Dylan Hughes – Bass Player, Singer, Songwriter, Composer, Arranger, Producer, Engineer, Educator and Video Host. Dylan Shares his technical expertise, inspiration and passion for his art.
Dylan Hughes Music
Dylan Hughes Music Courses
A Love Supreme
Bryan at Mackncheeze
What are you willing to give up to chase your dreams? If we want it badly, we have got to sacrifice.
Obsession, it’s what we do regardless what is happening. First thing in the morning pounding it out. Last thing at night, getting the final two cents in.
Woody Allen: “80 percent of the game is showing up.”
Warren Buffett: “Really Successful People Say No To Almost Everything”
I have read that I should think like my prey; it’s an old concept. Not that I’m trying to sell anybody anything, or eat anyone, except that there might be a possibility we could help one another.
That’s what my podcasts are all about. As well as my You Tube Channel.
Life is a big process of negotiation, ask any parent. I’m not a parent, but I know lots of parents.
Toxic relationships will not facilitate progress, inspiration or direction.
Health is an underlying factor, if I am not well, how am I going to able to move forward.
A band I was in, years ago, was a dedicated bunch. Three rehearsals a week, staging, PA, light show and a big semi-trailer to haul it. It was all about the show.
We would do gigs in 24 hour stints. Load in at 5:30 am, hit the road for two to four hours, load out, play the gig, load the truck, drive home, unload by 6 am the next morning. That’s commitment, a shared devotion to a cause, each person involved having reason for being there, from the musicians to the road crew.
I’m not afraid to work and collaborate, as long as my vision crosses path with someone else’s, consider me in.
Endorsed by Genzler Amplification, MTD Basses, GHS Strings, Tsunami Cables, Access Bags and Cases, Bartolini Electronics, Sonic Nuance Electronics
Mackncheeze: How do you describe your musical approach?
Sean: My biggest influence aside from a Rock sensibility is Funk. Growing up around Seattle and being a stringed instrumentalist in the early to mid 90s, I was definitely heavily influenced by the Grunge movement. Those sounds really stuck with me in terms of the tones I really like and the way I like to approach things. As I grew up and got into other kinds of music my stylistic sensibilities changed.
I’m really interested in the instrument itself. I can’t lie, I have an agenda, I want the bass guitar pushed further. I’m into music, but there is that old thing about doing what the song calls for and stuff like that. There is a real fine line there between truth and placation and bullshit.
I don’t want to do what everybody has done before. I have this big thing about people looking in the rear view mirror; it’s an analogy or thought in my mind. There are all these standard-bearers. I think there are so many people that are doing that, those standards are safe; we don’t need another standard-bearer.
I want to be more of an explorer. That’s a big thing for me. I like exploring sonic pallets. There is a guy named Squarepusher who is a huge influence on me, kind of an idol. If you have never heard of him, he is a world class drummer, a world class bassist, a one man shot electronic producer. He is absolutely incredible.
Mackncheeze: Tell me about your band…
Sean: My band, Combinator, started as a power trio with two really good friends. Both have found their present day lives to be incredibly different. The drummer, to this day, is one of my closest friends. So many of the bands that I have been in have been with him.
Since both of those guys have departed from the project I have looked at reforming it with other musicians. Over time I have just ended up doing everything myself. In places where I need to, I hire people to do it. I’m composing, producing, engineering, performing and mastering.
I’ll play you a song called Juggernaut where I contracted out two really good players, Josh Kossak on drums and Morgan Wick on guitar.
Morgan and I have played in the tribute band circuit for years and we play with Miller Campbell. That’s where I met Morgan; he’s like this crazy, incredible Prog Metal shred guy, with a full on music education and I know him from a country band.
In my life, through my experience as a sideman, I have been really lucky to play with some of the best. For a number of years we have all done the same gigs together so we have become friends; we are willing to work on each others stuff.
The reason for me to bring someone in instead of doing it myself is that they are an expert at something that I am not. I recognize when it’s time to let somebody do something the way they are apt to do it, but I still direct the goal.
I fell out of touch with the more progressive and aggressive music that I was into when I was younger. I’m having a really fun time exploring that and getting back to my roots.
Mackncheeze: How do you integrate the digital and acoustic/analog realm with one another?
