Sometimes the job you were meant to do comes about when you least expect it. For this drummer, the opportunity came decades after he first imagined it.
In 2015, after relocating from Baltimore to California, and barely into a hiatus from covering drums and guitar with heavy art rockers And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Jamie Miller got a referral to be in a band he’d been listening to since he was a teenager. “I think that same month, Brooks [Wackerman] had quit Bad Religion,” Miller tells it. “A friend of mine, Zach Blair [Rise Against guitarist, and Miller’s bandmate in post-hardcore all-star act Vanishing Life], had talked to Brian Baker from Bad Religion about possible candidates. My name was thrown in the hat, and I got an email about a month later, asking if I’d want to come down and jam with the guys.”
If you’ve caught Jamie Miller live with Bad Religion or have heard him on his debut with the band, Age of Unreason, it’s easy to tell he’d been preparing for the job for a long time. Miller rises to the task of treating a forty-year-old punk band’s deep catalog with the proper care that fans can appreciate, while adding enough of his own style to breathe some new life into the show. We talked with Miller as the band was preparing to celebrate the publication of its autobiography, Do What You Want: The Story of Bad Religion.
MD: Was Bad Religion a part of your upbringing?
Jamie: Absolutely. I was a little more of a new wave kid who sort of dabbled in punk. I can’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget that there was a guy in my high school who had a crossbuster [Bad Religion’s logo] painted on the back of his leather jacket. He was like the one punk kid in my school. I asked him, “What’s that?” He’s like, “Dude, it’s this band from California.” He actually gave me a really poor cassette copy of Suffer. That was my introduction to Bad Religion way back then. Every one of the guys in my old band Snot were huge fans—we didn’t really get along personally or musically, but we all liked Bad Religion. So it’s really kind of wild to have ended up in the band.
MD: You grew up in a musical family but never took drum lessons. How much do rudiments factor into your approach to punk drumming?
Jamie: I do come from a musical family, and it’s true that I never had a proper drum lesson. I did join the school band in middle school, though, which taught me how to read and write charts, which is obviously the best thing ever for session work. Because I came into the school band with abilities, the teacher skipped the rudiments and just taught me how to sight read. I now find myself watching tons of stuff online because I love learning something new. I love watching Dave Weckl, Thomas Lang, and Dave Elitch videos. I don’t find myself using any particular stickings or rudiments; I tend to just do what the song needs, but then I will throw in something I figure Terry Bozzio would do to make it interesting.
MD: You’re the latest in a long line of drummers in the band. As far as the drumming style, did you have any particular favorite period of the band?
Jamie: Not really. They’re all so different. I mean, it’s sort of like there’s a blueprint for Bad Religion drums, but they all did it a different way. I really like some of the oddball stuff from when they were just kids, because none of them really knew how to play, so their first few drummers, like Pete Finestone and Jay Ziskrout, came up with all these neat things that I think a drummer who knew what they were doing wouldn’t necessarily do. So I find that kind of fascinating. And then having to recreate kind of amateur drum patterns nowadays is always a fun challenge for me.
MD: What were your marching orders coming in as far as how they wanted you to execute this huge catalog, almost forty years’ worth of work?
Jamie: Brooks [Wackerman] was there for a decade and a half or something, and the main instruction when I came in was to play it more like the records. Brooks is just a technical monster, and I guess he likes to play extraordinarily fast, which is great, but they were like, “We’d like the stuff to be kind of back-to-normal tempos.” But the only real instruction was just to keep it true to the records but do your own thing. So that’s just been kind of my whole thing, approaching it as an amalgamation of the nine drummers before me, you know, like where Brooks was this super-technical guy and Bobby [Schayer] was more of a punk drummer. I can do both the technical stuff and the sloppy punk stuff, so I’m just kind of mixing it all together.
“I always joke that I’m a huge fan of the Daves: I love everyone from Dave Weckl to Dave Lombardo. And I try to use a little bit of everybody’s everything whenever I can.”
MD: Are there any other stylistic touchstones or players that you referenced when you were putting together your “composite drummer” for this band?
Jamie: I kind of always revert back to childhood, like I’ve always been obsessed with Terry Bozzio. I think I watched that Solo Drums DVD from the ’80s with the giant hair like at least once a day. It’s always like, “What would Bozzio do back before he got the enormous drum kit?” Obviously, you can’t use any of that in punk music, but I can kind of play like he would.
