This past week, Todd Nance, founding drummer with the band Widespread Panic, passed away from “sudden and unexpectedly severe complications of a chronic illness,” according to his family. Modern Drummer wrote about Nance in 2000—when asked in that piece to define his playing style, he modestly responded, “I just get in there, cross my fingers, and hope for the best”—and again in 2003. In honor of the drummer we’re reprinting the latter piece, written by Will Romano, here.
Widespread Panic drummer Todd Nance is livin’ large. When not rhythmically conversing with percussionist Domingo “Sunny” Ortiz, Nance spends his spare time on his swanky 116-acre farm located in Comer, Georgia, twenty miles east of the music Mecca, Athens. “I like to keep a little buffer zone around me for privacy,” says Nance. “I like the fact that I’m not on top of anyone and that I’m too out of the way for someone to drop in.”
Todd says that he and his wife, Tammy, have been renovating and adding on to their ranch-style abode for over a year. “Most of the inside was redone, the floors in the kitchen were completely ripped up, and the house has had two additions tacked on,” he explains. “We also just purchased the neighboring land and have made that part of our property.”
Mirroring his personal life, Nance’s professional career screams “more is more.” Widespread Panic’s 2002 release, Live In The Classic City, was a robust three-CD package—an ultimate ode to the road by a time-tested jam band known for extended sets and extensive touring. This year the band released the well-received studio album Ball. Of late Nance has also worked with alt.country rockers Barbara Cue, as well as a Widespread Panic/Vic Chesnutt collaboration called Brute.
One would think that this guy’s home setup would be monstrous, given the plot of land on which he lives and his many different side projects. Guess again. Todd’s recording space is a dimly lit, heart-of-pine paneled, medium-sized room purposefully lacking in equipment. Nance doesn’t even set up his trusty six-piece tobacco sunburst finish DW kit he uses on the road. “I’ve been trying to make the studio as small and user-friendly as I possibly can,” the drummer explains. “I don’t like a lot of wires and stuff around. My goal is to be a technician for five minutes and a musician for fifty-five, not the other way around.”
Nance’s bare essentials include a ’63 Gibson ES-330 electric guitar, a Washburn acoustic, an IBM laptop, a Roland 880 digital recorder with onboard effects and EQ, a Boss Dr. Rhythm drum machine, Line6’s POD amp simulator, one Audio- Technica 4033 condenser mic’ to capture his vocals and acoustic guitar tracks, a Roland V-Drums kit, his “lazy-ass chair,” and a prized painting by artist Keith “Scramble” Campbell.
“The first thing I do when I come in this room is strum an ‘A’ chord,” says Nance, who has contributed drumming and writing to the past several Panic studio releases. “I’ll have some idea in my head and try to find it on the guitar. Usually, because I’m a drummer, I’ll find some rhythmic thing to strum. At that point I’ll usually think up some kick drum pattern as well.”
This method is quite different from the early days, when the Panic boys lived and wrote together in the same flop in Athens. “I used to stay at the mic’ for hours and strum chords with those guys,” Todd recalls. “When everyone moved out and got married, it changed the dynamic of how we write music. Now I have to get my crap together before I approach them with an idea. But at least they allow it. Some bands won’t listen to the drummer’s input. That’s the great thing about Panic: It’s always a joint effort.”
But, Todd, you do so much songwriting and recording at home, do you ever get a chance to play drums? “Oh, yes,” Nance replies. “I always do paradiddles just to keep from being rusty. And I do practice over at Brown Cat, our management office. I’ll have a nice big spot for the drums [at home] in the near future. There’s a small house out there on the new plot we just purchased, and I’m thinking about turning it into a recording and rehearsal space. I wouldn’t have to leave the premises. How’s that for keeping me down on the farm?”