MD checks in with the former drummer with the Faceless, Threat Signal, and the HAARP Machine on the occasion of his current band’s highly anticipated sophomore album, which is due out on February 9.
MD: We Will All Be Gone feels more developed, mature, and song-oriented than Good Tiger’s debut album, A Head Full of Moonlight.
Alex: That was the point! We definitely wanted the focal point to be the songs as a whole and Elliot Coleman’s vocals, largely.
MD: The vocals are well supported throughout the record.
Alex: He’s definitely the focal point. That’s what we wanted. And as you probably noticed, there’s no screaming on the album, and I think that’s more suited to his voice.
MD: That seems to be a trend lately, what with the new Contortionist and A Lot Like Birds records.
Alex: There’s no denying that as soon as you add screaming of any kind, the overall accessibility of it goes down considerably. Also, for me, I listen to so much stuff that’s not metal that’s it’s not a big deal to me. When we started the band, we wanted to go in a different direction, though we didn’t know exactly what that meant [at first]. I think everyone expected us to do heavy, screaming music because we’ve all been in bands like that, but that was really never the intention when we started. As on the first album, I wanted to write parts that worked for the songs—but then if you’re a drummer, there’s still something there for you. There’s some tough stuff on this album! [laughs]
MD: Have you made any significant gear changes recently?
Alex: On the first record I only used one rack tom and fewer cymbals. This time I added a 12″ tom back in. It’s the same setup that I use a lot in my videos—10″, 12″, 14″, and 16″. I came to find that whenever I’d be doing session work in between Good Tiger tours, I’d always want to have that other tom. It kind of got old changing my setup all the time, so I decided to move to a setup that would make more sense for everything. I also added another splash. I just like to have more sound sources sometimes.
MD: That’s two up and two floor toms?
Alex: Two up and two down, and one of the floor toms is to my left. I feel like the setup I’m using right now is probably going to stick for a while. Though I never make that stuff definite. I feel it’s just part of being an artist. You go through phases.
MD: Did Nolly [Adam “Nolly” Getgood] both engineer and produce We Will All Be Gone?
Alex: He co-produced it, engineered it, and mixed it. We also worked with Forrester Savell, who’s produced all the Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus albums. We’re all really fond of those two particular bands, and he had expressed interest in working with us and Nolly. We flew him in from Australia to England and we tracked the album in South Devon, U.K., at Middle Farm Studios, the same place as our first album. Forrester was really the main producer on the album. We worked with him on song structures and the general idea of what we were going for. We wanted a slightly different sound from A Head Full of Moonlight. We didn’t want it to be quite as aggressive sounding. I think that played a role in the guitar tones and the drum mix to an extent.
MD: The drums aren’t as in your face as some records in this genre. That seems to be a trend among some recent releases as well.
Alex: I think Nolly did a really good job of accomplishing that goal, but still bringing a lot of the finer details to the forefront.
MD: That could be part of why this album feels more song-oriented. The grooves are more open-sounding compared to A Head Full of Moonlight—on “Float On,” for instance.
Alex: It’s funny that you mention “Float On,” because it’s one of the simplest songs on the album in terms of the drums, but it’s by far my favorite song to play. It hits hard and there are some cool fills and grooves, but I just feel like I can really lock in on that song because it’s so straightforward.
MD: On “Float On” and “Salt of the Earth,” you use the snare drum melodically as part of the pattern. Is that intentional, or does that just kind of happen from your left hand comping getting louder?
Alex: I think it’s a combination of things. I used to play ghost notes very unnaturally because I used to write stuff in Guitar Pro before I really gave a hoot about feel, so I’d end up coming up with these ghost-note patterns that were very unnatural compared to how you would normally play them, just filling in the space where it’s convenient. A lot of it came from that in my background, and also developing more of my own feel as I’ve gotten older. It’s kind of a combination of writing parts that are unnatural and then also having developed and playing things that feel more natural. Particularly on “Salt of the Earth,” there are some ghost notes that are played in places that are a little unnatural. That song is probably my other favorite to play live, because of that. When I’m playing more organic ghost-note patterns, I’m leading with my right hand on the cymbal and my left hand is on the snare because I’m right-handed. Some of the more unnatural patterns, particularly when the snare is on the up beats, my left hand is on the cymbal and my right hand is on the snare. That song is a lot of fun to play.
MD: Those snare drum patterns are a big part of your voice as a player. Those more intentionally placed patterns are apparent on the first Good Tiger record as well. They don’t seem nearly as automatic as normal ghost notes.
Alex: They’re definitely more abrasive and present. It’s trying to find a balance between doing something original and something that I feel expresses my voice, but that isn’t so out there that it distracts people. I think as I’ve gotten older and I’ve grown less concerned with being “tech” for the sake of being tech, I think I’ve been able to find more of a balance there.
MD: Was this album crowd-funded at all?
Alex: No. The first one was, but we used how well that crowd-funding campaign went as leverage to get a good record deal. This album was done through our contract with Metal Blade on an imprint called Blacklight Media. They brought us on because they wanted some bands that were a little bit different from what they have on the rest of their roster, which is mostly more extreme. They wanted to branch out a bit. This is our first record under Metal Blade.
MD: Talk about the pattern, sounds, and approach on “Cherry Lemon.”
Alex: That was a kind of a last-minute idea. We basically wanted to create a really weird loop, and that’s what that song is. I did all of the drum editing on this album, which I did on the first album too. We want to keep it as natural as possible, and there’s some minor slip editing, but for the most part it’s very organic and real. For that song, I basically cut up a variety of the same basic loop played with some minor changes, and copy/pasted it together.
That song is probably the most unnatural feel on the album because it’s a loop. It’s not a full-on performance. We went for a completely different drum sound on the album. We used my main Tama setup for the majority of the album. A few parts, specifically the middle section of “Such a Kind Stranger” and the entirety of “I’ll Finish This Book Later,” were done on a different kit. It was one of Nolly’s kits with a 24″ kick and 13″ and 16″ toms. On “Cherry Lemon,” it’s my kit but we detuned the snare and toms, put tape all over them, and used different cymbals that were also covered in gaff tape. We were going for the super lo-fi, weird thing and trying to capture a cool sixteen-bar loop with some variations. I really like that song. We had so much more time in the studio that we were able to do some textural things that we didn’t have time to do on the first album.
MD: You can definitely hear that attention to detail.
Alex: In my opinion, that’s what really separates a band that takes the time to record real instruments as opposed to just programming it. Drum programming has a place in production, but for doing a real album, if you have a musician that’s good enough to track and you have the time to dial everything in and do something really unique, I think that brings new life to an album.
MD: Talk about the drum festival appearances you’ve done recently.
Alex: I did the Meinl Drum Fest in Germany and the Switzerland Drum Festival in Zurich. Both were phenomenal, though the Meinl fest was definitely higher stress. It wasn’t because of what I was performing, but mostly because I knew so many people there. A lot of my friends were there from all over the world, plus a bunch of people that I’d talked to online but never met in person, like Sebastian Lanser [Obscura, Panzerballett]. There were also a bunch of phenomenal drummers that I’ve looked up to and listened to for years that I was playing alongside. It was also being recorded, and it was in front of 3,000 people. My reps from Tama were there too. I enjoyed it, and I’m really happy with how it all came out.