Marco MinnemannInterview by Sean Mitchell // October 08 2012
If you record and you record it on your own, you’re pretty much already in the mix down process because you have to get the instrument or the different instruments recorded the way your ears are hearing it already.
Marco Minnemann is by far one of the world's most insanely talented independence players. Not surprisingly Marco is a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, bass and dulcimer (to name a few) and can hold his own behind a mixing desk as well. This week we treat you to one heck of an audio interview, and as always, the transcription is pasted below for your reading pleasure. Enjoy.
Marco, your prowess and ability as an independence player is incredible. Where do you think you came to develop this love of independence drumming?
First of all, I never really planned that. It was just in my head that I wanted to hear like a stereo hi-hat– that’s pretty much how it started. I had like a hi-hat on my right side of the drum set at one point. It started when I was 17 or something like that – almost 25 years ago. First I played it as a double kick set and then I thought, “I want to use that hi-hat too,” so I moved the pedal to the right side and I started to play all these rudiments between my feet. Then I hung up the gong drum on the left side as a kick drum replacement if I play two hi-hats. So I had to be independent. Basically what I did was exercising all kinds of rudiments you can imagine, between, first of all, hands against feet, then left side against right side; left foot, right hand against right foot, left hand; and then of course also, right hand, left foot and left hand against only one element – the right hand remaining or vice versa. So it turned into a fun thing that I’m still doing and it became part of my style. I never planned it really that way – well obviously I wanted to go with it somewhere but it was not really that I said, “I am going to reach an unbelievable independence.” Maybe a little bit but it was not my goal in the first place. My goal was always to serve the music.
I am curious to know if you have a musical family. You are very talented. Do your parents or siblings play? Were they supportive of your music in the beginning?
Yes, my parents are very big music lovers. They are very musical even though they never really made money playing instruments. They took me at an early age to see bands. They introduced me to bands like Queen – I saw Queen with Freddy Mercury twice. They took me to Jethro Tull to see that band, introduced me to great records. They still come to all the shows wherever they can. They are lovely people. So, yes, they are very supportive and still take care.
Do you remember the first time you were drawn to the drum set? What drew you to it?
I started off playing organ. My parents wanted me to learn a harmonic instrument basically, and so I started with that (organ) two manuals and foot bass that helped maybe with the independence. Then I started playing guitar – which I still do. But then I started playing the drum set, and it was pretty much also my Dad who introduced me to that because we were passing a shopping mall with a shopping window where there was a drum set inside. I thought, Oh, look, Dad, a drum set; now that’s cool, and my Dad was the one saying, “You want to play?” I was like, “Yes, I would love to, you know,” and he said, “Well, but then you got to take it serious.” We got a teacher and I knew he was serious and he was very generous with that, so I thought that yes, I’m going to give that back to him. I fell in love with the instrument and there you go.
Have you studied to be a composer? How did you start into composition?
I always wrote for my bands because I have this love for guitar as well, and I love to come up with riffs and also when I write I use the keyboards actually a lot to program. I grew up pretty much very well already able to put stuff into cue bass. So it was like a nice thing – you could compose your ideas, put them into a system, and then play to it. That’s how my drumming style is kind of a little bit defined too because I use my drumming to compliment the music that I write, so it goes hand in hand really.
You newest CD set Evil Smiles Of Beauty/Sound Of Crime was composed, performed and recorded by you. How many instruments do you play?
Well, I did pretty much everything on that one – yes it’s true. I don’t want to sound like, “Hey, I’m going to do everything,” but it really is that way, I’m sorry. So, yes, I do everything on that one and I love playing all these instruments, so I play guitar, bass, I play drums, I sing, keyboards and programming, and well, percussion instruments and all other kinds of instruments I have laying around like dulcimer or glockenspiel. But that’s pretty much what I do and I can put out a lot of records that way ’cause I know exactly what I want and how I want to record it.
Tell me about your recording process for the new CD. What tracks did you lay down first, and how did you build the song from there?
That varies. When I write, most of the time it starts either way, from the guitar or the piano, then I would record that track, and then I would put the drums down to it. Then I would put the bass to it, and then sing – if there’s vocals on the song, and then do a little bit of sound design and find sounds that kind of compliment the production. That’s usually how it works. Sometimes there’s a bass line, maybe even that’s got to be built on top of it, and sometimes even a drum part – where I think I like this groove and I hear a melody on top of it and then I put it to it. So there’s many ways to come up with a great song or composition, I think.
