I recently played the Jimmy Fallon show in New York this past month. I wrote a complete excerpt of the days leading up to the show and then about the strange performance. What an experience! Nerve-wracking but super fun. Read about it here on ModernDrummer.com.
You never know when you’ll discover some indescribable drumming. Just such an experience awaits the listeners of the intriguing San Diego band Pinback, however – especially when they check out the group’s fifth studio album, Information Retrieved.
The drummer on this deliciously mysterious indie pop collection is Chris Prescott, who provides an unpredictable rhythmic core for Pinback founders Zach Smith (bass) and Rob Crow (vocals) to play off of. From behind his kit, Prescott has developed a very diplomatic role in helping the magic to unfold in a Pinback creation.
“Every song is different, and every song is a negotiation,” he explains. “Rob and Zach are opposites, so when a song comes together, it’s like a truce between their perspectives. What you hear is them negotiating their views on music, and struggling with that – that’s what makes the band interesting.”
But that’s not the only thing that makes the band interesting: Prescott has a sizable share in that effect as well, and it’s plain as day on “Proceed to Memory”, the opening track of Information Retrieved. The muse of a calmly beautiful solo guitar leads off the song like a lucid dream until :19, when Prescott appears with a kick + rim pattern that’s lovely to listen to – but devilishly hard to duplicate.
“There’s several songs on the record that have this two-against-three feel,” Prescott says. “This is one of those rhythms where you have a strict quarter note on the rim, but the kick is playing a pattern that’s based in three. Things are pulling against each other. It’s actually very simple: an almost metronomic rim, with this contrast underneath it.”
Prescott continues the pattern with almost no variation clear to :58. It’s a characteristic of his playing that shows up again and again throughout Information Retrieved – and there’s a reason for that. “It’s about finding a good rhythm that’s not fighting what’s going on, with a hypnotic repetition,” notes Prescott. “I’m a drum teacher as well, and now I’m telling students things I didn’t want to hear when I was a kid: ‘Play simple, don’t show off all the time, just keep a good groove.’
“Repetition is powerful – it creates an entrancing effect, and it provides a foundation to the song, instead of being the song. I find repeating parts to be really interesting, like in the music of Philip Glass or Steve Reich, and it’s a cool element in pop music.”
At that aforementioned :58 mark, Prescott kicks off a rock beat that pulses without being aggressive, providing a good backbone for the chorus but with a lighter touch. “With the hi-hat coming in, the rhythm progresses and gets a little louder,” he observes. “There’s a sort of accent on the ‘and’ of two and three. The hi-hat cymbals come in to create this almost linear feel – there’s an empty space, but it’s going to the cymbals which are taking on that weight. The result is the same dynamic for the chorus as the verse, but a different color.”
At 1:34, Prescott plays what may be the first fill of the entire song – a single open high-hat strike that leads to the slightly harder version of the beat he was just playing. “I think it sort of serves as a punctuation,” he says of the subtly effective transition. “A lot of times my role in the band is not to overdo it, trying to say what you need to say without too many flourishes. It’s almost like an anti-fill, but it marks the section and that’s the point. It’s says, ‘We’re going somewhere new.’
“And honestly, a lot of times certain things are played simply because they’re instinctual. I may talk about something and give a reason for it, but sometimes it’s just what’s happened.”
At 2:07, the “Proceed to Memory” enters an energetic clearing of sorts – a bridge that’s quietly charged by an influx of skipping ghost notes on the snare. “That’s always a good feel!” Prescott enthuses. “Attention to dynamics is very important so that you don’t get those parts too loud. Instead, sections like that are more textural. I don’t want them to pop out as part of the rhythm – I want to keep the rhythm going, but if I add the ghost notes it won’t change the foundations of the rhythm.
“And also, when those ghost notes appear, it means we’re into the song. Things are loosening up, and that’s a comfortable feel for me. It’s not, ‘Oh no, I’m going to play ghost notes now.’ It’s, ‘Yay! I’m going to play ghost notes now!’ It helps the rhythm fit together and flow.”
