Dave Grohl and Gersh
When Foo Fighters mainman Dave Grohl returned to the drum throne behind Queens Of the Stone Age's Josh Homme and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones in his new band Them Crooked Vultures, the drumming world rocked in collective appreciation. Still revered for his raw stick prowess in Nirvana (and later Nine Inch Nails and QOTSA), Dave Grohl is, as his drum tech Gersh puts it, “an animal” behind the kit.
Following our preview of Rhythm Magazine’s exclusive TCV drumming interview with Dave Grohl (special issue on newsstands for one more week only!), here his tech of seven years (and founder of classic kit rental company Drum Fetish) Gersh provides a rare insight into Dave Grohl’s exact live and studio drum setup: from kits, snares and cymbals to toy drums and painted two-by-fours…
Gersh on Grohl
“I first worked with Dave on Songs For The Deaf. I was brought in because I had worked with Josh Homme before. Then I got a call to do the Killing Joke record [Killing Joke] and, as Dave and I got to know each other more, I worked with him on the Nine Inch Nails and Juliette Lewis albums [With Teeth and Four On The Floor respectively].”
Next: Dave Grohl's live setup
The live setup
When the Vultures first talked about touring, Dave didn’t have a kit to take out on the road, did he?
“No, and I wanted to surprise him so I called my friend, Scott Donnell, at DW. I wanted to combine all that we’d done in the studio into one kit. We decided on DW’s Jazz Series shells; old technology, new design, and my favourite drums being made today."
"They have 7-ply shells; 2-ply North American hard rock maple inner with 3-ply gumwood middle - to enhance low-end frequencies - and a 2-ply maple outer. They have a warm, open sound, with real character and the softer ‘Butter Edges’. At that point I didn’t know exactly what I was going to need, so we made a 24" bass drum, 12", 13" and 14" tom-toms, 16" and 18" floor toms and a 20" gong drum."
"Dave had used a gong drum on ‘Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up’, and it became an integral part of the kit."
Pelham Blue finish
"For the finish, we decided on the same Pelham Blue as Dave’s Gibson DG-335 Trini Lopez guitar. I knew either way Dave was going to love the gesture of us doing the kit for him, and he was so excited when he first saw it."
Next: Dave Grohl's snare drum
The snare drum
“When it came to the final tour set-up, I opted for the 13" tom-tom instead of the 14". We had a lot of big drums and the way Dave plays he sets up a lot of sections with that first rack, so I wanted a fundamentally higher note."
"Dave’s live snare is a DW 14"x6 1/2" aluminium, and it basically sits in between the Acrolite and Bell Brass models we used in the studio. It has die-cast hoops, a ‘Bonham-y’ character and a whole lot of crack."
Next: Dave Grohl's cymbals
"Live we’re using Zildjian cymbals and they did an incredible job of duplicating a very specific-sounding old bell ride for us. We also have a great, specially made, 20" Effects crash, which sounds really good because of my theory of things exploding and dissipating really fast."
Next: Dave Grohl's throne
“Dave sits really low - he gets more velocity, power and volume that way, especially with his bass drum technique - and he’s using DW’s lowest seat, all the way down. On the percussive front we’ve got a tambourine and a Ching Ring; an old Bonham thing.”
Toy drums and a two-by-four woode block!
You also had to recreate some ‘toy drums’ into the set-up...
“Dave played one song on the record with a toy drum kit. He wanted to take it out on the road… It wasn’t going to happen! Rather than smaller toms, he wanted some mutant percussive things - something that wasn’t going to look too ‘pro’. So I designed these little concert toms, DW made them, and we just painted them black.
And then he wanted a wood block, so I literally made him a block of wood from two-by-four, painted black!”
Next: drum tuning
Can you tell us a bit about how you’re tuning the kit?
“I don’t try and manipulate the drums when I tune them - each drum has its own spot where it sounds the best and I just try to find that. You can’t make a drum sound like what it’s not, and I tune in fifths. On the bass drum I use a flam pad and moleskin padding; it’s a trick I learned from James Gadson [legendary R&B drummer] back in the day - which takes out a lot of click.”
Next: teching for Dave Grohl
Teching for Dave Grohl
The Vultures gig at the Metro in Chicago was actually the first time that you had teched live for Dave wasn’t it?
“Yes, up until that point I had never done a live show with him. He walked on stage, dumped water all over his head - which went all over the kit - and proceeded to play like an animal. He literally played 50 percent harder than I had ever seen him play previously and I’m back there losing my mind, watching boom arms flex! It was a pretty funny experience…"
“Dave wants to rip at whatever he does - it’s personal excellence, pride and discipline, and he just wants it to be as good as it can be. I love watching him play drums; he’s a very musical drummer, because he is a songwriter, and never does a fill just for the sake of doing a fill, you know?
Technique, style and sandbags
"He’s also got really good technique - he’s not a ‘basher’ - and his foot technique is unbelievable. He doesn’t pit heads, he’s got a great ‘snap up’ and his dynamic - the way he mixes himself - is incredible. And he hits all his drums with the same velocity that he hits his snare and bass drum. With most guys there is a drop."
"I have 200 pounds of sandbags on that kit to stop it crawling! If I could chain things down I would, but Dave actually likes the way the sandbags look…"
“During a show I have got to be on it the whole time, watching Dave’s body language. The gear is my deal and I do not want Dave’s attention to deviate from the drumming and the music. Live is the moment and there is no turning back.”
Next: Miczilla and The Pig
Miczilla and The Pig
Tell us about ‘The Pig’ and ‘Miczilla’…
“I’m psychotic when I tech; I have to have a backup for the backup! ‘The Pig’ is my drum store on wheels - Axl Rose got it for me. I had a humidor built into it, and he and I would smoke cigars on stage…"
“Miczilla is Dave’s vocal microphone. I’m in charge of it, swinging it in and out as he needs it. I constructed it from DW cymbal stands, and a boom arm with a mic clip. Dave had a big grin on his face when he explained that I had to build something that could potentially crack him in the mouth during a show… But, hey, it adds to all the fun!”
The Them Crooked vultures studio setup
Can you tell us a bit about the drum set-up in the studio for Them Crooked Vultures?
“We had two completely different scenes - a big room and a little room; the funny thing is that the little room ended up sounding bigger, but that’s just the magic of the way these things work. We were using a combination of three different kits; an ’80s red Gretsch that is one of Dave’s favourite Drum Fetish kits (he used it on the Grammys with Paul McCartney), an old ’60s Ludwig and a DW Timeless Timber."
"We had a heap of different snares, including Tama Bell Brass and Ludwig Black Beautys, and one of Dave’s favourites, this weird Ludwig Acrolite. It’s an unusual 14"x6 1/2" Blue/Olive badge from the ’70s and there were only 100 made. It’s pretty magical and we used it a lot.”
And how about cymbal sounds?
“Zildjians, old and new. Cymbals can be a sonic thief so, when I listen to cymbals or a set-up, I’m listening for the mixed sound and how the cymbals are going to translate sonically. You don’t want them stealing vocals or getting in the way of other things. I like a really soft cymbal - one that hits hard and goes away. It’s almost like you want them to sound like they have compression on them, but they don’t.”
You can read the full interviews with Dave Grohl and Gersh plus see exclusive pictures of Them Crooked Vultures' live drum setup in the current issue of Rhythm Magazine, available now. Or subscribe to Rhythm here.
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