From The June 2017 Issue Of DRUM! Magazine | By AJ Donahue | Photo by @LloydBishop/©NBC
Drummers have long enjoyed a unique visibility in the world of late night television, and thanks to the crew at Late Night With Seth Meyers that storied relationship is treading new ground. Under the guidance of Fred Armisen and producer Eric Leiderman, the show is shining a fresh spotlight on the kit by regularly inviting world-class players to anchor the 8G band for a week’s worth of tapings. Notable subs so far include Vinnie Colaiuta, Abe Laboriel Jr., Hannah Welton, Danny Carey, Jon Theodore, Chad Smith, and Stanton Moore, and there are no plans to slow down any time soon. We caught up with Leiderman, a drummer himself, to talk about the process, choosing drummers, and how this whole thing got started.
Fred Armisen is the official leader of the 8G band, and he’s also a great drummer. He started out playing guitar, but eventually moved to the drum set, and that leaves a hole during those times he’s away working on Documentary Now! or Portlandia. I remember we had Annie Clark [St. Vincent] sitting in on guitar when the idea occurred to me. I pitched it to Fred, and he’s been on-board since. To me, it was kind of obvious. We had this open seat. Why not bring in the best players in the world of all different genres, and really give the drummer some?
Who Gets The Call?
There are drummers that I love and suggest, I get submissions, and we get recommendations from the staff, but I try to have players with a style and sound that will connect with the 8G band. And we also need drummers that can handle the situation, but so far, we haven’t had any problems.
Not Your Average Gig
There’s a lot of pressure because it’s television, and the drummers are pretty quick to realize the flow depends on stopping and starting the music when the show is ready — not exactly at the end of a phrase or bar. If you have a drummer who maybe isn’t as confident about the song endings or is having a hard time pulling out of a phrase at the right moment, it creates a palpable tension through the band. These are small things that actually make a big difference for Seth, the guest, and the viewer because it affects the energy. Drummers have the hardest job. There are all these new and modern ways to mess things up, and that’s never more apparent than on a late-night show.
Feedback From 8G
I think all the members of the band have a newfound respect for drummers because of this bizarre experiment where we’re changing the backbone every week. They still sound like the 8G band, but they kind of take on the character of whoever’s playing. Since we do almost exclusively original tunes, it’s cool to see the band adapt. Like, right now, Nicko [McBrain] is here, but it’s not like the band turned metal. They’ve evolved with his ride work and the way he rolls off the toms, and they’re writing tunes that work to his strengths.
The Work Week
The drummers come in Monday around 12:30 p.m. and need to execute that day. The band has a rehearsal room in the back with an electronic kit where they’ll knock out a few originals, and then go through a set list based on the show rundown. They’ll also usually work out a cover to get the crowd warmed up before the taping. There’s a mid-afternoon break for lunch and a little time to relax, then they’re back at 5:00 for a rehearsal. They greet the crowd around 6:20, play a warm-up song, and then the show films from 6:30 to 7:30. The drummers always seem to have a great time. They usually say it’s the best and weirdest gig they’ve ever had.
I don’t ever switch the actual drums for a variety of reasons — crew, audio, time, money, and all of that — but [drummers] can use their own cymbals and sticks. Plus, we’re looking at it like these are the drums that make this music, and we want to maintain that 8G sound. Thankfully, there’s never been a problem with the endorsed companies. All of the brand reps understand why we can’t move the drums, and it shows how much they care about their artists. The drummers come in and set up the kit the way they want within the confines of what we have, and that’s kind of it. I want to make them comfortable, but there are some restrictions that come along with making a daily show.
Look, when I get Neil Peart, maybe I’ll just throw in the towel. For me, he’s the guy. People who don’t even play drums ask about him. I’d like to get Stewart Copeland, Sheila E., Matt Chamberlain, Carter Beauford, Terri Lynne Carrington, and Steve Smith, as well. I’m looking forward to the time that I can have more unknown and up-and-coming players on the show, but there’s still a long way to go for that. Right now, I just want to bring the drummer to the front of the experience.