Matt Frenette
Things happen fast in the world of rock ‘n’ roll. The first time Matt Frenette was interviewed for MD, people were raving about Loverboy on the West Coast, but the group’s popularity did not yet extend to the East Coast. The interview was therefore intended to be a portrait of an up-and-coming new artist. However, before we had the chance to publish that interview, Loverboy’s success had spread across the country. Since Matt Frenette’s position in the drumming world had skyrocketed along with the group’s popularity, we are now presenting an expanded feature interview with Loverboy’s drummer.
Despite the drastic changes that have occurred in his career during the interim between these two interviews, Matt has managed to maintain the unspoiled and enthusiastic attitude he displayed at the time of the original article. His perpetual facial expression is that of a five-year-old child in a toy store. Although Matt is excited about the success of Loverboy, this success has not gone to his head. He still finds time to talk to interested fans and realizes that, without continued hard work, the success of a rock ‘n’ roll group today can be very fleeting. Frenette’s flexible attitude, lack of egocentricity, and belief in teamwork have contributed greatly to the achievements of Loverboy. These same qualities have made Matt an interesting and very likeable individual.
MF: When I was a kid, every time I met people I really respected or looked up to, I always wanted to talk to them to find out one little thing about each of them— what they were like as people, what directions they followed as they came up, what music they listened to, and what influences they had. As I grew up in the mid-’60s, the Vancouver scene was real healthy. There were a lot of horn bands, soul music and acid rock. While I was going through school there were a lot of drummers I got to meet.
SF: What are the odds on one of your fans getting to meet you at a Loverboy concert?
MF: Probably slim because of the security. But I always impress on our road manager and the security people that, if there are any kids who really make it known that they’re into drums and they really want to meet me, I’ll take an extra 15 minutes to talk to them. That’s really important. It’s a small bit of time out of my life, but it’s really important to them. That’s really rewarding.
SF: Do different people ask you the same questions over and over?
MF: Yeah. They want to know what it’s like to be touring, and what it’s like to be famous. Once they break that ice they’ll ask, “How long have you been drumming? What kind of music did you listen to when you grew up?” Of course it’s going to be different from what they listened to. Some of these kids weren’t even alive when I was listening to Otis Redding, The Temptations, and The Chambers Brothers. I listened to a lot of black music. These kids don’t really know about Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and a lot of the R&B music.
I also let them know that they should find some of those records and learn the backbeat, rather than always playing the onbeat that’s used in a lot of today’s rock music. I apply that to our music, but I also like emphasizing the snare, because it’s really important to have both schools: the R&B feel and the real straight-ahead feel.
I haven’t really done any clinics or anything like that. Possibly in the future, when I get more time off from touring, I’ll be able to do some clinics, work with some kids, and maybe do specialty drum shops around the States and Canada.
SF: How do you answer the question, “What’s it like to be famous?”
MF: It’s all relative. I don’t look at myself as being real famous. I just say that there are a lot of pressures and sacrifices. You don’t get to practice as much and there are certain things that you have to sacrifice for success. But I try not to run it down. It’s not a bummer for me, so I always try to inspire people. A lot of kids think it must be really weird to be successful. They always ask if I do drugs or get high when I play. The answer is no. We talk about that a bit.
SF: Can you elaborate on some of the sacrifices that you’ve made?
MF: You end up taking a good look at egos. You have to sacrifice, a lot of times, what you might think is right. There are a lot of factors to Loverboy’s success: management; a great record company; timing; a little bit of luck; good tunes; the chemistry of everybody in the band.
It all has to start with the chemistry of the band, and the tunes. That early germ was really good in Loverboy. We all got along and re spected each other. We all came from different schools; I came from R&B and jazz/fusion. In the group I was in, we did a lot of Stevie Wonder, Chick Corea, Billy Cobham, Steely Dan, Chicago, and Santana. There were a lot of those influences in my early years when I was making money by playing six days a week in colleges and schools.
Scotty came from jazz/funk; he didn’t really play that much rock. Dougie is classically trained. He didn’t play in any heavy rock bands at all. He played in a pop/rock/country group just a little while before Loverboy. Paul has a lot of influences that go back to R&B, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll. Michael comes from rock ‘n’ roll. Those influences all became one very healthy melting pot. It was a good blend. We all have ideas.
Some bands have trouble communicating. To become successful is to communicate with one another, and also be able to back down. It’s very much give and take. If you feel that you’re right, but the person who wrote the song feels that your part was too busy, try it the songwriter’s way. Tape it, listen to it, and live with it. It’s only music. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. Music is a beautiful thing, right? But it shouldn’t be so serious—no matter what the level is—that it ever comes between people.
You’ve got to play as a team. I’ve played a million team sports—soccer, rugby, track, and all that stuff. I really feel that applies. Teamwork has really helped us stay together and enjoy each other’s time. When you’re working real hard in the studio, at a rehearsal or a soundcheck, sometimes you’ve just got to say, “No big deal. I’ll try it.” Nine times out of ten, the other person is right. Maybe in an other song you’ll get to play what you want to play or express.
