Taking The Reins
Mark Heaney Drumscapes Vol. 1
The English drummer and composer, best known for his stint with Gang of Four, returns with a beautiful album of drum-centered music. We checked out the album—and took advantage of an opportunity to ask Mark about what went into it.
Though Mark Heaney has considerable chops and can make elaborate beats with the best of them, the music on Drumscapes Vol. 1 is decidedly less about flash and more a collection of hypnotic mood pieces. “The word ‘hypnotic’ sums it up perfectly,” Heaney recently told Modern Drummer. “I’m a big fan of drum grooves that repeat and just sit. I remember hearing Can’s ‘Halleluhwah,’ which is a perfect example of that kind of thing. The drums just sit perfectly on that groove—the sound of them, just beautiful and so cool. I wanted to play the beats live and avoid any cut-and-paste. Each bar is slightly different sonically, so you can still hear that human element in there.”
The record features Heaney’s live drums, as he puts it, “against a backdrop of intricate soundscapes fusing music from jazz, trip-hop, drum ’n’ bass, electronica, and other styles,” so rhythm lovers rejoice, because there’s much to dig into here. And while many before Heaney have set out to avoid a look-at-me technical display statement, few have succeeded in creating such a satisfying listen. There are funky, Stubblefield-esque chill-out numbers (“Sacrifice”), slow snare ruffs and hats patterns (“Light in the Darkness”), and ghost-note laden 6/4 head bobbers (“Awakening”). The tracks are at once almost lo-fi hazy and well recorded, with ambient synth pads or electric piano used as beds for Heaney’s invention.
One can either transcribe the stickings found across the album, in drum geek fashion, or simply leave it on in the background as cool ambience. “It took me a long time to find sonically exactly what I was looking for,” says Heaney, describing the process of putting the album together. “I have a huge archive of samples and loops I’ve recorded over the years, so it was great to dig out some of that stuff and bring it to life. I wanted the drums to sound raw and dirty, and I was aware not to overproduce it, as it would have killed the essence of it. Once the album was out, I started work on how to perform the tracks live, which is the priority. Live, I’m using Ableton with either an Akai MPD32 or LPD8 controller to manipulate the audio, which gives me a bit more freedom. I can add delays or filters and not be stuck to just playing to a backing track. This year will see a Drumscapes Vol. 2 album, and then it’s all about building the project and playing live as much as possible.”
When asked whether he came up with the music first or if he catered his compositions to the beats, Heaney replies, “A bit of both, really. A lot of the time the drums dictate what the track will be, not just rhythmically but melodically. I would go into a room, record drums, come back, cut them up, and find interesting beats and patterns and build from there. Other times I would have an ambient pad or loop, and that would inspire a track. With the drums, I wanted to create very repetitive, trance-like patterns and then embellish on top of that. The music I make comes from emotion, life, etc. I had no interest in trying to make a clever drum album. That sort of stuff leaves me cold. It had to have heart and tell a story.”
Sonically, Heaney’s kit is tuned relatively high. The drum sound is not entirely the same from track to track, and the record’s scintillating production is one of its very best features. But the jazzy, tight drum tones create a lovely vibe, allowing Heaney’s patterns to cut through all the “noise.” And you don’t need a big kit for big sounds or big ideas. “I wanted the kit to sit alongside the loops on the tracks,” says Heaney. “I come from a jazz background, so generally I prefer my drums tuned higher. Also, I can get more sounds, tones, and melodies out of my drums if they’re tuned that way. It’s all about the touch on the kit. It was the same kit for all the tracks, but a different approach in the mix. I’m also trying to keep my kit as minimal as possible for the live shows. I much prefer playing a smaller setup in terms of musicality and creativity.”
And what’s the secret to getting that grimy sound? “I record my drums in Logic completely clean,” Heaney explains. “I then bounce them down into Reason, as it’s quick and intuitive. I work very fast and need to be able to access things instantly. I used a great plugin called a Pulveriser that’s fantastic for dirty drums. None of it can replace vintage analogue outboard gear, but that’s expensive and time-consuming. I also like to work alone. I would feel pressured and conscious in a studio with others, and I have to have total control over what I am doing. It’s a very personal thing.”
