On the Beat With Shmu (Sam Chown) of Zorch: Playing, Recording, and Contributing
Hey MD, I’m a drummer/lead singer in a live scenario and in an animal spirit sense. I wear the Justin Bieber headset and I also trigger samples on my Roland SPD-SX drum sampler. People know me as Shmu, the solo artist, as well as the drummer, singer, and songwriter in Zorch. On my own recordings I play most of everything.
I started playing at age seven and joined a band with my cousins at eight. I would sing and play drums while they played guitars. This quickly became my default and most comfortable role in all future bands. I’ve always admired Phil Collins for playing that role in Genesis, and man, does that 1976-83-era rule.
While playing with my cousins I was also recording myself and playing all the instruments. That’s how I learned how to play and record, but most importantly improve as an artist and musician. I eventually filled a vault with over two hundred albums worth of material. In the early days of Zorch, I would record our shows so I could listen back and see where I could improve—if I was playing too fast, too slow, rushing fills, etc. Advertisement
I went to Berklee College of Music and chose drums as my primary instrument. Due to my constant need to record and practice piano and guitar in addition to drums, I quickly developed tendinitis and had to take eighteen months off drums. The doctor told me I would never be able to play drums again. He was wrong.
After my year and a half drum hiatus, I started jamming with my freshmen year college roommate Zac Traeger. We could tell we were onto something almost immediately; my spazzy chaotic drumming paired with Zac’s thoughtful and studied synth work perfectly.
While listening to Lightning Bolt, the frenetic energetic drumming of Brian Chippendale hit me like a ton of bricks we knew we had to do the two-piece thing. We formed Zorch and moved to Austin, TX to begin writing and recording. We spent almost a year exclusively improvising and recording, eventually editing down and creating songs. Once we had a set of songs we began performing live. A couple of years later, we landed a record deal with Sargent House (home to Tera Melos, Deafheaven, Chelsea Wolfe, Zach Hill, Russian Circles, Omar Rodriguez Lopez, and an endless list of amazing talent). Advertisement
In 2015, I decided to start my own record label, GTZ Records, with the goal of signing excellent local bands. I started the label with Geoff Earle, as we both had little luck landing our own records with other labels. GTZ was originally named Grand Theft Zamboni Records, however we had to change the name due to a cease and desist sent by the Zamboni people.
Meanwhile, this whole time I’ve been writing and recording my own stuff and practicing drums every day. As Shmu, I’ve been recording home demos since 2003, but didn’t release a proper debut until 2009, called Discipline/Communication, which got a reissue in 2012. The intention of both my current projects, though, has been to figure out what kind of music or combination of sounds haven’t been tapped yet, and explore that. My goal is to contribute to the vocabulary and possibility of music.
I play almost all of the instruments in the project in general, however, on the new album Shhh!!!!, I’ve allowed other humans to play parts I’ve written for the first time, which I think improved the record, making the performances more visceral and energetic. Advertisement
My drumming style has evolved over the years. As a child, drummers like Jimmy Chamberlain and Neal Peart influenced and inspired me to make my rock drumming jazzier or more fusion inspired. Once I started to actually delve into jazz and fusion, Tony Williams and Billy Cobham (among others) became my new time and mind-bending heroes. Once Zorch became a thing in my life, I would take more risks and would soon develop a more chaotic style. Some have dubbed it “lead drums,” which is kind of a hilarious tag. Obviously, Brian Chippendale was a huge inspiration and then Zach Hill changed the landscape, quickly becoming the most important rock drummer of the last decade.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve evolved my style into a more linear minimal approach—always trying to find ways to only play the most important beats and cut out as much riff raff while maintaining a slinky groove. I’ve been using double pedal for a long time. I love using it in fills by doing quick flams between the kicks and toms or snare. Over the last year, I’ve been doing more LR double kick, as I like the way that sounds while triggering samples in my left hand and riding a cymbal with my right.
I’ve been using a Tama Silver Star birch kit for a while, but would like the birch bubinga. I use Zildjian K cymbals, and I love Evans EC2 360 Coated heads. I also use Sunhouse sensory percussion.
Watch a live in the studio video for the song “Pictionary” here:
Photo by Ben Aqua