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Mitch Dorge

Interview by Sean Mitchell // February 17 2015
Mitch Dorge

I still think it comes down to what you hear, how you hear it and how you manipulate it. It comes down to the personality of the person because you can give 25 people the same tools and they’re all going to make something different.

THE INTERVIEW HAS ALSO BEEN TRANSCRIBED BELOW 

 

A number of years ago I was inspired to send an email to a hero of mine. This drummer was a major influence on me during my time on the road with various cover bands. What led me to that moment in time and that particular email was the desire to be something better than I was. Not that what I was, was bad, but I knew deep down I wasn't "all in" ... yet. 

Without Mitch Dorge there would be no Black Page drum magazine. None of my original compositions would have ever come to fruition the way they have either. What I thought would be a journey down an educational path with my hero turned into something much more amazing and valuable. In Mitch I found a teacher, yes, but I also found a person who spoke my language and really dug who I was inside. Not only did he like it, he wanted me to share it with the rest of the world. I am eternally grateful to him.


Mitch, how did you discover music in general—maybe not even drumming, but when you went, “I want to do that for a living”?

I was six when I had my first drum set and my musical interests were limited to the Hawaii Five-O theme, however  I don’t think at that age I was in the mindset of wanting to “do this for a living.” That may have come in when I was about 14 or 15.

For me, starting to play drums was because I loved hitting things; I loved finding tones and rhythms – the difference between a leather seat and a cloth seat or a head rest. My dad had a bald spot and I use to whack my dad on the back of his head.  Even when I was at home (plates, dishes, tables) all those kinds of things, they all were drum kits to me. So after getting a drum kit, after playing in a few high school bands, I don’t think I actually sat down and said, “I want to do this for a living;” it was just a natural part of a progression of life.

Not a lot of people know that you weren’t the Dummies’ first drummer. You actually replaced the original drummer, is that correct?

Brad had put just a few friends together just out of university and the original, original drummer was a fellow by the name of Curtis Riddell. Curtis also ran a restaurant in Winnipeg called the Blue Note, which was big time and Curtis had to make a decision between, “Do I play in a band, or do I run a restaurant?” and running the restaurant worked out better. But it was still just a university band kind of a thing and with the departure of Curtis came Vince Lambert.

I used to hang out at the Blue Note and play gigs there all the time and Vince was also there. Poor misguided Vince thought that I was really something; he used to get nervous when I walked into the place or if I was sitting in the audience and he was playing. He used to get nervous. He would come and talk to me afterwards and he’d say, “Wow man, I can’t believe that I did that.” I don’t know what makes a person do that, but it was more than flattering.

When he departed from the band I wasn’t really looking to play with anybody at the time. I was really busy playing with a multitude of different people, doing studio work, radio and television stuff. They were auditioning drummers and nobody was really working out; they had a convention to go and play at in the Cayman Islands and Brad called me and said, “Hey, do you want to come and play this gig? We’ll pay you whatever you want; it would be really cool if you did.” I said, “I’d really love to but I’m off to Europe at that time. (It was supposed to be April 8th of 1991.) I can’t make it happen."  Literally, I hung up the phone from talking with Brad and the phone rang again; it was Jacques Lussier who I was suppose to be going to Europe with. He said, “There’s a couple festivals that won’t sign contracts. I’m a little afraid to lose the gig altogether and end up losing money so I’m just going to pull the plug on the tour.” So I called Brad back and said, “Hey, let’s do it."

Once you got into that band and the daily process or happenings of a very famous/successful band, what was that like for you,  going from where you were at in Winnipeg being a seasoned musician and then having accountability to a band and then to a record label?

First of all, when the band started touring, probably the most outstanding trait of all the members of Crash Test Dummies is that it didn’t go to anyone’s head; no one was sitting there going, “Hey man, we got a record deal,; we're great!” Everybody in the band had their feet firmly planted on the ground and they were more than aware that this is like a really big, highly expensive, huge interest bank loan, and we’re going to go for it and if it works out, really great, and if it doesn’t, well we gave it a good shot. But they never thought they were anything more than a band that got a lucky deal.

So in joining them, it was fantastic just to be with a bunch of people that had their feet firmly on the ground. With that, the first album is a great thing, like in any band, because you’ve had 10 years to come up with the material that’s on that album. So now you’ve got to go out and tour that album and make sure that what the people are listening to on the radio matches what the band is doing. With Brad being a bass baritone, that was kind of a real catch for a lot of people, right? Who was doing anything pop-music-wise as a bass baritone? With the release of an album comes pressure from the record company – "Okay, we’ve got to keep the momentum going so you’ve got two years to produce another one." That really puts a lot of pressure on; it put a lot of pressure on Brad. Crash Test Dummies is Brad’s band. Brad was really good about writing songs and handing them over to Dan and I, and Allan and Ben, but Dan and I would sort of take them different directions, rhythmically. We started throwing that together and giving tunes to the record company; they’d be listening to stuff and eventually they’d say, “Look gang, there’s a good body of work here. Let’s go into the studio.”

At that point the microscope is up pretty high. They know what sells and especially at that particular point in time everything was grid-omatic and everything needs to be almost perfect. When you go in there and play and things are perfect, that’s wonderful. I’m not perfect. Sometimes it took a lot of work to try and get something that was right. I’d try to come up with a combination of something that feels fairly solid but at the same point and time, musical.

