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Dave Weckl

Interview by Sean Mitchell // May 20 2014
Dave Weckl

For me when it comes to mixing and recording it depends on the music and the vision. You have to know how you want the drums to sound, the kind of music your playing and recording, and then the micing and the way that the drums are tuned and recorded have to represent the vision.

AS ALWAYS THE VIDEO INTERVIEW HAS BEEN TRANSCRIBED BELOW FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE.

 

Dave, we're here at the 2014 Victoria Drum festival and you are on the same bill as Peter Erskine, who incidentally got you your start in the music industry. How did that come about?

First of all, Peter was a major, major influence for me growing up. He was one of my favourite players – still is one of my favourite players. You just gotta love when Peter touches the drums. 

When I was in high school I discovered Peter. Our big band in high school was very good actually. We would play some major things and we were winning a lot of competitions. I actually got scholarships to go to the Stan Kenton Camp in ’75. I was so excited 'cause Peter was playing and it was Kenton. I got to the camp and he had just left the band. Gary Hobbs was the drummer and Gary’s great too – I learned a lot from him – but I was really bummed that I had just missed [Peter]. 

I figured out how to get in touch with Peter. Of course back in those days there was no internet or anything so I had to get contacts and write letters and send cassettes. I just kind of bugged him when I was 17 or 18 years old. Then I was in New York – I was going to school at Bridgeport, Connecticut – he was living in New York at the time and hanging out with Steve Khan, the guitarist. The band I was with, Nite Sprite, kind of became a bit of a cult band in Westchester County and New York City. We started playing in town and we had a gig at the Breakfast Club on Seventh Avenue South; I invited Peter to come and my guitar player, Andy Bloch, invited Khan who was teaching him, and they both showed up. From that gig Peter thought enough of what I did to recommend me for French Toast. 

We watched you play on the Yamaha Maple Hybrid today. It sounded fantastic - but your signature snare is actually metal. 

Let me back up a little. The old signature drums, what made it signature was the two snare strings, which was my idea to do that. The older drums, we had the maple drums at first. The original design was a 5 by 13 and then they did a 5 by 14 in maple and then they eventually made a 5 1/2 by 14 in aluminum. They made a 6 ½ too (which wasn’t my idea) but the 5 ½ by 14 aluminum was killer – it was my favourite drum, still is one of my favourite drums that I play all the time when I’m recording and some gigs too.

They stopped making all signature drums; it was just not cost effective. But while they were still making the drums a few years ago, they lost the factory and the supplier of the aluminum (it was a solid shell). I was trying to get a metal drum made. They had another aluminum; it was a seamed shell. I didn’t like it at all so I said no to that and then all of the drums went away. Well, one of the drums they sent me when we were trying to do this metal, they sent me a chrome, a bronze, and a brass, and at the time I was really trying to duplicate the aluminum and none of them were close. They were different animals. When I came to the realization that they couldn’t make that drum, I pulled the brass back and the prototype was just ridiculous – it was different but it was unbelievable! So I said, “Let’s make a brass drum,” which had never been made before.

They surpassed the prototype; they made this drum that feels and sounds so good. I just used it on both of my new records.

Dave, you are very savvy when it comes to micing techniques and recording great sounding drums. What attracted you to that side of drumming?

I would have to say that I didn’t pay too much attention to the sound of the drums until I heard Steve Gadd. I was probably sixteen when I heard him the first time and I had never heard a drum set like that. All the drums were really focused and the toms were low-end and tightly controlled. So I found out later what Steve was using which was Pinstripes. But back in the early days he was using Yamaha drums with Evans Blue Hydraulic heads. Then he switched and he started using Pinstripes.

His sound was very contained so I figured out his sizes – 10, 12 14, and 16 inch toms – and then I started to try to duplicate it. My friend Jay Oliver had a studio and he was very much into the sound, so together we would experiment with just old school microphones and a mixing board and we would try to figure out how to get those sounds. So it was really just a love for trying to figure out how to get the presentation of the drum sound that Steve was doing. Then I started to listen to a lot of different sounds and back in the late '70s early '80s it was all about the dead drums. Everybody was putting tape all over their drums and using the thick heads. There were no resos then, just thick heads and lots of duct tape, gaff tape or toilet tissue. I still use it today if I have to (laughs).

I kept going smaller and smaller with the diameter of the drums. I was using Pinstripes at the time and I worked with clear Emperors for awhile. But now I just use Ambassadors. [My] drum sounds have changed over the years . I don’t know if they’re quite as focused as the sounds I used to. I like to use more ambient sounds; I like to have the overheads going onto the kit– it really depends on the music – but I’m getting the focus that I want even from Ambassador heads.

But yeah, it was just about learning about that and understanding, watching a lot of really good engineers. When I was coming up in New York I worked with so many great engineers – Bernie Kirsh, Malcolm Pollack in New York. I would just watch what they did. I’d always had a studio from early on but it wasn’t until I moved out to California in ’91 that I really had my first studio. I got a really good mixing board. It just became a passion that kind of became a secondary career where now I mix records for people sometimes and certainly on my own from the late '80s on.

How important is it for a drummer in developing their sound to understand micing techniques?