Sean: It is a great challenge. There are so many ways to attack that question. There are no rules. In general I find electronic sounds, sonically and texturally, have more of an extreme bookend quality. They go lower and they go higher. I will use sub bass stuff, and deep hits, that sound overtly electronic. I’m not trying to pass them off as acoustic.
There are a lot of times when I want electronic percussion and a drum kit won’t work. There are other times when I want a drum kit sound. I really like mixing them together and exploring what they both do best. Mixing those two elements is something that really appeals to me. I really like to utilize and explore the benefit of both of those textures on top of each other.
I’m really into mixing organic and non-organic things.
Mackncheeze: When you are integrating this stuff into your music, are you using automation or are you drag and dropping the components?
Sean: I drag and drop it in to be present, at first, then I always use some sort of automation, in terms of volume envelopes and filters. I’m not a big midi person, but it makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways because it is so exacting. I’m not very adept at using tools that work natively with midi. I’m also not a great keyboardist, I tend to build keyboard parts, implementing two and three notes at a time.
Drums are horrible for me. If I try to program stuff in, I would rather have a drummer do that because I don’t think like a drummer. I’m not very good with sticks but I have thought about getting an SPD SX, having a midi output for that. I tend to use audio clips of things that started life as midi. There is a clip inventory in Ableton; I have a bunch of expansion packs that are licensed to be used. I try not to use things that are off the shelf; I like a lot of the sounds that sound definitely non-real.
Mackncheeze: How do you find that unique Loop that you are not afraid of someone else utilizing?
Sean: That’s a good question. I guess I always have a little bit of fear that someone will.
The way in which music production is occurring now is different than it used to be; I have to remind myself that it is not a negative thing. Hip Hop culture has really instilled new values in fans of music, it’s actually kind of fun now to use things that are recognizable. It’s a call back, a quotation to some extent; it’s like playing the Amen Break, like playing The Lick.
A little minor scale 1 2 3 4 2 7 1
Mackncheeze: I’ve been hearing that lick since I was in college band.
Sean: It’s analogous to the Wilhelm Scream. There was a western out of the 50s called The Charge At Feather River. That’s where the scream came from, it’s been used in hundreds of films. It’s named after a person called Wilhelm who was shot with an arrow and fell off his horse. The guy’s scream was so ridiculous people liked it. George Lucas is somebody who specifically used The Wilhelm Scream in many of his movies. A lot of times when Storm Troopers get killed he would used that scream. It’s like a running joke.
I’m mainly concerned with two different elements, sort of landscapes, of mixing when there are similar frequencies. I’m looking at separation of octaves, as I mentioned, I like to use a lot of really deep electronic stuff and a lot of really high electronic stuff. I want it to sit under the drums and above other instruments. The other thing I’m aware of is stereo image. You can get away with mixing a lot of stuff if you pan it correctly.
Mackncheeze: You have an example?
Sean: Recently I was confronted with that. I performed at the last NAMM Show, using my computer, and a lot of tracks; a lot of electronic and a lot of acoustic elements.
I was kind of naive; I wasn’t aware when you do live performance almost everybody mixes it to mono. I had to figure out how to get all the stuff I had separated to work well when it’s all stacked vertically.
I discovered that about three days before the performance; I had to remix like a mad dash. In order to get a proper sounding mix in a mono environment I had to filter the individual instruments and loops by cutting off where something starts and where something ends. Psychoacoustics plays into this, a field I am interested in but don’t know enough about.
Mackncheeze: Could you explain the concept to me?
Sean: Psychoacoustics has to do with the brain’s perception of sound. The analogy is – when you are talking to someone on the phone you know whether they have a bass voice or a shrill voice even though the phone speaker only reproduces sounds down to 600 Hertz. A person hears the specific key outline of a voice of someone who has a very low centered voice. If it’s very low it has harmonics that happen at predictable places. You can hear the sound and can tell that this person has a really deep voice, even if you hear it through a tin can speaker. You know he does because of the timbre; your brain fills in the empty places.
When you’re talking on the phone your brain doesn’t fill in the sound as if you’re talking to somebody on a sub woofer, but in a musical mix it can work that way. As a bass player that is really important because what we have to do all the time is to cut off all the frequencies we really like for the drummers.
