Funky Drummer Day: 24 Drummers, 24 Interviews Part Four


In honor of Funky Drummer Day, local musician and journalist Trent Moorman has graciously shared interviews he’s done for The Stranger and Vice Magazine for 24 Drummers, 24 Interviews, a four-part series here on the KEXP Blog!

Listen all day today, Wednesday, March 9th from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM, for Funky Drummer Day itself! KEXP DJs John Richards, Cheryl Waters, and Kevin Cole pay tribute to one of the most sampled breaks in music history: the iconic eight-bar unaccompanied solo by session drummer Clyde Stubblefield in the 1970 James Brown single “Funky Drummer.”

[ all photos, unless otherwise credited, courtesy of Trent Moorman ]

19 Kevin Sawka

Kevin Sawka (Pendulum, Blake Lewis)

Kevin “KJ” Sawka is an aberration of drum-n-bass nature. His drumming is a cyborg metronome gorilla-love-child conceived from Neil Peart (Rush) having a ménage à trois with Squarepusher and a wrecking ball. Sawka has supra-timing. He’s not just on beat, he’s out in front of the beat, reading the beat’s future. He plays a hybrid acoustic/electronic drum kit like he’s taking dictation from a coked-up, mutant Elektron drum machine. At times, he tucks a drumstick under his right armpit to manipulate gear and play drums at the same time. He calls his solo material glitch hop, crunch step, or jungle house. Sawka is the example of what a drummer can do when at one with machines.

How did you become Pendulum’s drummer?

They got turned on to my YouTube videos. We both were huge fans of each other’s work. It was a pretty natural connection.

You play on a big drum riser for them?

A six-foot drum riser. I have a baby rat that sleeps next to my kit at all times. When we’re not playing Pendulum tunes, we forgather and play Gilles Binchois covers on a bed of Tomás Luis de Victoria classics.

How is Ellen DeGeneres?

Sweet as ever. She just sent me a Juiceman juicer.

Has your drumming changed over time? For someone who has mastered a craft, how does your playing shift?

I play in more of a rock way. I play a lot of slower dubstep and drum step beats these days. Which is half-time or more of jungle and drum ‘n’ bass. I’m working on aerials, layouts, and tucks from my riser.

What’s your kit like for Pendulum, as opposed to what you normally like to play? With 78 crash cymbals?

My Pendulum kit is BIG. It’s got 22 cymbals, eight triggered, acoustic drums, and six electronic pads.

Master Musicians of Bukkake

photo by Victoria Holt (view set)

Dave Abramson (Master Musicians of Bukkake, Diminished Men)

Where does your sound come from? Obviously, you’re into some Dick Dale. But are you all into kung fu? Or wrestling large snakes? Film noir?

Our guitarist, Steve Schmitt, grew up admiring Adrian Belew, Django Reinhardt, Jimmy Page, and dub music. He loves driving, heavy rhythms and natural guitar tones. Our sound is based around his guitar. I’d say we’re a perversion and bastardization of Les Paul, the Cramps, samurai-film soundtracks, Angelo Badalamenti, the Shadows, the Pyramids, Italian horror and western film scores. Also surf music.

Have you ever wrestled a large animal? Or taken LSD and wrestled a large animal while thinking you were in a noir samurai film?

No. Well… no.

Your songs peak and valley, climax and recede, and you all are so tight with your changes. I wanted to get you to talk about dynamics. You all do it so well, coming down in those quieter parts. How are you able to do that? Do you rehearse a ton?

Most of the music that influences the Diminished Men isn’t rock music, but sounds that are sparse. Folk music, soundtrack orchestrations, incidental film music, and jazz are predominantly written and arranged by composers or musicians who have a great command of timbre and dynamics. Even with a small jazz combo or a chamber quartet you can compress and expand the group in such a way that the music appears to collapse and explode. We are just a three-piece, so we try to implement dynamics in timbre and volume throughout our tunes. Simon and I aren’t jazz musicians, per se, but we are heavily influenced by jazz rhythm sections and their ability to constantly adjust themselves to the mood of the tune or how it’s being played that evening.


photo by Greg Stonebraker (view set)

Andy King (Nyves, Crypts, 18 Eyes, Joe Gregory)

He’s the John Bonham of Seattle. Rock-solid power/precision. Deployed twice to Iraq in the infantry as a weapons specialist. Can hit a bull’s-eye from 700 yards away, in a snowstorm (for real).

