In 1974, not yet 18 years old, Pat Mastelotto moved from Northern California down to Los Angeles, dreaming of becoming a session musician.
He found work with producer Mike Chapman before landing an audition for the band Mr. Mister. “By accident, at my audition the bass player I was bringing with me didn’t show up, so Richard Page the singer played with me and it was instant chemistry. Within a half-hour we were high-fiving and we were a band,” says Mastelotto.
The group’s 1985 album welcome to the real world produced two us Number One singles - Broken Wings and Kyrie - giving Mastelotto’s profile a huge boost.
“It brought me credibility,” says Mastelotto. “I got a lot of other session work after that and it gave me some financial security. I was able to buy a house. The Misters were a very democratic band, we shared production and a lot of the songwriting, so as a drummer it was a very happy place to be. We’re friends still to this day.”
Your kit includes electronics now with Komara and O.R.K.
“It depends on the gig. With the current King Crimson, there’s no sense for me to use much of a beat box. We have Gavin and Rieflin and Jeremy, great drummers. There are plenty of guys to play the parts, but in situations where I’m by myself then I will look to the drum machine to be my buddy, to fill in a shaker or a loop or a kick-drum part. Like in Broken Wings, the Mr. Mister hit, I didn’t play the kick drum. I sequenced the kick drum on the Linndrum and the bass line was sequenced as well. That was the tightest way to give that track the identity that it needed.
“A lot of times I might play the dominant beats, the downbeats, the ‘1’s and ‘3’s but not the 16ths, not the skippy beats. With Broken Wings, it straight-up plays the kick drum pattern, I play top kit over that. We had another hit called Is It Love that had a lot more active bass drum and on stage it worked out best that I played the dominant beats with the acoustic drum and then the fill-in beats, the 16ths, the off-beats would come from the drum machine. I’d just take away the beats that I chose to play so I didn’t have to worry about flams.”
Tweaking the sound
Do you adjust the sound of your kit depending on the gig?
“Totally, and the new three-drummer King Crimson is a really good example of that because I’m mixed a little bit off to one side and Gavin is off to the other side, so if you think of Gavin having the high octobans and the higher bell cymbals over his hi-hat, he’s creating very much a picture in the right speaker, if you will. My picture is very much in the left speaker so a bigger cymbal or a bigger floor tom can answer that, or a few high cup chimes and things to correspond and to ricochet back and forth from his side of the stage.
“I definitely think about sound as much as the part. Sometimes you’re going to use something more like a timpani or a parade drum than a conventional sounding rock’n’roll bass drum. Broken Wings, Kyrie, all those songs, the same things there - how heavy can the drums be? We were a four-piece so I could make the drums much heavier, I used a Simmons SDS-5 in those days so there is a lot of that on that record, really big fat tones but we can’t quite use those in the current King Crimson. There is so much activity that they have to be shorter sounds.”
How do three drummers work together? Do you all feel time the same way?
“No, I don’t think we do and we make strategies to avoid flams. We don’t play a lot of unison bass drums, that’s one of the first things when you’ve got two or three drummers - how many bass drums can I eliminate? It’s very much like playing with a drum machine as I described back in the ’80s. You’re going to share all those notes down there so you’ve got to take some away. We do feel time a little bit different. Gavin is a little bit more on the backside, I’m a little more on the frontside. I don’t know how to describe it exactly, it’s just something you do.
'I'm from the rock generation...'
When did improvisation come into your playing?
“I didn’t listen to that much jazz as a kid growing up. I’m from the rock generation, the Beatles, Cream and Hendrix and all that. Open improvisation, as we think of it now, you always do that as a musician but when you work with Robert and some of the characters I was working with, it became more open. I don’t want to call it free jazz but it wasn’t just like a blues jam. It was just a very vibrant music time in the early ’90s when electronica was really exploding, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, all these things that explored using a computer or beat box ideas and then collaborating as a human with the machine.
“That really appealed to me so it was good timing that the King Crimson ProjeKcts came along and these were really set up for exploration for future crimson ideas, so we would hit the stage with no prepared material. I was doing that locally with Mastica and some other projects I had here in Texas. It’s usually the exploration musicians do in the garage with just a couple of your buddies. You don’t usually step in front of 500 people and do it on stage but that’s what we did. It’s the idea that the pointed stick of public ridicule will push you into doing something. That’s a bit of Robert’s philosophy there.”