Nick PierceInterview by Sean Mitchell // October 30 2012
My foot technique is good for me, but maybe not for everyone else. Over time you develop your own spin on technique and what works for your playing and your physical build.
Tell me about your start in music. You grew up in Seattle/Tacoma. Where did you first pick up on drumming? When did you first start gigging?
I picked up drumming when I was 10 years old. My old man used to play back in his younger years and one day he brought a drum kit home and pissed my mom off. That’s how it all started! From there he taught me the basics, singles and doubles, how to keep a rock beat. The rest was all self-taught, just played to the radio and CDs for years and created all sorts of bad habits (laughs). Then I started gigging when I was about 14 or 15 around the Tacoma area.
Being from Victoria B.C., I recognize many of the bands you have played with. Who were some of your favorite bands to play with in your early career?
The first big step in the metal scene for me was Embalmed in 2005-2006. We did a lot of gigs around Tacoma/Seattle area and a couple EPs. Later, I got into The Faceless in 2006, via some terrible YouTube videos of me playing when I was in Embalmed. Then after I departed The Faceless in 2006 I joined up with some guys in Tacoma and eventually formed Eterna Nocturna. After a few years, between 2008-2009, Eterna Nocturna fizzled and I joined Culling the Weak. I'd say somewhere between Eterna Nocturna and Culling the Weak there was a vast growing stage in my playing. Locally I would say those were my two favorites to play with. Culling the Weak really pushed me to do different things physically and as a musician, which got me prepared for Unearth.
How did you land your gig with Unearth?
Unearth picked me up via YouTube as well, seems to be the way of the future. Buz sent me a message; I called him nervous as hell. He said, “We like the way you play our songs. We should jam.” So after a two-hour jam session we did two gigs in Alaska, three in Japan, and then that essentially sealed the deal—very unreal and a fast turn of events, to say the least.
You guys just played in Indonesia. What kind of following does metal have over there? From your experiences, is there a drumming scene developing there?
It’s really hard to say what kind of drumming interests certain areas have. There’s a bit of a language barrier in different areas of the world, which makes it hard to get a grasp of what’s cracking in that scene. Based on crowd response I'd say it was pretty good all around for Unearth. Kids went nuts and had a great time, so I'd say we did well. From what I was told in Indonesia, old school death metal bands like Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, Exodus all do exceptional over there, whereas newer bands might not do so well. Like anywhere in the world, some areas are hot, some are shot. Gotta take the good with the bad!
Let’s talk a bit about foot technique. What advice can you give readers about developing speed and accuracy?
Pay attention to the guys who are really good and listen to their tips and tricks. I don’t fall into that category (laughs). My foot technique is good for me, but maybe not for everyone else. Over time you develop your own spin on technique and what works for your playing and your physical build. For instance, I'm a bigger guy, so I set my beaters back pretty far. I use a heavier beater and crank my spring tension. I try and achieve the most speed to power ratio possible—power being first on the list because I believe power equals accuracy, more or less.
I practice a lot of doubles and singles which are equally a must. But I also do lots of Swiss triplets heel toe and heel up, flam taps, paradiddles, and paradiddle diddles. Repetition and creativity is key. Create workouts and patterns that work for you, playing different grooves on top. Play to a click—can’t stress that enough either. I could go on for days about what to do and what not to do, but it comes down to just practicing day in day out. There are no shortcuts or cutting corners.
You play traditional grip. I am curious to know how you picked that up, being that you are self-taught.
Yeah, that was partly my dad’s fault. He told me there are two ways to do things: trad grip or match. When I first started I would touch on both techniques but eventually stuck with trad grip. Today I'm still figuring it out. Guys like Thomas Lang and Jojo Mayer kind of helped me focus on what bad habits I needed to boot. Playing death metal, technical metal and all those blasts makes you really work that technique. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. Is it the best way? Not for everyone. Is it best for me? Yes, because I can’t play match to save my life!
How did you teach yourself to play drums? What were the things you practiced that brought you the best results?
I remember playing to CDs a lot as a kid. It started by jamming everything on the radio. Then I got into certain popular genres over the years. It went from Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, and Foo Fighters, then into Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Zebrahead. Later I got into Metallica and Slipknot, and then found out about Slayer. Slayer ruled my playing for a good two years, as well as Pantera. Then Meshuggah, Unearth and Dimmu Borgir came around and that’s what really defined my style, I think.
I can honestly say the first 4 or 5 years of my playing were dedicated to playing other bands’ material, none of my own. I never had exercises in my practice routine, hence all the bad habits. Then when I heard of Drum Off at Guitar Center, that turned things around. I started creating solos and new tricks here and there. I competed for a solid eight years and really picked over other drummers stuff, in and out of the competition.
Currently when I practice I go through a lot of what I already know and try to evolve it by improvising to a click or throwing in stick tricks. I started using ghost notes on the feet a lot and doing things out of my comfort zone. After an hour or so of free-for-all drumming, I play through Breath of Nibiru stuff. I program all those parts so it forces me to learn to play everything like a machine. There’s no room for error; it’s a big challenge and really dials in your consistency and your ear for playing locked and in the pocket. Just like a click track, the programming doesn’t lie!
What other styles of music do you like to play?
My warmup style of choice is drum and bass, then tribal stuff, then metal. I can touch on some jazz and funk as well. I probably hit a dozen different styles when I practice, but I never play just one for a long period of time.
Tell me about your new project, Breath of Nibiru. Who is involved and can we expect an album and a tour?
