Patrick Hallahan’s fantastic work on Vanessa Carlton’s latest album, Love Is an Art, isn’t just another entry in an impressive and ever-expanding list of credits outside of his man gig with My Morning Jacket. It’s the continuation of a decade-long relationship between him and Carlton, a creative union that runs much deeper than your typical singer/drummer-for-hire arrangement.
Their relationship dates back to New Year’s Eve 2010, when Carlton saw Hallahan playing live with My Morning Jacket for the first time. Carlton says she got “major goosebumps” soaking in Hallahan’s inspired performance that night—no small praise coming from a singer-songwriter who’d previously worked with first-call players like Abe Laboriel Jr. and Matt Chamberlain. That powerful first impression prompted an invite to play on Carlton’s 2011 album, Rabbits on the Run, her creatively daring first step out of the major-label system, recorded on her own dime at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios.
“He was so encouraging and supportive to me at such a difficult time,” Carlton says. “And I realized very quickly that he really is a master of his craft. He has no fear on the drums. He brings so much to my music.”
Though he’s probably grown used to it, Hallahan still sounds humbled when informed of Carlton’s effusive praise. “She’s very special to me as a person, and as an artist,” he says. Hallahan describes their relationship as “super deep,” and rattles off a list of things that bond the pair personally and creatively, including their mutual obsession with crescendos. “We’re both big-time crescendo junkies,” he says with a laugh. As Carlton puts it, “We love the drama and unusual arrangements of classical pieces. I come from an orchestral place—that’s something Patrick and I share.”
That probably explains some of the more dynamic musical heights they scale throughout Love Is an Art. “I Know You Don’t Mean It” finds Hallahan cutting loose and building to something beyond chaotic before the drums suddenly vanish into thin air, leaving only Carlton’s voice and piano. “The Only Way to Love” is another song stuffed with rhythmic drama, as Hallahan rides the peaks and valleys with great taste, alternating between double-handed snare patterns and deep, disciplined grooves.
Yet however over-the-top some of Hallahan’s parts may be, or however far the self-professed crescendo junkie goes in pursuit of a fix, his rhythms have a way of settling neatly around Carlton’s voice and keyboard. His syncopated snare-kick-tom pattern lends hypnotic oomph to “I Can’t Stay the Same,” but Carlton’s vocal and droning synths are the unmistakable focal point. And the flipped and deconstructed beat he supplies on “Die, Dinosaur” might have stolen the scene in the minimal song if not for Carlton’s pulsing melody having so much space to maneuver around Hallahan’s groove. It’s not by accident that he’s making space for Carlton’s voice and not the other way around.
“The piano is probably more steady than the drums—that’s by design,” says Hallahan. “I’m dancing around her rhythmic structure and her melody. My goal, whenever I’m working with her, is don’t come out of the gate swinging. Leave enough room for the song to grow.”
Some credit for this melody-first hierarchy must also go to producer/engineer Dave Fridmann. Known for achieving widescreen, reverb-heavy drum sounds with the likes of the Flaming Lips, Fridmann deploys artful sonic touches throughout the album, utilizing cut-and- paste/addition-by-subtraction methods that make each subtle groove, each dropped beat, and each crescendo really count. What the drums lack in concert-hall bombast they more than make up for with a presence you can feel. When they’re in, they’re in.
“Dave understands how to make crazy rhythms sit in a beautiful nest inside of a song,” Hallahan says. “I went down to Nashville and hammered through the songs with Vanessa before we made the record [at Fridmann’s Tarbox Road Studios in upstate New York]. So we built up ideas over time. Then we would go back and forth on it with Dave. We had a great rapport.”
Though on the track “I Can’t Stay the Same” Hallahan used a four-piece C&C blue acrylic kit owned by the Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd, the main set he used was a seven-piece Yamaha Power Recording kit plus a set of Remo Rototoms. “My main snares were my trusty 6.5×14 1943 Leedy and a 6.5×14 Drum Paradise with a Black Beauty–inspired shell,” adds Hallahan. “My main cymbals were an Istanbul Mantra 22″ ride, a Traditional Dark 18″ crash, an 18″ crash, and Mantra 15″ hi-hats.” His striking implements of choice were Vater 55AA sticks and T7 mallets.
Though Hallahan won’t be going on the road in support of Love Is an Art—Aaron Steele is Carlton’s touring drummer—he’ll certainly be keeping busy as My Morning Jacket works on its first studio album since 2015. The band decided to re-enter the studio following four concerts in August of 2019 that Hallahan says were “four of his favorite My Morning Jacket shows ever.”
But you can bet that when Carlton returns to the studio to make another record, she’ll be tapping Hallahan once again. “He’ll be working with me as long as our schedules allow,” she says.
Patrick Hallahan plays C&C drums and Istanbul Agop cymbals and uses Vater sticks, Remo heads, and DW hardware.
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