25th May 2016 Matt Cowley

FROM THE STUDIO TO THE STAGE …

Hello!  I am currently on the road with Big Boy Bloater and the LiMiTs, touring our new album, Luxury Hobo.  Following on from my last blog when I was on tour with CASH and choosing cymbals based on a vintage sound, I thought would write a little about my experiences recording with my Istanbul Mehmet cymbals and also how I have had to adapt some of the recorded sounds for live situations.

STUDIO SECRETS

It’s no big secret that all musicians have a variety of different instruments for use in the studio than those we usually see used on stage.  It’s also no secret that certain producers have favourite drums/amps/guitars etc that they like to use on their sessions.  I recall at least one session where I arrived at the studio to find a vintage kit, fully tuned/pre-muffled and complete with particular bass drum beater selected and cymbals that had been muted with gaffa tape for a particular sound, all mic’d up and ready to go – the producer clearly had very strong ideas on what sounds he wanted on the recording!  This isn’t always the case of course and out choice of instruments can be just as important as how we play them when getting booked for a session …

EXPERIMENTATION

Like many of you, I have done all kinds of sessions – demos, albums, library music etc.  Sometimes you know that will never play the songs again (as with a library music session), sometimes you know you’ll be touring the songs you are recording at a later date.  Whatever the case, the music rules and as such selecting the right instruments for recording is imperative!

I have my favourite cymbals that are my ‘go to’ set and experience tells me that they record beautifully, have clear bell sounds and are well balanced with a nice pitch difference between each size when crashed or used as rides; my old faithful 22″ Nostalgia 50’s, 20″ Nostalgia 70’s and 15″ Nostalgia Hats usually do the job for me.  Add to that an 18″ Nostalgia and I have most bases covered – for my own tastes at least!  Although I adore the sound of this set and find them to be incredibly versatile, I have to professionally admit that they are not ideal for every song on every session – some producers and indeed many songs themselves have different ideas – as the old studio saying goes … “The Song Rules”!!

When I was working with Elliot Ireland and Geoff Smith on the Dawn Songs album, the brief was for a big wide-open feel, but not necessarily traditional cymbal sounds – ‘cinematic’, ‘big’, ‘washy’, trashy’, ‘metallic’, edgy’ and ‘layered’ were some of the words used to describe what was required.  We set the drums up in a huge warehouse space that had natural ‘verb for miles – the sound was HUGE!  I knew I wouldn’t be replicating these sounds on stage so to get the right sounds I experimented with my cymbals a lot of this session and in the process I got to overlay all kinds of cool stuff.  The basic cymbal set up was a 22″ El Negro Light Ride, which has 8 rivets, with 20″ 70’s Nostalgia and 22″ 50’s Nostalgia and 15″ hats with all cymbals interchangeable as rides and crashes.  On some tracks I used a pair of 18″ crashes as hats for a full dark trashy sound and I also overlaid various stacks – my favourite of the session being a 20″ Turk China with 18″ Nostalgia on top which sounded great!  One take even had a stack of 3 cymbals on top of a 22″ El Negro Flat Ride which was beaten with a soft mallet.  This sounded incredible on the ambient mic’s – nothing like cymbals at all with all that natural room reverb, but an amazingly subtle texture when brought into the mix!  All of this experimentation made for the big cinematic sounds Geoff and Elliot were after – thankfully, nothing that I would have to replicate on stage!

Knowing I would be touring the songs, I used a much more traditional approach when recording Luxury Hobo.  I used my ‘go to’ set as the basis for the whole album but with some odd changes as dictated by the songs – in addition to my regular set I brought a 20″ Turk China, my riveted El Negro Ride and Flat ride amongst other old cymbals to the studio.

I used the China cymbal most notably on the title track ‘Luxury Hobo Blues’ and also on the Tom Waits-esque ‘I Got The Feeling Someone’s Watching Me’.  As its’ use is subtle on the album, I have decided to stick with the basic Nostalgia set when playing these songs live.  Over the years, I have found that some songs seem to work better on stage with a more traditional kit & cymbal approach despite what was used on the recording; that some of the studio subtlety does not always translate well to a live situation.  That said, I’m using various percussion sounds from the album on the gigs – tambourines, a pandeiro, a BFSD head on some songs, making changes in-between songs during set.  To be brutally honest, not bringing an additional China or effects cymbals for one or two songs in the set has also helped me not to over complicate my set up on stage!

