. Completely!"
What about cymbals?
"Meinl. Kev smashed two large crashes in the first few gigs so we moved up a size by an inch and problem solved!"
Does KJ get through many cymbals/sticks?
"No. He’s a very precise, accurate player, so stick and cymbal wear is at a minimum."
What’s the most unusual thing KJ has in his set-up?
"A six foot sword."
Check out Rhythm magazine's latest issue 185 featuring an exclusive interview with drummer, producer, songwriter, guitarist and all-round musical visionary Joey Jordison. Or subscribe to Rhythm here for a monthly dose of new gear reviews, kit buying guides, pro drum lessons and all-star interviews.
Liked this? Now read: In pictures: Pendulum's studio and live setups
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