A few months ago I was randomly talking about drum breaks on twitter and had a quick dialog with a mutual follower. In the midst of talking about the Skullsnaps I realized who I was having the conversation with – Matt McGinley, co-founder and drummer of Gym Class Heroes.
Shocked that a member of such a high profile group was humble enough to talk drum loops with a little known producer from Jersey, I decided to push my luck and ask for a quick interview. To my surprise, he agreed and was happy to do it! Turns out, Matt just released a new project via The Drum Broker so it coincided perfectly.
I don’t know crap about actual drumming (other than playing Rock Band a few years back lol) so I asked a bunch of questions that he probably wasn’t used to hearing. Enjoy!
1. For the most part, all the drums used in hip-hop at one time came from other genres (rock, funk, disco, etc). Do you think there is such thing as a “hip-hop drummer“?
Interesting point. I would say that the feel and spirit of conventional hip-hop drum programming, sampling, etc. is pretty evident in some players – Quest Love, Chris Dave… though I’m not sure if they label themselves as such.
2. When you first started out, what artists/songs inspired you / did you model yourself after?
Initially, it was the music that I had access to around the house. Both of my parents were transplants from the American South, having moved to New York a year before I was born. I seem to remember them having a lot of early southern rock – Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, etc. But they also had a shit ton of Motown – Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, Otis Redding, Temptations, Sam Cooke, etc.
In my first week of high school I met Travis McCoy. We pretty immediately began trading music with each other. Jeru the Damaja, KRS-One, Wu Tang, Rage Against the Machine, Deftones, Das EFX, Souls of Mischief, Devin tha Dude, Black Star, Company Flow (and on and on…). A lot of these albums have been massively influential on my drumming (and my musical perspective in general).
3. When you were laying down tracks with Gym Class Heroes, were you replaying breaks? Replaying what someone laid out on a drum machine? Or were you creating everything from scratch?
The process varies. Initially, we were very into this idea of organic – mainly because we were limited to the few instruments that we had access to. So we were taking the feel and approach of hip-hop music and voicing it through what we had to work with – drums, bass, guitar, a microphone, and a busted ass PA system. This has not been the case in recent years. My drum sounds are a blend of organic + programmed elements and breaks. Sometimes those things are added at mix to enhance the feel of what’s happening in the song – and other times they may originate from a demo or skeleton version of the song. Again, it varies.
4. Do you have a record collection or are you more a digital guy? If you have a record collection, what are some of your gems?
I prefer the clarity and accuracy of vinyl – though that’s not exclusively how I listen to music. My collection is small by most standards, but I always have one or two records that I’m searching for. For awhile I was looking for an original pressing of The Rolling Stones ‘Sticky Fingers’ album – the one that Andy Warhol designed with an actual zipper on the jacket cover. I eventually did find it – for like $18.
5. What are your top 3 favorite “drum breaks” and why?
• Skull Snaps – “It’s a New Day” – Such an immediately recognizable groove and the mix on those drums is beautiful.
• Paul Simon – “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” – Technical, tasteful – all feel.
• Led Zeppelin – “When the Levee Breaks” – Bonham hits the drums so hard, yet he had tremendous feel for the groove. Anytime you can find an isolated drum break of his to sample from, DO IT – just don’t try to clear that motherf*cker. $$$
6. What made you want to put out a drum break comp?
For years I had been recording drum breaks in between other studio sessions. The theory is that once you’ve got a drum kit mic’d up and dialed in you never want to let it go to waste. So I had all of these breaks which I would just pass around within my circle of friends and producers. Musicians, and especially producers, tend to be pretty secretive about their sample libraries. It’s understandable. But I love the collaborative element of music – and was really inspired by what The Drum Broker was doing. Giving well known producers the option to open up their vaults and share their personal stash of drum samples and sounds with other producers, songwriters, etc. It’s kinda like getting access to Mario Batali’s spice rack or something.
7. What should producers expect from Coffee Breaks?
The goal with Coffee Breaks was to create a collection of drum breaks in the spirit of classic funk and hip-hop records – but offer producers more flexibility and options. Each break has corresponding drum fills – chopped and ready to drop. I also wanted to incorporate one-shot drum samples. We isolated each component of my drum kit (kick, snare, hi-hat, rimshot, etc.) and recorded them at multiple velocities & articulations – making it super easy to augment, enhance, or straight up re-write any of my breaks. I wanted each break to have it’s own feel – it’s own place – so each break was mixed independently. So what you have is 23 loops that sound as if they’ve been pulled off 23 different recordings! To capture that ambience, we used a pair of overhead’s and a room mic to record these drum sounds. Each break was then re-amped into a tile bathroom to add subtle, organic reverb. And finally mixed onto reel-to-reel tape by Timmy Rickard (Bap to the Future, Tape to Dub Plate, Dirty Arse Drum Breaks).
8. How do you feel about the frequent use of the Roland 808 drum kit in popular hip hop?
Is it being used more than usual?
9. Gym Class Heroes has always been one of those genre bending groups that at any given time has been called hip-hop, alternative, or pop. Did you embrace that or did it cause issues?
Although I think our music is rooted in hip-hop – I would say that we’ve always embraced the idea that we’re categorically ambiguous. Initially, record labels were pretty scared of that – I suspect that since they didn’t have an existing blueprint to follow they were apprehensive to take the risk. Ultimately, we found a great team of creative people that were willing to be a part of something different.
10. You will soon be working as Ryn Weaver‘s full time drummer. Will you be sneaking any funky breaks in her tracks?
We’ll see. I love what she’s doing musically – and it’s nearly impossible to approach the drumming from any conventional place. In some songs the drum production is more densely layered than others – so it’s about obsessing over those layers, determining what voices get the priority, and then making it happen.
I want to thank Matt again for taking the time to answer these questions. Anyone who wants to hit him up, check out his twitter @Mattydookis. Also, make sure to check out that Coffee Breaks comp!