A basic tenet of the Universe says that energy is neither created nor destroyed, but merely changes shape and form, constantly renewing itself. A basic tenet of the Musical Universe is BOOM! — nothing moves without drums. And one of the prime movers and shakers of that universe is, appropriately enough, Jonathan Mover, he of the enormous foot and slammin’ hands.
Long a provider of the beat for such guitar heavies as GTR, Joe Satriani and Frank Gambale, Jonathan used his recent stint with Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin as an opportunity to delve into stripped-down funk. A great admirer of Andy Newmark’s no-frills solid pocket drumming (he cites Roxy Music’s Avalonas his all-time gotta-have-it record), Jonathan has recently put aside his double-bass monster kit for the not-so-simple pleasures of a basic four-piece kit as a way to keep things fresh and challenging.
However, another basic tenet of the Universe states that nothing remains the same, and Jonathan is no exception. When his current obligations with Satriani expire, Mover is poised to head into relatively uncharted territory with his new band, Einstein. This is a special challenge for him since he will not only be the band’s drummer, but also one of the composers as well. A supernova may not be unexpected as the band prepares its launch date.
TD: I hear you have a new project in the works.
JM: The band’s called Einstein. A few years ago I got called to do an ordinary session for a record at the Power Station called Brotherhood of Thieves. It was a pretty “middle-of-the-road, straight hard rock band,” and I didn’t particularly care too much for the music, but it was a good-paying session, and I hit it off famously with the guitar player in the band, Stan Steele. He’s from New Jersey and has done a lot of sessions for people, written tunes for different bands, done the whole New York/New Jersey scene. I did it just as a session, although they wanted me to join the band as well. Anyway, the old Lead Singer Syndrome hit them: things didn’t work out with their lead singer, he quit the band, and the whole project fell apart before the record came out. But Stan and I kept in touch and we found out that our backgrounds were almost identical: growing up listening to and being influenced byJethro Tull, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Zappa, and a lot of the progressive rock of the late 60′s and 70′s. The two of us were sitting there singing songs from the Octopus record and all kinds of obscure stuff — we immediately clicked.
Jimmy Bralower, the famous drum programmer, who was producing the project felt that Stan and I had something and that we shouldn’t be doing middle-of-the-road, ordinary rock, and he drove me out to see Stan play a local gig one night — I hadn’t seen him in about six months because I had been off doing another record or touring with somebody — and we started talking about hooking up and giving it a shot, so we started writing some tunes together and putting some ideas down.
We also got a singer and a bass player and slowly but surely put it together. It’s taken about two years total to get it to this point because we had to make sure the other two or three members were the right people. We went through a couple of different vocalists and a couple of different bass players until we got it to the point where we’re all in love with it, musically and personally. Everything is really great; we’ve done most of the recordings up at the Power Station in New York and we’re shopping it now.
TD: You’re well-known for being the hot drum action behind a lot of guitar slingers — Joe Satriani, Frank Gambale, and the GTR thing. Is Einstein the same kind of deal?
JM: It’s definitely a player’s gig, but it’s designed for a listening audience. We have a vocalist, and I hate to say it’s MTV-oriented, but it’s that type of situation. It’s made for the masses, but it’s not a “pop” band at all. I don’t want to say it’s a crossover and sounds like Zeppelin meets Pink Floyd, because you can’t say something like that and not give someone the wrong impression, but there’s a little bit of everything that makes up the groove of the band. We have some tunes that are 4 with polyrhythmic melodies; we have some tunes in 7 that are played so straight that they sound like they’re in 4; we have acoustic tunes; we have some blues. It’s a little bit of everything because that’s naturally just what we’re writing. We’re not putting it together with the idea of, “Okay, it’s gotta be Seattle” or “It’s got to be New Jersey,” like a lot of other people do.
TD: So band rehearsal doesn’t revolve around questions like “Do we wear plaid or do we sing about cars?”
JM: Exactly. We’re just doing what naturally comes out of us, and so far it’s been really great.
TD: Have you made any specific percussion in put into the music for Einstein?
JM: We write everything together. I don’t want to flatter myself, but I do consider myself a composer now. I’ve been playing piano seriously now for a couple of years, and I’ve got a whole MIDI sequencing system at my house. We write 50-50. We either completely and individually write a song on our own and then develop it with each other, or we write them together: I may have a verse and a bridge, and he’ll have the right chorus and tag.
I’m completely into the compositional end of the band, so it’s not just somebody coming to me and saying, “Come up with a great rhythm,” I’m actually laying down the melodies and rhythms of the whole tune.
TD: When you’re into the songwriting process from the very beginning, does that change the way you think about playing?
JM: Yeah, completely. The thing that I find really amazing, the point of view now as a composer, is sometimes I’ll come up with a rhythm first and then either I’ll have a melody to go with it or Stan’ll put a melody to it, but if I’m working on something on my own, I might have a melody and I’ll put that into my four-track or into my sequencing system. Then I basically have the choice of a hundred different drum patterns to play, and whatever one I pick is the one that’s going to direct that tune. It never occurred to me before to have that power and control — how it’s going to be perceived and received.
When I was playing with GTR, we wrote as a band, but I didn’t have the power alongside Steve Howe and Steve Hackett to just sit there and try a bunch of different things. Either the first thing I came up with was accepted or maybe somebody had done something with a drum machine on a demo done at home and I had to stick close to it. I could embellish a little bit on it to give it some personality, but I couldn’t deviate too far.