If there’s an obvious problem and somebody’s dictating in the group, then it should be seriously looked at. It’s really important to be able to communicate to become successful. Bands like REO Speedwagon and Styx haven’t been around this long for no reason. These groups have continued to do a very good business by touring and making records without firing this person or that person. Sooner or later you’re all going to get tired, I’m sure. You’ve got your separate lives to live—families and so forth. Someday, maybe you’ll all decide, “Okay. That’s it.” But everybody will realize that when it comes. Communication is the key, and I believe we have that magic.
Matt Frenette
SF: What’s your audience like?
MF: Kids today are pretty up and they’re really keen. There are a lot of good female drummers now. It’s really blowing my mind. They’ll come up to me and say, “I use this kind of stuff, and I use these heads and sticks,” and they’re really into it. They can really put you on the spot. Kids today really research. They’ll ask, “What kind of drumheads did you use on that one cut on the second album? Did you have them tuned tighter than on the other songs on the album?”
I really respect that, because I don’t remember thinking like that when I was their age and learning songs off albums. I just remember learning feels. I don’t remember getting into certain sounds and things, although the Beatles albums did blow me away with the echo effects they used, and the way Ringo’s drums always sounded different from track to track. That always made an impression on me.
A lot of kids really attach themselves to the glamour of the rock ‘n’ roll business. The heaviness of it and the energy really turns them in that direction. They like big drumsets. Kids will say to me, “When I get my first drumset, I want to get a set just like yours.” Now, I have eight tom-toms, a single kick, a snare and a few cymbals. I always try to impress upon them not to buy a big set in the beginning.
I actually rented a snare drum for a long time when I was learning rudiments and playing in the school band. Not every kid is going to do that these days. A lot of kids today get distracted by a lot of drums, the flash, the twirling of sticks, and they don’t emphasize playing the groove enough; being able to lay down good time instead of laying down a lot of chops. That should come from growing and learning about yourself, learning from other drummers, and then slowly piecing your style together. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in playing to a lot of your favorite records, but have a variety: jazz, blues, funk, heavy rock, and maybe a country record—just for the hell of it—to see what it’s like. That really helped my versatility.
If Paul, our guitar player, wants to write a song with a slight country feel or a reggae break in the middle, I have to be able to pull that off. That’s really important for a drummer. You should be the most versatile person in the band. A drummer should be able to go any which way, in addition to being able to play in different bands. If you have that ability and one group doesn’t work out, you can go to another group that doesn’t have the same flavor. That’s important.
SF: You don’t feel that young drummers are developing enough versatility today?
MF: The majority tend to get in ruts, but not all of them. There are a lot of kids playing fusion and jazz. I went through marching band for five years. That was a long time. I learned a lot of discipline, and the rudiments. I played conventional grip, of course, and it took me a long time to switch to matched grip. But I really felt that my marching band experience helped me. I still apply that knowledge in using dynamics and in using press rolls. A lot of rock drummers today can’t play a good press roll. So many drummers really don’t have those rudiments. They have a lot of good ideas, but they didn’t really grow up in marching bands.
SF: I didn’t either. But I was still aware of the rudiments and took it upon myself to learn them.
MF: Well, I don’t mean to dwell on that, or say that everybody should go out and join a marching band. But if the opportunity comes your way, it’s really good for the discipline, the rudiments, stick control and independence. A lot of people today become good drummers who can rock real well, but their independence and flexibility are lacking.
SF: Can you think of a specific instance where you used rudiments in creating a drum part?
MF: Yeah. “Take Me To The Top” from the Get Lucky album. It has that light break in the middle where it’s a bit jazzy. My part is light with rimshots, some cymbal stuff, and a press roll.
On the first album we had a reggae thing. There are songs where I’ve used press rolls and dynamic little breaks to lead the band—just like a bandleader—rather than just plowing through the arrangement. A lot of drummers and groups will start a song at one volume level and stay at that level through the whole cut. In concert they’ll go into the next song at the same level they ended the previous song on. The dynamics through the night should be like the dynamics through a song. They should bring the song back down, and then let it grow again, bit by bit. Let the evening build, rather than going to one level and plowing straight through it. You get caught up in that adrenaline of the evening. You pyramid and peak. That’s something to be aware of.
SF: For those who are interested in going back and studying the art of rock drumming, could you suggest key drummers to study?
MF: I learned so much from Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad. Man, he was so hot I couldn’t believe it. That band had a lot of dynamics and some great arrangements. They really kicked ass.
I learned a lot from Stevie Wonder. A lot of people don’t realize that Stevie is a great drummer; he does such great cymbal work. He doesn’t emphasize the bass drum, but his cymbal, snare and hi-hat stuff is great. Rather than holding to the stock way of first playing hi-hat with the snare in the verses, and then playing the bell of the cymbal in the chorus, Stevie will use all three things within the verse drum pattern. Then he’ll go to the hi-hat during the chorus. He is sort of floating all the time. I really like that spontaneity. You can apply that to straight-ahead rock, or whatever.
