What’s the best way to confuse a drummer? Put a sheet of music in front of him.
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.
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.
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, it’s Jason Hamacher, hitter for hardcore legends Battery, Frodus, and now Regents!
G- Thanks for taking the time to speak with Live High Five today, Jason! What’s going on, man?
J- I am walking around a DC salvage yard looking for building materials for my house.
G- Ok that sounds like fun. Not quite, uhh, a percussive thing, but I bet you could find some steel and stuff to bang on.
J- Oh yeah. There’s lots of things to hit here.
G- Have you ever rigged up a kit out of any fun household appliances?
J- To my embarrassment, umm, yes (laughs.)
G- We’re drummers… We hit everything.
J- When I first moved to dc in 1992, me and a bunch of guys I went to high school with, the drummers, played the school talent show with this super crappy attempt at a GO-GO band. One guy played one thing, and I played the bucket. It’s not really household, but yeah.
G- That’s ok, man. That’s good! That probably wasn’t your first exposure to drums, but if it was, that’s pretty awesome!
So, how long have you been playing drums and when did you get started?
J- Oh man… I started playing drums in 5th grade.
J- So, 25 years.
G- Man, you’re old.
J- (laughing) Yeah! I’ve been playing drums for 25 years… Holy crap!
G- What got you started?
J- Umm, The Muppet Show.
J- Yeah… Straight up!
G- Isn’t he just… Did you see the one with him and Buddy Rich?
G- Ok, you’ve gotta Youtube that immediately. It’s Animal versus Buddy Rich, and it’s the one time Animal has lost, but he was happy to do it.
J- Man, that’s funny! I have a very vivid memory of it. I was… 4? My mom got me the little Animal drum, and I just remember hitting it with a hammer and breaking it immediately. That was my start.
G- Based on some of the bands you’ve played with, it looks like you took that very violent approach and continued right on.
J- (laughing0 That’s true! I think my most… I don’t remember who said it, but at one point in the Frodus days, somebody called my the John Bonham of hardcore in a record review. It was like, my proudest moment!
G- That’s a good day!
J- I was like ‘Whoa dude!!!’ I’ll take it!
G- Definitely. Now, with Battery, Frodus, and regents, it’s all hardcore and underground stuff but I personally consider those professionl attempts and professional bands, so how long have you been playing professionally and what was your first project?? Do you remember the moment that you really felt, like… ‘DRUMS! This is for me, and this is what I do.’
J- Yes. It is very pinnacle. I was in my first hardcore band in 1989, and I was very young. I lived in Florida, and we recorded a demo on a 4-track probably in the Summer of 1990, or something like that.
We were all at a show, and we didn’t have a bass player… To this day, I still have a hard time finding bass players… but we were all at a concert down in Florida, and one of the bands didn’t show up. So I said ‘Can we play,’ and they said ok (laughing.) Like a bunch of 13 year olds, and we got up onstage and played with this old school Boston band Wrecking Crew.
J- Years later, we were at Brian McTernan’s studio Salad Days when he was in Boston, and one of the dudes from Wrecking Crew came in. It was this total, not star struck, but it was a different life for me, and I said to him ‘I have no idea if you’re going to remember this or not, but in 1990 my little band got on stage because someone didn’t come,’ and he said “OH MY GOD YOU’RE THE LITTLE KIDS,’ and I was ‘Yeah we were the little kids!’ That was so cool! He remembered and he was so excited. That was my first concert, and I moved a year later, and it was like a first attempt.
But Frodus started in 1993, 20 years ago, and I really was trying to play out and that kind of thing and booking shows, but there was a pivotal moment when I had to make a decision, and that’s when I got asked to play in Battery. I was going to community college very haphazardly for a marketing degree, and I got a call from Brian McTernan asking me if I was up for doing this big European tour. I was like ‘how long is it,’ and he said (laughing) 7 weeks… You would have to leave school. So, it was just this decision, like, ok… ‘Am I going to do it, or am I going to talk about doing it?’ So, I did it, and was basically on tour between the 2 bands for the next 5-6 years.
