Matt Cameron may be widely known as the drummer with two iconic bands, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, but those who’ve followed his career closely know he’s also a multi-instrumentalist who occasionally releases music as a leader. For his latest album, Cavedweller, Matt took the unusual step of hiring Mark Guiliana to provide the drumming. Modern Drummer’s Ken Micallef spoke to him to find out why.
Matt: I felt Mark would be able to pull it off beautifully, and he certainly did. It was a good choice on my part! I wrote all the music at the same time, most of it on Ableton Live, including programmed drum parts, and I liked the way they turned out. I thought Mark would be perfect for that type of recording environment.
MD: Were you considering Mark based on his records or on his drumming on David Bowie’s Blackstar?
Matt: I first heard Mark’s drumming on Blackstar. I loved the record as a new phase of Bowie. And I loved the jazz overtones of the music on Blackstar. So I reached out to Mark and [bassist] Tim Lefebvre through Instagram. We began talking back and forth and I sent Mark some demos, some real basic crappy ideas that I had for a record. It was nice to have his feedback pretty early on in the phase of writing and recording.
MD: Mark sounds especially great in this different environment.
Matt: Yeah! [laughs] These are basic garage-rock guitar tunes. It’s part of the whole rock environment that I’m known for. It was really nice to bring in Mark’s sound for some of it. I was really going for in-your-face, loud, but machine-like drum sounds. And he nailed if of course.
MD: How did you record everything?
Matt: The structure of the music was recorded at my home studio using Ableton Live. Then once I got the music set up to work as songs, I zeroed in on a batch of eleven songs that I was going to try to finish to album-ready status. Once I got the structures confirmed, I dumped the tracks over to my friend Nate Yaccino’s Bait Shop, which is in a busy ship marina port here in Seattle. Then I replaced all the instruments. Once I got Mark on board we recorded his drum tracks at a badass studio in Brooklyn called the Bunker. I basically wrote at home, then pieced it together in very small batches. I was completely between gigs and busy with the family, so I had to squeeze this project in for sure.
MD: You recorded Tim and Mark in Brooklyn?
Matt: Yes. I recorded the first session during a night off from the Temple of the Dog tour, which was in November of 2016. That was really fun. Then I came back in February and recorded another batch. It was done very piecemeal. Mark recorded all the tracks in New York, and then I brought that back to Seattle, and then began working on guitars and vocals in March. The idea was to get the music sounding as big and fully realized as possible.
MD: It sounds fantastic and very live.
Matt: We’re the type of musicians who are called upon often to do records like this, where someone has a demo they want to dump over to a bigger studio and bring to life. We’re all good enough to record using this method and have it sound like a live situation.
MD: Did Mark follow the demo template of your drumming?
Matt: Yeah. All the drum patterns were figured out in the drum programming. On some stuff Mark actually transcribed a lot of it. Some of it was played to a T, though I certainly encouraged him to go as outside as possible. But I think Mark was really comfortable taking the initial demo templates and working from there.
MD: This record brings your unique expression of odd-metered rock drumming to the fore.
Matt: It was fun to hear Mark play simple garage rock. The chorus of “Blind” is straight-ahead in a basement vibe. I made sure the drums are cranking in the mix. I did have to encourage Mark to play the dumbest drum fills and simplest part as possible. [laughs] He did on a couple occasions, and it made sense. I decided to play drums on two tracks, “Through the Ceiling” and “In the Trees.”
MD: Did you visit the Magic Shop in New York, where Bowie recorded Blackstar with Mark and Tim?
Matt: No, but those are my favorite studios, those homemade, closed-in, but fully set-up places, where you can’t get that many people in so you bring in your core people and hunker down. That’s certainly what I did for this record, partly in my garage, partly in the Bait Shop, and partly at the Bunker, which was a small but great-sounding room with great drum rooms. Mark had recorded a lot of his stuff there. Beautiful analog gear.
MD: Is the groove on “Time Can’t Wait” simply turning the beat around, is it odd-meter, or both?
Matt: [The beat is] basically following the guitar part, which is shifting the beat up and down on that little turnaround on the verse. There’s a combination of turning the beat up and down and a couple bars of five thrown in there. There’s always a bar of three or two thrown in for good measure.
MD: That’s what screws with my head when I try to count it. It’s in seven? With a bar of two or is that three?
Matt: Right. Oh, a bar of two! [laughs] When I had that particular song demoed and ready to go and started to cut guitars and vocals, Mark played along to my finished track. And there was drum programming that he could either play along to or not. I think he just turned everything off and just rocked it out. Once I heard his first take of doing “Time Can’t Wait” I realized, He totally gets it. He knows what I’m going for.
MD: Can you talk about “All at Once,” the meter and the funky tom-drop groove at the end?
Matt: The groove is a bar of seven and a bar of eight. I came up with that guitar riff; it has some nice turnaround changes. It’s sort of an unconventional rock song. I wanted to keep the weird rhythm factor going on that one; at one point I thought I would change it and make it more of a straight rock song. But I decided to keep it weird. The ending just seemed like a fun idea. That’s me playing the tom part as well with Mark. At the end we thought it would be fun to go crazy on the drums.
MD: “Into the Fire” is like a modern dance track.
Matt: That’s me playing the Roland synth bass part. I was on the fence about releasing an instrumental track, but I like the way it came out. The keyboards came out well, and the acoustic piano treatments are well done. We were going for a Tony Visconti–sounding piano treatment with the Eventide effects. It was a very mechanical, German-sounding track, then Mark breathed so much life into it.
MD: Are you playing software synths?
Matt: Mostly software synths in Ableton Live. But we added Moog, piano, and Rhodes at the Bait Shop.
MD: “One Special Lady” sounds like two against three or three over four. Like rhythms cycling against one another.
Matt: It’s basically 3/4. It’s sort of my favorite way of playing 3/4 or 6/8. I’ve always loved a half-time drum part over 3/4. That’s how that was written. That’s one of my favorite tracks on the album; once I had Tim and Mark’s part down, it really brought a lot to it. I was going for a ’70s analog sound all the way on that one. That was an homage to Seals and Crofts and that Jim Gordon–era drum sound he got with Gordon Lightfoot. That era of ’70s badass pocket drummers, man, those are my guys. I love that stuff so much.
MD: Is “Unnecessary” a straight seven?
Matt: Yes, for sure, with some twists in the choruses where it straightens out before it gets weird again.
MD: What drums is Mark playing on the record?
Matt: At the Bunker we used a combo vintage Ludwig and Gretsch set with a Supraphonic snare, and I brought in one of my Keplinger snare drums. Then in Seattle I used a vintage ’70s-era Rogers kit at the Bait Shop with a Keplinger snare drum.
MD: What do you have in your home studio?
Matt: Nothing fancy. That’s where I have my Ableton setup, two keyboards, a Moog Little Phatty, a Moog Prodigy, an old Yamaha O2 mixer, my ADAT machine. I’m still old-school. My songs with Soundgarden all revolved around playing guitar and having some kind of full track recorder and a laptop.