What do you call a drummer with half a brain?
Drummers always get a bum rap. Why is that? Ever seen a good band with a shitty drummer? No. Know why? BECAUSE THEY DON’T FUCKING EXIST (except for The Beatles. And don’t mistake it… We love Ringo, too!)
Drummers rule! We hit stuff, get peoples’ butts shaking, and ultimately determine whether or not the band is going to perform well. You CANNOT have a solid band without a solid drummer, so all you 6-string wankers out there with your tapping and flooded solos can suck it… This one is for the hitters. Note: Guitar players are rad too, but they all just want to be drummers. 😉
Because I don’t already have enough going on, I’ve been sitting down and chatting with several drummers of note to give them a bit more exposure and some insight as to what they do. Today, I give you Matt Byrne from HATEBREED! m/
G- So Matt… How long have you been playing drums, and when did you first get started?
M- I think I’ve been playing drums now for 22-23 years. I started when I was a teenager. I started with guitar first, but I sucked (laughs). I couldn’t do it, I don’t grasp the concept, so that’s that.
So, my uncle was a drummer, and I had always watched hi play the drums, on holidays or whatever. He’d always do a drum solo for the family and stuff, and he had this old drum set kicking around, and when I sucked at guitar, I said ‘Ehh let me give drums a try,’ and he said ‘Well, I’ve got this kit here that I’m not using. I’ll give it to you, you just have to take lessons. I’m not gonna give it to you as a noise maker, you know, as something to beat the shit out of and make noise. I want you to know what you’re doing.’ So, he said take a couple of lessons, and if you like it, it’s your kit. So I took a couple of lessons, liked it, grasped the concept a little better, and that was it… I was off and running!
(I) started jamming with dudes in high school, you know, listening to Slayer and Metallica and trying to kind of play those songs, fumbling through it. We were all beginners and learning at the same time, and yeah… The rest is history.
G- Nice. Very good! You ever notice how a lot of drummers want to be guitarists and a lot of guitarists want to be drummers?
M- Yeah… Look at Van Halen! Alex and Eddie, man… Perfect example! They switched spots and look at them… BOOM!
G- They’re all set now, man… They’re good to go!
Now how long have you been playing professionally? I know you’ve been with Hatebreed for quite a while, but is this your first project as a professional, and do you remember the moment when you really thought that drum performances was your calling?
M- Yeah I think Hatebreed was my first professional touring type of ‘Wow, this is what it’s all about’ type of gig. You know, in my early 20’s, I was in a band for almost a year, about a year, and then I quit and was in another touring band from the area called All Out War, who was on the same record label at the time, Victory Records. So, I toured with them for a while, and then came back to Hatebreed.
So, it’s obviously touring on different levels, especially now. We were always in a van with a trailer, and you were just getting by with gas money and eating at convenience stores and stuff. As you progress and get a little bit bigger and things progress, thankfully now we’re on a tour bus and we have been for the last couple of years, and that’s a whole different style of touring. You’re able to have a crew that works for you and stuff.
So, I guess, when that stuff started happening, like ‘Oh shit there’s an actual budget and we can hire other people and we have a big backdrop behind us now? Wow we’re actually NOT borrowing equipment and we have our own stuff,’ that’s when I realized that this is like, a job or whatever, that THIS is the gig… ‘I actually made it,’ or something! ‘We can actually get in a van and go from one city to another, and then another city, and we’re actually getting paid to play,’ that’s when, I think, you start to feel like ‘Wow… I’m a professional,’ whatever “that” may be.
G- All I ever wanted on the road was a drum tech, because I did load and merch, and loaded in and loaded out. And it was all totally fun and everything, but all I ever wanted was a tech! And you have one now! He’s (Andy Miller) kind of a pain, but we love him.
M- Yeah local guy… Syracuse!
G- That’s right. Mr. Miller, we love ya!
So let’s talk gear for a second… What’s your current rig looking like? What kind of drums and cymbals are you using and what are the configurations, and what companies are you currently endorsing at this time?
M- Currently, I am with Tama drums, Paiste cymbals, Evans drumheads, and Vater drum sticks. I’ve been with each of those companies for 10+ years now. They’re all great products. I’ve never had a problem with any of them, they give great support on the road,
And they’ve backed me 100%. I’ve never been in a situation where they’ve left me hanging, so quality product, run by good, quality people!
The kit I have out with me now, it’s only the 2-3 tour it’s been on. It’s a Tama maple Starclassic. Shallow toms. The toms depths that are mounted on, it fluctuates between 8” and 9”, but it’s 12”, 13”, 14” 16”, 18” toms, with 22×18” kick. I’m using a 6.5×14 maple snare drum.
