This past May 25 the seminal prog-rock group Spock’s Beard released Noise Floor, a two-disc record that features the multifaceted drum wizard Nick D’Virgilio. In 2011, Nick, who was an original member of Spock’s Beard, parted ways with the group after twenty years to pursue a touring gig with Cirque du Soleil. “If I hadn’t joined Cirque du Soleil, I probably would never have left Spock’s,” D’Virgilio says. “I just wasn’t around to give the band the time it needed, and I couldn’t ask them to wait for me. Originally when I joined Cirque it was going to be for two years. But I kept going and going. The band needed to move on.”

After his Cirque du Soleil tenure, D’Virgilio joined the team at online instrument retailer Sweetwater Sound, which ultimately led to the band’s Noise Floor reunion. “Now that I’m at Sweetwater, I have the opportunity to bring in artists and bands that I’ve worked with for projects,” the drummer explains. “We got Spock’s here for one of our recording workshops, which was a perfect way for us to play together again. Afterward, the guys asked if I wanted to record a new album. I was totally up for it, and I got to record the drums at Sweetwater Studios. So it was a win all around.”

D’Virgilio took advantage of Sweetwater’s extensive collection of gear for the Noise Floor session. “The main kit was our studio’s DW Collector’s Series set made of cherry and gum wood,” he says. “It’s a killer kit with so much tone and punch. We also used a Mapex Saturn Tour Edition kit for a few things, like the song ‘So This Is Life.’ The kit’s hybrid maple and walnut shells gave us a big gushy sound for that tune. The DW kit is big, with 8″, 10″, and 12″ rack toms, 16″ and 18″ floor toms, and an 18×23 bass drum. The Mapex kit was a simple 9×13 rack tom, 16×16 floor tom, and 16×24 kick.”

D’Virgilio also had the luxury of swapping out plenty of snares during the recording. “We used a bunch, such as a Ludwig 8×14 Hammered Brass, a 6.5×14 DW Purpleheart, a 6.5×14 Pearl Sensitone, an old 6×12 Mapex Black Panther, a 6.5×14 Ludwig Supraphonic LM402, and a 6.5×14 Gretsch USA Bell Brass.” The drummer was also able to incorporate a mix of Sabian, Zildjian, Meinl, Paiste, and Wuhan cymbals into the kit. According to Nick, “Nothing was smaller than a 17″. And I went for a drier ride sound with cymbals like my 20″ Meinl Byzance Dark, a 21″ Zildjian K Custom Special Dry, and a 21″ Sabian HHX Groove ride. I also remember using 15″ Zildjian K Light and 16″ Sabian Apollo hi-hats. For the China cymbals, I used my 22″ Meinl Byzance Jazz China ride and a selection of Wuhans.”

Let’s check out some highlights from Noise Floor.


“To Breathe Another Day”

The album opens with keys and heavy hits before D’Virgilio jumps into this funky groove in 7/4. (0:23, 140 bpm)

The song then erupts into a frantic departure from the main groove, and Nick matches the intensity with this killer pattern. (4:22, 140 bpm)

“What Becomes of Me”

The album’s second track features a drum and vocal break, which D’Virgilio fills with this evolving groove in 7/4. (4:04, 140 bpm)

“One So Wise”

An extended instrumental intro kicks off this track before Nick settles into this driving 6/4 groove while matching the bass line perfectly. (1:07, 93 bpm)

The groove then develops into this broken 16th-note hi-hat feel with openings that elevate the energy of the track and foreshadow the upcoming chorus. (1:38, 93 bpm)

“Box of Spiders”

This mind-bending instrumental takes a lot of wild turns before descending into a quirky piano riff, which Nick complements with this groove in 3/4. (3:07, 135 bpm)

“Armageddon Nervous”

Noise Floor’s closing track begins with a driving synth pattern in cycles of 13/8 and 7/4. Check out D’Virgilio’s pattern during this section. (0:10, 170 bpm)

Further into the song, the band drops out while Nick lays down this funky groove. (1:21, 170 bpm)


Austin Burcham is a drummer, educator, and graduate of the Musician’s Institute. He’s the creator of the YouTube lesson series Study the Greats, which you can visit at youtube.com/abbdrums. For more information, visit abbdrums.com.