MICHAEL SCHACK: SD&P SHOW INTERVIEW
Michael Schack is a busy man. Drummer, music producer and Drums’nDJ artist from Belgium, he tours the world with Netsky, SquarElectric and as an international V-Drums artist/demonstrator, both solo and with V-Topia. He’s a consulting V-Drums artist for Roland Corporation, and also provides technical feedback and creates preset content for Roland drums and percussion products. Plus, he’s an online drum lesson affiliate instructor on www.drumeo.com … and he’s coming to Australia to perform at the Sydney Drum & Percussion Show May 27 & 28 at Rosehill Gardens Grand Pavilion as well dates in some other cities. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips chats to the vibrant Belgium beat maker.
Michael, let’s begin by going way back. Did you have drummer heroes when you were learning drums?
Absolutely. When I was really young my parents took me to a Billy Cobham clinic. It was the end of the 70s and I was really young and it was my first drum clinic experience, so Billy Cobham has always been my hero. Another one who I really liked is Stewart Copeland of the Police but I never really got into the cliche drummer’s drummer like Neal Peart or something. I had no knowledge about Rush for instance. When I was young I mainly played along to records by George Clinton and Funkadelic. I remember one album I totally played along to lots of times and that was Herbie Hancock VSOP Live, a double album. It was two discs and the send one was the more funky kind of stuff and the first one was more bebop with Tony Williams on drums. From a very young age I was totally into bass and P Funk and a bit of The Police, The Bothers Johnson, mid 80s funk kind of things.
Has there been a single piece of advice about drums that someone has offered which has stayed with you?
I actually didn’t go to any conservatory or anything like that. I just went to music school when I was in high school. I didn’t fit in with the more traditional drum tuition which was given there. When I was young I had a private drum teacher that I went to about every 3 weeks. He was maybe a little bit of a rebel himself and he made me play along to more challenging drum stuff. His advice was, listen to this, listen to this, listen to this and that’s how I got into Tower of Power or Led Zeppelin or The Shadows. His advice was, whatever you do, try to make as many mistakes as you can! At that time there was no Facebook or YouTube or whatever. For young drummers now there is so much information available. I mainly depended on my parents music choices and him giving me tips, the rudiments, you know paradiddles etc.
You’re not only known as one of world’s greatest exponents of electronic drums but you’ve had a lot to do with the actual development of the V-Drums with Roland. What are you most proud of in that regard?
Well I am not the only one doing this. Simon Ayton from Australia for example is another who is involved. We’re kind of buddies, who push the Japanese to do better all the time and do some more risky stuff. One of the main things I collaborated on … it started with the TD-20 in 2003 and came out in 2004. But the thing that I am most happy has become a success is the SPD-SX. I was also very much involved in the TD30, regarding the user interface and also the sound content and I am really proud of that too. There was also the TD-9 and TD-25 but the SPD-SX and TD-30 were the main things.
The SPD pad has become a real game changer in music ….
Yes and unfortunately the original producer, developer Mr Masayuki Umeda passed away nearly two years ago. He was so keen about his new SPD-SX, the successor to the SPD-S which already had a very long lifetime. But he did not live long enough to see the success of the SPD-SX and how it exploded even more in the last two years. You cannot turn on the TV without seeing a band with the SPDSX or even DJs or solo performers. It’s everywhere. With a tool like this, many live performers are looking for solutions to enhance their performance but still be in control. Some bands trigger backing vocals. There are metal bands who are a little bit against electronic drums but always have the SPD-SX for those low booms sound that they use. Its not unusual for the SPD-SX not to be used for drums at all. I am convinced with the evolution of music and also the affordability of other sample pads that the SPD-SX is going to grow more.
There’s a lot involved in something like the SPD-SX. A lot of musicians don’t have the time to fully explore the features. What kind of things are musicians missing out on by just scratching the surface of the SPD-SX?
