Rob Brens

Musician : Educator : Writer

To Hear and to Feel, featuring Kjetil-Vidar Haraldstad, aka, “Frost”

photo by Marius Viken

photo by Marius Viken

In today’s climate of precision focused, technical worship, it’s less often that an appreciation for the more primal expression of the drum set is found. I don’t want to come across as if I have some kind of double standard, many of my favourite musicians possess a great deal of clarity and others I even look to specifically for a clinical quality. 

However, at times, while playing for artists that require precision, I often fear that I’m sacrificing a particular feeling to my playing that I get when I’m confronted with performances such as the late great Keith Moon, who captivated many with the sheer audacity of his personality that he so successfully appropriated on the instrument. But the expression wasn’t limited to his antics; one only needs to listen to “Live at Leeds” by The Who to be converted, as I was. 

photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot

photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot

Kjetil-Vidar Haraldstad, known to most as “Frost”, is an embodiment of just this principle. 

The style comes from how I feel about music itself, I have always been fascinated by the energetic and aggressive side of music, when I started playing drums that’s what it was all about.” 

This is very much where we all begin when pursuing a craft. Our faculties are so limited, yet our energy, particularly if you’re young, is not. It’s almost as if over time, if we’re not careful, we risk stifling that expression with the pursuit of perfection, by masking feelings with the most impressive words, instead of the right ones. We must be wary that each creative lens we obtain, doesn’t become a barrier.

I really wanted to feel it and get in touch with and connect with it musically. I have no intentions of being a ‘good’ drummer or musician. It was more about feeling the energy. It’s still there, but today I tend to control it better, I just didn’t know what to do with it when I was younger.”

Frost has an enviable resume in the blackened extreme music genre, with stints in bands such as Gorgoroth, Zyklon-B, Keep of Kalessin and Gehenna, but his mainstay projects have been 1349 and seminal Black Metal outfit, Satyricon. 

Originally booked to tour Australia in support of their new album “Deep Calleth Upon Deep” back in April, the tour was delayed until September of this year. While this may be viewed as a set back, it seemed to be that this decision only ensured the quality of the show they were bringing down under, a sentiment which was then confirmed. Citing various members of their touring party dropping out on short notice, proceeding with a compromised show was untenable. 

“There were so many difficulties involved. The tour was supposed to happen shortly after our European tour and given the short amount of time between the tours, it was impossible to make it all work without creating problems. Now we were able to get more time on our hands to plan properly, which is a much better idea, and now I’m more confident it’s going to be a fantastic tour.”

Part of my own journey with drumming has been a fondness for many genres, which has resulted in a multitude of projects over the years with the goal being to satisfy and utilise all these different aspects of the craft and my personality in general. With that, I’m always fascinated when I see musicians who have several projects that orbit the same style. What could one band be offering stylistically that the other isn’t?

While listening closely to Satyricon, with its more structured approach and wider experimentation, and to 1349, with its brash, unrelenting battery, I was to find that Frost’s differentiation between the two was much deeper. Satyricon being a vehicle for a compositional, supporting role, and 1349 satisfying a considerably more fundamental, primal urge.

It’s always natural for me to always try and back up (Satyr’s) ideas and understand his compositions, what he’s trying to achieve and even contribute to make them sound better, if possible. Just focusing on the composition. I feel there’s a lot of space in the drums to be really happening or just be more in the background. In 1349 it’s different because there’s not much we consider. When we get together, we let loose and open the gates of hell - it’s very brutal. It comes from a more intuitive source. It’s more about what happens spiritually when we get together, whereas Satyricon feels more like a musical project where we try and better ourselves at composition.”

In my preparation for my conversation with Frost, I stumbled across an interview where he was engaged in a discussion with a prominent Norwegian composer, Nils Henrik Asheim. The exchange was centred around the creative pursuit and while their respective approaches were different, their journeys and goals were very much similar and the relatedness between the two was palpable. This, in turn, made me speculate how far the Black Metal genre has come in terms of public acceptability, particularly in his native Norway. 

“Today it’s hard to say that it’s treated on the same level. It has a very specific quality and expression that’s different from anything else. But people can appreciate Black Metal even if they don’t have a full understanding of the darkness or the atmosphere. It can be just for the sheer compositions themselves.”

Kjetil-Vidar+Haraldstad+on+drums

It may not reach the heights found in Scandinavian countries, but the fondness for extreme music in Australia is very much alive and fuelled by a loyal and passionate following, as evidenced by continued successes by a brave few promoters. With this, Australia can expect to be rewarded with a riveting performance by one of the genre’s most important contributors. 