I think it’s really a personal preference. I don’t tell anybody that they need to know all this stuff because it’s really another career. I spend a lot of my time reading mixing manuals and blogs of great engineers. Tape Off is a great online magazine to subscribe to. I study it – I study what guys did in the old days to understand different techniques and I experiment. To me it’s really important because it’s a presentation. My sound has been manipulated and destroyed enough back in the early days by engineers that really didn’t understand how to get a drum sound. When you think about it, back in the day, Buddy Rich – one overhead mic and one in front of the kit; John Bonham almost the same thing. You’re recording the drums in a room in a space and that’s what the mic is hearing. It’s like putting a mic on each guitar string and expecting an engineer to mix that so it sounds like one instrument. It’s crazy when you think about it. If you’re not a drummer or if you don’t have the drum knowledge sitting behind a mixing console it’s really difficult to get that instrument to sound like one instrument with thirteen mics on it. I don’t know how anybody does it that is not a drummer 'cause you’ve got to be able to understand what the guy’s going for.

I’ve been asked to mix certain things that the micing has just been horrible. You can tell that somebody put a mic two inches above the cymbal and that’s all you hear or they didn’t record one of the overheads. Also it’s got to start with the drum set. For me when it comes to mixing and recording it depends on the music and the vision. You have to know how you want the drums to sound, the kind of music your playing and recording, and then the micing and the way that the drums are tuned and recorded have to represent the vision. Then the mixing has to be able to present it. It helps when that focus is understood by the team of musician and engineer to begin with. Some engineers are great enough to just be handed the project without being involved in the recording end of it and they can take it and present it so it sounds cool. Those guys cost a lot of money – they’re really good and they know what they’re doing. There are certain tricks that you can learn how to do with compression. For me it’s about trying to capture the emotion of what I’m doing so that it comes across so that when I hear it it’s like, “Yeah, that’s it; that was the intention.”

Let's talk a little about something you mentioned earlier today in your performance: the Moeller technique and multiple motions.

In talking about multiple motions I was referring specifically to the Moeller technique cause it’s more about using the wrists – the stick keeps moving but we’re using multiple motions instead of one motion to do something. It's just common sense that you can do things for a longer period of time if you figure that out. The Moeller technique is really the drum technique to understand that motion.

I wasn’t taught anything about multiple motions or Moeller until Jim Chapin showed it to me in the early to mid-'90s. I knew about wrist and fingers – that’s all I knew about. Although I maybe did the multiple motion on occasion I didn’t know it. Jim Chapin showed me first. His teaching of it was very traditional in that there was a lot of motion, and then a few years later I got with Freddie Gruber and he took the whole thing and just compartmentalized it into less extreme motion, so the sticks stay a little bit more level and centered on the drum but it was still multiple motion.

I guess as you gain more experience you begin to realize how important these techniques are to assist you.

Well, it’s a job and you’ve got a job to do. If you are going to build a house, you can’t do it with just a hammer; at some point you are going to need tools to do the job at hand. Playing a straight head tune, I can’t do that with wrists I’ve got to use fingers, in order to pull off technically the feel and the beat I have to do that. Same thing with playing accents for long periods of time within single stroke rolls. If I don’t use Moeller technique, I’m going to run out of gas really quickly; I’m going to hurt myself by gripping the sticks too tight and playing down. It’s a physical detriment.

You have a couple new albums coming out. Can we talk a little about that?

The first one is Convergence which is part of the PledgeMusic project that we did last year that we’re way late on. I apologize to any of you if you are waiting on it; it is coming. The project was so huge that you really didn’t grasp it when we were doing it. For one reason or another there’s been delays. It is done; we’re in artwork now. We have play-along packages, drum packages with videos, so it’s two separate data discs. We’re trying to get the colors of the CD cover right so everybody knows what they’re buying and what they’re getting. The music has been done for months and we’ve actually released the music in Wave files to the Pledgers, so the actual CD is coming out literally next week or the week after. So Convergence, that’s the first one and that’s kind of my fusion project with Jay Oliver that has a lot of different stuff on it: vocal tunes, a couple of jazz tunes, a lot of fusion signature stuff.

Then the next one is really not titled yet, but I just recorded it in January. It’s kind of my dream group that I’ve wanted to put together for awhile. I’m just finding the guys with the chemistry. It’s more of an acoustic group. I’m playing a totally different kit; it’s an 18-inch wide open two-headed bass drum, 12, 14, 16 [inch toms], a timbale, two rides, so it's more of a Bebop kind of thing, but there is a lot of Latin stuff going on. Tom Kennedy is playing upright bass, Gary Meek is playing tenor and soprano saxophone, and Makoto Ozone is the piano player and B3 player.

They all came to my house and jammed. We rehearsed for two days, played two gigs at Catalina's in LA, and then we went into the studio for two days and recorded nine songs in two days – old school, pounded them out. Record’s almost mixed. That will be out in August. I’m doing a mini tour on the east coast and west coast of the United States just as a kick off for the record. That will also be in August. Those dates are going to start appearing on the website pretty soon.

Starting next spring 2015 I’m touring this band. We’re already getting a European tour going and we’re going to Asia for sure. The chemistry of the guys is incredible. Everybody playing together – it’s what you always dream of. It’s like finding the perfect relationship. It’s harmony.




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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.



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