For a drum journalist, it was the greatest unboxing ever. Well, it would have been, if the kit that Wilco drum tech Ashwin Deepankar was about to unveil was ours to keep. Of course it wasn’t. It belonged to Glenn Kotche, who in an hour or so was about to strike, rub, scrape, stomp, flick, smack, caress, and thump it to astounding effect in service of Wilco’s deep and daring setlist, to a rapturous Radio City Music Hall audience.
Modern Drummer had been invited by Kotche to check out his gear pre-show, and the anticipation as Ashwin walked us across the famous stage to the kit, which was hidden under large tarps, was intense. Glenn had previously shared some of its details with us, and we’d heard the tracks from Wilco’s new album, Ode to Joy, finding it brimming with bracing drumming performances and kaleidoscopic percussion sounds, some familiar, some completely fresh.
Among the items we were most excited about seeing was a marching machine, a relatively obscure percussion instrument designed to mimic the sound of boots marching, which Colin Campbell, Deepankar, and Kotche had made foot-operable so that it could be played within a full drum groove. Yeah, it’s as cool as it sounds. Maybe even cooler. And it’s merely one of the many implements Kotche used to bring a unique flavor to each song on Ode to Joy, which, from a drumming standpoint, may represent the most maximal approach to minimalism we’ve ever heard. Think Velvet Underground classics like “Pale Blue Eyes,” “Venus in Furs,” or “I’m Set Free,” but arranged by Max Roach’s M’Boom ensemble. Kotche’s approach essentially thumbs its nose at the “Less is more/More is less” argument, replacing it with a more honest and exciting declaration of “Whatever it takes…as long as it’s musical.”
The lengths Kotche will go to elicit the exact sounds in his head are mythical among Modern Drummer readers, some of whom still have his performance at the 2006 MD Fest burned in their memory banks. Since that time he’s recorded half a dozen more Wilco studio albums, as well as a bevy of other artists’ recordings (see the music sidebar on page 42), all of which have allowed him to further explore sonic and rhythmic reaches. He’s also continued working with his duo with Darin Gray, On Fillmore, and with modern classical ensembles, dance groups, and other non-rock projects, further widening his total-percussion approach.
But back to that unboxing—or, perhaps more accurately, unveiling. Beside his gorgeous new Sonor SQ2 Maple drumset, we gaze upon a dazzling set of commercial and homemade striking implements, multiple unique shakers that attach to his hi-hat pull rod, tom “treatments,” mounted percussion, electronics, and accessories. The urge to leap onto the throne and start playing is difficult to control.
Perhaps more important than the instruments themselves, though, is the choreography that Kotche has developed to play the parts from Ode to Joy. As we’ll hear more about below, Glenn employed significant overdubbing, and only figured out how he was going to approach the layered percussion live after the album was completed. You could spend a half hour just describing the various grips the drummer uses to get the job done, or the dancelike movements he uses while bringing Wilco’s beloved songs to life. But of course it’s better to hear Kotche tell it….
Glenn: I started figuring out how to do these songs live last August. I’d make videos and send them to Ashwin, like, “Here’s how this beat is going to go.” Because everything on the record is multilayered, I had to make a composite part to play live, and figure out ways to incorporate the percussion into the snare and bass drum parts. So I’d send him ideas, and then we’d get together and he’d modify or make things that replicated sounds from the record.
MD: This was after the writing and recording phases.
Glenn: Right. [Singer/songwriter] Jeff Tweedy and I got together at Wilco’s studio, the Loft, for a couple of weeks in December . He’d play a song and I’d lay down some ideas. I basically had carte blanche to do what I do.
Typically the way we’d start is, he’d have a couple drum machines going through his pedals, a pulse or some kind of part, and we’d use that as a guide that I would play to, maybe a bass drum part for him to create his guitar part over, and then I’d layer from there. And then everyone came in at the end of January, February, and added all their parts to it.
MD: And then there’s the challenge of how you’re going to play it all live.
