On MxPx’s second collection of covers, the renowned punk band finally gets to interpret the ’80s their way. Our hero on translating U2, the Clash, the Descendents, and the Ramones.
Yuri Zane Ruley has been the driving force behind the Washington state punk trio MxPx for over seventeen years. While still in high school, he joined up with guitarist Tom Wisniewski and singer/bassist Mike Herrera, with whom he shared an affinity for California skate punk and Christianity. They released their debut album, Pokinatcha, on Tooth & Nail Records in 1994. Since then, MxPx has put out six more full-length albums, four EPs, three compilations, a live record, and two collections of covers.
On The Cover, from 1995, delivers caffeinated renditions of ’80s classics such as Bryan Adams’ “Summer Of ’69” and A-Ha’s “Take On Me.” Diehard MxPx fans have spent years begging for a new collection of revved-up, revamped, and rewired songs. Never ones to disappoint their devoted fan base, MxPx answered the call, releasing On The Cover II, a diverse collection of all things ’80s. Covering everything from one-hit wonders to legendary rock groups to seminal punk bands, the trio delivers a soundtrack that pays homage to some of the artists that influenced them and to the ’80s songs they love.
MD: MxPx formed in 1992, while you were all still in high school. How long had you been playing drums prior to getting together with Mike and Tom?
Yuri: Not too long. February of 1992 was when I first got a drumset and started taking lessons. The band officially started in July of 1992. I didn’t know much at all at our first practice. My playbook wasn’t that full.
MD: How has your playing progressed over the years?
Yuri: I stopped taking lessons after a year, but I was in the high school march-ing band. That helped my stamina quite a bit. Over the years, probably the biggest thing I’ve learned is to play relaxed. There’s a certain tension built into playing fast music. It’s hard to let go of that tension. I really grasped the relaxation concept while recording one of our albums. A producer clued me in to the fact that I don’t have to kill the drums. However, in a live setting, my adrenaline can take over. I have to get myself into a Zen-like mindset before the show to ensure that I play relaxed.
MD: Who are your drumming influences?
Yuri: I took cues from drummers in bands that played fast, like Bad Religion and NOFX, because our music was headed in that direction. They were my unofficial teachers. A guy I can’t leave out of the picture is Bill Stevenson from the Descendents, All, and Black Flag. He was the first drummer I ever heard on a recording and thought, That’s what I want to sound like. He’s such an interesting and unique player. I really paid attention to what he was doing and tried to incorporate what worked for me.
MD: What’s the main difference between On The Cover and On The Cover II?
Yuri: With the first record we were still kids and wound up covering a lot of songs we had never heard of, just to appease the label. This time it was on our terms. We primarily picked our favorite songs from the ’80s that we could remake in the context of our band.
MD: Your fans were the impetus behind making On The Cover II. Did they suggest any of the songs that made it onto the record?
Yuri: Not directly. We’ve played certain songs, like the Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” and the Proclaimers’ “500 Miles” live for a while now, so those songs are technically the fan choices. We also put “Linda Linda” by the Japanese punk band the Blue Hearts on the album as a nod to our fans in Japan.
MD: When approaching a cover song from a drumming standpoint, do you consider what the original drummer played, or what will best suit the MxPx version?
Yuri: Both. I try to keep the spirit of the original band but make it work within our creative dynamic. For example, in the beginning of the Clash song, I filled some space by playing 8th notes on the rim instead of just playing flams on 2 and 4.
MD: You beefed up the bridge on U2’s “I Will Follow” in a way that gives the tune an MxPx stamp. How did that come about?
Yuri: The bridge on the original is slower, broken down, and spacious. We came up with a heavier riffy part because the vocal is in Mike’s upper register, and playing something musically heavy underneath really felt right. It’s one of my favorite additions on the album.
MD: How do you go about tracking drums?
Yuri: We stumbled on a method a while ago that has worked really well for us. We’ll play the songs together to a click, just to get a solid take from the bass, guitar, and vocals. Then they get a break and I can focus on recording my parts and not worry about the guys getting bored or annoyed if it’s taking me a bunch of takes to get a keeper. A lot of the time I’ll record straight through, but I might punch in if a take is 70 percent good.
MD: So you try not to comp your takes?
Yuri: There’s not really any editing. In the past I used Beat Detective, but it was really labor intensive, and ultimately the difference wasn’t that noticeable. We’ve done so much recording that I’ve gotten the process down. I retain the songs just enough to record them and then move on. By the time we start rehearsals for a tour, I usually have to consult the record to learn all the parts for real.
MD: What’s your favorite drumming moment on the album?
Yuri: Although there’s nothing drumming-wise that’s special on the cut, my favorite song is the Ramones’ “My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down.” It’s really strong, powerful, and driving. The Descendents’ “Suburban Home” had some unusual counting and a fast, extended 16th-note snare fill. I think the take we used for that one was the first one where I thought, I got it!
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
RULEY’S GEAR ON STAGE AND IN THE STUDIO
MD: What did you use to record On The Cover II?
Yuri: A Slingerland Studio King kit that I own has been a permanent fixture in the studio for the past ten years. It has a 16×22 kick, a 9×12 rack tom, and a 14×16 floor tom. I also have a Pork Pie kit, but all of On The Cover II was done on the Slingerland.
MD: Did you switch out snares for any tracks?
Yuri: I have a bunch of snares I’ll use, but on most of the songs this time around I played a Keplinger 8×14 snare. Gregg Keplinger makes these rolled-steel snare drums that are monstrous! I got this one on consignment at Guitar Center; it belonged to Dave Krusen, Pearl Jam’s original drummer. I used a Shine 4×14 acrylic snare for a few songs too, and it sounded amazing. I’ve played other acrylic snares with 6-1/2″ or 7″ depths, and they were real throaty, which I liked. But I thought if I could make it a little shallower, it would make for a great simple snare sound.
MD: What do you play live?
Yuri: I play a Truth acrylic kit on U.S. tours. It has a real “AC/DC” thuddy rock ’n’ roll sound. It’s a 20×22 kick, a 10×14 rack, and a 14×16 floor. I use Meinl cymbals, DW hardware, and Pro-Mark 2B hickory sticks both live and in the studio. I recently found that my cymbal flavor of choice is the medium- weight, middle-of-the-road-type thing. I use 14″ Byzance Traditional medium hi-hats, 18″ and 20″ Byzance Traditional medium crashes, and a 22″ Byzance Traditional Ping ride.
MD: What type of DW pedal are you using, and how do you keep it tensioned?
Yuri: It’s a 9000. I pretty much play the pedal however it comes set from the factory. I don’t really adjust it, so it’s probably medium-loose tension.