Pick Up Stix:

Drums and discipline will set you free

襂誰l look out into the crowd, at the dude in the far back, and think
about all the shows I誺e seen and what it took to get there,
and I誰l say to myself, 訵hatever you do, remember
this moment, because you誶e here.沼
行 Jason Sutter

From the small town of Potsdam, New York, to a stadium nearest you comes a drummer ready to rock with a wildly diverse tribe of musical masters. Jason Sutter is his name, a man who誷 lent his touring and recording chops 行 and winning go-for-it attitude 行 to the likes of Chris Cornell, Vertical Horizon, Foreigner, Pink, the New York Dolls and currently Marilyn Manson.

Sutter worked hard at his craft to get where he is today, which happens to be sipping iced tea by the pool at his art-filled house in North Hollywood, California. Fully prepared in the fundamentals of a wide variety of drumming styles and techniques, the affable Sutter was ready to strike when the iron got hot, and today is supremely grateful for his good fortune 行 which even to him seems larger than real life.

襂 don誸 ever, ever take it for granted, he says. 襑ith the New York Dolls, I savored every second I was onstage with one of my favorite bands ever. And to play these gigs with Marilyn Manson? He誷 climbing the drum riser, screaming in my face, and I誱 looking at him going, 訧誱 playing with Marilyn Manson, it誷 insane. It誷 like, This is fucking crazy.沼


Jason誷 dad was an artist and professor at the local Potsdam university 行 but what he really wanted to do was play the drums. He and Jason誷 mom raised the kid and his sister in this small community that was kind of different, says Jason, because there were four colleges in town, and a lot of bars. So when Sutter was growing up there in the 80s, there were tons of live venues, and live bands ruled the day.

Eventually li誰 Jason himself got to play in those bars, and was able to see the real dudes playing with the real gear and the real amps and speakers and trucks loading their gear, and all that righteous stuff.

襍o at a super young age I was seeing really great professional acts, he says. 襂 still feel like cover bands in the 80s were as professional as the professional bands. They were just so pro and so good.

To Jason, these local players were genuine rock stars whose performances and, really, mere presence in town would inspire kids like himself to run back to their bedrooms and practice.

襂t also gave us a pretty clear blueprint of how we could do it on a smaller level, like high schools, and grade schools 行 my first gig was in fifth grade, at a dance. We were playing Rolling Stones tunes, and we knew we could make 詄m sound good 行 unlike other bands that were trying to play Journey or something and failing miserably at it.

There was a great music store there in Potsdam, too, and most of Sutter誷 teachers in grade school and high school were grads of the local Crane誷 School of Music. At Crane誷 this guy named Jim Peterzak was one of Jason誷 mentors; Peterzak went on to teach Dave Weckl and Vinnie Colaiuta and other biggie drummers. At Crane誷 Jason started to learn to read music, and by fourth grade he was accompanying the choir, thrown in by the music director, who誨 taught Jason a basic rock beat.

襈ext thing you know he誷 playing piano, with a bass player who誷 probably in fifth grade, and I誱 playing a real straight beat, and learned very quickly how to accompany 行 and get out of the way.

As soon as Jason learned how to play a beat, he was gigging, playing his first bar gig when I was 13.

褹nd my mom was fine with it, he says. 襂誨 get home at 3 in the morning and go to bed with my ears ringing.

For Jason it was drums, just drums, and nothing else that pricked his ears.

襂 went to music school and studied piano and ear training and sight singing and all these things, but I never cared about any other instruments. I never went over and was, like, trying to pick up a dude誷 guitar or bass after rehearsal 行 they all wanted to get on my drums, always.

Jason Sutter誷 got roots in a lotta different styles, but even as a kid, he knew: I am a rocker. He could relate.

襑hen I first started playing in '78-'79, John Bonham died. Well, all they did was play Bonham on the radio for like two months straight, and I would just record everything. Within a couple of weeks I had every Led Zep record there ever was. That changed everything.

Sure, drummers from here to Ougadougu cite Bonham誷 enormous influence on rock tubwhacking stylee. Sutter誷 no exception.

襎here was an attitude, he says. 襃ohn Bonham was never perfect, never too clean, but he had something like raw power, heart and passion. It was just so undeniable.

Trying to re-create that Bonham feel is easier said than done. The key, says Sutter, is in where each drum in the set is placed, most notably the hi-hat.

