Jeremy Hummel is equal parts bombast and finesse. He’s just as likely to ride hard on his China as he is to tap out an intricate riff on a 6″ effects cymbal. He’s as interested in “bringing back the gong” as he is in developing more finesse and subtlety on the kick drum. But even with a casual listen, you can tell that Hummel is a drummer’s drummer, crafty and aggressive, but never self-indulgent.
Hummel’s band, Breaking Benjamin, hits hard – and so does he. Still, the drummer makes very musical choices. He knows when to leave a space empty and when to fill it. And one of the most impressive aspects of this up-and-comer’s drumming is his use of subtlety. Jeremy mixes in musical elements such as tasty cymbal combinations, ghost notes, well-placed double pedal licks, and other such textures that you may not even notice until the third or fourth listen.
Breaking Benjamin is riding high on the success of their sophomore release, We Are Not Alone. The record’s first single, “So Cold,” is snagging plenty of airplay on rock radio. And the band is back on the road, having already toured with the likes of Fuel, 3 Doors Down, and Godsmack. They arrived on the rock scene in 2002 with their debut album, Saturate, which featured the hit single “Polyamorous.” Hummel co-founded the band with singer/guitarist Ben Burnley, and the two wrote most of the songs on the band’s first record.
Hailing from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a small town in the eastern part of the state, Breaking Benjamin began work last summer on its second album in a most logical setting – a barn. After several weeks of work, Hummel and his bandmates had a collection of songs that were decent, but hardly exceptional. So they invited producer David Bendeth (Vertical Horizon) in for a listen. Bendeth sat in on a practice session and took notes, and as he was about to leave, Hummel asked him what he thought of the band’s new songs. The producer provided what Hummel says was an amazing amount of feedback.
“He told us, ‘You guys need to get out of this barn,'” Hummel says. “‘You’ve been here for two months. Let’s pack it up. We’re going to New Jersey, we’ll get a decent rehearsal space, and we’ll continue pre-production there.'” According to Hummel, that’s when the good stuff began to happen.
MD: How did you approach your drum parts on the new album?
Jeremy: This time around, everything was spontaneous. When we went in to track the songs, most of the stuff I played was not premeditated. I had a skeleton of what I wanted to do, but I just went in there and played.
MD: Have you always been good at improvising?
Jeremy: Yes. I played in a lot of bands in the past. I was in a blues band for a while, a three-piece, and everything we did was based on improvisation. I was also very into The Allman Brothers, and they were always into that. So improvising has been a big part of my playing for some time.
MD: What advice do you have for drummers trying to develop their ability to improvise?
Jeremy: Listen to what’s going on around you. I think one big mistake that a lot of people make is they listen to themselves too much and not to what the musicians around them are playing. A lot of times you can come up with a really cool part that is based on a counter-rhythm to what your bass player is doing. If you listen to people, it makes everything so much more musical, rather than having four or five guys who are just locked in to their own parts.
MD: Did you use a click on this album?
Jeremy: Yes. The one thing I’ve learned to do is “manipulate” the click more. It’s there and I’m playing along with it, but I’m not so cognizant of it anymore. I recognize it’s there, but I know there are certain points in a song, like a chorus, where I’ll want to push the time a bit. I’m able to do that without getting off of the click. It’s all about getting comfortable enough with the click that you can work with and around it, and not against it.
MD: Talk about groove.
Jeremy: I really think that’s one thing I’ve always had, and I think that came from playing along with records when I was coming up. At one point, when I was a kid, I was into some heavy stuff, but I was also into funk and some rap. Listening to those types of music made me appreciate the groove. As of late, I’ve started getting into Dennis Chambers, and listening to Dennis you can’t help but improve upon your groove.
MD: To what degree was this album ProTooled?
Jeremy: Drum-wise, not very much. I’m the kind of guy where, when you hear it, I want it to be what I played. I don’t want to do five takes of a song and then have someone else piece together a performance using the two best verses and the best bridge. I know after a take which part I didn’t play well. So I just ask to play the whole thing again, because I know I can nail it. I’m a guy who believes in getting the full performance in there. I’m sure there are a few places where they went in and moved a kick drum or something, but it was never a performance thing.
Harriet L. Schwartz