But with Einstein, even before I present an idea, I can push and pull that thing and rip it apart and build it up and do whatever I want. And sometimes it really works with the most basic of a 2/4 groove, and sometimes I can do some really great rhythmic twists and turns and make it happen.
TD: When you sit in your apartment with your MIDI rig and put the rhythmic structure on the tune, do you do it on a kit or on a drum machine?
JM: Everything is first done in my head, and then I have a Yamaha keyboard system MIDI’d up through a sequencing system and some other outboard gear. So, basically through the keyboard I do everything by machine, including the drums. The sequencing unit I have puts everything together and quantitizes it for me, so I can do an entire orchestrated piece, except for vocals, in an hour or two just by using my keyboards.
TD: A few years ago, some drummers were finding that when they came into a session, a lot of the machine patterns they were given to emulate were unplayable since they were done by non-drummers who had no sense of what was possible.
JM: Yeah, I’ve had that happen myself. But my drum parts are absolutely something I can play; I don’t think I could do it the other way. A lot of the stuff that Frank Zappa programmed on the Synclavier is really great, really wonderful, but I would never even think to program like that because I don’t think like that, I think like a drummer.
I think my programs would tend to be a lot more like Jimmy Bralower or Allan Schwartzberg (who does a lot of programming) or Joe Franco. A lot of the stuff that I’ve heard that Joe writes at his house has great drums on there because he programs it like a drummer.
On the other hand, I listen to stuff programmed by non-drummers like Zappa and Ian Anderson — stuff that a drummer could never play — and they just blow me away, but I don’t think that was intended to be heard that way. The way Ian Anderson programmed that stuff was the way he wanted it to sound and not necessarily for Barriemore Barlow or Doane Perry to be able to play that; it’s a whole different deal. But everything that I do — including the bass, keyboard and rhythm guitar parts I play as well — are going to be even simpler than what will be done by the people who are going to play them, because my capabilities on those instruments are limited, although I can get all the sound sources and play them all realistically and quantize them. I then present them to the people in the band, and they take it a step further and do it their own way.
TD: Does your thinking as a composer tend to make your drumming more restrained? Sometimes when all a drummer contributes to the song is the beat, they may tend to overplay just to put their footprint on the material.
JM: I don’t think of it as restraint because, again, I’m not looking at this music with the thought that, “I’ve got to play something great because there are alot of drummers out there listening.” I’m looking at it as though I’ve written a pretty good tune, so I need to play the right things to make the entire song come across, not just the drum track. But I think I’m fortunate enough that the type of music that I’m writing and that Einstein is playing really is a showcase for my drumming as well, and not just drumming as far as fills go.
Some of the beats and grooves that me and the bass player are doing are actually polyrhythms. We’ve got a couple of things in compositions where you might be listening to a kick and snare of 2 and 4, but the bass line and the hi-hat line are playing fives across it. There are things like that, but it’s not like listening to some of the more complex Zappa pieces where all of a sudden the time goes haywire and people don’t know what the hell is going on. There’s more of a fixed structure in our stuff, but there are rhythmic and melodic ideas going across the bar lines, and that’s more where I’m coming from as a composer.
On the other hand, there are some pretty straight tunes as well — whatever works, works. I don’t take something in 4/4 and say, “Oh man, this is too simple, I gotta screw with it: let’s subtract an eighth note and make it in seven.” Likewise, I wouldn’t take something that works really well in eleven and make it twelve. If it is what it is and it stands by itself, then great. I find that more and more groups I hear these years that are trying to play what we call “progressive rock” sound like they had a really great tune in four and they added a measure of 3/16 at the end of every verse, which doesn’t have anything to do with the real content of the composition, it just gives it a little twist to make it “progressive.” To me, Genesis and Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd and ELP and Utopia and those bands didn’t do that stuff. When I go back and listen to those albums, like Return of the Giant Hogweed by Genesis, it doesn’t sound like it was just put there to make it tricky.
TD: Or things like the intro to “Dance on a Volcano.”
JM: Exactly. You can’t put that to a click, that’s a feel. “The Crunge” by Zeppelin is one of the greatest odd-time rhythms in nine, but you can’t play that to a click because it pushes and pulls and ebbs and flows. It was a feel thing that they did, and it could not have been played in four and it could not have been played in five or seven. It was perfect the way it came out, and it sits. People who don’t know dick about 4/4 and 5/4 can tap their feet or snap their fingers to that tune because it’s played so well — you can follow that pattern. And I think that’s an accomplishment, there’s something to be said for that.
TD: A lot of people sometimes tend to forget that music is not just for musicians, it’s supposed to communicate to non-musicians too, the people who don’t know and care even less about how tricky some piece of music is.
JM: Exactly — if you can’t reach people, what’s the point? There are a few instrumental tunes that are similar to the “Put Up or Shut Up,” sound sheet thing I did for Modern Drummer a few years ago, but Einstein’s definitely a vocal band that’s made for the general listening audience. Even so, it’s not directed to the 14 to 20 year old buying public; if we did that, it wouldn’t be right and it wouldn’t work. For me to give up my freelance career — which is really what I’m doing now that we’ve completed the package and now that all the material is written and we have the right members — I have to commit to this project, and I fully intend to do that. And I wouldn’t do that if I wasn’t doing what I knew was really intrinsic to me; I’m not gonna fake myself or anybody else out.