G- That’s awesome!
J- Not consecutively, but Battery played every now and again, and Frodus toured hard for a long time. It was cool!
G- Sounds it! Going on tour with Battery for 7 weeks sounds like a hell of a time, and Frodus as well. I should’ve played more hardcore and less ska.
J- Not necessarily.
G- It’s the same thing… Not enough respect and not enough money, but a hell of a fun!
G- So let’s talk gear for a second… What is your current rig looking like? What kind of drums and cymbals are you using primarily, what configurations, and…
J- I have a very weird set up.
G- Ok. Shoot.
J- I use Maryland drums. It used to be Baltimore Drums, and actually, I’ve had sponsorships for most of the stuff I use, but my drumset was made for me. It’s a 3 piece, pretty standard… 14×14 rack tom, 18×22 bass drum, but instead of having a hole in the front bass drum head, I had the guy make a hole on the side of the drum.
J- So you can get the sound of closed heads, but you can still mic it, and it sounds awesome!
G- So you actually have the drum ported and not the head.
J- Right. And basically it doesn’t effect it that much, and live, it makes a little bit of difference live, but it makes a big difference when recording, because then you can internally mic the drum, you can externally mic the batter head, and you can also mic the resonant head, and have 3 different sounds.
G- Do you usually do that mic set up when you record and perform?
J- It depends on what the engineer wants to do.
G- You wouldn’t use all three of those at the same time?
J- Not live, but for recording an album, totally!
G- No kidding! Huh… That brings me to a question right away that I had for a little later in the interview, but I was going to ask you what your approach to live performances were compared to in the studio, and how they differ with the different types of projects you’ve been involved with. That’s pretty unique in and of itself, but how about in terms of playing?
J- Well, I’ll finish telling you what I use, and then we’ll do that.
J- So, I have a 3-piece drum set, a cable hi hat, and 2 cymbals. So, my bass drum is regular, nothing is mounted on it. I have a snare that is 6.5×15, maple, with internal reinforcement hoops that I use as a back up. I have a newer snare that I’ve been using, but it’s a titanium snare that Kurt Ballou from Converge made for me.
J- It’s awesome, it sounds incredible, and it’s perfect for… because we flew to a bunch of different shows last year, so I out it in my carry-on luggage. It weighs nothing!
G- I betcha it’s loud as hell, though!
J- Yeah it sounds really nice. He was experimenting with snare drums and it sounds great! And I use Istanbul cymbals. I have a 20” crash/ride on the right hand, an 18” on the left, and I have 14” hi-hats. So my drum set is bass drum right foot, the hi hat is directly in front of my snare drum where a tom would be…
J- And then I have my 14×14 tom on the left where a hi-hat normally would be, with nothing on the right side except the crash/ride. And then the hi hat is on the cable, so I can still control the hi hat with the open and close, but that allows me to have, like, 100% full range of motion with my right hand to basically destroy whatever I need to destroy with my right (laughing.)
J- I started using this set up when I was playing in a grindcore band called Combat Wounded Veteran in Florida for a while, and playing the really, really fast stuff untriggered punk style, most of the time it’s difficult to fast stuff, the blast beats. So I started using 2 hi-hats with them, and being that it was in Florida, there that was called Thoroughbred Music that was going out of business.
J- So, I was walking around and there was a DW cable hi-hat stand that was like $250, but they were closing the next day, so I got it for $70 or something.
J- So, I was like ‘I’m gonna buy this thing and see if I can do something else.’ So, I came up with this whole alternative drum set up to make me play differently and to make me do different things within fast music, and I just stuck with it.
G- Yeah it’s a weird configuration and a weird set up. I’ve never heard of somebody playing that way before, but it’s rad anyway!
