DOUBLE BASS: SPEED DEMON
Call Slipknot what you want – profane prophets, noisy nihilists, masked Midwestern miscreants, or just plain scary nu-metal mofos with bad attitudes. But ever since the release of the band’s self-titled breakthrough album in 1999, drummer Joey Jordison has been nothing less than a classic workaholic with an indefatigable work ethic – a profile that loudly clashes with Slipknot’s anarchistic street cred.
Jordison wouldn’t have it any other way. Between worldwide Slipknot crusades he formed The Murderdolls with Static X guitarist Tripp Eisen. The two co-wrote all of the material for the band’s lone release, the 2002 punk rock horrorfest.
Beyond The Valley Of The Murderdolls, on which Jordison’s contributions read like a stage plot: Bass, guitar, drums, vocals, producer, engineer, and mixing. He made offbeat cameos on various albums – from remixing Marilyn Manson’s “Fight Song (Part 2),” to writing liner notes for Deicide’s 2003 compilation Best Of Deicide, to providing vocals for Necrophagia’s Harvest Ritual Vol. 1.
Over the past eight years he has performed both as drummer and songwriter on Slipknot’s three major label releases, and toured the world relentlessly. And we do mean relentlessly. Slipknot remained on the road for 20 merciless months in support of it’s 2004 CD Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses – a grueling endurance test for any drummer, and an inconceivable feat of strength for one such as Jordison, a diminutive man who nonetheless blasts double bass with a freakishly aerobic attack night after night. It’s a wonder he can still walk.
“Every drummer will tell you that there comes a slump in a tour where the endurance factor or the thinking factor just kind of gets jumbled,” Jordison says. “It usually happens once or twice in a tour, even though the shows are a blast each night. Even Dave Lombardo was telling me one time when we were touring with Slayer, ‘Man, I don’t know what the hell happened. It sounds like my drums are falling down the stairs.’” You’d think he’d be ready for a break once the tour wound down, but instead, in December of ’05, Jordison took the helm for the Roadrunner United album The All Star Sessions, writing music, playing bass and drums, and co-producing the ambitious CD, which featured an army of artists from the Roadrunner catalog celebrating the label’s twenty-fifth anniversary. He began to daydream about being a producer.
Ministry beckons. Last April, with barely a moment to gulp a breath, Jordison launched into a five-month tour with Ministry – a dream come true. ”I’m a huge Ministry fan, always have been,” says Jordison, who met Ministry brainchild Al Jourgensen when the two bands shared festival stages in 1999. Following a chance encounter in London when Slipknot played two sold out nights at the Astoria, Jordison got the call from Jourgensen to go on the road.
“Of course I said yes, and it was awesome. The first couple shows were really surreal. When we played songs like ‘Stigmata’ or ‘Jesus Built My Hotrod,’ ‘So What’ – it was really odd. Ministry is one of the band’s I looked up to – one of my favorite bands of all time.’
Drawing material from Ministry’s 1988 album The Land Of Rape And Honey onward, Jordison found himself reinterpreting drum parts laid down by a number of sources, including industrial drum machines and sequences. “I amped it up … a lot,” Jordison says. “I kept the structure and the pulse of the original beats, but of course I couldn’t help it but freak out a little bit. I added double bass on certain parts to lift it here and there, and on certain fills. I didn’t change it to where you didn’t know what song or the beat it is.” Jordison was asked to record Ministry’s next release, still unscheduled at press time.
Back to the board. He’d barely been home from the Ministry tour long enough to unpack before jumping headfirst into producing the newest release by Three Inches Of Blood. It’s impossible to miss his enthusiasm about the project. Jordison produced the Murderdolls debut and portions of the Roadrunner All Stars, but this is the first time he produced an album on which he didn’t play any drums.
“When you’re writing your own material it can be hard to hear another opinion, because you’ve already analyzed the stuff over and over. But with [Three Inches Of Blood], I instantly hear something, and they’ve been really receptive. I’m co-writing and arranging with this band a lot – that’s where my real talent lies. It’s not like I’m just doing engineer work or anything like that. It’s been a blast so far. We work really well together.”
Jordison honed his knack for production by closely studying studio veterans Rick Rubin and Ross Robinson as they produced the last three Slipknot’s albums. “At first it was really weird, like, ‘What’s this guy doing? Butchering the songs?’ But now you listen to them and it’s like, ‘Yeah, it makes total sense.’ So with Three Inches Of Blood, when we start, I go through the whole song and we get an arrangement, and we’ll wipe things out here, and we’ll change keys there, we’ll add a new part, we’ll strip it down and rearrange things, do different dynamics.”
