Rob Graves – Exclusive OnlineDrummer.com InterviewNate Brown
OLD: What equipment do you like to see drummers bring to a session (extra snares, cymbals, etc.)?
ROB: Typically, I rent a lot of gear when I do a session, but it’s great when a drummer has nice gear and knows it inside and out. Mostly it’s about snare options. I like a variety. Sometimes you don’t know what the right call is going to be until you’re actually in there. You might think you need a huge, deep snare, but really something smaller and crisper is what ends up working. We can do so much with mic choice and placement that bringing five snares that are almost identical isn’t nearly as useful as bringing a wide range that gives us options.
OLD: Sound check. What should drummers play during sound check? What’s annoying to a producer in regards to this?
ROB: Definitely just play whichever drum we’re getting sounds for. Some drummers find it impossible to just hit a snare for five minutes without adding a kick here and there. It just makes the process take longer. When we move to full kit it’s important to hit like you’re going for a take – play the same way in sound check that you’ll be playing when we track.
OLD: How open minded/flexible should a drummer be in regards to allowing the producer to determine a drum sound? In other words, should it be a cooperative effort or should the drummer stay out of the way?
ROB: I like a drummer to give input, and typically I hire players that are right for the track I’m recording. So what I’m looking for is “their thing” more so than feeling like I have to micromanage a kick pattern.
That being said, often times I do jump in and get really specific. It’s important for drummers to be able to work with a producer when he wants to really nail down a part. The reasoning is that we have a big picture view of where the song is going – other elements we’ll be adding later, etc., and sometimes what we’re asking a drummer might not seem to make much sense, but hopefully the producer has a larger vision of where it’s heading.
OLD: Do you suggest drummers play to a click while recording?
ROB: It’s very rare that I don’t use a click. We recently cut some Maylene and the Sons of Disaster songs wild (no click), but that hardly ever happens these days. It’s important that drummers can lock to a click without feeling too stiff, and that just comes with practice.
OLD: What kind of a demeanor works best in a session (i.e. positive attitude, flexible, etc)?
Definitely a positive attitude and a work-horse mentality. Often we have really long days, and it’s important for the players to stay positive throughout the day and really care about what they’re playing.
OLD: What are some pet peeves associated with drummers in a session?
ROB: Any lapses in attitude can be troublesome, because it really affects the whole day and what we get for takes.
Also, when a drummer stops giving input and just turns into a machine, and is satisfied with whatever I am, it can get annoying. I like a drummer to push himself. Conversely, a drummer that can never be satisfied with anything and over analyzes everything he’s playing – this can be equally annoying.
OLD: If you could only give one piece of advice to drummers about to record, what would that piece of advice be?
ROB: Assuming all the skills are there, just stay positive. So much of what makes a session good or bad comes down to the work ethic and attitude of the players, in particular the drummer.
OLD: Any good drum recording stories?
ROB: Well this is a more general session story but it directly relates to the drummer, and I think drummers will appreciate it.
It was about 10 years ago when I was just breaking into the industry as a session player and songwriter. A well-known artist was recording one of my songs and the producer wanted me on the session (I’m a guitarist) because he loved my playing on the demo. I knew there were going to be all A-list session players there so I was really nervous. It was going to be Jerry McPherson, Jackie Street and Shawn Pelton on drums and me on acoustic. I’d met most of them before, except for Shawn. I was really nervous about playing with Shawn, such an accomplished drummer (at this time he was the house drummer for Saturday Night Live).
So before the session I went to Barnes and Noble to just walk around, drink some coffee and relax. After about an hour, I’d talked myself down, felt really great and confident about the session. Then, on my way out, I passed the magazine section, and there on the cover of a music magazine, I think Modern Drummer, was Shawn Pelton. I literally deflated. So that pretty much undid any confidence I’d built up to that point. Off to the session. It actually went great. He’s a cool guy and fun to work with.