“Content” is not a word that exists in this perennial MD favorite’s lexicon, who balances his day job as a top studio drummer with chasing the muse with creative artists like Brian Haas and Bill Frisell, as well as through his own man-machine solo projects.
“The past few months have been the most insane of my life,” says thirty-year studio and touring veteran Matt Chamberlain, who’s celebrating his fiftieth turn around the sun this April. “I just finished a two-week tracking session with an English singer named Jamie Lawson, and then I worked with producer Blake Mills for a new record by Perfume Genius. I also did a two-week tour with Bill Frisell, went to Nashville, and then did a thing with [keyboardist] Brian Haas.”
The “thing” Matt is talking about is the incredibly inspired duo album Prometheus Risen, which was put together after three days of spontaneous improvisations at Frogville Studios in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with longtime friend Haas. The pair met back in the ’90s when Chamberlain’s experimental band Critters Buggin’ shared the stage with Haas’s group Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. “Brian is one of these guys who always does creative music; that’s his life,” Chamberlain says. “He wanted to get together and improvise to see if we could make a record out of it. Prometheus Risen is pretty much all live-on-the-floor improvs. We just found the ones that sounded more like compositions and used those for the record.” To thrust the sonics of the sessions into new territory, Chamberlain brought along some of his favorite electronic gadgets. “I had a live-looping rig,” he says. “And I used Ableton Live to create different catalysts for the improvs.”
The album’s opener, “Space Colonization,” features Chamberlain’s signature earthy-sounding acoustic drums, slinky ghost-note-laden grooves, and some interesting layers of metallic percussion loops. The track “Ancestral Availability” features the drummer letting loose with a dense double-stroke kick/snare/hat pattern interlaced with bombastic fills and near-telepathic stops between drums and piano. The duo took the project on the road for a few weeks this past fall, playing completely free improvs. “We just made stuff up each night,” Chamberlain recalls. “It was terrifying and liberating all at the same time.”
Around the time that Prometheus Risen was being made, the drummer released, via mattchamberlain.com, his third solo album, Comet B, which originated from ideas he compiled in Ableton Live. “A lot of it was created on my laptop while I was on airplanes and stuff,” Matt says. “After a while I had enough material put together that I decided to put drumkit on it. Then I asked my buddy Chris Combs, who plays steel guitar, to add some melodic content. It was a process, but it’s fun. What else am I going to do? I’d be bored out of my mind [laughs].”
If you’re not familiar with Chamberlain’s more artistic adventures, Comet B has it all: incredibly fat and sweet drum tones, deeply textured grooves (combining live drumming with organic loops and electronic overdubs), and a gritty, earthy-yet-otherworldly aesthetic. Then check out how the drummer’s endless creativity elevates recent hit records by Keith Urban (“Blue Ain’t Your Color,” “Break on Me”), Miranda Lambert (The Weight of These Wings, which was tracked completely live in a garage in East Nashville), and Phantogram (Three).
“For most singer-songwriter situations, I’m not going to be throwing down like I would in a jazz-improv situation,” Chamberlain says. “I’m looking for interesting sounds while interjecting some performance aspects and making the song feel good. Anybody can play this stuff technically, but it’s about helping someone make the songs unique and different. There are only so many chord progressions and melodic ideas built into Western music, so what are you going to do?”