When he joined alternative electro-pop band Phantogram in 2013, Chris Carhart had to quickly get up to speed on the more intense technological demands of the gig. “I was more of a groove/funk-oriented drummer,” he says. “I had played with a click plenty of times in recording situations, but the click-heavy aspect [of this band] was an adjustment. The electronics in my kit grew over time. The setup started with an SPD-S, but now I have several triggers and pads around the kit.”

When it comes to figuring out how to reproduce the loop- and sample-heavy sound of Phantogram, Chris explains, “The approach to each song is different. On the new record, there are a couple songs that are only live drums with a looped shaker. But on my first tour, a lot of [the drumming] was supplemental; I was mostly playing over loops. My contributions to triggering and playing the looped parts live grew over time. But each song is a new project to figure out how I’m going to do it, which makes the job really interesting and fun. It’s not about fighting the loops and trying to play too much, it’s a collaboration with the computer.”

When deciding what to play live versus what to trigger or loop, Chris takes a practical approach. “A lot of it is figuring out what I can physically do. Some of the beats aren’t really possible to play, so I listen to what each layer is doing and figure out what’s possible. If there’s a signature sound or sample that needs to be in there, I’ll play it on a pad or trigger it.

“Right now I only use the brass snare with the trigger on it for one song, ‘You Don’t Get Me High Anymore,’” Chris continues. “I do that mainly for feel because I’m playing that snare on the whole song. There’s no mic on it, but it’s being picked up a bit by the overheads. The Roland snare pad gets used on almost every song. There are songs where I switch to the live snare on the chorus, but the verse has a different sound that we pulled from the record.”

Playing with an open-handed position (left-hand lead on a right-handed kit) affords Carhart easy access to his electronics and auxiliary drums. “The SPD-SX is right in front of me because I have to access it quickly and often throughout the set,” he says.

Regarding his cymbal selection, Chris is strategic about choosing the most versatile models he can find. “I consistently go to the Signature series,” he says. “They’re very musical, and they’re not overly specific in regards to their application. But I also need something that’s going to cut through all of the content that’s coming through the front of house. Phantogram shows are very loud and bombastic, so things that are too dark don’t work so great. I need stuff that sits in the mix.”

When asked why he uses so much muffling on his snare and toms, Carhart says, “Too much resonance doesn’t really work with this band. And the snare is tuned pretty low. It’s an aluminum drum, so it has a dry, crisp, powdery sound that’s not shrill at all. The auxiliary snare is cranked pretty high so it can sit right under the triggered sound, which is also pretty high.”

One of the things Chris loves about playing with Phantogram is the inherent mental challenge of consistently nailing the choreography between playing live drums and triggered sampled parts. “It’s hard to let your mind wander,” he says. “In the song ‘Run Run Blood’ there’s a tricky pattern that uses all nine pads on the SPD-SX. I had to memorize that because if I miss one hit, the whole thing sounds wrong. There are many things like that in our show, which keeps me on my toes.”

Drums: Q Drum Co. mahogany/poplar/mahogany with 6-ply maple reinforcement rings and black-diamond pearl finish
A. 6.5×14 Plate series aluminum snare with 1″ black-diamond pearl inlay
B. 9×13 tom
C. 5×12 brass snare
D. 16×16 floor tom
E. 16×24 bass drum with light brown hoops and matching inlays

Not shown: 6.5×14 10-ply maple snare in light brown finish with 1″ black-diamond pearl inlay (backup)

Cymbals: Paiste
1. 14″ Signature Precision Sound Edge hi-hats
2. 20″ Signature Full ride
3. 18″ Signature Precision Thin crash
4. 19″ Masters Dark crash

Heads: Aquarian Response 2 Coated snare batters and Classic Clear Snare Side resonants, Performance II tom batters and Classic Clear resonants, Super Kick II bass drum batter and white Q Drum Co. logo front with 7″ center hole

Electronics: Roland SPD-SX sampling pad, BT-1 Bar Trigger pad, PDX-100 snare pad, and RT-30S snare trigger; Radial footswitch (for talkback mic); 1964 6A in-ear monitors; and Porter & Davies BC-2 tactile monitor throne

Hardware: DW bass drum pedal, snare stand, tom stand, and hi-hat, and Tama cymbal stands

Accessories: Vic Firth 5A wood-tip sticks and VicKick bass drum beater, Snareweight dampeners, and Drumdots gels