Bands get cut loose from record labels all the time, but finding a new home is much easier when a group’s drummer thinks and plays like a record producer. The members of OneRepublic can vouch for that.
Eddie Fisher was doing sessions and local gigs in the Los Angeles area before he auditioned for OneRepublic in 2005. His association with that band and its lead singer and golden-touch producer, Ryan Tedder, coupled with an orchestral, economical drumming style, has enabled him to knock singles like “Apologize” and “Counting Stars” out of the park and push tracks by Katy Perry, James Morrison, Kelly Clarkson, and Chris Cornell to the top of the charts as well.
Fisher is a natural lefty who learned to play on a right-handed drumkit. After growing up in Oregon and California, he settled in Colorado, where Tedder and OneRepublic bassist Brent Kutzle join him for rehearsals and preproduction sessions. They collaborate with guitarists Zach Filkins and Drew Brown via portable studios and laptops, and fly to studios in L.A., New York, and, as in the case of last year’s Oh My My album, virtually all over the globe to complete the recording process. MD recently spoke with the drummer about his approach to finding the perfect beat—or beats—to the group’s smart and addictive songs. We begin by asking him about his early years, and how they informed his approach today.
MD: What pointed you toward playing the drums?
Eddie: I got to see U2 when I was thirteen, on the Joshua Tree tour, in Tempe Stadium. This year is the thirtieth anniversary of that tour. I didn’t pick up drumming seriously until right after high school, though. I’d dabbled a little bit, but then I got serious, joined this band, and then, ten years ago, moved to Colorado. But it goes way back. I did the L.A. thing for most of my musical career, just doing the hustle.
MD: Did you study drums?
Eddie: I took a few lessons. I had one guy teaching me some things. He worked at a music store and set me up with a cheap drumset. I was beating the crap out of it. I had things duct-taped. It’s just what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to buy a piece of junk, and like Dave Grohl has said, you’ve just got to suck. Later, I was living in Mission Viejo and going down to this place called Music House, where Taylor Hawkins used to work. I used to hang out with him and get lessons.
MD: You must have a good ear.
Eddie: I was fortunate to grow up around music. My mom loved doo-wop and bebop, and she was a competitive dancer. My dad loved jazz and Cajun and country music and classic rock. He’s played acoustic guitar in bands here and there. And I was always the kid that tapped on everything, so it kind of made sense.
I grew up loving it all. I appreciate the songwriting aspect, and I respect the music that I can’t do. I’m definitely not a jazzman, but Steve Gadd is one of my favorite drummers. I watch him and I’m like, What in the world? He’s got the pocket for days, and he’s got so many different styles—jazz, rock, contemporary, funk, blues. If I had to pick one drummer, he’s the one, but I have a plethora of favorites. Now that we have so many videos accessible these days, it’s great to be able to say, I want to see how he plays this song. You watch him break it down, and you can break it down. I’m no Steve Gadd, but I definitely appreciate him.
MD: And Larry Mullen Jr.?
Eddie: Oh, yeah, Larry’s got his own style. That’s the great thing about some drummers. Dave Grohl has his own style, his own feel; Stewart Copeland too. Gadd, Larry Mullen, they have their own voices. That’s what I was going for with this band, just to make my own voice. Sometimes it’s programmed stuff with live drums, but a lot of it is live drums with little programmed stuff. I love both worlds, electronic and acoustic.
MD: So you weren’t doing the high school garage-band thing.
Eddie: My parents didn’t want me to play drums. “It’s too loud—no way!” My dad got me an acoustic guitar, gave me a [method] book: “Here you go, buddy. Learn it.” It sat in my room collecting dust while I was playing on friends’ drumkits and really enjoying myself. So I decided to buy myself a drumset.
I played to my favorite CDs and beat the crap out of some drums. Let out some aggression and just enjoyed being able to play along to my favorite songs and favorite bands. Learned the whole dynamic of actually playing drums. I played a James Brown CD up and down for like two weeks. I wanted to learn all the songs.
I was in a band where it was like, “Which album do you want to learn?” We would challenge each other, like, “Hey, let’s everybody learn Radiohead.” Or Pearl Jam, or Alice in Chains, or Green Day, or Red Hot Chili Peppers…. Our thing was to learn the musical theory behind everybody else’s style.
MD: How did you break into the L.A. studio scene, and how did you get involved with OneRepublic?