TD: When will this happen?
JM: When this tour with Joe Satriani is done, I’m going headfirst into Einstein.
TD: What has your freelance career consisted of recently?
JM: Basically, the beginning of ’91 was the last time the Satriani band played together as a group, and it was at that point that I gave my notice since I felt it was time to move on and do other things. So the priority since then has been the Einstein project – -it took up most of my time until recently when I went back ont he road with Joe last summer. The other thing that took up the rest of my time was buying a piano and taking piano lessons. I used to put in eight, ten and eleven hours on drum kit when I was thirteen and fourteen, but that was easy.
Trying to find four hours to practice the piano now that I’m 30 years old is not so simple. But that was my number one priority.
Aside from that, I did Frank Gambale’s last record, The Great Explorers, and did a tour with him. And I did a bunch of touring last year with Aretha Franklin and her orchestra.
TD: I would have never thought to put the two of you together. How did that go?
JM: It was unbelievable. And it just fell in my lap. I was out riding my Harley one beautiful April day, and when I came in there was a message on my machine that said, “This is so-and-so from Aretha’s entourage and we’re trying to reach a Jonathan Mover to see if you can fill in for one gig tonight in Boston. It’s a sight-reading gig. Can you be on a plane at such-and-such a time and be there?” And I figured, nah, this has got to be one of my friends playing a joke. As much as I adore Aretha and James Brown’s music, a white bread drummer with a nose ring and hair down to his ass like me is not going to get the chance to do this gig. But I called the number back and sure enough, the guy is, “Yeah it’s for real. You were recommended to us through Arista Records and blah blah blah.” And I said, “You must be looking for Jonathan Moffet. No offense, but we do get mixed up once in a while; not Mover, it’s gotta be Moffet.” But they convinced me in 10 minutes and I said, even for one night, just to play with Aretha — no problem. So I jumped on a plane, flew up to Boston, got the charts, but didn’t even meet Aretha at first because the band was onstage doing a sound check when I got there.
TD: How big a band?
JM: Twenty seven piece orchestra. Strings, horns, the works. The horns and strings were picked up in every city, but the three backing singers, keyboard, bass, percussion, guitar traveled as the main band.
TD: Who was the percussionist?
JM:Larry Fratangelo. He’s played with George Benson, Earl Klugh, and he’s been with Aretha for eight or nine years. He’s been a friend of mine for many, many years, so it was a real trip to playwith him.
So anyway, I got the charts, met the conductor, and I sight read the gig and did it. And during the show she gave me a 32 bar drum solo in the middle of one of her tunes, and at the end of the song she said, “I’d like to introduce you to my drummer but I don’t even know his name!”
TD: Jonathan Moffet!
JM: Yeah! (laughs) At the end of show I went up to her with my camera and went, “Excuse me, Miss Franklin, but this has been an absolute pleasure, and having done even one night with you has completed one part of my life. Can I take a photo?” We snapped the photo and she said she enjoyed my playing and asked if she could call on me again if she ever needed me, and I said “Sure.”
I went home, and I didn’t hear from them for about a week, so I figured, “Oh, well, it was one night, but I’ve got the photo to prove that I played with her!” (laughs) About a week and a half later the tour manager called me up and offered me another three weeks with her.
I hadn’t realized that the one gig I had done had been the last gig of that leg of the tour. But it lasted from May through the end of November, going out for two or three weeks at a time. It was absolutely unbelievable. The woman never missed a note. Nothing but praise for her, she was really great to work for. And just to be up there driving that situation was cool.
TD: How tough were the charts?
JM: They were tough, yeah. I hadn’t read charts in probably 10 years, but my reading chops came back real quick, real quick! Quincy Jones and HP, her regular guy, did all the arrangements. I was basically trying to read all the hom stabs and catch that stuff and watch for the odd measures and strange bars — it was a blast. It was a great experience in every way.
TD: Were you a little nervous at that first gig, sitting there just sight reading the gig?
JM: It’s funny, I don’t get nervous, but I get really excited, but it’s a different kind of excitement. There’s one kind of excitement, like the excitement of tonight’s gig with Joe and Stu, getting a little bit anxious before the gig, you can’t wait to get up there and do it, and then there’s the excitement which is almost what gets you through a nerve wracking experience like that, because I think if I had gotten nervous, I would have blown it. You can’t look at a chart you’ve never seen before, and freak out because of something that’s there. You almost have to go a step beyond that and be able to look back at it. If you’re going measure by measure and moment by moment, you’re gonna kill yourself.
My studies with Gary Chaffee got me prepared for that kind of, thing. He used to show me charts from Zappa and big band stuff that he had done to get me sharp. And I would get the occasional chart to do a commercial or once in a while I’d get a session that used charts, but with most rock stuff, either somebody calls you up and you just learn it on the spot or somebody gives you a tape. Rock musicians, at least the people I’ve worked with or worked for, hardly ever read at all.
Basically you look at the form ofthe tune, as far as the beginning, the stops,the coda, etc, etc. Then I try to pick outthe most important things in the song — the horn stabs, the drum fills, chart break-down, vocal structures, things like that, and I’ll highlight those little bits with a yellow pen so I know they’re coming up.That allows me to coast for 16 bars knowing there’s a big horn line that I’ve gotta catch, and I’ll be prepared for it when it comes up.
