Mighty machine drummer Gene Hoglan is renowned for his work with Fear Factory, Devin Townsend, Dark Angel, Death, Strapping Young Lad, Pitch Black Forecast, and Testament. Once weighing in at a mighty 250 pounds plus, Hoglan’s 100-pound weight loss has made the conversational drummer even more of a live wire.
Currently “patching-up” Dethklok’s Dethalbum 3 while also perfecting tracks for the virtual metal band’s main gig on Adult Swim’s Metalocalypse, Hoglan discusses drum gridding, leg weights, and the fate of “Pickles The Drummer” in this DRUM! exclusive.
What kind of patch-ups are you doing for Dethalbum 3?
Seeing that I track the songs the day that I learn them, usually I have some tiny transitional fills to do, or this time Brendan wanted me to try some different beats to match his new riffs. We’re writing songs on the fly. So as the songs progress we’ll play something different to match the new riffs. I rarely get to do that sort of thing but this time I did, so a few tiny little spots were fixed.
How do you learn a song and record it the same day? That’s unorthodox.
It is unorthodox. But I’ve had so many projects that are like that where the band or artist hands you the song and you play it. You need a large stockpile of fills that work and ones that you can cull from your mental brain trust of fills. Like, “Okay, I know in this style of music I have a bunch of fills that could work well.” Or the artist might say, “I am not feeling that fill,” so you access a different memory bank of fills. So then you try those. Option anxiety happens a lot when I work like this, usually it’s the people I’m working with saying, “Let’s try this or throw that up against the wall.” Sometimes it bogs down the session and it can make you real tired at the end of a long day.
How do you learn a song that fast? Do you have a Pro Tools demo or a chart?
I don’t read, so sometimes it’s a demo. When it comes to Dethklok recording tracks for Metalocalypse, whatever the length of the song is in the episode, if it’s 35 seconds of a song or a minute of a song or sometimes there are songs that are two and a half minutes, then we’ll flesh out the rest of the song and Brendan [Small, Dethklok songwriter and creator] will work on a bunch of riffs to complete the track. He usually works on them the night before and brings them in and shows me all his ideas. Sometimes I have 47 seconds of a track down on a demo. That will be the main body of the song and then we throw in another three minutes on top of that. So I have a quick memory. Devin Townsend used to say I have a “steel trap mind.” I am really good; if you write a riff and forget it I will remember exactly how you played it and play it back for you.
I bet that memory helps a lot with tracking drums with different artists.
It helps a lot when you do like 12 albums and 12 different projects a year. If you don’t fuse a lot of stuff together it comes in handy. When a riff hits me I remember it. A couple of the songs on the new Dethklok album we patched and pieced them together. So I’ll know about a minute of the song, and then I get the other three minutes, I will play the first minute and then go part by part by part. Hopefully, by the time I’ve got all these parts together I can take a listen to it and get a quick break to gather the whole song in my head and then go in and track the entire song. By then I’ve already got a few different versions that we’ve pieced it together, and then I think of a few transitional fills, then play the song from start to finish.
So you’re tracking Dethalbum 3 and recording soundtrack material for Metalocalypse at the same time?
We’re doing the album version of the songs that appear on the new season, and a few songs that haven’t been aired yet. We’re also recording songs from the past season. We came in to do Dethalbum 3, which made me think we would be tracking songs from season three, but then Brendan said, “Who knows when we’ll get in the studio again, so let’s track songs from season four too.” Great.
What’s your favorite performance of the new album?
I like all of them. My chops are up and everything, but no song titles yet [Wikipedia lists unconfirmed song titles for Dethalbum 3]. For example, “The Galaxy” is from the final episode of season three and it’s a really glorious epic track. It’s so mighty, just thinking about it gives me shivers. The best Dethklok song ever. It’s pretty slow stuff with slow double bass. The intro is in the vein of “Hell Awaits” by Slayer or “Take On All the World” by Judas Priest. All the note placement and all the riffs are pretty mighty. And it kicks into some hauling thirty-second bass drum notes with the snare on 2and 4. We have an absolutely ripping blast song called “Wine And” … something from an episode in season three where they get a drum machine to replace Pickles The Drummer. The drum machine can do anything. I am blasting the shit out of that one.
Do you usually play to a click or a guitar track in the studio?
Normally I play to a click and we fire on top of it. “The Galaxy” was in completed form, the first finished Dethklok song that I’ve tracked to. So I tracked to a click along with the track from the show. I’m playing along to a good template with guitars, vocals, and bass. For the most part I will play along with a little bit of the track. Even though a song appears a certain way on the show it might not exactly start out that way.
Drums: Pearl Reference (Carbon Mist finish with black hardware)
1. 24″ x 16″ Bass Drum
2. 14″ x 8″ Snare Drum
3. 12″ x 10″ Tom
4. 14″ x 12″ Tom
5. 18″ x 16″ Floor Tom
A. 15″ AAX X-Celerator Hi-Hats (or 15″ AA Metal-X Hi-Hats)
B. 19″ Paragon Chinese
C. 22″ HH Power Bell Ride
D. 18″ AAX X-Plosion Fast Crash
E. 18″ AAX Metal Crash
F. 8″ Paragon Splash (originally owned by Neil Peart)
G. 10″ Paragon Splash (originally owned by Neil Peart)
H. 19″ AAX Metal Crash
I. 22″ HH Power Bell Ride
J. 19″ Paragon Chinese (or 20″ AAX Chinese Brilliant)
Gene Hoglan also uses Pearl hardware, Camco pedals, Pro-Mark sticks, Evans and Remo heads, and Alesis DM-5 module and triggers.
Does Dethklok grid your drums after the fact? It doesn’t sound like it on the previous albums.
Usually we comp more than anything. I’ll do ten takes and comp the best takes. We try to make everything as human sounding as possible. I understand that gridding helps for editing, and these songs are written spur of the moment. But I’m on a Viking album coming out later this year where there is no gridding of the drums. The studio wasn’t prepared for any sort of gridding. It makes you wonder why they grid me in the first place. I do try to make it as natural sounding as possible. Take a Fear Factory record, which is heavily gridded, that is what they want. They want it to sound like a machine. I play it as much like a machine as I can – which is pretty darn machine-like – then they grid it anyway. One thing Fear Factory didn’t do, they will add a bunch of triggers on the kick, but they don’t sound replace my toms, they keep the triggers tuned evenly. So it all sounds straight. I like to tune my left kick higher and my right kick lower. I am a left lead, so when it comes fast stuff, I play open handed in my left hand. I like the kicks to go high-low, high-low. But everything with Dethklok has to be gridded so it matches up perfectly with the screen behind us as we’re playing.
What do you practice when you’re off the road?
I don’t practice all the time. And I notice as I get older — I used to be able to go six months without playing and jump back on the set. Now it takes a day or two to get my chops back. I wear leg weights when I play and when I practice. I tracked the majority of the Dethklok record with leg weights.
I don’t know. My chops are up so playing with leg weights is fine. Usually if I’m using leg weights for the beginning of a live set I’ll play the first few songs with the leg weights on then pop them off when we get into the cooking double-bass material. The first songs might have hauling double-bass, but I can put everything in the general wheelhouse. I am really comfortable at 190 or 200 bpm – those are easy and simple. But when I get up to 210 to 220 bpm I take the leg weights off. With Dethklok I track one song a day. For an easy song I will track with leg weights; it’s a good thing. It gives my legs a workout. Then I’m ready for the really blistering songs. I like to work out songs with my toes and fingertips too. Then I don’t have to wave my arms around so much.