Playing rock drums for a living with Brent Fitz
DRUM EXPO 2014: When Slash announced the band that would tour his debut solo record back in 2010, many were expecting Josh Freese (the man who had recorded the bulk of the drum tracks from said album), long-time Slash collaborator Matt Sorum or another of the guitarist's A-list pals to get the nod. Instead, former Alice Cooper and Union drummer Brent Fitz got the job, a decision that, four years of touring and two albums later, has been proven to be a masterstroke.
As the band ready the release of their new album, World On Fire, we spoke to Brent about the record, working with Slash, Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, and why he's currently getting schooled night after night by a bunch of rock icons.
World On Fire is Slash's second album with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. How did you approach this one in the studio?
"Slash is leading the band musically and vision-wise. You've got to give him credit for finding the right guys to work with him so he can do what he's great at. Slash hasn't changed as a prolific riff writer, he can write ten riffs a day but if he doesn't have the right vocalist and band then it's a moot point. This band has some songwriting chemistry. Slash could collaborate with people in the studio and hire a live band, so it's special that we've made two records. It's like having babies with someone, now we're connected forever."
"We love playing together, it's not a chore to get together with Slash"
Will the writing process tend to start with a Slash riff?
"Slash has invested a lot of time in riff ideas on the road and in hotel rooms. Usually Slash and Myles will trade ideas first and see which riffs Myles wants to work some melodies up on. Then Slash will come to us on some. Soundchecks are a great place to work on ideas. Slash doesn't write complete songs on the road with a giant studio, it's two different worlds. Todd, myself and Slash really get busy once the touring cycle ends. We go to LA and it's pedal to the metal and we work for hours on end for weeks at a time putting ideas together.
"It's not a chore to get together with Slash. Maybe that's why it translates because we love to play together. No-one tells anyone else in the band, 'Hey you should play this drum part or use this melody line.' It all falls into place. No-one is thinking, 'This would sound great on daytime radio.'"
This will be your second album and third world tour since 2010. You obviously have a great work ethic...
"It proves that Myles is from another planet as far as his ability to be the singer in two bands. This will be our third tour together and it's not weakening, everything is getting stronger."
Who were you working with on World on Fire?
"We recorded with Micheal 'Elvis' Baskette. He has a long history with Myles. It was interesting and cool that we used someone who has recorded Myles for five records already but none of us knew Elvis. He's a guitar player so I think he and Slash connected well. Slash met with several producers and the day Elvis came down he just jumped in. It was a perfect fit."
Here's Brent in the studio talking tracking drums for Slash:
What impact did the producer change have on your playing?
"On our last record I worked with a prolific drummer in Eric Valentine, so I did this time have a sense of, 'Uh oh.' That was because on the last record Eric and I went through the sounds and parts in detail, just the two of us. I really liked that approach. He was adamant about getting really cool fills and we just went over the songs. Eric pushed me and was really hard on me so I guess I was looking for another producer that was going to be hard on me again and I didn't know Elvis. The great thing was that Elvis was in tune with drums and drum sounds. We wanted great big sounding drums."
Did you use your Drum Workshop (DW) kit in the studio?
"The hardest thing as drummer is how do you sound like yourself? A lot of time you get to a studio and a producer wants you to play on a kit that is already there that they're comfortable with. That kit might have made a million records but it might not necessarily be my sound. I used my maple mahogany DW kit. I fell in love with this kit. Live I like having a really big kick drum and that is partly due to how it looks. Slash spends a lot of time in front of the drums and I know he connects with the kick drum so I read it like I didn't want to have that small kick drum vibe.
"The maple mahogany kits only come up to a 24" kick, which is great for the studio but would be too small for live. It was a 24"x14". I used that in the studio and it sounds old and new. It's a brand new kit but it sounds like I've made 20 records on it already. I always use 13", 16", 18" toms and a 14" snare. Each song had its own colour, snare drum-wise. I had a bunch of DW snares and we used Mike Fasano who has an arsenal of great drums, he had a great Q snare drum, a Tama bell brass and lots more DW."
Do you have any favourite drum moments from the album?
"There's a song called Wicked Stone that I love because it could have been something worthy of Appetite For Destruction, and I was thinking how it would have been approached so it was in that same feel. I love Rocket Queen - that's a great drum track from Steven Adler and this is one of my favourite tunes. It felt good. It has this drum break in the middle but it wasn't intended to be a drum break. Slash said I should go for it, though. I don't normally put a bunch of drum wanking in but that song turned out cool with the drum breaks."
Check out Brent playing with Slash at Download festival:
You've been out on tour with Aerosmith. What was that experience like?
"I'm being schooled nightly. After our set I watch those guys and there's a lot of history between those special five guys and it's great to feed off. Joey [Kramer] is holding it down back there. He's one of my favourite drummers. I grew up playing Aerosmith tunes. It's an honour to be on the same stage as them."
You're coming to the UK this year and you're hitting the arenas this time...
"I think all of us are pleasantly surprised that this thing keeps evolving. Every time we come back to play different countries we're playing bigger venues, especially in England where we're playing Wembley Arena. That's pretty cool. Slash as an artist is just as popular in the US as anywhere else, but it seems tougher to put people in a large venue over here. We live in America but kinda look forward to playing other places because the crowds still embrace seeing live bands. We're touring with Aerosmith right now, and jamming two bands together as a package seems to be paramount over here. Like we have KISS and Def Leppard criss-crossing the country as well and Mötley and Alice Cooper."
What can fans expect from the show?
"Live we get to not just play the old hits, Slash is adamant to have the new music in there as well. We played every song off the last album, Apocalyptic Love, at some point on tour. It's rare to do that and still play all of the hits."
World On Fire is available four weeks in advance of the UK general release as a Classic Rock Fanpack, which consists of the full album, a 116-page magazine featuring exclusive interviews Slash and others, a metal pin badge, giant double sided A1 poster and more. You can pre-order it here now for £15.99 (price includes shipping).