There were some growing pains there. Maybe I had reached some kind of plateau here in Winnipeg, but when you go from Winnipeg to Toronto, Toronto to Chicago then to New York and Los Angeles, you’re always starting at the bottom. So there was lots of growing to do as a player. As well, you have to think of this as musical as well. You can’t just go in there and say, “I’m going to play time." So when you get out there what your idea of good music and good drumming is, it's sometimes different from what record executives think. First of all, you can’t be insulted by it and you have to take every comment as a moment of growth. So someone walks into the room and listens to your tracks. One person says, “This is really cool!” and another person says, “I don’t know, it doesn’t feel right to me,” you can get defensive about it and you can put your tail between your legs and go running into the next room or you can say, “Okay, can you articulate what doesn’t feel right?” Sometimes they can and sometimes they can’t.

In a studio, especially in the '80s and '90s, studio time’s not cheap when you’re spending $1,000 a day. So when someone comes in says, “I don’t know if it feels right,” you’re thinking, If I go back and do this, I’m wasting a lot of money here. You’re going to hope that you are going to adjust really quickly so that the next time you end up in the studio you’re saying, “I’m not wasting people’s time and people’s money.”

However, even to this day, I do a lot of recording here at home, and with the recording I do at home it’s the same thing: I sit down and I play something and maybe I’m not married 100 percent to what it is that I am going to be playing and I find myself saying, “Okay, well I’ll have to play that again; well it’s still not quite right, I’ll have to play that again.”  All of a sudden you realize, Jeez, the bass player and guitar player have been here for a couple of hours waiting for me to get my parts right. It’s not so much the inability as much as making up your mind exactly what you’re going to do and concentrating on that. These are all things you learn when you supposedly hit “the big time.”

That’s why you’ve got guys like Taylor Hawkins who, if you read many of the articles about him recording, he’ll tell you, “Man, I really worked hard just to play time but make it feel like I’m rockin’. I don’t want someone to sit down and edit my parts into rockin’; I want to rock all by myself.” The simpler you play, the harder it is to do that.

When the Dummies thing ended for you and you came off the road from a very successful band, what was the process like for you? Was it an opportunity for you; were you glad to be done? What was the thought process for you?

First of all, the band never really ended—though one might say it ended because we stopped touring and recording.  The band had been on the road for a long time, from 1991 to 2003 roughly, and we spent a lot of those years on the road. For any band ...  most people in a relationship with one person, to go 12 years is a bit of a feat, so five people sharing a bus, sharing a room, sharing stages, sharing shopping – that’s a long time. We did take some time off, however. During that time off is when the music industry went through a very big change. Record companies stared falling off and it just didn’t make economical sense to go out and tour after taking two or three years off without necessarily having something new to promote. Plus everybody had moved on to different things in life and everybody was enjoying themselves. It hasn’t been ruled out that we might put another tour together, but again, it’s got to make economical sense.

To go back to your question, when we got off the road I didn’t sit down and say, “Oh my god, what am I going to do now?” I had always wanted to do other things. I’d always been a big fan of the Blue Man Group and Stomp – street music, I guess. So when I knew that we were going to have some time off I knew that this was going to be a great time to pull this together and see if my ideas could work. I put together a project called In Your Face and Interactive which was three drum kits on stage and then I had a normal five-piece kit and then I had the big monster kit that I had in Montreal drum fest.

We had people on stage; we had a car that we cut in half; there were skits. The whole idea was to try to promote playing music because music can be fun. A lot of people that I would meet, especially on tour, would say, “I’ve got a kid who is taking drum lessons. How can he go from drum lessons to rock star?” Then the other guy would say, “Jeez, I used to play an instrument and I wish I still did.” To the fellow with the kid taking music lessons, I’d say, “Get a job at McDonald’s; it’s a lot more money and a lot less stress.” To the other person I’d say, “Why don’t you? If you’ve always wanted to become a drummer, you should have a set of drums at home.” You’ve got to play music because you love it, it just makes you feel good; performing is nice but go for the feel-good packet first.

So I wanted to put this project together, and when I knew we were taking time off this was the time to do it. I had to go out and find people to help do it. I had to find somebody to cut a car in half, I had to find a place to do this so people could see it, and I had to find people that were willing to support the idea. It was natural for me just to leap into that. As well, when you join a band and you go away for 12 years on the road, all the gigs that you had are no longer there; they belong to somebody else now. While I was doing that, other doors were opening up for me to do other things as well. My production skills, which I learned from working with Crash Test Dummies, has led me to doing soundtracks for small independent films and now I’m doing larger television series and movies, which is a natural progression of doing stuff you love.

On that topic of the production-end of things and the progression from analog to digital, would you say that there’s a generation coming forth that relies more on the technology and programs? Or does an honest-to-god musician come prepared regardless whether they’re used to Pro Tools or they remember analog or not?

Well, the whole analog-digital argument is an analog-digital argument. A good song is a good song. The technology that is coming out right now, there’s a lot of loops, and I think that people are being quite creative with it. However, the bottom line from what I’m seeing and have seen, there are people who can just sit down and pick up a ukulele, they start to play and it just all makes sense right then and right there—the tone in their voice, the way that they hear music, the way that they play music—and that’s something that a computer can’t give you. Same with drums. You’ve got amazing sampling technology in terms of drums but still nothing beats the physical drum. I’m not trying to be a purist and say that stuff isn’t real because I’ve also witnessed where people sit down and manipulate the technology and they make wonderful things out of it. Brian Eno is a good thing to look at. He’s able to take the technology and turn it into something, but it’s not necessarily the technology; it’s Brian Eno.

If you can afford all this technology, what are you going to do with it? There are people out there that are just really creative with it. Are they going to set a new standard for music? I still think it comes down to what you hear, how you hear it and how you manipulate it. It comes down to the personality of the person because you can give 25 people the same tools and they’re all going to make something different.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this interview! 

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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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