Drummer Spotlight with Matt Covey @shaihulud @mattcoveydrums @thesuicidedolls @thehempsteadys
Why do drummers have lots of kids?
They’re not too good at the Rhythm Method.
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.
Today, I bring you our own occasional contributor and Shai Hulud hitter (you’re welcome) Matt Covey, a great friend and total pro behind the kit.
G- How long have you been playing drums and when did you get started?
MC- It’s been 23 years. I’m 31 now. I started taking lessons at 8 years old during 4th grade. I had been excited about drums for a couple years, so I got a snare drum for my birthday. I took lessons on and off up through high school.
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?
MC- That first moment, hmmm. I don’t remember it as a singular moment. What I noticed was that, at some point in high school, it just seemed like a fact–not even a realization, but something more fundamental. Clearly I was gonna keep playing, and eventually I was gonna be successful at it (although that wasn’t the word I would’ve used). I don’t remember feeling any big excitement or sense of teenage victory haha. It was more like a quiet internal confidence that had grown up with me, and only noticed it because it was the only thing I had ever been so sure about.
My first actual pro gig was probably around 2002 during college at Western Connecticut State University. I was studying classical percussion and jazz, and I had just started to make real contacts. Before that, I had gigged a decent amount in a couple of punk bands. The first was called Foiled Again, and the main songwriter, Andy Carey (who I still play with in my reggae punk band, The Hempsteadys), seemed to pull mostly from Screeching Weasel and Jawbreaker. After that, I was in a Fat Wreck style band called Perfect Stranger that was really into Strung Out and wandered into post-hardcore territory a little.
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?
MC- Dude, I’m really busy musically. Well firstly, I recorded drums on the new album by Shai Hulud that just came out last month on Metal Blade Records. It’s called Reach Beyond The Sun. The response so far has been pretty incredible. We’ve been hearing a lot of people say things like, “I haven’t listened to anything else in two weeks,” and “It’s gonna be the best album of the year,” hahaha etc. The second one seems a little presumptuous to me, but all I can say is that we’re so completely thrilled at the reaction, especially given the long history of the band and its contributions to hardcore and punk. It all seems kinda surreal. I just came home from Australia where Hulud was on a massive festival tour called Soundwave. Look that shit up, it’s huge. And also the cushiest tour I’ve ever been on. We’ve been calling it “The fantasy,” haha. In a couple weeks we’ll be touring the eastern US with Thy Will Be Done and Altars, then hitting Europe with Propagandhi in April (plus Comeback Kid on the UK dates). That will be followed up by a Hulud solo trip to Russia.
Another exciting thing I’ve been working on is the debut album of my indie R&B project, Young Pandas. It’s kind of a super-group (?). We have an incredible singer named Mike Maven, RP of Bad Rabbits on keys, Kyle Nagel on bass, and J Fifty Seven of Brown Bag All Stars constructing samples. In fact, right before I hit the road with Hulud, we were recording the last few rhythm tracks for the album, with Dua from Bad Rabbits and Cousin Frank at Treehouse Studio (home base of The Gaslight Anthem). It’s somewhere in between Prince, Bill Withers, Miike Snowe, and J Dilla. Shit feels pretty fucking classic. I think Young Pandas are really gonna surprise a lot of people.
The Suicide Dolls are a power trio inspired by 80s and 90s indie, psych, and garage-punk bands. I tend to think of it as The Pixies/Sonic Youth as played by The Stooges/The Ramones. The last couple years have been really great for us. In 2012, the Suicide Dolls were asked to round out the Repo Man Soundtrack tribute alongside crazy people like Frank Black, Amanda Palmer, Polar Bear Club, Those Darlings, and Mike Watt. And we put out a full-length in 2011 called Prayers In Parking Lots, which we recorded with Justin Pizzoferrato (Sonic Youth, Thurston Moore, Dinosaur Jr) at Q Division in Somerville, Mass. We’ve been playing a ton, focusing much of our efforts on the Boston and NYC scenes for the last three years. We won Best New Artist at the New England Music Awards and Best Rock Band in Connecticut, both last year. We’re writing songs for a new album now. Expect to hear more influences this time, like Survival Knife, Fugazi, Battles, Jesus Lizard, Hot Snakes, and Rocket From The Crypt.