The way that I typically produce, the lowest frequencies in my mix belong to the kick; bass guitar has to be out of the way. I will end up high passing the bass up to a hundred hertz. I’m a five and six string bassist and we are really proud of the fact that our instruments can go down to 30 Hertz. That stuff doesn’t translate as well. If you cut it out and listen by soloing it, sometimes it doesn’t sound great. In context, it becomes all of what mixing is. The mind fills that in, especially if you have a particularly resonant bass drum, with a long decay on the track. The bass drum is a pitched instrument even though it normally is not thought of that way. It is pitch and it will fill in a lot of sonic information in the range you cut out from the bass guitar.
Mackncheeze: I understand what you’re talking about. I hadn’t connected the dots.
Sean: Every instrument has its zone where it speaks the loudest. You don’t have to cut the other zones out but you do have to make way for everything to set together.
I’m lucky that the stuff that I do does not happen to be so harmonically dense that I really have to worry. I use a lot of percussion so it is not as hard.
Mackncheeze: Who are you in the deepest sense? Who are you and what is the major question of your life?
Sean: There are a lot of different facets, a lot of different ways someone can describe themselves. Deep down I am somebody that wants to be involved with creating something new. I’m somebody who isn’t satisfied with status quo or with living a life that doesn’t result in anything tangible or appreciable. I suppose I’m afraid of being gone without a trace, someone who is afraid of mortality; we all have to face that.
Cassia and I have a daughter that is 9 months old, we call her Nugget and her nickname is DJ Nugs. Through her I feel a little bit safer in that part of me will live on. Before her, even now, I have this drive to produce something of note; I want to leave something noteworthy.
Aside from that I got a lot of stuff to say. I have a lot of strong opinions.
I have this strong rebellious streak; it always directed me to go against what my peer group thinks.
The rebelliousness I have is a major driving force, simultaneously part of the conscious question, and also subconsciously, a facet of my personality. It’s something in me. It’s kind of like a Punk attitude. I was never super into Punk but I had a punk phase and I love punk rock. It makes me who I am.
There is a process in myself that makes me fight against the dominant paradigm that surrounds me. Musically that comes out in a number of ways. Through the eclectic approach I like to take, I play Flamenco Rasgueados on bass and I really like a mixture of electronic and acoustic elements. I want to move the ball down the field from what is acceptable and what is being done.
I always want to prod people. It’s what I like to do musically.
Mackncheeze: Thanks, Sean. Wow, that was some incredible stuff.
Endorsed by Genzler Amplification, MTD Basses, GHS Strings, Tsunami Cables, Access Bags and Cases, Bartolini Electronics, Sonic Nuance Electronics
Sean: As a bassist, I’ve been playing for 25 years.
I fell in love with the instrument. I quit middle school band. There wasn’t a spot in the school band for an electric bass player. The band director was upset with me because he was a saxophone player. I had been performing in early morning classical quartets with him, and he was grooming me to follow his footsteps.
At that time I became a really, really rebellious teenager. I basically said fuck you to everything, dropped out of band and found my own way.
My high school musical experience was completely different and was totally wonderful. The band director was a very forward thinking technological guy. His name was Duane Duxbury. He ended up developing a curriculum using digital technology. This was at Jackson High School in Mill Creek.
At the time it was incredible, totally valuable and I didn’t realize it. I started building first hand experience with multi track digital recording. We were recording on High 8 tapes. It was a digital format that looked like little cassette tapes used for VHS recording. The unit was a Tascam DA 88 which could record 8 tracks; we also had a DAT Master recorder. The school got a number of the very first CDR drives. I remember being so excited to use it and buying my first blank CD for like 20 bucks in 1997 dollars. It would take 30 minutes to burn 40 minutes of content.
I got involved with Jazz choir. That was another very serendipitous thing. The Jazz choir director was an opera singer. She was a live stage person but really had no background in jazz. She was unrestrained and was a free spirit. Her name was Janet Hitt.
At one point I decided I wanted to make my living as a session musician. After high school I directed my studies to ready for that course of action. I planned to move to LA. I studied under Steve Kim; he got me ready for the move.
Mackncheeze: How was that move to LA?
Sean: ( Laughs ) That’s a whole another long story. In the end it didn’t work. It was the early days of the internet and I had done apartment shopping online. I found a place but had never seen a picture of what I was getting into.