“You can expect a Satyricon that is very excited to tour Australia. We have enjoyed touring “Deep Calleth Upon Deep” which we believe to be our finest album to date. We have been on the road with this album for about a year now so we’re really starting to perfect it. So we should be in a great place when we get to Australia, musically speaking. You have a very free spirit in Australia, which is something that we like. We have always had very big crowds in Australia, so that should make for some fantastic shows!”

Now that I've waxed lyrical on the expressive elements on the craft of drumming, the best way to understand it, is to experience it for yourself. You can catch Frost playing with Satyricon on the following dates:

Tuesday, September 4: Capitol, Perth
Thursday, September 6: Max Watts, Melbourne
Friday, September 7: Metro Theatre, Sydney
Saturday. September 8: Transit Bar, Canberra
Sunday, September 9: The Triffid, Brisbane

Tickets on sale now via tickets.destroyalllines.com.

Nerves: The Beast, the Obstacle and the Goal

photo courtesy of white demon imaging

photo courtesy of white demon imaging

Some time ago I was having a discussion with a friend regarding nerves, except this time in the context of competitive Muay Thai. I wound up hitting upon a rant of sorts, so I felt compelled to share the ensuing diatribe with everyone else. Of course, I’ve paraphrased it to be less conversational and (as to be expected) I’ve added (many) additional thoughts.

Ever since picking up the sticks, I’ve always experienced horrendous, debilitating performance anxiety before shows, which I won’t say I’ve eliminated entirely but I’ve certainly mitigated its by-products to a point where it’s manageable, if not barely existent.

This is about confronting the beast that will gleefully undo the weeks upon weeks of focused, diligent practice you’ve engaged in, within mere seconds of commencing a performance that may not even exceed 45 minutes.

I think the big difference between a musical performance and a martial arts competition though, is the delineable presence of a winner and a loser. Music has a considerably higher "subjective" evaluation. No one can really argue who a winner or loser is once it's called. Musically, you're just trying to put on the best performance you can and if you play all the right notes and perform competently then the buck basically stops there, given that you can't control whether or not people like it. As far as musical performance is concerned, this is where your concern needs to end. The only thing to contend with is your self.

Mindfulness is today’s new age practice that has found its way into the public consciousness, a term stripped of its esoterica so as to assist the common office worker in alleviating the desire to go postal on their superiors.

Jokes aside, this is an important point. Cutting through the jargon and incense and learning how to view your thoughts and feelings as language and sensations that you have no obligation to identify with. Stage fright is a key example. When we talk about nerves, the physiological response is essentially the same as being excited, but what are we attaching to it?

This is worth thinking about (or not, as the case may be). Most may posit that the approach is to adjust your self-talk, thinking positive thoughts for example. This is a false narrative. The self-talk, in itself, is the obstacle. I can think of countless examples on stage where I’ve been nailing it, having a blast and started thinking such positive things to myself as “Boy I’m doing great! This sounds awesome, I’m having a blast!” then fallen flat on my face because my head wasn’t in the game.

I can also pinpoint with a reasonable degree of certainty that if a student is playing a sheet of music and has made it almost to the end without error, they’re going to blow it in the last 2-3 bars. They usually do and I think you can guess why. One must not celebrate too soon lest victory seeps through their grasp.

Whenever I’m on stage, it almost feels like the act of dodging my inner voice, thoughts etc, is like cutting through scrub to see a larger view. Getting my eyes on the kit, feeling and hearing each note as I play it and leaving only enough cognitive head room for what’s coming next. Ideally, if I’ve practiced hard enough, I won’t even need to go that far.

Here is where the parallel with martial arts comes in. I know when I’m sparring in Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, it’s possible to get really stuck in my head trying to think of the moves and techniques and all the self-talk that comes with it. I can cut that short by thinking less about the sport of it and imagining that this person was really trying to kill me. How much “thinking” are you going to do in that situation? As a result, you start feeling the weight, the grips, the balance of your opponent etc. Often times something will present itself to you courtesy of your training.

The more I can get my head into the room, the less interference I’ll have because I’ll actually be in the act of doing, rather than thinking and evaluating the act itself. If you’ve ever been “lost in your work” and managed to make several hours vanish because you were fully engaged, you know what I’m talking about.

Don’t be harsh on yourself if you can’t fully switch that voice off either. It’s fucking impossible. However, the first and most crucial step is recognising it when it’s there and not tethering yourself to it. There’s too much going on outside of your consciousness to invest yourself in the trifling minutiae of your inner douche-bag. Get back to the task at hand. Fortunately, you can practice this at any time of day

You don’t need to sit cross-legged on a cushion for hours at a stretch. Try and spend any length of time being present in a situation without allowing yourself to be bombarded by thoughts. Just view them as pieces of language. If you’re experiencing physical or even emotional pain, experience them as sensations rather than revelling in anguish. This is a practice you can improve at as if you were trying to increase your heaviest deadlift.