TD: Were you reading drum charts with her or did you have a lead sheet?
JM: They were combinations of all different things; some were drum charts, measure by measure with accents and stabs, and some were piano lead sheets, and occasionally there’d be a chart missing and then the conductor would give me his chart to use.
My dad was a professional musician and he used to conduct off
Broadway plays as a musical director, so I remember when I was a kid he did Promises Promises, George M, ThePajama Game, and Cabaret, a lot of those type of shows. He would have the full conductor’s scores, so I got exposed to that early. Promises Promises is nothing but a series of odd-time measures — it’s a very happening chart. I used to open that up and follow along with the record and go to his rehearsals and check him out. He was a help with that when I was a kid.
TD: What else did you do in the interim besides Aretha?
JM: I did a record which is coming out soon with a band called 22 Brides. It’s a new group with a couple of sisters, kind of a hard-edge, acoustic alternative rock band.
TD: How do you play with an acoustic alternative band if you’re playing all them loud drums? If you play a ruff on the snare drum, you’ll bury any chords the acoustic guitarist might happen to be strumming.
JM: In a live situation, true. But in a studio situation, not so. I mean, look at John Cougar: Kenny (Aronoff) plays his balls off in the studio. You can tell how hard he’s hitting, and Cougar’s playing an acoustic guitar — you just need to mix it the right way. So it was kind of the same situation, although some of the stuff I played light to get that type of a feel.
Playing with Aretha was basically a trip, but one of the really nice things about it was, all of a sudden I wasn’t Jonathan Mover the Hard Rock,Progressive, Fusion Drunimer anymore.That was fun for a time, but I really drummed myself into a comer — the only gigs I was being called to do were these hard rock, maximum-note situations that I wasn’t into.
When I first gave notice to Joe, I worked with Alice Cooper, and that was fun for the experience of what it was. I really enjoyed working for Alice, he’s a great guy and the music was nostalgic for me. Then I did some work for a band called Blue Murder.
TD: Carmine Appice’s outfit.
JM: Right, but I really wasn’t into it at all, and then I got called to do the Humble Pie reunion with Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton before Marriott unfortunately died. And again, I wasn’t really into that, either. I really wanted to break out of the mold I was in, which either pigeon- holed me into a certain genre of music or scared other people away from using me, not thinking that I could play straight or in different styles.
TD: Wouldn’t you think the Humble Pie gig was pretty straight?
JM: Yeah, but it was still a hard rock, blues type of thing. Vastly different from Aretha or an acoustic group. The only thing that I did during that time which slipped back into that kind of music somewhat was the record with Frank (Gambale). I did that because Frank was a different edge of fusion; Satriani is a hard rock fusion, Frank is a jazz rock fusion.
I wanted to getaway from that, and alot of the groups that were calling me for work were from a direction I did not want to go in. The acoustic thing with 22 Brides was great, but the Aretha gig really changed things for me. I did a couple of rap sessions, one band called the Hood Rats, where I got to go in with just kick, snare and hi-hat and replace machines and play this funky hip-hop shit. I did a couple of commercials in town, Pepsi and stuff like that. All of a sudden you’re perceived as having a different type of groove or you’re perceived as being able to play with these type of players, and being a hard rock/Satrianiesque /GTR/Marillion/Alice Cooper-typeof drummer, people would not have thought of me for those situations.
So the Aretha gig was great — it really opened up a lot of doors for me. It allowed me to go in a different direction and tackle some new things. And then it was easy to adjust playing on a hip-hop/rap record and then play on an acoustic thing and then jump into the studio to do a Pepsi spot. It wasn’t something I couldn’t do before, it was something I didn’t have the opportunity to do because of what people thought of me as a drummer.
When I got the call to do that rap session, the producer knew me but the guys in the band didn’t. The two rappers were from LA; their record was done and they didn’t think a couple of the tracks were making it with machines so they wanted live drums. I’d done sessions for John King, who owns Chung King studios where they do all the big rap stuff, and he told them he’d get me to come in and do some stuff for them. They asked him who I’d played with, and the first thing he said was “Joe Satriani and Alice Cooper,” and these guys went, “Nah, forget it!” And
then he mentioned that I had just come off the road with Aretha Franklin, and they go, “Yeah, get him in here!” (laughs) Before Aretha I didn’t have a groove, and after Aretha I had a groove — at least that’s what some people thought! (laughs)
TD: It gave you legitimacy and helpedyou turn a comer in your career.
TD: Speaking of making drastic changes’ tonight you’re working with what is basically a four-piece kit, excepting the one octaban and the gong bass.
JM: Which I only use for two particular tunes.
TD: Last time you played with Joe, itlooked like you had a travelling drum shop up there with the two kicks, all the rack toms, full octaban set, gong, crotales, Octapads, etc etc etc. Why the strip down?
JM: First of all, I get really bored, too quickly sometimes, either with the musical situation I’m in or the drumset I’m playing. So every gig that I play, I usually take a different kit just to keep me up on things and to force me to look into it differently.
On the last tour out with Joe I used this huge drum kit and it was great. I love playing my monster, but there’s another part of me that likes to sit down and get the same stuff out of four drums.The funny thing about it is, I overplay just as much on a four-piece kit as I do on a 15-piece kit, people just don’t think so! (laughs)
TD: How do you do that?
