Sparks’s Tammy Glover
Story by Ken Micallef
Photos by Alex Solca
By day, Tammy Glover is a mild-mannered senior vice president of production with FremantleMedia, the talent conglomerate that has produced such reality-TV shows as American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and The X Factor. But by night she trades in her BlackBerry for drumsticks. Playing for the esteemed, idiosyncratic rock band Sparks and for her own retro-rocking outfit, Thorcraft Cobra, Glover sends a titanic rhythmic message that is both sludgy and solid. Sorry, Hal Blaine, but Tammy Glover is today’s one-woman wrecking crew, possessing the kind of rhythmic and music-business knowledge that makes her the envy of budding rock stars and MBAs alike.
Since joining Sparks on the road in support of its 1997 album, Plagiarism, Glover has recorded Balls (2000), Lil’ Beethoven (2002), Hello Young Lovers (2006), Exotic Creatures of the Deep (2008), and The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman (2009). Tammy approaches her job with brothers Ron and Russell Mael as the first-class touring opportunity it is, performing at posh venues worldwide and soaking in the international sun.
Conversely, Thorcraft Cobra, Glover’s raging rock furnace with band partner Billy Zimmer, is where she gets her hands dirty, slapping tubs like some punk raised on the Ramones, Ringo, and Tony Thompson. Count It In, the group’s debut recording, is as far from television’s halls of commerce as Beijing is from Bollywood, but it’s all in a day’s (or night’s) work for Tammy Glover.
MD: How does your drumming differ between Sparks and Thorcraft Cobra?
Tammy: Ron and Russell have a unique process. As people they are very quirky and eccentric. Everything is highly demoed, and I come in and play exactly what they want me to play. They have a vision for the music. Everything is very symphonic and operatic, so I have parts that come in and fly out. And the parts have evolved since I began playing with them in 1996. We’ve done straight-ahead pop songs, and more recently they’ve been experimenting with form, with different kinds of sonic possibilities that tell pop songs in a different way. A lot of that is about repetition. To achieve it, they’ll have a specific number of bars in a section that will repeat.
For instance, “My Baby’s Taking Me Home” [from Lil’ Beethoven] builds and builds, and the refrain becomes something different as it goes on. An outro with Sparks might last sixty-four bars, and it’s all very specific. Every instrument is part of that batter being made into the mix of that particular song.
MD: How do you keep track of all these parts?
Tammy: They teach it to me, or they’ll use loops. Then I’ll play a Roland V-Drums kit. That lets them change and replace the sounds. Also, sometimes within an arrangement they will drop or add beats in some bars. They might throw in a bar of 3/4 or 2/4 within a really repetitive pattern. Or 4/4 will turn into a bar of 5/4 and then back to 4/4. That keeps people on their toes.
MD: Do you play V-Drums live?
Tammy: I have, but I don’t like to. I prefer an acoustic kit in the live environment. Sparks’ body of work is very stylized. A few years ago we re-created [the group’s classic 1974 album] Kimono My House at Royal Festival Hall. None of the drum sounds on that record could have been created with the V-Drums—it’s a very bashy, acoustic album. So we did everything with the acoustic kit. Dinky Diamond set the template for all of that iconic ’70s Sparks material—really cool drum fills. I enjoyed learning all his parts. And they influence what I record with them now.
MD: And what is your recording process with Thorcraft Cobra?
Tammy: It’s like a normal band! Things start with a guitar riff, then Billy comes up with some ideas and we experiment. We record drums, then layer parts after that.
MD: You play behind the beat. How do you approach the click?
Tammy: Playing with Sparks taught me how to play with a click. I was uncomfortable with the click before joining them, but everything is so sequenced that I had to make it work. My dad, Howie Glover, is a drummer, so I’ve been playing my whole life. He’s an amazing drummer who played in a lot of country-and-western bands—Lefty Frizzell was probably his biggest gig—and setting the foundation for a song was his thing. That translates to my sitting behind the click and being really comfortable with it; basically that comes from experience. I was a marching-band geek and in the jazz band at school. I studied from one of Roy Burns’ books and learned all my rudiments.
MD: Why did Sparks hire you?
Tammy: They heard me with my earlier band, Chewy Marble, and asked me to audition. I played three of their iconic songs at the audition. I didn’t think I got the gig, because I didn’t hear from them for a while. Then they called me to play a festival in Paris. I went from playing L.A. club gigs to performing in front of 10,000 people.
MD: You were vice president of production with Comedy Central from 2007 to 2011; now you’re senior VP of production with FremantleMedia. You have rare insight into the music and entertainment business. Do you forget all that when you play with Thorcraft Cobra? Surely your business experience helps with starting a new band.