褽veryone always talks about Bonham誷 big bass drum and how hard he hit and all these things, but it誷 a lot more subtle than that. Listen to the way he played the hi-hat in beats like 訤ool in the Rain or 訵hen the Levee Breaks, tracks that people are always trying to figure out. Anyone can play that 訵hen the Levee Breaks beat on a bass drum and snare and it誰l never sound like Bonham; it誷 when you start getting that distortion on the hi-hat, the way he was swinging it, and the way that related to the bass and the snare drum. If you listen to those recordings, that誷 the secret.

If you ask Sutter about other drummers he was inspired by, you gotta be prepared for a list that goes on for miles. But it誷 cool, it誷 nice out here by the pool.

襂 was really influenced very young by Ozzy誷 drummer Lee Kerslake, who was super underrated, and then Tommy Eldridge did Ozzy誷 live stuff, and it誷 ridiculous, this double-bass playing. Of course Bill Ward with Sabbath for the same reasons 行 he誷 really raw, it was passionate, and it was just so accessible to me.

He singles out Phil Collins as another drummer with a highly individual approach, and a player not generally credited for his wicked chops.

襀e誷 one of the guys who could play on any drums and it would sound great. People will complain about his time or whatever, but they誨 be missing the point 行 it誷 the sound and the swing that he gets. That Brand X cut 訬uclear Burn is still one of the sickest fusion grooves, no one誷 touched it. Sometimes I誰l be doing a soundcheck with Manson in some arena and I誰l pull out that beat out just for fun, and I誰l never know how to play it like he does.

But then, rocker Jason had early on widened his palette for a vast array of musical modes, figuring rightly that he had at least a little something to learn from all of it.

襂 started studying jazz and I got really into Art Taylor, on the more traditional side, which I could relate to. And then I got really into Jack DeJohnette, which kind of fucked me up, because there誷 no way I could ever play like Jack DeJohnette; I mean, he has such elasticity, he could do a drum solo for 20 minutes and it誷 like a symphony.

DeJohnette誷 kaleidoscopic cymbal work made a particular impact.

襎hat誷 one of the things that bridged me over to Paiste. DeJohnette devised all these dark Sound Creation cymbals that he used on everything, like that 22-inch China. Another drummer I really obsessed with who used those same cymbals was Al Foster, who played with Miles Davis on records like Man With the Horn and We Want Miles, great amalgams of heavy metal-meets-jazz. Miles didn誸 want Al to swing at all, but the dude has the most amazing swinging feel, and everything else was so creative; he would do a whole blues on a splash cymbal 行 Who誨 have thought of that?

He cites Tony Williams as the blueprint for a long line of later jazz and rock greats.

襂t誷 funny, but these dudes who have this kind of crazy chop feel, turning everything on its side and the beat is coming out of a place you誨 never imagine it coming from, their inspiration is Vinnie Colaiuta, and Vinnie誷 inspiration was Tony Williams. It誷 just Tony Williams all over again.

Like we誺e been saying, Jason Sutter is a rock drummer: What the hell use is traditional grip to a powerhouse pounder like him?

He laughs. 襂n college it was always a joke, `Matched grip is for monkeys, which is hilarious, 詂ause you誨 never hear that now. I誨 say 80-85 percent of all drummers play matched. But when I started studying jazz, I started getting into the traditional thing. Then when I got to college I got really heavily influenced by drum line and drum corps, again for the reason that I never had that growing up. I would play 訷ankee Doodle Dandy around the center town for Memorial Day once a year and that was it.

From back in the day and on up to today, Sutter is intrigued by the rudiments of drumming.

褼rum corps was a mystery, I didn誸 know what it was. And when I got to music school in North Texas, it was such a big deal there, and I realized I don誸 know anything about this, and I became so involved. It was all traditional playing, and I literally still have callouses from the amount of time I held a marching drum stick in my hand.

At North Texas, Sutter became totally obsessed with drum corps playing, focusing entirely on how to play marching snare drum. But when he got out of college he realized that trad grip is not the nicest thing to do to the top of the hand.

襂t won誸 take the abuse, it won誸 callous, it誰l always crack, he says. 襂 practiced all the time, and it was just always bloody and open on the top of my hand between my thumb and index finger. But with matched grip, the callouses form on the inside of your hand.

He does still play traditional occasionally, mostly for brushes, because it feels comfortable for him to be able to get that kind of side motion with his left hand. And in clinics he誰l pull out some drum corps snare drum solos and play a portion of that with traditional grip.

