Rich Samis – The Men

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Resurrecting another relic from 2014, here is the second to last interview I did at Pickathon that year. It is obviously one of my first interviews, and it was a bit boozy. Apologies in advance. My words, as usual, are in bold text. 

(Rich, starting off the interview):…I got a good drummer joke for you.

(Out of the Pocket/Aaron Sharpsteen): Sure yeah, we’ll start out with a drummer joke. Here we go.

What do you call someone who hangs out with a bunch of musicians?

A drummer. Nice… So how long have you been playing?

I’ve been playing since I was, I’d say like 12 years old. Maybe at like age 10 or 11 I started hitting like a bucket to the radio, and my uncle John actually had a drum set still set up in my grandma’s house and I’d go over there and use his drum set –  he was nice enough to let me use his drum set. That was sort of a big reason that I was able to play drums – every time I’d go any hang out with my grandma I’d play. My grandma was really cool, that she would let me seriously smack the shit out of these drums for like 2 or 3 hours.

And she wasn’t like “Hey, don’t do that?”

She was so cool. She was like “Hey, that sounds great!” Ya know? For years. For years. So I owe that..

Do you think she was lying to you or do you think they sounded great? Really?

Ok, so in the beginning I would just try to play along to the radio. And I would just do the same thing over and over again, and record it on a tape recorder and play it back. It’s really cool to get into playing an instrument that young. . . You’re priding yourself on that already. And when I was like 15 or 16 years old I started playing with my friends . . . and again I didn’t have my own drum set …. I also owe it to my parents and my neighbors for being tolerant. I mean, I grew up in the suburbs, and you could definitely hear it.

Do you play any other instruments or just drums?

Just drums. When I was really way younger I tried to play guitar, and keyboard, but I didn’t stick with it. I guess I took keyboard lessons when I was 6. I would never practice and I would just mash a bunch of keys. I thought I did great, but my dad told me that I was just mashing keys.

Why drums though? What happened when you were twelve that drew you to them?  Was it just the opportunity to play them, or was there something about drums that called you to them?

I honestly don’t know. I think it was just… I don’t know. That’s a good question. I’m not really sure. Maybe I subconsciously was because my uncle had them set up in his room.

Do you remember the first time you ever saw or heard a sick drummer?

I mean, I remember the.. this is kind of.. this is definitely embarrassing.. The first time I was actually paying drums a lot, I was just hitting it along to an Aerosmith song on the radio.

Do you know which one?

I forget.

It was kind of like a double thing, because my uncle had the drum kit and I would play that, and also in my elementary school you could play in the school band and I chose the drums there, because it was the coolest instrument. Better than the trumpet or the clarinet.

It is cooler than the trumpet and the clarinet. I mean if you’re going to be in band anyway, you might as well try for the coolest instrument, right?

So what I did was, I would play snare drum and I would read the music, and I would put it all together on my own, and instead of just playing a bass drum or playing a snare drum, I would play them together, and it was a lot of figuring it out by myself. Everything I learned about drums I think I figured out by myself.

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Now we’re going to get into some really nerdy stuff. So, favorite drummer, alive or dead?

I don’t know. I’ve thought of that but I’m not really sure. Honestly the biggest inspiration I take when I do play drums is through watching my friends or my friends’ bands, cause then it’s right in your face and you can interact with this person. I’ll take something from the way a friend plays. I used to never keep time on the high hat – I mean I do that now because of that. I never used to do that.

During your set there were multiple songs where there were eighths on the high-hat, just mechanized.

I do it now all the time, and I can’t play properly without doing it. I never did that before, but Mark used to play drums in this band, and he would always keep time on the high-hat. And I watched a couple of my other friends doing that. So I thought maybe I’ll just try that.

Where would you keep time before?

Just in my head.

What?

Yeah, yeah. You’re in on the ride, and just in my head. I’m sure my time might have been a bit off.

How about your favorite drummer at Pickathon? If the entire world is too big to pick one…

Ok well, X played, and DJ Bonebreak is a good drummer. I was actually… They did this documentary about music in 1983, and it’s really really cool part, and he is figuring out this drum beat and the genesis of his idea is on a percolator. “There is a percolator going in the kitchen, and it was going at this weird time and I was hitting this thing in the kitchen,” and then he goes through the drumbeat, and it’s this super-off-time weird beat. It was so cool.

That sounds intense.

Yeah. I don’t know. I like talking with people that play drums, because not that many people do it and you can always take something from it, and in some ways it’s the hardest instrument to play – it’s the biggest setup to move, and it’s the most physical. So I think my personality is suited to being a drummer, being in the background.

You think so? I was talking with Ural Thomas and the Pain – they’re a soul band – and the drummer there is the band leader. . .With more of a straight rock band like you guys are, the drummer is more in the background, but a lot of the experience I have with drummers, with the personalities of the band, they’re one the strongest personalities in the band.

Well, if you have a shitty drummer you could tell. I mean, if you have a band and you have a shitty drummer, then it ruins the whole thing.

That’s the thing. There are no bands somebody could see at a festival like this with a shitty drummer. You can’t make it. A drummer is the baseline for the band. If you have a shitty drummer, you’re not going to… Unless that’s your shtick… But even then… Because it’s impossible to watch, or move to.

But also, another thing I find interesting, or another thing I’d say I like, is when people start to take up drums, usually later, not in their teens, but if they start to form a band and are really interested, they form their own weird way of playing drums. Like an improper way – sometimes that makes for a really interesting band too.

Well, I actually have a friend who played guitar with me when I was in a band like ten years ago and then he . . . started playing drums recently, and yeah because nobody taught him the proper technique… you see these people and their elbows are flying up and their shoulders, and it’s like, “You’re going to kill yourself.”