JM: Believe me, it’s very easy — it’s just part of my personality! (laughs)
When you do a two-measure fill around six tom-toms, it’s like “Wow, that was a big fill.” But when you do a two-measure fill around two tom-toms, no big deal. Believe it or not, that’s the way some people think of it. But for me, I love playing both, sometimes in different and sometimes in the same situation.
So, number one, I really wanted to do something different on this tour, and number two, because we have a keyboard player now, I no longer need to play all the little crotale and bell parts I was doing before, nor do I need the Octapads, which I used to trigger sound effects, rhythm guitar and keyboard parts. I don’t have to do any of that anymore, and I can just concentrate on the groove now and my placement as a drummer instead of also being the fourth person all the time.
In Einstein I play my big kit because the music and the drum parts are designed for that specifically. I wanted to just get the four-piece kit out of my system on a last-shot basis before I jump back into the big one again.
I could play a kick, snare and hi-hat on any gig and that’s really what makes a song work, but for me to play these songs the way I’ve written them in my head, I need the right drum kit.
Whereas for me to play the songs for Joe the way he hears them in his head, I don’t need all that; I can use it if I want to, but Idon’t need it — that’s the difference.
As the composer, Joe hears his music presented in one way, and it really doesn’t require the monster drum kit or the four-piece kit to do that, it just takes me with an attitude on any drum kit to do that. But with Einstein, becauseof the music I’m writing and tailoring with Stan, it’s written for the things I can do and want to do on that bigger drum kit.
TD: So this four-piece kit that you’re using with Satriani is a kind of wrap-it-up thing for a while?
JM: For the four-piece, yeah. With Einstein, again, I’m definitely playing my big kit because it’s written for that, but for most other sessions, I’m always playing a four or five-piece kit, for several reasons. Number one, producers hate big kits. The days of bringing in a double-bass kit with four rack toms, two floors and blah blab blah into the studio to do a pop gig are over. I can’t get away with that; a lot of producers don’t like it. If you want double bass, they want you to use a double pedal, and I hate double pedals — they don’t feel right and they don’t sound right. I want two distinctly different feeling and sounding bass drums. Even if I’m going to play a double bass roll, which is supposed to sound like one drum, it feels and sounds different on one drum as opposed to two.That’s the first thing.
Second thing is, cartage in NewYork City costs a fortune, and to schlepp around a double-bass kit all the time for what are mostly simple pop records is simply not convenient.
And the third thing is, again, Ilike to get a lot out of a little. For me to go in and do a record on a four or five-piece kit and have people swear that I’ve got a double bass happening or think I’ve got four or five tom-toms — that to me is very cool.
Most people tend to think that the guy with the huge drum kit is automatically better than the guy who plays the four-piece kit, and that’s why Andy Newmark completely floors me and is one of the greatest in the world. That man gets more drum fills out of a 12 and a 16 than a lot of guys who go from 6 to 18. When you can do that on a four-piece, then you can graduate to the big one, but there are a lot of people out there that only play big kits who don’t make it for me because they rely on too many tom-toms to fill up the space — I’m not sold.
I remember doing the Montreux Jazz Festival in’87 or’88, and Ray Russell the guitarist was playing before us. I walk upstairs and see a little Taina drum kit, a kick, two racks and a floor, and who sits down on it and kicks the shit out of the gig? Simon Phillips. Five-piece kit. He’s got it, he can make it work. And I think that’s really where it’s at.
Phil Collins has his groove on any kit he plays. The first Genesis record was a four-piece kit and if you can do that, then you can do any of the rest of that stuff, but there are a lot of people out there who are surrounded by drums who don’t impress me whatsoever.
TD: Besides Simon and Andy, who else does it for you?
JM: Colaiuta of course, there’s nodenying it. He’s a freak of nature, and I mean that as the biggest of compliments. I love Bozzio’s playing; Prairie Prince, Barriemore Barlow, Pocaro, Bonham, Steve Jordan, Mel Gaynor, Manu Kache.I also love Tommy Lee’s playing, he’s very creative. He has all the tricks in the world to blow anybody’s mind in a live show, but the bottom line is, the guy can play his ass off.
TD: I heard you recommended him toStu Hamm for his solo album, The Urge.
JM: Yeah, that was a blast for me to share a record with those two guys, and now on this record of Joe’s, Time Machine, I’m playing alongside Simon and Gregg Bissonette.
TD: What exactly is your small kit?
JM: It’s actually a smaller set-up of my bigger double-bass drum kit. The drums are Tama maple Artstar II with the amber finish. The kick is 24″, 12″ rack that’s 10″ deep, 16 x l6 floor. I also have one octaban that I use in the duet with Stu, and the gong bass which I use as part of the groove in the song called “Time Machine.” The snare is a 5 x 14 brass. That’s it for drums.
My cymbals, as always, are Zildjian. I have a 22″ Earth ride that I’ve had for ages. 18″ and 19″ regular A brilliant crashes, 15″ Quick Beat hi-hats and a 10″ platinum splash over a cowbell. There’s also a brand new 20″ china trash that they sent me a few weeks ago.
TD: This is actually part of your larger set and you carry the whole thing around with you?
JM: Yes. I actually have two 24 kicks, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13 and 14 racks, 16 and18 floors and the gong bass, with a variety of different snare drums, the eight octabans, plus the two Octapads which I’m not using right now because we have Phil on keyboards.
TD: Are you going to be using the Octapads with Einstein?