You might imagine that Jordison pays strict attention to even the tiniest nuance of every drum part, fine-tuning arrangements with the band’s new drummer Lexi Rodriguez. “He’s amazing,” Jordison gushes. “I work really closely with him. Once we have an arrangement, I sit alone with Lexi, and we’ll figure out the dynamics of the drums for hours on end until it feels right to me, and it’s second nature to him.
“Producing bands is opening up a whole other door in my career, and I’m super excited about that. I’m looking for another band to produce right now. I think once this record comes out I’ll get some offers, and I’ll be able to get a little bit more into that side of the music business, which I’m really excited by.”
Intro double bass. Jordison reveals, “Slipknot will be getting back together in the summer to write the next record,” which means only one thing to drummers – another healthy dose of precision double bass work.
“When Slipknot came out, no one was playing double bass like that back then. It didn’t exist. You never heard it, unless it was a really underground band. As Slipknot came out, you started to hear more of the harder metal coming back, and all of a sudden double bass drummers started appearing everywhere. If I did help out a little bit, man, it’s an absolute huge honor for me.”
Jordison started out on a single-bass kit, “just like any kid does,” and was influenced by John Bonham, Keith Moon, and Stewart Copeland. “I’ve learned a lot from them. Those types of drummers made their parts sing.” His perspective shifted in the early ’80s when “one of the first double bass drum patterns that I recognized was ‘Red Hot’ [from Shout At The Devil] by Mötley Crüe. Granted, it’s slow, but at the time it was powerful.”
Working through Carmine Appice’s book Rudiments To Rock, he gravitated toward increasingly heavier music. “I remember [Anthrax’s] Among The Living record, with songs like ‘A Skeleton In The Closet.’ Charlie [Benante}’s feet, he was always one-upping what the previous thrash bands were doing. Obviously, Metallica’s ‘Fight Fire With Fire’ [from Ride the Lightning] was definitely an influence. Those were a couple of songs where I noticed that the speed was getting crazier.” All hell quite literally broke loose when Slayer’s drummer Dave Lombardo entered Jordison’s radar. “Reign In Blood really was the one that stepped it up for me, as far as noticing the speed and the overall aggression and power of what double bass can do for a song.”
And that’s all it took to launch Jordison into a lifelong pursuit of ever-faster feet. “You can do anything with your feet that you do with your hands,” he exclaims. “I don’t get to practice as much now, but in the early days, I’d be able to practice a few hours a night. I’d watch a TV show that would be an hour long, so that would keep my attention and I would do eighth-notes, alternating between my hands and feet. I’d just go back and forth, back and forth. I didn’t keep my feet going all the time, but I still was working on my stamina. So I’d do it that way instead of just trying to jump right into keeping my feet going for a long time.
His routine has only slightly changed. “Sometimes I’ll just do mid-tempo sixteenth-note for a half hour or 45 minutes, not super fast, but not slow. Sometimes the really fast stuff is easier for me, because there’s a certain way you balance your feet with the vibration and tension in your legs. Mid tempo exercises use more of your leg, and tire my legs out more than doing really super fast thirty-second-note double bass.”
Double bass tips. Jordison now finds himself among the world’s authorities on double kick drumming. We wanted to learn his secrets, starting with the nuts and bolts – the virtues of playing heel-up and heel-down.
“I play heel-up, but recently on certain songs I’ve been learning how to play heel down. It’s a lot easier than I thought it would be. There are some really quick Slipknot songs like ‘Pulse Of The Maggots’ that have long double bass sections – one is halfway through the first chorus, and halfway through the guitar solo, then halfway through the last chorus. I’ve been doing those heel down recently, even though they’re incredibly fast.
“I’m always trying to find different ways to play certain speeds, where it feels the most comfortable. I notice that if I play heel up on a certain song, I might try to go a little bit too fast, and rush the beat. Songs like ‘Disasterpiece’ and ‘Heretic Anthem,’ that’s definitely a heel-up style, because they’re so fast.”
The right-hander has the ability to lead with either foot while racing through tricky double-bass figures. “It depends on how my legs are feeling,” he explains. “When I’m leading off really quick sixteenth-notes or thirty-second-note double bass, I always lead off with my right. But sometimes I can actually kick a straight eighth-note beat better on my left than on my right. I don’t know why that is.
“I think [my left leg] hasn’t been worked as much as my right. And when you over-think your parts, and it gets so easy and you get so comfortable with it, sometimes it can start to be self-defeating. I actually play a lot with my left foot, especially with simpler beats. I have no problem – if I’m experiencing fatigue for some reason on an odd day – to kick it over and to play a song on my left foot.”
