On The Beat with Alex Ballew of Erra and Ghost Atlas: Talks New Album and Gear
What’s up Modern Drummer! My name is Alex Ballew and I write, record, and perform in Erra and Ghost Atlas based out of Birmingham, AL. Erra is currently on the Summer Slaughter tour with Between the Buried And Me and many others. Additionally, I have performed with bands such as The Plot in You, Glass Cloud, Elitist, and mychildren mybride.
Erra released a new record, Neon, on August 10. This is the first time we all sat down to bounce ideas off one another, instead of the guitarists and I sending ideas back and forth. In my opinion, this is some of the most cohesive material we have ever written. We recorded guitar scratch tracks for all the songs, which gave me an opportunity to experiment with my drums via MIDI (GetGood Drums is my go-to). I have always programmed drums to our songs in order to push myself to learn things that are seemingly impossible at the time. This makes live tracking stressful, but I’m so happy with the end result.
I recently filmed a play-through for one of our new songs, “Disarray.” Writing to this song was fun because a lot of the guitar riffs are in 7/8, and I opted to play my drums in 4/4. This made the parts more digestible for the average listener, but still maintained a level of depth that a musician could appreciate, which is often the goal of Erra. I also have never improvised during tracking until the end of this song. It is to the point where I still do whatever feels right at the time I’m playing it.
Believe it or not, I get most of my influence from drummers I tour with. My favorite part of touring is watching all these incredible drummers, taking what they play, and putting my own spin on it.
My go-to gear is my Tama Starclassic B/B kit, which consists of a 22″ kick, 12″ rack, and 14″ and 16″ floors. My favorite snares are a Tama SLP 14″ brass snare and a Dark Horse Percussion 14″ 20-ply maple snare. I proudly use Zildjian cymbals consisting of 14″ A Custom Mastersound hats, 18″ and 20″ A Custom crashes, 19″ K Custom Hybrid crash, 22″ A Custom ride, 12″ Oriental Trash China, with my favorite being my 19″ A Custom Ultra Hammered China (I love metal). I have Evans EC2s across the toms, EMAD 2 on the kick, and a HD Dry on the snare. I love having the extra length on Vic Firth Extreme 5B sticks. I don’t drop nearly as many nowadays.
Big thanks to Modern Drummer for letting me talk your eyes off! We’ll keep you posted on ErraNeon.com about the new record and tour dates.
Shot by JT Cavey
Mixed by Chris Pollock
Video edited by AJ Kay