What is the difference between a drummer and a savings bond?
One will mature and make money.
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 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 today’s episode of Drummer Spotlight, I give you the quick-handed Punk/Ska maniac Jim Margle, whose former band, We Are The Union, and current band, Counterpunch, are keeping the spirit of youth and punk alive!
G- How long have you been playing drums and when did you get started?
J- I started playing in the middle school jazz band around 7th grade, so probably 1997 or 1998, roughly 15 years ago. I cared more about trying to play along to MxPx’s ‘Life In General’ than the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies or whatever the jazz band was playing back then, so I didn’t take it very seriously.
My very first drumming experience was at my neighbor’s house, probably around 1995 or so. He had a drum kit with a headphone set up so you could play along to a CD. My choices were the Batman Forever soundtrack or Live’s ‘Throwing Copper’; maybe 90’s rock is just easy to play, but he said I was killing it (jokingly I’m sure), so I just kind of went from there.
Plus, listen to “I Alone” by Live – there’s some crucial snare hits in there hahaha. Truthfully though, my grade school buddy had an older brother who was a drummer and he made me a copy of Green Day’s ‘Dookie’ on cassette. The first time I heard the bridge of “Burnout” I said to myself “I want to do that.”
G- How long have you been playing professionally and what was your first project?? Do you remember the moment that you really felt that drum performance was your calling?
J- Professionally haha. What a bold word! I’d guess, six or seven years. I’d like to think it would be when I joined We Are The Union in late 2007, but I had a band a few years before that I was really proud of. It was called Stranger On A Train, and we were starting up around the same time as Fireworks (Kyle, the bassist played in both bands). We had recorded a demo at the same place Fireworks did their first demo, and I just personally thought ours sounded slicker haha. This was probably 2005 or 2006.
Shortly thereafter, we got to open for The Lawrence Arms and Chuck Ragan and that was probably the first time playing a gig where after you’re like “Holy shit, this is for real!” I remember setting up my kit on stage and Chuck Ragan came up and introduced himself to me – and that’s when it hit. Playing shows with people you look up to will always be awesome.
G- Are you working on any releases right now? When will you be heading back to the studio or on the road? Can you tell us about the projects you currently have in the works?
J- Well We Are The Union just released a new album called ‘You Can’t Hide The Sun’ in the fall of 2012, and we toured the entire US and part of Canada in support of it. We are all really proud of it, but we announced a hiatus shortly thereafter. We’d been touring pretty consistently for nearly five or six years now, but it’s not as easy five or six years later when life gets in the way – we all need some much-needed personal time. We are doing one last show (for now) with The Suicide Machines on June 28th in Michigan.
However, I’m addicted to the gig life, and joined my current band Counterpunch early last year after their drummer quit. We just finished up a few tracks with Matt Allison & Justin Yates at Atlas Studios in Chicago, where WATU tracked our second LP. Matt had seen Counterpunch play a few years back and wanted to work with them, so it was a super natural fit.
WATU had just recorded our last record with Mark Michalik, who used to play drums in Counterpunch, so no matter whom we were working with, it’s just this big circle of friends. Counterpunch is about to release a 3-song 7” titled ‘Bruises’ with help from our friend Greg at Go Kart Records. I believe it’s going to be a free digital download and also available on a physical 7”. We are headed back to Atlas in August to do 12 more tunes for the next full-length record.
In the meantime, I’ve learned about 20 songs or so, and Counterpunch has been busy demo-ing them in studio preparation.
G- 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 what companies are backing you up at this time?
J- I have two rigs – my Detroit and Chicago setups. Oddly enough, as of now, I haven’t signed with any endorsements or sponsors, aside from Silver Surfer Vaporizers (for those who partake J) and I Love Antix, which is my buddy Luke’s clothing line.
As far as gear goes, primarily I use Zildjian cymbals, especially for hi-hats and rides. Right now I’m playing 14” New Beat Hats, 14” Rock Hats, a 21” Rock Ride, and a used (I believe A-Custom) Zildjian ride that’s so old I’m not even sure what model it is. I’m a fan of Sabian AAX Dark & X-Plosion crashes as well.
