Shinedown’s master of bombast is expert at building glorious mountains of rock out of the good ol’ 2 and 4. But without his attention to detail, it wouldn’t amount to a pile of beans.
Barry Kerch has played the part of Shinedown’s unflappable human rhythm generator for ten years. With dreads flying and limbs pounding, he’s been integral to the group’s colossal live show, and his steady, stinging performances in the studio have played a significant part in a remarkable chart success—which, as of this writing, is defined by 6 million albums sold and fourteen hit singles.
Shinedown has perfected the art of thunderous yet melodic hard rock, and Kerch’s ability to play for the song while keeping the needles in the red fulfills his job requirements perfectly. A true student of the instrument, Barry misses no opportunity to sharpen his skills, taking cues from fellow drummers who share his passion for the craft, such as his old touring buddy from Nickelback, Daniel Adair. “I remember all the times the band members and their friends would be partying after the show,” Adair recalls. “Barry would be standing in the middle of it, talking about technique, patterns, various details of his playing, and his aspirations.”
On Shinedown’s latest release, Amaryllis, Kerch’s presence and groove are stamped all over the cuts—and once again the group seems poised to take over the charts. We spoke to the drummer about maintaining a level head among the accolades, being a team player, and bringing the rock.
MD: How does the recording process start with Shinedown?
Barry: There were a lot of variables coming into this record. We had such huge success with our last album, The Sound of Madness, and we realized there was a lot at stake this time. I typically get demos sent my way that have electronic drums on them, but they have the basic feel of what [vocalist] Brent Smith is going for. I take those original ideas and meld them with my groove to find that perfect balance. We’ll talk about everything and hash it out, though. Sometimes we get what’s called “studio-itis,” where everyone gets used to what’s already laid down on a track, so varying from that can become challenging.
MD: What was your headspace coming into this recording?
Barry: I’ve had a lot going on over the past year, and I started taking a form of martial arts called Wing Chun, which has really helped me focus. When we get into the studio, it’s a pressure cooker. We’ll sit there for hours working on a song; we listen and listen and listen. Wing Chun helps me concentrate so much better in the studio. And it’s helped strengthen everything from my posture to my muscle ligature and memory. It keeps me more stable and disciplined, for sure.
MD: Can you describe your evolution as a player since Shinedown’s first album, Leave a Whisper?
Barry: Over the past three records I’ve really learned to hold things back a bit more. Playing for the song has been my focus. The band has really grown and is in a totally different place from where we were before. Over the progression of recordings I’ve realized that simplifying my playing works toward making it more tactful. You can play so many beats per second—or you can artfully play for the tune. It’s not about how many cool fills I can play, or about the guitar solos. I concentrate on dancing with the vocals to bring the songs to life. I don’t play to hear myself on the records; I use my skills to play smoothly and tastefully for the song, and I think people can really hear that.
MD: What’s something new you learned this time in the studio?
Barry: I believe I learned to be more flexible with my drumming and to be able to change parts and patterns immediately. We would finish a take, and then [producer] Rob Cavallo would sometimes want to completely change a kick, snare, or hihat pattern or feel. It’s my job to say, “Absolutely—let’s do it!” Letting go of your ego is one of the hardest things to do, especially under the pressure of a recording studio.
MD: Let’s talk about some of the new songs. What were the challenges of “Amaryllis”?
Barry: That sounds like an easy part, but to sit down and try to play it is more difficult. The action between the cymbals and the snare was difficult for me to get the feel right on. It’s really stiff on the crash and on the hi-hat, but the snare and ghost notes feel great.
MD: How about “Adrenaline”?
Barry: “Adrenaline” is just that, pure adrenaline. You have to approach recording a song like that with pure rock fury sometimes. Sit down, grab the sticks, and go for it. It’s one where I wanted to stay just on top or slightly ahead of the beat. This was also one of the first recorded Shinedown songs where I used a little double bass in the choruses to accentuate the bass line. Shinedown’s music typically doesn’t call for double bass playing, but this song needed it. I remember getting through the song initially and thinking to myself, This one is going to sting night after night.
MD: You’ve played with three different guitarists and two different bassists in Shinedown. How has that affected your drumming?
Barry: All of those guys are high-caliber players, and each brought a unique style to the group. [Current bassist] Eric Bass can play piano and guitar, and his melodic sense comes through in his bass playing. [Original bassist] Brad Stewart was more rhythmically oriented. But the drums are the rock and the foundation, so they’ve had to match up with me.
MD: You’ve been able to jam and spend time with some great drummers on tour. What have you picked up from them?
Barry: I’ve been blessed to be around so many great drummers—Morgan Rose, Daniel Adair, John Humphrey, even Alex Van Halen. One thing about drummers is that we’re willing to share. I’ve been able to watch all of these great drummers and sit behind their kit and see how they set up. There may not be one big thing that I’ve taken from any one person, but all the little nuances that I’ve picked up have made my groove better. Daniel Adair is a wonderful drummer who is constantly working on his craft. We would sit together in the practice room and be like, “Hey man, check this out,” or “How do you pull this off?” I got that fever from him and really wanted to improve myself. And from Morgan Rose I picked up on not only how talented he is as a drummer but also how entertaining he is. As difficult as it is to admit, I’m in the entertainment business, and to just sit back there and play the song isn’t enough anymore.