Given the volume we play live, I decided not to bring my El Negro Light Ride on the road for fear of damage due to mis-treatment every night!  That’s the cymbal you hear on ‘I Love You But Can’t Stand Your Friends’ though, and to replicate the trashy crashes of that song in the set, I stack an 18″ Nostalgia on top of my 22″ 50’s ride.  That combination sounds great on stage and records wonderfully too – it’s also the ride and crash sound you hear on ‘It Came Out Of The Swamp’!

On all the tracks are my 15″ Nostalgia Hi Hats – possibly my most favourite cymbals of all time!  I get to tip my hat, (but come nowhere close) to Earl Palmer and Bonzo on the opening track ‘Devils Not Angels’ and the pitch & weight of those cymbals is perfect for the song.  Exactly the same with the Al Jackson/Howard Grimes inspired stomp of ‘All Things Considered’.  Those hats sound great both in the studio and on stage, they are very musical and warm with the ability to really cut through when needed.  There are minimal percussion overdubs on the album and most of the percussion you hear was part of the kit – the cowbell, pandeiro etc, and I usually lay an old wooden tambourine on top of my hi hat for some added jingle!  You can hear that one on ‘The Devils Tail’ and ‘Luxury Hobo Blues’ – it’s something I’ve used on stage for quite some time now.

Translating some recorded sounds to a live situation can prove more difficult.  As drummers, we can’t always know how our recorded parts will come out on a finished mix unless we are producing.  A recent case in point is the beautiful finished mix of Robert Ray’s ‘Love Curse’ single.  The post production process has taken the sounds of my original recorded drum take somewhere else altogether and there’s no way I can replicate the sounds on the record on an acoustic kit – in this case, we’ve been approaching the song in a much more organic & traditional way on stage recently, making sure we play with the subtlety of the record!

MAKE THEM SOUND MORE PURPLE!

Well, that’s just a little insight into how I’m using my Mehmet’s in the studio and translating some of the sounds onto the stage.  Of course, there have been sessions where the producer asks for my cymbals to sound ‘more purple’ or ‘like Ringo’ or ‘like a tropical thunder storm’ … yup, all real producer requests!!  (Still not sure how we made the ‘purple’ request work!!).  All I can say to that is to make sure you have a great set of versatile cymbals you know you can rely on and a choice selection of different sounds you can pull out of the bag when needed!

So if you haven’t already done so, get experimenting next time you’re on a session and see what sounds will work when you take the songs to the stage!

For anyone interested, ‘Dawn Songs’ by Geoff Smith and Elliot Ireland, ‘Love Curse’ by Robert Ray and ‘Luxury Hobo’ by Big Boy Bloater and the Limits are all available from the usual places online – iTunes, Amazon etc!

Catch you next time :)

Matt

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About the Author

Matt Cowley Growing up in Teesside, I was raised on a healthy if somewhat diverse diet of Blues, Jazz, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Frank Zappa and Chuck Berry via my Dad's record collection ... That said, it was seeing the marching drummers from a visitng Scottish Pipe band to my hometown of Billingham when I was 3 or 4 years old that got me started on the lifelong obsession with all things drums! A couple of years later, my destiny was to be confirmed when I heard Ginger Baker on a beat up cassette copy of The Best of Cream ... My Dad took to me to the local music shop and I left with a pair of warped sticks, a tambourine and a practice pad ... the rest as they say, is history! It's been an ever changing, always interesting but always ecelctic journey since, taking me all over the world and giving me the opportuniy to play with some of the finest musicians around; from The Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra to Rhythm & Blues Originators Jimmy Thomas & Lazy Lester, from 1950's Doo-Wop stars The Teenagers to Rock Guitar Royalty Bernie Marsden, from the easy listening pop of Tony Christie to the hard hitting chicago blues of Angela Brown ... I wouldn't have it any other way! I am currently playing with BIG BOY BLOATER AND THE LiMiTs, CASH and ROBERT RAY

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