So far it’s just me and Gian Luca Ferro from Italy. The music is very modern and heavy, with a pretty spicy touch of progressive influence. Culling the Weak (CTW) really pushed my boundaries in speed and creativity. Breath of Nibiru (BON) really forces me outside of my box when it comes to groove and techniques. The heel-toe foot patterns in CTW were pretty intense, but the BON stuff is a whole different animal—doing lots of ghost notes and patterns that aren't always lead right foot. They bounce between left and right and then there’s heel toe in there as well. It gets tricky. Same thing up top; my hands are everywhere playing grooves and chops that I don’t normally play.
Since everything gets programmed before I play it, I can hear how it sounds in the music first. So if it’s really good I keep those parts and force myself to learn it. If I play what I programmed one day and its unnatural, I find a work-around that sounds similar and re-program the parts. The music itself has synths and atmospheres that let me play really slick electronic sounding drums parts that have a metal vibe to them. CTW had more of a futuristic chaos to it, where BON is spacey and groovy, and I really try and be innovative around that.
Do you do any sort of practice regime on the road? What do you do to stay performance ready?
I really don't, unfortunately. When I get home from tours, it takes a couple days to get my chops back, maybe a week. Playing the same thing every night kills my creativity and memory so there’s some catching up to be done when I get home. About 20 to 40 minutes before we play I'll grab the sticks and sit down. I match my hands and feet doing syncopated doubles and singles, heel toe and heel up. I go through 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 stroke rolls, doubles and singles, practice kick and snare fills, different rudiments as well. I do all this sitting down and playing on my legs. Then I get up and stretch out my arms and legs. I can’t tell you how important stretching is. I just blew out my back hard on this last Asia tour. It’s disabling and really affects how you perform. Always get warm and stay hydrated!
Let’s talk about your cymbal setup. What are you currently using and how did you come to arrange the setup you have?
On the road I use a scaled down kit consisting of the following, from left to right:
- Paiste Rude 18” Novo China
- Paiste Rude 14” Sound Edge hi-hats
- Paiste Rude 18” wild crash
- Paiste Alpha or 2002 10” splash
- Paiste Alpha or 2002 12” splash
- Paiste Rude 20” wild crash
- Paiste Rude 20” Power ride
- Paiste Twenty Series 18” metal China
The studio setup is as follows, from left to right:
- Paiste Alpha 16” traditional China
- Paiste Alpha 14” Sound Edge hi-hats
- Paiste Alpha 18” metal crash
- Paiste Twenty Series 10” thin splash
- Paiste 2002 6” cup chime
- Paiste Alpha 14” traditional China with 10” Alpha thin splash stacked
- Paiste 2002 12” splash
- Paiste 2002 7” cup chime
- Paiste Alpha 20” metal crash
- Paiste Twenty Series 10” metal splash
- Paiste Twenty Series 21” dry ride
- Paiste Alpha 18” rock China
Moving to your kit, can you take us through your setup?
The touring setup is a Tama Starclassic B/B kit in smoky indigo burst finish in 10”, 12”, 16” toms and a 22” kick. The snare I use is the Tama 13x7 SLP snare. At home I have a Tama Silverstar in chameleon sparkle in 8”, 10”, 12”, 14”, 16”, 18” toms, and a 20” kick. I use the same SLP snare for this setup as well.
Let’s talk about your pedal setup. Why did you choose Speed Cobras?
The Speed Cobras feel natural and have a great power-to-speed ratio. The response is superb and has a perfect follow through—a great choice for heavy and fast players. The extended footboard makes heel toe more powerful and simple as well.
I once heard Gavin Harrison say that his Speed Cobras actually boost the low end in his kick in the studio. Are you finding this as well?
Yes, they hit so damn hard that you get a nice sharp snap on the initial attack of the beaters, and then the resounding hit is very full and concentrated. Some pedals can make a great-sounding kick sound dead. This pedal can make a bad sounding kick drum come to life.
I am curious to know how you get the snare sound you get. How do you tune it in the studio versus live?
I start by hitting pretty hard and do a lot of rim shots! Aside from tuning, I think a good deal of my snare sound comes from the angle and velocity I hit my snare. The closer to a rimshot you get, the more focused the drum sounds, a much fuller sound and enhanced projection (same reason why I have my toms flat or away from me even).
As for tuning, it’s wise to use good heads. An Evans ST Dry or HD Dry is my first choice, get an Evans Hybrid if you want a head that lasts a few tours. Then, on bottom, I use an Evans Hazy 300. On every one of my snares I use Puresound Twisted Series snare wires. That helps with response and articulation at higher tunings. My snare is typically cranked high … really high. To still maintain a full sound and good response, I crank the bottom head too. Unearth’s music needs a fuller, beefy sound, so I tune down a little ways. At home and in the studio I like a solid crack and definite snare tone, so I tighten things up until even the slightest tap is sensitive on the snare wires. I like a bit of ring in the snare as well to give the snare some body. Ring typically gets buried in the mix so don't worry too much about getting rid of it, unless you’re Lars Ulrich St.Anger ringy. Then try a different approach.
What do you have coming up in the next few months?
Everything! Lots of things are cooking right now. Unearth has started writing for a new record. Breath of Nibiru is finishing up the last two songs to go on the album. We’re anticipating recording drums in March or April. I've got a tour with Unearth coming up in the US with Born of Osiris, so that should be sick—really love those guys’ material. Another Unearth tour in January and February that I can’t talk about (laughs). I'm a busy guy right now so keep posted on all that’s going on!
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.
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