For snares, I have a 14”x5.5” Pearl Brass Shell Free Floater from the 90’s, as well as DW Performance Series snare of the same size, with Remo Emperor X’s on both of them, which a head I used to hate, but gives the drum a lot of snapping power without being too abrasive. I can’t stand snares with giant vent holes.
My main kit is a DW, manufactured in 1997. It was part of a double kick set that was split in half, so my tom sizes are 9”x12” & 16”x16” with a 18”x 20” kick I believe. The extra inch or two on the toms really adds to the depth of the drums, and with clear Remo heads I can get that punchy, fat, NOFX-style tone without much work. It has internal microphones built in that were installed by DW that are great for playing live. I bought the kit on eBay in 2005, not knowing how it sounded and I guess I just lucked out! You can hear it with the Pearl Snare in all its un-triggered glory on We Are The Union’s latest LP ‘You Can’t Hide The Sun’
G- What are your approaches to live performance versus studio sessions, and how do they differ given the different types of projects you are involved with
J- Regardless of playing live or in the studio, it’s really all about finding your comfort zone and staying confident. From a recording standpoint, working with both Mark Michalik and Matt Allison for a second time, and just knowing what to expect (what the room sounds like, how they work, how your own gear sounds in a finished product, etc.) made going back the second time extremely less stressful. Both producers would push me to do my best, or in some cases simplify if I wasn’t nailing a part, and that’s where the differences in the types of projects can come in.
Mark would push me if I were being lazy with fills, whereas Matt would tone me down if I was overplaying, all for the benefit of the tune. But like I said, the second time around, both of them knew my strengths and weaknesses, making me a lot more comfortable overall. Sometimes it takes a few beers to get there. J Same goes for a live setting – just find a way to feel relaxed while maintaining control. If you party too much, not only will you start to struggle, you’ll start to over-think and probably keep botching parts.
I like to warm up with marching sticks on a drum pad for about ten minutes or so before you take the stage, as well as stretch out the arms and wrists. Staying limber and comfortable are the keys, because I just pretend I’ve got to go play a death metal set – and if I tense up, I’ll die.
It’s also kind of fun to look at the live show as a game, and to win you just have to play the songs! If you go out there and pretend your going to kick ass like Jean-Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport, then you probably will.
G- “Brick don’t hit back.”
Let’s talk about your undertakings… What artists are you currently working with, what’s going on with your current projects? How did you get in touch with your artists/groups, and who would you most like to work with in the future?
J- Over the past three years, I’ve filled in for a number of bands, including We Are The Union’s old label mates, Richmond, VA’s The Riot Before for a European tour and farewell show at The Fest 10. I also played with I Call Fives, a pop punk band from the New Jersey area, when their drummer suddenly quit while they were on tour with WATU. One of my favorite ska-punk bands, The Fad, reunited for the Ska Is Dead Young Guys tour that WATU headlined a few years ago, and Reed from WATU & I filled in.
Most recently, I’ve been playing with Counterpunch from Chicago, as I mentioned earlier. I’d been a fan of them since 2006, literally the same time I discovered We Are The Union recording demos with my old band mate. I think there are enough similarities on the melodic punk rock styling of both We Are The Union and Counterpunch where joining C.P. was just a really natural fit for me. I’m hoping I can turn on some WATU fans to Counterpunch, and we’ve even been jamming some reggae type tunes. I’m more of punk rock drummer than a ska drummer anyway, as WATU was the first ska band I had ever played in.
Technically, Counterpunch is a much smaller band, in terms of popularity, than We Are The Union, but I saw a lot of potential and drive with those dudes, which is also exciting. Even though I’m in Detroit and the rest of Counterpunch reside in Chicago, Dropbox and discount Mega Bus tickets make it possible for us to send ideas and get together every few weeks. It’s not as convenient as being able to go over to your buddy’s house down the street to jam ideas, but I think it helps us all focus and make the most of our time when we are together, as opposed to making band practice feel like a full-time job and getting burnt out. The 20 new tunes we have been working on for the upcoming release have a great positive vibe, and I can’t wait to get back to Atlas and make the best Counterpunch album we can.
G- How does international performance compare with your performances stateside, both in terms of how you play and the audience reaction?
J- International is alwayyys better, at least for our musical style (both We Are The Union & Counterpunch) – but it’s also way more difficult to make happen. There are pluses and minuses to both but, in general, international audiences are much more open minded and interested in discovering new bands.