Yeah, it’s true. I have a friend who likes Keith Moon’s style, who came up with his own, demented way of playing drums. It’s really fucking weird the way this dude plays.

You know I’m not a Keith Moon fan. Give me John Bonham any day. Give me one of those jazz guys.

Another thing that’s about Bonham is that he’s so laid back, and he’s got that groove. Then there’s others who come off like an ADD dude playing drums.

The synthesis of both of those is probably Mitch Mitchell. Actually, someone gave a shout out to him yesterday – Mitch Mitchell – the dude from Jimmy Hendrix.

That dude’s sick. He’s really sick.

So more nerdy questions. You said you moved from ride to high-hat. Would you say that if you could only play one for a whole song, ride or high-hat?

I’d play high-hat. With ride, if you play that too long, you get so….

I’ve talked to four or five drummers and everybody’s said high-hat. I’m waiting for that one person to just be like ‘ride’. I’m just going to ride it the whole time.

It’s chill. You can still get some volume on the ride. On the high-hat, it just seems, it’s right there in front of your face.

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What’s the biggest crash that you will play? Do you have a limit on your crashes?

I’m into bigger crashes, so I think a 22 inch. The ride I have now is… No, that’s wrong, I have a 20 inch crash. Another interesting thing is that I used to do two crashes, and then in one tour one of my crashes just broke, and so I thought I’d just stay with one crash and the ride, and it sort of happened for the better because it was almost too complicated with two.

Are you going to crash the ride for the other crash?

If you listen to “Open Your Heart” on that record I played there are two crashes, but if I could simplify it, the simpler the better. And I’ve had a really sick ride – a Zildjian like 24 inches – a really big boy.

With the big bell too, or without the bell?

With the regular sized bell, but a really huge 70’s Zildjian. And it sucks though because they were all used I bought them at a decent used price, but unfortunately I didn’t take care of them, and I cracked three of them. Which sucks. But not because of raw power, but because of bad storage (cracks in the middle)– and you’re like ‘I’m an idiot’. And I was talking to a friend and I was like ‘My fucking cymbals came out cracked’ and he was like ‘Yeah, that’s definitely because you’re storing them like an asshole.’

Yeah, you’re not putting them in a case with a lock in the middle so they aren’t weight-bearing. Yeah, you have to learn that the hard way though.

You do, and the hard way for me was breaking so many cymbals. But I had this happen where, and I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but I’m have the most shit-luck. But if I travel with cymbals and I store them under the cabin in a plane, the pressure fucks them up and will eventually warp them or crack them.

Really?

I think, but I don’t know. No one else seems to have that…

I’ve never flown with cymbals, so I have never experienced that.

Yeah, it’s like weird, crazy pressure, so now at the default I’ll just use what’s on the backline.

Do you have a brand preference, or a size or style preference?

I like Zildjians.

K’s or A’s, or any series, or was it before they even did that?

I think it was probably before they even did that.

So regular Zildjians from the 60’s.

Yeah, 60’s or 70’s. In my experience in the 80’s, after Reagan, everything just got like..

Fucked up?

Just got mass produced. So if they are still around now, that’s what I’d prefer.

Do you have a favorite drum fill, or drum song that you listen to that song or hear a fill, that moves you?

The first song, I forget what it’s called, but there’s a song from Grand Funk Railroad. There’s like a mid-break in the first song that I’ve liked to listen to recently and it’d be cool to rip that off. It’s like this weird off-time thing that’s not too radical, but it’s just this little jump. And I also like rolling music because I like triplets.

That’s the closing question, actually – favorite rudiments.

Triplets, but I don’t use them that much. I’m a very heavy-handed right-handed drummer. I haven’t still developed the left-hand.

There was a time when if I got bored when I was in a band where I’d think ‘I bet I could lead with my left hand on this…

It’s cool because…

And filling is weird with your right hand lead, because you can keep the time with your left, but you can add in these weird little…

Yeah, the favorite fills I’ve seen – it tends to be playing open.

So, triplets, favorite rudiment. Yeah, I agree.

A friend I was talking with, he was so serious about playing drums, and he started a meet-up group once a week, and they talk about technique, and I’m just thinking about my technique and my posture when I pay and where my snare drum sits, and he’s trying to hit everything up as hard as possible and still keep things nice and graceful, and him and all these other people going at it, and he went through music school, and the way he approaches it, I’ve never thought that way.

 Do you ever do double pedal?

When I was younger I did double-pedal.

I tried it with the high-hat on the inside of the double-bass pedal. It was weird. Drums are awesome, because with guitar technique sometimes its not as physical, right? But with drum technique it’s ‘How are you sitting?’ ‘How are your arms moving?’ ‘What are the angles?’

There’s a very physical aspect to it.

‘Are you hitting at an angle or are you hitting down?’ ‘When you’re crashing the cymbal, is it like a psshhhh or are you coming across?’

There was a time – I used to never stretch before I played. But I was losing sensation in my arm, so I started stretching.

What’s a good stretch for that? That’s a good closure – what’s a good stretch?

There’s that, there’s this, and one other stretch – going like that. (Ed. note: For some reason I thought this would translate onto the page. It does not.)

Ever the legs?

Leg’s all the time. Back. Everything. There’s this crazy stretch that our old guitarist Ben showed me, and I’ve never been able to get back to it, but you hold the drum, flip it upside-down and you put your arms like this and you almost… it hurts a lot. I wish I could remember.

Alright, we’ll end with that. Thanks for talking with me. 

 

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