Sutter doesn誸 play the ol trad grip too much anymore mainly 詂ause he誷 evolved as a player 行 head, hands and feet.

襂誱 at a point where, from studying jazz to playing with Marilyn Manson, and playing in big bands in college like my life depended on it, being able to sight read and then forgetting it all 行 it誷 this process that just evolves. It誷 like you誶e always just where you are, at that time, and where I am right now.

And right now it誷 his feet that誶e fascinating him most.

襑ith drum corps, I spent so much time getting my hands to the pinnacle of where I thought they could be, and it was like, okay, I誺e seen the best and I誱 close, I can rest now. And while I still practice my hands everyday, now for me it誷 a foot thing: I never really did double-bass, did it for a little bit in high school and kind of tired of it quickly, said I誱 going to do it all on one bass drum.

So far so good, but now this Manson gig is heavily double-bass-driven. And when Sutter was on tour with Chris Cornell, he誨 tried to play single-kick on tunes that Cornell had recorded with Timbaland that were heavily bass drum-programmed. It didn誸 work, just too damn difficult.

襍o I slowly started to add double-bass-drum into my playing, and it made a huge difference. I would start practicing double pedal and I誨 go out and hang with younger guys especially, 詂ause double bass has evolved so much from when I was younger, when Tommy Aldridge and Neal Peart reigned. I mean, they were amazing double-bass technicians, but nothing like what誷 going on now.

For a fresh perspective on the modern art of double-bassing, Sutter went to new-school sources like the Mars Volta誷 Dave Elitch.

襂 said, Show me what you誶e doing, give me your take on this. And I took what he showed me and applied it to my playing, and since then have been able to be on these tours with the best metal drummers in the world, from Dave Lombardo of Slayer to Chris Adler with Lamb of God, to Vinnie Paul from Pantera and Hellyeah, and Joey Jordison with Slipknot. Because we誶e playing the same stages with Manson, I sit five feet behind these guys, and I誱 learning so much from watching. It誷 a whole 詎other art form.

Double-kick technique is a way personal thing, he says, so whether he誷 playing heels up or down depends on the tempo, mostly, and to an extent the pedals themselves.

襂 came back from tour, and I had these DW 5000 double pedals I誺e been using for 4-5 years, and I switched to some 9000s, and it誷 like the difference between Haydn and Mozart. And I誺e evolved to this other place where those pedals now are essential to what I need to do with Manson.

On the new Marilyn Manson album Born Villain there誷 a song called 襇urderers Are Getting Prettier Every Day that features some gruesomely complex drum patterns programmed by producer Chris Vrenna, who was originally slated to attempt to play drums on the record.

Sutter laughs. 褻hris said, 訧誰l never be able to play this, it誷 physically impossible. And when I was first auditioning for Manson, I was listening to this track and he said, 訢on誸 worry, you誰l never have to play this, we誰l just have the tracks flown in and have you play along with the click 行 I want you to be able to run around and chase girls after the show, I don誸 want your leg to be falling off.沼

Yeah, but Jason Sutter digs a challenge.

襂 thought, if it takes hours and months and weeks, I誱 going to play this fuckin song. And as soon as I got the gig, I would spend an extra hour a day practicing double bass. Well, so far we誺e done 訫urderer maybe four or five times, and it誷 an extra half hour that I warm up double-bass in my dressing room with these silent bass-drum warmup things called Hands and Foot Pedals. Then I go out onstage, and as the crew誷 testing basses and moving lights and mikes around, I practice the pedal, 16th notes at varying speeds. So I誱 practicing double bass for at least an hour a day before the show just to be able to play these tunes like this.

As far as the band and its fans are concerned, Sutter is one of the best double-bass players they誺e ever heard.

襇y joke is, I誱 completely fooling them [laughs], 詂ause it誷 still a new thing for me. I誰l never be as good as Joey Joderson or someone like that, 詂ause they誺e spent years at it, but I will be close someday, and that誷 the goal. Where I誱 at in my career, it誷 fun to have something to kind of go, All right, this is going to kick my ass for the next five years.

From Smashmouth to Vertical Horizon to Foreigner to New York Dolls to Chris Cornell and Marilyn Manson, Sutter誷 basic 襃ohn Bonham drum set (26-inch bass drum, a 14-inch rack tom, 16 and 18 cymbals) for live work is pretty much the same for just about everything he does. When he records he uses whatever誷 there, but for each job he誰l approach those drums individually, adding a different drum or cymbal here or there to create a particular kind of sound. Live and in studio with Manson, he誷 tasked with creating a 襪echanical sound that will match a gnarly mass of triggered electronics and samples fed into the drum parts.