First of all, people tend not to read manuals anymore. It’s very simple. So they totally depend on YouTube or Facebook for problem solving. What we have happening here in Belgium is that there are a couple of sound engineers … who have become SPD-SX experts. They sometimes call me or they assist drummers in fitting the SPD-SX into their performance. I have done some Drumeo lessons on the SPD-SX and they are getting some views but still many think the SPD-SX is a very complicated thing but it is actually not at all. It’s nearly plug and play! But with every SPD-SX there is a CD inside the box and it’s also downloadable and it contains software, it’s the Wave Manager and it allows you to drag and drop samples from your computer or any hard disc onto the SPD-SX but still a lot of people don’t even open that CD. So the potential is still huge. People are very impatient sometimes and when they buy something they want it to work as soon as possible. This is a sampler and they should customise it a little bit but once they get into it they become a fan and a better user. Maybe a lot of the users only use 10 percent of the possibilities that are in there.
I imagine when you’re doing huge EDM show in an arena, getting a great sound through the PA is a lot easier with V-Drums than it would be with an acoustic kit?
Well I actually wouldn’t be able to play a Netsky gig with an acoustic drum set. It is very simple. It’s a very specific genre and sound. In electronic music, one of the things that gets the people dancing is the fact that you tune the kick sounds to the tonality of the songs, which is not possible with an acoustic drum set. You cannot retune every acoustic kick for every song you play. Now with the TD-30 but also the TD-50, sound engineers have all the possibilities of doing a completely separate mix in the front of house PA system from what the drummer is hearing. One of the features of the new TD-50 is that the drummer can have totally separate monitoring and touch faders for their own in ear mixing without changing the sound for the engineer. So without microphones involved, they can have a completely independent mix. Also the fact that you can load samples means that you can take the drum sound from the album production straight to the live stage without any laptops and so on.
With the upcoming Sydney Drum & Percussion Show, I have been listening to drums more in music as I am interviewing more drummers. I was talking to Jim Eno, the drummer of Texan band Spoon the other day. I noticed that the hi hats on their records were more prominent than other bands. He told me that it was nothing to do with the way he plays but they do like to have the hi hats loud in the mix. I was wondering if you are hearing any trends in the way drums appear on records at the moment?
Certainly. Fat kicks and very fat snares and everything is layered. Not all of course, some of the more traditional jazz recordings and acoustic recordings will not use layering because they will want it to breathe and sound more natural. On every commercial recording today, there’s like loops happening, layering of kick and snare. For example, the acoustic kick and acoustic snare will still be there but there are layers on top and beneath it. There’s always some kind of hand clap involved. Cymbals will usually be very natural but will be cued a little bit differently. What is also happening a lot is side chaining. This is something that the EDM world has been using for years and it is becoming more and more common, even in acoustic recordings. It’s where the drummer with his kicks and snares will trigger a compressor, which for instance is linked to the bass sound or some of the keyboard sounds. Every time he plays a kick or a snare, this compressor on the other sounds makes it dip down a little bit. This is why music today is sounding so much louder today than it used to be when we listened to a Stevie Wonder recording or Led Zeppelin recording because now they can have the drums as loud as possible without consuming too much energy from the bass and the keyboards. They all work together. So even when you have a live bass part, played live by a bass player in a studio recording any engineer will try to side chain compress from the kick and the snare from that bass part. Every time the kick is sounding, the bass goes down a little bit but the release from the bass sound is still there and this means instead of having kick and bass on top of each other, which would totally boost everything to the red zone, now they work together. It also gives a bit of a different swing feel. And now that also happens live.