Jordison sits low behind the kicks, with his back slightly arched for balance. He sets his beaters approximately halfway between the points of impact and at rest, and prefers a medium-loose spring tension. “I used to tighten them really tight, and I was starting to lose a little bit of the attack, so I’ve loosened my pedals up a little bit,” he says. “It gave me a quicker bounce back and it’s not sloppy, so I can get a little bit more speed out of it now.”
Inquire into the angle of his pedal board and Jordison quips, “Ask my drum tech, Sol. I drive that guy nuts. He’ll probably be in an asylum within the next two years, because I’m constantly changing things.” Jordison presently uses the Pearl Eliminator with the red offset cam for optimum power and sensitivity. He also likes to tune both bass drums to the same pitch, with the resonant head tensioned a bit tighter than the batter, “because I like a lot of click and for the bass drums to be defined.”
The New breed. Even Jordison is amazed by some of the double bass drumming he hears roaring out of new metal bands that have started to stake a claim. “I listen to a lot of black metal music. The stuff is just getting insane for drummers. There’s always someone pushing things.
“Frost from Satyricon and Hellhammer from Mayhem are a couple of the drummers who, if you want to listen to speed – they’re it. I also have to mention Pete Sandoval from Morbid Angel. These guys have been around for a long time, they’re not newcomers. But for listeners that want to hear double bass, these guys are the really extreme players, as far as black metal, death metal drumming.”
Jordison also sees a downside to the resurging popularity of extreme double bass drumming … double kick dependency. “There are a lot of metal drummers that really disappoint me,” he confides. “Even though they’ve got crazy speed, it’s just a linear pattern of fast fills and double bass. It sounds great for the parts that they’re playing, like a lot of black or strict death metal stuff, but now the whole thing is, ‘Who can play faster?’ That starts to wear on my nerves. I’m all about as fast as you can go, but I just think it takes away from the actual song itself.”
Are there clues that tell you when you run the risk of overusing your double bass chops? “You can see where the riff should breathe a lot more,” Jordison advises. “Make more space for the vocal, because sometimes you can muddy that up, and the whole personality of the song can go away because the drummer’s just overplaying way too much.
He adds, “Sometimes I use double kick too much.”
A pregnant pause lingers before we dare ask: So Joey, can you give us an example of a Slipknot recording where you overplayed the double bass part?
“Actually no,” Jordison immediately laughs. “It’s all about the feel of the song. We’ll do three different double bass patterns on a certain riff before we know which one it is. Sometimes we’ll try it with a China, and then we’ll go to a ride cymbal, or the bell of the ride cymbal, or the hi-hat, just to find out where the space really lies, where it really makes sense for the song. It’s not just like, ‘Oh, we need a double bass part here, just do it.’ Sometimes we wipe out double bass completely, and all of a sudden the sun comes out, instead of getting too dark and muddy. Double bass needs to be used as a dynamic, not for flash.”
Parting shots. Like the volume control on your iPod, double bass is little more than a feature of a bigger thing. Whether you choose to use it or lose it will have little impact on your odds of making it big. But some drummers are simply compelled to play two kick drums, based on the style of music they play and lifestyle they choose.
It’s a counterculture inside a subculture, and devoted young double bass drumming devotes at Slipknot shows routinely swarm Jordison. “They always ask the same question: ‘How did you get your speed so fast?’
“God!” he explodes. “It comes from years of practice. Start slow and gradually build up. Don’t try to dive right into playing the fast stuff.”
But let’s be real. In the hands of Jordison, Benante, or Lombardo, pure speed is alluring. “It’s an attractive thing to a young metalhead who is crazy about aggression and overall power. But to really develop your style, you should learn to walk before you can run. A lot of killer lead players that I know have no clue how to play a real soulful, well-structured, musical solo that sings, because they’re concentrating only on speed. I think that’s kind of self-defeating in a lot of ways.”
So here’s the rub. “Learn the basics first and build up. Because all you do is end up losing the best parts of playing rock music if you try to just jump right into all the technical stuff. You miss out on the real meat and potatoes of rock drumming. All that other stuff can come later, but learn your basics first.”
Jordison keeps an eye on those kids waiting backstage at Slipknot shows. “I’ve always thought the most important musician out there is that kid that’s in his basement that no one has heard of. There are kids coming out that want to make their mark – they’re one-upping everybody, and it’s absolutely amazing. I love it.”