Presumably, Prescott gets downright ecstatic at 2:23, when the bridge blows up into a powerful surge, driving forward on rolling toms and single stroke roll shots on the snare. “That’s the trickiest part of the whole song, for sure,” he acknowledges. “My right hand is playing eighth notes on the floor tom, and my left hand is playing quarter notes on the hi hat. During this I’m filling in all the offbeat sixteenth notes with my bass drum. The effect is a sort of quasi double-bass rhythm. Each pattern ends with a sixteenth note fill on the snare drum. When the rolls resolve to the downbeat you have to quickly move your left hand back to the hi hat from the snare in consecutive sixteenth notes without it sounding sketchy.
“It’s a big contrast to the part at the beginning, where was just a rim click and bass drum doing almost a drum machine feel. Since that’s the peak of the song, that’s where I’m doing my fills and flourishes: There’s room there to get a little crazier, and help bring the excitement up.”
The uplifting jam continues until 3:27, when the action culminates in a big cymbal crash that leads Prescott back to the simply spare rim-and-kick beat he began with. For this drummer that deftly blends intellect and instinct, “Proceed to Memory” adds up to a winding musical adventure.
“It definitely feels like a journey,” he agrees. “Obviously, there’s places where it’s not totally moving in a straight line. One of the things that brings that element out is Rob’s singing – he goes from whispering to belting it out, and as a more experienced player I’m trying to follow that. When I started out I’d think, ‘Am I playing something cool?’ But now I think, ‘Am playing something that supports the vocalist?’”
– David Weiss
Can be read on the Modern Drummer website here: http://www.moderndrummer.com/site/2012/10/pinbacks-chris-prescott-2/#.UIHEZ5jA36o
As a musician, I’ve had my fair share of strange experiences over the years. But this for me was one of the most surreal. I decided to write about it here and share it with my fellow drummers.
Pinback recently toured up the West Coast, and on our final show we played a festival in our home town of San Diego. The place was an old theater and was not set up in the most secure manner. On arriving before our set, I sensed the confusion at the front door and decided to walk right in without going over the usual “I’m in the band. No, really.” No one stopped me or gave me a second look as I walked right past the security. Hmmm. Maybe a bad sign?
About halfway through our set, in the middle of the song “Syracuse,” I noticed someone at the side of the stage picking up a bass, casually turning, and walking away. There were five bands, so it very well could’ve been someone else’s equipment, so I kept playing. It did look like our bass player Zach’s bass, but I was in disbelief that someone would walk up to the stage and steal this. As the seconds passed, I started realizing that I may have actually witnessed a crime and not just one of the bands loading out their gear. It was hard to believe that with all these people, someone could pull this off so easily. The instrument was a rare Alembic bass that is very recognizable, expensive, and extremely hard to replace. Zach has had this instrument for about twenty years, and the thought of some dirt bag grabbing it was tough to take. As soon as the song stopped I confirmed that it actually had been his bass that was taken, and we rushed off the stage to follow the thief. I had gotten a good glimpse of the guy, but it was dark and I had little to go on.
In the back of the venue we climbed through the crack in the fence that the thief had broken down, and into the alley. Our singer, Rob, went one way and I went another. My first thought on seeing the empty alley was that this guy was gone for sure. I work in a music shop, and over the years people have stolen equipment. Typically there’s a car waiting in the alley and within seconds they’re gone. I assumed this was the same scenario. And to the thief’s advantage, we finished playing our song before running out, so he had nearly a two-minute head start. It was not looking good.
At the end of the alley I noticed further on across the street an older man messing around with a trashcan and figured it was a homeless man scavenging. A moment later I saw someone that looked like the thief heading away from where the trashcans had been. No bass in his hand, but maybe he had stashed the instrument to pick up later. There were tons of people on the streets due to the music festival, so carrying the bass would’ve made him an easy target. I headed over to the trashcans to investigate, and there it was. The bass had been neatly stashed in a large recycling bin.
I grabbed the bass and started following the guy from a distance. As soon as he got to a busy intersection I confronted him, telling him that I suspected him of being the thief. I asked for his ID in case he got away from me. He denied taking the instrument and started rushing away from me. I perused him, yelling for someone to help me catch the guy. It was hard running after while him carrying the bass, and I was going to need some help holding him. No instrument is worth getting stabbed over, and luckily he was staying in well-lit, populated areas as he ran. A few people helped me stop him for the third time, and I asked for someone to call the police. He ran off again, and one person from the group helped me go after him. Luckily, the thief headed back to the main street again, so I was able to call for help from one of the club bouncers.