I freaked out when I saw the place I was supposed to live. It did not have a kitchen. It was one of the few freak-outs I’ve ever had in my life. I decided LA kind of sucked. I was there for 2 weeks.
I came back and finished school, graduated from the University of Washington with a BA in linguistics and a Minor in music.
The whole experience did not stop me from playing professionally. I’m a hired side man and a recording artist. Now my focus is doing my own solo stuff.
I have worked hard and I’m starting to get notoriety for the work that I’m doing. My focus now is in composition and recordings.
I had a recent revelation. My time is normally playing with a bunch of different bands. It’s not music that I have a personal stake in. I’m a hired player. It pays a lot of the bills. The realization is that I’m ready to make a pivot away from that. I convinced myself for so long that was the way to legitimately make money.
Perhaps I’m still in the process of rediscovering that teenage excitement. For me it’s about having ownership, not playing other people’s parts, not just being a hired player.
What I’ve learned is that when I’m playing I always speak with my own voice. My favorite players are the ones who come up with their own statements and their own voice.
In a total sense, I really like a lot of chime and attack. I love players like Geddy Lee and Chris Squire and Les Claypool and Flea. I love guys who play with picks; I love present, harmonically rich sound.
I have always been a band leader, a singer and a front person. As a bass player that is not a commonality. It’s the way that I express myself in music.
Mackncheze: Who are you touring and working with.
Sean: I have a company by the name of Fairchild Sound. It does a number of things, it is my umbrella company for working as a contract player to create videos for a brand. I’m a consultant. I use it for any sort of business endeavor. It’s really not a lot of what I do. Most of what I do these days is teach and record.
Recently I have been working with Miller Campbell. She is a second cousin of Glen Campbell. I do a lot of regional shows with a Billy Joel and an Elton John tribute band. I play on remote recordings which is the majority of my session work.
I worked for Behringer for a short time. This was 7 years ago. When I was working for them at NAMM, we were doing a series where I was interviewing artists all day long. I got to interview Don Randi who is the keyboardist for The Wrecking Crew. He owns The Baked Potato jazz club in Studio City, California. Still playing. Wonderful guy, great guy. Lots of really great stories. For some stupid reason he seemed to to like me.
In my time with Behringer I was also on the team that did product reviews for salespeople. We were doing feature walk throughs, like what Sweetwater does. We were doing this on the equivalent of what, eight years ago, would now be Zoom technology. The stuff was available to the public most of the time and we would put it out on YouTube.
Mackncheeze: How did you get the gig with Bass Gear magazine.
As a bass specialist I had been writing reviews because I am incredibly nerdy. I was always into technical aspects of music and gear. I had been writing reviews on Talkbass.com for a long time. I believe the editor saw what I was doing with one of the bass products at NAMM. I received an email from him and he asked, “If you ever want to do that stuff for us we would love to have you involved.” I was hugely impressed. I was like, “Oh my God this is great.”
It’s a great publication; they care a lot about bass gear. It’s all very technical. It’s the former Bass Player Magazine. They were recently bought out by the UK’s Bass Guitar Magazine.
It used to be in print. By the time I got my first piece published it was the last print edition. I’m excited that I got to see that but also bummed that the print format is gone. At one time the distribution on that was 300,000. That’s globally.
Things definitely changed when we went online only. One of the things we struggled with is creating a format that makes it feel like a periodical publication. We publish a couple of issues a year. It’s a big collection of reviews, interviews, editorial pieces and stuff like that. It’s graphically laid out to look like an issue of a magazine, which is very cool.
Endorsed by Genzler Amplification, MTD Basses, GHS Strings, Tsunami Cables, Access Bags and Cases, Bartolini Electronics, Sonic Nuance Electronics
Mackncheeze: Tell me about yourself.
Sean: My parents were in the Foreign Service. I was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. There is an economic and racial disparity there. The good thing about Malaysia is that it is culturally pluralist. It has a high number of Indian Hindus, a high number of ethnic Malays, a lot of which are Muslim, and a proportion of Chinese people. The Chinese people are the minority but they are the wealthy people; they own everything. They are by and large Buddhist with some Christians.
It’s a really interesting place. As far as that part of the world is concerned all these different cultures are able to get along remarkably well. It could serve as a template for a lot of places.
