Get Him to the Gig
by Lowell Parker
Even if you’ve never heard of Victor Indrizzo, you’ve heard Victor Indrizzo—frequently. As a prolific L.A.-based session player, he’s on an astounding number of hit records that span a wide range of genres, including rock, hip-hop, country, singer-songwriter, and Latin music. Due to Indrizzo’s chameleonlike ability to incorporate himself into any situation and play the appropriate thing, top producers like Joe Chiccarelli continually turn to him for tracking drums. From the punk-influenced pop of Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” to the earthy, bare-bones approach of Willie Nelson’s Teatro album, Indrizzo delivers with a sound that Chiccarelli describes as “the perfect combination of band-member swagger and studio-drummer finesse.”
Indrizzo’s diversity and flexibility have led to opportunities to play with countless major artists. You’ll hear Victor on Alanis Morissette’s 2012 studio album, Havoc and Bright Lights, and tour document Live at Montreux 2012, as well as on records by Colbie Caillat, Sheryl Crow, Depeche Mode, Macy Gray, Shakira, and Rob Thomas. Of particular note is his playing on the eclectic Mexican band Café Tacvba’s album Cuatro Caminos, which won the 2004 Grammy for Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album and Latin Grammys for Best Alternative Album and Best Rock Song for the track “Eres.” Cuatro Caminos was also named Best Album of the Decade by the popular global-pop website ClubFonograma.com.
In addition to his other session work, Indrizzo is active recording movie scores and soundtracks, including Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Wedding Crashers, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. He’s even found himself in front of the camera, as a member of the group Infant Sorrow in Get Him to the Greek. And as film scores have evolved to include more popular styles, the demand for the drummer’s services has increased. Feature-film composer and former Beck guitarist Lyle Workman frequently uses Indrizzo for his movie projects, due to his “superb feel, timing, and choice of sound.”
Despite the major impression he’s made across music and movies—and on stage, touring with Beck, Samiam, and Scott Weiland, among others—Indrizzo may well be the industry’s best-kept secret when it comes to drumming. His name is not common knowledge among casual music fans, and with downloading and streaming technology keeping liner notes out of listeners’ hands, Indrizzo and session drummers like him may largely continue to remain a relative secret. But with his wealth of knowledge and experience and his vast catalog of exceptional drumming, Indrizzo is a player that every student of the craft should be familiar with. After all, you’ve already been listening to him.
MD: You’ve collaborated with such a wide range of artists that it’s difficult to even categorize the work you’ve done. How did you become a go-to session drummer?
Victor: I got into session drumming as a fluke. I was a band guy, and a resurgence of punk-influenced rock started happening in the early ’90s. Labels were signing up all these bands, but none of the guys could play to a click track. I could, so I started ghosting on their records. I started getting work. I never really thought it would be possible for me to go into sessions, because I wasn’t a schooled musician. But luckily, slowly, by building on that ability and through being a fan of so many different styles of music, I just started getting in there more and more. One guy tells another guy, who tells another guy, who tells another, and I find myself working.
MD: Would you expand on the subject of playing with a click?
Victor: Playing with a click can be very daunting. Very early on, when I was a kid, I remember reading in Modern Drummer a roundtable interview with a bunch of session guys, and they were all talking about playing with clicks and how important that was. And I took that very seriously. When I was about nineteen, I was doing my first record and I didn’t want to get replaced. I knew I had to practice with a click track, so I bought a metronome and started sleeping with it under my pillow and spending a lot of time with it to erase the fear of it. I would imagine different beats all around the click: half time, double time, everything. Just having it as part of the groove made things so much easier for me.
Since then, I’ve played to clicks almost every day of my life, which has made me very comfortable with it. I’m the kind of player who doesn’t want to think about things other than what I’m doing or feeling. And if I have to start thinking about the click track, then I’m already in trouble. So it was really necessary for me to get to a place where the click felt like just one more thing that I was playing along with, as opposed to something I’m trying to follow. So now when I’m playing with a click track, it’s just part of everything that’s going on in the song. I’ve learned how to lay behind it a little bit, or go on top of it to make the song sound a little more urgent, or I can just hang right with it.
MD: Once you began doing sessions, was there a certain point when you decided to pursue it as a career?
Victor: There are so many factors in actually making a living playing drums. I think nowadays it’s probably harder than ever, and for younger guys coming up and starting, it can be brutal. But I think it depends on the individual. I always had an attitude of, “This is what I’m going to do—there is nothing else.” I was a high school dropout and I knew I wanted to play music, so I just went after it like there was no other choice for me.
