I recently had the opportunity to sit down with drumming icon, Morgan Rose, the rhythm behind Sevendust. Morgan shares insights from his experience in hopes of helping drummers achieve their dreams.
OLD: For drummers that want to do what you do, what advice could you give them?
Morgan: It’s a really weird time in the music business. We count our blessings everyday. We’re not the biggest band in the world, but we were lucky enough to come out at a time where people were still buying records and record labels could do something to promote you, and when they were a little more relevant than they are now.
I’m kind of from the school of never giving up.
Aside from that, the only advice I give anyone playing in a band and putting a band together… The first thing people usually want to do is get the best player in town. Build the best band. Nobody thinks about the fact that this guy’s an asshole, but he’s a great guitar player. Then you get a record deal, and this guy’s still an asshole. And then the band gets bigger, and the asshole gets bigger.
That’s really the only thing I advice people on. If you’re putting a band together, make sure you really like everybody in the band. If there’s internal fighting and egos involved before you ever really accomplish anything, it’s going to end bad.
As for Sevendust, we have our differences from time to time, but we’re like brothers. We pick on each other all the time. All the same things that brothers do. It’s always the same old stuff… luggage in the front lounge is pissing me off. He always does this… that drill.
When we were starting out and there weren’t any real decisions to be made other than “Where we playing next?” it was simple. We have a major brotherhood over here, and that helped during the harder decisions as the band grew.
That’s the key. It builds chemistry in a band. People aren’t looking at each other like they’re in competition for popularity. They’re pushing me to be as crazy as I can be. We want the best for each other. That’s what you need. Even if you’ve accomplish what we have or other bands have, you enjoy the trip making it there. If the guy next to you is a jerk; he’s ruining it.
OLD: Looking back, were there any mistakes or things that you could advice other drummers to lookout for along the way?
Morgan: Times are a lot different now. They know the weak and vulnerable. Ninety-nine percent of the time we are the weak and vulnerable, coming in – naive to the 10th degree. You walk into a room, and they say, “How about we’re going to give you a 3/4 rate on your publishing, and we’re going to distribute the record ourselves, and we’re going to do all these things,” and you look at it and you’re like, “Whatever, I don’t care. I’m going on the road. My dream is being fulfilled.”
Then you realize there’s a lot of sacrifice when you get out here, and a lot of hard work, and you realize all your money is going to someone else, and it’s not going to you. You’ve got to be careful about giving away.
I’m definitely not breaking any new ground here by saying this, but try to hold onto your publishing rights. Try to hold onto your merch (merchandise sales) … 360 deals are really rough. Try to avoid them. They’re not going to be giving anybody new any deal that’s going to keep you set or able to retire. A 360deal is where they take a cut of everything: merch, shows, publishing… that tends to get really bad. You’ve got to pay a manager. You’ve got to pay an accountant. You’ve got to pay a booking agent. Now you’re paying the label as well.
OLD: Are there advantages to having a label behind you?
Morgan: We’ve had every facet of it. We now own our own label, as well. We have a partnership with Warner, and that’s been heaven for us. We get paid on records now.
We sold over 4 million records with our first record company, and I never made $1. They seemed to find ways to say we owe it here and there and everywhere — things like record budgets, video budgets, any type of money they spent on promotion, marketing, the record recording itself. It just stacks and keeps stacking. We were also distributed by them, so it was really hard to police the amount they were really selling. How do you police when they’re the ones distributing it.
Owning your own label is a great thing. We kind of have an upper-hand in that because we put so much legwork in touring that we can pull off something like that. We don’t have a giant machine behind us, but we don’t really need it.
I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t want a major label to be on and working it for us, but I just don’t trust anybody to work it anymore. In the past, we paid a lot of money for people that really didn’t do anything.
OLD: Now on the actual performance, what’s your warm-up routine like before you go on stage?
Morgan: The funny thing is I have a routine and very little of it involves actually playing. Very little of it is stretching either. I do play on a pad. I play to a song I’ve been listening to or playing for awhile. I’ll put my ears in and my Ipod in. I just revert back and forth between 5 stroke, flamadiddle and single strokes.
To be honest, it’s really more superstition now. I can tell whether I’m feeling ok by how easy it is to play the tempo. I can kind of feel how I ‘m going to be doing. It’s nothing strenuous or challenging — just to mentally prepare. I listen to another song… put my guy-liner on… put another song on… pray… listen to some Dillinger Escape Plan.
OLD: A lot of groups today are using a click-track in their ears. How do you feel about this?
Morgan: It kind of sucks, but I don’t really hear it anymore. I saw Foo Fighters last night and really wish I didn’t have to play to a click. They were really having a good time just jammin’ and ad-libbing. That’s what we made our career out of — just jammin’ and being able to do whatever we wanted up there.
When we decided to go with the click, it was really because we thought it would be cool to have the lights off, and nobody would know when it’s coming. We can hear the click in our ears, but the audience doesn’t know when it’s coming.
We do run some tracks for keys and there’s actually a few songs where we run an extra guitar part to thicken it up, I mean not Milli Vanilli, we played it, but it makes it sound massive.
OLD: Is it difficult to keep the enthusiasm on stage after playing a song so many times from city to city?
Morgan: There’s a thing that happens with me live. I’m in a different place totally when I’m playing live. I dont’ want to say that I’m a different person, but I’m a different person.
It’s weird too, when we would do videos they would tell me all the time, “Be the guy, man.” But, there’s no body around here. The drums are dead as hell. The cymbals are all doubled and don’t crash. I’d be screaming at somebody if my kit were like this, and then I feel like I’m acting, and I don’t like to act.
Be sure to check out Morgan’s Alien Freak Wear Line: http://www.alienfreakwear.com