On The Cover
When the world’s greatest pop and R&B stars decide to hit the road, the list of drummers who are considered for service is not very long. Brian Frasier-Moore’s name is usually among them, and often is the one to beat.
Story by Billy Amendola
Photos by Alex Solca
After Modern Drummer last featured him, in the November 2008 issue, lock-it-in-the-pocket drummer Brian Frasier-Moore bounced right from Madonna’s Sticky & Sweet tour to travel the world on Justin Timberlake’s sold-out 20/20 Experience jaunt. It’s a pattern that’s kept up since Frasier-Moore’s first big trek, back in 1996, with the popular Philadelphia R&B duo the Whitehead Brothers. In between, his groove-machine beats and powerful chops have been on display with Aaliyah, Ginuwine, Ciara, Janet Jackson, Patti LaBelle, Babyface, Backstreet Boys, Usher, and Christina Aguilera—pop icons all.
The musical world Frasier-Moore travels in can be a funny one when it comes to playing live versus recording. Even the busiest of first-call touring musicians can get frustrated by the invisible walls that often prevent them from being hired for record dates by the superstars they support on the road. The forty-three-year-old drummer from the City of Brotherly Love, however, takes things as they come, preferring to stay practical, and optimistic. “Politically, I don’t feel one way or another about it,” he says. “I would like to [play on more recordings], but I’m patient.”
And let’s be clear, it’s not as if Frasier-Moore doesn’t have his share of studio credits within and outside the gospel scene that he cut his teeth on. Albums by religious-music greats like Richard Smallwood (Rejoice), Michael Scott and Outreach Choir (Lord I Want to Be Effective), Ernie Sanders (A New Beginning), Bruce Parham (Sing Bruce), and Steve Middleton and the Unity and Praise Choir sit beside secular credits like Babyface (Playlist), Eric Benét (Hurricane), Christina Aguilera (“Soar” from Stripped), Adam Lambert (Beg for Mercy), Dontae Winslow (“Chrysalis” from Enter the Dynasty, featuring Chick Corea), and the theme song from VH1’s Single Ladies show.
Not one to slow down, Frasier-Moore fills much of his downtime—what there is of it—with BFM Consultation Services, mentoring upcoming musicians and anyone else with dreams of making it in the business.But when Modern Drummer spoke with Brian for this, his first MD cover story, we found him once again preparing for the role he’s best known for, touring the world with Madonna. As we chatted, he was looking at three months of rehearsals for the singer’s Rebel Heart tour. By the time this issue hits newsstands, he’ll once again be on stage, showing all those aspiring musicians exactly how it’s done.
MD: What’s an average day like for you?
Brian: I wake up and thank God for another day. Then I call my wife, Brandi, and say, “Good morning, Sunshine!” After that I go for a two- or three-mile run, come back, take a shower, get a massage, and then we rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse some more. After that, it’s back to the hotel, where I get some food and call my wife again—sometimes I do both at the same time. Then I thank God for another day, fall into a coma-like sleep, and repeat it all the next day and the day after that.
MD: How do you prepare for touring in terms of your drumming?
Brian: I basically have a format for every tour that I’m involved with, no matter who it is. I listen to the record [to analyze] the songs, the vibe, the instruments, the vocals, the lead lines, the synths…. As I listen, I’ve got a composition book, a Sharpie, and my Pearl RedBox sound module with my Tru Trac heads on my kit, and I write out everything that I need to know for each song—“intro
8 bars, accents at bar 7, verse 1 is 16 bars, beat in, stop at 8, etc.”—being authentic to the beats and knowing every single thing about every song.
This helps me when I’m learning the songs at home, and later in rehearsals as well, when arrangements and sounds are changing. It’s better for me to be able to see what’s coming up next than to spend my nervous energy on trying to remember everything that’s flying around in rehearsals. While I’m in the verse, I’m reading what’s going to happen in the pre-chorus, and so on. This is especially helpful if they’re recording; this way you can listen to a strong take instead of one of you trying to figure it out.
MD: What’s different about working with Justin Timberlake versus Madonna?