Glenn: Yes. That came about in the summer. We hadn’t really played in eighteen months. We did a tour in Europe in June, but we weren’t really doing any new songs. We did do a couple at our festival, Solid Sound, but those we just kind of worked out; the parts weren’t necessarily what I’m playing now.
MD: Did every song involve some sort of planning out in terms of recreating the recorded versions?
Glenn: Yup. And it was surprising, too, because there were a couple that I’d procrastinated on, thinking, “This is easy; it’s just a pulse,” but then I’d realize, “Oh, no, it’s next to impossible!”
One of the most fun things for me to do professionally is to try to replicate these parts. It’s a challenge. I mean, I don’t need to go as far as I do; no one would really know or care if that little tambourine part was missing. It’s more for me and the guys in the band, because if it sounds like the record, it feels good. I think it’s nice for the audience, too.
MD: The multilayered drums on the record help put an individualistic stamp on each song. Even after repeated listens, you’re still…
Glenn: …finding those layers, yeah.
MD: Give us an example of how multilayering can result in playing challenges.
Glenn: On Schmilco , for instance, on the tune “We Aren’t the World,” it just felt good to put the overdubbed tambourine accents on the “and” of 1 and the “and” of 3, and when it came time to play it live, I thought, “I can do that with my left foot by putting the jingles on the hi-hat.” But like most drummers, my whole life I’ve played the hi-hat on 2 and 4, and just that little change can make it so much more challenging—it’s just not a thing most drummers are necessarily used to doing. But if you change up one little element, it can become really interesting.
MD: You’re challenging yourself in an atypical way, not like if you were trying to play the most complex fill. It’s a different way of getting off.
Glenn: Right. And I do get off that way, too, but a lot of times it just doesn’t fly. I’m part of a six-piece band. I need to leave space for people, and anything super flashy and busy doesn’t seem to fit in lyrically or in the character of the music.
MD: How about some examples from Ode to Joy?
Glenn: With this album I also tried to avoid any clear-cut backbeats. That’s why I didn’t play “beats” on the record; every part was done individually. Take the first song, “Bright Leaves.” It’s just low, high, low, high, but when I’m playing the low note I’m playing a high-pitched maraca with it, and when I play the snare drum, I’m playing a bass drum with it. I’m trying to make everything more even.
We set out to try not to make a rock record this time. We don’t usually talk a lot before we make a record, but with this one we did. We wanted it to be personal. We wanted to hear fingers on strings, exhales, the sound of sticks and brushes…. I wanted to avoid doing anything that has baggage. A beat instantly tells people to feel a certain way. If you play this [Glenn taps a standard rock beat on the table] and then this [plays a similar beat but with the accents upside down], they both work, but one’s sort of happy, and the other’s different. You’re telling the listener how to feel, and it’s great that we have that power, but I wanted to avoid that. So if it’s going to have a backbeat, I want to obscure it. And when playing this live, it’s tricky when the hi-hat’s just playing on 1 and not on 3, and not on 2 and 4. And it’s not even a hi-hat sound—it’s sleigh bells or the things I’ve made out of bottle caps or bells or sea pods.
MD: There’s a lot of space in the grooves on Ode to Joy.
Glenn: The parts are very simple, which challenged me as a drummer a lot. This is why I’m so psyched we’re doing this story now, because usually it’s the flashier things that get attention. It’s interesting: there’s been more press for this record that’s called me out individually than for any of the previous three or four records, and I played way simpler this time. I think it’s because it’s more distinctive since it’s not beats but pulses. A relatively simple thing might be the spark that bends the tune a little one way so that people listen more closely, which might make them pay attention to the lyrics a bit more closely. And that’s part of our job, putting on that lens.
MD: Let’s drill down a little more on how the songs were recorded. There would be you and Jeff…
Glenn: …and Tom Schick, our producer/ engineer.
MD: And your kit is all set up.
