Years past at Pickathon have provided me a steady stream of drummer interviews. Here is one of the last ones I did in 2014, with Max Savage, drummer for Parquet Courts. He had just finished a performance and was enjoying some post-show chocolate when we sat down and had a conversation about drums. Enjoy.
First question: How long have you been playing drums?
Ten years. I guess I started when I was 11, and I’m 22 now. Let’s say 10 years
Cool. And do you play any other musical instruments?
I can play guitar and bass. But, it’s like my second language. Drumming is first and foremost.
And, why drums specifically? Do you remember a specific time in your life, when you were 11, that you said ‘yeah, drums, that’s what I’m going to play?’
It was probably a lot earlier than 11. It was all my life. I was always playing with my hands or whatever I could find around the house. Playing along with whatever I heard sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car, and I just sort of always knew… Rhythm was always intrinsic for me. There was just no doubt in my mind. I just knew it was going to be drums. There was no doubt in my mind. First I thought it would be drums and nothing else, and then one day I decided to pick up guitar for fun. But rhythm is just so natural for me and second nature; maybe even first nature.
Were you a desk-tapper in school?
Yeah, definitely. There were definitely kids in class that wouldn’t sit by me because of it, I would say. Sometimes on the first day of school, I’ll sit down, and whoever’s sitting next to me would move somewhere completely different because they probably know… They’ve seen me around and know my antics, my tapping antics, and they know what’s going to happen. They get annoyed.
Did you find picking up your other instruments any easier, since you had an intrinsic sense of rhythm?
Yes. I find that the better I get at drums, then better I get at guitar and vice versa. I’m not much of a solo, show-off lead kind of guy, but rhythm guitar comes pretty naturally.
Well, we’re going to get into some nerdy stuff here, so I hope that’s ok.
Favorite drummer, alive or dead?
I know I say this all the time but it would probably have to be Fab, the drummer for the Strokes. He’s a big influence on me, especially the record Is This It was a big inspiration to me, because he plays incredibly simple but effective beats and that’s my philosophy.
How old were you when that came out?
I was ten. Yeah, I was ten when they blew up and that record was huge for me.
You were 8 years younger than me.
Yeah, I was the perfect age to get into it really.
I was 18, so I remember… That was like my coming out of high-school into college… That was my jam. When I was 10, that was Green Day Dookie…man I can’t imagine being 10 was Is This It came out.
It blew my mind. I got it for Christmas when I was 10, and I probably played it every day. I mean, the beats are so easy to play along with, and I thought, ‘Well, if this is effective rock drumming, then sign me up.’
Absolutely. That’s a beautiful record, especially for the drumming as well. That’s a New York connection. Are you from New York? Is that a thing – that it was another New York drummer?
No. I didn’t even know that much about them when I was 10. All I knew was that I loved their records. I didn’t even get down to the nitty-gritty. So, we’re from New York (the band). I’m originally from Dallas. I grew up in Dallas. It’s really competitive there, as far as music and schools go.
Really? Were you in that culture?
A little bit. I had to be a part of it, sort of, because I was in drumline at my high-school. But, it sort of also bothered me.
The culture bothered you?
The competitive nature. For the same reason I didn’t really mesh with music school kids when I was at NYU because it’s just taking it to an incredibly particular technical level that I don’t really care for.
There’s a lot of wankery I feel like with that. I remember being in band, and it’s the kind of people that – not to talk shit about any bands – but the kind of people who are really impressed by Dream Theater and Yngwie Malmsteen and shit like that, and can they write a song that conveys an emotion? No? Then fuck them.
They’re very technical, and they’re great at what they do, but that’s not my style. As you can see, I play a rack-tom (?) and a ride cymbal and that’s the only (something) thing I have.
That’s actually what I was going to ask, and one thing I’ve been asking every drummer is that if designing a new song and you have to pick either high-hat or ride cymbal. Which one is it going to be?
Every person has picked high-hat.
Why high-hat though? Because you can open it up?
If you go ‘play me a rock beat’ you’re just going to (makes sounds with voice). That’s what I’m going to do.
I think that’s what everyone’s going to do.
But see I talked to a jazz dude yesterday too, and he said the same thing.
A jazz dude said high-hat?
A semi-open dry K high-hat is what he is going with.
I do like K’s.