Part of this, I feel, is because the audience is not sure when they will ever get the chance to see you again, or perhaps they just have better taste in music… J The downsides to touring internationally are the expenses, such as plane tickets, gear backline, van & driver rental, booking agents, hospitality, etc. Generally, the accommodations from promoters are way better than in the states, as smaller venues usually don’t even have a shit-able toilet. In Europe, the beer is better and the catering is often homemade, which on the road feels like a nice hot meal as opposed to take out.
Most importantly, the fans and promoters work their hardest to make sure you have an enjoyable to visit to their city, in pretty much anywhere but the states.
The lack of Del Taco elsewhere can be disappointing though.
G- Are there any bands or artists that you hope to share a bill with in the future?
J- Honestly, over the past five years I’ve been lucky enough to be able to tour with nearly every band I have ever wanted to. From Rise Against to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Rufio & Less Than Jake to The Suicide Machines… The high school me is the happiest kid on earth.
I’d love to play with Bad Religion (Brooks is a beast), Frenzal Rhomb in Australia and I’d love to tour with Strung Out again, as WATU’s tour with them in 2010 was actually living hell. I ended up fracturing my wrist in a drunken accident, and then we collided with a moose, totaling our van that was robbed the night before. Maybe Canada hates We Are The Union for being Red Wings fans? Still, fill-in drummer or acoustic, we only missed 1 out of 30 shows on the tour.
Other than that, I’d love to do something with the Descendents or ALL, especially with Chad. Stephen Egerton & Bill Stevenson have both worked on releases I’ve played on, so that is more than I could have even ever imagined. One of the things that keeps me going, even not making enough money to make a living playing the drums, is being able to become friends and share the stage with bands that inspire you.
G- What is the craziest or most memorable show that you have played to date? Where was it and what was it like?
J- One time, We Are The Union played at BTB Cantina, which is a burrito joint in Ann Arbor, MI. It was a benefit for We Are The Union to raise money for us to buy a new van, since the moose in Canada destroyed our old one. (http://exclaim.ca/images/up-we_the_union.jpg) Imagine a donation based (or free) show in a restaurant, because that’s exactly what happened… Total chaos. There are some clips of it on YouTube.
Playing The Fest in Gainesville, working our way up from a side stage sized venue to the Florida Theater (the largest venue) over a few years is definitely a big accomplishment for We Are The Union. Doing some support shows with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, including the 2-band bill of only Bosstones & WATU at The Metro in Chicago was an amazing feeling (even more amazing when the band apologized to me for Counterpunch not being able to open the show). Just knowing that The Bosstones would have chosen to have both of my bands open for them on the same show is pretty cool from a bragging standpoint hahah J
I’ve had some amazing times with Counterpunch, visiting Costa Rica in support of Rise Against and playing Groezrock in Belgium, arguably the biggest punk rock festival in the world. We are hoping to get to Japan sometime soon. I will look forward to the day!
G- Lastly, what advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands everywhere who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
J- Don’t quit your day job? Haha
I mean, 5 years ago WATU gave away our record for free and started touring constantly. Gas was cheaper then, so we were able to survive on the road a lot easier than now. With Counterpunch, it’s kind of like starting anew. One thing that is for sure: practice, practice, practice! The audience will remember the 30 minutes you played, not the 6 beers you drank beforehand. It’s taken me a number of drunken mishaps, and a drummer like Sean Sellers (Good Riddance/Authority Zero) to engrave in my mind that it’s much more difficult to drum intoxicated! Haha!
In all seriousness though, practice and get the band tight before you start trying to head out on the road… It will be much more rewarding in the long haul. Don’t take yourself too seriously at first, as it will look like you are trying too hard.
Most importantly, “don’t quit – have fun”. The best band related advice I’ve ever learned was from Bad Religion – “never break up.” Seriously, they are old enough to be my dad and their new album shreds just as hard as the old stuff.
Finally, have fun! Playing music is supposed to be fun, and I can’t imagine ever playing in a band where I’m not having fun. I’d much rather play music I enjoy playing than taking a paycheck for pop-rock, and I hope it shows with the tunes both Counterpunch and We Are The Union have been releasing!