Glenn: Right. But let me go on a small tangent for a minute. My approach was influenced by my time off. Last year I lived in Finland for eight months. My wife is a bioengineering professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, and she got a Fulbright grant to do research in Finland. And right before that, I saw it as the culmination of a long time collaborating with classical groups and dance companies. I’d written three concerti in the previous year. One was for string orchestra and percussion, which I did at National Sawdust with the 1B1 orchestra from Norway. I also wrote the finals concerto piece for the TROMP percussion competition in the Netherlands. And then I wrote a concerto for the Chicago Youth Symphony, which I was the soloist with.
So I had done these big pieces, which required a lot of preparation, and then, boom, my family and I go to Finland. I’d subbed out anything that I’d booked, got the time off with Wilco, and was just taking care of the kids, with no musical responsibilities. We rented a beautiful house right outside of Helsinki, in a birch forest right by the sea. It was perfect. All I did was read and listen and practice.
Sonor delivered a kit, and after I set it up, I was like, okay, what am I going to practice? So I played a game with myself. This is super dorky, but I thought, what if no one ever heard me play drums again—if I never recorded again, never performed again, never played with another musician again? Would I still actually play? Yeah, I love the physical feeling of playing the drums and unlocking the coordination. So what would I play? I wouldn’t work on my time—I wouldn’t have to, because I wouldn’t have anyone to play with. I wouldn’t work on chops, because I’d have no one to impress. If there was no reason to play except for the joy of it, what would I do?
I was coming off playing those concertos, and I was like, I love creating these cool beats. I was investigating some new techniques, so when I was sitting on these bus rides—because we had no car—taking the kids to and from school, beats would pop in my head. Then I’d go to the kit and play these beats, which might not have any practical application, because they’re not set to music.
It was just for the joy of exploring: what happens if I do this? And it was so much fun, because it was still composing, but instead of composing these eighteen-minute concerti, I was composing a five-second mini piece, but I was treating it not as a beat as your body’s used to doing it, but more compositionally. I was thinking about poetry, balancing, rhyming, feng shui…just comparing it to different things. Like, in Taoism, it’s about light and dark. To me that’s kick and snare, that two-tone thing that’s existed since the beginning of drumming. In indigenous cultures you’ve always got the low sounds and high sounds. Except now we’re not communicating to the next village, or to the soldiers on the front lines to attack.
My next solo project, which is happening later this year, is all based on those beats. But when I got to the studio with Wilco and the idea came up about not making an overt rock record, I thought, I’ve been doing nothing but beats, so I’m going to do no beats at all. [laughs] So that was my frame of mind getting into the studio with Jeff.
I set up a very large kit, but not to be played all at once. It was embarrassingly large. It had four elements on which I could play a low bass sound on, four elements that I could play a high sound on, and on top of that I would just pull drums out separately. I used a lot of marching bass drum, or a concert bass drum on a stand, which I’d play with marimba mallets or with a maraca or ping pong ball shakers—it’s not going to sound like a kick drum. And I’d play snare drums that were maybe broken, had detuned heads, or that I’d hit with weird implements so that they wouldn’t necessarily sound like a proper snare drum. And I used the shakers, sleigh bells, seed pods….
I tried to stick to mostly antique percussion too. The exception is that some of those low drums are Meinl ethnic drums with vinyl heads. I’d double the concert bass drum with those tom sounds, or play the floor tom with preparations on them. I guess you could say I was playing the kit orchestrally. It was fun to do something completely opposite to what I’d been doing the previous nine or ten months. I mean, I’ve multitracked on every Wilco record, but my way of thinking was more like, here’s the primary beat, and here’s the percussion. I’d hear a demo and think, okay, I need three tracks: a drumset part, then maybe a second drumset part with brushes, then percussion. But this time around I was thinking, here’s a pulse part, and here’s another part that goes with it, or here’s a part that goes against it. It was more about layering different ideas.
MD: You mentioned using antique drums, but in a way your whole concept seems very modern. Rethinking our knee-jerk reactions when sitting at a drumset—your concepts suggest that there are other ways to think, that you can free yourself of go-to ideas that we’re a slave to for better or worse.