Ironically though, if I were to share any sort of “thinking” as a tactic, I’d have to say it’s the embrace of failure. Not as something to be pursued (except in certain practice situations), one should obviously take all measures to avoid it when it comes to crunch time. But we need to understand truly what it means to fail in any given context and how we can endeavour to allay its effects in the moment. But more importantly is that you need to acknowledge it as a possibility.

Acknowledge that it can occur despite your best efforts.

Acknowledge that it doesn’t reflect on your character.

Acknowledge that you can go back to the drawing board.

Acknowledge that you can create a better version of yourself tomorrow.

I can’t see how that knowledge can’t make you feel more powerful when stepping onto the stage, or into the ring.

Music and Education

There’s been a few recent things I’ve noticed that have compelled me to write a piece regarding music and education. It’s not a particularly polarising point of view, just a series of thoughts that occurred to me through various observations so I apologise if the flow of this piece becomes incoherent. 

This was precipitated by a post from legendary modern drummer, Dave Elitch: 

Don't waste your money on school, save it for when times get tough down the road. In this business, no one cares if you have a degree anyway. Study your ass off privately with a few different mentors, but a single great one will do. (This comes out to about 1/10th of the cost of school and you get one on one attention/curriculum) Move to a big city, go out every night and meet as many people as possible. Hang out with people who are older, smarter and better than you. Play your ass off, don't be a dick and you'll have a pretty decent shot and doing this for a living.

I find it impossible to disagree with any of this, in fact it’s rock solid. Though I wouldn’t be so quick to write off tertiary education in music and I don’t say this because I went through this myself. 

As a bit of background, I studied a Bachelor of Applied Music performance for three years. I would say coming out of it my biggest gains were some great life long friends, contacts and a hell of a lot of playing. 

My heart was in drumming and not so much ‘music’ at the time. That’s not the conscious decision I was making while I was there, but it was clear that my focus was being the best technical drummer I could be and to develop the most extensive vocabulary possible without regard to intent. 

Despite the influence of great teachers, drummers and watching other phenomenal drummers playing great MUSIC, I knew I was missing something and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what that was (the same reason I’d watch certain amazing technical drummers but not really enjoy it). This rather juvenile mindset carried throughout my tertiary education, most likely due to battling insecurity to my own detriment, as opposed to developing a career. To me, real musicality requires a great deal of humility, the willingness to step back so as to be part of a whole, greater than the sum of its parts.

Which is why I found it surprising to hear a friend who already has a great career in front of him as a musician and is very much an accomplished drummer, say that if he got to do it all over again, he’d study music after high school. 

My opinion is his strength laid in his focus to pursue to a particular path. Focusing on a particular style and taking it to its limits, whereas I found myself as a jack of many trades but master of none. What’s the point of performing to multiple audiences at 80% when you can perform to the right audience at 100%? 

Over the years I’ve opted to learn less “new” things and just focus on the facility I have and continue to improve the overall quality of what I’m doing. Recording myself has been a very helpful part of that, self-analysis. I do have a Pro Tools set up, but even just using my phone is equally as beneficial, particularly when I plan on releasing clips on social media, as this leaves even less wriggle room when striving for a high level of playing. 

I feel like there’s more griping to this than may be necessary. The vast vocabulary and facility I procured in my time has given me freedom now to string together difficult material fairly quickly and also stylistically slot into different settings with some apparent degree of "authenticity". 

For example, working through Marco Minnemann’s Extreme Interdependence book might have yielded results that could perhaps be used as far as a drum solo and maybe no where else, but learning the process of coordination goes way beyond that. 

I tend to not go down the rabbit hole of ‘regret’ and what I’d do differently, as all roads have lead to this point and creatively, right now is a very interesting time for me, if not the most interesting time. 

So, I think the real value for me when I was studying was having a place where I could absorb an enormous amount of information from the experiences of people who had been there and done it and from people who were currently doing it. Most importantly, I think I lacked a tremendous amount of self confidence, hustle and initiative, so I managed to develop some great foundations in that setting. I can’t say for sure if I just went straight into the “real world” what would have happened, maybe I just would’ve folded straight away, considering just “being really good at drums” isn’t exactly a defined career path. 