I learned a lot from Michael Shrieve with Santana. I also liked Bobby Colomby with Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Danny Seraphine with Chicago. I went through the horn band thing for quite a while. Hearing Keith Moon and Ginger Baker was when it all hit me. It’s funny, because a lot of the drummers that really affected me used double bass drums. Mitch Mitchell was another one.
SF: Mitch usually played single bass drum didn’t he, except for a time when he had a black double bass drum setup?
MF: When I saw Mitch in 1967, he was playing double bass drums. He had a black Gretsch drumset. I was just blown away. On that same bill was first a local Vancouver band, then The Soft Machine, then Vanilla Fudge with Carmine Appice, and then Jimi Hendrix. By the time Tim Bogert and Carmine had finished their solos, I was just out of my brain. They did this bass guitar and drum duet. Carmine was so hot that night. Then Hendrix came on and I was just devastated. I was about 13 years old.
Ginger Baker really made a big change in my life. I saw him with Blind Faith. They were real hot that night. I saw Ginger’s pink champagne Ludwig drums and I freaked. That week my dad and I got a loan, that I worked to pay off at about $100 a month, and bought a pink champagne set of Ludwig drums. It was a small, little set. I still have that kit sitting in the basement.
I liked Ginger for turning the beat around, and playing the “1” and “3” on the snare. Ginger, Keith and Mitch were all great for their snare drum work—a lot of “shots” playing. It would be a bit too much in today’s rock music. I’ve tried applying it sometimes when we’re jamming or working on a new song. The guys kind of look back at me and say, “Ah, it’s a little busy, Matt.” But Keith, Ginger and Mitch were great for that.
SF: You’ve mentioned busy players as influences. So much drumming in today’s pop music is pared way down. I’ve often wondered how much of that is because guitarists and keyboard players can’t keep time without that steady “2” and “4.”
MF: That’s really true. We just had a group out with us, and their drummer and I were talking. He does exactly the same fills every night. He said, “If I stray away from it, the guys in the band just look back and say, ‘No. This is the way it’s done.’ ” Some groups have that format. You’d think this guy could vary the way he plays a little bit, but he can’t. That bothers him, because it can get pretty mundane and awfully boring when you’re touring that long. But that’s their show and everybody else can rely on that. I don’t like to stray too far away from it because people rely on certain things. Maybe there’s a move the other guys are going to do with a rimshot. One guy might jump up with the rimshot and the lightman is cueing off that. If a few nights go by and all of a sudden I don’t play the rimshot, then the lightman throws the spot for no reason.
Plus, kids really listen to records and they have such great stereos now. They know every lick. I see kids in the front row playing air drums. One time in concert, I played this complex lick just as it was on the record. I saw this kid playing air drums and he nailed every note—even the little splash cymbal halfway through it. So if I don’t play the lick off the record, he’s going to know about it, right? When he comes to a show he wants to hear that lick. I think about that.
SF: I don’t remember going to hear concerts in the ’60s, expecting the drummers to play the same licks they played on the records.
MF: Me neither.
Matt Frenette
SF: So if someone learns to imitate all of Matt Frenette’s licks, that person isn’t really learning to play.
MF: Right. But if you get that melting pot of Matt Frenette’s licks, Stevie Wonder’s licks, and licks from other people, as you grow and keep playing, it will come along, and sooner or later that light will click on.
I was blown away when Billy Cobham first hit. A friend turned me on to Billy when he was in Dreams. It seemed to me that his drum solo on the song “New York” just came from nowhere. I got into Cobham so thickly that I still play his type of fills, with a blend of Charlie Watts and today’s four-on-the-floor rock ‘n’ roll beat. I always got this blend of Charlie and Billy—staying loose and grooving, while being able to pull off a real heavy fill with that intensity and energy. That’s what I ended up falling into, and I stayed there. I’m always trying to keep that backbeat and R&B feel.
SF: What was the motivation behind starting Loverboy?
MF: Paul Dean and Mike actually started the germ of Loverboy. I was still playing in a group that Paul and I had been in together for a couple of years. I stayed on for an extra year. After Paul left, he met Michael in Calgary and they started writing. It was a good team and they stayed in Calgary for about a year and a half, wrote a lot of songs, worked on a concept/image, and started honing down ideas.
Then they met Lou Blair, one of our managers. They went to Vancouver and recorded a couple of demos with other players. Then they met Dougie, our keyboard player, Bruce Allen, our other manager, and shopped the demos. I quit the group I was in and went to Vancouver. I’d heard that Paul was putting another group together, but I didn’t quit to join them. I just wanted to shut it down for a while and collect my thoughts. I practiced in the basement for a while, but I got real bored and couldn’t do it. I had to play with other people; I needed that give and take of putting a song together. I couldn’t sit there and play to records anymore.
I was real frustrated when the phone rang one day. It was Mike, and he said, “What are you doing? We hear you’re in town. Would you like to come down and jam?” I said, “Yeah. That would be great.”