Glenn: Yeah, and maybe there’s more of that than ever these days, because so much more of the drumming we hear is programmed, and with programming there aren’t those limitations of what you can do physically. A lot of producers who are programming are taking chances, doing whacky, crazy stuff, which I love. It’s liberating. Though you can fall into patterns there as well.
I’m super psyched that you think that it’s fresh, though so much of what I do comes from the original conception of the drumset. It’s a “kit.” The original kits had all these disparate instruments and Foley sound effects on them. Because those guys were backing up comedians and dancers and singers, they had this huge palette, and for me that’s what the drumset is. People are like, “So you play more like a percussion set,” and I’m like, “Yeah, but drums are percussion.” Drums should be that. Just because there’s not a steady beat throughout the whole song doesn’t mean it’s not drumming. Because you can go from one texture to another texture—that’s still drumming. I’m just using the kit more selectively.
MD: The drumset evolved into more of a homogeneous thing—by mid century it was basically one instrument in different sizes, with the same finish or wrap, plus cymbals, which were essentially also the same thing, just different sizes. It became an instrument.
Glenn: Right, and that was for very practical reasons—for transportation, for economic reasons. It just made sense. But I love to think of kits sculpturally and set them up in different arrays. Every time I play a collaborative show, the drumset looks totally different, because I have different needs. Even with Wilco, every record cycle it changes its appearance, because I have new things on it, and things I don’t need as much go away. And now it’s easier than ever. There are so many different products, so many different cymbals and sounds. And these days with my solo stuff I’m digging the Sensory Percussion system—now the possibilities are limitless in terms of what your sounds can be. My next solo project is more multimedia-based, because now you can do that from the drums. Instead of being a drummer, you can be mission control of this whole show that you can put on.
MD: In his autobiography, Jeff Tweedy talks about how he plays an acoustic guitar that has a very muted sound. What are your thoughts in terms of your sounds working within the sounds of the other players in Wilco?
Glenn: My sounds have to cater to the band setting, for sure. Jeff does that for his own specific reason—a bright, ringing guitar doesn’t work with his voice as well. I use Zildjian Special Dry cymbals because they go away so quickly, and they’re dark and fit with the music more. When I would bring up other “normal” cymbals, it would drive some of my bandmates nuts. They just like the darker sound more, which I like as well. I think a lot of drummers do, especially now. It’s great, like a golden age of cymbals right now.
I’ll also use the Roots EQs on the drums for a half dozen or so songs. Those are good for that Ringo tea-towel sound, just to get a different timbre. I’m so glad my new kit has an 8” deep snare drum, because a highpitched snare drum doesn’t sound good with Wilco. The 8″ allows me to have a deep sound and keep the head tensioned to where it’s still responsive and fun to play.
And in general I do avoid “store-bought” sounds. It’s kind of a tenet of my duo On Fillmore—no sounds where you hear them and think, oh, that’s an egg shaker. I use a lot of really old sleigh bells and tambourines, shakers that are indigenous or that I customize. Besides my signature sticks, on the record I used antique brushes, mallets, and sticks.
For my birthday my wife got me a drumset from around 1918. It’s a WFL or Ludwig & Ludwig snare drum. The bass drum is an old marching drum with a painted head. It’s got a couple Chinese toms, a Turkish cymbal, nested cowbells, a ratchet—it’s a proper theater kit. I felt I wanted to play it with mallets and sticks of the era, so when I go to the Chicago Drum Show, or when I’m at Revival Drum Shop in Portland, I’ll ask [owner] Jose Medeles, “What antique brushes and sticks do you have?”
And when I go on tour in Europe or South America, they have different stuff in music stores than we do here. Live I use pretty much everything Promark makes. But I love finding these weird sticks that are used for some Portuguese marching band, or sticks made by hand in a shop in Hamburg. I got these metal flyswatters from this company in Germany. The original brushes were literally flyswatters. But I got some of those and cut them down to half their length, so they’re these little things with great big heads that make you play totally different from how you otherwise would. And they have a top and a bottom, so if you flip them, you get a different sound again.