How do you look at the business of drumming?

There are two worlds of drumming: bands I’m in and part of where the creative process is collective, and then there’s getting hired to do a record or play a show. For those, you have to stick to your guns and your rate. Communicating beforehand is the biggest part. I don’t ever want to surprise anyone with an amount of money they owe me. I’ve learned you have to be very clear. There can be weird, hurt feelings and awkwardness if things aren’t communicated.

Give an example of not getting paid correctly.

I was hired for a tour one time, and when we got back, the band’s warehouse had flooded. So I got like a quarter of what I thought I was going to get paid. Sometimes things happen. Getting contracts in writing helps. There’s not a lot of money in music anymore, unless you’re getting publishing [rights]. Being a part of something for licensing or TV is good. I did some sessions recently for a reality-TV-show soundtrack.

Why do drummers get screwed?

Some people don’t see drumming as an art form. They think we’re just animals in the back banging on stuff. But if you’re committed to your craft, it’s way artistic. Listen to a good drummer’s note spacing. Listen to them make a beat breathe and then turn it inside out. It all takes years to develop. People may think drummers are replaceable. Those people are mistaken.


photo by Victoria Holt (view set)

Nat Damm (Sandrider, Akimbo)

Damm pulverizes beats out of his drums. Hair is everywhere. Blood is often times spilt. He’s the kind of drummer that brings glory to the volume of true rock. Damm puts together and refinishes his own kit. He’s wise in the ways of drums.

Have you ever vomited while playing live?

No. I’ve almost passed out, but I’ve never ralfed from playing.

Does vomiting and playing at the same time interest you?

Oh, I’ve dreamed of doing it but I don’t think it’ll happen.

What is your process when you put together and refinish a drum kit?

I bought most of the shells on Ebay. They’re cheap, I didn’t pay more than $50 for a shell. I also had to find 52 classic Ludwig lugs as well as the hoops and legs for everything. This latest kit is a 14”x28” 1964 Ludwig marching drum for the kick, a 14”x16” early 60’s Ludwig concert tom, and an early 70’s Ludwig 18”x20” floor tom. I wanted the shells to match so I took a 1″ chisel and stripped them down to the next ply. Then I sanded them down and got rid of the adhesive that held the original wrap coating to the drum. The kick drum originally had bow tie lugs, so I had to fill the holes in and drill new holes for the classic Ludwig lugs that I bought for the kit. After that I carefully drilled the holes for the bass drum legs since it didn’t originally have any. I touched up the bearing edges since most of these old shells have been through hell and have all sorts of dings and dents. I bought a crushed glass silver sparkle wrap and put it on using some heavy duty glue and let it set. I let the glue set for a few days and then drilled through from the inside using the holes as a guide. After that all I had to do was put all of the hardware on and tune everything up. It took me a year to find everything but in the end, I had the kit of my dreams for under $1000.

How does it sound?

I’m a huge fan of big drums. I love the way they play and the boom you can get out of them. I don’t use any dampening and I don’t have a hole in the resonant head on my kick drum. You can really crank the heads and still get a big sound out of them without loosing the punch. They just feel great to play.

Why do you go with no hole on the kick drum? Why do some drummers cut a hole out?

I don’t like holes in the resonant kick drum head. It bums out a lot of sound engineers because it makes it more difficult to get attack. I believe that can be remedied with tuning though. Hitting a drum that big pushes a lot of air and letting all of that air escape through a hole in the head changes the way the drum feels when played. I like an open sounding kick so I don’t use any dampening. Sound engineers will often put a gate on my kick because it resonates so much. I like a bass drum with some booty. Why shove a sleeping bag or a blanket in there? If you have a sweet ass would you spend your life with a giant sweater tied around your waist? No, no you wouldn’t.

What are your favorite kind of drum kits?