I’ve always been of the mindset that I say yes to almost everything. If someone’s going to pay me to play drums, then that is a winning scenario. Now, as a father with kids, there are obviously things I can’t do because they don’t pay enough. But with that being said, I’ve always been the guy willing to work as hard or as long as necessary and do whatever I have to do to make a living at this. And over many years of drumming, it’s paid off and I’ve gotten into a nice spot where I can do it.
But I also know that my situation can change. I look at the history of musicians—guys who were the top session drummers—and there just comes a day when the phone stops ringing. It may be that what they’re doing has gone out of style, or maybe people want to use the younger guy—there are tons of reasons. So I just keep going after it like it’s all I’ve got.
I think it’s going to be harder for the next generation of guys. The thing that’s harder about the music business now is that people are less willing to take chances. Let’s say you’re a young drummer who comes to Los Angeles and you want to play on a record. Nobody wants to take the chance if they don’t know you. Whereas before, the budgets were so big that they could afford to lose a day if you didn’t work out. They’d let you try for a day, and if you weren’t cutting it they’d just call the next guy. Now, if they lost a day, it would be a tragedy. They don’t have the budgets anymore to spend a day on a guy who’s not cutting it.
MD: How much of your work involves live studio sessions, as opposed to using file transfers and working remotely?
Victor: It varies. I have my own studio, and people often come to me with a hard drive, and I can track drums. But it does fluctuate. Sometimes there will be a bunch of sessions where all the guys are there, the top guys, and we just knock out a bunch of songs in a day.
Willie Nelson’s Teatro is one of my favorite records that we recorded live. It’s a bit of an odd album and was very fun and scary to record. I had previously met the producer, Daniel Lanois, when working with Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots. Meeting Daniel was a big deal, and it led to so many other great things for me, Teatro being one of them. The album was recorded completely live, with everybody in the room. There was no preproduction. Willie would play through the song one time, and then we would start recording. We were to do no more than two takes of any song.
There was no bass player—Daniel played bass on maybe two of the songs. When you’re playing drums without a bass player, it feels very naked. For direction, all Daniel said to me was, “Don’t play anything typical.” I was already nervous enough to be in the room with all those people—it was such a big deal for me—and then to be told not to play anything typical, I was petrified. But I feel really proud of that record and how it turned out.
Other times, there are only a couple guys in the studio, typically the bass player and myself, tracking the stuff almost after the fact. Quite often, especially on the more pop stuff, the drums are tracked last.
These days, things have to get done a lot faster, and it’s not uncommon to track a record in just two days, and in some cases one day. While this can lead to more opportunities to record, with the hit that the music industry is taking I feel like I have to do twice as much work to make what I did ten years ago. At the same time, I don’t feel sorry for myself, because out there in the world there are a lot of people doing the same thing: working twice as hard to make what they did ten years ago.
MD: Was it the shift away from live studio sessions that drove you to set up your own studio?
Victor: I’ve just seen the writing on the wall for a long time. Coming up, I saw that guys who adapted to changes, as opposed to being afraid of them, were able to hang in there and keep going. Guys that stayed rigid about what they were doing would get run over. I’ve seen that happen so many times. Once people started downloading music and stealing it, I saw that things were going to change for us. I had a feeling that having my own studio and my own place to do things was going to become essential. And it really has become essential. Each year, more and more work gets done out of my own place.
MD: What has helped you the most to succeed professionally?
Victor: To be a successful session guy, you have to know how to read a song, read the people, and decipher the code of what they’re telling you. Not everyone has the vocabulary for saying exactly what they want. People that aren’t drummers might not even know to say, “Can we tape up that snare?” or “Let’s make the snare more ringy and high-pitched,” which would bring a different feeling to the song.
Being able to choose the right sound is something that producers look for. Part of the reason I get hired is because I will have an idea of how things should sound: what kit to use, which snares, cymbals, etc., and that’s just something I’ve developed over a long period of time. It’s intuition and instinct. I’ll listen to a song and I’ll often know right away what I want to use. Each snare in my studio is a bit different, and I’ve prided myself on being able to listen and let the song tell me which to use. When I have to go to a different studio, I have a cartage company bring all my gear to the session, and I’ll have probably twenty snare drums, although I’ll likely only use the one or two that I normally use. But I like to have my options available.
Sometimes if they have a good idea of what they want, they’ll guide me a little. Maybe someone will say, “I really loved the snare sound on this record,” and then I can listen to it and say, “Well, it sounds really compressed” or “It sounds like he’s got the snare really taped up.” Being around engineers and learning how to achieve the sounds you hear on an album has been beneficial.