Even common things like brushes are just different from how they used to be; they might have used a different-gauge wire than they do now. The sticks are fragile and brittle. But they make me play different. And when we made this new record, I wanted to see what it was like recording with these things. I just love playing brushes; they’re so useful outside of the context of jazz. I played brushes on at least one or two tracks from all the records I’ve made recently. On this Wilco record I was sometimes using three or four different brushes at the same time, just to get a different sound. Or I’d use multiple sticks at one time in my hand. Even if it takes you just a little bit out of your normal frame of mind—how you’re striking, and the motion, it all affects the sound.
MD: We talk so much about the differences in the sound of drums, but what you’re hitting them with is huge.
Glenn: After college, when I was touring all those years in the late ’90s with Paul K and the Weathermen and Birddog, with the singer-songwriters like Jim O’Rourke, I’d use a two-piece kit—a floor tom with a cocktailkit beater underneath and a snare, a hi-hat, maybe a cymbal, because we were traveling in rental cars. So since I only had two drums, I used a lot of different kinds of rods, sticks, brushes, and mallets, and preparations on the drums, so that the sound on each song could be totally different. And that carries forward to what I do now.
I think this is probably from my classical training in college with Jim Campbell, finding the exact right implement for this sound in percussion ensemble—playing a suspended cymbal with felt mallets versus yarn mallets versus rubber mallets. When you saw me at Radio City, I used taped-together brushes, nylon brushes, wire brushes customized with a shaker, or with coins taped to them.
Different kinds of rods, thin and thick, multiple rods at the same time. I have two different sets of drumset mallets that Promark built for me. I use my signature stick a lot, but also their SD5s and 7s, which have felt on the ends, just for one song. I have spatulas that I taped together. I use threaded rods with springs on the end.
The other players are switching guitars, and everyone’s got effects, the keyboards have unlimited settings—so why would the drummer have the same sounds for different songs? That’s why you’ll see Ashwin come up and put a shaker on the hi-hat for this song, or the bells or the tambourine—single row of jingles or double row. We have six or eight variations of what goes on the hi-hat. Sizzlers on or off.
MD: Tell us about the marching machine.
Glenn: It’s basically a wooden frame with dowels strung together to replicate feet marching. The dowels drop onto a piece of wood in a ripple effect. As a kid I did a lot of drum and bugle corps; I marched with the Cavaliers, and I remember seeing a Santa Clara Vanguard show—actually when I was still a kid, before I marched—and they had a marching machine on the sideline in the pit. It was hand-held. And I remember thinking, that’s such a cool sound. Then I stumbled upon it years later on hangs on my wall in my studio. And one day before going to a Wilco session, I brought a bunch of things just to see what would fit in—earth plates, this and that—and I tried the marching machine on a concert bass drum set up horizontally, instead of on a piece of wood. Jeff and Tom really dug it, so I was using it quite a bit on bass drum, then on piano benches as a snare drum sound, and combining those with other bass drums and snare drums to obscure it.
Now, to play it live I thought I could sample it, but it’s more fun and challenging to try to pull stuff off live. So I asked Jim Campbell’s son Colin, who’s a whiz with woodworking and works with Third Coast Percussion, to build me some that I could use on the road. Then Ashwin got together with him, and they modified a small one that’s connected to a remote hi-hat cable, so I can play it foot-operated. Then I had Sonor build me a 4×16 tom that’s basically like a robust hand drum, and that’s what the marching machine is sitting on.
MD: Which foot do you play it with?
Glenn: My right foot. I have four pedals. On the right I go between my bass drum pedal and the remote marching machine, and on the left I have my hi-hat and my foot cabasa, which I use to replicate some of the drum machine sounds and brush parts from the record, like on “Citizens.” I also have a handheld marching machine that I play on one song right now. I put a wooden circle on the floor tom and drop the marching machine on it.