After that we lived in Guangzhou, which is in southern China. I had a Chinese nanny who was part of the intelligence service of the Communist Party. My parents were aware that I had a spy nanny. The apartment was bugged. My parents tell interesting stories of me telling them stories of her taking me to the home office because she still had to do the job of a nanny. My parents learned that all the other nannies called her the Major. Apparently she was a ranking official in the intelligence service.
After China, my sister was born in Colorado. She is 3 and 1/2 years younger than me. We did not live in Colorado for long. We then moved to France.
We moved back to the U.S. and I had absolutely no common ground or frame of reference with people my age. I felt completely alienated. It really led to a pretty easy transition into this disenfranchised rock and roll, early 90s Grunge thing that was going on. It was a long time living in the States before I started to feel like I had enough stuff behind me to have common ground.
When I got into Middle School I remember there being a preliminary sort of hype for the upcoming music program. It was a way to get kids thinking about what it is they wanted to play.
I really wanted to play saxophone. When I was living in Paris I had this poster of a neon saxophone in my room. I never wanted to be a bass player or guitarist or anything like that. They wanted me to play clarinet first because that’s what they tell kids who want to play saxophone. I said nope, it’s sax or nothing.
They gave me a saxophone. For a long time I thought I was going to be a successful Jazz player. I figured, “That’s how my life is going to go from this point on.”
My parents split up; my dad kept his job and his next posting was in Tokyo. My sister and I would spend six weeks at a time with him. She had befriended this Australian cover band and they were doing pretty well. Their bass player, Kerry Dunne, had an extra bass that somebody had found in a dumpster. He had decent instruments and he had no use for it. One day he asked, “Would you like this bass?” I asked, “What’s a bass?” I have a picture of the moment he gave it to me. It’s the coolest thing ever.
This was a monumental thing that happened in my life.
I went home after that trip to Japan, which was in July, and by December I remember thinking that this is going to be the course of my life. I was 13.
Mackncheeze: What did you experience as you were traveling around the world?
I have studied five languages: English, Portuguese, Indonesian and Malay, for the most part the same language, French and German.
I went to International Schools, stuff like that.
It was a cool way to grow up.
I remember being very bitter about it by the time we left France. I remember coming to the States and being happy to forget French, happy to forget the previous life. Most of my friends were kids of military families. Being a kid in a Foreign Service family is not that common.
I missed out a lot. I did not have a common cultural base with people that were my age. I remember when I moved back here everybody knew this dog by the name of Spuds Mackenzie. I was like, “What the hell is that.” I never learned how to play baseball. I didn’t learn sports.
I still don’t realize how unusual it is until someone gets me talking about it. I know that it’s different when I hear the words come out of my mouth. I value it a lot.
Most of the time it was very uncomfortable and I was not happy about it. That’s probably why after I started playing music I used to spend seven hours a day playing. I was going to school and I was too young to work so all I did outside of that was play music.
After 25 years I recently reconnected with Kerry Dunne. Because of social media I was able to find him. I hadn’t had any contact with him since the last time I was in Japan. We have become really good friends.
Mackncheeze: What inspired you to become an audio engineer?
Steve: I love listening to music, that’s what got it started. When I was going to Central I didn’t have a lot of money, I always had to work, going home on weekends to teach lessons. I also had bands; to have a band you need a P.A. I had worked at Hanford, I saved my money, and so I bought a P.A.
My mom would freak out because I was always bringing home some piece of new gear……
Mackncheeze: Oh, it started early?
Steve: Very early. My mom would tell me that I could not afford another piece of gear. My response was, “It’s worth it. It’s going to help me.” She didn’t believe it. She wanted me to have a job with a health insurer.
It got to the point where I bought a bigger Yamaha Mixing Console and put it right in the middle of the family room. “Here Mom, look what I got.”
We also needed transport so I bought a van.
Mackncheeze: This is sounding familiar.
Steve: We needed a place to rehearse so I would get the house with a basement. We would have to have a demo.
Mackncheeze: How many band houses were you in?
Steve: 4 or 5, 6 or 10, I don’t know.
I bought a stereo tape deck, we would set up in the rehearsal space and then I would try to record. I had two mics, trying constantly to get the demos to sound like an album; constantly experimenting with placement. Then I bought a four track and the possibilities blew my mind. I just got hooked.