襎hat誷 a whole new world I誱 having to become familiar with, he says. 褹ll the drums have triggers on them, and it誷 blended in, and then I誱 playing along with tracks, count everything off. On tour, we have a giant refrigerator rig behind us with a drum tech who誷 running all that. I start the tracks, but basically you誶e playing with a whole other instrument.

He could really care less about the electronic side of the band誷 sound, frankly, preferring to keep his head in the sand about all that. He relies on the sound man, on the front-of-house guy and his monitor tech to help his head break through the Manson band誷 wall of noise.

褾or the monitor mix, though I need to basically just feel the drums, I always need to hear the taste of the snare drum 行 the actual pitch of the snare balances everything out for me. But ultimately I誺e got to have Manson誷 voice in this gig, and the tracks and the click are pretty hot. What誷 great is, I have Twiggy誷 amps next to me to my left, and I have both guys in my mix, but not blasting. So now I誱 getting the sound of these guys from the stage, and it誷 great 詂ause there誷 a lot of interaction and swing going on. I誱 not a slave to the grid.

His time spent touring with Foreigner was an entirely different beast, soundwise.

襑ith Foreigner, the monitor mix was all about Mick Jones. There were no drums at all, no clicks, guitar and bass blasting, and just Mick, every note. You wanna be right with him because he誷 a very elastic player, so you誶e going to have to ride that bull the whole night.

Jones also favored a thuddy, vintage drum sound, so Sutter誷 tuning couldn誸 go any lower; with Foreigner he used coated Ambassador heads that he had to change after every show 行 褺ecause they誶e thin and just asking for it 行 and the snare was big and round and mushy.

With Manson Sutter plays on those black Remo heads that are famously a little bit dead 行 all the better to muffle a trigger you might want to place on it.

襑ith Manson it誷 more attack than tone, he says, 襛nd they誶e blending the trigger in anyway. But I still tune those drums up pretty high. When I say high, the bottom head is usually a third or half step or even a full step higher than the top head, and they誶e both tuned pretty high.

When Sutter was touring with Foreigner, it was one of those gigs when they誨 go out for a month and be home for a month. Pretty cushy, eh? Hold up: It seems that when Sutter was home on those breaks, he was practicing like mad, doing his double-bass and brushes and general technique, and doing drum clinics, too. So it was a very technical time for him, even though he was playing pretty simple rock tunes with Foreigner.

褹nd then I went out with the New York Dolls and it was like, Forget all that stuff. It was punky, snotty, raw, and I thought, I誱 just going to let that technical thing go. It誷 a conscious effort to fight to get close to the sun and all that information, and then back off. I don't want to ever be too conscious and too proficient; what I get hired for is a feel.

In other words, when you start to get too technical you veer toward Neal Peart, and when you誶e able to let all that go you can get back to your John Bonham.

褺ut you can pull that Peart out if you need to, he says. 褹nd if you have that under your belt, it comes through in your playing without having to play it.

Yeah, but in order to get to that special spot on the Peart-Bonham spectrum, you誺e gotta practice, which Sutter does every day when he誷 off the road.

褹nd honestly, I feel like I誱 constantly relearning how to play the drums. I never ever go in there and feel like 訧誱 killing it now. And when I play gigs and people are like, 訢ude, you誶e killing it! I誱 like, 訷eah, I誱 not even close.沼


襂 remember going to college and it誷 a vacation and I stayed and practiced. There誷 no one around and I誱 practicing and I誱 like, What the hell am I doing? Am I going to be doing this in 10 years? And then 10 years later I誱 in a practice room at 11 at night to play for three hours, and I誱 going, Am I going to keep doing this shit? Am I ever going to get good enough to just be done?

The answer, it seems, is NO!

襂誱 always going to be evolving. And you can tie it in with the drum corps stuff and all that. I was willing to temporarily sacrifice drum set, which was my passion, knowing it would be a means to getting me somewhere else down the road. And it did 行 I got a scholarship next year to go to North Texas 詂ause I could play snare drum! How? I lived, ate and drank it. I didn誸 play in any rock bands, I didn誸 hang out with chicks, I went and fuckin did drum corps work every day at 8 and got my ass kicked. And it was awesome.

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