Since forming in Hollywood, California, in 2010, Vintage Trouble, featuring charismatic singer Ty Taylor, guitarist Nalle Colt, bassist Rick Barrio Dill, and drummer Richard Danielson, has released two albums—2011’s The Bomb Shelter Sessions and 2015’s 1 Hopeful Rd.—and an EP, 2014’s The Swing House Acoustic Sessions. The retro-leaning group is known for its dynamic, high-energy live shows, a reputation solidified during world tours opening for acts like Brian May, Bon Jovi, the Who, Dave Matthews Band, AC/DC, Lenny Kravitz, and the Rolling Stones. Further notoriety came via a 2014 Honda Civic TV commercial featuring the band performing its song “Today Is Pretty Great.”
“The thing that connected me the most with Richard is how we both allow our bodies to be the voice for our music,” Taylor tells Modern Drummer. “When you watch Richard play, you [know] that his music comes from a deep place within his soul, and you see it extend through his limbs. His drumming is not just in his head. So listeners and viewers are well aware that this is a drummer who is a feeler first and a musician second. And I think that’s the way it should be.”
MD caught up with Danielson while the band was in the studio working on its third album, which was untitled as of press time. The drummer explains that the plan is to release a few songs a month until the full album is complete. Though in the past they were known for tracking live together in the studio, this time around the players challenged themselves by incorporating more modern recording techniques, in an effort to expand their sound. Later in our interview Danielson offers some honest assessments about how that worked out for him personally. But first we have him look back to the beginning of his drumming life and talk about his early influences.
Richard: I’ve always struggled with the influence question, because it’s all over the map for me. Rock was king when I was cutting my teeth—John Bonham, Alex Van Halen, Ginger Baker, and Keith Moon. But I also dug big band stuff like Louie Bellson and Gene Krupa. Steve Smith of Journey was one of the few guys who could swing jazz but then play rock with a heavy hand—and with the creativity of unique stickings. Gadd’s stickings were cool too, and his pocket was insane.
Vinnie Colaiuta and Dave Weckl taught me to feel over the barline. And I went through a progressive phase—Neil Peart, of course. Alan White and Bill Bruford of Yes consumed me for a spell. I loved all sorts of music, so I’d pick up on drummers just by digging the bands they were in—for example, Nick Mason with Pink Floyd, Roger Taylor with Queen, Ringo with the Beatles, Charlie Watts with the Stones.
MD: Did you ever take drum lessons?
Richard: I was never a schooled player; I didn’t take lessons or study guys in depth. I could read from being in school band, though, and I’d pick up on stuff through the Modern Drummer magazine lessons—there were so many good ones—or an occasional book like Carmine Appice’s Realistic Rock. But [mostly] I’d put on records and just lose myself in the music. That’s what I was searching for more than the [academic] side of things. But now I feel I missed out on that, so I’ve actually started a stricter, more formal practice routine.
MD: How did you hook up with Vintage Trouble?
Richard: I’d taken some time off for quite a long spell after the Seattle invasion basically killed the L.A. scene overnight. I was doing okay with a band called the Poorboys. We sounded nothing like many of the L.A. bands at the time, so we didn’t get washed away like the vast majority of them. But the record company seemed confused as to the direction of the music business at the time, and stopped showing us love. Los Angeles, which was once the musical capital of the world, became stagnant in many ways. I’d put every ounce of energy into my craft, from the time I’d gotten my first set of drums, woodshedded, moved to L.A.—sleeping in my car at times—finding success, and then having bands fold in and out of record deals.
That was 1995. Skipping ahead to 2010, I’d been itching to get back to my instrument, and had been playing with various people in casual settings. I live in Laurel Canyon, which has a rich musical history, and I eventually clued in to some jam sessions there and met Ty Taylor. We were so clued in to each other; our energies aligned in a way that continues to fuel us today. A few months later when his band was disbanding and he was starting something fresh, he called me to see if I’d like to come down to the studio that evening and record a song.
The lesson for me is that I said yes. I could have said no for a number of reasons—excuses like “I’m busy,” or whatever people say to get out of things when they’re being lazy or noncommittal. But because I said yes that day, I’ve had a great rebirth of my musical career. I’ve taken that lesson of “yes” with me. When you say no to things, all potential stops cold. But a yes can open one up to endless possibilities.
MD: Tell us about the recording process for your new album.
Richard: This one is a bit different in terms of how we’re doing it. We’re a band that’s always recorded live in the studio, doing full takes. So if someone made a mistake, the whole band would have to go back and play it again. It’s how a lot of our heroes recorded. We owned it and we lived by it. But in some ways we died by it. It painted us into a corner in terms of both editing and sonics. It was hard, if not impossible, to isolate and edit individual instruments, because there was a lot of bleed. But it was the charm of our early work. We toured for five years on our debut album, The Bomb Shelter Sessions, so it was working. However, being a couple records in now, we’re changing it up—completely.
MD: How so?
Richard: First of all, we’re clicking everything, and this has been my biggest challenge. Not so much the technical side of it. I’ve actually come to enjoy playing to a click. But I’ve really had to adjust my attitude about it. It’s always been my feeling that a verse can sit a bit, a chorus can push, and an outro can get a little more excitable. I try to accomplish this within the parameters of the click, but then the producer will just quantize it all anyway. I’d sit in the back, and at first my spirit began to fade a bit. I’ve bitched and moaned plenty, believe me. But I’ve realized that I’m part of a team that’s working at creating a bigger picture. I have to respect that—and I do.
But, clicks aside, we’re also isolating the instruments now and recording them individually. This is allowing us to be more sonically appealing, and we’re able to construct the songs rather than just hash them out in a fit of live abandon. I’ll admit that I do miss playing together, and the little magic moments that happen when guys are listening and reacting. But, again, we’re trying something that’s new for us as a band. And look, I understand that this is how the majority of music is recorded today—and has been for a long time. I’m just old-school.
I love this band. And I’m excited about the progress we’ve made. I hope our diehard fans allow us to change it up a bit, but in theory we should be gaining a bunch of new ones as well. I’m truly blessed to be able to play drums and experience the world in the way that Vintage Trouble has afforded me, and it’s a gift that gives daily. I’m living my one true dream, so I don’t take a single moment of it for granted.
Danielson plays Gretsch drums, Meinl cymbals, and LP percussion and uses Aquarian heads, Gibraltar hardware, and Vic Firth sticks.