Sweet Spirit Trinidad
The latest release by one of Austin’s sharpest and most prolific musical troupes finds drummer Danny Blanchard focusing on the groove.
Sweet Spirit is the dance floor–friendly pop inverse of fellow Austin band A Giant Dog. Both groups feature mostly the same members, notably the human hurricane that is lead vocalist Sabrina Ellis, but drummer Danny Blanchard shelves A Giant Dog’s early punk playbook in favor of Steve Gadd and LinnDrum vibes for Sweet Spirit. The closest Sweet Spirit gets to the music from the namesake island of their new LP, Trinidad (Merge Records), is the synthy slow calypso “No Dancing,” which Blanchard executes to sound like programmed parts, complete with overdubbed cymbal crashes and tom fills. Similar 1980s vibes, like the offbeat accented 6/8 groove on “Fingerprints” or the programming on “Only Love,” might make you wonder if you just walked into a high school dance in 1986. Danny’s least machine-influenced parts may be on the 32nd-note snare pulse of opening fanfare “Behold,” and the 16th-note funk on album closer “Empty Bottle,” where he locks in with the bass á la Tony Thompson, alternating with a well-composed half-time on the synth-heavy bridge and final choruses. We spoke to Blanchard about the making of Trinidad and his work in both Sweet Spirit and A Giant Dog.
MD: A Giant Dog and Sweet Spirit require different approaches. What’s your mindset?
Danny: It’s weird because when Sweet Spirit started, I wouldn’t have called them all that different. It started kind of as a rave-up rock band, and it was a lot looser. Over time it’s kind of veered more into the dance arena. So I think playing in Sweet Spirit, I’ve got to kind of think a lot more about the pocket and staying tight. A Giant Dog is just kind of a big party onstage. I’ve never been a punk drummer, so that’s been the one that’s probably the most foreign to me in terms of approach, because I spent my entire adult life basically playing indie rock, and to go to that…that first tour hurt.
MD: Are there any particular players or bands you draw on?
Danny: I think the first drummer I ever heard where it was a big wake-up call, like, that’s what a drumset sounds like, was Mitch Mitchell. But in terms of Sweet Spirit, since it’s kind of tightened up and become this really succinct dance thing, I look a lot to Steve Gadd–type drumming and just try to keep it really tight and figure out how to be creative within that, which is probably the hardest thing. Listening to Chic or any of that disco stuff really makes you focus on being a musical player and playing within the confines of delivering a beat that’s danceable. For A Giant Dog, my biggest influence is probably Orville [Neeley], the previous drummer, because I had no context for it. When I was a kid, I listened to bands like Anti-Flag, NOFX, and Choking Victim, but that’s not what A Giant Dog is. I had no idea who the Stooges or the Damned or any of those bands were. So I kind of looked back at what Orville did, learning how to play that way and sneaking my own shit in there.
MD: How did machines factor into making this record?
Danny: Our guitarist bought an actual LinnDrum, which I guess is what Michael Jackson and Prince used for a lot of their stuff. Programming beats and sort of figuring out how that fit into everything was a big part of the recording process. There’s one song that’s on the album…thank God it all came together, because at first, since we were just sort of dealing with these new technologies, it sounded like a Tom Waits song recorded on children’s toys. It was bizarre and I hated it. It finally came together, and now I love it, but it was a lot of wrestling with the technology and trying to figure out how to make that work.
By Stephen Bidwell
Rush Permanent Waves (40th Anniversary)
A look back on the album that called Rush up to the big leagues, plus magical archival live tracks.
Much has already been written about Rush’s genre-defining 1980 masterpiece, Permanent Waves, and its ultimate resonance with a larger audience. This new fortieth-anniversary set puts the 2015 remastered edition on CD for the first time. But the real highlight is a second disc of previously unreleased live concert performances from the 1980 Permanent Waves tour, newly mixed and restored from the original multitracks by the band’s original producer, Terry Brown. Drummer Neil Peart executes the same parts he wrote for the records throughout, but the level of ferocity is something to behold. The twenty-seven-year-old Peart is crushing on definitive takes of “Freewill” and “The Spirit of Radio” from the recent album, but of likely interest to super Rush geeks and Peart fans will (finally!) be the inclusion of professionally recorded takes of material not on the band’s acclaimed 1980/81 live album, Exit…Stage Left. Those include a hyper-kinetic “By-Tor & the Snow Dog,” multipart Permanent Waves album closer “Natural Science,” and both frighteningly ambitious books of “Cygnus X-1.” Hearing a young and hungry Peart simply destroy this material with fire, passion, and laser-beam articulation is reason to rejoice. (Ume/Mercury/Anthem)
By Ilya Stemkovsky
TAKING THE REINS
Victor DeLorenzo Tranceaphone
Even if you’re not immediately familiar with his name, you’re likely already familiar with Victor DeLorenzo’s work.