JM: I don’t think so. As far as the electronics go, the only way I could see myself using them would be as a better sound source for some particular percussion, but if I can play it acoustically, I prefer that. There are some things that I can’t adjust to: I don’t like the double pedal, I like wooden sticks, I like real drum heads –I don’t want to play drum heads made out of bullet-proof material –i t doesn’t feel like what I grew up on. There are just some things that I can’t really conform to which may be a great advantage on tour insome ways, but I prefer to play with a wooden stick on a real piece of equipment.
TD: One example of that was when you were going over that hi-hat part for Phil during soundcheck. I noticed that you were playing it with a stick on the up beat while chicking it on eighths with your foot to make it sound like a shaker.
JM: Exactly. I prefer doing that to triggering a shaker sample with the Octapad. By stepping between all the notes I play with the stick, it gives it a different sound, kind of a panned effect, like it’s coming back at you. I’d rather take a little bit more time and investigate the kit a little bit more because there’s so much more that can be done that people just don’t think of. Lots of people think, a four-piece kit, well, you can go left to right, from high to low on two drums, and that’s it, it’s over. That’s ridiculous — that’s such a silly way to think.
The pitfall with using a lot of drums is you don’t have to think, you don’t have to go beyond the very basic ideas of how to play a drum kit, you just move onto the next tom-tom: play a paradiddle and work around the drum kit. To me that’s so limiting that it actually works against you.
To me, it’s the player in the musical sense which is more important than the drummer in the drum set sense. I don’t want to name names, but I think we know who we’re talking about.
What’s important is what the drummers do for the song. Bonham played some of the most complex, odd time, coolest rhythms on a four-piece kit long before he added the second floor tom and the tympani, congas and gong.
TD: Many people would swear that you’re using a double pedal. How did you get your foot happening?
JM: I think two things developed my foot. Because of my musical influences as a kid, I was primarily a double-bass player from the beginning: two bass drums, the four racks, the bigger the better, and I
went for it. My very first kit was a tiny Black Jack, but the minute my folks saw I wasn’t going to give it up, all of my allowance money and birthday money went for drums, and I got an Imperial Star double-bass kit. My first real kit was the two kicks, 12 and 13 racks, 16 floor and 6, 8, 10 and 12 concert toms.
I stayed with that for about two or three years: I was really into the Carl Palmer, Neal Peart, Phil Collins, Baniemore Barlow-type of stuff. Some of those players I still think are unbelievable and some of them I’ve fallen away from.
But then the two guys that completely took me by surprise and knocked me over the head were Newmark and Bonham. As soon as I started getting into both of those players, a single kick with a rack and a floor went up in my basement, and I just started playing that stuff. And that’s when I realized, “Am I going to limit myself, or am I going to listen to what these guys are doing and try to do that and go a bit further?”
One of the two things that I think really made it for me was practicing “Space Boogie,” the Jeff Beek tune with Simon Phillips, with one bass drum. At first I could only play 30 seconds of it, but then eventually I could play it for the whole seven minutes — even though I didn’t walk for a few days afterwards! (laughs)
The other thing was studying with Gary Chaffee. Unfortunately I only studied with him for a short amount of time, but the amount of material I gathered from him — which I still use to thisday — was unbelievable. It was a great experience.
He has two things for the musicality of the single kick as well as for building endurance: fatback exercises where you take every single, double, triple and quadruple bass drum combination of notes in a 2/4 measure and play them continuously — it really builds your foot up; and linear drumming.
Linear drumming is a way of drumming in line form where, if you’re only using one bass drum, you’re sometimes using it for two or three notes and you’re also putting it in every possible place within a measure. So you’re not conforming to the general way of using a kick drum as a down beat or an accent.You’re using it as a particular voice. The same thing goes for stepping on your hi-hat. Gary approaches the drum kit as
four individual limbs on whatever sound sources you place them. You’re not just using the bass drum for downbeats, you’re not just using the hi-hat to open it to get that psssshhhh sound, you’re not just using your snare drum to start a fill or keep a groove, you’re utilizing everything in your kit — whether you play 15 drums or three drums — in a musical sense.
I worked with that with Gary, and it opened up a whole new door for
me. All those fatback exercises and linear drumming were really great for single kick placement and use, and a lot of what you hear me play like a Bonham or a Newmark is because I don’t just keep the kick or the snare drum or the hi-hat in their standard places. I use my kick drum
in the middle of fills all the time; I use mysnare drum in the middle of fills all the time. I don’t just move from high to low or from left to right like 99 percent of all drummers do, but I’ll move from right to left or from the center of my kit to the outside or from the edges in toward the center of my kit.
Again, when you dissect what those guys do, I think what makes them so special is their approach to the drum kit.
It’s also important to dissect what those guys are doing. Listening closely will really help you, and it’s something I think a lot of people miss these days. You hear this simple thing on the radio, and of course that gets you started, but to really get into it and take it further, you have to understand what was going on, you have to look into the situation.
TD: How does somebody go about doing that?
JM: It’s funny. When Zappa released Joe’s Garage, that was it, I was completely smitten, I was gone. Vinnie does stuff on that record that people still have not done to this day and probably will never do. He is the cat’s ass for that type of atmosphere.