Brian: As we all know, they’re both incredibly talented, hardworking, and professional, and they know exactly what they want. The difference is in the interpretation of their music. For Justin, I trigger snares and kicks, but the approach is more on the soul, gospel, funk, and R&B vibe, and I have to express [those feels]. Madonna is more electronic, rock, salsa, anthem, world vibe, with a little R&B. And with her I trigger the acoustic drums in my main kit as well, but I also have the Tru Trac drums and Roland PD-8 pads within my setup, as well as a Novation Launchpad to my right. I also have a full Tru Trac kit to the right of me.
I’m honored to be able to play with these artists and within their genres of music. I enjoy the challenge of becoming that expression and taking it to the next level. As far as their concerts, they both do long shows with moving stages, video walls…. Performance-wise you never know what’s going to happen with artists like these two, but you know something is definitely going to happen!
MD: How did growing up in Philadelphia affect your playing?
Brian: My early years in Philadelphia had a huge affect on my playing, my [approach to] production, my business choices, and my musicality. Growing up around legends such as DJ Jazzy Jeff, James Poyser, and Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who were responsible for creating the “Philadelphia sound,” had such an amazing effect on how I took music in at that time—listening to everything that’s going on in a song, feeling the mood and the way a particular song moved, being unselfish with what I add or contribute to that piece of art. I was also blessed to be able to learn a lot of life lessons in the music business, from so many greats. So, a shout-out to all of the amazing musicians in Philly, then and now.
MD: Was there anyone in particular who inspired you to play drums?
Brian: Initially I got interested in playing drums from watching my uncle Robert Fuller play at the church we went to. [Brian’s father was the church pastor.] I’d also watch Garfield Williams and Anthony “Spike” McRae—just about all of Philadelphia’s legends.
I also have to thank my mom for believing [in me]. She’s the biggestinfluence on me wanting to play drums. She took me to see Amy Grant on the Straight Ahead tour when I was a kid of eleven, and it completely blew me away. I was like, “Look at all those drums! Look at all those people!” I think at that point I knew I wanted to be a drummer. And I think my mom knew then as well that all I wanted was to be a drummer.
MD: Did you have any formal training?
Brian: No, sir. I never had a formal drum teacher. I was strictly a church boy. The only formal training I knew about was our organist [Alexander Ingram] banging his hand on the side of the organ so that I could follow the time. He was a human click track.
Most of my training came from being in situations where I didn’t know exactly what to do and either called and asked someone or figured it out on my own. I was self-taught up to a certain age, and then my practice routine came from choir rehearsals, Sunday service, broadcasts, choir recordings…. It was a different time back then. We had no Internet, Instagram, or Facebook to be able to do the wonderful things we do today. Back then it was just go time! You had to be ready and prepared. That’s something that has stuck with me.
And I learned a lot from my OGs; they gave me a lot of advice that I couldn’t really understand back then—but I do now.
Brian: Always play the authentic beat, and play it even. And don’t speak over others musically while they’re talking—if you
must say something, help them say what they’re saying. A proud musician is a poor musician.
MD: Who are some of your drumming influences?
Brian: Alexander Ingram, Garfield Williams, Anthony “Spike” McCrae, Joel Smith, John Roberts, Vinnie Colaiuta, Gerald Heyward, Dave Weckl, and Chick Corea, to name a few.
MD: What advice can you share with our readers about practicing?
Brian: When I practice it’s always a fun, eye-opening experience, because I try to lose myself in expression and then find myself in that same expression. If I mess up something, I’ll stop at that point and figure it out. It could be grooves, triggering, tuning, placement, soloing, etc. I feel that practicing should always be challenging to your real challenge, which is being comfortable with making mistakes and being eager to fix them on the spot. I totally enjoy practicing, because I look forward to correcting my mistakes.
MD: What kinds of things do you work on in your practice routine?
Brian: I practice the basics: singles, doubles, triplets, and paradiddles. But whatever rudiments you practice, just make sure you break down that barrier that says, Okay, this is good enough. Keep those rudiments clean, and keep them tight—no matter what the tempo is. The faster you go, the more relaxed you become. There’s nothing worse than a drummer with amazing ideas but his anxiousness intensifies. This makes it almost impossible to perform to your best ability.