I always joke that I’m a huge fan of the Daves: I love everyone from Dave Weckl to Dave Lombardo. And I try to use a little bit of everybody’s everything whenever I can. But really, with a band like Bad Religion, it’s sort of like being in AC/DC; you kind of have to do the AC/DC thing more than put your stamp on it. So with Bad Religion I can do this or I can do that, but I should probably stick to the script because that’s what the fans really like. But every once while I get to do some fun stuff.
MD: What was the recording process like for Age of Unreason?
Jamie: The recording process with Bad Religion was a bit like how a lot of sessions are these days. The primary songwriters, Brett [Gurewitz] and Greg [Graffin], make pretty elaborate demos at home, so song arrangements and basic drum patterns are there. There is, however, for me at least, a lot of room to make it my own. That said, there is a sort of formula to the BR sound, so I tried not to stray too far from that. One cool thing was the song “[Do the] Paranoid Style,” which Brett wrote around a drum pattern he heard me play at my first audition with the band. We were about to run through a song of theirs called “Sinister Rouge,” which features a few bars of double bass drumming, and at the time, I hadn’t even looked at a double pedal since the early ’90s. So I played the part with the kick and floor tom, and he thought that was cool and made a mental note of it. I’ve since gone on a crash course of relearning double bass, and I’m proud to say I’m back up to ’80s metal level.
MD: “Paranoid Style” feels pummeling in that section, almost machine-like. Was the whole record tracked to a click?
Jamie: It didn’t feel machine-like because while the songs were there, I was able to try different ideas. Greg will program a basic, song-appropriate pattern and leave it up to me to make it my own, and if something doesn’t sound right to him, he’ll make suggestions. Brett does the same but doesn’t like programmed drums. He has more specific ideas of what he wants the drums to do, so I’ll try things and he’ll be more hands on with the final performance. A click was used because while on the surface it may seem like in punk, everything is the same speed, but each song has a specific tempo, and it’s a very precise set of secret calculations. Also, I like to track drums with a little knowledge of what the vocals are going to do. I really enjoy syncopation on the drums with vocal lines, and the demos had fully formed scratch vocals, so that was helpful. As I said, it’s so commonplace for sessions to be like this nowadays, I didn’t find it strange. It’s a pretty efficient way of maximizing studio time.
MD: I’m assuming Bad Religion keeps you busy enough, but have you picked up any session work in your downtime?
Jamie: I haven’t picked up many sessions recently, other than engineering and mixing a record for a band called Aceoteric and the Future Past Lives. I ended up playing drums on a bunch of the songs because, why not? I am, however, currently making a record on my own during the pandemic downtime. I grew up loving the Billy Cobham, Tony Williams drum-centric records, so I’m making an attempt at my own version of that.
MD: Wait a minute, you’re making a fusion record?
Jamie: Ha! Could you imagine, “Guy from Bad Religion attempts fusion”? Although what I’m doing is probably equally eye-roll inducing. I’ve always loved analog synths and have collected a few cool ones. The tracks I’m making, to oversimplify, think Risky Business soundtrack or even the Stranger Things theme song with drumming a little more Dave Lombardo than Dave Weckl. It might be the worst thing ever, but it is a lot of fun to make.
Drums: Yamaha Live Custom Hybrid Oak in Uzu Magma Sunburst
A. 5×14 Pearl Jupiter snare drum
B. 17×6 custom tube tom (on a tom stand)
C. 8×12 tom (on snare stand)
D. 15×16 floor tom
E. 16×18 floor tom
F. 15×24 bass drum (with packing blanket inside)
G. 6.5×14 Recording Custom brass snare (spare)
1. 15″ Paragon hi-hats
2. 20″ AAX X-Plosion crash
3. 22″ AAX heavy ride
4. 20″ HHX Evolution ride (used as a crash)
5. 20″ AAX O-Zone crash
Hardware: Yamaha DFP-9500D direct-drive double pedal with Vater red wood beaters, SS-950 snare stand, HS-1200T two-legged hi-hat stand, 800 series stands, DW microphone stand attached to the Porter & Davies BC2 throne, and Lasko fan
Heads: Remo Ambassador Coated snare batter and Hazy bottom, Controlled Sound Black Dot tom batters and Ambassador Clear bottoms, Powersonic bass drum batter and custom logo head on front
Sticks: Vater Universal model
Accessories: Vater stick tape, drink/phone holder, stick bag
Drum Technician: Greg “Shakes” Stocks
We were able to meet up with Jamie Miller while he was still on tour with legendary punk-rock band Bad Religion to chat a bit about the gear he’s been using and why. “I actually prefer oak [drum shells] now,” Miller says. “I think oak has more low end than maple. Most drummers are familiar with how maple reacts and sounds, and oak is just new territory. They sound deeper to me.”