The hi hat thing, I imagine it’s a particular thing for the Spoon guys. But thanks to the fact that also some cymbal companies discovered that 16 inch hi hats can sound very good in a pop song. Now hi hats and vocals for instance can work together a little bit more. I’ve been using 16 inch hi hats in acoustic recordings since ten years ago or something. I started using this when a sound engineer told me, hey let’s use some bigger hi hats because the singer has a really nasal hi frequency kind of sound. I always had problems making the hi hats and vocals blend. We went to bigger hi hats and immediately, the vocals were louder and the hi hats were audible because they could be pushed a little bit more and that’s also what is happening a lot. Thanks to computer technology and the way people can look for frequencies, they can be much more precise than they used to be and those recordings can be really in the face and every instrument can be really loud without killing the other ones. I can Imagine with Spoon that that is one of the things that they discovered as well. Let’s make the hi hats as loud as possible and it doesn’t take anything away from the rest of the music.
The thing I notice about your drumming is how hard you hit them …
It’s just my style. From a very young age, I have always been a hard hitter. I like loud music but I can also relax on soft music. Physically for me I always enjoy playing so much and people ask me why I hit so hard and I can’t explain it. Sometimes when I was doing some studio recordings, I did hear that maybe I shouldn’t play that loud on a particular track … maybe the snare was a little bit too harsh and I needed more tone or whatever but the thing is… I am always dancing internally! When I hear some kind of bass part that really inspires me or a chorus, I immediately go into adrenaline mode and that’s who I am. I cannot explain it. It’s nothing I would tell drummers to do, that you have to play this hard to make your sound better … it’s a very personal thing and there’s no law against it. It’s like vocalists. Some vocalists really dance and move and put everything they have into their vocal performance and some other vocalists are introverted and fragile. It can be the same with drummers.
You play with Netsky Live. There’s a perception with some rock music fans that DJs are basically just pushing buttons but you have really turned that concept on its head with what you do …
Netsky himself is a producer and he is a DJ and he wanted to prove he’s a musician. His music when we play it live .. he still pays DJ sets … and when we play live it is a totally different experience. There’s another band in Belgium which I was involved with called Milk Inc who were successful in Europe in the 90s. Same thing, he’s a DJ but spins live. It’s not like they push play and they have a pre-recording of one hour on their USB stick … which many have actually. They are musicians and songwriters as well and want to make their music a long term thing. In the current electronic music world which is now the mainstream world in the charts … the only way an electronic music producer and a DJ can be a main stage artist is to go live. You reach more people and expose your music to a bigger audience not just the EDM scene and as a music producer, you learn to play live. I really respect a lot of the producers and DJ who want to go live because it is a risk … it is very expensive. There aren’t many DJs who want to go out of their comfort zone and try this but the ones who do are the ones who will stay for a long time.
What can we expect from you at the Sydney Drum and Percussion Show?
I’m going to do my DJ/drummer thing. I have always been a drummer but I have found a way to integrate a little bit of DJism. I am also a fan of this kind of music culture because I grew up with the big explosion of original hip hop artists and so on. I find it inspiring. Thanks to technology I can integrate everything but I am also a drummer who wants to take risks. I am mashing up different genres so there will be some electronic music but I am always mashing it up with break beats, rock atmosphere and sometimes challenging myself with crazy fills. I’m just having fun and proving you can be a really, really positive drummer with lots of energy and musicality on today’s drum sets and the TD-50 is an amazing tool to do this on. There is one main thing I always tell people and I think it is a very important message. With all the online activity and discussions about music genres. I think the main thing to remember and it’s something I learned from touring all over the world and that is that there is no such thing as bad music. Music cannot be hateful. There’s the music you know and like and the other extreme is the music you don’t like but that doesn’t mean that it is bad music or that you have to hate it. Then in the middle of that is all the music you don’t know yet or you don’t have affection with yet. But there is so much hate about music online. It’s great that the Sydney Drum & Percussion Show is happening because it has been a while since there was a drum show in Sydney. I hope many people will show up and enjoy the weekend and see things and say, hey that’s something I want to know more about and hope people don’t say, I hate this performance. I prefer they say no, I don’t like that but it’s OK. That’s what music is all about, it’s not politics.
Sydney Drum & Percussion Show May 27 & 28 Rosehill Gardens Grand Pavilion
Tickets available through Oztix now
Michael Schack website: http://www.michaelschack.com/