Hello out there, Modern Drummer readers, my name is Gregory Nash. I introduced myself to you last October, and since then, my original band, the Pain, has changed its name to Addicted To Pain. We’ve recorded our debut EP with legendary producer Alex Perialas (S.O.D., Anthrax, Overkill, Testament), an experience that has made me a better drummer in the studio, and on the stage. The following blog is an excerpt from a diary I kept during the recording process. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed living it.
So, you think you’re a drummer, eh?
I’ve been playing for a number of years now, and I possess an acute sense of self-awareness. I know there are amazing monster players out there, who make me wonder if I have any business behind a kit at all, yet at the same time inspire me infinitely to improve my playing. My opinion of myself is that I’m a halfway decent hard-rock drummer. I try to incorporate an original style while utilizing the influence of my favorite players. I’ve never taken a lesson—I’ve learned just by listening and watching. I’ve been fortunate to play behind some incredible musicians in many different styles in my short career, and I think I can hold my own behind my drumkit.
Today my drum playing and theory was really put to the test. We started the day with an ordered-in breakfast and some coffee, and then Alex went into the “live room” to mike the kit. He is such a hands-on producer that he does not have an assistant, gofer, intern, or lackey to move things around, no one to bark orders at while he sits back surfing the Internet or making phone calls, like so many other so-called producers that I’ve worked with. He knows his name is going on this recording and he is in charge of every aspect of the process. He took his time arranging an array of microphones—none of which dated past 1981, and all of which were in mint condition. The overhead mic alone cost $10,000—no pressure, I kidded while warming up on a drum pad nearby. He worked on getting a drum sound that we both were satisfied with but more importantly, really admired. After some playing around the kit and tweaking, including putting a kick drum head on my 18″ floor tom and deciding on a snare drum mic (I had to promise not to break), the kit was ready to go.
Recording is an agonizing process for me, and I’m usually completely out of fingernails by the time its over. It’s bittersweet for a drummer in that you are the first member of the band to record, but also the first one to sit back and relax when you’re finished. The drum tracks are the foundation for the entire remainder of the recording and need to be perfect, hence the use of the click track. This time around it was extra intense; my little drumset is in the same room where some of my favorite drummers laid down some of my favorite songs. So, after a deep breath, a little prayer, and some positive reassurance of my ability from Alex, it was time to tackle the first track.
I chose the song “Hear and Now”—which we’ve been playing a long time—but I knew it would be the most challenging because the time signature goes back and forth between seven and four. After setting up the click, we went for the first take. At first I had some difficulty getting it to sync up with the click. It took a few takes for me to realize that I was playing more with the guitars than with the click, and my bandmates Bob and Leo didn’t have the click in their headphone mix. So I took all of the guitars out of my phones and played the song from memory solely to the click, and it did the trick. I made the transitions more easily and lined up so well that I barely heard the click in my headphones.
Admittedly, I’ve always been a drummer who overplays a bit—I’ve always been aware of this and today I really had to clean my parts up. In a trio it’s not uncommon to find yourself “talking” too much and getting carried away as you play, and this song has many open spaces that can really tempt a drummer to play too many fills in. By the time we got around to a “keeper” take, 75 percent of the fills and accents were abandoned, leaving room for the groove to flow more naturally.
The same went for the next song, “Abigail,” which was written no less than six weeks ago and was littered with fills and accents that I accepted as unnecessary. It’s a high-energy, fast-paced song, full of triplet sections with a powerful half-time bridge. Alex really becomes a member of the band for the session, and the four of us would listen to playbacks and discuss what the song called for and how I should perform it. I had to apply a lesson I’ve been learning since playing with the incomparable Jeanne French. She used to explain to me, when I was a fresh young punk who thought I was the next Neil Peart, “You must try to avoid doing too many fills, that way the one sweet fill you do in the proper section will really count and be that much more effective.” Alex gave similar advice, and I went back out to the room and really tried to make the song swing and rock smoothly. The take was great, and shortly before the stroke of midnight we all agreed it was the keeper.
As I’ve said, I have tremendous respect for Mr. Perialas and was incredibly gracious when he would compliment my playing. There were points during the evening when I would come into the control room dripping with sweat, my heart pounding, out of breath, thinking, “I just did a great take,” but he would push me and tell me I could do better. Lo and behold I would go back out and deliver a much better performance. This experience was like a crash course in how music should be played and recorded. These songs mean so much to me—some started as an idea I recorded to my cell phone while practicing alone, and now here we are bringing them to life.
So, two down, two more to go. It’s now 3 A.M. I hope the drum tracks sound as good in the morning, when we listen to them with fresh ears.
I would say that the main point of this blog is that there is always room for improvement. No matter how many times you’ve played a song, you can learn a lot about your playing by listening to others’ interpretations of it. Also, use your fills sparingly, so that they will be more effective. For more of my recording diary go to www.myspace.com/addictedtopain, and please stop by to catch us on tour this fall in a city near you!