Paiste cymbals, I’m using RUDE.
G- RUDE, yeah. I don’t see you using Signatures… Not with this band!
M- No, they’d break. It’s like using paper (laughing.) I’m using 15” 2002 Soundedge Hats. Then I have an 18” RUDE Wild crash, 19” RUDE Wild crash, 20” RUDE crash-ride, a 22” ALPHA Metal ride…
G- Oh shit!
M- Yeah, and a 20” rude Novo-China. Headwise, I’m using (Evans) G2 clears on the batter side and resonant blacks on the bottom.
G- Nice! Now, I want to talk about your approaches towards drumming, because obviously you’ve recorded albums and you play live all the time. Can you tell us a little bit about your approaches and how they differ from live performance to the studio, if they differ at all, and how they might differ given the situation or project you’re in?
M- I definitely think differently about the live show as opposed to recording the finished product, the album. I think everybody does that, though. Live, I’m more impromptu. I like to improvise, especially with older Hatebreed songs. Maybe a lot of drummers think about this… I definitely do.
2 things: 1) It’s the live show. I like to have a different live show every night. I’m not changing the songs drastically to where it would piss any fan off, but at the same time, I like to keep it fresh. I like to add little things here and there; Little nuances for the people that have seen us 5 times in a row, that they might hear something new in a song that I did. Like ‘Wow! That was pretty cool!’ Or maybe that sucked, but either way, it’s something different. I like to try different things. It keeps it fresh for me as a player, too.
Especially Perseverance… That album has been out for 10 years now, so we’ve been playing those songs for 10+ years, and doing the same thing night in and night out is going to get boring, like any job where you do the same thing over and over again. So, I like to throw out little things in the live show. I like to bump the tempos up a little bit, too. It just gives it more power and more energy, like adrenaline… Just a little faster than they are on the record.
As far as the studio goes, my approach is more concentrated. I know I have time to think about things, to try new things, to try different snare sounds or get different tones on the drums. Maybe try this cymbal differently, because I use this cymbal live, but I should try this one to get a different sound in the studio. You can nurture it more. You can polish it a bit more.
And that’s not even saying I’m using technology or cheating or anything like that… Just the overall approach to writing the songs, to playing the songs, to recording the songs, you know, you can mess with shit. You’re not on the spot like you are live.
It’s cool, too. You have that relaxed feeling, even though you’re kind of thinking outside the box with everything. It’s still a relaxed feeling in the studio knowing that, if you screw something up, you can go back and do it over, or if that sounds like shit, let’s try this other piece of equipment and maybe that’ll sound better on this song. You know, you can experiment a little bit more. 2 different approaches… Live and studio.
G- Right on. Now, given that we’ve talked about Live vs. Studio performance, as an international touring drummer, how would you say that your international performances compare with your performances stateside, both in terms of how you play and the audience reaction?
M- Well, for me personally, the approach is the same internationally and domestically. Like I said, every live show I try to make a little different, throw different fills into older songs or, the newer songs I could maybe play straight forward the way they are on the record because the fans don’t really know them yet. But as they start to know them and get familiar with them, I kind of like to try new things and improvise with fills, or do little things like that just to keep it fresh and exciting for me.
Crowdwise, I’ve always thought that… Well, In Europe, the turnouts are always larger because they have the big open air festivals during the Summer. I mean, these places can get up to 100,000 people in a weekend. They don’t really have stuff like that in the states. You have your Ozzfest or your Mayhem, and that’s in an amphitheater and there’re a lot of seats and stuff, so it’s a different vibe altogether. So, I like playing internationally because there’s nothing like being on that huge stage, with that huge soundsystem, and you’re looking out at the crowd and you can’t even see where the crowd ends… It’s all heads! And when you kick into “Never Let It Die” or “Destroy Everything, where the entire crowd is jumping up and down, it’s crazy man! You’re up there and I’m not even concentrating on playing, man! Sometimes I’m like ‘Oh shit! I’ve gotta reel myself in,’ because I’m watching what the crowd is doing and it’s insane! It’s such a great sight to see!
So yea, internationally, that’s how they do it. In Europe especially. They have a lot of variety on festivals on 1 show. We’ve done festivals where it’s us, Mary J. Blige, The Lemonheads, Joss Stone, all on one stage! That would NEVER fly in the US!
G- No, probably not.
M- So, Europeans are a different animal altogether. I think they appreciate music more, the different types of music, different genres. They respect each other as a crowd. Us and Mary J. Blige on the same stage on the same show?! The crowds would fight and kill each other here in the states. It wouldn’t go over well.
