One of the things I pride myself on, as a drummer, is my ability to play “for the song.” By that, I mean that I try to pick grooves, fills, and sounds that compliment the song and paint just the right picture for each track. I’ve also found that this can be a hard talent to learn. So, in the spirit sharing some of my knowledge, I’ve decided to write a short blurb about some of the songs that I recorded with Newspring Band on our newest album, Go Ahead. Sing.
I wish I could say that I came up with the dance feeling for this song, but that was Lance’s doing. Brian Watts and I did come up with the intro, though. We wanted something dark and brooding, but with a lot of “pent up energy” to get things going. Hence the eighth notes on the floor tom and Chinese cymbal crashes. The rest of the song is pretty straight forward “four-on-the-floor” rock and roll. We do bring the dark and brooding feeling back in the bridge where I use the ride cymbal and hats to keep the forward momentum going all the way through the last choruses. This tune is a ton of fun and the congregation really enjoys it!
This one has to be on our “greatest hits album” if we ever do one – if only we had written it. Lance did a great job of condensing the arrangement from 8 minutes down to 5 or so and the key change at the end is just like throwing down on the afterburners to propel us to the end. There’s lots of fun drumming in this one too. I play the first half of the song the way Hillsong recorded it. The coolest part to me, and apparently the hardest to record, is the pre-chorus. Just like in the original recording, I add a light ride cymbal on each beat just to brighten up up the sound little. I’m not sure where Hillsong got the idea, but it sounds a lot like the end of Bartender by Dave Matthews Band to me.
Listen carefully during the guitar solo and last chorus and you’ll hear Jesse Warkentin (keyboards) and I pay a little trill up high and then down low each time we pass through the progression. We’ve gone back and forth about whether to keep these in or not, and for the recording we decided to go for it. This is an example of Jesse coming up with a little lick and me picking it up with the toms. It just goes to show you that it pays to listen to your bandmates.
Finally, just before the guitar solo, I play a fill that I stumbled on and have always liked enough to keep for three years now – a VERY rare feat for me. It’s a simple two-bar fill starting on beat two. All I do is play a series of Swiss Army Triplets (flam right left) with my right hand on the floor tom and my left on the snare. Start this one right and you’ll naturally end up on beat four for a big accent! From there it’s full speed ahead hitting the crashes to accentuate the groove, vocal lines, guitars, or all three.
Nothing Without You
This song is such a great expression of love and humility before Christ. Ryan Morris added the percussion on this track, including the udu. It adds such a great sound and really sets the acoustic reverent feeling for the song. Also, Kevin Hayes and Jesse Warkentin play some great fills on guitar and piano and contribute so much to this song. I say all that to point out that my perception of my job on this track was to stay out of the way. For the most part I do a good job, but the bridge does get a bit heavy. It’s always so hard to walk the line between staying out of the way and letting your voice be heard. I think you can hear me struggle with that here.
The first of our original tunes on the record has become the unofficial anthem for NewSpring Church. And again, I wish I could take credit for the dance vibe, but it was all Lance. Ryan Morris wrote most of this tune and first presented us with the acoustic guitar riff in the intro. Dunno why, but when I heard it, my first thought was of David Silveria and Korn. That’s what you hear in the intro and verses: heavy four-on-the-floor, big quarter note accents on the hats, and a fat backbeat.
The bridge is interesting. Live at church, I played an open ride pattern between the ride cymbal and hats and moved the snare to my auxiliary 10″ drum. But the sound tech in the studio didn’t want to mess with another snare drum, so he just ran some bit crusher effects to get the sound you hear on the album (that’s right, kids, the bridge was recoded with the exact same kit as the rest of the album). Those effects have made my ride cymbal sound more like hats and my hats fade into the back ground. The end result is a simpler grove that more closely matches the song. When I play this one live now, it’s all on the hats.
This was the hardest song for me to play, ever since we started playing it at church. I’ve never felt comfortable with it (I still don’t when we play it live). But somehow God must have puts some notes in me when we recorded this one. I love it! I tried to keep a very open feeling throughout the track, never settling into 2 and 4 until the very end. That matches with the airy nature of the rest of the instruments and let’s the vocal shine through.
BTW, I love Melinda Morris’ vocals on this one. She sounds so hauntingly celtic!
How He Loves
In 2001 I got to go to PASIC in Nashville where I was blessed to attend a clinic with Liberty DeVito (Billy Joel). Liberty pleaded with the attendees to “get back to 2 and 4” and to play ballads loud. Listen to songs like Honesty or New York State of Mind to hear him wail away at a nice slow tempo. That pretty much sums up my thoughts on this track. Groove groove groove and play it loud! This is the track I’m most proud of.
Let Us Run
Finally, the second original tune on the album is an example of a good mistake. In the studio, we just played each song down, never using more than three takes on any one track. So this whole track was laid down in no more than half an hour. Which is my excuse for why I completely forgot the verse groove. If you’ve heard this song live or on our first CD, Unrefined, you know that the verses are supposed to have toms on the backbeats. Instead I played the backbeats on the snare for this project, and never realized my goof. Now this new groove is cannon, but I think I like it better anyway.
In summary, as a drummer, you’re the one in the band that colors the pictures the other players paint. You have to listen to them and to the song as a whole to help you decided what to (and what no to) play. I hope this walk through the album was beneficial to you. If so, let me know!