Continuing my game of catch-up, here is another interview from PDX Pop Now! 2015, with Ryan Northrop of Sons of Huns and Holy Grove.
So I’m here with…
And you play in Sons of Huns and Holy Grove.
I do, yes.
First question, how long have you been playing?
I’ve been playing since I was 11 years old, and I’m 33, so quick simple math, that’s 22 years.
22 years. So going back to 11, was there a moment in time or a series of events that led you to deduce that you wanted to be a drummer?
Yeah actually. I was in 6th grade. I had already tinkered around with the drums a little bit, but I wasn’t seriously having any fun at that point. My dad’s a musician, he’s a professional jazz guitarist, and he really wanted me to learn something, the drums, the guitar, anything. One day it just kinda clicked. I got enthusiastic about playing. It just kinda came, I practiced a lot, and it worked out.
So your dad was a jazz guitarist? Did he make you take formal lessons then?
He didn’t, he was pretty cool about it. I was already in school band at the time, learning things from there. Eventually as I reached a certain stage, I took lessons from one of his fellow jazz cats for a time. Most of all I’m self-taught.
So there wasn’t any pressure, you would say?
No, my parents were really cool about it, very encouraging. They let me play until 10 p.m, in our 3-bedroom house. They were great. They were just happy that their kid was doing something creative. My sister drew and I played drums. They were always very supportive.
How long did it take before you started jamming with your dad?
I started jamming with my dad when I was 14. He’d have me gig out with him, you know, playing jazz standards, swing, stuff like that. It was great, it was an awesome learning experience, built up my chops, learned to play in front of people…
…Smuggle yourself into bars…
(Laughing)…get fed drinks, yeah it was awesome. I wouldn’t trade that time for the world. I’d still get paid like everybody else too. He was really generous about that.
That’s awesome. So when you think about your favorite drummer or drummers, is it mostly jazz? Or is it rock based?
I’d say it’s a mix. You know, all those rock drummers like John Bonham and everybody are so influenced by Tony Williams, Art Blakey, all the jazz greats. I love Tony Williams, all the way up to Bonham. I would probably say Dave Weckl and Steve Gadd are big influences of mine.
Yeah, I love those guys.
Did you own any of their books?
Yes, I had a syncopation book that Steve Gadd wrote, I think he wrote it while he was still playing with Paul Simon, but there’s a lot of awesome tom syncopation and rudiment syncopation and things like that.
How good is Steve Gadd?
Steve Gadd is fucking incredible. He’s got the best feel. What I like the best about Steve Gadd is that he’s a fucking asshole.
(Laughing) What are you talking about?
He’s just a badass. He’s mean and nasty and he plays the drums that way, but he’s the king of dynamics. He’s great.
The last person I interviewed was the drummer from Toe [Kashikura Takashi] and he mentioned Steve Gadd as well.
I fucking love Toe.
So you’re in two bands, and I’ve been thinking about this question for a while. A lot of people analogize bands as relationships, so, you’re polyamorous at this point. Is anyone jealous that you are sharing your time?
I haven’t dealt with that at all actually.
In your opinion, is that up to you to coordinate, or up to them? Is one band or the other responsible for saying “We need you here, at this time?” or is it up to you to say “Hey, my other band needs me at such and such a time.” I’m just wondering about the logistics.
Yeah, actually, I do most of the booking for Sons of Huns, we’re in between agents right now, so, I know their calendar. Nothing really gets in the way of each other’s schedules so far. We share the same practice space, both bands. We just make it work. Peter, from Sons of Huns, is in another band, Danava, and Danava gets more in the way of Sons stuff than Holy Grove gets in the way.
Cause they tour more?
Or they have shows at the same time. Pete went to Europe for 2 months and we (Sons of Huns) got offered a good slot at Project Pabst that we couldn’t play, and all this other stuff.
Ok. That would have been amazing.
I know, I was looking forward to it. (Chuckling) It is the second year in a row Pete fucked us.
(Laughing) You know, this is all going on the internet, so if you want to revise your statement, that’s fine.
I’m joking, mostly. Our schedules don’t really clash mostly, and we make it work. Everyone in Holy Grove is super cool, everyone in Sons is super cool, we’re all fans of each other’s bands.
Would you consider playing together? A show where you just stay on stage the whole time?
August 8th, at Hoverfest, Holy Grove plays before Sons, so I’m just going to play for like 2 hours.
How is that going to work?
Fine. It won’t be no thing.
Ok. That sounds awesome. I’m a self indulgent person, so I think that is cool, to just stay up there for a while.
I’m going to be tired as fuck, but, it will be worth it.
You are pretty active in both bands. You do a lot of stuff. Do you consider yourself a pocket drummer for the most part?