It took a little while to get in the groove. It was a different concept than what Paul and I had done in two other groups that we’d played in together. He had all the songs already written. The concept and image of the group was going to be a little more pop oriented than what we’d done before. At first I thought, “This won’t be right for me. I don’t know if I want to go this route.”
After I got into the songs more and played more with them, I felt that I could still play the way I liked, even though the songs were more commercial and more accessible to the public. There was a lot of serious talk going on with the record company. and I had to take a real good look at it before I said, “Yeah. This feels really good.”
We rehearsed and played clubs for eight months. Then our record contract came through with CBS. Our management was real strong. The band felt great and we were doing all original material in the clubs. We did three 50-minute sets and we were packing the joints. Then we knew that there was something here that the public liked. They could dance to our music; they could get off on the vocals and the energy. We were getting real good reviews, and better money in the clubs week by week. So we knew that something good was there, but we weren’t sure how big it would actually get.
SF: How much did your managers help the band’s career?
MF: Bruce Allen had a lot of experience. He managed Bachman-Turner Overdrive all through their fame during the early ’70s. He has a lot of contacts, so we got out on a really good tour. The first show we ever did was warming up for Kiss in our hometown. Man, that was really rough. People were booing us. We took our lumps and played the set.
Then we warmed up a Canadian group called Prism. After that we went out with Cheap Trick and started getting our legs for playing in a concert situation. This gave us the opportunity to see how our tunes were going over with kids, rather than working in bars where people were drinking and the crowd was older. It was not going too badly.
Then Bruce got us on a three-month tour with Kansas. We worked real hard in ’81 doing about 200 shows. That really helped break the band. If there were nights that we weren’t doing a concert, we’d go out and headline a 1,000-seat club. Then three nights later, we’d be on tour for three or four shows with Kansas. There was no time off. We just worked and worked with Kansas, April Wine, ZZ Top and then Journey. By the end of ’81, we’d played to every demographic in the USA.
There were a couple of dates with ZZ Top that were rough. The audience really wanted ZZ Top, and Loverboy was still in the breaking stage. They just looked at these leather-clad rockers running around the stage and didn’t want anything to do with us. They wanted the Southern boogie happening—and right now! “Get off the stage!” Cape Cod was the worst gig we ever played. We were forced right off the stage. They just chanted, “ZZ Top, ZZ Top” through our whole set. Finally, we ended a song and decided that we should just leave the stage. Since then we’ve been back to Cape Cod as headliners, and we’ve packed the joint.
SF: What did you do right after you walked off stage that night?
MF: We seriously took a look at everything. We all sat in the dressing room looking at our shoes. Nobody said anything. Management came in and said, “Look, shake it off. No problem. Don’t worry about it. It was just a rough night.” It took us about a week to get over it, but it really toughened up the band. We took a good look at the weak songs in the set where the crowd got restless. We could remember which songs had their attention and which songs didn’t. When we went in to record Get Lucky, we wrote songs like “Gangs in The Street.” We toughened up. There had been at least three or four directions on our first album; some reggae, funk, and disco/rock. Those were gone—history. We narrowed it down to two: rock and pop. That was due solely to the ZZ Top tour.
SF: How important is promotion for a band’s success? How much promotion did you do individually and collectively?
MF: We did a lot of promotion. You still have to do a lot of promotion, no matter how big you get. I don’t think you should evehr leave people out. We went to so many radio stations, interviews and newspapers. We’d take time in the afternoon, before a soundcheck, and go on the air. We ran a lot of contests. The whole band would be out in one day, and hit two or three radio stations in a city. Even at this level, we still do that. We meet press every day before our show—up to 30 people some days.
We’re sponsored by Sasson on this tour. They’re doing an excellent job of promotion. They’ll have 10 to 15 kids backstage who’ve won a contest to see the band. It’s really important to stay in touch with that. Sometimes it’s a bit exhausting doing that much press, but you need that personal touch. We’ve always kept that as a philosophy in Loverboy, and our management and record company have always worked hard to do as much promotion as possible.
SF: Do you have to be a salesman?
MF: Yeah. You have to be an actor, a musician, an athlete, a businessman and a promotions representative. You really do. You have to cover a lot of ground. That’s the only way. It’s a business. It’s a good business, but it’s a big business. The music industry is huge. I don’t see how kids could really afford to see all the shows that have been on the road this past year. We’ve been really lucky. Our shows have been selling out. I know two or three groups who have had some trouble this year with albums that haven’t done well. They’ve had to drop whole tours. It’s pretty scary to think that two years ago they were huge. It shows you how fast it can go, too. That’s the very scary thing about striving for the top.
SF: How would you answer the critics of rock bands who tie in the expense of a tour with a corporation like Sasson?
MF: We didn’t want to go with anything like a beer or a cigarette company. It’s a pretty healthy band with a pretty healthy image. We’re involved with Sasson because there are a lot of groups on the road right now. Ticket prices get extraordinary sometimes. We really felt that we wanted to keep everything at a reasonable cost to the public. By Sasson kicking in and giving tour support, it can keep our overhead down when we’re on the road touring. That’s the main reason we did it. It’s a mutual relationship. Sasson feels that Loverboy can help their image.