A few years ago, I was working with Colbie Caillat on her first record, Coco, which has the hit “Bubbly.” We started going back to a dense, lower-pitched snare. The album was very minimalistic—just guitar, bass, drums, and keys. Picking warmer kinds of sounds helped complete a vibe on the record. In contrast, on the first Avril Lavigne record, Let Go, which was more rock, I knew I’d need an open-sounding kit.
Loving songs, if anything, is the key. By not being a schooled “chops” drummer, my focus has always been to listen to the song and find what’s going to make it speak. When it comes to drums, a lot of the time it’s not about being noticed, it’s about making everything feel good. And that’s what I loved about the guys I listened to growing up. I loved Ringo, Greg Errico from Sly and the Family Stone, and James Gadson, who played with Bill Withers and tons of other people. These guys just made everything feel good. Unless you were a drummer, you might not even notice what they were doing, but it felt great. That was the school I came from. I wasn’t going to be the chops guy. I wanted to play with other people, be part of the team, and make everything feel great.
MD: Does playing on someone’s record generally lead to an invitation to go on tour?
Victor: More often than not—although I did go and audition for the Beck gig. For Sheryl Crow, I had played on the record, and while we were making it, she asked us all to tour. With Alanis Morissette, I didn’t play on her previous record, but I did play on this latest one, Havoc and Bright Lights, which led to the recent tour.
I like to switch it up and go out on the road every couple years if I can, and then stay home awhile and do records. I’m lucky in that respect. A lot of guys are either-or. If I’ve been doing records for a year or two, sometimes it might drive me a little batty and it can feel like I’m playing on the same record over and over, so it’s nice to get out on the road. There’s a different energy you get from playing live than you do recording. I love doing both, and I love the fact that I can switch from one to the other.
When I was younger I’d get asked to be in bands. These days, when I go on tour it’s usually with a solo artist, so there usually isn’t an opportunity to become a permanent band member. And at this stage in my career I’m not sure I’d want to be in a band. As a session guy, I’ve been very lucky that I’ve gotten to do so many different kinds of music, and I’m not sure I’d want to give that up to do one thing. I haven’t been pigeonholed into just one type of music. I feel very fortunate in that regard.
MD: When you’re asked to tour with a major artist, what is your approach to handling the existing catalog?
Victor: When playing for well-known artists, representing the signature elements in their music is what separates the boys from the men. If there’s a big fill on the record, when someone comes to the concert they want to hear that big fill, because it’s what they know and love. Picking and choosing those parts is important. So when I’m listening to a song, I’m thinking, This is what’s standing out to me, so maybe I should be true to that. That’s not to say you can’t add your own vibe in there too, but knowing when something needs to be represented is crucial.
The hi-hat sound on Alanis’s song “Thank U” is such a big part of that recording and sticks out so much; when playing it in concert we used a loop of the original sound, and I played as well. So it really comes across as being the authentic sound. But with Alanis we tried to not be too reliant on loops. We set up the tour so that even if the computer went down, we’d be able to keep going. As good as technology is nowadays, something is always bound to go wrong. The more foolproof we could set ourselves up, the better. We even rehearsed scenarios of how we’d make up for the missing loops if those tracks went out, so we were pretty prepared.
Loops can be such a big part of a song’s signature. Making friends with loops and finding your way and your space with them is very important. I really got to learn a lot about working with loops in ’99, when I played with Beck. I learned so much from playing with that guy and that band, because there were tons of loops going on. I found it important to focus on making the song feel good and not too rigid.
MD: You’ve played on a number of movie scores and soundtracks, and you even appeared in Get Him to the Greek. How did you expand into that business?
Victor: I got into doing movie scores through Lyle Workman, who was the guitarist for Beck when I was playing with him. Lyle had gotten into doing movie scores, and he called me up to work with him. The funny thing that’s happening recently in scores is that to stay current they’re mimicking the times, so they’ll have scores that are sounding more like rock bands, or at least parts of the score will be rocking. Scores are interesting for me because they’re not like anything else. They’re nothing like a record, and they’re nothing like playing live. They’re their own thing, and they’re pretty exciting.
The first score I did with Lyle was The 40-Year-Old Virgin. He got on a roll from that movie and did Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and then Get Him to the Greek, which was a unique one because they also wanted it to have its own soundtrack, which made for a longer process. They were writing and recording songs long before the movie had even started filming. It was a super-fun project because we got to pretend we were this band, Infant Sorrow, which appears in the movie. So not only did I get to play on the score, I played on the soundtrack as well.
