Hello, MD readers! It’s Jason Graham writing from Los Angeles, and I’m excited to let you know about a couple of electronic rock projects I’ve been working with. My main group, Taxi Doll, has a new album, Here And Now, out February 23. Check out our MySpace page (you’ll find the link below) for some free music. If you take a listen to a few tracks, you’ll get an idea of how we mix my real drum parts with loop-based electronic music in the studio–not an easy task.
I started Taxi Doll with producer/writers Gregg Allen and Dhana Taprogge. The creative process begins with them coming up with a loop-based demo and scratch vocals. Then they hand that off to me so I can figure out the live drum parts. I have to approach it like a puzzle–the goal is to retain some of the cool loop elements yet give the track a little live soul.
First I figure out kick and snare patterns that will lay in nicely with the existing loop. It’s possible to slightly change the loop if need be to accommodate me. With some simple EQ’ing, we can minimize low-end kicks or higher-end snares to let my part breathe. I grew up in the Midwest listening to the radio, and I’ve always been a song-oriented drummer, so I really enjoy constructing parts for a three- to four-minute song, with highs and lows and building intensity toward the end of the track.
After the main kick/snare patterns are figured out, I move on to the hi-hats and rides and crashes to build the rest of the track. When it’s time to go into the studio, we have a fairly complete backing-track demo for me to play to. We’ve been working with a great engineer/mixer, Erich Gobel, at Stagg Street Studio and West Triad Studio in L.A., and we tracked most of the drums for Here And Now under his great guidance. During the mixing stage, we hash out the final balance of drums to loop. In the end, after a lot of scrutiny and attention to detail, we get the Taxi Doll sound!
I first got into playing with electronic rock acts while touring with Supreme Beings Of Leisure. I cut my teeth, so to speak, with SBL, playing live to a click and making choices on parts to play on top of loops. I also recorded drums for their third album, 11i, out last year on Rykodisc. You’ll find tunes and videos on the SBL page, link below.
Both acts use the Ableton Live sequencer in performance settings. It’s very stable, and we’ve gotten the preproduction down to make it easy to mute and unmute certain samples to work along with what I want to play acoustically. In smaller rooms I use my vintage Slingerland mother-of-pearl kit with a 20″ kick, and for larger venues and tours I use my Yamaha Maple Custom kit with a nice fat 22″ kick. Along those lines, I choose thinner lightweight cymbals like Paiste Signature Fast Crashes in small rooms, and I go with my straight-up Zildjian rock cymbals in larger rooms. For the same reasons I explained while outlining the creative process, I need to get my kit sound to fit nicely with the backing samples and tracks.
Taxi Doll songs have been placed in many TV shows and films, including The Hills, CSI, and Firewall, so be on the lookout. And don’t forget to check out the new album in February!