by Billy Amendola
The May 2013 issue of Modern Drummer magazine features an Update with Matchbox’s Twenty’s Paul Doucette. Here, we continue the conversation about the band’s latest album, North, and Doucette gives his impressions of each track from the record.
MD: From a songwriter’s point of view, how do you keep from overplaying drums on the songs you write?
Paul: I think the biggest challenge for drummers is knowing what not to play. Everybody wants to be recognized, but in a three-minute pop song it’s hard to be recognized if you’re the drummer—and you have to be okay with that. Think about Steve Ferrone with Tom Petty. Steve is so solid, perfect, and simple. But try and play it as well as he does. It’s challenging. He is a songwriter’s dream of a drummer. I tend to want to be that. I feel that the job of the drummer, in pop music at least, is to be the support for the vocal. So once I track my part, I solo the drums and the vocal, and I listen to see if something I’m doing detracts from the vocal, and if so I change it. I also try to use my fills as a rhythmic bridge between vocal lines. So the vocal and drums are rhythmically complementing each other at all times.
MD: Did you play to a click on North?
Paul: I always play to a click. Without it you don’t have the option of playing with things [in the mix] later on.
MD: How did you track the drums?
Paul: We did all sorts of things. We would cut things up, we’d keep live takes, we’d overdub—whatever we needed to do to get what we were after. I always view things as a songwriter/producer first—not as a drummer, guitar player, or keyboard player.
MD: Were you channeling any drummers for any of the songs as you were playing?
Paul: I always tend to think about Jim Keltner when I play drums on records, and Steve Ferrone. Also Phil Collins. I love guys who can come up with drum hooks. Phil does that better than most. His work with Adam Ant on Strip from 1983—with Phil as both drummer and producer—was a huge influence on our song “Radio.”
Doucette on North, Track by Track
“Parade” This was cut on my ’60s Ludwigs, which I set up in a small room. It was tempo mapped to speed up after the first chorus, which is always a head trip to do at first.
“She’s So Mean” It’s been fun and surprising to see the number of drum covers of this on YouTube. Most of it was really just off the top of my head.
“Overjoyed” I kept this super-simple and felt pretty strongly about that. I remember [guitarist] Kyle Cook disagreeing with this, but I thought fills would walk over what I liked about the song.
“Put Your Hands Up” This was the last song brought in and the one where the drum part was inspired by the guitar part and not the vocal melody. The verse is played on the wood hoop of the kick drum instead of the hat. We really wanted to have interesting drum sounds that sounded current but were real, so with that one I split the part into sections and played each drum in a different room. The hats were in the vocal booth; kick and snare were in the big room. And the verses were taken from a live performance of the song, because we liked the raw sound of it.
“Our Song” There was an inherent ’50s vibe to the vocal melody that I played off in the chorus. In my head I was going for a Mark Ronson version of that. The song went a different direction as it developed past the drums, but I think it still works. The bridge was fun because I went a little Keith Moon on it.
“I Will” I played piano on this one. There are no drums, only some various little rhythmic elements that our producer, Matt Serletic, added.
“English Town” This song I had the most to do with. I wrote it alone, and with the exception of the orchestra, a few guitar parts, and Rob Thomas’s vocal, most of what you’re hearing is me. The drums are all overdubbed to get that Tusk-era Fleetwood Mac vibe. Every section was played separately and in different rooms, and this is the only song on North to contain tracks recorded during the album’s original Nashville sessions.
“How Long” This is Kyle’s song, and he had a pretty good idea of what he wanted me to do, so I just expanded on that a bit.
“Radio” This song changed the most. The drum part was originally for a totally different song called “Real Love.” Very Adam Ant inspired. I love that shit. The half time in the chorus was Matt Serletic’s idea. We debated about that a lot. It was hard for me to hear it like that, because when I wrote the chorus it was more like a Woody Guthrie tune; it had a totally different vibe. This was one of those times where it was hard to be the drummer and the songwriter. But then Kyle came up with that guitar part and everything made sense. Plus we kept the double time at the end, so I felt a little vindicated.
“The Way” This is one of my favorites—very subtle. The kick pattern becomes the fills. I liked the idea of that. Kyle and I wrote that together, and what I played on the initial demo is what I ended up playing on the record. It just worked from the get-go, so why change it?
“Like Sugar” I was the first one to work on this track. Rob sang a scratch and then flew home for a bit. I decided to make it into a Dr. Dre–inspired track, with only a groove and a piano. Again, every drum was done separately in a different room. I would dissect the grooves in my head and play it like you would play a programmed part on an MPC, but with real drums. Then Matt took it and added stuff, and Kyle added more. Sort of like an assembly line. It’s kind of an odd way of working, but that’s how it was done on this one.
“Sleeping at the Wheel” I like to joke that I only know three grooves, and this is one of them. It’s the exact pattern in the breakdown of “She’s So Mean.” We recorded this together live off the floor. I later overdubbed some snares at the end. We set up a stereo mic in the big room and set up three snares in a half circle around it. I would play one and then move to the next snare and play it again so it sounded like more than one person playing.
For more with Paul Doucette and Matchbox Twenty, go to matchboxtwenty.com. Photo by Brian Dowling.