Jake Cochran on Small Kits and Playing While Standing Up

Jake Cochran [All Photos: Joey Wharton]

Hello Modern Drummer! My name is Jake Cochran, and I am the drummer half of alt-rock duo Illiterate Light. I’m coming off of an incredible two-month headlining U.S. tour, and diving into writing for our next record—a shift from “roaming extrovert” to “cozy monk” that always takes me a few weeks.

On top of that, my last few months have been crazy: I moved from my longtime home of Harrisonburg, Virginia to East Nashville, survived my first tornado, and now the Coronavirus quarantine has settled in to make everything even weirder. The emotional tension and survivor’s guilt are real for me, as I find ways to plug in and help, but also give myself the time and space to find the balance I need.

Speaking of balance, I should mention I play drums standing up. I am a set player first and foremost, and I initially shuddered at the thought of losing my high-hat foot. But the trade-off has pushed me to reimagine my approach to drums entirely, and I look to my high school drumline days for inspiration. Now, when I’m on stage, I have a freedom that is amazing. I’m jumping off amps, crowdsurfing, and generally thrashing about when I play in a manner not typically afforded the seated drummer. Standing has also pushed me to make changes to my set up, reorienting drums and cymbals to accommodate a more open playing style. Advertisement

When it comes to gear, I’m a bit of a weirdo. I love small drum sets. Maybe that comes from years touring out of a Suburu or packing my drums small enough to be pulled on a bicycle trailer. Whatever the case, I am endlessly inspired by a lack of things to hit.

My current touring rig is a 20″ kick and 16″ tom from a beautiful late 60’s Rodgers kit I found at a used gear shop, and a Ludwig Supra-phonic Hammered Bronze Snare that packs some serious bite. I also have some ’90s 15″ Zildjian new beats with some bells and tambourines stacked on top, and a 20″ Paiste Masters Dark Crash Ride that I love—though it is starting to crack, and not in the hip, trashy cracked cymbal kinda way.

As I settle into my home-quarantine routine I am prioritizing two projects.

First, I’m writing new music and demoing daily. I find I am more productive with limited gear, so I am currently working with a Casio 401 keyboard/analog drum machine, a nameless student-grade nylon-string guitar, a kick/tom/snare drum set similar to my touring rig, and an Eventide Timefactor delay pedal that I run the drums and drum machine through to keep things from sounding too square. I love the push and pull I get from recording against a drum delay instead of a metronome, as tempo becomes a suggestion, second to the feel of the groove. Advertisement

My other project is reviving my old “bike-tour” drum rig—drums, cymbals, and stands all packed into a small bike trailer. This idea dates back to my first tours with Illiterate Light bandmate Jeff Gorman and a crazy community of Virginia musicians/activists/artists dubbed The Petrol-Free Jubilee. We powered our shows with bicycle-powered generators, biked the East Coast and played anywhere that would have us.

Recently, Jeff and I purchased a new bike-power generator system from fellow music and bike enthusiasts Rock The Bike to reintegrate this craziness into our current van touring, and that has got me dreaming of what a bike tour would look like for us at this stage in our career. If any of this sparks your creativity, I’ll be posting updates on these projects and more at @illiteratedrums and @illiteratelight on Instagram. Follow, but more importantly send me your weird ideas and drum sets! Stay safe out there and never stop experimenting!