Redefining What’s Possible with Kneebody, fOUR, and More

The multifarious talents of Nate Wood are at the cutting edge of modern innovation. He’s a complete musician with the unique ability to perform on drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, and vocals— often at the same time.

The Los Angeles native is an accomplished performer and composer. His musical roots run deep within a family of talented musicians. Nate is equally comfortable playing intricate fusion arrangements and modern indie-pop. Whether sparring with virtuoso pianist/composer Tigran Hamasyan, fueling the well-oiled jazz/funk vehicle Kneebody, or performing as a one-man solo act as fOUR, Wood has carved out a unique and ultra-creative place for himself within the modern drumming community.

Wood sports a full-bodied drum sound with dry, articulate cymbals and a medium- to high-pitched snare. His tones always perfectly fi t within the ensemble, yet he’s not afraid to step outside the box and augment his kit by layering on small metallic instruments like splashes, gongs, and tambourines. “I started augmenting my drums with gongs, cymbals, etcetera in 2003, when Kneebody started,” says Nate. “When the guys started introducing effects to their horns, they suggested I get some kind of electric drum thing to augment the sound of the band. I said ‘hell no’ to that and decided to just augment my kit in different ways for every song so that it sounded like I was changing drum patches on an electronic kit. That’s partly why my drums are so open. I can play into the kick to make it have a shorter decay, or I can put towels over the drums for a deader sound. I augment the toms and snare with splash cymbals or gongs to get sounds that don’t sound like a traditional drumkit.” Nate thinks like a complete musician, and this approach informs every note and tone that he chooses to play. Let’s spotlight some of his highly inventive work.

“Drum Battle,” Kneebody, Anti-Hero (2017)

Nate’s role in his own band, Kneebody, is foundational. His unique sound and rhythmic support serve as the backbone to the project. His use of forward-thinking jazz concepts paired with funk precision make for an exciting concept to power this group of like-minded musicians to new frontiers in jazz/funk/electronica.

The song “Drum Battle” features Wood chopping up sections that alternate between 9/4 and 5/4. When the band snaps into the A section, Nate plays a quarter note–based groove that glues together the rhythm section’s unison figures. (1:36)

When the drum solo starts, Nate plays some elastic phrasing that sounds like the time is going in and out of focus.

Check out how he runs up and down the rhythmic scale, creating a dizzying effect. (5:23)

“Nerd Mountain,” Kneebody, You Can Have Your Moment (2010)

The opening bars of this angular fusion maze find Wood doubling the melody of the bridge with what could be described as a drumming synth patch. Wood places metallic percussion instruments across the kit to alter the tone and offer interesting textures to the section, and carefully orchestrates around the drums to match up with the horn parts. (0:00)

 

“Trite,” Kneebody, The Line (2013)

On this song, the band plays a four-over-six polyrhythm while Nate holds things down with a quick double-time groove that favors the 6/4 meter. Towards the middle of the first sixteen bars, he decrescendos as he dislocates the drum ’n’ bass–type hi-hat rhythms by expanding the note rates into triplets. The resulting effect is that it sounds like someone is simultaneously turning down the volume and variable-speed knobs on an old tape machine, even though in actuality the meter remains the same. (0:00)

“Still Play,” Kneebody, The Line

The rolling 5/8 meter of this track is treated as a funky quintuplet groove. The drums and sax flow through the beats, making the pulse feel even. Nate plays on a cymbal stack or other metallic instrument with the right hand while ghosting the snare and grabbing occasional open hi-hat notes with his left. (0:00)

 

“Red Hail (of Pomegranate Seeds),” Tigran Hamasyan and Aratta Rebirth, Red Hail (2009)

The music of groundbreaking pianist/composer Tigran Hamasyan would challenge even the most accomplished musicians, and on this song, Nate finds himself in the middle of a rhythmic hurricane. The Meshuggah-type riffs include syncopated, over-the-bar rhythms that are outlined on the bass drum and cymbals while the snare jabs accents around them. (0:14))

Later in the song, the band shifts into a slower, crunchier version of the same rhythm. Nate anchors the riff with a heavy backbeat on beats 2 and 4. (1:53)

“Vardavar,” Tigran Hamasyan, The Poet (2014)

The repeating rhythm played by the piano and drums at the beginning of this song makes it sound like an intricate neoclassical etude. Upon further listening, however, a pattern emerges; it can be broken up as 5/16 + 5/16 + 3/16 for the first half, and then 5/16 + 5/16 + 4/16 + 5/16 for the second.

All together, these groupings add up to thirty-two 16th notes, so the pattern can also be perceived as two measures of 4/4.

 

“Pt. 1. Collapse,” Tigran Hamasyan, Shadow Theater (2014)

The intro theme to this song appears to be in a time signature of 11/16 that’s broken into subdivisions of 3 + 3 + 3 + 2. But this song is actually in 4/4 time, as it twists to a resolution at the end of the four-measure phrase. Nate’s bass drum plays the main figure, and the snare plays some accents inside the groupings of eleven.

“Pt. 2. Alternative Universe,” Tigran Hamasyan, Shadow Theater

The ending of this song sees a return of the previous theme from “Pt. 1. Collapse.” This time Wood pulls back the curtain and adds a backbeat to reveal the true 4/4 identity of the track. (4:36)

 

“Rabbit,” fOUR, X.it (2019)

Nate’s latest solo project, fOUR, is a hybrid of electronica, pop, and improvisation. In this project, Wood manages to play bass with his left hand and drums and keyboard with his right, all while singing. The following groove is from the song “Rabbit.” Nate plays this part with the right hand while using a hammer-on technique with the left hand to play a bass guitar line that locks in with the bass drum. (3:11)

“Sides,” fOUR, X.it

Here’s another interesting groove from the X.it album. Again, the bass guitar is in lockstep with the right foot on the bass drum. The left foot generates the time with quarter notes, while the right hand snaps accents on the snare. Nate is also tapping some keyboard notes on the right hand in unison with the bass drum hits at the beginning of the bar. The ghost notes on the snare and a small gong placed on the rack tom fill the spaces between the bass drum rhythms. (0:00)

“Tenth Ire (1 Handed Drum Solo in 13),” fOUR, unreleased (2019)

Just when you thought that Nate has taken his music to the outer limits of what is possible within a one-man solo project, along comes the song “Tenth Ire (1 Handed Drum Solo in 13).” As the title suggests, the time signature is 13/8.

This excerpt occurs at the beginning of a drum solo near the end of the song. Wood darts with exactitude between the snare, an auxiliary hi-hat, the ride, and a small cymbal placed on top of the snare. Check out how Nate adds weight to the snare accents that are placed within long strings of 16th notes by doubling them with the bass drum. Nate locks the left foot onto the 8th-note pulse to give the section forward motion while freeing up the auxiliary hi-hat to play between the steps. (2:17)

 

 


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