That’s another follow-up question: What’s the biggest crash you would crash? You don’t even have a crash.
No. I’m all about the 22 inch ride.
With a bell? Medium bell? No bell?
I’ve got this old-school Zildjian thing that I just jacked from my high-school one day. I literally made sure no one was looking and walked out to my parents’ car and I’ve been using it ever since.
Is that a medium? Do you know?
It’s some kind of… Honestly I have no idea… All the logo stuff has rubbed off, but you can see the Zildjian thing engraved in it if you look carefully.
Do you play that on the stage?
That’s what I am playing right now. That’s what I was just playing.
That sounded really good. And you prefer K’s for the hats then?
No. I am very very faithful to the New Beats – Zildjian New beat high-hats. I later found out that they are the most recorded high=hat in rock music history and I can see why. They are amazing. They are part of the A series, by the way, not K. New Beats. I cannot recommend them enough. I know Ringo used them.
Yeah, 14 inch. I won’t rock a 13 inch. What if there’s that little space that you accidentally miss? And I’m one of those who get kind of clumsy sometimes so… I’ll use all the room I need.
When I played, I liked the volume, so I had the ones with the ridges. A-custom 15’s, and those fucking slashed through really a lot of muck, a lot of muck. And no rack-tom? No, you have a rack-tom.
I have a 13 inch rack-tom that I like to use.
Always a 4, never a 5-piece on the set?
Always a 4.
Never the second rack-tom?
I don’t need them, not for this band.
And clear heads.
Clear heads. This is not my drum set by the way. This is just some rental. I use them… I’ll get super nerdy if you want. I use Pinstripes on the tom heads, Powerstroke 3 coated snarehead, Powerstroke 3 clear kick head. That’s the way I like them.
I’m partial to the clear Aquarian Superkick II.
I hear Aquarian’s are awesome. The super kick?
The super-kick 2 but I found this head that they don’t even make any more – Evan’s mesh front head with just one little blanket or pillow right on the bottom.
That sounds just too awesome.
Favorite drum song, or specific drum fill in a song if you want to get super into it.
You mentioned Green Day. “When I Come Around” has some super great fills. It’s one of my favorite songs to play along to on the drums.
I usually close this out with favorite rudiment, and with somebody from drumline, I feel like, everyone is going with paradiddles or triplets.
How can you not say the flam? I mean look at how far… The flam has gotten me places man. I love the flam.
Do you ever do a flam with the ghost note on the snare and the other one on another drum?
Yeah, it really fucks with people when you throw in that ghost note, especially if you’re playing a solo. I don’t use it much for this, but I use flams every day. I was thinking when I was playing today ‘wow, these flams’. It’s something from school that really comes in handy for life – for my life.
Flams. That’s good because I think there has been one other flam, but mostly it’s been paradiddles or double-paradiddles.
Paradiddles are fun. I’ll even throw in some cheese pataflaflas. You want to get that… I mean, I’m from – You know DCI right? That was the culture I came from – that was the culture I was talking about.
I was trained by a jazz dude, and I started on snare and moved to set. Rudiments with both leading hands, and it’s crazy. So brand affiliation…
I’m sponsored by Ahead drumsticks – that’s the only endorsement that I have right now.
I noticed something – metal sticks. Really? Why?
Yeah, I love them. That sounds so corny, but I used them one day and I was like ‘I gotta try these. I always see them in the Guitar Center magazine’ that I have the subscription to – just a morbid curiosity, and I picked them up one day and I never turned back. They’re amazing.
Do you have your own? Because they make artist signature sticks.
I haven’t got there yet. I just got my first box of them back in March. And it flipped me out. I did not think that when my manager emailed them that I’d actually get a response back.
See, they’re metal and they’re not supposed to break. Have you broken any?
There’s a plastic shell on the taper, and that wears away after a while but you can replace that. They send me like 20 pairs a year.
That’s awesome. My association with them – you got the Strokes when you were ten; I got Metallica’s …And Justice for All when I was 10 and Lars also had a pair of metal sticks.
Yeah, Lars Ulrich uses a Head drumstick. He is an awesome guy. Watch him on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He won’t impress you on how smart he is – the dude gets question through question by just figuring it out.
One last question: do you have a favorite drummer at Pickathon?
I’m going to say Aaron [Neveu], the drummer from Woods.