I’m not saying DO go, or DON’T go. I’d say from my experiences and from what I’m hearing about other courses out there, is that there’s not nearly enough emphasis on the career aspect, especially in a modern context (to be fair, as I said I was so playing focused, some of this could've gone in one ear and out the other). School could be a waste of money when you might need that cash when times get tough, but if you’re being taught well in self management and entrepreneurship, that can remove a great deal of that risk of entering those tough times to begin with and offset the cost of going to school in the first place. 

When I was studying, the industry was still grasping with the collapse of the old model and I can tell you I’ve learned a shitload more from reading the Lefsetz letter (www.lefsetz.com) than I ever did from 6 months of conducting or history of musical theatre (nothing against either of those things or knowing about them in general, but they’re not putting food on my table).  

This wouldn’t make you bulletproof. No matter where you’re coming from, life will come along to see what you’re made of and experience will always be the greatest teacher, but what makes education so important is other people having certain experiences so you don’t have to.  

What’s the take away from this? I heard about something not long ago, I can’t remember who said it, but they referred to the ‘sweet spot’. In life terms, the sweet spot is the place between your greatest passion, and what you’re actually really good at. I’ve been focusing on my passion all my life, but I feel I have utilities that lie beyond simply creating. When I work out what that is, I’ll let you know, as for you, I recommend getting focused. 

Write down everything you’re working on and what you’re working towards. If you’re finding that list is getting a bit all over the place and isn't quite linking up, don’t stress. Think about where your ‘sweet spot’ might be, then charge at it with everything you’ve got and if that thing is being a metal drummer, then maybe don’t worry about learning how to do a left foot clave until your 16th notes are airtight. Keep it simple. Stupid. 

Top gigs played in 2015

I’ve actually been meaning to do an “All Time Favourite Gigs” post for quite a while now. Not just for the sake of putting out a ‘listicle’ (is that what you kids call them?) but because after I thought about this particular subject, I found that they often weren’t gigs that made the most money or had the most people. They just carried a particular energy that stuck with me long after the show, feeling the effect of the sum of a group of people coming together and elevating to something greater. Or perhaps, it’s just that culmination of an extensive period of work, coming to fruition in a way that isn’t necessarily better than you imagined, but just differently, as often is the case.

Barring any last minute pop ups, it’s looking like I’ve played my last show for 2015 so I figure I’ll make a list of my top gigs for the year. These are the strongest candidates, I wanted to go for 5, but the fifth choice included about 3 or 4 different gigs and an honourable mentions list would have another 20 shows in it. These are in no particular order.

 

January 9, 2015. The Schoenberg Automaton w/ Colossvs, A Million Dead Birds Laughing, The Arbiter and Orchestrating the Damned.

This one falls under the "epic amounts of work category". I think I worked on this one non-stop for about 4-5 months to fill in for The Schoenberg Automaton for two shows, as their drummer Nelson was overseas. Seems ridiculous, but being friends with the band for so long, I couldn’t turn down the chance to take on this huge challenge, often times this motivates me more than anything else. Huge was an understatement though.

I usually have a pretty solid method for learning songs but I had to reinvent myself over and over again. On top of the physical challenges of executing the music, it embodied everything about the unorthodox and note for note learning the parts was simply out of the question. It became a case of combining ways of replicating the parts and capturing the feel of the songs as best as possible.

So it seems likely that putting all this time and effort would make one’s head explode at the prospect of only having two shots at getting it right (yes I know every gig is your only shot but you know what I mean), especially knowing that the Melbourne show was going to have all of my peers there, which include some of the best musicians going around. But funnily enough, that’s what got me through. Once we were on stage and set up, I looked around and didn't see a panel of judges, just my friends. We were all just hanging out, doing our thing, from the stage to the back of the room. So once I fired off the first song, like every other show, I just had to throw everything to the wind and go for it. I’m not saying it was totally nailed, but it felt pretty damn good and vibes were at an all time high. Judging by the response, I did alright. Now I never want to do that ever again…

 

March 14, 2015. Alarum @ The New Dead Festival w/Psycroptic, Goatwhore, Aversion’s Crown and more…

This one in particular became more significant to me as it was to be my final show with the band and I’m so glad it was, given it was a great note to finish on. I’ve performed plenty of fantastic shows with the band but I think what stuck out about this performance was just how natural it was. The setlist comprised of a great mix spanning all three albums and a couple of new ones we had been working on. I would say contributing to the ease would be all the work I’d been doing outside the band, making the physicality of playing in Alarum much easier. However, considering the amount of time it took to feel less jaded about being in the band, to play a show like this where there wasn’t just a big, responsive crowd but above all, feeling like a solid unit and just having fun like we were doing it for the first time is an unbelievable feeling when you’ve been doing a band for a long time, after many ups and downs. I’ll be writing a separate article on my nine years in Alarum soon.

