Greetings to modern drummers worldwide. My name is Ryan Brundage, and I play drums for the Oakland based art-rock band Experimental Dental School. Working with E.D.S. has definitely been one of the most challenging and rewarding musical experiences of my life, and has also afforded me the privilege of touring the US and Europe extensively. Playing in such a wildly creative band allows me to experiment with different sounds, techniques, and time signatures like never before.
I am now and have always been influenced by a very wide variety of art and music. Growing up, I mainly listened to punk, metal, death rock/goth, and new wave, and in years since it’s been avant-garde black metal, ’60s-era free jazz, noise/ambient, and ’70s kraut rock, just to name a few genres. It’s my ultimate goal to fuse all of these concepts and styles into what I play and do artistically. I’ve never actually taken any sort of drum lessons, instead opting for the D.I.Y. approach to every instrument that I’ve learned to play. Luckily, I have a very supportive mother and father who let (and encouraged) me to beat on the skins in their basement incessantly for hours from age ten through eighteen.
In some ways I feel like lessons on proper technique can hinder some peoples’ creative abilities. Of course this is not always the case for everyone, but who hasn’t met a “killer” guitar player who can play anything and shred wicked solos all day but can’t write a good song? And then you have people like Robert Smith of The Cure who was technically inept but wrote insanely creative and lasting pop songs of all varieties. Most of my favorite music is a little more on the imaginative side rather than the technical.
I’ve always embraced the notion that “pro” gear will never help you be a good player. In fact, I still love the sound of some janky equipment, especially mics and guitar amps. If you can play well on a crappy kit (European tour), you will only sound better on a nice one.
This concept was reiterated to me tenfold while on tour with Deerhoof last year and watching drummer Greg Saunier completely rip on the most stripped down, non “pro” set that I’ve ever seen–while sitting on a milk crate. Incidentally, Greg is one of my absolute favorite modern drummers, along with Jesse Applehans of Upsilon Acrux/Bad Dudes (whose set I am playing on in the photo above while on a recent tour with Bad Dudes). I have learned more from watching those two play night after night on tour than from almost anything else.
Despite my love for less than ideal gear, I bought a five-piece ’72 Ludwig kit a few years ago, and it pretty much rules. Huge kick, huge floor, and a giant and booming classic-rock Bonham-like tone. Recently I have stripped down my cymbal setup and now play with only one hi-hat and one very expensive Istanbul ride/crash. The variety and complexity of tones within that cymbal are amazing, and eventually convinced me to shelf my other two crashes. It took me years (and a lot of convincing by my bandmates) to realize that sometimes less is more with regards to cymbal setup, especially in a live environment. I’m sure that any seasoned musician would agree that the use of time and space (learning when and what not to play) is invaluable, and only comes with years of practice and experience. I have only recently begun to TRULY realize the importance of this concept, after twenty-two years of playing, and I am once again reminded that there is always something to learn no matter how good you feel you are.
We finished recording our third album, Jane Doe Loves Me, a few months ago and finally released it in the US on April 1. It is by far the best piece of work that I’ve ever been associated with, and we’re all very proud of the way it turned out. It took almost two years to realize because we all had ridiculously high standards—we would work on some songs for weeks and then one day just scrap them, realizing that said song just wasn’t quite good enough for the record. Jesse (guitar/vocals) and I spent a few all-night twelve-hour sessions in our practice space, employing a method in which we would attempt to write twenty songs and record them all in one twelve-hour period. At one point in the night, five or six hours into it, our brains would sort of reach a new level of consciousness due to such mental fatigue, and then the really good ideas would flow. Some of our best song ideas were spawned from these sessions, and a couple of them even made it onto the album almost in their entirety.
The initial tracks were recorded in the legendary all-analog Tiny Telephone studios in San Francisco for that all-important warm drum, organ, and guitar tone. All of the overdubs were done via Pro Tools in our studio in Oakland, and the utmost care was put into not only the sound and feel of the tones, but also mic placement in the room and around the amps. Jesse would spend hours and hours down at the studio just moving the mic a little bit and then testing—a little more and then testing—and so on. The results were truly amazing, and we are all very happy with the outcome of the songs as well as the artwork.
We’re now enjoying a much-needed break after this exhaustive recording and equally exhaustive recent month-long European tour. Now we can kick back and watch our bank accounts grow from our millions of dollars in CD sales. Oh, I forgot to mention that that’s why I started playing drums in the first place. Thank you to Modern Drummer for letting me ramble on and on—later days—’til next time. Go forth and create.
For more on Ryan Brundage and Experimental Dental School, go to www.experimentaldental.com.