We finally stopped him about a block later, and three of us surrounded him while someone called again for the police. He pleaded to be let go and said that since I got the bass back I should just drop it. No way. I was pretty angry that someone would take the instrument right from the stage and wanted to see the thing through. Just then he ran off again and ducked into another small club. I assumed he was going to sneak out the back, so I ran around the side of the building. While I was frantically running behind the club, I bumped into a bunch of friends from the band Ghetto Blaster, who had just finished playing their set. I quickly told them that I was chasing the guy who stole Zach’s bass and they rushed into the building to grab the thief.
The manager of the club had caught wind of what was going on and locked the back door so the suspect couldn’t sneak out. A few moments later they dragged the guy out and asked, “Is this the thief?” It was indeed! I was finally able to put the bass down and catch my breath. My hand was numb from running with the heavy instrument for twenty-five minutes. What a relief to have the man surrounded with people who I knew weren’t going to let him get away.
The police showed up and took statements. Zach wandered up a few minutes later to reclaim his bass. After questioning the thief for a few minutes, the officer came back over to us and said, “The guy is definitely one of weirdest individuals I’ve ever met, but he has no record or prior thefts.” They asked if Zach wanted to press charges, and he said, “No, I’m just grateful to have my bass back.” For his safety, the police put the thief into their car and drove him away from the angry mob that had gathered. We walked back over to the venue and were greeting with cheers from the audience, who knew what had gone on over the past forty minutes of our interrupted show. We played the second half of our set without a hitch. I slept well that night.
Several of the music blogs began posting about the incident, as it was a bit of an odd situation. Our local weekly paper had been the first to report, and a day later they received a mysterious package. Inside the envelope was an anonymous note asking that they forward a second sealed letter to the band. The editor contacted me and put it in the mail. A few days later it arrived at my house, and I was anxious to see if there was a note from the thief inside. The letter was typewritten and addressed to members of Pinback. It said simply, “Here’s something for each of you. You were wronged. You forgave, Zach.” Also enclosed were three gift cards to Guitar Center.
No one can know who the note is from, but I like to think it may be from the thief, who was grateful for not being prosecuted. A strange ending to a very strange occurrence.
I have joined forces with the mighty Sabian cymbal team. It’s a true honor to work with them and it’s a dream come true to have all these sounds at my disposal. Cymbals are a tricky thing and it’s difficult to find one that really speaks to you. Having access to large amounts of cymbals to find my exact voice is something I’ve always wanted. Thanks Sabian! Look for my choices on the upcoming Pinback tours in 2012 and beyond…
This summer I have joined the C&C drums family. I recently received my first kit from them and they are amazing! Jake Cardwell from C&C has been hooking up Pinback with tour kits as well so I’ve been able to try out several different kits when we travel across the world, most recently having toured to Japan and the Mid-West US. These things come in a bunch of flavors but they are all reminiscent of the classics from Ludwig and Camco. They are beauties!
This past month I have been happy to sign up with Los Cabos Drumsticks. They are a Canadian company that is just now starting to gain ground in the United States. Their wood is high quality and they seem to hold up forever on tour. Great stuff! Thanks for the hook up!
Recently I wrote an article for Modern Drummer’s online community detailing Pinback’s tour to Russia this past winter. It was a wild time indeed. You can read it here on www.ModernDrummer.com
This past winter Pinback traveled to Moscow for a show during our tour across Europe. I had kept a tour diary this time around, since we were visiting so many new places. In the distant past I had been very diligent about writing down new experiences in a journal, but after the twelfth time traversing the nation I started finding less to write about that I felt was exciting and new. Maybe a sign of taking things for granted? Or being a tad lazy? Either way, this past year I wrote quite a lot about our recent travels. Here is an excerpt of a twenty-four-hour period when we traveled from a freezing cold-Berlin over to Moscow, Russia, and back. I hope you enjoy!
We got quite lost on our trip to Berlin, but eventually made our way to a hotel near the airport. Our GPS had done us wrong! Let’s just put it that way. We were reminded of the importance of our absent paper map. The band and crew were on edge about leaving in the morning to Russia. There were some details with our Russian work visas that felt a little unusual, and we were nervous that we’d be turned away. Anything that was either suspect or valuable was removed from our luggage, and we packed the warmest clothes we could carry into backpacks. Everyone found it a little difficult to sleep, but we finally did and got a few hours before the early rude awakening of the alarm clock.