 

November 21, 2014. Hadal Maw @ 170 Russell w/Ne Obliviscaris and Beyond Creation

Alright, I know this gig was last year but I figure it fits in the 12 month mark and this one is too good to not bring up.

This one had it all really. Being asked to perform with some friends who were finally breaking in a really big way, along with an incredible up and coming tech metal band from Canada at a killer venue.

We were incredibly fortunate that the venue had already filled up close to what was going to be the final numbers for the night, as sometimes being the opening band on a higher profile bill can result in playing to few people, or just as punters walk in. Luckily this wasn’t the case and there’s that added bonus being an opening band where all your equipment is setup and sound-checked, ready to go.

The response was fantastic and we killed it on merch, but also being greeted by the Beyond Creation guys, who responded to our music as if they’d just seen a huge band (and we were to respond in kind after witnessing their set). Given we’re both of the 8 string driven, super heavy technical metal ilk, it was a bromance waiting to happen. But above all, it was everything that we’d talked about wanting from the very beginning of the band. To have just experienced something that was a mere idea a couple of years before really added to the experience (that is, after we’d done a good job).

 

August 9, 2015. Racer Axe @ The Melbourne Guitar Festival, Flemington Racecourse.

Another one for the “culmination of a long period of work” category. For anyone not familiar, Racer Axe is a tribute band covering the works of 80’s shred group Racer X. Playing with these world class musicians is an honour in itself but to be playing in a band with someone who played on my most influential album (On the Virg – Serious Young Insects) is always going to appeal to my inner fanboy. I’m not sure how long we’d been working at this, it’s definitely over the 12 month mark of sporadic rehearsals so the offer of the Melbourne Guitar Festival couldn’t have been more perfect, or intimidating. Playing in front of not only a swath of guitar nerds but also all of Melbourne’s premier muso’s that I’ve been looking up to for many years. Luckily the circumstances didn’t really allow for that thought.

Making the show happen involved getting our slot scheduled so that we’d be playing in the middle of a small east coast run with Hadal Maw. I was flown out of Canberra on Sunday morning where I would land in Melbourne, rush to the festival and from there, drive to Hadal Maw’s all ages show on the other side of the city. Add into the mix my cymbals being lost in transit, you’ve got a whole lot of pent up energy, not necessarily positive. I’ve learned over the years to utilize that energy at gigs, because regardless of the emotional experience, the chemical occurrence is essentially the same. Although getting to the festival and having an incredible crew working behind the scenes definitely eases a lot of tension (someone handing me bottles of water mid set isn’t something you usually get). Once again, it’s almost pointless to get to that moment before you kick off and go through that “Oh boy, here we go, all this time and effort leading up to this one moment” train of thought. Fuck that. You’ve gotta get down to business.

Usually the one conscious thought I try to have (and somewhat unsuccessfully upon seeing some footage) is to play slower than what I normally would, to help compensate for the adrenaline. Other than that, the mission is to just beat the piss out of the drums. We played really well and the reaction from what was apparently the biggest crowd of the entire festival was rapturous. To be well received by so many musicians that I’ve admired for a long time is a great feeling.

I’m sure there’s plenty of gigs that could have made it that are simply eluding me right now. If I had to make one honourable mention it would be playing with James Ivanyi at the Factory Floor in Sydney, supporting Plini. It was a huge challenge and the style appealed to me greatly, it was certainly satisfying being able to do a gig that utilized my fusion chops. I also made a lot of great friends that night and of course was honoured to share the stage with drum monster Troy Wright but I still felt like I could have played better that night, but a lot of the technical mishaps were quite amusing. However I could say that about any gig. 

A word with George Kollias

A while ago I was fortunate enough to interview George Kollias for Heavy Music Magazine (www.heavymag.com.au). If you’re unfamiliar, George Kollias is best known for his work as an extreme metal drummer for the band Nile, but he’s also developed a reputation as an educator with his two DVD's on the subject of extreme drumming (Intense Metal Drumming parts 1 and 2) and his recent series of books, the first of which is entitled 'The Odyssey of Double Bass Drumming: The Beginning.' 

The level that he has reached in his playing, not just with his break neck speeds but also his precision and creativity, has been crafted over many decades, with steely focus and a never-say-die attitude. 

As it happens in a lot of interviews, you never get to put in everything you’d like to, so I’d like to show you some other insightful things that Kollias had to say on the subject of his early days, hurdles and his work ethic so that we all might be able to take something away for our own pursuits. 

So where does this kind of persistence come from? 

