Why do guitarists put drumsticks on the dash of their car?
So they can park in the handicapped spot.
Drummers always get a bum rap. Why is that? Ever seen a good band with a shitty drummer? No. Know why? BECAUSE THEY FUCKING DON’T 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 this column is for the hitters.
On May 15th, we spoke with Derek Davis from Boston’s Big D and The Kids Table in Syracuse, NY, with a nice cold glass of beer in our hands, to talk about his inspirations, injuries, and current set up. Big D’s latest 2-album project, “Stomp” and “Stroll” are out TODAY. Like, right now. So, go get ‘em, ya lazy bastids!
G- What’s up, Derek? We’re talking about drums, so let’s get right to it… How long have you been playing drums and when did you first get started?
D- I’ve been playing for about 12 years now. I believe I started my first band when I was like 14 or so. We wrote a couple of songs, and then I got into a band when I was in high school and did all that stuff. Then I really got serious when I went to college for a few years and I really wasn’t happy with it. Everybody tells you that music should be secondary to everything else, and I said that was bullshit, found a music school to go to, dropped out of “real” college, and went to music school.
G- Dig it. Very cool! What school was that? You might as well give them a shout out.
D- The Drummers Collective in NYC, which is where I live now.
G- Nice! You got trained by some monsters down there!
D- I sure did. Peter Retzlaff, Ian Froman, Jason Gianni, the list goes on and on. Kim Plainfield… I could name ‘em all.
G- Dig it. So, that’s no joke… Well done!
So, you’re in Big D and The Kids Table, and you’ve been here for a little while… Tell me how long you’ve been playing professionally and what was your first project? Do you really remember that moment when you realized drums were your calling? Kinda 2 questions there, but you know how it is.
D- Playing professionally? I would say since I’ve been in Big D, which has been about 4 years now, if that’s called “professional.” A Ska band can be professional (laughs.)
D- We try to be. But, I don’t know if I really had a defining moment…. It was a combination of things leading up to it like me being super unhappy in college. You know you should be playing music when you listen to bands and they give you the chills, like when you’re hair stands up? That’s when you know you should probably do something music-related.
G- The “Spine-Shiver?”
G- For sure, and I guess, since we’re drummers, we’re nerds in our own way, so we have to talk about gear for a second, so let’s talk about your current rig… What drum companies and cymbals are you using primarily, what are the configurations, and what are the compositions?
D- Alright cool! Well, I have a basic 4-piece… Kick, rack, floor, snare.
G- What are the sizes?
D- 12, 16, the kick is 18×22, and they’re made by Spaun Custom Drums.
D- I have an endorsement from those guys. Super nice guys and really awesome! Some of my hardware is from them, because I have a hardware company now, so the drum throne is awesome! I’m getting a snare stand soon, and let’s see…
I play Vater drum sticks, the Josh Freese H-220’s. Super awesome! Vater is from outside of Boston, and Chad Brandolini, who’s their rep, is the nicest guy. What else do I have going?
Dream Cymbals. I had an endorsement with them for a little while, but the contract ran out and I kind of lost contact with them. I’m trying to call them now. I left a voice mail yesterday, so I’ll see if I hear back from them. I have a couple of them that are cracked, which will happen being in the trailer and going right into sound check. Cymbals break all the time. I have a couple of Zildjians up there now, and one of them is cracked, also.
And I play with a side timbale, also.
G- Ok, and what are the sizes and types of cymbals? And I know crash and ride and hi hat, so…
D- Of course! When I was younger, I played in hardcore bands and stuff, so the thicker, louder cymbals were the way to go, and those actually break easier, I’ve found, because they don’t vibrate. So, you hit them, and they crack easier.
I slowly went from Zildjian Z-Customs to Zildjian A-Customs to K-Customs, and then Dream Cymbals were really awesome and gave me an endorsement for a while, and I fgot their Bliss Series, which is kind of their K-Custom line. I think I may go back to Contact. They make a Contact series that is kind of like the A-Custom, and I think I may go back to that. The cymbals I’ve been playing are a little too dark for the band.
G- You want them bright and cutting?
G- And what sizes are you using?
D- I have a 10” splash, 14” hi hats, (2) 20” crash cymbals, but they’re really thin, so they’re not super loud or overbearing, and I can hit them hard and they don’t overpower anything. And the ride is a 22”.
G- Nice. Very cool!
Now, granted you’re a touring drummer and you went to school for percussion, how often do you find yourself practicing independently from your performances, and what warm ups or advice do you have for some of our readers from you experience?
D- Ahh! I practiced so much in school, because you had to… To learn the things they wanted you to learn, you had to. But, I don’t really sit in a room and practice. I don’t really go over rudiments. I can play them. I couldn’t rip a marching band solo right now or anything, but I’d say… I always say this now, being from a punk background and the aggressive music I play. But if I had 10 minutes before I had to go play cold, I would pick up the sticks probably for about 2 minutes, and then I would stretch for 8 minutes. Stretching is super, super, super important because if you don’t stretch, you get tired immediately.
G- And that leads right into the next question, because we’ve all bled, sweat, and cried for our drummers, drummers we are, bastards children of music. What’s the worst drummer related injury you’ve sustained while playing, and what was the nature of the injury?
