George Hurley is best known for playing in a predominantly structured environment with punk pioneers The Minutemen in the ’80s, and later in fIREHOSE, which also featured MM bassist Mike Watt. But the San Pedro, California–based drummer has opted for a taste of the improvised life lately, as the rhythmic backbone in the experimental outfit The Unknown Instructors.
Although his years spent in The Minutemen and fIREHOSE featured its share of improv and jam-based material, The Unknown Instructors’ latest release, The Master’s Voice, finds the self-taught Hurley carving a distinctly different drumming path. “It kind of works its way up and escalates into having a life of its own,” Hurley says of drumming in an improv outfit. “You start out with one song, you finish it, and then you move to the next. You’re inclined to want to do the same beat–at least for me–but you just try to get a different feel for it. The way I look at it is, Well, I did it this way, now let’s slow the tempo down or half-time it.”
Hurley took his improv cues not just from the liberal spirit of his punk background, but also from the jazz he grew up admiring after picking up the drums in his teens. In the midst of the excessive ’80s rock scene with mammoth kits en vogue, Hurley was able to catch an air of clarity from attending a local jazz gig. “I’d go see Max Roach,” he recalls, “or some other great jazz drummer, and they’d have these kits that they pulled out of the trunk of their cars, three-piece or four-pieces, and they were doing things that I couldn’t imagine. They were like magicians!”