G- (lauging) And the The Lemonheads.
M- Right? Crazy mix of music!
G- You’ve gotta watch out for those guys. They’re hardcore, man. That Evan Dando…
M- He’ll beat you down!
G- I don’t know if you’ve pegged it right there, but I was going to ask you… What is the craziest or most memorable show that you’ve played? And if it’s not Mary J. Blige, The Lemonheads, and Hatebreed, give us a hint, man!
M- Well, that particular lineup was the Roskilde Festival in Sweden. That was back in 2003, I think, and I’ve talked about that fest in other interviews, too. That will always stand out in my head because I was looking at the bill and I was like ‘Holy shit! We’re playing with Mary J. Blige?! How’s this going to go over?’ And then I saw that every artist actually had their crowd! The diehards were there, and they weren’t clashing with each other. It was a musical event, and to know that that stuff goes on all the time, every Summer, over in Europe, and to be a part of this was crazy!
As far as standout moments, I think, you know, there’s always been shows with a lot of fights and craziness. My second show ever with Hatebreed was in Massachusetts and I remember, when the show was over and the club cleared out, there were pools of blood on the floor with cocktail napkins trying to soak it up, and I heard that one girl snapped her pinkie finger on the barricade, and just real crazy shit where you’re like ‘OMG I hope she’s alright!” So, as terrible as that is, things like that stand out in my head because the crwod was really whipped up into a frenzy and it was nuts, and sometimes there’s the people that get bumped into and crazy accidents like that happen.
And there’s always the shows, too, where all the sudden you’re playing and there’s crowd surfing is going on, and the guy in the wheelchair will get lifted up and passed around the crowd, and you’re like ‘Holy shit! This guy is crazy!’ So, yeah.
G- Wild moments, for sure! I like the positive ones more than the blood and broken fingers.
M- Yeah of course. You don’t want to see anybody get hurt. But those are the things that stand out, because it’s like ‘I can’t believe this shit happened!’
Well, just 2 last questions for you. Obviously, you’re playing drums and it’s a very involved instrument and very physical, but I want to talk about your ears. Do you wear hearing protection when you perform, and do you think it’s important for other drummers and fans to wear earplugs when they’re listening and/or performing?
M- Yeah absolutely. I think, when I was a dumb kid starting out, I didn’t wear earplugs as much. Somewhere along the line, I wised up and got the molded audio earplugs made, and I’ve been using them ever since. I change the filters regularly to make sure they’re doing their job, and it’s to the point now where I always have them with me, whether I’m going to see a band, or whether I’m playing in the band. If there is a lot of noise around, I’m wearing them.
Hearing protection is key, it’s essential, and I don’t want to be 60 years old and not be able to hear what’s going on around me, plain and simple. So, I’m very protective of my hearing.
G- Excellent! Good to hear that! Wear Today Hear Tomorrow. Save Your Ears, kids!
M- Yeah seriously!
G- So, lastly, you’re doing it! I’m a drummer, too, and I haven’t been able to do what you have or even make money. I guess that’s probably because I spent all my time playing in Ska bands…
G- But, what advice would you give some of the young up and coming drummers out here who want to try to be pros, make it in music, and make it on the road?
M- Well, as far as working on your chops and learning concepts on the drums and everything, get on Youtube. There are so many people putting out cool posts from their basements or their band playing stuff, and there’s a lot of shredders out there that you can learn a lot of stuff off of for free, on Youtube.
Enjoy it. Don’t get frustrated with it. You’re always going to cross those concepts or your roll or whatever where you’re not going as fast as you want to be. It’s baby steps. Like exersizing, you’ve got to really bring yourself to that point. So, you’re gonna get frustrated, but make that a positive frustration. Don’t let it deter you. Don’t let it make you quit. Stick with it!
It’s fun, first and foremost… That’s why you started playing. You enjoy it. Somewhere along the line, you connected with it, so never lose that. Even if you’re in a band and everybody hates each other, or you’re touring and making no money or whatever. There’s always something to hate on, just always remember that you got into it for fun and never lose sight of that fun. Always enjoy playing!
I’ve always said I’ve been blessed to be in a professional band, and we’ve been around for as long as we have now. I think that’s great, too, because some bands last 4-5 years and they’re gone. And I’ve always said, if this all ends tomorrow, there’s no reason to stop playing drums. I might take a little break, but I’ll always come back to it because that’s the reason I started playing in the first place. It’s fun!
G- Right on. Well, dude, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five today, and keep doing what you’re doing!
M- Right on. Thanks, man!