The progressive metal powerhouse knocks it out of the park on Intervals’ recently released third album, A Voice Within. This, on top of mind-bending work with international metric manipulators Skyharbor, Nevermore lead guitarist Jeff Loomis, and ex-Megadeth shredder Marty Friedman.
Anup Sastry has come of age as a drummer, recording engineer, and producer, displaying the same kind of multidisciplinary passion that’s a hallmark among the other leading lights of the burgeoning Maryland/Washington, D.C., progressive metal scene. The twenty-three-year-old musician created a substantial buzz with his play-alongs and drum covers on YouTube, which led to some pretty heavy drumming gigs. At the same time, he began operating a busy recording studio in his Frederick, Maryland, home, where he creates his own very impressive original material and produces tracks for contemporaries like Darkest Hour’s Travis Orbin.
Sastry’s drumming is equally multidirectional. A fluidity behind the kit, an innovative use of tom and cymbal voices, and an undeniable groove have proven highly effective not only in the company of Anup’s fire-breathing bandmates in the Canadian progressive metal band Intervals but also with well-established giants of metal, like Jeff Loomis and Marty Friedman. “I was really fortunate to be a part of Marty’s recent album Inferno,” Sastry says, “and I’m really proud of my drumming on it, because it’s completely different from the progressive/groove metal I normally play.”
Beginning his musical journey in middle school band, Sastry became obsessed with drumming with the help of his childhood friend and fellow Maryland native Alex Rudinger (Up & Coming, March 2014 MD). “I took private lessons for several years when I first started playing drums,” Anup says. “I had numerous instructors and teachers, all of whom I owe a lot of my growth as a musician to. I also took some lessons with Matt Halpern a few years back, around the same time I studied with Travis Orbin.”
Sastry attended community college as a music major and simultaneously took audio engineering courses at Omega Studios in Rockville, Maryland, with a plan to transfer to a university to continue his music studies. “I ended up not transferring,” he says, “because things started picking up with studio work and touring.
“It took me two or three years to acquire the gear I have now,” Sastry explains, adding that between his own projects and freelance work he’s got quite a full between-tours calendar. “I don’t have a lot of gear—it’s actually a very basic setup. It does what I need it to do, though.”
Like Rudinger and Orbin, Sastry has used YouTube to spread the good word on his playing with deadly efficiency. “YouTube is a huge part of why I play in so many projects,” Anup explains. “It’s like a musician’s résumé. I posted my first video a couple of years ago, and I purposely haven’t taken it down from my account, because I want people to see how I’ve grown as a drummer. I love the fact that I’ve been able to document it in such an expressive way. YouTube is like the Facebook for musicians.”
Another thing Sastry shares with Rudinger and Orbin is his writing approach. Whether creating drum parts for his solo material or for other artists, Sastry maps it all out in Superior Drummer, then learns it on the kit. “Superior Drummer has been a great tool for me to hear decent-sounding drums and still work inside of my DAW,” he explains. “I do know how to notate drum tablature properly, but for workflow purposes I enjoy working inside Pro Tools at all times. Hearing a drumset, or at least Superior, makes it much easier for me to learn parts, and I can view the MIDI and figure out placements much faster. Again, I’m used to looking at a Pro Tools grid, so this approach is something that really helps me.”
Sastry creates his original material, which can be heard on his full-length album, Ghost, and brand-new Lion EP, using samples he’s created—though you’d never know it from listening. “The instruments in my solo material are all ‘programmed,’ except for the drums,” he reveals. “I basically play and record my own guitar and bass samples using an actual guitar and bass. Some of it I’ll play at a much slower tempo and then speed up, and some of it I’ll play at the correct tempo. Regardless, it’s a lot of editing and studio magic. I compare it to using Superior Drummer, but instead of entering MIDI information to trigger samples that have already been taken and provided for you, I take the samples myself and work with audio regions.”
Asked about his feelings on sample enhancement versus replacement, and the current trend of audio purism among drummers, Sastry says, “I support sample enhancement for production purposes. I don’t like sample replacement, though, because that means there was really no point in putting a mic on the drum in the first place. I do, however, think sample enhancement is very important in metal production. The metal audience today is a very tough crowd, and they can be quick to judge. If something sounds terrible, they won’t listen to it. This actually goes beyond the metal community, and sample enhancement on the drums is a very important part of achieving this level of production. In a lot of cases, drums can make or break a mix.”
Sastry’s home studio features a Pro Tools rig with a standard Avid Digidesign Digi 003 interface. “I’m using an amazing set of boutique mic pre’s made by a company called Prodigy Engineering,” Anup says, “which are running into Lynx Aurora converters. I have a basic mic collection, which consists of Shure SM57s and SM81s, a Beta 52 for the kick, and some 98D/S’s for toms. I also use an AKG 414 for tracking vocals or close-miking an acoustic guitar or cymbal, and I have a Fractal Audio Systems Axe-Fx Ultra, which I use for guitars and effects.
“I use a lot of different plug-ins. I’m a fan of mid/side EQ’ing, so I enjoy Brainworx products. I’m also a huge fan of iZotope and the SSL buss compressor. And I use a lot of stock EQs that come with Pro Tools. I love how easy it is to get the results you want out of them. I could go on for days about plug-ins!”
Sastry’s dexterous use of electronics extends to the live arena, where he employs an Alesis MultiMix 4 USB four-channel mixer and Vic Firth SIH1 isolation headphones for live monitoring purposes. “I use custom clicks for each song,” the drummer explains, “which I make using Pro Tools. I prefer the accented Boss DB-90 click sounds. Intervals and Skyharbor run DAWs live; both bands have a lot of backing tracks along with automated patch changes for their guitar rigs. Skyharbor uses Cubase, and Intervals uses Pro Tools. Both setups output my click to my mixer, which is where I blend my kick microphone and click track to my headphones. With Jeff Loomis I normally play the backing tracks and clicks off an iPod, with the clicks panned hard left for me and backing tracks panned hard right for front of house. For the most part I just monitor kick drum and click.”
Sastry, who plays a fairly standard four-piece kit plus the notable addition of a second floor tom to the left of his hi-hat, employs his three toms and a modest complement of cymbals as melodic voices in a manner different from most current players. “To be honest, I didn’t get the idea [for the left-side floor tom] from any particular drummer,” he says. “It’s not a new or revolutionary idea. I just wanted a change in my setup, and I wanted to think about my fills a bit differently and push my left side more.” To see some particularly good examples of his unique approach, check out the play-along videos for his original songs “Crystal” and “Ghost.”
Admirers of Sastry’s tech-metal prowess might be surprised to learn about the source of some of his playing ideas. “One of my biggest influences right now is [R&B/ fusion master] Chris Coleman,” Anup says. “That guy is an absolute beast on a kit, and I love his approach to playing. Growing up, I listened to almost everything. I did go through a pretty big metal phase when I first started playing drums, but today I don’t really listen to metal at all. I enjoy it for sure, but I listen much more to hip-hop and R&B, as well as indie and country music.”
Perhaps, then, readers won’t be surprised to learn that when asked about his goals moving forward, Sastry mentions, with a chuckle, playing for Beyoncé or Daft Punk. “I don’t really have a plan set in place for my future, though,” he’s quick to add. “I’m still kind of living life minute by minute. I want to continue to improve my style as much as possible, and I want to start practicing more than I already do. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and touring with some amazing drummers, and I find it’s always inspiring for me to want to go home and just get better. So I guess you could say my goal is to keep staying musically active for as long as I can.”