Eddie: One of my friends had a production deal with Interscope and DreamWorks. They were like, “Come out to L.A. and audition,” so I did. They were cool, so I quit my job and moved into a one-bedroom apartment there with two other guys and just woke up [every day] and wrote music. I was doing session work for friends to make a little extra money. A few months later, we got dropped by DreamWorks. I started living out of my SUV and went back to work at Home Depot, and on days off I was doing studio stuff.
Then the bass player I was in with at DreamWorks said, “I’m in another band—OneRepublic—and our drummer just left. Do you want to audition?” I’m like, “Of course!” He gave me the demo tape and I learned all the songs, and apparently I did well enough, because they liked it. We played shows, and we were signed by Columbia. We recorded demos and had an album finished, we played Coachella, and a couple of days later we got dropped by Columbia. Bad news. So we were just doing the L.A. thing again. But Ryan was giving me sessions, and I was doing session work left and right. I love recording demos for people, no-namers and up-and-comers. Anyway, we finally got signed by [record producer/label owner] Timbaland, and he remixed one of our singles. And that’s how we blew up.
MD: Your drum sound has always been big, since the first album, Dreaming Out Loud.
Eddie: Yeah, I love big, dumb drum sounds, the big vintage, warm tones. Coming up, drummers are like, “Fast fills!” And I’m like, “No, I like it fat and in your face.” It doesn’t have to be flashy. You don’t have to kill me with your paradiddles. Just make it great, make it feel. I’m a feel drummer. I love to feel music. I’m not that kid that spent hours learning all of the rudiments—I should have, but I don’t want to do too much more than a song needs.
MD: On “Apologize,” you build a nice pattern with just kick and a clap effect. You seem to like that sound a lot.
Eddie: Yeah, we used a big Ayotte kit and put the Yamaha Subkick on it. Flams, mixed with rimshot flams, and then we did the claps, the cabasa, and stacked and varied some stuff. That was the first track where it was, “Okay, here’s the fake drumbeat.” That’s our theory. Either match it or beat it. I pretty much just matched it, because Ryan was like, “Hey, don’t change this too much, because it’s kind of how I want it to sound.” So we left it and then played with some other sounds and claps. There were actually knee slaps in there too, but I don’t know if they made the track.
MD: On Waking Up, you can really hear the way you creatively use space, waiting to come in sometimes. It makes what you do more powerful.
Eddie: I don’t like to do anything I don’t need to, first of all. I’m not about “Listen to me play!” It’s what’s best for the song.
I just did a track for Stevie Wonder, for Ryan [the Stevie Wonder/Ariana Grande duet “Faith”], and there’s a gospel end-of-the-song fill. And then Ryan’s like, “Okay, how about you just redo the whole track, and we’ll keep whatever.” That’s always how he and I work. I’ll be sitting around in my backyard playing with my dog, and I’ll get a text: “Hey, man, I need a track in the next hour.” That’s my world, and we work well like that.
MD: Your approach is almost orchestral at times. I wonder if that’s partly because you play left-handed on a right-handed kit, like maybe that opens things up where you don’t feel you have to lock in to traditional hi-hat/snare/kick grooves.
Eddie: That’s how I grew into that. I originally played on a right-handed drumset. I wasn’t taught that way—someone just said “Play,” and that’s just how it felt right. So as I grew older and played this way, that’s how I learned. I noticed that my approach to drum fills was a lot different from the traditional way. Not that it’s bad—because there are drum fills that most drummers can do that I wish I could do. I’ve taught myself to lead with my right sometimes, but I naturally lead with my left during fills, so it throws everything off.
I’ve taught myself to play right-handed on a right-handed kit and left-handed on a right-handed kit—same kit—just so I could approach drum fills, and even patterns, totally differently. But primarily I play left-handed on a right-handed kit. Sometimes it’s been a crutch, but sometimes it’s been freeing, because it allows me to do things that you don’t normally hear.
MD: Explain how you approached “All the Right Moves,” with its almost drum ’n’ bass groove.
Eddie: Yeah, that was a weird one, because it was like four parts, and I didn’t think we were going to be playing it live. When we started to, I was like, Oh, I have to play four different patterns. So I kind of took the root element of the song, and I play that. That song is really hard to play—it’s just so untraditional. It’s a weird song, but fun. It’s got some rock moments in it.