I graduated to an 8 track cassette recorder, a Tascam 688. That thing was killer; ended up recording a demo of Kristy’s and my band, Billy Moon. My former student, Bill Rieflin, drummer for R.E.M., heard a copy of that session and he thought it sounded really good. I ended up using that demo for a Disc Makers unsigned band contest. Out of 508 bands in five states we scored the highest, made it to the finals.
I love recording, love learning from it.
Mackncheeze: When did you buy your first outboard processor?
Steve: That was in 1996.
Mackncheeze: That’s 20 years of recording before you bought a compressor.
Steve: With the recording contract we had after the Disc Makers contest, I picked up 2 ADATs, and two Empirical Labs Distressors, we recorded tracks off my 16 channel Studio Master Console. The record label brought in Don Gilmore to mix the single at Stepping Stone studios, on an SSL 4000 G Plus. He spent ten and a half hours remixing our single. On play back I asked him a lot of questions, then we put up the original track and everyone was blown out. Don thought there was no reason to remix the tune.
We took that original track and remixed it in our studio, using my recently acquired knowledge from Don, two days later presenting it to our A and R person. I said to him, ” If I had a few choice pieces of gear I would be really good at this.” He told me to make a list and they would tack it on to the producers advance. That financed a lot of the really good gear I own. The mics, pre-amps and what not, including a Crane Song STC8. A lot of that gear is now on loan to Robert Lang Studios.
I am so blessed. I have put together another studio here at the Drum School. I get to record my wife, Kristy, who is an amazing singer/song writer, my band The 350’s, which are unreal, Danny Godinez and the stuff we have worked up with him. So blessed to be able to work with this caliber of people.
Mackncheeze: With all that background, how did you come up with your Physics Analogies applied to your teaching methods?
Steve: It’s more of an intuitive understanding that I represent through music and rhythm. Frequencies and vibrations; everything is vibrating. There are no real particles; there are only particles when they are observed. Everything comes from waves and waves are basically constant frequencies.
In terms of music, you make rhythms that intersect with each other and create patterns. Like a 3/4 measure against a 4/4 measure. What is interpreted as a particle isn’t actually a particle until it is measured. You can measure 2 against 3, or 3 against 4, and those patterns become drum parts. They both come from the intersection of points. The concept is metaphoric, its poetry.
I read stuff about quantum physics, which I will reread 30 times. I’ll sit down to practice and I consider how form and matter relate to music. It can be argued that the same mathematical ratios that constitute music are the same ratios that constitute form and matter. It’s how things fit together.
There are certain things people say about music, if you think about it literally, people would say it is odd. “That drummer is solid.” Yeah, right. If you touch that person you can’t penetrate their skin. “The arrangement is solid.” What does that mean? To me that means the way the song is structured, the length of the verse and the chorus, the amplitude of each part and how it relates to the other parts, and the bridge, how all this fits together mathematically is how this all comes together as a pattern, or patterns, that all have order, with a magical musical contour that makes them work.
It’s like reading a great book; how much tension is there, when, how much conflict is there, and at what part of the story.
Two notes that are an octave apart; for every vibration of the bottom of the octave, the top is vibrating twice. That’s a two to one ratio, that’s the most harmonic interval in music. In matter, what is the most abundant compound on the planet? Water: H2O, two hydrogen atoms to one oxygen atom. What’s the most abundant compound gas on the planet? Carbon Dioxide: CO2, one part carbon to two parts oxygen. In molecules, the most common have the lowest ratios.
In music, the next most harmonic ratio is the perfect fifth. That’s a 2 against 3 ratio. The next is a perfect fourth, that’s a 4 against 3 ratio. In music, there are two kinds of meter: compound meter, which are groups of threes, and simple meter based on twos and fours and eights. Odd time signatures are combinations of both. These are defined by vibrating objects. Rhythm, drum set, everything I play, I can reduce down to these patterns.
The wave form that started the whole concept for my upcoming book, Keys To The City, I play 5 against 4 against 3 against 2 simultaneously, and it creates a chord. At 59 plus BPM, the chord is an A minor 7 , 2nd inversion, 8 octaves below middle C. When you slow down chords they become rhythms. These references are to mathematical frequencies. Rhythm turns into pitch.
