Rock drumming: stamina, showmanship and set-up (part two)

DRUM EXPO 2013: In part one of this rock drummers' round table, we found out what makes a good rock drummer, why musicianship is more important than showmanship, and what steps you could take to improve your technique and expand your musical horizons.

For part two, we spend time with Glen Sobel, Dean Butterworth, Jason Sutter and James Heatley to hear more about their own personal stories, styles and motivations.

Jason Sutter, Marilyn Manson

You toured with Foreigner in 2010. How did it feel playing such huge rock favourites as Cold As Ice and I Want To Know What Love Is?

"Oh man, that was a dream gig. The most fun I had with that was touring India, which is a place I never thought I would make it to. A highlight for me was the first USA tour we did with Styx and Kansas. It was a big summer tour and had a feeling of that bygone 70s era I grew up loving and dreaming about. I got to live a little bit of it and it felt great."

You also played with New York Dolls. What did you learn about yourself as a drummer playing with such seasoned artists?

"The New York Dolls shows where like a brawl every night - us against them. It was awesome"

"As corny as it may sound, I learned that if you work your ass off and diversify, dreams can come true. I've always loved the Dolls and to play with them is still at the top of my list as one of the coolest moments in my career. Everyday was a learning experience, playing and hanging with the guys who lived and started it all.

"They where more like a street gang than a band. They took me in and made me feel like a part of it. The shows where like a brawl every night - us against them. It was awesome and I learned that in this business, if you care enough you can keep the fire going that you started with."

You now play with Marilyn Manson, who has been known to use drum machines as well as live drums on record. How do you marry both during a show?

"I always try to play with tracks as though they are another instrument that I not only play 'along' with, but interact with as though they where another musician. If it's done correctly, it should feel mechanical in the right spots and 'swing' in others."

What are your favourite Manson beats to play and why?

"I have a great time with a lot of the shuffle feels like Dope Show, Beautiful People, Rock Is Dead and Disposable Teens because they can swing even though they have an industrial element to them. I dig some of the more metal jams as well because they push my boundaries technically, like Murderers Are Getting Prettier Every Day off the new record or Little Horn."

James Heatley, The Answer

What was the first kit you owned?

"I asked my mum and dad for a drum kit but they wanted me to have a scrambler or motorbike. The kit I got was a Premier. I bought it from a guy who was a semi-professional drummer. It was very rusty and brown in colour. It was just a snare, a 12" tom, a 16" floor and a 22" kick. It was falling apart but it was enough to get me going. The guy also gave me a set of hi hats, a crash and a ride. I set them up but didn't know how to play, so I locked myself away after school. We lived in the countryside so I could make a lot of noise. I was about 15 or 16 and we just played every night until someone shouted, 'Enough!'"

Are you happy with your sound now?

"I think you'll always be looking for a bit more. I've had my kick drum for years and love the sound but I'd love a smaller one. Even a 24 - a few times I've showed up at festivals and they've only had the 25. The 26 you have to really thump to get a lot of sound out of it. I'd like to have a smaller tom too - I haven't done that yet because the bass drum is too big. If I got a smaller kick I could get a 12 and 16 tom."

"The whole Answer live set is kind of a solo because of the energy"

Do you think showmanship is important when drumming?

"Yes, I think so. Personally, drumming is not only my love and passion but my job. For me, everybody has a shining moment."

And what song from The Answer's back catalogue is your shining moment?

"We developed Under The Sky so that at the end it turns into a super jam, which was really cool and I was able to show all my power. It wasn't really a solo - the whole live set is kind of a solo because of the energy. Maybe on the next tour [The Answer are touring the UK and Ireland as of October] or something I'll do a 'proper' solo section."

Dean Butterworth, Good Charlotte

Before joining Good Charlotte you had a varied session career. What are your tips for getting power across on a studio session?

"You can play a track lightly and if it's recorded right, it sounds like you're beating the hell out of the kit"

"It's about the player, the producer and the engineer. You can play a track lightly and if it's recorded right, it sounds like you're beating the hell out of the kit. I believe in allowing the mics to do the work and not squashing the tone of the drums and cymbals by hitting the life out of them. John Bonham is a great example of that. Also, you're more in control of the instrument then."