If too much textural stuff leaves you wanting to hear just a smidge of Heaney blazing, your wish is granted with a couple of almost traditional drum spots, “Reinstate” and “3am.” Were these blowing affairs an attempt to break up the grooving nature of the album with some free solos? “No, I didn’t think, Okay, there’s a lot of grooves on here so I had better put in some chops for the drummers,” says Heaney. “The solo tracks are more about a flow of expression, emotion, aggression, as opposed to a show of technical ability, and they work well alongside the other tracks. To approach a drumkit from a nonmusical point of view turns it into a piece of sports apparatus, and that’s something I have zero interest in. I studied and practiced those mechanical technique things to be able to say what I wanted to on the drums and still be able to play those patterns and beats as easily as possible. But for me the focus is and always should be on the emotion, flow, energy, and sound. Music should come from the heart and should be a reflection of life and all that that brings with it.” Ilya Stemkovsky
Dream Theater Distance over Time
MIKE MANGINI and DT return with more notes for the willing.
Dream Theater have their “thing” down to a science three decades into a long and illustrious career, and while fans argue over which era is best, the prog-metal veterans keep trucking along. Now four records into his stint, Mike Mangini anchors the tunes with all the over-the-top fills and patterns he and the band are known for, this time with the added benefit of everyone having lived together and recorded in an upstate New York barn. That old-school vibe got the band members close and the music tight, with Mangini breaking up a 32nd-note snare roll between his kicks and splashes on “Fall into the Light” and accenting his ride bell on the snakey riff intro in “Barstool Warrior.” There’s also some weighty thunder toms in the verses of “Room 137” and incredible unison work between the drums and guitars in the instrumental section of “Pale Blue Dot” that’s classic Dream Theater. Mangini grooves and supports epic solos with brilliance, but his greatest strength continues to be how he sounds like a machine, in the best sense of the word. (InsideOut) Ilya Stemkovsky
Dori Rubbicco Stage Door Live
Drawing on straight-ahead jazz, bossa with a hint of funk, and more, this singer’s album is a showcase not only for her but everyone here.
Live jazz brings an immediacy to it, as musicians interact in the moment. On Dori Rubbicco’s new album, the singer generously gives plenty of time over to her band, consisting of saxophone, guitar, piano, bass, and the fine drumming of Yoron Israel. This approach works quite well, as the group opens up in a relaxed, supportive way that frames the singer yet allows everyone to explore. Check the interpretation of “Imagine,” where familiarity meets rhythmic invention, or any of the numerous spots where everyone stretches out and things heat up. Israel is no stranger to the bandstand, and here he displays some of his best recorded drumming to date. With a variety of grooves and textures, he’s both supportive and driving, guiding the group through the charts, adding tasteful fills and dynamic solos along the way. (Whaling City Sound) Martin Patmos
The singer-less six-piece group features a trombonist who doubles on beatbox and a trumpet player who occasionally plays sousaphone, all anchored by JOHN HUBBELL on drums and Snarky Puppy’s KEITA OGAWA on percussion.
The Brooklyn-based Huntertones, who came together during the members’ time at Ohio State University, have been traveling a lot in the past few years, as the title of Passport suggests. In fact, the album’s compositions take inspiration from the band’s travels to Togo, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia during several U.S. State Department– sponsored tours. The group’s sound is a polished meeting of brass band traditions and world fusion with drum corps precision. “Clutch” features a three-beat groove with an Afrobeat vibe, “Togo” appropriately dances around a familiar 12/8 bell pattern, “Bad David” chugs along with a Tower of Power bounce, and “Bird Song” centers around a convincing second-line groove of the Johnny Vidacovich school. John Hubbell shows expertise at the kit, navigating the globetrotting compositions with confidence and intensity, as well as at the mixing console. The drum sounds are varied and pleasing throughout, perhaps thanks to the drummer covering some engineering duties.
Despite the focus on instrumental pieces, the music here is not completely devoid of singing. Hope Masike, who the group met in Zimbabwe, lends lead vocals on the lush 6/8 ballad “Hondo,” which is peppered with mbira and shakers. Fusion heads will enjoy “Change,” with its mixed meters, clever syncopated accents, Wayne Krantz-ian guitar tones, and a 12/8 section that subtly ties it together with the global leanings of the rest of the album. And fans of Snarky Puppy will enjoy the guest spots from that band’s trumpet player Justin Stanton and the contributions of their percussionist Keita Ogawa. (huntertones.com) Stephen Bidwell