My system of teaching drums is to show people how to understand time as hearing rhythm in tune. The most common thing people do when trying to get their time together is to tense up and rush. Basically what they are doing is playing sharp.
As well, I introduce the concept of singing these rhythms with their voice.
I have people play and sing in a continuum, as in a wave form. Similar to tuning a guitar with out a tuner. The strings are in tune when the wobbliness goes away; the strings are vibrating in sympathy with one another because they are in tune. With drums; playing rhythms that are in sympathy with one another. I teach people how to understand, from every point of view, what it is they are doing, all based on repetition.
Steve: I’m Steve Smith. My lot in life is that 34 years ago I started the Seattle Drum School. Most people know me by that achievement and I have had a lot of help building it, including my wife, Kristy, and this amazing staff. I play the drums, I also teach drums.
Mackncheeze: What was your education?
Steve: I earned a Bachelor of Music degree and a Master of Music degree. I have studied with the best people possible. Just had a lesson with Will Kennedy of the Yellow Jackets. Soon to be having a lesson with Peter Erskine from Weather Report.
Mackncheeze: What is your impetus for the Drum School?
Steve: I started formally teaching drums at 14. It seems to be an instinct and a passion. I like to see people grow and be excited about learning.
Mackncheeze: When did you get your first drum set?
Steve: My first drum set was my brother’s, of which he grew tired. It was a 1939 Gretsch kit, a 26 inch bass drum, with calf skin heads, cigarette burns and alcohol stains. I wish I still had that kit.
I was twelve and my brother was a couple of years younger. At seven I was actually playing Hawaiian lap steel guitar. I wanted to play regular guitar but my fingers weren’t big enough. After 2 years I graduated to Spanish Guitar, which was a Lyle Electric. I played that for a couple of years.
I joined the Tri Cities Drum and Bugle Corps in 1970. I fell in love with that. They put me on tenor drum, the ninth tenor drummer out of nine. I think they wanted to get rid of me because I was so bad. The drum was super heavy and I couldn’t play.
I taught myself how to read drum music, asking the snare drummers to teach the first lines of drum cadences. I would just analyze it. I’m good at math so I was able to deduce what meant what.
I didn’t really start to play drum kit till I was 18. I had some technique because I had drum corp training but I couldn’t swing. I learned how to play everything through pure determination, commitment and drive, not understanding proper technique or metronomic time.
Mackncheeze: The Hanford story is great; could you share that?
Steve: I’ve always been intrigued by science, my senior year in high school I got involved with one class. Only eight people could get in to it. You had to work to qualify. Go to school in the morning, study science and math, government and international relations, do studies and research projects, design experiments and run them.
Mackncheeze: You were 17?
Steve: We took one other class beside the curriculum; I took grammar, composition and revue. I’m grateful for the instructor because she taught me how to write.
In the afternoon we would go out and work at Hanford’s Nuclear Research Facility. I would hang out with really smart people in Nuclear Engineering. We did fast reactor dosimetry, materials testing and analysis for parts being used in experimental breeder reactors. One of the people I worked with had taught at Purdue, I could talk to him, he actually sounded like a human, he helped explain things to me.
They hired me full time during summer. That might have continued but a cover band hired me because I was the only drummer they could find. They were very ambitious and went on a hotel tour playing lounges 6 nights a week, paying me 200 to 250 bucks a week plus room and a meal a day. That was more fun than working at Hanford.
Mackncheeze: That was a great gig back then. Today, those gigs barely exist.
Steve: My Mom and my teachers were extremely disappointed in me, fearing I was going to change into an alcoholic lounge lizard. I managed to save $700 a month for one year with the intention of going to college.
I started at Columbia Basin College, trying to play in the jazz band, but better drummers were there that actually swung, so they were nice to me and let me sing in the jazz choir. That was a blessing because I actually learned ear training and how to sing. It’s funny how circumstances can change; where you feel you are being tortured and you end up being grateful.
The next year I went to Central Washington University. It has a very strong music program. I was a music major and took math and science courses to fulfill my requirements. I remember taking a college algebra advanced course and getting 100% on all my tests. The instructor told me to not bother with the final exam because even if I had a zero score, I would still pass with an A plus. I like math, being able to figure something out to the absolute, exact, definitive answer.