My aforementioned 11-piece raucous-reggae band, The Hempsteadys, should have a 7″ EP out by the summer on Son of Bronson Records. We’re currently getting our ducks in a row to begin work on our reggae-opera album. Imagine Dazed And Confused if it were about the teenage lives of classic movie monsters.
I recorded drums for Living Laser’s next album late last year with Dean Baltulonis (The Holdsteady, Sick Of It All), which was a total blast. Adrenaline-speed, simple hardcore punk is the idea with Living Laser, but it’s so unique I always have trouble describing it. Imagine if Converge wrote like Bad Brains. That’s probably the closest I’ll get.
Oh! And holy shit, I’ll be recording with that LEGEND, John Scofield, on a Franklin Brothers song in May. Can’t. Wait. That’s an absolute dream come true right there. Fuck!
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?
MC- I play Silverfox drumsticks. They are longest lasting sticks I’ve ever used without a doubt, and feel incredible. I’m also an Evans Drumheads endorser. I usually stick to either G1 or G2 coated batter heads on the snare, snare side 300 on bottom, but I’ll use all the other tools to find different sounds. With toms, I mostly use G2s on top (will switch to coated G1s for reggae or acoustic stuff), and G1 or Genera Resonant on bottom. I keep going back to E-mad, clear or coated, for bass drum batter heads, but I’m always messing with the muffling and the front head. And I use Puresound Percussion snares.
With Shai Hulud, my current setup starts off with a refinished 80s Tama Grandstar 14″x6.5″ birch snare drum. I have 10″x8″, 13″x10″, 16″x14″ toms and a 22″x18″ bass drum, by Precision Drum Co., all maple. The toms are 6ply and the bass drum is 8ply, and all have 6ply reinforcing rings. I set the rack toms off a bit to the left so that the middle tom (13″) is just to the right of where a single rack tom would conventionally go.
As for cymbals, it changes somewhat frequently. Right now I’m using 14″ inch hats, two crashes anywhere from 18″ to 20″ in size, a 22″ ride, and 18″ china. I mostly only use A Custom/AAX, or Avedis/AA cymbals with Hulud. They’re not the loudest, but they have the best combination of knife-like attack and aggressive body. But with my other projects, I’m all over the fucking place.
Shai Hulud has a pretty big back catalog, so I end up using a pretty traditional setup to make it easier to play all the repetoire. Otherwise, I try to construct a different identity for each project, and for me creating very different setups is part of that. If I start off by changing my sounds right off the bat, I think differently, and end up playing differently. Positioning, tuning, head selection, instrument selection, and stick/mallet choices all go into that.
My favorite snare drums tend to be really raw sounding shit. For the past few years, I’ve almost only used three snares: that Tama I mentioned earlier, my 1968 Ludwig Supraphonic 14″x5″ (which is one of the most recorded snares of all time, and strangely I seem to end up using on almost every recording), and my weird Slingerland reissue “Buddy Rich” model snare from the 90s. It’s a 14″ brass piccolo with the old-style Slingerland hardware, has a really big, airy sound for a piccolo. I think that’s why it sounds strangely awesome in low registers.
One of my favorite things is to use “prepared” instruments–placing different items on or in drums, cymbals, etc. to create a new texture using a combination of sounds. I’ll use all sorts of stuff for this: tambourines, my key ring, splash cymbals, beads, funky necklaces, many different types of muffling, varying snare tension, and a bunch of different cymbal stacks, more felts or less felts, etc.
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?
MC- What’s really interesting is that lately I’ve been discovering just how similar a great show and a great studio session are for me. In either case, the most essential part is the preparation, because that’s where the biggest differences between live performance and recording session are for me. To start, I like to treat my practice session as much like the situation I’m preparing for as possible (specific set up, tuning, click, no click, high volume, low volume, goldilocks volume, etc), and run through the whole song or a few times. Once I have an idea of what things I need to work on, I spend time making adjustments. It might be finding the sweet spot in my technique on a certain part, nailing down that one measure in the chorus I’m not totally sure of, zoning in on a dynamic change, adjusting my setup to fit the style I’m aiming for, practicing something with a click that I’m going to be playing without a click (and vice versa)…even outside-the-box stuff like slowing something way down and practicing it with an impossible stick height, haha whatever. After that, I come back to the whole package and run it in it’s full form some more. The most important thing is that my experience level really helps me decide what aspects I should focus on for the situation I’m preparing for. Oh, and always end practice on a good note and never on a bad one.