D- Nothing super serious. We’ve all hit our knuckles on the snare drums before pretty badly, so I’ve done that. It happens less and less, though. Once you get everything where you need to be and know what’s going on, it happens less and less.
One time I had gym shorts on and I think I was coming from the floor tom to the snare drum, and I hit my leg square with the stick, like slapped it, and I had this huge red mark on my leg. That stung!
G- At least it was just your leg!
G- You could’ve damaged some future children there.
D- I play with contacts in, but one time I was playing with glasses and my stick was so close to my face that it took the glasses off my face.
G- Did you father ever tell you to play with a safety strap? Mine did for years and years, and early on, the one time I didn’t, I knocked my glasses off.
D- (laughing) No. I’ve been wearing contacts since I was a little kid, so it was probably a random gig where my contacts were at the hotel, or I didn’t have anymore, or something like that.
G- Dig it. Now, let’s delve a little. Obviously, you’re an international touring musician in a touring band. To veer away from drums slightly, how would you say your international performances compare to your stateside performances, both in terms of how you play and the overall audience reaction? Id there any particular area that you find is better?
D- Japan is one of my favorite places in the world! Everybody there is so great, and so nice, and so accommodating. Even if they don’t know the words, they sort of tend to sing along. It’s a really great place!
As for my playing, I would say that I try more things when I’m overseas maybe, because people don’t know the songs as well. So, I’m allowed to experiment and do more things. Like, a kid who loves Big D and is a drummer isn’t going to go ‘He didn’t play that drum fill right,” because that’s what I do when I go to shows.
G- God yeah!
D- And being a drummer, especially because Big D has a super large back catalogue where you really have to know which fill to pick out, which ones to keep, and which ones you can take liberties on. I think it’s important with any instrument.
G- Dig it.
And how about your approach in the studio versus playing live? Obviously there completely different environments, but is there a particular way you approach each?
D- Well, I was pretty nervous going into the Blasting Room, because it’s the Blasting Room, and that’s where we did our last 2 records. I think I played a little conservatively in terms of flailing my arms and being relaxed. But once I got warmed up a little bit, it helped.
And also, Jason the engineer basically sets everything up and tells you to play, and when you stop, he tells you to keep playing, and all he does is adjust and fix and make it sound amazing. So, I basically just sat behind the kit, which I never do, and jammed for 2 hours almost while he was getting the songs, and that helped me get ready to record a lot.
G- Nice. Now, drums are a loud instrument and you’re around live music all the time… Do you wear earplugs when you play?
D- I do. Well, I do now.
G- That’s a good thing! Do you think it’s important for your fans to protect their earts when they go to see Big D and The Kids Table?
D- I would say yes, DEFINITLEY!
G- Why is that?
D- Because when you get old, you’re hearing will be much, much worse. Especially as a drummer, you should always wear earplugs because the cymbals will kill you.
G- Now, let’s get to some fun stuff! You’ve played lots and lots of shows… Do you have a particularly crazy or most memorable show that you’ve played to date, or a proudest moment that you’ve played onstage, and can you tell us where it was and what it was like?
D- That’s a tough one. We’ve had a few marriage proposals, which is always, like… We’re like ‘Why are you proposing to your wife/girlfriend onstage for us?’ That’s crazy, but at the same time, it’s flattering. If we’re her favorite band and you’re doing it for her, do it because it’s her favorite band, not because it’s your favorite band!
D- But, you know, that’s always interesting. We’ve seen some dude in a wheelchair crowd-surfing while we were playing. That was pretty amazing! Like throughout the whole show!
G- You know, crowd-surfing can put you in one of those.
D- And I would also say Warped Tour, the last one or one before the last one we did, we had just a massive circle put around the sound booth. I couldn’t ever guess how many people, just thousands!
G- Where was this?
D- I can’t even remember.
G- Typical drummer!
D- (Laughs) Just people and dust flying everywhere. It was great!
G- And you were the one providing the beat that did that, so kudos! We’re the ones that get you shaking, folks!
D- That’s right!
G- Now, just to finish up today, as a drummer who’s on the road… Kids are never going to stop playing drums. You’re doing it, and a lot of kids look up to you for inspiration, and they want to do what you’re doing. What advice can you give some of the up and coming drummers out there who want to try to be a professional musician, go on tour, and make it happen for themselves like you have?
D- I would say the one thing I can pull from what I learned in school is that you have to listen to yourself. I think drummers don’t listen to themselves, they just hit stuff. They enjoy hitting things. Guitar players, when they hit a wrong chord, they kind of know it, and it’s hard to tell if you’re on time or off time, and you really need to listen to everything you do, how you hit the hi hat especially! I never knew how important a hi hat was, which is kind of stupid, but just the way you accent the hi hat can make or break a groove.
G- Dig it. Well, this was a Drive By Drummer Spotlight with Derek Davis from Big D and The Kids Table. They’ve got Stomp and Stroll releasing independently and they did it all themselves, so please make sure to support that, and go check them out on Warped Tour this summer.
I just want to say travel safe, play well, and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five today!
D- Yeah yeah! Thank you!