I think it’s useful for people to make their own gear. Whenever I have the time to go back to teaching, I’m going to insist that students try to make or modify their own sticks and mallets. There’s just something about customizing and making your own sounds that’s really cool and part of our history, and I think it’s important for younger drummers because they will become more sound conscious.
I want to spark a drummer’s creativity by example. My last book, A Beat a Week, was about showing that this beat came because I played in steel band, this one came because I played timpani, this one I played because I learned how Elvin Jones interprets his ride cymbal beat, and I played it on the floor tom on this rock song…. My hope is that you can learn this cool beat, but also about the mentality of getting into it and applying aspects of it to your own playing.
MD: Did you find early in your record-making career that you had an outlet for these diverse interests?
Glenn: Yes, I realized that a lot of the singer-songwriters liked what I was doing with the minimal kits, with the shakers and jingles and preparations. I was also doing a lot of free improvising after college, sound explorations, electroacoustic things. That’s when I came up with the prepared snare drum that I used on “Monkey Chant” and that I still use. So it wasn’t just about the technique and the beats, which I love, but more about sound exploration.
MD: What was the first record you did that you felt really good about?
Glenn: There’s a Paul K and the Weathermen record called Love Is a Gas, which [Velvet Underground drummer] Maureen Tucker produced. That was right after college, and it was a formative thing for me because I had come out of college listening to a lot of the drum superstars of the ’90s. After immersing myself in the Velvet Underground to get ready for the recording, since I knew that Moe was producing, I was really digging her minimal approach. Also, I loved field recordings of African drumming, and that was also a big influence on Maureen. She could not be more different from a Weckl or a Vinnie or a Gadd, and it was nice to have that influence on me at that time as well.
MD: Can you talk about some of the players that excite you today?
Glenn: Oh, yeah! I love Joe Russo. He’s so free and open and musical. It’s a combination of different styles, too, because he’s playing mostly rock but has a jazz background, free improv. Ian Chang, the way he approaches beats and timekeeping, the stuttering and flexibility…. His playing is extremely unusual, extremely cool and fresh. Chris Corsano, I love playing with that guy when we improvise, but also just watching him in other settings. He’s a force of nature physically, the wall of sound he can get with two sticks. And it’s not gimmicks; he’s just a wonderful player.
Another guy I want to mention is Stephane San Juan. He’s in New York now, but he’s a French guy who worked in London, then moved to Mali and drummed with Amadou and Mariam. And then he met Moreno Veloso, [legendary Brazilian musician] Caetano Veloso’s son, and moved to Brazil, and that’s where I met him. On Fillmore played a percussion festival there ten or fifteen years ago with +2, which is Moreno, producer Kassin, and Domenico Lancellotti. Stephane was double drumming with Domenico, and the feel that these guys had was unreal. On Fillmore went back in 2013 or 2014, and we made a record in Rio with these guys, Happiness of Living. I was double drumming with Stephane, with Mauro Refosco on percussion, and it was incredible playing with those two guys. They’re both with David Byrne now—I think they actually played together for the first time on the On Fillmore record. So it was Darin Gray on bass, with Stephane, Mauro, and me as the drum section. And we had different guests come in on different songs. The record came out on Northern Spy two years ago, and we did shows at National Sawdust in Brooklyn and the Wilco festival in Massachusetts, and I got to double drum with Stephane again. Because he’s coming from African and French influences, and then being in Brazil for more than a decade, he’s got all of that stuff. There’s a song he wrote on the record called “Foli Ke” that’s in nine, and I never would have come up with that way of playing it—subdividing it. Being exposed to his drumming opened up a lot for me.
But there’s rarely a drummer that doesn’t inspire me somehow—even some awful drummers. Just the way they do something so bizarre and wacky. I’ll think, “That’s kind of cool—maybe I’ll try it this way…!”