At the airport we did the normal series of security check-ins and then a final one where we had to have our Russian visas examined. This room was like a regular airport gate, except it was separated from the rest of the airport waiting gates, being walled in and covered with chicken wire above to keep anyone from passing in contraband, etc. We had a short two-hour flight to Moscow and had an amazing view on the descent into the city. Man, Moscow is big! It’s currently 11.5 million people or so, and it stretches for miles. Everywhere you look it’s sort of gray, and these large areas of trees break up the sprawling urban area.
After landing, we stood in more lines to show our passports and visas. All the gear arrived, and we were allowed in despite our having guitars and tourist visas rather than business visas. No one asked us a thing; they just made sure our paperwork was fine and then allowed us to enter. The airport was surprisingly desolate, and after collecting all of our bags we went to try to locate our translator/concert contact. We were planning on arriving just in time to make soundcheck, but we didn’t realize that in Russia, traffic is horrendous. Despite it being a Saturday afternoon, it took about an hour and fifteen minutes to go fifteen miles. They said some workdays can be a five-hour commute with Moscow traffic. We were pretty surprised with how relaxed the promoter was with the schedule. We were stressing about being late, but no one else seemed concerned about it. People were used to waiting, I suppose.
The venue was called Milk and was a good distance from the city center. With the traffic being as bad as it is, I didn’t try to get down there. Time was tight at this point. The gear was not what was described to us in the emails preceding the show, but we were able to make due with what we scrounged together. People were already raiding the dressing room and they hadn’t even opened the doors yet. Needless to say, any drinks that were back there were long gone within minutes. We were then taken down the street to a restaurant for some dinner. At dinner our host constantly insisted that we raise our glasses and toast to Texas. He had visited there once and was convinced that Dallas was the most wonderful place in the world.
There seem to be very few rules about driving in Russia enforced. People park wherever they please, be it on the sidewalk or whatever. There are few clearly marked spots, so people generally park in a haphazard way that suits the city. We ordered up some borsch and drank vodka with our host. The other patrons’ reactions to us were strange. We were definitely getting the “once over” from everyone in there. I guess we stuck out pretty badly. After a good dinner we made our way back over to the venue. People were queued up in different lines to come into the venue, and it was freezing out. Painfully cold. Everyone smoked so heavily, though, that we wanted to spend a bit more time in the fresh air before going back into the smoky venue. We estimated that sixty days of our lives were taken off by the amount of smoke we had to breathe this night.
We watched and waited through three bands and finally took the stage about ninety minutes behind schedule. We were plagued with technical problems and struggled to finish the shortened set. Bad show. But hey, we’re in Russia. Glad to check it out despite the crazy goings on. It’s hard to describe this place. There is so much wealth and everything is so expensive, but it’s really chaotic. People drive insanely and litter constantly. Bottles and broken glass were all over the sidewalks outside the venue. Our soundman, Matt, actually got bumped by a car that was carelessly driving past. We almost got hit by cars a few times during this extremely short visit. It really seemed like the value of life was a little lower, the way people took risks and treated their health. I completely acknowledge that our visit was perhaps not a fair assessment of the city or its people, but there was a definite common impression left on all of us.
We were driven back to the hotel and showed our credentials, and then nabbed three hours of sleep before making the traffic-filled trek back to the airport. Everyone was really on edge about waking up on time. One of the other musicians asked us to MAKE SURE that we didn’t leave without him to the airport and told us his room number. This poor guy actually did oversleep and nearly was stuck in Russia. Once your visa expires you have to get new papers to leave the country. This is a very strict rule. Even if it’s one minute past your visa expiration, you are sticking around. Yikes!
There was some wild architecture and parks right outside the hotel, so it was cool to see some of that before we exited. It was a weird feeling of being anxious to leave even though we still had so much to see. Being in Moscow was a very uneasy experience, but I am absolutely glad we did it.
Our flight went through Kiev, Ukraine, where we had a layover and people-watched for a while, eventually boarding and making our way to Prague. The customs/passport control lines were excruciating. It took very long, but we finally made it through to the baggage claim area, where we discovered that one of our bags of equipment had been lost in Kiev during the flight. Bummer. At least we felt more at ease trying to track down replacement gear in Prague, where we met back up with our van. Our good friend who lives in Europe now had shuttled our van and gear from Berlin to Prague so that we could rendezvous and continue our tour from there.