You have been a working musician since a young age. Where did you learn to play all the instruments you do play?
When I was like five or six years old I went to study organ and my parents pretty much enticed that, so they were basically getting me classes with teachers. Guitar, especially, I learned that myself listening to records, coming up with stuff and learning to play. Drums , I had two teachers and then pretty much learned also everything myself by transcribing first of all, all kinds of music I loved – like Frank Zappa – playing along to everything I liked, and then through composing, bringing all these things and these ideas to the instruments.
Are there any tips you can share with us about getting a good drum sound?
I think a good sound is very, very important. I think that really defines you. That’s a stylistic question. It’s the way you hit, how hard you hit. For example, I really like a very clear sound. I like the edge but I like definition. So, for example, the kick drum, I most of the time leave the beater off the kick drum; even if I hit hard I make sure that the bass drum head resonates, and sometimes, for punchy stuff, I leave it on the kick drum. I make sure from the tuning that the kick drum has punch (low end); the toms sing (not too long), are very defined and melodic; and the snare drum has a nice crack. That’s actually one thing I’m using. Actually the snare, most of the time I use rim shots; I always do rim shots, rim and snare together – that’s how I get my snare drum sound. I use the finger-control technique. That’s actually a very sound-defining technique, so you’re very precise with all these elements. And I think that kind of defines my sound. Also getting a good drum sound – use good mics, use a good drum set, tune well.
How do you separate yourself from being the artist on the recording when you are ready for the mix down? Is it difficult being all things as well as the producer, or do you bring someone in to help with that process?
No, I am doing that myself as well, and I tell you what, the thing is when you write and record a song, you know where you want to go with it. If you record and you record it on your own, you’re pretty much already in the mix down process because you have to get the instrument or the different instruments recorded the way you’re ears are hearing it already. Then it’s just like little tweaks – like adjusting volume, putting maybe here there a lit bit of compression or effects or reverb or whatever, but pretty much it should be already there. If it’s in your head, just record it right and mix it.
Stepping back in time a bit, I am curios to know how you prepared for the Dream Theatre audition.
Dream Theatre – will I ever get rid of these guys (laughs)? I wasn’t really planning at first to do that at all. I was never really a big Dream Theatre fan, I have to admit. Jordan is a dear friend of mine; he’s a lovely guy and basically we did a few things already and we continue to do that, and he asked me, “Do you want to play with us?” Then John Petrucci wrote me an email as well, and the management, and it was like, “Sure, let’s have fun!” So I went in there and they gave me three songs – a long one, a very long one, and then a more groovier side (one that sounded a little bit like YYZ with more stuff in it). And it was fun. I learned these songs – I didn’t know any other songs of the band – but I learned these songs and it was kind of fun. So there you go; I prepared like that and just came and played.
Having now played with the Dream Theatre guys, can you still see yourself being a band’s drummer? Or do you prefer being an independent musician?
I play with Steven Wilson (that’s another band), and then I play with Aristocrats (which is another band), so yes, I am a band drummer. Independent – you know that’s my stuff I’m doing on my own, write my solo music, and with the Dream Theatre guys it’s lovely, and we’re actually thinking about doing something together again. Great guys, great musical experience, the only thing that I really had to point out and which was important to the band was when we played and they asked me later – they really liked it actually, and we were talking about how serious it could get – and they asked me how many records I own and how long I was a Dream Theatre fan or how many albums I have and songs I know, and I said none. That was actually very, very essential for the band, which was completely right, and we had a good laugh. We decided to kind of keep definitely doing things, and there was a serious kind of thing about it because I really want to be independent.
The other thing with the band was I would have had to commit completely to the band and I don’t want that. Another thing about that, which was very unfortunate, I didn’t want to be shown in the video footage because, to me, it was just a fun little thing and the management promised me if I don’t want to be shown that they wouldn’t air it – which their promise they never kept and that was very unfortunate. But anyways, I think a lot of people liked it, so there you go, happy after all.
You are touring Europe with the Aristocrats in October. I understand we can expect a CD/DVD release soon, yes? When will it be released and what can fans look forward to in that package?
We recorded two shows in San Pedro at the lovely venue [Alvas Showroom]. It has a great sound there. It’s a place we loved to play. We recorded two complete shows and four sets of music and we will release pretty much everything on the DVD so it’s going to be a long DVD and I think you guys are going to be pleased with that one. I’m very happy about this release. Because we played well, the show has turned out to be really good. It’s going to be released as a package, so it will be like CDs as well – the concert will be on CDs and the DVD and Blu-ray has a few more tracks on it.