And [working on] your time is very important. Timing, timing, timing. After all, this is the job of every drummer. And practice with a metronome—I know you’ve heard it a million times, but this is a must. And once again, getting rid of Okay, that’s good enough. No, it has to be great! Make sure you’re comfortable playing at all tempos, then play to songs. This gives emotion and diversity to your playing—all your rudiments and grooves and expressions can now be put to good use. And stay calm when it’s time to play a fill. This will help with your timing. When it’s time to do a solo to a click track, this method will help with your timing and patience.
MD: Tell us about BFM Consultation Services.
Brian: It started from me wanting to get more involved with clinics back when I was on tour with Justin Timberlake. I began to promote myself and made the connections to schedule clinics two or three times a week during an eleven-week run. Needless to say, I was cooked. But it felt amazing to be able to share with others. It quickly turned into people asking things like, “How do you get the call?” This introduced the seminar/consultation idea. I developed detailed programs for inquiries by specific types of musicians—guitar players, keyboardists, bass players, drummers, percussionists, singers, front-of-house people, Pro Tools operators, DJs, poets, etc. Everyone wanted to know the same thing: “How can I get hired?”
So while I was touring, doing clinics, and conducting private lessons after the clinics, I was also doing a phone and video consultation program, where the client can speak to me about whatever it may be. It’s a bit like being a music-business psychologist. I’d help with tuning drums, playing with the click, working with triggers, retention, getting a sound, electric bass versus synth bass, stacking keyboard sounds, guitar effects, getting a good vocal blend, pitch, vocal training—all topics that I can help with in terms of getting you where you want to be. It became encouraging, fun, exciting, and challenging for me.
I get testimonies from every client, and to hear that they are so motivated and more confident in their craft and art is the best thing for me. They leave with a new goal that’s obtainable, and with the knowledge of what industry expectations are. And they leave having some sort of idea about what musical directors, A&R people, and artists look for.
This industry can be complicated and discouraging. My team and I can help you get the results you want, in a comfortable environment. We offer guidance with auditions, presentation, image building, branding, demeanor, working connections for the best results, advertising, and being the best you can be while capitalizing and growing. It’s my way of giving back and helping build the next generation of great musicians.
And I’m still learning. I did a clinic with Omar Hakim, Thomas Lang, and Dom Famularo. I was so nervous! [laughs] But they sat me down after my clinic and gave me so much love and support and encouragement. It was an amazing feeling. They also gave me the best advice ever. They explained about branding, books, seminars at colleges and music schools, lessons, and studio sessions. So I thought it’s time to go one hundred percent into giving back to help others as well as branding myself. It’s the best of both worlds. It gives me astonishing joy to experience the journey with all my clients. It reminds me every day of the struggles I went through in my career and life. I want to inspire them to be the best. And they do the same for me.
MD: Can you offer some specific advice for success in the music business?
Brian: If you’re trying to become a musician for hire—getting paid to play someone’s music—look at it this way: The artist you’re playing for, or hoping to play for, spent countless hours in the studio with those drums that they either programmed or had someone play. And now, further down the road, they’re going on tour and hiring you as the drummer for that tour and possibly more—studio work, songwriting, etc.
First you have to know what to do: Learn the music completely, and not just the drum part—you should know that inside and out already. Listen to all the [recorded] sounds, and figure out how to match the sounds of the drums and the vibe of the drums on your kit. That may involve triggering some sounds so that you can have acoustic drums mixed with the sounds of the record. And always be on time for shows, sessions, and rehearsals—and remember that image and personality is just as important as anything you play.
Second, know what not to do. Don’t go in thinking that this is your chance to show the world that you’re the man and that your chops and groove are the best. Chops that the artist is not familiar with don’t fly, because they’re used to what they wrote and heard in the studio. Don’t be arrogant, demanding, and unapproachable. Don’t go in not thinking about the instrumentation or the sound of what you’re playing—for example, hearing a finger snap or handclap as the main hit, but playing it on a 14″ metal snare drum. Watch what happens; you most likely won’t be asked back.
MD: What’s some other good advice you’ve gotten in your career?
Brian: Pay your taxes and keep your credit in order. Musicians don’t talk enough about what it means to have a career—the necessary things we must handle in life to be successful, like paying taxes, having credit, making long-term plans for security, being self-contained, and realizing your worth. All these things are a necessity in your career and your life.
And stay with your faithfulness to God and to your craft. I believe we’re all blessed with a talent given by God, and opportunities will come. Stay humble and appreciative—I can’t preach that enough. Be an example.