So when I first listened to it, it completely knocked me out, I couldn’t believe it. Then I really got into it; I put my Walkman on at night, pressed those headphones to my ears and I wouldn’t just listen to it, I would envision what was going on, how he was stepping on the hi-hat as he was playing the roto-tom and the cowbell and then the kick came in to
begin the fill. Or the way he was doing a groove. And once I started to envision what was going on, I had a whole new idea of how he was playing it, and I had a whole new way that I could approach that situation.
What it gets down to is understanding what it is you want to play, and then enabling yourself to play it. If you don’t understand what is going on, you won’t be able to play it; your brain has to conceive what’s going on and tell your body what to do. And 99 percent of what we all do as drummers, that we don’t have to think about, is a given because we understand it and we don’t have to go further.
There’s no way you can play polyrhythms or very complex odd time or the left-side of the brain, Simon Phillips, Terry Bozzio, Vinnie Colaiuta, BillyCobham, Dennis Chambers-side of drumming unless you understand what your body’s going to do. So by really checking out and internally envisioning how you’re going to play it, understanding how your four limbs are going to relate to each other and then relate to the kit, how the left side of your body relates to the right, how the top half of your body relates to the bottom half, once you understand that and can conceive that, all you have to do is execute it — you’re halfway there. And that’swhat it’s all about.
When Gadd first came out and started doing all this amazing stuff that nobody had ever heard before, all these drummers had their manuscripts and pens and started analyzing what he was doing. And once you understand that, you have the ability to play that stuff or place it anywhere you want. And that’s how I learned: I would listen to Simon Phillips and study him closely.
If you just learn a particular lick or fill that somebody did that blows your mind, all you can do is play that fill in some different place in a tune — what good is that? I was the king of doing that when I was a kid. At my first studio sessions I played the wrong stuff all the time because, hey, Simon did that fill on this record, Bruford did that fill on that record, so I’ll stick’em here! I was very pleased at the time, but I listen to those tapes years later, and I wonder how those people let me get away with that junk!
TD: Maybe because they were 17, too, and they were busy doing their Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page imitations.
JM: Yeah, we all went into the studio for ourselves and not for the band! I think that’s how I approached that stuff. But the Joe’s Garage stuff was so foreign to me when it came out — I was a Zappa freak and I could get into Bozzio and Chester Thompson and everything: I used to sit and practice “Cheepnis” and “Illinois Enema Bandit” and “Inca Roads” and “Andy” and “Sofa” and “The Black Page” to the best of my ability.
But then all of a sudden, Joe’s Garage comes out and I’m hearing all these grooves that I never heard before and I’m hearing these drum fills that sound like the guy fell across the drum set, but it’s making sense although I don’t understand why. And I thought, man, I have to get into this!
Then I happened to read something about Vinnie that said he and Steve Smith used to study with Gary Chaffee, and that was it — I went to Berklee straightaway to get Gary. Unfortunately, Gary wasn’t teaching there when I got there, so I had a very short stay at Berklee and then got Gary privately. And it was Gary who opened up this world of drumming to allow me to understand what’s going on and then take it and go with it. Before that, all I could do was copy what I heard on records.
TD: The hardest step is usually not so much the difficulty of the physical execution as it is the conceptualization: thinking of what to play or how to play something that no one else has every played before is often more difficult than the actual playing itself, and that’s where Ringo — who on the surface may not seem like much — really shines.
JM: Aside from Ringo, who is by far one of the most creative drummers out there with one of the coolest grooves, I feel the same way about Nick Mason of Pink Floyd. I absolutely love Nick Mason: I love his groove; I love his ideas, the way he plays odd time in some of the simplest songs like “Wish You Were Here,” where some of those bars turn around and stuff like that — he does not approach it from the technical end, he approaches it from the Ringo end. He played along with the music, and I respect him a lot as a drummer and as a musician.
I’ll be at a clinic, and I’ll be talking about these type of drummers, like Andy Newmark or Nick Mason, and people get upset because I’m not talking about Dave Weckl so much, or I’m not talking about Neal Peart. Neal’s a very creative drummer, and Dave has technique like you wouldn’t believe, but I also get things from these other guys. Nick Mason is not a chops monster, but I’m totally into what he plays, and a lot of people don’t understand where I’m coming from and why I say things like that.
It’s the same thing with some of these rock drummers out there — I totally love Tommy Lee’s drumming and I totally love Alex van Halen’s drumming because they do something for me, not just technically, but creatively and rhythmically from the heart. I think Tommy is absolutely one of the greatest drummers — not hard rock drummer, not heavy metal drummer — Tommy Lee is one of the greatest drummers we have today. And I feel that way because, as a drummer, I love what he plays, plain and simple. That man has gone beyond the realm of drumming as we know it! (laughs)
TD: How does your recording kit differ from this live kit?
JM: I’ve got basically three main kits from Tama that I use. I’ve got this kit, which is an Artstar II double bass. I also have an old Artstar I kit, the cordia wood kit, which is my absolute favorite Tama drum kit. It’s really beautiful, has thin maple shells, and has that Gretsch sound. But the kit I use primarily in New York City is a birch shell kit with an enamel lacquer on it. It’s got a 24″ kick and standard size toms,8, 10, 12, 13 and 14 racks, and a 16 floor with another 20″ gong bass drum. If I use a four-piece kit, it’s a 12 and a 16; if I use the five-piece kit, I go with 10, 13 and 16 — that gives me three inches between each tom size. Occasionally, depending on the gig, I’ll throw up the eight and get a bigger tom set-up if I need it.