As the original drummer for the Violent Femmes, Victor DeLorenzo created the response to one of the most identifiable melodic calls in popular music: the flammed “tap-tap, tap-tap” that caps off the guitar riff in the band’s ubiquitous “Blister in the Sun.” The song sits alongside “Smoke on the Water” and “Seven Nation Army”: a classic that everyone knows and has likely even played along with, proof of its simple brilliance.
DeLorenzo’s latest release, a concise and breezy solo EP called Tranceaphone, is similarly direct. The record is named for a folkart instrument that DeLorenzo invented; it was featured prominently on the Femmes’ self-titled debut, and does so again on this release. The instrument has been an integral part of his drum “systems” (his term for setup) over the years; it’s what enabled DeLorenzo to play while standing and also helped contribute to his idiosyncratic sonic signature.
Victor’s sound on Tranceaphone is smoother, sanded down from the jagged folk-punk playing that made him famous with the Femmes—though many of the songs still feature his signature work with brushes. The album is hardly slick; none of its grooves are quantized, and this lends a whimsical and intentionally loose air to the songs. And while the album’s percussive and melodic textures are diverse, the instrumentation is focused and clear.
DeLorenzo provides much of the musical accompaniment on the album, too, playing guitar and singing on most of the tunes. Songs like “When She’s There” and “Lullaby” feature his velvety croon with lyrics so straightforward they become meditations. And even though DeLorenzo describes his new EP as a “solo” record, the lyrics in the title track make it clear that he’s “never alone” when it comes to him and his tranceaphone. We wanted to know more.
MD: How did you come to invent the tranceaphone?
Victor: Brian Ritchie [the Femmes’ bassist] and I were looking for a percussion sound. We knew it wouldn’t be sticks on a cymbal, maracas…. In the corner of our friend’s attic there was this metal bushel basket and an old Whithall single-headed tom-tom, so I tried that. For a while I was playing with metal brushes on the basket. But then we got the idea to put the basket on top of the tom. I started playing that, and it just came to life.
MD: How would you describe its sound, and where can listeners hear examples of it?
Victor: It not only has a ping, but there is also a real resonance, kind of a thump in there. Depending on how you play it, you could get a number of different sounds. The song “Tranceaphone” uses this drum setup. It’s also the setup I used on most of the Femmes’ first album.
MD: What was your process for writing and recording the songs on the EP?
Victor: All of the pieces on Tranceaphone began as drum improvisations. There was no idea of a chordal structure, melodies, or anything. I just found a tempo that I liked on a drum machine, laid down the machine track, then improvised along to it. I’d write to that drum improvisation after the fact.
I took a number of different approaches. Sometimes I’d call Janet [Schiff, DeLorenzo’s musical collaborator in their project NINETEEN THIRTEEN] to come up with basslines. She’d apply a bass track, and then I’d run with it from there, fleshing out the rest of the chords and lyrical ideas. I’d sing a first pass, then she would advise me. So even though this is a solo record for me per se, Janet was still quite involved in the creation of it.
MD: What sort of drum setups did you use for the EP?
Victor: Every song is represented with a different drum setup. Some have larger bass drums, some have smaller…different kinds of drum makes, different cymbals, and a whole world of percussion sounds. I’m so proud of the drum sounds. They vary from piece to piece. I meticulously crafted all of them so that they’re different from track to track.
By Keith Carne
Jim Payne’s School of Funk
With this online monthly subscription course, you’ll be in good (and very funky) hands.
Drummer/educator/producer Jim Payne has written numerous exemplary books on funk, R&B, and soul drumming, including Funk Drumming and Give the Drummers Some! And he’s got the street cred to back it up, having performed with legendary James Brown band alumni Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley. In addition, he teaches online for Berklee College of Music. This course’s centerpiece is a collection of twenty-two lessons focused on funk groove transcriptions/breakdowns, illuminated by Payne’s brief demonstration videos. There’s abundant bonus material as well. No filler here: all the grooves are highly usable, including classic soul nuggets. The audio/video of the demonstration clips might not be as sophisticated as today’s multicam/mic productions; nevertheless, they get the job done. Additional course material purchases are required, including three of Payne’s previous books and Tommy Igoe’s Groove Essentials. The package’s singular asset, though, is Payne’s personal input. Once monthly, students who submit their assignment-related videos and questions will receive Payne’s authoritative one-to-one feedback. (funkydrummer.com, $29.95 a month)
By Jeff Potter