I’d like to say a few words about the dreaded click track. With a purist’s pride, I resisted using this electronic metronome for many years, although the pursuit of really good time has been a constant trial for me. It wasn’t until the sessions for Permanent Waves that I finally relented and agreed to give it a reluctant try.
Imagine my surprise—I like it! It was much less difficult to work with than I had anticipated, because I could ignore it, except at crucial “pivot points” when one “click” would insure accuracy. As another musician pointed out to me, “If you can’t hear the click track, you know your timing is right.” If you’re locked into the tempo, your good timekeeping covers up the sound of the click.
The results are very satisfying. With all there is to keep in mind while recording a basic track, doubts about meter can be set aside in favor of concentrating on execution, dynamics, and feel. I am certain that my confidence and smooth rhythmic flow are only enhanced by it, and recording with the click has definitely improved my overall sense of time, which pays off in live performance as well.
Anyone who has ever tried to accompany a digital sequencer will know that it’s just like the electronic metronome: It won’t follow you; you’ve got to follow it. In “Vital Signs,” the sequencer is playing a sixteenth-note pattern for most of the song, while the bass plays eighth notes along with it, and the guitar and drums play alternate staccato rhythms.
There have been many interesting things done with drum machines lately. As a thing apart, the artificial drum sounds are very good. Not better. Not worse. But, a completely different thing. I have a technical aversion to dealing with wires and electronics (my technical relationship to drums is hitting them with a stick!), but I wanted
to use that sound. So, we set about making real drums sound like artificial ones. I suppose that’s akin to making wood look like plastic, but it seemed like the right thing to do! We used it for the short bridge which introduces the first chorus of “Vital Signs,” and in contrast to all the other stylistic influences used in this song, I think it worked quite well.
Conceptually, this song was an attempt to bridge the gap between the primal appeal of the rhythmic reggae “bounce” and the electronic energy of high-technology music. As a drummer, this gave me the opportunity to begin as a simple “groove” player, and then grow through various developments into the “overplaying show-off type” toward the end! I drew on many influences throughout this progression: notably the works of Creme and Godley, Ultravox, The Police, the great things that Michael Giles did with early King Crimson, a healthy dose of good old hard rock, and a little Caribbean influence.
One thing I have come to learn about influences is that although copying one style can never be original, copying many styles often is original. Over the years I have learned from big band drummers, progressive jazz drummers, r&b drummers, jazz/ rock drummers, pop drummers, reggae drummers, session drummers, rock drummers, and even some pretty lousy drummers. I know that when I add them all together I am none of them, but I am all of them. Some drummers provide instruction, some influence, and the rare great ones provide inspiration. The important thing is that if you listen to good, honest music, you are attending the greatest school of music there is. I’m certainly not going to knock the systematic pursuit of academic knowledge, but it’s often the emotional response of wanting to learn how to play something you enjoy listening to that will teach you the most.
The best advice for someone who wants to develop an original style is: Don’t copy one drummer, copy twenty!
I copied a hundred.