“I wasn’t lucky when I was a kid” Kollias began “I had 0 support, this is what made me more hungry. I got my first kit when I was 10, which made me more excited, then I had other problems, like there was no crash cymbal, so I started playing drums and rehearsing using hihats as crash cymbals.” 

Being so young in a country where equipment is really pricey can be a deterrent. But for Kollias this only fuelled his passion.

“I think going through problems for the first 10 years made me really hungry, so when I’d go and rehearse with a band, I’d play with much more passion than if I had a custom drum kit from the beginning. I did most of my practice on my living room couches and chairs. I think if you don’t have it all from the beginning it’s really important”

I think it’s fair to consider Kollias a successful musician, as being able to pay the bills with such a niche style of drumming is an incredible feat (or feet?). I asked Kollias to elaborate a bit more on what he does to make a living.

“I’ve been doing online lessons five years, I have 35 students right now. I keep saying, living for music by having a band and doing shows is a cool thing, but there’s so many other directions. You can do teaching, drum camps, session work, there’s so many things to get involved with and to be honest, if you want to make a living out of music, you gotta do 10 different things, unless you tour with an arena band. For example after I finish this, I gotta go record another band then tomorrow I have a special guest gig in Greece, then Sunday I start another album for another band. But I love it! I get the chance to play with so many different people, if I get bored with death metal for a bit, I go get another gig.”

Most of the time when I conduct interviews, I tend to centre my questions around a few key things. I try and take the opportunity to find out some of those things that got those people to where they are, particular decisions they made or people they met. For Kollias, it’s just grit determination. 

“Just going for it, it’s what I do. If nobody knew me right now and I wanted a gig with a band like Megadeth for example, I’d make a video, make sure they got it and break their balls till I got a reply. If I believe I can do it then I go for it. This is the most important thing. There’s so many great musicians who are like ‘I know some people who might recommend me.' No one will recommend you, why would they? Say Megadeth asked me if I knew anyone for drums I would just say ‘Yeah, me!’ It’s a huge gig, I wouldn’t give it away. I may not do that, I love to support the drum community, but a lot of people would, they wouldn’t just hand you something. For example the endorsements, nobody helped me. It started with axis, I sent an email and they agreed to help me right away and then Vic Firth, they were difficult in the beginning. They said they were busy, but I knew I was a good card for the company so I kept insisting otherwise I’d just work more. If you believe in something, you have to follow your dream and push it as much as you can.”

It might be a harsh reality, but the truth is, the world doesn't owe you anything. While that could be taken negatively, if you took this on board you would suddenly realize that you can only rely on yourself and that you are in control of your own destiny. The less you wait for others, or expect something to come your way, the more you will drive yourself towards where you want to be. Maybe take a leaf out of George's book, take charge and go for it. 

A word on triggers...

A student recently came to me explaining he was considering employing triggers as part of his set up due to a new band he was working with. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a trigger is a sensor you can attach to a drum (or any surface for that matter) that you then run into a module, such as the “brain” of an electronic drum kit, which you then use as your drum sound instead of mic’ing up a drum. Metal drummers typically utilize triggers on the bass drum.

There are a number of reasons for this. One is to compensate for the drop in volume when hitting higher tempos, so a constant dynamic is maintained. Clarity is the aim of the game when it comes to metal. Regardless of speed, a genre like death metal typically is characterized by low tuning in guitars with busier playing etc, so a solid, tighter, brighter kick drum sound will cut through more effectively which will be better for your band mates to lock into and of course, for the audience to hear. 

So I’ll just offer my experience, as this subject is something that’s personal for everyone. 

Triggering was brought up almost straight off the bat after I started working on Hadal Maw, given that all my previous work with Alarum and King Parrot only demanded a natural kick. Initially I wanted to see if I could make Hadal work with a natural kick (I think I was just kidding myself at the time) but after a while it became clear (or unclear depending how you’re looking at it) that the natural kick wasn’t cutting it, there was the obvious issue of the volume drop with tempos above 200bpm. 

So I spoke to a few friends, including notable double bass players such as Dave Haley (Psycroptic), Dan Presland (Ne Obliviscaris), Lee Stanton (Thy Art is Murder) and anyone I had the chance to ask when I was on tour. The temptation would be to emulate the set up of whoever the fastest, craziest double kick player is right? Not really. The key thing I learned from asking so many people about their set ups is that they were all very much individual, but at the same time, they all deal with the same issues. You can be sure that I did as well.

So my first setup involved borrowing an old Ddrum trigger and an Alesis D4 drum module, which is a very common setup (The DM5 was the staple trigger module for a long time). I’d also use a small mixing desk to run the triggers into so I could hear them through headphones or in ears as I didn’t want to rely on fold back. All the typical problems showed up immediately, along with the raw honest truth about how consistent my double kick playing is (ouch). 

