Editor’s note: As this story completed production, Modern Drummer learned that drummer Greg Clifford would be joining White Denim for the remainder of their current tour.
Since 2006 the Austin-based, genre-blurring indie rock band White Denim has been honing a unique blend of Southern blues, punk, and psychedelic vibes into crafty, hook-driven tunes. Following the August 24 release of Performance, the group’s eighth full-length album, White Denim has embarked on an international tour that lasts through mid November. For the group’s live dates earlier this year, the band brought along Conrad Choucroun, a veteran Austin sticksman who formerly played for the legendary group NRBQ.
Choucroun tells MD that he first started working with White Denim after Steven Terebecki [vocals, bass] phoned him while he was in Mexico with his family. “I’ve been friends with Steve for a few years now,” says Choucroun, “and a couple of summers ago he called me up to play some shows. We all locked in really well and recorded an album over the course of a few months. I was so happy to be playing music with these guys.”
Choucroun says that he felt right at home while first transitioning into the new setting. “Fortunately we all spoke the same musical language,” he says. “We also laugh a lot, so dynamically it was easy to get along with those guys.” Still, the drummer did his homework to fit the group’s style. “First I listened to their back catalog over and over, to get inside the songs and the spirit of the band. Then when we [started] playing together, I stepped back and let it be my own thing. All of the drumming in White Denim’s catalog is great and super musical, so that was inspiring.”
Throughout Performance—Choucroun’s first studio appearance with the group—the drummer’s dry, warm tones match each song’s distinctive feeling. Check out the round, brooding toms and slapping snare on “Performance,” or the cracking snare and shimmering cymbals on the album’s first single, “Magazin.” Although the drummer is quick to credit producer Jim Vollentine for the record’s kit sounds, a few of Choucroun’s studio tricks helped bring out some special vibes. “On ‘Performance’ I recorded with the smallest timbale sticks I could find,” he says. “It has an interesting effect in the studio and brings out different qualities of the drums and cymbals. You get less wash from the cymbals hitting the compressors through the room mics and overheads, and you get more of the drums themselves.”
Live, the drummer made some subtle changes to his kit to replicate those recorded sounds onstage. “I couldn’t do the timbale stick thing live, but I always travelled with some binder clips and bandanas and put them partially on the outer edge of the toms. Then I moved them around depending on the sonic situation. Our live sound engineer, Daniel McNeil, also used a front-of-kit mic and incorporated that into a standard drum mic setup.”
Choucroun, who got to explore a healthy amount of musical freedom in NRBQ, found that he could take similar liberties onstage with White Denim. “Sometimes,” he says, “Steve or James [Petralli, vocals and guitar] would subtly throw out a new rhythmic or melodic idea within a song, and I’d react to it—or vice versa. During solos, we’d go a little farther out. The improvisation was always in the context of a song-oriented approach, though in rehearsals we would usually start playing something totally improvised and see where that took us.”
Conrad Choucroun endorses A&F drums.
Also on the Road
John Sherman with Red Fang /// Matt Thomas with the Joy Formidable /// Chris Bear with Grizzly Bear /// Johnny Radelat with Gary Clark Jr. /// Ian Paice with Deep Purple /// Scott Travis with Judas Priest /// Mac McNeilly with the Jesus Lizard /// Brendan Canty with MC5 /// Scott Hammond with Jethro Tull /// Terry Bozzio on the Reality solo tour