Mike Albanese of Maserati
Hello, modern drummers, drummers of the modern persuasion, and otherwise non-vintage percussionists! Mike Albanese here, chief drum operator for Maserati, Cinemechanica, Bit Brigade, and a slew of other projects you have a low probability of knowing unless you frequent the grimy rock underbelly of otherwise frat-tastic Athens, Georgia. After settling down from the wave of extreme stokedness re: being asked to contribute to MD’s blog, I’m writing on a topic more than a little relevant to my present occupational challenge: How does one replace the irreplaceable? Spoiler alert: You don’t.
I speak, to the uninitiated, of the challenges that come with “filling the shoes” (a turn of phrase I’ve come to despise on multiple levels FYI) of the absolutely inimitable Jerry Fuchs. The real, genuine article, that guy. A brosef who elevated every party he attended and prompted city-wide calendar marking every time he was flying in for Maserati writing sessions or pre-tour cramming. You’d never guess from his self-deprecating humor and humble demeanor that he was, without question, the finest drummer anybody in my circle had ever seen, my biggest influence from the instant I finally saw Turing Machine at CMJ in 2003, and a guiding light for aspiring drummers of “mathy” (read: occasionally indulgent) sensibilities the world over. His genius was tempering his drummer-melting, mathrock-born four-way independence with krautrock’s minimalist insistence on disciplined composition. This push/pull was a blueprint for getting one’s drumming shit together and making each note count, no matter how dense the arrangement or bizarre the meter. What Jerry built, we stared at in collective awe as we struggled to decouple the metronomic foundations from his fist-pump inducing penchant for outrageous ornamentation. That’s the hyperbole-inducing level my man was at when he died, tragically, in 2009. Senseless…. Overnight the guy you celebrated as “one of us making it” as he appeared on Letterman backing up Moby or John Legend, was gone. In my mind, Jerry was always six months away from hitting that intangible critical mass of exposure. The secret finally would be out. Endorsement deals, complementary product orbiting him at arm’s length. The nines. Instead, the press Jerry so obviously deserved focused, understandably, on the absurdly tragic nature of his passing. It is 2009 and I am Mike’s deep frustration with the universe.
It is three years later. I’m being asked by Coley (guitarist of Maserati) if I might take a listen to some demos for a new full-length and see what strikes me. Yes, I say, immediately. Impulsively. If anybody is going to throw themselves into this assuredly blistering volcano of criticism and struggle to carry my man’s torch, it will be me! This is what fifteen years of unmitigated ankle shredding on the kick was for! Bravado.
It is one month later. Panic. Self-doubt. What have I done? Dabbling with Jerry’s constructions proves to be a fantastic, chop-building, plateau-eradicating experience, as always. (You didn’t think this was the first time I’d woodshedded the Maserati catalogue, right?) But writing a new record and trying to honor the man’s vision compositionally? That’s something else entirely. To their credit, the Maserati guys were insistent from the very first practice that I was behind the kit because it was my voice they wanted, not a Fuchsian-Emulator (as if that was remotely possible), but my internal dialogue was airing self-deprecating sludge, 24/7.
So, how does one replace the irreplaceable? That’s where we started. It certainly wasn’t happening behind the kit, I can tell you that, at least not at first. I fixated on compositional methodology. Obsessively. In line at the bank, at the car wash. Everywhere. And finally I realized that my approach to expanding my technique, something I like to call “component theory,” was going to be just fine after all. It was a concept I’d just unabashedly made up ages ago, have taught in private lessons for years, and, ironically, had mostly hashed out over a hilarious conversation, hammered, at a Maserati afterparty with none other than the late, great Gerhardt Fuchs in 200X. Life. It’s a thing.
The conversation went something like this: I am not ashamed to admit that before Jerry and I were tight bros, I punished the hell out of him after shows just like everrryyyyybody else. See figure 1-A.
Mike: Dude, you know the three-over-four doubles on the kick part in the verse of “The Doodler”?*
Jerry: Yes, Mike. Can we talk about something else?
Mike: Totally. So anyhow, that part on “The Doodler,” I turned it into a kick drum–centric rudiment!”**
Jerry: That’s hilarious. I wrote that out of a kick drum rudiment. Also, there are girls here. We should talk to them.
* From Turing Machine’s incredibly badass first record: A New Machine For Living
** I have shredded this kick rudiment approximately 40 billion times. Ask my drum students how they feel about ramping it, out of context, from 30 bpm to 180 bpm.
I’m paraphrasing a conversation that happened in the post-show fog of war, eight years ago, but the gist of it had stuck. Component theory, again a thing I made up that probably has a real name, says this: If I break something down far enough, it ceases to have context and just becomes raw rhythmic information. At a certain point it ceases to be “The Doodler” and just IS an ordered list of sticking, applicable as verse, fill, bridge, or half of this weird bar we throw in every six times. It’s entirely circumstantial. Dropping one note out might sound just like an awkward version of the original whereas dropping two notes out, speeding it up, and looping in six might sound like the most profound advancement in your personal drumming history and become a drill you shred at ever increasing BPM, inevitably changing the way you play doubles on the kick drum and ironically arming you with one little (but essential) component you are going to desperately need to write drum parts inspired by the work of your favorite drummer ever. Hypothetically speaking, of course. The beautiful thing is that these tiny bits of information retain their sentiment to you (I can’t play RLKK descending tom patterns without seeing a nodding mustache, forevermore) but become part of your own voice, an information stream open to its own dissection and recombination.
I’ll leave you with this, in case you wondering if Jerry might have had a similar compositional approach. You might have heard of this band, Led Zeppelin. They had this pretty good drummer. He did this thing with his foot that’s just a little famous, and yet if you pull it out of context and turn it into nothing more than “three notes on the kick drum against a hi-hat,” it just might become the cornerstone of a head-nodding, highly danceable spaced-out club banger. Above all else, Jerry Fuchs knew that it’s all about context.
I’m tremendously proud to say that I’ve got a refreshed toolbox of sticking patterns, syncopations, and linear fills that I built upon over a decade of appreciating this man’s playing, and I am beyond excited to see what everybody thinks of their reconfigured deployment, available nationally on Maserati VII, out 10/3 on Temporary Residence Ltd. If it’s not yet perfectly clear, I cannot encourage you enough to discover Jerry’s catalog and add a few new concepts to your own toolbox. Just don’t attempt the mustache. Some things, they are sacred.
For more on Mike Albanese and Maserati, go to ihaveadagger.net.