So, that’s strange and definitely not customary, but how often do you find yourself practicing independent from your performances with that set up, and do you have any warm up tips or advice you can offer for our readers?
J- Man, it’s funny, but I don’t practice (laughs.)
J- Here’s why. I would practice if I had a practice space 1, but 2, with Regents, the way we have to operate now, we don’t live near each other. One guy lives in Alabama, one guys lives in Philly, one guys lives in New York, and I live in DC, so we kinda practice as need.
J- But what I’ve found years ago, is being a massage therapist, which is what I do full-time, it’s the same, almost the same muscle I use daily as a massage therapist as I use to play drums. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t progress technically, but I can step in and out of playing drums and not playing drums without any loss, because I’m always active with my hands and wrists. Does that make any sense?
G- Yeah. And would you say that being a drummer helps the massage therapy or the massage therapy helps the drumming?
J- 100%. Now, it’s back and forth, but when I first started massage therapy, for someone who’s a drum nerd… I’m not a drum nerd, but I’m pretty specific in what I mean to do, it directly translated into being a massage therapist. Meaning, in the studio, what’s the biggest thing drummers have to work on? Timing and consistency.
J- Same with massage. When I interview, if someone is stronger with the right hand and weaker with the left hand, that’s just a crappy application, you know? If someone is conscious within their speed within the rhythm of the massage session, that can effect the nervous system. I’ve interviewed and done this so many times, and it’s like ‘God…This blows!’ This person is way too fast right now, and unbelievably slow 3 minutes later somewhere else, so the timing and consistence of playing drums really lends itself to being a massage therapist, which I never thought in my life I would be.
G- That’s actually very interesting. It’s not something I’ve ever thought about, but it makes a lot of sense because massage therapy involves a lot of writs and hands and arms and, of course, so does the drums…
G- So that’s pretty cool! That’d be a good career for so many of us who’ll never be multi-millionaires playing drums… Massage Therapy!
J- (laughing) great!
G- So, tell us about some of the drummers that inspired you to start playing in the first place, and are there any drummers out now that you think we should be checking out?
J- I can do the first, but the second I don’t really know. Well, I can do this: I don’t pay attention enough to anything. I will check out anything anyone sends me, but I don’t know much about what is happening now, just because of life. I will tell you this: Regents toured with Retox this year, and Retox’s drummer Brian, he’s a younger guy like 21, and this guy like breathes drums, and he was incredible! I mean, like on the level with Chris Pennie from Dillinger Escape Plan.
G- Oh he’s one of those scary players!
J- Yeah. Chris’s is a total different application, but he’s like one of those guys who’s super tech. It was cool. I’m not around drummers that often.
The drummers that I was influenced by… My approach… I heard someone say this once. Who was it? It was the drummer from Sense Field…
G- Oh god!
J- Remember them?
G- Hell yes!
J- I saw them play at Black Cat in DC one night, and I wasn’t talking to him or anything, but he said something to someone that really hit me. He said “If you need a solid drummer that doesn’t do very much, but just plays the song, let me know.” It was like ‘That’s what I can do!’ (laughs).
You know, I’m not a super technical guy, but I really like the heavy stuff. So, the obvuious influences from my youth are John Bonham, you know? John Bonham, it doesn’t sound that technical, until you try to play it. You’re like ‘It’s kinda a funky rhythm or weird time signature’ or whatever, where it’s cymbal on the snare drum, but the bass drum has more of the rhythm happening.
With Battery, it’s just hardcore. Chris Bratton from Chain Of Strength was a big influence for that stuff. But, I don’t know… I used to… I took a lot of fill-ins from people and put them into my own songs, and I’d kinda add the ‘Hey, I like this fill-in,’ so the very, very first song that Regents wrote, it starts with a fill-in from Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine.”
G- (laughing) Oh god!
J- It’s just (proceeds to vocalize the rhythm from the song,) but we just kicked into a hardcore song.