Tammy: No, it really doesn’t. I still think of the music business as mercurial and hard to penetrate. If anything, I’m really cognizant of the boundaries of my job versus my drumming.
Tammy: Because it impairs my credibility in both jobs to be promoting one in the world of the other.
MD: But to have your knowledge would be invaluable to the success of any young band, wouldn’t it? Or do you just enjoy being in a rock band?
Tammy: Yep, I completely embrace that. When I was at Comedy Central I became friends with one of the music supervisors. She was doing TV pilots, and she placed Thorcraft Cobra music in a ton of them. Then when I was negotiating my deal for Fremantle, her brother was working in a show called Wedding Band. When I came to Fremantle, I had to immerse myself in that pilot, and it contained Thorcraft Cobra music. I immediately had it replaced to avoid conflict of interest. So I am hypersensitive to not promote anything I do in my shows. If I had an agenda, I would lose credibility.
MD: The club rats out there would have questions for you about the industry, though—something as simple as, “How do I make my band more attractive to a label or to the media?” You understand better than most how the industry works. Any gigging musician would love to bend your ear.
Tammy: I don’t apply that to my situation, but I can answer those questions. First of all, as a gigging drummer, you must have publishing. If you are in a band, you can’t be a work-for-hire musician; you need to be part of the songwriting process. And in every way. You need to understand technology, you need to understand how publishing works, you need to know what “source cue” means—music that is literally in the movie or TV scene, as opposed to the score. You have to know how to “spot” music—the process that directors use to determine where music occurs with the visuals. All that can make you an invaluable part of the team.
I do think there are more and more opportunities to use legitimate songs in TV and film; ten years ago there was a much bigger emphasis on composed music and library music. Now popular music seeps into everything, and there is a much bigger market for real musicians and real bands to have their songs placed as source music. That’s like the lottery. The more times at bat you have, the more opportunity you’ll have to click with an audience and break out. That began in television shows like Gossip Girl. Now with reality and cable television, to place music in those shows is a legitimate way to have a hit.
MD: Does an artist need a manager to place songs?
Tammy: No, it’s about getting your music to a music supervisor; they choose the tracks that go in a show or film. Drummers, with our knowledge of pacing and feel and rhythm, make amazing music editors. It’s a great transitional job for a drummer, in the same way that drummers can program and create tracks to be used in multiple scenarios. It’s the same skill set.
MD: How do you balance band duties with your day job?
Tammy: I take vacations. I also have a family that I’m devoted to. I’ve been lucky to see the world with Sparks. It’s great to go to a city and all I have to do is play a show. I’m a ringer in Sparks, so when we tour nobody really wants to talk to me! But the idea that I could have a parallel career has been great. It looks like it was by design, but it was absolutely not. It’s truly been amazing.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
“I basically play three kits,” Glover says. “One is a 1953 Gretsch red sparkle set that belonged to my dad. It originally came with a 22″ kick, a 14″ snare, a 13″ rack tom, and a 16″ floor tom. In the ’60s my dad added a second rack tom. He played these drums through the ’80s, and I inherited them after he retired.
“My Roland V-Drums kit that I use to record with Sparks has a TD-10 percussion module with a TDW-1 expansion board. I use the mesh V-Pad PDX-100 drums with CY-14C V-Cymbals, but I cannibalized my old PD-7 kit and still use one of the pads for my hi-hat and an old 18″ Pintech TC series electronic cymbal as a ride. With that kit, I use the Roland KD-120 V-Kick trigger pad and snare pad as well.
“My third kit is a birch Yamaha Stage Custom with a deep-blue finish for playing live. It has a 20″ kick, 10″ and 12″ toms, and a 14″ floor tom. I have a 6×14 chrome Supra-Phonic Ludwig snare that I use with that kit. Years ago I found a retro round hat case that fits the snare perfectly, so I travel with it in that.
“My Zildjian cymbals, which I also inherited from my father, include 14″ Mastersound hi-hats, a 16″ crash, and two hand-hammered ‘trans stamp’ cymbals—a 20″ crash and a 22″ ride. They are the sweetest cymbals I’ve ever heard and are instantly recognizable on any recording.
“My electronics include an ancient Mackie Micro twelve-channel mixer, Vic Firth headphones, and, live, custom Future Sonics in-ears.”
Glover’s drumheads include Remo Coated Ambassador tom batters and Clear Ambassador bottoms, a Coated Ambassador snare batter and Diplomat bottom, and a Coated Ambassador bass drum batter and Yamaha logo front head. On her Gretsch bass drum she uses a Remo Fiberskyn, because, she says, “it has such a cool, warm sound.”
Tammy uses Vic Firth Extreme 5A drumsticks with Vic Grip, and a DW 5000 bass drum pedal.