One thing about scores is that you have to be able to read music. Not being a schooled drummer, I had to relearn how to read. I was in band in junior high for a minute, so I learned a little bit about reading. When I first started getting calls for movie scores, I would just be honest with the composers and tell them, “Hey, I’m not a great reader. Can you send me the chart and an MP3 so I can look over it?” That was a few years ago, and now just from doing it more often I’ve become a better reader.
Initially it was that same kind of nervousness that I had when learning to play to a click. I knew that the more I could relax, the better I was going to do. I’m getting my reading together more and more. Just in the last couple weeks I’ve been sight-reading things and I don’t feel like I’m in a panic anymore. I wish I’d learned to sight-read sooner. It leads to so many different kinds of work.
The beautiful thing about music is that there’s always room to get better, to work on different kinds of things and expand what you do and what you know. I’ve tried to find guys that I can take lessons from, even now. It’s important for me to keep honing what I do and try to get better and better.
MD: Now that so much music is being downloaded these days, has the lack of physical albums impacted your name recognition?
Victor: I think technology has definitely hurt knowing who played on an album. When I was growing up, I read the album notes, and I knew who played on everything, because it was right in front of me. And now we don’t have that. It’s a drag that the information isn’t presentable to people like it used to be.
These days, people that are in the know, like producers here in Los Angeles, will know who I am. Your average kid buying a record now might not have any idea who I am, though. It’s a sad thing to me, because I look at the generations of session drummers going back to guys like Hal Blaine and Jeff Porcaro, and the people who care about those guys are other drummers and other musicians—and their stories aren’t known outside of that group. And then you take my generation of session guys, and we will be even less known than the previous generations, because of technology.
MD: Do you wish more people knew who you are?
Victor: Yes and no. To some degree, session drummers have always been unknown. I just discovered Steve Miller’s drummer Gary Mallaber, who was a session guy in the ’70s. He was kind of a lesser-known guy. I was at a session and I was playing one of the Steve Miller licks and thinking, That was so great. Who was that guy? We looked it up, and it was Gary Mallaber. And then I saw all these records that he played on that were just part of my subconscious because I grew up listening to them. He played on Eddie Money and Bruce Springsteen records—tons of stuff that was part of my vocabulary without my even knowing it. I wrote him an email, saying, “Man, you’re amazing. Thank you for all the stuff you’ve done.” But I think that’s also just part of being a session guy. There’s an unsung-hero part to it, always. People aren’t often going to know your name, and that doesn’t bother me so much. I never wanted to be a lead singer—I just wanted to play drums. And I’ve been pretty happy with where it’s taken me.
Willie Nelson Teatro /// Depeche Mode Ultra /// Scott Weiland 12 Bar Blues /// Chris Cornell Euphoria Morning /// Michael Penn MP4 /// Brad Mehldau Largo /// Macy Gray The Trouble With Being Myself /// Avril Lavigne Let Go /// Juanes Mi Sangre /// Paul Stanley Live to Win /// Colbie Caillat Coco /// A Fine Frenzy Bomb in a Birdcage /// Rob Thomas “Her Diamonds” /// Rachael Yamagata Chesapeake /// Seal Soul 2 /// Alanis Morissette Havoc and Bright Lights /// Horrible Bosses soundtrack /// Matrix Reloaded soundtrack /// Get Him to the Greek soundtrack
Indrizzo says that since every session demands different gear, he chooses from several drumsets that he keeps in his home studio, including Gretsch and OCDP kits, a Slingerland concert-tom set, and the Ludwig kit pictured here. He also chooses from various Zildjian cymbal models. The set he happened to have up the day we took these photos includes the following.
A. 6.5×14 OCDP Bell Brass snare
B. 8×12 Ludwig tom
C. 16×16 Ludwig floor tom
D. 16×22 Ludwig bass drum
1. 14″ vintage 1970s hi-hats
2. 20″ Constantinople Hi-Bell Thin Low ride (usually an 18″ K Dark Medium Thin crash)
3. 22″ K Light ride with three rivets
Hardware: DW 9000 series stands, bass drum pedal, and hi-hat stand
Heads: Evans. For studio work, Indrizzo also has 20″ and 22″ bass drums fitted with goatskin heads from Pro Drum.
Sticks: Vater New Orleans Jazz model, Heavy Wire Tap brushes, and T5 mallets
Accessories: Vater Multi-Pair Stick Holder