Kotche’s Wilco Kit
Drums: Sonor SQ2 Maple ’70s Blue Oyster finish
14×14 floor tom
16×16 floor tom
6×16 gong drum
14×20 bass drum
Set of three low crotales (D#, E, F#, or two full octaves of crotales)
15″ Special Dry hi-hats
16″ Special Dry crash
20″ Kerope ride
19″ Special Dry crash
6″ FX Bel (custom)
12″ FX Spiral
Sticks, hand percussion, and accessories (from left on percussion table): Promark Glenn Kotche Signature sticks, Promark prototype blue rubber drumset mallets, plastic cooking spatula, Promark prototype brown rubber drumset mallets, laminated cooking chopsticks, Glenn Kotche Threaded Dowel Rods with springs, Promark B300 Accent wire brushes, Promark B600 nylon brushes, Promark TB6 Heavy wire brushes, Promark SD5 Hickory Light multipercussion sticks/mallets, Promark MT3 Shira Kashi Oak multipurpose felt mallets, out-of-the-drawer Crackshot leather mallets, Sonor wood clapper block, Index can shaker, Sonor large caxixi, Meinl small caxixi, Meinl fiberglass maraca, small bell shaker, four vintage Noah bell shakers, Nexus finger tape, Sonor drum key, hi-hat rod percussion stopper, cymbal sizzlers designed by Matthew Yeates
In stick bag, from left: Promark Cool Rods, Glenn Kotche threaded rods with springs, Promark prototype brown rubber drumset mallets, putty scrapers, Glenn-altered ping-pong shaker/Cool Rods, Promark SD7 Hickory Heavy multipercussion sticks/mallets, miscellaneous brushes, scrapers, and rubber-tipped sticks, outof- the-drawer Crackshot leather mallets, Promark Nylon webbed brushes
Kit accessories from left: Meinl Sleigh bells; Zildjian FX Frying Pan, Bell Cymbal, and prototype Chevron Zilbell, vintage Indian hi-hat bells, Meinl THH1BK hi-hat tambourine, Upcycled Percussion with hi-hat clutch, Keplinger hi-hat jingles (custom), mounted Korean shamen bells, Meinl mounted vibraslap, hanging vintage bells, Meinl FX wood handheld waterfall effect (long), Meinl foot cabasa, Snareweight M80 White on snare and M1 White on toms, Meinl double-row 8″ mounted wood tambourine, Meinl large back powder-coated tambourine, Roland SPD-SX sample pad (hidden in rack) with two BT-1 triggers mounted, 12″, 14″, and 16″ Roots EQ Solid tone controls, Index 14″ wood drumhead, hand-held marching machine designed by Colin Campbell, remote marching machine designed by Colin Campbell
Hardware: Sonor 600 series hi-hat and snare stands, 2000 series cymbal stands, and Giant Step bass drum pedal; Roc-N-Soc round throne
Heads: Evans G2 Coated snare batter and 300 snare side, G2 Coated tom batters and G1 Clear resonants, UV1 Coated gong drum batter, EMAD Coated bass drum batter and EQ3 NP Smooth White resonant
Mics: sE Electronics V Kick on bass drum, V Beat on toms, and V7 X on snare, V Beat on gong drum; Shure RPM181/C overheads and KSM137 on hi-hat
Inside Ode to Joy’s Beats
In this exclusive video, Glenn Kotche demonstrates his live approach to the multi-layered tracks on Wilco’s latest album.
The Beats Explained
Glenn Kotche on his approach to selected Wilco tracks and other recordings he’s made since his last MD cover story.
“Down I-5” (verse, from case/lang/veirs by Neko Case/k.d. lang, and Laura Viers)
I come up with a lot of beats like this that are inspired by something I could imagine Tony Allen doing—trying to use his vocabulary but integrating rudimental sticking combinations that I discovered when playing Steve Reich’s Clapping Music as a duo between right and left hands. So it’s in some middle ground between Afrobeat and classical-inspired rudimental drumming. A tricky beat, but it feels so good to just zone in and repeat it ad nauseam.
