Canadian drummer and multi-instrumentalist Brent Fitz has carved out an extremely successful touring and session career, providing muscular but musical beats for the likes of Theory of a Deadman, Alice Cooper, Vince Neil, Union and, most recently, Slash. Here he shares tips on how to write and play for the song, not your drumming ego.
1. Think vocals
“A lot depends on where the song is coming from, whether it’s coming from square one, from a guitar riff or whatever. I’m interested in not stepping on what the singer is going to do.
"I don’t know what I’m going to play until I hear a melody."
"I love when I’m working on a song and I already have an idea of what the vocal will be, my biggest thing is not stepping on the vocals. I come from a multi-instrumental background.
"With Slash we work on the drums, guitar riffs and bass, the rhythm parts, but I don’t know exactly what I’m going to play until I hear a melody.”
2. Serve the song
“I just feel like the most important thing for me is to just play for the song. You hear that all the time, everyone says you gotta play for the song but that truly is key. You’ve got to be professional in terms of picking and choosing your moment to add something that will add to the song.
"Sometimes less is more. I learned that from Jeff Porcaro. He played perfect all the time and he chose to pull back when some people would let loose and that was way cooler than stepping on somebody else.”
"Sometimes less is more."
3. Pick your fills
“Just because you’re going from a verse to a chorus, that doesn’t mean you should definitely put a drum fill there. And if you do, you need to think if it is the right drum fill to progress the song.”
4. Learn from other musos
“I’ve played on a lot of records now and I’m sure records I played on 20 years ago have a little bit more of me trying to find my voice. Sometimes you like to leave your stamp and that’s a tough ego spot to be in.
Drummers need to remember that we are the most important part of the band as the glue. A lot of drummers will look at a song as their opportunity to overplay and that is not the right approach.
I play melody instruments, I like piano. That’s where my musical maturity comes from in terms of songwriting.”
5. Speak the language
“Playing other instruments means that if I’m playing kick and snare I’m not thinking that it’s a simple beat, I’m thinking the kick and snare is leaving room for a really busy guitar riff that plays better within the song.
"I get what the other instruments are playing so I know when you just need a ‘2’ and ‘4’. Playing other instruments means I can speak the same language as the rest of the band. It’s not like, ‘Oh well he’s just the drummer.’”