DDrum Bass Drum Trigger

DDrum Bass Drum Trigger

Alesis D4 Module

Alesis D4 Module

There are two problems that are usually encountered with triggers, double fires and misfires. Misfiring is when you hit and no sound is produced and double triggering being when you hit once and two (or more) sounds are produced. These can be resolved depending on the trigger, the module and its settings and external factors (the bass drum). Conventional wisdom is to put a lot of dampening in the bass drum and increase the tension on the kick-drum head. This is something I’ve experimented with and I’ve only had improvements as I’ve increased the amount of dampening in the bass drum. Some people fill their bass drum until there’s no room left, but two pillows is a safe enough bet. I don’t crank my bass drum head too far, as feel is still somewhat important to me, so I only tighten it a bit further than usual. Also at one point, during a period where I was getting very consistent response with triggering, it would suddenly start double firing quite a bit which was baffling as I had not changed anything. However, after changing the bass drum head, this fixed everything on the spot so that’s another factor to bear in mind. As mentioned, having a super tight or really loose drum-head may work for you, so experiment! 

This should be enough to eliminate issues surrounding cross talk. Cross talk refers to the trigger firing as a result of external vibrations. This could be something like the bass guitar being really loud and vibrating into the kick drum so the trigger will mistake the vibration for a hit. With double triggering being the major issue for me, I focused on decreasing sensitivity so that only good solid hits on the kick drum would fire the trigger, the only issue being that it can increase the chance of misfiring. It’s a delicate balance. The calibration of the module is probably the most personal part of the process and requires a huge amount of trial and error. I would keep a note pad on my phone where I’d record what all the functions did and what I’d be achieving with different settings and different combinations of settings.

So to anyone who doesn’t play triggers, this might seem like insane lengths to go to. Well, it probably is. But it goes back to that point of focus of the triggered kick drum cutting through the mix, being right up front. Everybody can hear all too clearly what your footwork is like. So you could be practicing hard and making sure your consistency is on point, but if your trigger set up isn’t accurately representing that, then it’s all going to waste. 

Roland RT-10K

Roland RT-10K

The on-going battle of refining my set up waged on. The biggest turning point was recalling that my Roland SPD-S had an input for external triggers and I coupled this with a Roland RT-10K. Add to this that I could use any kick sound I wanted through the SPD-S and the shift was enormous. At this point I’d like to note that I have no affiliation with Roland, mind you, considering the continuing success I’ve had with their products, I wouldn’t mind one! Anyway, the SPD-S has parameters that account for double and misfires so I was able to fine tune those settings and greatly reduce any instances of mistriggering. Reduce, but not eliminate. (note: these days, The SPDS-X is more common).

Roland SPD-S

Roland SPD-S

Roland SPD-SX

Roland SPD-SX

                                                                                      Roland TM-2

                                                                                      Roland TM-2

A change in modules occurred after a show, wherein the tip of a lead jack fragmented inside of the input of my SPD-S and basically ruined it, which was a good chance to get my hands on the new Roland TM-2. It’s an incredibly small unit (it’s about the size of my hand) with only two inputs, so it’s pretty much built for two triggers or two pads. All the parameters are the same so you can get pretty detailed with the calibration. 

I should also note, there has also been an ongoing correlation between my overall improvement in foot technique and the accuracy of triggering, but that possibly also to do with simply getting used to the feel of it. It’s a whole new style, over time you learn to focus more on playing off the triggers than how your bass drum would normally respond, so you tend to shift your focus towards economy as opposed to tone. 

The greatest wildcard at this point became scenarios that involved me using other people’s drum kits. As you can imagine, we’ve got smooth sailing at rehearsals and gigs, then there’s a show where you have to use someone else’s kit. As we’ve established, the configurations involved in triggering are incredibly personal. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a show where there was a borrowed kit, but the hoop on the bass drum was just a bit too long, meaning the trigger wasn’t quite contacting the head. So maybe one in every three hits was actually triggering and when you’ve got your trigger sounds running straight into your ears, you’re talking one hell of a nightmarish gig. Fortunately I was informed that the kick was mic’d too, so that was a sort of relief. But enough was enough, I couldn’t chance that happening again. There was also the feeling that the stuff I was playing (typically reaching 220bpm and beyond) was too much information to expect from a single trigger to capture on a single bass drum head. I’ve since become aware that players like Alex Rudinger use a single trigger on a single bass drum and you only need to look at some of his videos to see he does it with great success. This is definitely a scenario where sheer technique can prevail as I mentioned earlier. 