TD: Do you rack all this stuff or does it go on stands?
JM: It’s on regular hardware. In the studio, since I don’t have one particular set-up I use all the time, I don’t like to use the rack — it’s much easier to put up two toms on a bass drum, or a single tom holder on a bass drum, throw up a couple of cymbal stands and adjust it for the mikes. Sometimes, depending on the room or the mikes, you have to lower or raise your ride cymbal to get a mike in somewhere, or get a distinct sound with the crashes, you have to move things up and down or around. And to have a rack system that you need a hex key to adjust is a pain. You have to undo the whole thing, balance it, then change it and rebalance it — it’s a pain.
TD: What are the specs on the first kit you mentioned?
JM: The cordia wood Artstar has two 22″ bass drums, 8, 10, 12, 13 and 14 racks,14, 16 and 18” floor toms, and 20″ gong bass drum. Depending on the set-up I need, I can put up any combination of those drums, but that’s such a beautiful kit that I don’t take it out much. Right now, it’s packed away, and it’s just cherished in the back of my mind. I’m afraid to take it out on the road because they don’t make cordia wood anymore.
TD: It’s in the Mover family vault? Have you left it to anybody in your will?
JM: Yeah, to myself! Forget it, I’m going to be buried with that one! (laughs) I also have a snare drum collection — I’vegot about 50 that I’ve collected. I don’t use any of my collection, I strictly buy just for the hobby of collecting snare drums, but I do have my favorite snares that I use. My three favorite snares absolutely include the 6xl4 Zildjian Noble & Cooley — probably my number one snare drum right now. Again, I don’t really like to take it out on the road and put it through hot and cold climates because it’s such a dear drum. I also have two favorite wooden-shell Tamas that I like: a solid shell 5xl4 maple, and a 6-1/2 x l4 maple. Those are my two favorite Tama snares.
Other than that, I have an aluminum Firchie. I love that drum, but the only problem is, with the roto cradle on the bottom, the drum is 8″ deep. If you look at my kit, I sit really low. That causes a problem if I use that snare — it sits above my waist.
TD: Put it on a sling and hang it around your neck, soldier!
JM: Yeah, my marching drum! (laughs) Ivan Firchie, the guy who designed it, made me a shorter post to go in the cradle, but it didn’t make much of a difference. But when I do need that drum for a particular session, I re-adjust my height and the toms a bit to make sure I can use it. It’s a great drum.
TD: When you use it, do you use the roto adjust a lot or do you find yourself using it just in a certain range?
JM: It depends. I recently used the Firchie and the Noble & Cooley snares quite a bit on the 22 Brides record. I don’t like piccolo snares. I like the sound of some piccolos, but I don’t like the feel of them, but with the Firchie, I have a 13″ top rim with a 14″ bottom. It feels like a 14″ drum, but I can get a viciously high crack out of it without playing this mini drum that has no balls to it. I can’t deal with that. I’ve played a couple of great 12″ snare drums before, and I have a wonderful birch piccolo that Tama made for me which sounds great, but I hate the feel of it.
So the Firchie allows me to get that sound without subjecting myself to a feel I don’t like. It also allows me to get that very deep, low, Gadd snare drum sound without wrinkling the drum head and losing the feel. On some of the regular snare drums to get that deep thud you have to loosen it to the point where you basically have no response. That Firchie still feels real good when the head is loosened to get that sound.
I think Dennis Chambers was the first guy to really hook up with him, and Dennis gave him my telephone number and that’s how I hooked up with Ivan. Ivan was gracious enough to call me and invite me out to the factory to check this out. I was a little bit hesitant, figuring I didn’t really have the time, but he bugged me so much that I finally took a ride out to his factory and within two seconds of hearing the drum I was convinced. It’s a beauty, but it’s a little bit inconvenient for me, set-up-wise, but only because I happen to sit low.
TD: Speaking of height, it was very noticeable tonight that you play your crash cymbals way up there. Any particular reason?
JM: There are some things that I just don’t want to change. When I first sat down to play drums, because I was primarily self-taught, I didn’t know how to really set up a kit “properly,” although I don’t think it’s improper to have your crashes set high. The seat on my first Black Jack kit only went about 12″ off the ground, so subsequently my snare drum was tilted down and my toms were tilted towards me, and these cymbals when I first set them up were way up there.
The only difference now is, when I play double bass with multiple racks, my ride goes up very high and tilts down towards me. When I play a single kick on a four-piece set-up, then I like the ride to come down and play it where the second rack tom would go — the Buddy Rich/Gene Krupa configuration.
The funny thing is, when I change from one to the other, I notice a difference. If I’m playing the double kit for a while and then I lower my hand for the ride, it doesn’t feel right for a while. Then, when I’m playing the single kit with the low ride, when I go back to the double, it’s an effort to lift my arm. Once I get conditioned to either one, it’s natural — it’s the transitions that feel weird.
My crashes and chinas have always been way up there. I like to jump and go for it. But it’s strictly because that’s the way my first kit was set up. It is an asset in the studio when you have a lot of distance between the cymbals and the drums, but I just started playing that way — I was not a studio cat at fourteen years old! (laughs)
TD: It looks nice, too, because it adds drama when you take a big swing at ‘em.
JM: True, but that’s my attitude of playing the kit — I like to really go for it and direct myself around the drum set that way.