What is your favourite rock drum beat that you have written or played on?

"I like the simple track and groove on Morrissey's Irish Blood, English Heart from You Are The Quarry. [The beat] is simple but feels right for the song; the top of the track has a ¼ note side stick with a 16th note triplet feel on the hats and a syncopated kit drum pattern underneath, then it slams into a driving rock groove for the hook. I love the half time middle eight, then straight time driving rock out."

Do you have different go-to set-ups for live compared with studio sessions?

"It depends on the music. I may add a tom or two or an extra snare and use more or less cymbals. I may use clear heads instead of coated or heavier or lighter sticks..."

In terms of performance, what are your three favourite rock shows to have played?

"Royal Albert Hall with Ben Harper, Manchester Arena with Morrissey, and the Rod Laver Arena with Good Charlotte."

Glen Sobel, Alice Cooper

We loved your cover of Van Halen's Hot For Teacher. It's a great rock beat but many fail to nail it. What tips can you give others for getting it right?

"When it comes to the double bass shuffle three problems can occur. One: the notes aren't swung correctly so they either straighten out too much or become more like flams. Two: there's a lack of limb independence with the double bass shuffle. In other words, a drummer needs to practice all the basic note values and ride patterns with the hands on top of what the feet are doing, one at a time.

"Start with just getting used to quarter notes in the right hand on the ride cymbal while playing the double bass shuffle pattern, then add two and four on the snare - change right hand to jazz ride pattern - and get used to how dotted quarter notes, eighth note triplets and quarter note triplets feel over the double bass shuffle pattern.

"Three: endurance. Hot For Teacher is a song that, except for the breakdown verses, has a galloping double bass shuffle throughout at a breakneck tempo of about 252 bpm. Relaxation is important but also keeping up the intensity. It's almost like you need to be in a band playing this or a similar song where you're forced to keep it up. Then you get proficient at it."

If you could borrow any rock drummer's set-up because they have such an iconic sound, who's kit would you choose and why?

"John Bonham. This kind of set-up works well for many but not all gigs. I'd like to think those iconic sounds come more from the drummers themselves than the gear, but when we did the Bonzo Bash tribute gig in LA, the kit was a replica Bonzo kit: 26" x 14" kick with no ported head and no muffling, a 14" rack tom on snare stand, and 16" and 18" floor toms. This set-up definitely makes the Bonham-isms come out more than other set-ups.

"Another kit that comes to mind is James Gadson's. I met James at a small gig he did one night and sat on his kit. I thought it was going to be very uncomfortable but it was just the opposite. Sometimes the thuddy, more muffled old heads just work for the gig or session. It's another set-up that makes you play a certain way."

"Alice's drummer needs to be someone who can put on a show and fit in with the band musically"

You're now drumming for Alice Cooper, who is a real theatrical performer. How do you ensure you fit in with his brand - did you talk about 'character' before getting the gig?

"I did a recording session for Alice three years ago but I didn't meet him. When my name was brought up a year later for the tour, Alice said he needed to see me as well as hear me. A couple of the guys pulled up some footage of me doing flashy stuff and I guess that's what sealed the deal for Alice.

"It's important to understand where the music is coming from but Alice's drummer also needs to be someone who can put on a show and fit in with the band musically, visually and personally. After being on the gig for a bit, more ideas came to me and the guys as to what we can do with our look as a band and unit. Make-up, clothing... these were part of it."

How much has your set-up been designed for visual impact? For example, your flying tom.

"The 'flying' tom is there because we needed a good spread in the tom sound - from 10" down to an 18" floor tom - but I didn't want three rack toms across the front. That would push the hi-hat way over to my left and make it very uncomfortable. We figured out during the first rehearsals to mount the 10" above the hi-hat. I had to get used to that jump from the 10" to the 12".

"When we designed the Gibraltar Spider Rack, the 10" tom was included since I was already used to it. It's a striking visual statement but it's no different in set-up as far as the reach between everything. It's the same as when we used stands only now it's all on the custom rack system. People are actually surprised how conventional it is when they sit down behind it."

Interviews: Claire Davies