I also recently did some Skype lessons with the great Dom Famularo. We would spend more time talking drums than playing them, but it was wonderful. He is such a wealth of knowledge, and I took so much from him. The changes he made in my hand technique have changed my game for the better. We broke everything down, from my grip to going through Stick Control. Every good drummer knows it’s a lifelong thing.
MD: You’ve been hitting it hard with Shinedown for a long time now. How do you maintain longevity playing the drums?
Barry: You need to keep yourself in check and stay healthy. I’ve seen a lot of guys that haven’t, and it really shortens your career. The road is ugly sometimes—I mean, I get to see the world, but often it just involves the back of a venue. You play the show, go to sleep, and wake up in another city, at a venue that looks exactly like the one you just played. Whether it’s reading a book, practicing on a pad, or whatever, I have to keep my mind occupied to combat the numbing loneliness.
MD: What makes you the right drummer for Shinedown?
Barry: I’m rock steady, and I do what’s required for the music. There are a lot of players who are better than I am, and just as many that aren’t, but the truth is, there are reasons that I’ve played for ten years with a successful band. I play for the song, I show up on time, and I do what’s asked of me. I enjoy what I do, and I make it fun—and a lot of guys don’t do that. I’ve found that staying humble and true to myself is the most important thing. I do what I love, and I’ve never given in to the Hollywood weirdness. So many guys let it all implode on them. I’ve done the opposite and built a career playing the drums.
Drums: Pearl Reference series
A. 5×12 Pearl shell with ePro head
B. 6 1/2×14 snare
C. 8×13 tom
D. 16×18 floor tom
E. 16×16 floor tom
F. 14×22 bass drum
G. 15×26 bass drum
Note: The kit shown here is the one Barry used on the last Shinedown tour. Currently on the road he’s playing a Pearl Reference Pure kit in black cherry sparkle finish. The basic setup is the same, with the exception of a 12×14 Philharmonic snare drum with an ePro head replacing the 5×12 shell (A), and a 15×26 bass drum (G) set up to the right of the main bass drum, which Kerch plays with a double pedal modified by his drum tech, Brandon “Bear” Alanis.
1. 14″ Byzance Spectrum hi-hats
2. 18″ Soundcaster Fusion crash
3. 22″ Byzance Stadium ride
4. 20″ Soundcaster Fusion crash
5. 16″ closed hi-hats (Byzance Dark crash over Byzance Vintage Trash crash)
6. 19″ Soundcaster Fusion crash
Heads: Evans Power Center main snare batter and Hazy 300 bottom, G2 Coated tom batters and G1 Coated bottoms, and EQ4 Clear main bass drum batter and Onyx front head
Sticks: Pro-Mark 747 hickory wood-tip
Hardware: Pearl S-2000 snare stands, H-2000 hi-hat stand, C-1000 cymbal stands, B-1000 boom stand, P-3002D double pedal on main bass drum with PureSound Speedball felt beaters, P-2002C double pedal on auxiliary bass drum with yellow cam and Demon Drive beater, CLH-1000 closed hi-hat boom arm, and D-2500 throne
Tuning: Kerch says his drums are tuned as open as possible, with minimal Moongel (no more than half a piece per drum). Each drum, with the exception of the kicks, is tuned with the bottom head a fourth above the top (for example, the top tom head is tuned to E, the bottom to A). The bass drum heads are tuned slightly above wrinkling on the batter side, and the resonant heads are tuned roughly a third higher; Barry places one and a half Evans EQ pads inside each drum.
Miking/triggering: Shure mics and ddrum triggers. Triggers run through a drumKAT into a MOTU UltraLite interface, with sounds originally from Reason software.
Live monitoring: Westone ES5 in-ear monitors, MD Sound MD-18 subwoofers, ButtKicker Concert low-frequency audio transducers
Miscellaneous: Pintech electronic drums, HansenFütz practice pedals
Recordings With Shinedown
CDs Leave a Whisper, Us and Them, The Sound of Madness, iTunes Session, Somewhere in the Stratosphere, Amaryllis, “Her Name Is Alice” (from Almost Alice: Music Inspired by the Motion Picture Alice in Wonderland), “Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom)” (from The Expendables: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), “Tie Your Mother Down” (from Killer Queen: A Tribute to Queen) DVDs Live From the Inside, Somewhere in the Stratosphere
Led Zeppelin IV (John Bonham) /// Nine Inch Nails The Downward Spiral (Chris Vrenna, Stephen Perkins, Andy Kubiszewski, Trent Reznor) /// Prince and the Revolution Purple Rain (Bobby Z, Prince) /// The Police Synchronicity (Stewart Copeland) /// Iron Maiden Piece of Mind (Nicko McBrain) /// James Brown Star Time (various) /// Sevendust Animosity (Morgan Rose) /// Tesla Mechanical Resonance (Troy Luccketta)