Andy Stack is one of those “I’m not really a drummer” guys. You know the type: they’ll make a mark as, say, a killer guitarist, start playing drums on the side, and the next thing you know they’re blowing away every other kit player in town.
Stack attended Berklee College of Music as a bassist, but his natural musical talent allowed his drumming skills to catch up with his four-string chops pretty quickly. But there’s even more going on with the musician, who, a decade after his Berklee tenure, is on the road behind the skins in support of The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs, the fifth album by the indie-rock duo Wye Oak. Alongside the band’s other half, vocalist and guitarist Jenn Wasner, Stack plays drums with his right hand while simultaneously playing bass lines and other textures on a keyboard with his left.
It’s a challenge for sure, but it’s all in a day’s work for Stack, who identifies more as a stage producer who manipulates sounds and colors than as a drummer bringing the flash. “The one-handed live situation is something that’s usually a way to adapt what I do on recordings and to figure out what the essence of the part is,” he explains. “It ends up feeling like when you’re drumming and you drop a stick. All of a sudden you have to make it work for a few bars with one hand—except I’m doing that all the time. [laughs] But realistically, it’s not just one hand. It’s also two feet and all these workarounds. Concurrently, you figure out what your brain is capable of doing on the left-hand keyboard and electronics side. For me it’s about figuring out how much I can do without disturbing the flow. When I got to the point where it was flowing—because I started as a bass player and the bass and drums are so intrinsically linked—it kind of felt like one instrument, one engine.”
Live, the band produces a significant amount of sound considering their two-person lineup. To achieve this, Stack makes the most of technological advances. “I’ve started to incorporate Ableton into the setup,” he says. “I don’t want to be working with tracks. Even if it’s for my own ego, when I sit down and play I want to feel like I’m performing. I don’t want to feel like I’m tethering myself to some machine. So I’m triggering samples, and I do a lot of live audio processing, like splitting the hi-hat or snare mics and sending them into Ableton so I can dub stuff out. I’m also turning knobs or pushing faders to delay sweeps of my dubbed-out snare or hi-hat. And on the last couple of records, there are heavy compositional delays on the drums, with the same drum part copied an 8th or dotted quarter note later. So it creates a different version of the groove. I have to figure out how to make that work live.”
As Wye Oak’s music has gotten denser and more involved with each of its releases, Stack’s drumming has followed suit. The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs has so much going on that the band will add a third member to fully flesh out the material in concert. “Adding a bassist doesn’t necessarily mean that now I’m just the drummer and my role is simplified,” Stack says. “I still end up playing one-handed. But rather than just playing bass parts, I’m acting as the producer or brain. I think about drum programming and what space the drums should occupy way more than what the pattern is.”
Andy Stack plays C&C drums and Istanbul Agop cymbals and uses Shure microphones.
Also on the Road
Matt Cameron with Pearl Jam /// Carter Beauford with the Dave Matthews Band /// Rick Allen with Def Leppard /// Dave McClain with Machine Head /// Tommy Aldridge with Whitesnake /// Alan White with Yes /// Will Hunt with Evanescence /// Josh Eppard with Coheed and Cambria /// Mark O’Connell with Taking Back Sunday