Whether it’s live or in the studio, the more I agonize over getting everything right, the harder it becomes for me. But I’m really good at riding the wave of energy. So the best thing I can do is spend that disciplined mentality when practicing for tour or a studio session; then when the time comes, I do my best to zone in on my physical flow as quickly as possible. I always get better sounding and better feeling performances that way, and, ironically, I play parts more accurately as well hahaha. To that end, the approach I prefer in the studio is to start by getting three, four, or five good quality, front-to-back takes of a song. I used to try and focus on playing perfect, getting all the notes correct. There are ppl who can operate well like that. But again, I’m not one of them. Once the group feels good about the amount of core material we have, we pick a take to work from, which is probably the most important part of recording for me. The other big key for me is keeping a good pace in the studio. Taking too long on any one thing often turns into a death sentence for the song or a huge bill for the label or artist. When in doubt, go with the best stuff you’ve got and keep moving. As long as you’re recording digitally, it’s easy to come back to something later if need be.
As far as live, the main difference is in selling the performance to the audience. I’m a true performer and I’m always thinking of myself as a power conduit and the audience as an appliance that runs on just the right kind of electricity. I try to study their reaction and make adjustments throughout the set. I always use my spirit to communicate that energy, but sometimes it’s necessary to physically show it in order to truly connect to the audience. Lastly, exercising regularly as well as warming up and stretching before the set is pretty huge for me.
G- 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?
MC- In addition to Shai Hulud, there’s the Suicide Dolls, Young Pandas, Franklin Brothers and The Hempsteadys.
The Hempsteadys, who I’ve already mentioned, that band is comprised almost entirely of friends from the punk scene in New London, CT where I live. It started out as a fun side project to explore our love of classic 60s reggae and rocksteady, and we just kept adding members. Haha now we have 11, and it’s basically a dance party on wheels.
I’d describe Franklin Brothers as somewhere between Steely Dan and the Blues Brothers—a large band in that type of 70s tradition. It’s fronted by brothers Carl and Jay Franklin, whom I first knew as those musician guys at my Unitarian Universalist (read: hippy) church when I was growing up. We put out a full length album called Lifeboat To Nowhere in 2011, and are working on new tunes for its follow-up. I also played on Carl’s solo album, Been Awhile, which will be out sometime this year most likely.
G- How does international performance compare with your performances stateside, both in terms of how you play and the audience reaction?
MC- Live music just seems to be a more intuitively cultural thing abroad. Everything is a bit more relaxed overseas, and people seem to feel more free to let loose. There is a lot more money available for live music in Europe and elsewhere, and so the touring situations tend to be nicer, too. On the other hand, the touring lifestyle in the US can be a bit more punishing because US audiences tend to come in with more of the “I’ve seen it all” attitude. But the potential is enormous if you can conquer that for them. US audiences can create careers in a heartbeat. There’s less tour money floating around here than elsewhere, so the US is generally more intimate, but as a musician requires more intensity of purpose. So, for me at least, I tend to give more attitude back in my playing, and I’d bet there’s a noticeable difference. These factors definitely change our song selection, too.
G- Are there any bands or artists that you hope to share a bill with in the future?
MC- You know what’s awesome? Going through my wish list, I realized I’ve played with a lot of them already. Haha, awesome.
For me personally, some of the bands I’d kill to play alongside someday would be Deftones, Fugazi, Antibalas, Debo Band, John Scofield, Blue Meanies, Stevie Wonder, The Skatalites, Descendents, The Dillinger Escape Plan, The Roots, D’Angelo, Tool, Tomahawk, Budos Band, Aesop Rock, Dafnis Prieto, Cee Lo, Battles, Busta Rhymes, Lake Street Dive, Stepkids, Jimmy Cliff, Glassjaw, The Slackers (again, I don’t count the first time), Rebirth Brass Band, Dr. John, Robert Glasper, Erykah Badu… and Hulud is about to tour Europe with Propagandhi so that one will soon be fulfilled.
