Benny Horowitz's drum setup
"I’m not the most technical or flair-y drummer,” says Gaslight Anthem drummer Benny Horowitz. “I think my greatest attribute is to really pound away, to hit super hard and keep a song really trucking in the right direction. I want a constant state of motion.”
Rhythm magazine spoke to Benny just as The Gaslight Anthem wrapped up the British leg of their last tour when the momentum was undeniably behind the band. Their second album, the ’59 Sound, propelled the New Jersey rockers to international success and the follow-up, American Slang, only added to their rapidly growing army of ardent admirers.
Among the exclusive shots of Benny’s setup you’ll see in this gallery are snippets from that interview, in which the drummer discusses his gear, the songwriting and recording process, his penchant for Motown, and the challenges of playing to a click track.
Benny and producer Tim Hutt spent a day getting the right drum sound on American Slang, which involved playing mix and match with the gear. Benny tours with a set from Dark Horse Percussion, but the studio kit is another beast…
"I used some vintage stuff," he explains. "I used an old Gretsch kit…"
Next: snare and toms
Snare and toms
"…and we had this old Ludwig snare, 14"x7". I used my Dark Horse toms, my 12" from home and my 18" floor tom…"
"…and I used my basic cymbal set-up, mostly Sabian with my Zildjian ride. I rented out some 15" hi-hats for the session. I really wanted kick, snare, hat to be big and as Motown-y as possible."
Next: single kick drums
Single kick drum
"I really believe in making four drums sound awesome rather than compensating with extra stuff."
Benny’s four-piece set-up reflects his no-frills, no-nonsense mentality to his craft…
"If anything, through the years I’ve taken away pieces of my drumset more than adding."
“I’m a strict advocate of single kick drum. I really believe in making four drums sound awesome rather than compensating with extra stuff. If you’re playing anything involved in rock, you’ve got to get your snare, kick, hi-hat patterns and you better have a lot of them in your piggy-bank too."
Where some groups like to jam and see what they come up with, Benny prefers to work from a sketch of a song rather than a blank canvas.
"Getting together in a room and just starting to jam is fun but it doesn’t usually turn into anything more worthwhile.
"Brian is the main lyricist and songwriter, so typically a song will start with Brian having a riff or sometimes a song that he has the lyrics and melody to but no music. Typically it starts out with some sort of demo Brian comes up with and he brings it to the chopping block.
"We cut and paste and arrange and after that it’s a pretty open process."
Next: writing drum parts
Writing drum parts
"With writing drum parts, I really appreciate it when Brian has a melody constructed when he brings in the song because I try to write to the hook and the melody."
For his own parts, Benny is not interested in busting chops...
"I make a very active effort to play for the song, not for myself,” he says. Yet despite the drummer’s dedication to meticulously crafting grooves and not showboating, he can still run up against the producer in the studio.
"It’s always a battle with me being produced because I’m pretty pig-nosed about my parts once I write them. If it’s a song we’ve been comfortable with and practising for a while and I already have fills and little nuances mapped out, I hate changing it.
"It’s part of the give-and-take of working with somebody and trying to hear something as a whole."
Next: Motown soul
One element that quickly comes to the fore when listening to Benny’s playing is his love for Motown. Beneath the punk exterior of the Gaslight Anthem lies a heart pulsing to the beat of classic soul.
“I grew up with a lot of Motown through my father. I’ve been fairly obsessed with it for the last couple of years, ever since I got over being too hardcore.
“Once I hit 15 or 16, if something wasn’t super fast and super heavy I had no interest in it. It took me years to re-develop my ear for melody. I gave it a rest for a long time.”
Next: Dance floor grooves
Dance floor grooves
Benny’s approach is built around maximising the potential of his kick, snare and hi-hat, like the drummers of Motown who laid down their grooves for the dance floor.
"I listen to some of that stuff and the rhythms are not that hard, they are pretty simple, but if you follow these basic recipes for their rhythms you can create so much action inside of it.
"That’s why I feel that my parts aren’t particularly difficult to play but they are difficult to write. I don’t think a lot of people write like that anymore, with those four-on-the-floor beats and doing things with a repetitive kick drum pattern in the middle of a beat just to give it that extra dance element.
"That’s definitely something I try to do."
Recording with a click track
For American Slang, the band recorded using a click track, which poses its own challenges for any drummer looking to capture a feeling.
"The thing that took a while was learning how to play inside the click, which is a skill in itself.
"I believe in push and pull in music. I don’t think that rock music should be written along a flat line. Speeding up and slowing down when it feels right is fine and I personally don’t have a big issue with it or even pay much attention to it. That was something I had to learn, to be able to do that inside the click, which is possible. It’s hard, but possible.
"That was my biggest hurdle, to get some groove and some dimension to the drums without going off the click."
Now check out Rhythm's current issue 187 fronted by Stone Sour's monster sticksman Roy Mayorga. 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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