MD: On “Marchin’ On,” you play a nice cymbal swell that leads right into the beat. But you don’t generally use a lot of hi-hat or ride, or even crash cymbals. In that way it’s reminiscent of Peter Gabriel’s music.
Eddie: I love Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. I could talk for days about [Gabriel drummer] Manu Katché’s playing. Less is more, man. That’s how I feel about a lot of these songs. “Marchin’ On” was a simple song that didn’t need much. A couple cymbal swells here, some crashes, and that four-on-the-floor.
MD: The Native record has some great four-on-the-floor beats. “If I Lose Myself” is a good example. You start with the cool cross-stick beat and then go into the four-on-the-floor. It’s like the second verse is a totally different thing.
Eddie: We wanted to make it more dance, up-tempo. We had so many mid-tempo songs. We said, “We need to turn something up: four-on-the-floor, bigger synths, lower bass tones—just make it bigger.” So we changed everything up but kept the cross-stick. I love playing that live.
MD: You drop out on the chorus. Drummers almost never do that.
Eddie: We wanted to change it up, you know? Do something different. Make it interesting for us and for the fans. Be less predictable.
MD: On “Counting Stars,” where you drop out it’s almost like not playing is part of the hook. When you arrange your songs, do you guys think in terms of what will make a track work on radio?
Eddie: Yeah, but there are so many songs where I thought…I mean, we put “Say” out for the third single, and I thought it was going to be massive, but it was just too slow. People want to sing the chorus and shake their butts. You know, that whole theory of “Don’t bore us—get to the chorus” is huge in America. Though obviously people have hits that are down-tempo.
The music business is so weird these days, especially with streaming. We thought Oh My My was going to be massive. We were traveling the world, and within six months of finishing the album, everything changed. We were like, “Wow, we have this album that’s kind of dated already, and we haven’t put it out yet.” But we love the album and love the songs.
It’s always exciting to see what a song is going to do on the radio. It’s fun to let your baby go out in the world and do its thing. Sometimes it’s big, sometimes it’s not. You’ve got to do it because you love it, though, not because you just want to make it big.
MD: The title track has a great groove.
Eddie: We were way into different sounds and different eras of music, like the ’70s Eurofunk era. Our bass player has listened to a lot of great French funk and underground grooves. We just got way into that, like on “A.I.” and “Human.” On “Oh My My” you can hear a lot of the bass tones being the predominant thing, which is kind of a new thing for us. We were excited to be exploring that kind of music, because we listen to that type of funky stuff. We love that song, though radio was, “Oh, I just don’t know about this.”
MD: When you’re recording, do you very often play a song all the way through, or do you record in pieces, a section at a time?
Eddie: We do a little bit of both. We play through it live, and we’ll record it all the way through. Then we’ll do some eight-bar passes, we’ll do some sixteen-bar passes, the breakdown stuff…. For a lot of our songs, like “Secrets,” we have to figure out how we’re going to play them live. So we do a lot of rehearsing, breaking stuff down. Brent, our bass player, and I spend a lot of time rehearsing together before the band comes, getting as tight as we possibly can, and even breaking down songs and parts—just getting them right. That way our parts are correct.
In the studio you can do all kinds of things. There are times when I like to track drums by themselves, because it makes the drums sound bigger without making the cymbals overbearing. We’ll record the drums first, and then we’ll overdub the hi-hat, ride, and crashes. That’s a weird process, but it helps you control the drums and make them bigger without making the cymbals bigger. That’s sometimes hard to do on a not-so-simple track.
MD: And then you mix in electronic sounds afterward?
Eddie: Yeah, we’ll stack some snares, or maybe we like a different hi-hat that we heard somewhere: “Oh, I like that guy’s hi-hat. Let’s take that.” Or we’ll just rerecord the hi-hat. We’ll take the hi-hat stand in the bathroom or in a closet. We’ve done some weird things. But it makes for fun times and funny stories.
Tools of the Trade
Fisher plays Gretsch drums and Zildjian cymbals. He uses Vic Firth sticks, Remo heads, and DW hardware, as well as products by A&F Drum Company, Outlaw, Big Fat Snare Drum, and Roland. As a left-handed drummer playing on a right-handed kit, he sets up with an 18″ floor tom on his left and 14″ and 16″ floor toms on his right, with a 13″ rack tom in the middle. “When I’m behind a kit,” he says, “I don’t want to look at it as a left-handed kit or a right-handed kit. This setup allows me to move anywhere at any time.”