“Honey and Smoke” (verse, from case/lang/veirs)
For this I just tried to balance out the first and second halves of the beat in order to give the song more room to breathe and give k.d. lang’s amazing vocals more space. The first part has snare hits on the “and” of beat 2 that mostly happen in a space left by the vocals. For the second half I displace the snare hit, moving it up an 8th note, and play the backbeat on the floor tom, which is less intrusive under the vocals.
“Chalk It Up to Chi” (chorus, from Love Letter for Fire by Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop)
The first half of this beat is essentially a re-orchestrated broken triplet, taking the sticking of a fill or lick idea and turning it into a pattern that balances nicely with the more traditional second half of the beat.
“Rebel Heart” (verse, from Ruins by First Aid Kit)
The first two counts are a recurring statement, and counts 3 and 4 are basically variations on the theme of an early snare hit on the “and” of 3, and then played three different ways. After I played this, [First Aid Kit’s] Klara and Johanna S.derberg said they knew they wanted this to be the lead track—something about the presence of the drums and that beat. I bet at its core, though, this is just me regurgitating either some take on Ringo’s “Ticket to Ride” beat, or Tim Welch’s fantastic groove on Paul K and the Weathermen’s “The Grid.”
“Albion Moonlight” (verse, from Modern Country by William Tyler)
The hi-hat with shaker attachment provides the implied doubletime backbeat for this groove (or backbeat if you feel the beat at q=112 instead). I use the tambourine and floor tom pairing of extreme high and low to provide the counter, regular backbeat (or half-time backbeat if at 112). The tambourine/floor tom combination seems to blend better with the sounds of the other instruments and offers more contrast and counterpoint to the hi-hat shaker than a snare sound would.
“Jornada Inteira” (verse, from Happiness of Living by On Fillmore)
The hands part on this is a two-against-three rhythm. When I filled in the spaces with the bass drum and orchestrated the hands around the kit, it gave the song a cool off-kilter vibe. I also tried to not do the obvious 6/8 beat here and instead thought one in 3/4 would take the song into more interesting and unexpected areas.
“Cave Crickets” (verse, from Happiness of Living)
This beat is basically a loose drum interpretation of Darin Gray’s bass line with a little added punctuation at the end. I use a cowbell as the ride and move my left hand between the snare (snares off) and floor tom. The bass drum mostly reinforces the right hand.
“Locator” (verse, from Schmilco by Wilco)
This is half me trying to be Jaki Liebezeit and half just playing around with Stick Control patterns between my snare drum and bass drum.
“We Aren’t the World” (verse, from Schmilco)
This one is deceptively difficult due to the left foot hi-hat (with tambourine attachment) sliding forward an 8th note from where our bodies are used to playing it. But doing that gives the first two counts a nice linear sound that then all collides and stacks up for the resolution on the last two counts. The tambourine really sticks out since the “ride”/right-hand part is just a doubling of the bass drum part, played with a mallet on the floor tom.
“King of You” (verse, from Star Wars by Wilco)
This beat has a reversed backbeat, so the snare hits are on counts 1 and 3. This works better with the guitar parts and the snare drum and bass drum playing the exact guitar rhythms. The right-hand, hi-hatride part helps to keep all of the upbeat bass drum notes anchored.
“The Joke Explained” (verse, from Star Wars)
For this song I constantly displace/delay snare hits at various points in the verses to go along with the phrasing of the guitar parts. The hi-hat has a tambourine attached and often takes the place of the displaced snare hits. This constant interplay between the snare and hi-hat tambourine really stands out since there is no ride ostinato, but instead a crisp and dark shaker part that I play with the right hand.
“More…” (verse, from Star Wars)
This is just the beat that I came up with on the spot, but I later noticed that it’s inspired by my days in steel band back in college at Kentucky. The first four beats are essentially a re-orchestrated calypso with the accents split between snare drum and floor tom flams. The hi-hat and bass drum parts add a linear or pattern aspect to the first four counts and then act as anchors for the last two counts, which have a more straight-ahead double-time feel.