The promotion they’re giving us on this tour will help sell tickets, which will help sell more records, which helps us. There were certain things that Sasson wanted which we said no to. We don’t have to be on stage in Sasson clothes. We have a very good deal with them, and it works very well for both of us.
SF: There’s always been a tragic misunderstanding between art and business. The result is that many great musicians have ended up penniless. I’d like to see artists develop a more mature understanding of business.
MF: I agree. There are a lot of positive areas to look at. Management has a lot to do with it. If you get bad management, it can really hurt.
My endorsements with Remo and Zildjian are great. There’s no big deal. I endorse them because I believe in the product. I wouldn’t take an endorsement otherwise. Certain companies have made offers for products, and I’ve said no because I couldn’t put all of myself into it. Remo and Zildjian can use my name and pictures to endorse their products. That’s fine. But at any point, if I decided that I didn’t want to use their products and wanted to use something else, or just didn’t want the advertising press, I could pick up the phone and say, “Hello. This is Matt. No thanks.” And vice versa, I’m sure, if I did something that wasn’t happening.
The reason I haven’t signed with a drum company is because I’m happy where I’m at right now. There are a lot of innovations going on in drums and shells. I’m just going to watch it grow a little bit more. Maybe there will be a custom drum company that will have a good wooden shell.
I’ve got so much different equipment. I’ve had a Rogers Swivomatic footpedal (split-heel) since the beginning. I love it. I have a Sonor hi-hat. My drums are Ludwig shells with a mixture of Sonor and Ludwig hardware. I like to look around and dabble, but I always come back to the conventional 6-ply maple drums.
The latest things I ran into were Paul Jamieson’s snare drums. They’re great. I’m thinking about using one of them. When we go to L.A. to do videos or TV shows, we rent drumsets. Paul comes out with these neat old maple Ludwig drums. The last video we did for ” Queen Of The Broken Hearts” was out in the Mojave Desert, and it was 106 degrees that day—a killer. By the time we did the actual performance shots of the band playing to the track, it was at night, so it was a little cooler. But a wind storm blew up with 60-mile-per-hour winds. It was unbelievable. People think we were using wind machines, but we weren’t. We were on the desert until 5:30 in the morning filming. And here’s Paul Jamieson looking at his poor drumset while sand is filling up the bass drum. I was using one of his snare drums. Even while I was just playing to the track, the snare drum sounded like a million bucks. Thanks, Paul! I think it was an old Gretsch drum with the die-cast rims and wood shell—a great sounding drum.
Matt FrenetteSF: There have been a lot of letters coming in to MD from drummers who are hurting their arms and legs from overexertion. Is there a technique for learning to play hard?
MF: Playing hard just came naturally. I’m using 26 sticks, which are fairly heavy. It took me a while to go from the marching 3S sticks to 2B’s.
SF: Did you play drumset with 3S sticks?
MF: No. They were too heavy. I didn’t like that sound. I play with a plastic tip for a nice ping on the cymbals. At the beginning of tours, my arms get sore. As we get going, they get more in shape. I lift about 80-pound weights to stay trim, and for toning. Maybe the people writing the letters are all learning real heavy metal songs and playing over real loud amps, just wailing away.
SF: So, basically you’re using Ludwig drums now?
MF: Yes. I started playing in Loverboy with my pink champagne set. It was single-headed 6″ and 8″ tom-toms, 9×13 and 10 x 14 mounted toms with bottom heads, 16×16 and 16×18 floor toms, a 14×24 kick, a Supra-Phonic snare, a timbale, three or four crash cymbals, a ride cymbal and a cowbell.
When we started headlining in ’82, I bought the maple Ludwig set with power toms. I love that kit. Drums Only in Vancouver had four double-kick Ludwig sets in their shop. I mixed and matched the drums with the nicest tones. I spent a week and a half playing them in a studio in the back of the shop. I changed the heads from lightweights, to rough coats, to heavyweights. In a week and a half, I had the set I wanted. The owners said, “Finally! Are you going to buy the damn things?” I said, “Yeah.”
From left to right, the drum sizes are 8×6, 8×8, 10×10, 12×12, 13×13, and 14 x 14 mounted toms, a 16 x 16 and 16 x 18 floor tom, and a 16×24 kick. I’ve got a front head on the kick drum with a ten-inch hole on the left bottom corner. I use a Remo coated Emperor on the front; on the batter side I have a clear Black Dot head.
I have a 6 1/2″ Supra-Phonic snare with an Emperor rough coat on top. I have a 14″ chrome timbale that I’ve had for years. It’s real funky. It’s an old Silvertone or something. It’s got a real cheesey sound, and I really like it. I have a Diplomat rough coat on it. It doesn’t have a real traditional sound, but I like that. I’ve tried bettermade timbales, but the sound is a bit too Latin American. My timbale has a real nice bite for rock playing. It doesn’t ring as long either.