Considering I’m not Alex Rudinger, other options needed to be considered. I’d also been aware that more and more death metal drummers were utilizing direct drive pedals that had inbuilt triggering systems. So the triggers are built onto the pedal. The two most common being the Axis E-kits and the Trick SB-1 (or the “Laser” triggers as they’re affectionately known). Just for a quick run down, the E kit involves a hammer that follows the movement of the pedal, which then contacts a small plate that’s attached to the pedal, which acts as the trigger. The laser trigger involves a fin that, like the hammer on the e kit, follows the movement of the pedal, which then passes through a laser beam that’s also attached to the pedal, which acts as the trigger. In both instances you have triggers that function independent of contact to the bass drum and also allow for a single trigger to be attached to each pedal, even if it’s a double pedal on a single bass drum, which is great news for single kick players as it allows for more accurate triggering. The opportunity arose to grab an Axis Longboard double pedal with fitted e-kits and the next phase began.

Axis E-Kit trigger

Axis E-Kit trigger

Trick SB1

Trick SB1

The shift to direct drive after playing chain drive for a good 17 plus years of drumming is a huge one. I spent a bit of time trying to replicate the configurations of my eliminators (pedal angle, beater angle, spring tension etc) but what helped a lot was changing out the beaters for the Pearl quad beaters, just for that bit of top heavy feel. Even as I was adjusting to the feel of direct drive pedals, I could notice immediately notice a huge difference with the accuracy of triggering. My only hassle is I’ve developed a habit of resting the beaters against the head of the kick drum which means when the other pedal hits, it can send a vibration through the hammer on the other pedal, hence, you have the trigger occasionally firing off. The current intermediary solution has been to massively decrease sensitivity on the left trigger to compensate and that’s been quite successful, however it’s not overly economical. For a more permanent solution I can either change my technique, or shift to two bass drums. Given I have no interest in changing my technique, I’ll be giving the two bass drums a crack, so once they come in, I’ll update this article with results, but from kits I've played on with two bass drums, it's a huge difference. 

Just remember that all of this is just my experience. Some of these things may not work for you especially when considering how different all of us are as players. This is just something I really want to emphasize and despite receiving and utilizing a lot of advice from a lot of experienced players, I still think you can’t top going through the motions yourself. Best of luck and shoot me a message if there’s anything you think I should add to this article. 

170russell2.jpg

Welcome!

Well, they say change is as good as a holiday, don’t they? Welcome to my new website and if you have no idea who I am, then welcome! I’ve had a .com that has been dormant for quite some time as I’ve been more focused on social media and sporadically adding things here and there to my blog, so when I decided things needed a revamp, I thought it would be great to have everything integrated into a single hub, all my info, media, blog, and socials in one place. But this just isn’t an overblown resume for my work, I want this to be a resource that you can keep coming back to. 

The first addition to this website I’m currently developing will be a lessons page where I’ll be adding free educational material that people can enjoy, or current students can refer to and supplement their current learning.  I’ll be adding this in the coming weeks. If you want to be able to find out when that is up and running, you can subscribe to my monthly newsletter (fear not, it’ll just be a brief update and it’ll always have content). 

If you haven’t read any of my blog material (you can visit here), I try to centre the subjects around areas of improvement. My original purpose of my blog was to just generally yammer on about my activities and then one day when an article unfurled into a spiel that gave something that people could take away and help themselves with, it got a great response, so I’ve started gearing things in that direction with the best of my experiences.  

While I have been developing my craft on drums for around 20 years, I still consider myself to be a student. It doesn’t stop with drums either. Whether it’s business, marketing, learning other instruments, song-writing, audio production, video production, health and fitness or anything in life for that matter, I’m always looking to share in my journey with things that have worked for me and things that haven’t, especially the latter. Some people seem to think that people who are “successful” or just good at what they do are “naturals” or “freaks” or whatever label you want to use. However, based on everyone I’ve met or worked with, I can tell you, this isn’t the case. These are people who work incredibly hard and are also persistent, I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t achieved anything without these simple qualities, with emphasis on “people”, because that’s all they are. Above all else, these people make mistakes, they experience failure just like all of us. 

So I hope to share my own stories, experiences and those of others so that I might be able to impart just a small nugget of wisdom that might put you on a path to getting you a little closer to where you want to be. If this sounds like something you’d like to be a part of, you can subscribe to my newsletter, get in touch on social media if you have a question or perhaps even book in a lesson. Thanks for reading and I hope to hear from you soon.   

Now Playing : Frank Zappa - Brown Shoes Don't Make It

Photo on 2015-04-09 at 15.42.jpg