I don’t have a particular style that I emulate, but when people say ‘Hey, what do you sound like,’ I say probably the drummer from Rage Against The Machine.
G- Brad Wilk.
J- Yeah. His approach to song/drum writing is almost identical to mine.
G- So, straight up and heavy.
J- Yeah. Crashing on the ride. That is something I normally do.
G- Brad’s a monster player and you’re a monster player yourself.
Now, 2 more questions for you… What is the worst drum-related injury you’ve sustained from playing? What happened and what was the injury?
J- Oh man, the worst?
G- The worst.
J- I’m trying to think.
G- So, there’s been more than one, then?
J- oh yeah, man. While playing drums?
J- There’s 2. There was a Frodus show in DC. It’s been so long I don’t even know how to judge these, but I hit my finger on the snare and split the skin from the knuckle to the fingernail…
J- And it was bleeding everywhere. EVERYWHERE! I yelled ‘I’ll bleed for you!’ and bled on someone in the front row, to my embarrassment. I didn’t think it was gonna come out that fast, so I said I’m sorry.
And then, I think it’s the Battery reunion a couple of months ago where I broke my hand playing. It sucked.
G- How did you do that?
J- Like, you know, I’ve played that 3-piece for 12 years, and Battery is a 4-piece band. So, I set up everything as a 4-piece, and it wasn’t my drum set. Like, I don’t care what drums I play at all. I’m not picky like that… I’ll use whatever, whenever. So, on the Battery show, I wasn’t going to use my own drum set in NY, so I just used whatever drums someone else brings to the show and just adapted.
At the show, my seat was loosening, and I went to hit the ride cymbal on a super heavy part, and my pinkie hit the floor tome on a super heavy part using 100% of my strength, and it cracked.
G- And you had to play the show? Yeah… I was at that show! You played the show! How’d you pull that off with a broken hand?
J- It was really funny. It sucked, but I went around and I had my hands taped. It looked so dramatic, but I felt stupid setting up on stage. I would just go tear off long strings of duct tape, and hanging them strategically off the drums at certain places, so if I had to, I was just going to tape the drum stick into my hand.
G- (laughing) That sucks.
J- I never thought this band would play again, and we were playing in NYC, with CHAIN OF STRENGTH, AND MY HAND’S BROKEN?! This is crazy!
G- Yeah that is hardcore, if I am quoting correctly.
J- I take it back. That sucked, but the worst one was Battery did a CMJ showcase in 1998 with Converge when they were on Equal Vision and stuff. So, during converge, I was dancing and some other guy was dancing and, you know, hardcore spin kick, and I went to block the kick, and it shattered my arm. This is the part that sucked… This was November 1998, and Frodus was going to Japan March 1999, and had to record a split 7” with a Japanese band we were touring with, and I had to record with a shattered arm. That was the worst. I was like ‘We’ve got 2 takes to get this, or I’ll re-break my arm.’
G- And you did it and it sounded great, right?
J- (laughing) Pulled it off, yes. Sounding good, that’s up to the listener (laughing.)
G- (laughing) Well look, just one last question for you today… Obviously, you’ve done international tours, you’ve been in a bunch of well noted, even legendary band, and you’re starting another project now. There’s a lot of kids that want to play drums and go on the road and be a pro musician like yourself… What advice can you give some of the young, up and coming drummers everywhere who want to play drums, make it in music, on the road, and be a professional drummer like you?
J- My 2 cents is practice with a metronome, and perform and record without one. Like, I understand the whole tech world where a lot of people are doing tech-metal and stuff like that, but there’s something to be said for getting into it and letting it breathe.
G- So, being able to practice your time outside the project, but letting the emotion take over when you’re actually playing with other people?
J- Yeah. Or even if you’re practicing with the band with the click track, the drummer has the click track and the band doesn’t, and live, no one does, unless you’re using samples or something.
G- Well look, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today, and we really look forward to seeing Regents in the future over here at Live High Five and hearing more from Mr. Hamacher!