Drums: Pearl Reference and modified Export series in piano black finish
A. 6×10 maple snare
B. 6×10 Tru Trac tom
C. 6×14 Reference snare (20-ply)
D. 7.5×10 Reference Pure tom
E. 7.5×12 Reference Pure tom
F. 16×16 Reference Pure floor tom
G. 10″ Export Tru Trac tom (no bottom heads or lugs)
H. 12″ Export Tru Trac tom (no bottom heads or lugs)
I. 14″ Export Tru Trac floor tom (no bottom heads or lugs)
J. 18×22 Reference Pure bass drum
K. 16×20 Tru Trac bass drum
1. 14″ HHX Legacy hi-hats
2. 18″ HHX Evolution O-Zone crash
3. 16″ HHX Evolution O-Zone crash
4. 12″/14″ Max Stax
5. 13″ HHX Evolution hi-hats (remote)
Percussion: Pearl 28×14 djembe, 3×13 timbale, bongos, and tambourine with head
Sticks: Vater Brian Frasier-Moore signature model
Heads: Evans Level 360, including Onyx on snares, Black Chrome on 10″ and 12″ toms, Hydraulic on 16″ tom, EMAD Onyx on 22″ bass drum, and J1 on timbale
Electronics: On kit: Roland BT-1 Pole Trigger, PD-8 pads, and V-Pads, Boss foot pedals, Native Instruments Maschine MIDI controller, drumKAT Turbo. In rack: Yamaha 01V96i mixer, Monster Pro 2500 Power Conditioner, Akai Z8 sampler, Radial SW8 DI, Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 interface, ButtKicker amp, UPS battery backup. Miscellaneous: Swann video camera, talk-back mic, Marshall 7″ monitor.
Hardware: Pearl D-2500 throne, S-1030 snare stands, H-2000 hi-hat stand, Gear 88 series tom holders, CH-1030 cymbal boom stands, Eliminator P-2000C bass drum pedals, and RH-2000 remote hi-hat stand; Gibraltar custom rack and 12×16 percussion table
According to James “J.R.” Newkirk of J.R. WorldWide Backline Rentals, a variety of Gibraltar clamps and bars, including adjustable right-angle clamps, Quick T-Lep clamps, Road series Super multi-clamps, and Rack Shock microphone mounts, are used to give the impression that Frasier-Moore’s kit is “bowing out” to the audience. “Different bars had to be cut down for everything to fall in place where Brian is comfortable playing it,” Newkirk tells Modern Drummer. “Curved chrome bars were also used to mount cymbal boom arms, drumKAT Turbos, and Roland electronics. Straight chrome extension bars played a part in this process as well.”
BFM’s Grooves for Live
In 2009, on the advice of Madonna musical director Kevin Antunes, producer and engineer David Frangioni, whose credits include Aerosmith, Bryan Adams, Ringo Starr, Ozzy Osbourne, Sting, and Phil Collins, approached Brian Frasier-Moore about contributing to his drum sample library. Grammy-winning engineer and producer Roger Nichols, renowned for his work with Steely Dan, Frank Zappa, and many others, was brought on board, and in 2012 David Frangioni Presents Brian Frasier-Moore, Vol. 1 was released to the public. Sadly, Nichols passed away in 2011, before the project hit the shelves.
“I’d seen Brian play with various artists and was always impressed with his groove,” Frangioni says. “At that point in my career,” Frasier-Moore adds, “it was a no-brainer to take advantage of this incredible opportunity with David. His knowledge and expertise, mixed with my experience and vocabulary, made the project complete. The wealth of content on the CD can be applied to all genres of music—country, pop, R&B, rock….”
After deciding on a selection of groove types, drum sounds, and tempos, Frangioni, Nichols, and Frasier-Moore entered Village Studios in Los Angeles, where they recorded hundreds of loops. “I purposely wanted the different tempos to be performed rather than time-stretched,” Frangioni says. “When you have a player like Brian that has all the nuances in his groove, hearing him play the different tempos takes the library to a whole other level.
“Brian played for two solid days, nine or more hours a day, until his hands were literally bleeding,” Frangioni adds. “Amazing passion, effort, and endurance on his part.”