I would like to consider myself a pocket drummer. I like to be as consistent as possible. I don’t know how to classify myself, because I try to draw from so many different influences.
So after having talked with a decent amount of drummers, there seems to be a spectrum between being a “feel” drummer, playing totally on feel, no technical acumen whatsoever, and then on the other side pure technicality. On that spectrum, where are you?
I’m right in the middle of that. I taught drums, I used to teach at School of Rock, for about a year. That helped build my technical skills, really honed the basics. That’s helped me stay in the pocket, but I also play with a lot of feel. I try to not play the same fills over and over for every show. Trying to mix it up, I guess. I feel like practicing helps my confidence in that respect.
I have very nerdy questions to ask you.
Leading into it, in any of the bands, are you involved in the music writing process? Do you write songs, or riffs?
I haven’t really written anything for Holy Grove, just because I haven’t been with them that long, and they are pushing the unreleased album right now. I write more in Sons, because I’ve been in that band since 2009, so Peter and I have a good rapport writing together. I write every drum part, but he will bring me ideas or fills that he wants to expand on.
So let’s say that the band comes to you and says “We have this song,” and they really only want one cymbal texture for the whole thing. You can either choose your ride or your hi-hat. Which one would you play?
It depends on the dynamic of the song. If there are quieter parts, I have to take that into consideration, what can provide me quieter sounds, such as the hi-hat. If there are more grooving parts, or if parts start to swell….
Are you trying to hedge this? (Laughing) No, you gotta just pick one.
I choose the ride then, cause you can lay into it and bash the shit out of it. They’ll just have to be cool with it, because I want that.
Ok. This is amazing. The first 10 people I asked this question to, they all said hi-hat, without question.
What kind of bands were they in?
It was a range, from bands like Ural Thomas and the Pain to Warpaint. But the tides are turning. Maybe it’s the year of the ride!
I hope so.
I feel like I would pick the ride too.
Keith Moon never played with a hi hat. He always had rides.
Yeah, take a look at some photos of him.
I actually don’t like Keith Moon.
Not many people do. He never practiced anyways, so…
Do you have any other favorite drummers, alive or dead, that you emulate?
In my early 20’s I was a big fan of Jon Theodore, the drummer for The Mars Volta…
And Trans Am!
But most importantly I love his drumming in the band Golden, which included members of Don Caballero. I highly suggest that band.
Do you like him better than Damon Che [of Don Cab]?
I like his personality better than Damon Che. Damon Che is fucking dickhead. He’s a great drummer, don’t get me wrong. I don’t know, Jon Theodore is just an animal. He’s super consistent, he plays by feel. Thomas Pridgen, another Mars Volta cat. He’s super-human though. Locally I like John Sherman a lot, from Red Fang. Matt Oliver from Danava, I love watching that guy. There’s a lot of good drummers in town.
Do you have a favorite rudiment or favorite fill that you like to practice?
Yes, I like 32nd note octets a lot.
On the hands or the feet?
On the hands. I like a lot of double stroke rolls. I think a good paradiddle is nice even, or a reverse paradiddle, those are great too.
There’s a lot of stuff to do.
Exactly. The kids out there should learn that stuff, it will make them better players.
I think this is the second to last question, do you have a favorite song or album that you listen to and try to practice?
Yeah, I really liked jamming to Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire. Brad Wilk is another of my big influences.
Dude, how good is “People of the Sun?”
That whole album. “Rolling Down Rodeo with a Shotgun,” you know? That album is so angry. I loved listening to that as a teenager. The drums are so driving, and they are completely locked in with the bass. That rhythm section is fucking incredible. Songs for the Deaf, from Queens of the Stone Age, Dave Grohl’s drumming on that is amazing. I grew up listening to a lot of Mahavishnu Orchestra. Jack DeJohnette, amazing drummer, love that guy too. Emerson Lake and Palmer, Carl Palmer. I like to try to lift riffs and licks from them. Des Kensel from High Fire, he’s in there too. Mostly classic rock, 70’s style rock.
Another weird question: What is the biggest crash you would crash, hypothetically?
When we were in the studio back in January in L.A, Sons of Huns recorded in The Melvins’ practice space, and they had a 32 inch cymbal.
What did that sound like?
It was insane, the sustain on the thing was incredible. It was like, way too big to utilize.
32 inches is too many.
If I could fit it in, and I had a drum tech to set it up for me every night, I would.
(Laughing) Ok, last question. You are playing an all ages music festival, what would you say to a younger person who wants to play drums?
Go for it. Drums were very transformative for me, especially as a teenager, getting a lot of angst out, and having a creative outlet. If that’s what you like to do, do it! You don’t necessarily have to take lessons, just try to be the best you can, and learn from people you’re inspired by. That’s what kept me playing drums. Keep being inspired.