I’ve played Remo heads for years and years. In the studio, I use Ambassador rough coated on my toms. I play clear Ambassadors live, with clear Diplomats on the bottoms of all the toms. On our first album, I used rough coat Ambassadors on the tops of the toms. The bottom heads were rough coat Diplomats. Again, I used the Emperor rough coat on the snare.
SF: Did you use your pink champagne drums on the first album?
MF: Right. I had a few troubles. I’d had those drums for so long and they’d been through so many Canadian winters that the floor tom-toms were going a little out of round. I didn’t have proper cases in those days. I had the fiber cases, and I’d haul the drums in the back of some old pickup truck. They’d be warping from going from the cold into the heat. On the second album, I used my maple Ludwig set and had a lot of luck with them.
SF: Did you notice a difference in the drums with the pearl finish and the drums with the natural wood finish?
MF: It was hard to tell with the pink champagne set. I got the original set in ’69 and added to it in ’74. Ludwig sprayed some kind of real weird stuff on the inside of the shells—it was gray with black spots. That made the drums real bright. I always found, when I used those drums, that I needed more tape to dampen them down, especially in the studio. The maple drums are a little warmer, a lot more consistent all around, and real good for tuning.
SF: When you bought those drums, none of the shells were out of round?
MF: Nope. My maple set is the most consistent set I’ve ever played. For the two years that we’ve been using it for all the road work and everything, it’s stayed good all the way. As a matter of fact, at the beginning of the tour last June, I bought a set of Sonor drums. I really got turned on to Steve Smith’s sound and I liked the Sonor people. I flew to Boston, talked to the people at Alden Music and bought a set. I didn’t do an endorsement. I bought a big kit with double bass drums and power toms. Sonor power toms are even deeper than Ludwig’s. My set had 9-ply shells—not the 12-ply Bubinga-wood shells.
After the first two weeks of the tour, I had a lot of problems. I almost fired my drum tech because of it. He just couldn’t tune them. I said, “Sandy, is this kit too much for you? What’s the problem?” We’d spend hours trying to get the heads on. Three or four of the drums went out of round. It was such a struggle with that set and they were great drums—real good hardware. Sonor is a good company. It was just that the drums didn’t fit and the sound was a bit too dead.
We got to Seattle about two weeks into the tour. I was still struggling. The band was getting edgy, and I was dumping all over Sandy. I said, “Well, what are we going to do?” Sandy said, “Let’s bring the Ludwig drums down from Vancouver.” We did, and he set them up in the back of the room where we had the Sonors on stage for the soundcheck. I went to the back of the room, sat behind my Ludwig set, played one roundhouse fill around the kit, and just freaked out. I said, “There it is. There it is.” And Sandy said that it only took him five minutes to tune them. They pulled the Sonors down and put up the Ludwig drums.
But I have nothing against Sonor. Really. When and if I ever get off tour, I’m going to go back and look at the drums again real closely. I’m going to see what the problems are, and maybe talk to Sonor about it, rather than saying, “Well, your drums sucked.” No. That’s not the case at all. All I had time to do was make a change on the road. When you’re touring every night there’s no time to mess around. It’s got to be right. In rehearsal, the Sonor drums sounded fine. But after a week of playing them in the hot lights and the temperature changes, they changed. The metal hoops on the bass drum created a lot of problems with ringing in the kit. We took a long time to try to find a kick drum sound. Paul and our engineer up front went nuts, pulling their hair out. We went through four different mic’s. The Ludwig drums took no time at all. It’s just a real natural sound. Live, I play open drums with just a little bit of masking tape on the bigger toms, from the 13″ down to the 18″—just a strip of tape. The bottom heads aren’t muted at all.
SF: Many readers have asked how they can get that “heavy metal deep thud tom-tom sound.”
MF: Well, what they’re hearing through a P.A. and what the drum is actually sounding like are sometimes two different things. You’d be surprised at the sound you can get through a P.A. from a drum that sounds lousy. I’ve had snare drums that I could hardly play on because they were tuned down, and two or three of the lugs were taken right off the drum.
SF: Can you name specific tracks where you used a snare drum like that?
MF: Yeah. “Jump” and “Gangs In The Street” on the second album. On the new album, we were trying to get a specific snare drum sound for “Prime Of Your Life.” They were doing all this EQ and everything. I had four snare drums that I’d rented from the drum shop. We tried different tunings; padding; no padding; different mic’s. After about five hours of this, the second engineer came over and grabbed a snare drum out of the corner. It was just a beat-up old Supra-Phonic Ludwig in really rough shape. It had a couple of holes in the bottom head, there were a few snares missing, and it had a Black Dot head on it that was really used. The engineer said, “This one usually works pretty good on our sessions.” He plunked it down and I just hit it once. Everybody went, “Yeaaaaaaaaa,” and I went, “Noooooooo.” They said, “Don’t move. Let’s go to the track right now.” That snare sounded like a million bucks, and we hardly had to do anything to it.