How different (for you) is recording a live album versus a studio album? Do you have a preference?
I love both if you catch a good live show. Fantastic!! Live is always a little bit more wrecking for you because you think, my God, there’s a camera crew and you better be good. And you only sometimes have one shot – like we did this with the Steven Wilson DVD that just came out. It turned out to be great though. People will go on stage and everybody’s just like, “Okay, are we going to film that one?” In the studio you can go back and fix things – and sometimes in live things too – but most of the time it’s, “Alright, let’s do a good show.” So there’s always this challenge with it. These are the differences, I guess.
Are you going to be doing any clinics or master classes on the Aristocrats European tour that you care to share with our readers?
I’m doing some clinics there; I’m not sure right now where they are. You guys can look that up actually on my Facebook page or go to the Aristocrats’ Facebook page. It’s going to pointed out somewhere on the date list where people like us are doing clinics. Honestly, I’m not doing too many clinics, so if I do clinics it’s going to be maybe two or three on the tour – so be there (laughs)! But on and off I do post some stuff on Facebook because people always ask me. I just do my little practice routines or when I have an idea that seems worthy posting, or something just on the spot, I’ll sometimes do that, just a three to five minute clip, and people are really thankful for this.
Getting back to you as a clinician, how do you prepare for your clinics? That must take a fair amount of preparation.
Like I said, I don’t really do clinics that much but if I do them I play a solo and break it down and the solo sometimes can already be 30 minutes long, or 40 – or in the case of “Normalizer,” 52 minutes. Well, I can’t do that on a clinic, but if I break that down that already is actually a fair amount of share. Sometimes I play to my songs as well and present those. So of course, there is preparation involved. I did this playing to screen thing here and there too, playing to Monty Python for that bit where I orchestrated the vocals, so that is actually really fun. The good part actually in clinics is that I can share knowledge to people that are genuinely interested in specific parts.
As a music fan, what bands do you like to listen to?
I love listening to Queen (my favourite band), The Police, Led Zeppelin. I also like some metal stuff like Judas Priest, Slayer, Frank Zappa (of course a huge influence), XTC (is a fantastic band). The newer ones, Tegan and Sara’s nice, Kraftwerk. Well that’s nothing new; Kraftwerk is like essentially one of my favourites as well. Public Image Limited, ACDC, Rush to a certain extent have great stuff. Did I forget anyone? Probably. There are probably quite a lot of other bands but this is pretty much kind of a defining thing – oh, Kate Bush. There you go.
What do you like to do when you are not drumming? Are there other passions in your life that help fuel your music?
Yes, of course. Girls (laughs)! I should say “girl.” Definitely I am happy to share my life with the person I love and I like going where I live. I live on a lake with mountains here, so it’s beautiful. I like to go on top of the mountain when I’m taking a break from writing or something and just enjoy that and nature – so things that inspire me.
And finally, where can we see you perform live in the next few months?
Well, that would be a question that I would encourage you to go on Facebook or on my personal site. Go to my Facebook anyway; go to my artist page and “like” it. Yea, encourage the people to “like” my artist page. It’s very important because then you’ll get updated with dates and whatever is going to happen. I’m going to be all over Europe with the Aristocrats. It’s going to move from October till November and in December we’re going to be in Russia for a few days – in east Russia. Then the Steven Wilson tour will start; that’s going to be March and April, I think United States and other places too. We got to go to South America again, I guess. And well you know more updates soon.
Visit Marco online at http://marcominnemann.com/home
For more Aristocrats tour dates check out http://the-aristocrats-band.com/
For Marco's upcoming Steven Wilson dates go to http://www.swhq.co.uk/index.cfm
About the Author
Sean has 15 years experience behind the kit, studying under greats like Mitch Dorge and participating in master classes with Dom Famularo and Zoro. It was these life-changing exchanges that prompted the Canadian-born drummer to create a global drumming community, The Black Page, that was easily accessible to drummers of all backgrounds and levels of expertise. In addition to his work with BP, Sean is one-half of the world soul group The Mitchells.
Earlier this month, The Black Page hosted a clinic tour with the one and only Zoro. We can't thank our... (more)
Named one of the top three drummers in the last 25 years by Rhythm Magazine, and earning numerous #1... (more)
Drum Sound Drums
I first stumbled up on Drum Sound drums quite by accident three years ago. And since then they have become... (more)