Big surprise – I really love playing old Ludwigs. I like the way they sound, the way the feel, and I dig the way the lugs look. I’ve played Slingerlands and Rogers kits in the past and I really liked them too. The last 3 kits that I’ve had have been WFL/Ludwigs though.

Who are your favorite drummers?

Well, the classics of course. Bonham, Keith Moon, Bill Ward, Mitch Mitchell. I love Dave Grohl tons, Matt Cameron, Chuck Biscuits rules. Rick from Torche is a fantastic drummer as well as Dale and Coady from Big Business/Melvins. Huge thanks to Matt Chamberlain who hooked me up with some awesome cymbals when I was in a tough spot.

23 J Byrum

J. Byrum (Black Breath)

You are a dual kick drum drummer. What does having two kick drums enable you to do?

Be more evil? I played a kit with single kick for ten years then realized I needed to play with two kick drums. I think having two independent pedals sounds better than having all the linkage and weird shit that’s on a double kick pedal. I think it’s more authentic, more classic to have two separate kick drums. I try to use the second kick drum sparingly and tastefully. Sometimes metal drummers are too busy with dual kick drums, they can’t keep their foot off that second kick, and it sounds annoying.

Name double kick drummers you study.

Obviously Dave Lombardo, I think he pretty much invented it. Pete Sandoval from Morbid Angel and Terrorizer, he’s a total ripper. Mikkey Dee from Motorhead and King Diamond.

How did you know you needed to play with two kick drums?

I always liked that sound. And liked tons of drummers that played with dual kicks so I decided to go all out and get a new kit with the dual kick set up. It took me some time to hash it out and learn two play, about eight months, but I wanted the dual kicks to be on the album, so I gave myself a little timeline for it. I was sober when I was learning it, so basically the only thing I was doing was practicing and playing drums every day until I got it. I’m getting better at it, still improving. It was basically getting my left foot to not be totally retarded. Now I can play everything with my left foot that I can play with my right, which is something I never thought I’d be able to do.

24 Steve Smith

Steve Smith (Seattle Drum School)

What is the philosophy at Seattle Drum School? “Bonham ALL NIGHT LONG”?

Our philosophy is that if our students have fun, they’ll learn.

Walk me through the basics of a music or drum lesson.

Every student has inherent strengths and weaknesses. We first identify those areas, so we can immediately capitalize on their strengths in order to build confidence and enthusiasm, and then we gently begin addressing the weaknesses with exercises and drills that develop awareness and concentration.

How many drum lessons does it take until you can solo like Neil Peart?

Every first drum lesson is different. After an initial evaluation, I have them play their favorite beat, or just play for fun if they’re a beginner. I try to identify one or two things to focus on that will ensure that they leave the lesson a noticeably better player than they were when they walked in. I’m a strong advocate of very relaxed technique—loose grip, fluid motion, letting the sticks bounce—and I stress the importance of developing a healthy respect for time and rhythm. This may involve playing a series of sticking patterns or drum-set patterns to a metronome. How someone responds to a specific set of challenges determines the next course of action. I rely a lot on instinct when I teach.

Most of my students don’t start soloing like Neil Peart until they’re at least halfway through their second lesson [laughs].

Seattle Drum School has a Death Cab for Cutie connection, correct? Can you talk some Death Cab?

Death Cab’s drummer, Jason McGerr, had taken lessons from me for a couple of years in the ’90s and later began teaching drums here full-time. Death Cab for Cutie had been rehearsing here for a few years—we used to offer rehearsal space for bands—and eventually we hired him. At that time, they were negotiating a record deal with Atlantic and had already achieved a great deal of success and popularity, especially among the younger generation. One day, a 15-year-old student was in our lobby and said, “That band sounds so much like Death Cab for Cutie!” Her instructor said, “That’s because it is Death Cab for Cutie!” I think she may have fainted.

Don’t miss Parts One, Two, and Three right here on the KEXP Blog! Trent Moorman is a Seattle-based music writer, and drummer for a ton of local bands, past and present, including Head Like a Kite, Pillar Point, Katie Kate, OCnotes, and many more. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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