We usually don’t change too much or mess around. Once we get a good sound, we try to stay fairly consistent and just watch the tuning on the snare drum. If you run the track down two or three times, and you’re getting it real honed in and real close, then you go back, check the tuning on the snare, and go for it. We don’t really go from track to track trying a lot of different drums, because you can really use up a lot of time. We go for the energy and the consistency of playing the track. So that “heavy metal deep thud” can come out of anything.
SF: Can you define EQ and explain what it does?
MF: Well, with EQ you can add a lot of bottom, tone and depth to a drum that doesn’t have those qualities naturally. A lot of times, snare drums tend to sound boxy. Usually that’s due to the drum not being tuned properly, or the snares being too tight so that they don’t have a chance to respond. Or maybe the bottom head is too tight. As soon as you hit the top head, the bottom head goes down from the impact. If the snares and bottom head are too tight, they won’t respond to give you that fat, heavy metal sound. If I need that sound, I like to detune the bottom head and let the snares off a little bit. It sounds a bit garbagy, but for the song or track it sounds pretty good. I’d rather do that than detune the top head and lose the action. I like to try that way of tuning before we use EQ, and then add a bit of the bottom. We use two mic’s on the snare in the studio—one on the bottom and one on top. I don’t know if they’re out of phase. The bottom mic’ is picking up the snares and the garble that adds that real nice heavy metal sound, and the top gives you the attack and the stick click, so if you’re hitting a rimshot, you can get that snap from the top and real guts from the bottom. We do that live, also.
One of the best drum sounds I’ve heard is from Stan Lynch with Tom Petty. Our bands did some shows together in Germany. I asked Stan if I could see his drums, because I always admired his sound both live and on record. He had a simple little kit, and the heads were all beaten. I would never have heads on my drums that long. The toms were rough coats—Ambassadors, I think—and they were all pitted. The snare was pitted and kind of detuned. I hit the snare and it sounded garbled. I had expected this great big, huge snare drum—6- or 9-ply deep wooden snare drum. But he just has a normal snare.
Then I heard his drums from out front and they sounded like a million bucks. They were so fat, just like the records. They have a good engineer and he knows how to get good sound out of the drums. He also knows the right mic’s for those particular drums. It also has to do with the way Stan plays with Tom. There are so many variables. By the way, we have their soundman now!
SF: When you’re recording, what’s the relationship among you, the producer and the engineer? Is it a give and take among all three of you?
MF: That’s the way we work. It’s very open. I know of a lot of situations, from talking to other people, where the producer is running the show. With us, it’s give and take. If they have an idea, we have to be open about it and look at i t . Maybe it will come down to a vote, but that rarely ever happens with us.
The engineer usually gets the good sounds, and works around and between the producer. We don’t go in and just have the drums play, and then everybody else overdubs. That’s pretty sterile. We don’t normally use click tracks, but we did do something similar to that for the first time on “Strike Zone,” which was quite a challenge. It wasn’t actually a click track. It was a Fairlight keyboard—a computer keyboard that plays perfect time. We set up a drum program on it that was playing almost the same pattern as I was, and we pumped that through my headphones. It was like playing to double drums. I jammed with it for a couple of minutes to get in the groove with it. Then I played to the bass and guitar, and we left the keyboard line out. When they laid down the sequence stuff for the keyboards, there were planes and helicopters that came in in perfect time. When they come up later in the song, it’s all punched in. It had to be done that way or the music wouldn’t have been in time when the helicopters came back in.
SF: Gee, it’s not like the old Sun recording sessions.
MF: No kidding. And I’m kind of a traditionalist; I was a bit opposed to it. But finally I said, “I really want to make this work.” It was quite a challenge, especially when the song started taking off at the end and we really wanted to surge with it. But we could feel the Fairlight track keeping the time, and it held us back. We played close to two thirds of the song with the track. Then, in the control room, they just faded it out in my headphones and let us cruise from there. It’s got that tension so that the song can build. We felt that it would be too sterile to just stay in that real rigid groove.
When the producer and I go in to cut tracks, he puts a lot of demand on the drums, so there’s that pressure when we start the session. The producer is almost like the coach on a team who walks out to the mound and asks the pitcher, “How’s it going?” After you’ve worked all day and you’re a little tired, the coach walks out, and rather than pulling you out of the game, he gives you a little pep talk. A lot of times we work that way with our producer, Bruce Fairborn. He’ll come out and ask, ”How are you feeling, Matty? Are you doing alright? Do you want to take a coffee break or get some air?” Then he’ll add some suggestions, like “Just loosen up on that one spot. It’s real good, but that one fill just before the second guitar solo is a bit busy. If you want to, play maybe half that much, or just lead up to part of the busyness. That would probably sound a lot cooler.”