Miller carries a few snares on tour in order to adapt to acoustical differences between venues. “Normally we’re using the Yamaha brass 6.5×14,” he says. “But we’ve been having a problem with stage volume on this tour, so I switched to my old trusty 1969 Pearl Jupiter chrome over brass, because it’s quieter. The Yamaha snares are crushers, but apparently they’re too loud for the stages [we’re playing].”
Continuing the rig rundown, Miller introduced us to the custom tube drum that Yamaha doesn’t normally produce, which he nicknamed the “yactoban.” “They made one for Shannon Larkin of Godsmack,” Jamie says. “He’s my bud, and now I’ve got one too.”
The 18″ floor tom is miked from inside and has a Remo foam muffle underneath the batter head, which makes the tom sound like another kick drum. “I do some double kick stuff that incorporates this into it, and it’s like I have three legs,” says Miller. The plastic of the bottom head is removed, but the collar and hoop remain in place. Miller recalls stealing this idea from a picture of Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich’s kit. “When you don’t want [to use a bottom] head, but you don’t want the lugs to rattle, just keep the rim on there,” says Miller. In regard to tuning, Miller explains, “The bass drum is kind of tight and dead, so I can play fast on it. But the toms are tuned pretty low.”
Was there an overall inspiration behind this setup? “My kit has always been sort of based on Buddy Rich’s,” says Miller. “He was my favorite drummer growing up. The [tube drum] was inspired by Stewart Copeland, who’s one of my other favorites.”
Interview by John Martinez
MD: Watching you play a Trail of Dead show always seemed like witnessing an endurance test. You also switched to guitar for part of the show. What’s it like in Bad Religion?
Jamie: For some reason I’m so lucky that endurance isn’t really a factor for me. I have no idea why. With Trail of Dead the hard thing was once you started getting kind of in the groove, it’s like, “Okay, now I’ve got to play five songs on guitar,” and it just takes you out of your groove. And to me that was really jarring. It was fun to do it, but I find just sitting back there for a ninety-minute Bad Religion set just on the drums…I’m just coasting. It’s so easy. Whereas with Trail of Dead it was like, play four songs on drums, now play four songs on guitar and completely cool the muscles down, and then go back and play the drums again. So I find being on the drums the whole time much easier.
MD: Is your warmup any different these days?
Jamie: No, it hasn’t really changed. I just do what most guys do with a practice pad and some sticks. But one thing I started doing was, I saw a video of Gene Hoglan warming up with three drumsticks taped together, so I jokingly did that one day. I originally did it as a goof, but I think it actually works. Right before we go on, for about ten minutes, I’ll grab what we call the trident sticks, and I’ll just kind of warm up with three sticks taped together. It’s sort of like in baseball, warming up with the bat with the extra weight. I find that especially when we open up with one of the fastest songs, warming up with those heavy sticks just kind of gets you pre-warmed up to that first fast song rather than, you know, taking a song to get into it.
MD: I can totally see that working for Gene. Have you busted out the ankle weights, or are you still single-kick only?
Jamie: No, I’m doing double kick. I had played a little double kick when I was a kid and then just sort of fell out of it because there were always guys that I thought were better, and I was more of a Bonham kind of guy back then. But when I kind of got refamiliarized with the Bad Religion stuff, I realized that Brooks was playing a lot of double-kick stuff. So I figured I should probably learn a little bit of this, and now I’m using a double pedal again, and it’s super fun. I love it.
MD: Do you find any parts of the Bad Religion catalog particularly challenging?
Jamie: No particular challenges—it’s like everything’s kind of within my wheelhouse, from the Brooks era down to when they were all fifteen. I kind of feel like I light up a little more when I play the stuff that I used to listen to as a kid, you know, the Suffer record, the No Control–era stuff. I’ll be playing a song like “No Control” like, Wow, I remember listening to this when I was fifteen! This is awesome. Now I’m playing it. But playing our new stuff is really fun just because it’s actually my drumming. So that’s always a lot of fun to do. I actually helped write this. This is cool playing my beats this time.
Story by Stephen Bidwell, Photography by Clair McAllister and John Martinez