For me, some floors, the maple is a little harder. It just doesn't resonate the same as it does when it's on a riser or something, but birch doesn't have as much of a variance.
The drumsticks are birch not by my doing. The drumsticks are birch because I needed a 63-gram stick in the diameter of a Zildjian Super 5A. What that means is that I'm never going to get one. It's utterly impossible. So the Zildjian team developed an idea of soaking a porous wood with resins, not only to get the weight up, but to strengthen it. Birch was perfect because birch is more porous than hickory and the resins strengthen the stick like crazy.
MF: Touching on Zildjian - as a New England guy, how important was it for you to be involved with Zildjian (Zildjian is in Norwell, MA)?
MM: Huge, because I remember the day when my family was driving to Cape Cod from the suburbs of Boston during the summer. A drummer friend that was in the car said, “Hey, there's Zildjian over there.” I was just blown away and intrigued by the fact that we just drove by the place where they made Zildjian cymbals and it's in my home state.
Anyway, Zildjian being here is important on many levels. For one, I am able to drive there. Endorsement relationships are important to me. They're important in my life on a personal level. And as an artist, while traveling, I absolutely need the support. So having Zildjian close by means a lot to me.
MF: So putting on your educator hat, what is the best piece of advice you could give to a drummer just starting out?
MM: First question being, "What kind of music is it that you really love," and the second thing to ask is when you go into a practice room you've got to ask yourself, “am I walking in this room to get better, or am I walking in this room just to have fun?” The third one is, "What can I do socially to put myself in a better position to work with people?" To be sociable, you know what I mean?
MF: That's a really fine piece of advice.As a long-time clinician yourself, who were a few all-time drummers that you'd sit up front at a clinic for?
MM: First of all, when I became aware of drum clinics I saw Simon Phillips, Jonathan Mover and Dennis Chambers. All three blew my head apart and also made me a huge fan of drum clinics. Since then I have been paired up with the likes of Billy Cobham, Terry Bozzio, Kenny Aronoff, Virgil Donati and Horacio Hernandez. I love the idea of a drum clinic. I love the idea of the wall breakdown of famous guy versus regular guy. It's just drummers in a room talking.
MF: How about a couple of highlights from the new, self-titled Dream Theater album?
MM: The first highlight would be the use of odd groupings to give me the most appropriate feeling in the intro of "Surrender to Reason” starts out with what sounds just like a snare drum roll before I play a triplet, but it's actually a calculated fifteen-tuplet, because it gave me the most amount of suspended time. That's what a roll is supposed to do. To me, using an even number, doing 16th notes like many do, is not the most musical thing in that situation.
Another one is in the same song in the same section in the intro where I have, I think it would be a 29 against 5 polyrhythm that spans my whole kit. It's a highlight because I want it to just blast around the whole kit for a fill, but I have an odd amount of drums. Secondly, it's very hard to go around that drum kit smashing them. But I did a run where I threw an odd amount of notes in with my kick drums, almost like a rush to end it. I was just trying it out and (vocalist) James LaBrie got up in the control room and came flying up to the glass saying, “Mike, that was it. That one! That one!” Another highlight would be the heavier stuff that you hear on a Sabbath record or that a Vinnie Appice would play. A couple times I would think about some vintage Sabbath and those heavy beats and spacious fills that a Vinnie Appice would
play and that I love the feeling of. When that playing is perfect for the music, then everyone in the band enjoys it.
The other type of highlight would be the use of multiple hi-hats and rides with my ambidexterity to change with the time signatures. It’s subtle. It's not as in-your-face. People are going to have to listen for this. It's not going to be comprehensible initially because it's so different. I think people should look at a picture of my drum kit while listening to this album and flip the headphones around so they see it from that image. The album is mixed as if you're looking at the drum kit, so if you're looking at a picture of my kit, great. But if you like it from the perspective that you're the drummer, you've got to flip the headphones around.
MF: That's brilliant.
MM: Now, my fourth dimension; my honorable mention, are the multi-limb, or over the bar rhythms happening in "Illumination Theory." There are many moments when a listener should use headphones and a 'slow down' app to really hear how the drum parts relate to the other instruments.
Another thing about it is that because of the ePro footpads I sometimes am stepping on cymbal noises, so it sounds like you're hearing a cymbal, but it's not. It's my foot. And this is some insane detail on this record that you cannot know unless I tell you or you see me do it. Otherwise, if you try to pick it up yourself you're going to come to that point where you say, “Wait a minute. How could he have hit three things with two hands?” It's like three hands, but that's because one of my feet is doing it, because one of my feet is triggering a hand sound. I am having fun!
The new self-titled album from Dream Theater is out now. Pick it up wherever great music is sold.