I like that kind of rapport. It’s a real good thing for a producer to keep tabs on a drummer’s energy; to see when the drummer is tired. Bruce might say, “Matty, go home. We’ve got enough out of you today. Come in tomorrow about one o’clock. We’re going to do guitar solos tonight.” That’s healthy. That’s the way people should communicate. I don’t know if I could work in the situation where a producer comes in and says, “Okay, we’re doing it my way and you’re going to play the song like this. And when you get to the drum fill, I want a straight roundhouse fill. That’s going to be best for the song and that’s it!”
SF: How about a rundown on your cymbals?
MF: I’ve played Zildjians forever. They’re a great company. I have a 21″ Rock ride, 15″ Quick-Beat hi-hats, then from left to right I have a 16″ medium crash, an 18″ medium-heavy crash, and an 18″ medium thin crash. In the middle of my 13″ and 14″ tom-toms is a 10″ splash cymbal. Then there’s a 17″ medium crash—I like the odd sizes—then a 20″ China Boy Low and an 18″ China Boy Low on top. I mike the cymbals with two overhead mic’s, but we have a separate ride cymbal mic’ and hihat mic’.
SF: How do you feel about drum solos?
MF: It’s an obligatory thing in a roundabout way. I like them; they’re fun. But not with the concept of this band. I have enough spotlights during the night through the songs; I’m not just playing stock “2” and “4.” I play my solo right after our second song of the night. It’s real quick—it’s a flurry and a few little dynamic things. I don’t like to get into a long solo where I play every lick I’ve ever learned. I like to play the tonal spectrum of the drums—from the 6″ to the 18″, and also the different cymbals. My solo is like a shot in the arm, more than anything for the set. It catapults that next segment into the next level dynamically, so the set will lift. I used to do a lot of solos in the old days—real long things—but the bands were not as flashy as Loverboy.
SF: You wanted to mention your monitor system.
MF: The sound system we use is by Audio Analyst out of New York. We’ve used them for three years now. We’re using one of their monitor mixers, Rocky Hohlman. Even when we go to other countries and use rental P.A. systems, we take Rocky. He mixes us wherever we go.
I run a pretty extensive mix. I run just about everything that you would get on a record. I have my kick, snare, toms and enough leakage for any cymbals I need. You don’t really want to put cymbals in there. I get enough leak from the snare mic’ to pick up the hi-hat. I have bass guitar, guitar, all of the keyboards, vocals and sax, when the sax break comes up. The vocals are on top; snare and kick are nice and fat, then the bass guitar just above that, with guitar around the same volume as the bass. I can hear everybody’s instruments. We sometimes take two hours at soundchecks and go for a good sound.
In key parts of songs, Rocky will boost my monitor. In the middle of “Strike Zone” there’s a little glockenspiel part that Dougie has a setting for on one of his keyboards. There’s just drums and glockenspiel going on, so I need that booster. There are a lot of intricate things going on, so I’m really playing off my monitors a lot.
I have two 18″ speakers, a horn and a tweeter. I get a nice fat kick drum sound. It’s important for me to have the bass drum soft but hard. I want the attack of the beater, but I want a round sound—a bit of a pillowy sound with tone—rather than just a “whack.” I don’t find a “whack” sound very inspiring. You don’t have a dynamic range with it. It’s like a coffee table.
I don’t run the monitors very loud. I know a lot of drummers who just have drums in their monitors, louder than anything. I can’t see how they can direct the band, or be part of the band, without having all the instruments in their monitors.
I like to listen to Michael’s vocals in my monitor, because if I feel that the band’s getting real loud and I feel that Michael’s straining, I’ll pull back, and that brings the band back. I still believe that in a big concert situation, you should have dynamics, even with the loud music that we’re play ing. With our rock ‘n’ roll, there’s a little bit of class and a bit of finesse that we like to try to keep in the music. I try to keep a grasp on dynamics, no matter what. I always ask my monitor mixer how loud I am. If he says, “Fairly loud,” I’ll say, ” Bring it down.”
SF: Can you tell from your monitor mix how well you’re blending with the other instruments from the audience’s perspective?
MF: Yeah. I can feel the P.A. The mixer has a sub-mix. He’ll have all my tom-toms patched to one mix. When there’s a big drum fill, he’ll boost that fill and I’ll feel that out of the P.A. Then he’ll pull that back again for normal playing.
SF: Are you using noise gates on your tom-tom mic’s?
MF: Yeah, which is real good. That cuts out any noise problems just like in the studio, especially with the big floor tom-toms. My 18″ tom will ring for a moment and then the noise gate will suck it in. That took a while to get used to. They had the noise gates too tight. In my solo, I start off light and build. I got the tape back from the first night and there were no drums. I was playing a 16th-note triplet thing between the kick and the tom-toms, and all I heard on the tape was the kick. I asked, “Where are the toms?” He said, “Well, they’re there.” I said, “Why don’t we open the gates up?”
I’ll play the same patterns in concert that are on the albums, but maybe I’ll throw in slight variations because I’m interacting with the other musicians. I’ve got to hear them in order to interact with them. That’s what keeps the songs spontaneous so that they don’t sound the same every day when we’re on the road for ten months. Then it could just turn into a job. I never want it to be that way.