Seattle supergroup Walking Papers proffers an artfully un-fancy blues-rock that comes off exactly like what it is: four veteran hard-rockers slamming sonorities with the kind of confident subtlety that satisfies their own wizened ears. They bring this sound and hard-earned experience to their darkly buoyant new WP2, the follow-up to their 2012 debut.
FROM DRUM! MAGAZINE’S APRIL 2018 ISSUE | BY JOHN PAYNE
Comprised of guitarist-vocalist Jeff Angell (ex-Missionary Position), Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan, keyboardist Benjamin Anderson, and former Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin, Walking Papers recorded most of the new album at Josh Homme’s (Queens Of The Stone Age) Pink Duck studio in Burbank, California. As Martin describes it, the band went in fresh off a tour and banged out the new tunes with very little pre-recording discussion among the members about a concept or new directions.
“With the process of being on the road so much and working the songs out live, when we went into the studio we were able to really zero it in,” he says. “It was right after we came off the road following a series of tours throughout 2014, and we had played so many shows in a relatively short amount of time that when we went into the studio we were just very, very tight as a quartet.”
Although the band produced the album, it was mainly founding members Martin and Angell who shaped the Walking Papers’ sound in the studio. It was a natural role for Martin, a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and author who has played on or produced more than 100 albums, including collaborations with R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, Iraqi master musician Rahim Alhaj, and West African griot Foday Musa Suso. Martin also recently won a Latin Grammy for co-producing an album by Brazilian singer-songwriter Nando Reis.
The full-bodied drum sound on WP2 bursts from the loudspeakers on exhilaratingly heavy tracks like “My Luck Pushed Back,” “Hard To Look Away,” and “King Hooker.” The key to the magic in Martin’s measured-but-unfussy approach to recording drums lies buried deep within his studious sense of musical history.
“My influences are the classic jazz drummers like Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, and even Buddy Rich,” he says. “But then on the rock side of the spectrum it’s John Bonham, Keith Moon, Stewart Copeland, Neil Peart. Each drummer has a different kind of drum sound, which is a combination of the way they like the drums to sound versus the way the producer liked the drums to sound.”
Martin rates the Bonham drum sound as his favorite for rock drumming. Interestingly, he finds similarities in the timbre of Bonham’s drums and those of jazzers like Roach, with a lot of space in the drumming and an emphasis on a crisp snare drum juxtaposing wide-open toms.
“I’ve never liked drum sounds that are too compartmentalized, where you hear each tom tom and everything’s all separated,” he says, “because then it doesn’t really sound like a person playing the drums, it just sounds like a smattering of toms and snare drum and kick drum. But when you listen to Max Roach or John Bonham, it’s almost like you’re inside the sound of drums, like the drums are around you and you’re actually sitting in the drum seat.”
Tone-conscious Martin applies his considerable chops in a wide variety of settings, including his own jazz-rocky Barrett Martin Group. He’s also an innovator in the use of alternative tonalities in rock drumming; for example, he uses his toms more frequently than other rock drummers do in general, often substituting them for hi-hat, bass drum, and snare drum.
“I picked that up when I was a kid and I had all these jazz records that I inherited from my grandparents,” he says. “There was a lot of Gene Krupa and, later, bebop like Max Roach. What I liked about Roach was that he had this ability to use the tom toms to create these rhythms, and he did all those records where he was bringing in Cuban percussionists and African drummers — he was creating sound palettes. That made me think about the drum set as being more than just kick with snare, hi-hat, and the occasional drum fill; I wanted to use the whole drum set to create rhythm and color.”
It’s no surprise that Martin pays extra attention to the tuning of his toms. “I generally tune them to be as low as they can be without losing the tone, and I don’t tune the drums to fit with the key of the song,” he says. “I just keep them tuned low enough that they don’t clash in any kind of melodic way.”
WP2’s drum sound owes a tip o’ the hat to Martin’s longtime producing mentor Jack Endino, from whom he gleaned much of the basics of studio drum recording.
“I used an AKG D112 on the kick and a Shure Beta 58 on top of the snare, but then I’d use a Sennheiser 441 on the bottom of the snare. The 58 is two finger-widths off the head, and the 441 a little bit lower than that, so they’re not right on the drum; there’s a bit of space and air in there. I used Sennheiser 421s on the toms.”
For overhead mikes, Martin went back to the old Glyn Johns system, placing one ribbon mike in front of the rack tom and snare, and another one to the right behind the floor tom. Positioning like this covers the left-to-right configuration in the sound “stage,” but it’s really more front-and-back, which Martin says can add depth to the sound of the drums on a record.
Attention to sonic detail like this is supremely important in drawing out the life-blood in a rock drum recording, says Martin.
“Rock and roll has been around for a long time, so if you’re going to make a rock record you really to have to do it well, otherwise it can sound dated and disposable, and can lose the inherent excitement that rock and roll has. I think we captured a pretty good sound with this particular record.”
Transcription by Andy Ziker
“Hard To Look Away”
Barrett Martin conjures up Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix) on “Hard To Look Away,” using a number of subtle devices to draw in the listener. He adds a bass drum on beat 2 in measure one (left over from the snare in the intro), plays in two-measure mini-phrases dictated by an infectious bass drum pattern, articulates with snare sixteenths on the e and ah, and sets up and hits offbeat crashes like a big band drummer (measures seven and eight).
BAND: Walking Papers
BIRTHPLACE: Olympia, Washington
INFLUENCES: John Bonham, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Keith Moon, Neil Peart
CYMBALS: Sabian HHX series for rock; Sabian Artisan series for jazz
STICKS: Promark 7A hickory wood tip
HEADS: Remo Fiberskyn
MALLET PERCUSSION: Yamaha vibes and marimbas