The ska and reggae vet may be exploring new musical paths, but he remains true to his rhythmic roots.
As an aspiring drummer, reggae and ska stalwart Korey Horn received a piece of advice from his father, jazz singer Kim Horn, that he’s been mulling over ever since: “If you want to be a professional musician, you have to know how to play everything.”
Despite the ironclad logic inherent in this music-biz insight, Horn closed his mind to such matters. “I fought my dad on that point,” Korey says. “I wanted to be a punk drummer; I wanted to be a ska drummer.”
Horn has spent a great deal of his professional career attempting to perfect his approach to ska, reggae, and rocksteady grooves, performing with artists such as the Aggrolites, Hepcat, Rhythm Doctors, and Tim Armstrong of Rancid. In fact, his playing style became so synonymous with Jamaican music that a former bandmate, trombonist Jeffrey “Dex” McFerson, dubbed him “Kingston.” “The name just stuck,” the drummer says.
Over the years, however, Horn has come to see the wisdom in his father’s counsel. In fact, his dad’s words have been proven nearly prophetic: The drummer’s receptiveness and ability to play different musical styles guided him to his current gig with the northern-soul-esque outfit Suedehead, whose material has more in common with Otis Redding, Van Morrison, Joe Jackson, the Jam, and Squeeze than with Bob Marley, the Skatalites, or 2 Tone revivalism. “I’ve worked really hard as a drummer to be who I am, and to be different,” says Horn, speaking from a coffee shop in Orange County, California. “I feel like I can do that to the fullest in Suedehead.”
Suedehead has been kickin’ it old school, hitting the road with the likes of Social Distortion and Flogging Molly and issuing a trio of independently produced four-track EPs, The Constant, (So) Frantic, and In Motion. As of this writing the band is planning an all-covers EP and is demoing songs for a possible full-length platter. “I’m really excited—the most I’ve been about any band I’ve ever been in,” Horn says. “It’s like we’re fifteen-year-old kids again, doing it all ourselves.”
Kingston appears on the recently released album Western Standard Time: Big Band Tribute to the Skatalites, underscoring the value of his father’s advice and the fact that the drummer hasn’t forgotten his first love, ska. The album is special on two counts: Horn shares drum duties with his old friend Gil Sharone (Stolen Babies, Wicked Beats DVD, MD Pro Panelist), and his father sings on the disc. “My dad always taught me to remain open to all styles,” Korey reiterates. “Sometimes that leads me back to my roots.”
MD: How smooth was the transition from the Aggrolites, a ska band, to your new soul-pop group, Suedehead? Did you have to tweak your playing style?
Korey: Yeah. I felt I was stuck in a groove when I was with the Aggrolites, playing a specific style for so long. I’ve really tried to adapt to whatever band I’m playing in. When I first quit the Aggrolites and I’d go on other gigs, some people would say, “You sound like a reggae drummer trying to play rock.” I had to adjust and woodshed.
MD: Why did you leave the Aggrolites?
Korey: It was a gradual thing. Without getting too deep into it, I was not in agreement with a lot of the business deals [handled] by management. Also, near the end of my time with the band, we had toured for two months straight, and then we were booked for a European tour. I did that tour, got home, and just said, “Man, I need a break.”
With the Aggrolites it seemed like we were trying so hard to make it, to get somewhere, that we’d do anything to do that. I think because of this, I was looking at life negatively. It was affecting me physically. I said, “I want out of this band, and I don’t ever want to come back.” So in 2009 I called it quits. I was still dedicated to touring with Hepcat and, soon after that, Suedehead.
MD: It seems as if gigging represented work for you. Do you practice more now that you’re in Suedehead?
Korey: You’ve nailed it on the head. With previous bands it was very much work, and I was into the routine of touring and playing gigs every night. Once I started to play with Suedehead, I got back into practicing, just as I did when I was a teenager. I get out a practice pad and do elementary rudiments and try to improve my stick control. And I’m looking at simple snare drum drills, practicing paradiddles, double-stroke rolls, six-stroke rolls, and single-stroke rolls.
I also do a lot of listening. These days when I hear music, I’m not necessarily listening to the drums, but to the music [as a whole]. I like to get a feel for how the music flows, instead of, “Okay, this fill goes here and this fill goes like this, and I’m going to play two left strokes and then two right strokes….” I want to get hired for playing my style but also because I bring a certain amount of authenticity to the music.
MD: Do you lose some of your chops if you don’t practice regularly?
Korey: Yeah, you do lose your chops. Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved putting my headphones on and playing on my kit, in my garage or wherever. I’ll even take lessons now and then with Evan Stone, who’s a jazz drummer in Orange County. He’s a guy who’ll rip apart everything you’re doing—“You’re holding the sticks incorrectly,” or “You’re not sitting up straight.” I lost a lot of that focus playing with the Aggrolites.
MD: Do you feel you have to lay off the kick drum now that you’re playing with Suedehead?
Korey: One of the things that my old drum teacher, the late Art Rodriguez [Manhattan Transfer, Tom Scott], taught me was that people dance to your bass drum and clap to your snare. So I think it’s okay to play with a heavy foot. People need to feel the beat.
MD: Can you read music?
Korey: Yes, I can read. I don’t always use that skill, but, for instance, the Skatalites tribute project Western Standard Time was done with sheet music. Since I had a huge orchestra that was playing big band style relying on me, I definitely had to look over the charts. What’s really cool about that CD is that there’s one vocal track [“In the Mood for Ska”] that my dad, Kim Horn, sings. That’s an awesome part of my career, being able to play with my dad. It’s definitely brought us close.
MD: What’s your advice for younger drummers trying to learn ska patterns?
Korey: I would probably tell anyone starting out to listen to the Skatalites’ version of “Caravan” [“Ska-Ra-Van”] or “Guns of Navarone.” Try to practice those, but also learn how to play the songs and really listen to the sound of the drums. [Late Skatalites drummer] Lloyd Knibb, if you ever watched him play, you could see that he was playing 8th notes on the hi-hat but was accenting, opening the hi-hat on the “&” or offbeats. His bass drum patterns are not always 2 and 4. Listen to Lloyd, Sly Dunbar, “Horsemouth” [Leroy Wallace]—those drummers are going to contribute to your whole approach to ska and reggae.
MD: Are you currently teaching?
Korey: I don’t have any students right now, because I’ve been so busy, but I really enjoy teaching. Sometimes I feel like, What can I show these guys? But getting students to play beats in time? It just feels good. Having them lay down a groove and seeing their faces when they pull it off is really encouraging.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Horn plays a Masters of Maple Neo-Classic hybrid-shell kit featuring an 18×22 bass drum, an 8×12 rack tom, and 14×14 and 16×16 floor toms, plus a 6×14 Masters of Maple Type-M snare. “If I’m playing ska and reggae I’ll use a 51/2×14 Tama hammered copper snare,” Korey says, adding that he uses Vic Firth 5A hickory sticks for most gigs and Vic Firth nylon-tip 7A or 8DN models when he plays jazz with his dad. Horn taps an assortment of Zildjian cymbals: 14 1/4″ K Custom Hybrid hi-hats, a 19″ K Custom Hybrid crash, a 22″ K Constantinople Medium ride, a 17″ A Custom Rezo crash, a 19″ K Custom Hybrid Trash Smash, and a 16″ A Custom EFX crash. He uses a Tama Iron Cobra bass drum pedal, as well as Evans G2 Coated snare and tom batters.