If you try to pigeonhole Ume, you’ll fail miserably. The same can be said for the band’s hard-hitting drummer, whose road to rock ’n’ roll glory has been anything but predictable.
Rachel Fuhrer hasn’t seen her central-Texas home very much in the past twelve months. Ume, the Austin-based band she joined in 2011, has spent much of the past few years on the road, sharing tours with groups like Helmet, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, and the Toadies, and gaining admirers like the members of Jane’s Addiction, who invited Ume to play the Lollapalooza after-party in 2013. Ume’s sound garners diverse comparisons to post-hardcore and shoe-gaze bands, but the live show is all about front-woman Lauren Larson’s shredding guitar and ethereal vocals, to which Fuhrer plays a worthy foil. Rachel anchors the music with a muscular touch that points to her metal and hardcore background, but somewhere inside that power is a church-trained musician, a Berklee grad, and a longtime fusion head with a seemingly inescapable connection to the legendary drummer Rod Morgenstein.
Fuhrer grew up on the South Shore of Long Island, New York. Once, when she was nine, she was at a Christmas party at Tiki Recording Studios with her bass-playing dad, who recorded there regularly. Rachel seemed bored, so studio owner Fred Guarino suggested she “play around” in the drum room. Though she’d never taken any lessons, she went in and had a go. “How long have you been playing drums?” Guarino asked when he returned to check in on her. “Remember when you told me I could come in here and play?” “No, I don’t mean right now…I mean how long have you been playing drums for?” “I’d never played drums before that,” Fuhrer says. “So that was where it began.”
MD: You obviously have a natural ability at the drums. Did you join your school band?
Rachel: No, none of that. I played at church. My dad always had bands, and he was really into classic rock, so I grew up listening to the Beatles, Jethro Tull, Neil Young. The neighborhood that my parents grew up in, I grew up in too, and by the time I came along it was very Jamaican, Dominican, Haitian. My dad was the bass player in our neighborhood church, and they had a gospel choir led by this rad lady who played piano. I started playing at church as the drummer, which was kind of cool. I learned a lot that way. They would improvise like crazy, because they would just sing and sing and sing until one in the afternoon.
MD: Were you playing in rock bands back in high school as well?
Rachel: Well, when I was in high school we moved to North Carolina, and I got made fun of for my accent, which made me even shyer than I already was. I was playing in bands with my dad and his buddies, though, and they were into fusion, electric jazz…you know, the “F-word.” I didn’t join a rock band with kids my age until I was a senior in high school.
MD: Did you take private lessons?
Rachel: I started taking lessons and learning to read music when I was in high school. Also, Tiki Recording had some big clients, like Taylor Dayne and Brian Setzer, and Rod Morgenstein recorded his first instructional video there. So the guy who owned the studio sent me that videotape early on, and I would watch it over and over again. I started getting into bands like the Dixie Dregs and Mahavishnu Orchestra and looking for method books in Modern Drummer while figuring out stuff on my own.
In North Carolina I hooked up with this guy Doug Morgan, who played in the Steve Morse Band with [original Dregs bassist] Jerry Peek, as well as with a Raleigh band called 3PM. Doug was pals with Rod Morgenstein, oddly, and he started teaching me technique and reading. We worked mostly out of David Garibaldi’s Future Sounds book.
MD: Then you went to music school.
Rachel: I ended up going to the North Carolina School of the Arts. That program was all orchestral stuff. It was a good education. I stayed there for three years, but I knew I didn’t want to do orchestral music. I just wanted the theory and the training, but that ended up being a stepping stone for me to go to Berklee, where—full circle—I ended up studying under Rod Morgenstein. I studied more intensively with Jackie Santos Jr., though—that guy was killer and a vital influence.
MD: Other than Rod, who are some big players in your world?
Rachel: I would say John Bonham is number one. Elvin Jones. Billy Cobham. Bill Bruford. Josh Freese—that guy is amazing. Also a bunch of these really heavy dudes, like Tomas Haake from Meshuggah. It’s hard for me to pinpoint just a few. I go through phases of pretty much everything.
MD: Adam Kasper [Soundgarden, Foo Fighters] produced the latest Ume album, Monuments.
Rachel: He’s awesome. I’d never done an album with a Grammy-winning producer before. My feeling was, “I’m going to be this guy’s canvas. He knows what he’s doing, so whatever he says, I’m going to try it.” It was cool, man. We kind of flew through the drum tracks. I was out of there in a week. We wrote stuff in the studio; there were things we wrote on the spot, and some arrangements got changed.
MD: What gear did you play on the record?
Rachel: I used what they had at the studio, including an old Slingerland kit and a whole bunch of old Zildjian ride cymbals. I don’t think I used any real crash cymbals; they were all rides with rivets and stuff. We tried a ton of snares too, like some Keplingers and Black Beauties.
MD: You’ve been teaching drums for a while. How do you manage with Ume being so busy?
Rachel: I’m lucky—I hang on to a lot of adult students while I’m on tour, and we hook back up on the other end. I just load them up with stuff to work on while I’m gone. My kids are tougher to hang on to, because if they’re not practicing they’ll jump into something else or they’ll seek out the teacher at school.
MD: You also have musical side projects.
Rachel: I have a post-hardcore band called We’ll Go Machete. That gets really mathy and angular; people say it sounds like Quicksand or Fugazi.
MD: Is there anything you just can’t be without on the road?
Rachel: I’m a big cyclist, so I always miss my bike on tour. I would love to bring a little folding bike out with me. Other than that, loading up with NPR podcasts and Cheez-Its takes care of the driving.
Tools Of The Trade
Fuhrer plays a Gretsch Catalina Maple set, including an 18×22 bass drum, a 9×12 tom, and 16×16 floor tom. Her snare drums include a 5.5×14 vintage Ludwig Supra-Phonic, a 5×14 vintage Ludwig Acrolite, and a 6×14 Pearl brass free-floating model. Her Soultone cymbals include 14″ Custom Brilliant hi-hats, 18″ and 20″ Extreme crashes, and a 22″ Extreme crash/ride. Her heads include a Remo Controlled Sound Reverse Dot Coated snare batter and Remo Hazy Ambassador bottom, Remo Coated Emperor tom batters and Clear Ambassador bottoms, and an Aquarian Super-Kick II bass drum batter and Black Regulator front head. Rachel’s sticks are Vater Nude 5As. Her hardware includes Pearl stands and PowerShifter Eliminator pedals, and she uses a Tama Rhythm Watch metronome.