Interview:Southern Influence; Sticks, Tones, and Bones

Part 1

Part 2




Brian Blade:

Southern Influence


Sticks, Tones, and Bones


Blade: My cymbals, for the most part, are the unchanging elements of my setup. My two main cymbals are 24" in diameter. They are old A. Zildjians from the late '50s, and even though they're the same size, each is unique. I like cymbals that have stick definition and clarity, but also the air, and they send out quite a large tone. All the surface area allows me to create a lot of different sounds, even on one cymbal. The hi-hats are also A's, 16", from the '60s. Normally I also use a new 22" Zildjian Constantinople, which almost sounds like a Chinese cymbal, or like a cymbal that Mel Lewis might have played in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band -- kind of a wash. All the cymbals have to be rides and crashes for me to feel comfortable playing them. So I usually use them in every situation, because I know harmonically what they will provide as well as a certain feeling that they provide.


The drummery changes from time to time. I usually gravitate towards older things. Most recently, with the Fellowship Band, I've been playing my Sonars from 1971. It's a five-piece set. It has an 18" bass drum which is only 12" in depth. There's a 12" tom, a 13" tom and a 14" floor tom. Those drums have a great tone; it's not difficult to have them speak well at any pitch. And they are easy to tune, so I can usually get close to any pitch or tone that's in my head.


When I was on the road with Joni Mitchell and when I did some recording with Bob Dylan, I played some Ayotte drums, a large set, with a 24" bass drum, a 12" tom with a 10" depth, and a 16" floor tom. They are wooden hoops, so they possess a certain grainy quality that I really like, but there is a directness in it. Do you use the larger bass drum in that setting for a more emphatic backbeat sound?


Blade: Not necessarily. It depends. I played those large drums on a Mark Turner album called "The Ballads Session". It depends on how I'm feeling at the time and what I think the requirements are. It's not a necessary requirement that you play the larger drums loud. Mostly I've played them very softly, but they possess a sort of buoyancy, and take up a different kind of space. Usually I play wooden snare drums, but lately I've been playing a great 5" depth, phosphor bronze snare drum that Mapex makes. It has a lot of warmth. Phosphor bronze is a precious metal, and it has a softness that I gravitate towards, but the metal shell resonates differently than the wood, which for me tends to be a bit drier. Well, it's all personal preference.


I should mention that when I played with Seal, I was playing some older Slingerlands, with a 22" bass drum and a 13" tom and a 16" floor tom. It's kind of ridiculous. I almost feel like I might have been a rug merchant or some kind of antique dealer in a past life. You end up collecting these things because they're all so different! But it was much easier when I had just one drumset. Then I knew what I'd be playing on any gig.


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