G- What is the craziest or most memorable show that you have played to date? Where was it and what was it like?
MC- Hmmm choosing one is near impossible for me. I have a few, but one stands out far above the rest:
*Mitch Dubey Benefit Show, Toad’s Place, New Haven, CT, 4/4/2011 -> The Flaming Tsunamis, Call It Arson, My Heart To Joy, Brunt Of It, Slingshot Dakota
This was possibly the single most intense day of my music career. Less than a month earlier, our great friend and unofficial band mate, Mitch Dubey, was murdered in his home during a botched home invasion in front of our singer, Andy, and other friends. Mitch was a major part of the punk and bike communities in CT and California. The story quickly made headlines around the state. And so, what was supposed to be a secret basement show to christen the release of our new album was rebooked as a benefit for Mitch’s family at a (maybe) 300 capacity venue. We got some of Mitch’s absolute favorite bands to play, including one that was no longer a band. Within a few days we had to move it to Toad’s Place in New Haven, an 800 capacity venue, because of the response. Toad’s didn’t charge us, and because Mitch was straight edge, they even agreed to close the bars in the venue! There were distro, merch, food, and crafts booths lining the walls of Toad’s Place, all donating 100% of their sales to the Dubey Family (who were still struggling to recover after Mitch’s Dad was paralyzed in a skiing accident over a year earlier). Not only was the show amazing, totally crazy, and unbelievably cathartic for everyone, but we sold out Toad’s Place, cramming 1000 people inside and leaving more stuck outside. In the end, we were able to give $23,000 to Mitch’s family. So totally incredible.
*Shai Hulud @ Groezrock Festival 2011, Meerhout, Belgium
Straight-up, totally sick festival appearance. Stage dives, dawg.
*Shai Hulud/Under Anchor at the Metal Frat House at University Of Michigan
Think cool hardcore/metal kids that run a building at U of M, not so much boozing, Pantera-head pledges. Kids chilling everywhere. The show was a packed out basement, small community room. Incredible energy.
*The Flaming Tsunamis/Sonic Boom Six/Public Access, American Legion, Wallingford CT date?
80 cap room with 150 people in it. Barney Boom crowd-surfed passed me, having the time of his life. It was the middle of winter yet surely the hottest show I’ve ever played. And we had new light boxes set up right behind me. I barely even remember playing.
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?
MC- I know it looks like being in a band that’s kinda famous looks like it just kinda happens to people. That is the fantasy scenario, and it does happen once in a very blue moon. The truth is, a career in music is a fucking haul. You gotta work hard like any other job, even harder in many cases. If you love it and want it, you can have it. But think of it like towing a car by yourself. The hardest part is getting that momentum, and even when you got it you still gotta work to keep it. And whatever you do, don’t get hung up on the hard parts—learn what you need to from them and move on ASAP. The weirdest thing right now is that there are almost no pure, music-only musicians working anymore. You gotta have your head in the whole game now. That means promoting yourself and your band, watching trends, looking for openings, pouncing on shit when it’s there, all while still being professional. Practice at everything: playing, writing, performing, listening (when playing and when not playing), recording, taking direction, promoting, editing, critiquing, etc. And with all that having been said, there’s this one last thing: career-wise, there’s no need to go full-power, all the way, all the time. Firm, assertive, and consistent, forward motion is what creates careers in music. Charging at it like a rhino trying to break down a wall is how people crash, burn, and fall out of the game.
Do you wear hearing protection when you perform? Why or why not? Do you think it is important for your fans to protect their ears?
MC- For a long time, I barely ever did. I do now, but still not as much as I should. I’m fairly certain I will have hearing problems. Yes, it is crucially important. There’s nothing like being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of sound a live show, and I can’t deny that it’s often not quite the same when you do wear ear plugs. But wearing them has definitely made me more sensitive to details at a show, helps me keep my sanity throughout the night, and actually makes hearing in my everyday life easier.
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