BY JOE BOSSO | PHOTOGRAPHY BY SUMERIAN | FROM THE SUMMER 2018 ISSUE OF DRUM!

One of the first things you notice about Blake Richardson’s onstage drum setup is what’s behind him. Yep, that’s a gong all right. “I actually use it, too; I swear it’s not just for show,” says the affable drummer for the North Carolina–based progressive metal band Between The Buried And Me. “Toward the end of our set, we do these big, anthemic build-ups, and using a gong gives you a really cool send-off. You whip out a huge-ass mallet and wallop that thing, and it’s like, ‘Whoa!’”

He chuckles, then adds, “It’s a little over the top, but it’s become something of a signature thing for me already. That’s kind of a problem, actually: People expect me to play the gong, so now I’m going to be forced to bring it around on every tour.”

In many ways, being a little over the top makes Richardson the perfect drummer for BTBAM, a group that has never met a ten-minute opus or grandiose concept album it didn’t like. Their latest release boasts so many elongated songs and fanciful themes that it had to be released as two discs: Automata I was released in March, and its companion, Automata II, follows in June.  “Nothing is too wacky or outlandish for us,” Richardson admits. “We never try to limit ourselves as far as what we write or how we play. We grew up on bands like Rush, Yes, and Dream Theater, and we’re kind of following in their footsteps.”

But Richardson stresses that BTBAM doesn’t always live by prog metal alone, and he reveals a juicy little secret that might blow some fans’ minds: “We’re seriously into Weezer. Whenever we have some downtime, or if we’re messing around during sound checks, we’re usually rocking out to Weezer. We keep joking that we want to do a whole Blue Album thing, not like a tribute band but sort of incorporate it into our set. That would probably flip people out.”

As it turns out, Weezer was one of the first bands Richardson jammed to when, at the age of 11, he started pounding away on his uncle’s 1965 Ludwig four-piece kit. For the next few years, he taught himself by playing along to alt-rock/grunge bands like Nirvana, Green Day, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, and Soundgarden before studying with Robert Crutchfield, drummer with the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Symphonic Orchestra. “And that’s when things really opened up for me,” Richardson notes. “Robert showed me all the basics I didn’t know, but he also showed me how to play basic funk grooves and Afro-Cuban rhythms. Plus, he had a real jazz background, so a lot of those techniques found a way into my playing.”

Richardson’s tastes expanded under Crutchfield’s tutelage, and by the time he enrolled at North Carolina State University he was under the sway of drummers such as Dennis Chambers, Simon Phillips, and Terry Bozzio. “I noticed something very important about form watching some of those guys,” he recalls. “Their palms were always face-down, and they kept their shoulders low. They were very relaxed. I started to implement that form into how I played drums, and I think it helped my playing. I think it also keeps my limbs and joints healthy.”

While at NC State, Richardson drummed for a local death metal band called Glass Casket, and he befriended another area group, the more established Between The Buried And Me. BTBAM was looking for a drummer with a firm grasp of dynamics and a broad range of influences, and Richardson fit the bill perfectly. “A lot of death metal drummers play loud and hard all the time, and most jazz guys are too delicate,” he observes. “Whatever the band wanted to do — if they wanted to get intense or if they were going all mellow — I was right there with them. We were a great match right from the get-go.”

Writing duties are an all-hands-on-deck affair within the BTBAM camp. Sometimes Richardson comes up with grooves that spark riffs from the band’s two guitarists, Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring, but he mostly sees his role as being an organizer and editor for all of the ideas. On the new album, the opening track “Condemned To The Gallows” presented a challenge: “We were trying to pack a ten-minute song into a five-minute tune,” says Richardson, “so my mission was to move each part into the next seamlessly. I needed to establish a strong drum motif and some cool transitional fills that would tie everything together.”

He had no such worries on the mammoth album closer, “Blot,” which clocks in at a full 10:30. “I got to stretch out on that one, but I still tried to come up with a memorable main groove,” he says. “It’s easy to lose perspective on a long song, so I try to look at something like ‘Blot’ as if it has hills and valleys. It has parts where I can go crazy, and sections where I need to mellow out. You always have to think about dynamics.”


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Both “Millions” and “House Organ” feature breakdown sections in which Richardson creates moody atmospherics on his hi-hat. In his view, drummers — metal drummers, especially — don’t give their hi-hats nearly as much love as they should. “Hi-hats need to make a comeback, so maybe I can help with that,” he enthuses. “A lot of guys use them for a wash or they maintain quarter-note and eighth-note patterns on them. I like to play them in a very dynamic, accented sense. You can use them in your fills; you can do anything with them. They’re a seriously under-utilized component of your kit.”

When it comes to his own kit (he’s a Tama Starclassic bubinga man), Richardson likes to change the configuration around occasionally, explaining that “comfort makes me uncomfortable. I draw inspiration from trying out new setups because I don’t get stuck in a rut that way.” Sometimes he performs with two bass drums; other times he goes for a single kick. “No matter how many bass drums I’m using, I always use a double pedal,” he explains. “I do like the sound of two kick drums because you can get a cool dynamic from them, but in other instances a double pedal on one kick can give you a very consistent sound.”

He lets out a laugh and says, “It’s like, tuh-may-toh, tuh-mah-toh. Is one better than the other? No. It’s all good.”

Vitals

Band: Between The Buried And Me

Album: Automata I

Website: betweentheburiedandme.com

Age: 33

Birthplace: Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Influences: Dave Grohl, Dennis Chambers, Terry Bozzio, Mike Portnoy

Gear

Drums: Tama

Cymbals: Sabian

Sticks: Vic Firth Buddy Rich Signature

Heads: Remo

Hardware: Tama

 

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