Tim Yeung: Blast Off!

“Charlie Benante was the first guy to really inspire me to play double bass — he was nuts,” Yeung recalls. “Anthrax’s Among The Living made a huge impact on me. A lot of guys still can’t pull off what Charlie was doing in ’87. Dave Lombardo as well, especially on Slayer’s Reign In Blood. Later, I got into death metal. Pete Sandoval on Morbid Angel’s Blessed Are The Sick really encouraged me to push the envelope. He raised the bar on fast double bass and metal drumming all together. Then I discovered fusion. I heard Dave Weckl’s Master Plan; that really inspired me. And Death’s Human with Sean Reinert. He was playing this crazy jazz-fusion stuff within death metal. These records made me want to branch out and learn other genres.”

During high school, Yeung studied with Steve Curry at Hochstein School Of Music & Dance in Rochester. Curry “broke down my technique and rebuilt it.” They worked on stick control, fingers, and wrist action. When not practicing, Yeung worked the local Rochester circuit, often underage, in his first professional band.

“I’d get to school late on Monday because I was gigging over the weekend,” he recalls. “They would have to sneak me in the back door because I wasn’t old enough to be in the bar. That’s where I got my feet wet writing songs, recording demos, and playing gigs.”

By now, Yeung had a bigger, badder drum set, a 9-piece Tama Rockstar kit in Gun Metal Gray finish. He maintained a rigorous practice regimen.

“Absolutely,” Yeung declares. “Every day for at least an hour a day throughout my teenage years. I’d work on warm-ups that I developed. The more you practice you develop a cycle that works for you. I’d warm-up hands and feet together for five minutes, then just play the set for an hour with no distractions. Coming up with cool ideas, sometimes I’d get a wacky beat in my head and record it just to remember it.”

Recording demos with his band, Yeung took tentative steps at blastbeats. He could manage speed with his hands, but his foot (for a one-foot blast) lagged behind. He’d attempt to play it at speed, then slow it down, then accelerate again. Gaining bass drum precision was the issue. Clarifying the problem helped him achieve the desired results.

“You can play something all day but if you can’t hear what you’re doing wrong you’re not going to be able to progress,” he says. “On my first demos I realized I couldn’t hear the kick drum. So I worked on that. I critiqued myself for mistakes — I wanted to correct them. I wanted it to sound great. That separates the pros from the amateurs. They hear what’s wrong and correct it.”

Working All The Angles

After Yeung graduated from high school, his band broke up — it was time to calculate his next move. Ever the hustler, Yeung began videotaping himself and passing out tapes to every band that blew through Rochester. One of the tapes found its way to guitarist Erik Rutan. By the summer of 1998, when he was 20, Yeung was in Tampa recording Hate Eternal’s debut, Conquering The Throne. His career as an in-demand session and touring drummer had begun, and he earned the nickname Tim “The Missile” Yeung. From 1999 to 2004 he recorded and/or toured with Aurora Borealis, Decrepit Birth, Nile, Hank Williams III, Council Of The Fallen, and Vital Remains. In ’05 he saved some money and moved to L.A.

“I was out every night, hitting the clubs, giving out business cards, handing out CDs and plugging myself. That’s how it works in L.A.”

Still without a band to call his own, Yeung stumbled into the 2006 NAMM show where he was challenged to match wits (and feet) with something called the Drumometer.

“That was my first NAMM,” he recalls. “Some guy just challenged me to do it. I said ‘No thanks.’ ‘Are you afraid?’ he said. That pushed my buttons. I made it to the finals and won on a spoof. It was a lot of fun. Speed has nothing to do with how good someone is. But it wasn’t based on that; it’s just about who’s fastest. It’s the old argument: ‘Whose faster, Buddy Rich or Gene Krupa?’ And it helped my career. It had everyone talking about me, good or bad. You have to worry when people aren’t talking about you.”

Yeung met Dino Cazares when he was on tour with Nile in 2003. One day the guitarist called him while he was on yet another day job, as a bicycle mechanic.

“We began working on what would later become Divine Heresy,” Yeung recalls. “And I continued to work with Vital Remains, All That Remains, and World Under Blood. I wasn’t practicing as much, I didn’t have access to a drum kit. I lived in my van for six months, bounced from couch to couch.”

But Tim Yeung had arrived. He worked with Divine Heresy, and as a hired session and tour drummer until 2010, when Morbid Angel contacted him to record sessions for a temporarily ailing Pete Sandoval. After jam sessions that passed for an audition, Yeung tracked Illud Divinum Insanus between June 2010 and March 2011.

Going Insanus On The Membranes

Yeung brings pummel, and brain-shattering blastbeats to Morbid Angel’s “Existo Vulgore,” the robo-machine penetrations of “Blades For Baal,” and the shape-shifting “Nevermore.” His precision is evident throughout Illud Divinum Insanus. Tracks from World Under Blood’s as-yet unreleased album can be heard at MySpace; from the manic gymnastics of “Under The Autumn Low” (some of Yeung’s best full set playing to date) to The Mars Volta sci-fi effects of “God Among The Waste,” and the ear collapsing “Dead And Still In Pain.” And Yeung’s blastbeat mastery continues to evolve.

“There are so many different kinds of blastbeats,” Yeung muses. “There are probably new ones I don’t even know about! I mostly use the one-foot blast and the bomb blast. Bomb blast is where you’re playing sixteenths on the kicks and you’re hitting the snare on eighths, so every time your right foot hits your kick, your snare hits. Your snare hand and your leading kick, which is usually your right kick, start, then your left kick follows. That’s the basic pattern. Then you can add ride cymbal or hi-hat wherever you want to add it. I’m usually on the hi-hat when I play the bomb blast with the left foot. So, say I am playing right hand on snare, my left hand on hat — my right kick is coming down with the snare drum hand, which is my right. Left kick comes down with my left hand, which strikes the hat, and they follow. There is nothing complicated about it. It’s very easy, really primitive. I think it’s harder to make a 4/4 rock beat sound good.”

And Yueng’s expertise goes beyond the blastbeat. Online videos reveal his versatility, warm drum sound, groove, and power. While some drummers rely on triggering or a close beater-to-head ratio, Yeung achieves clarity through raw power, which is evident when his beaters fly off the head and the front of his feet dance near the back of his Axis A Longboards.

“I can get a harder hit when my foot is way back,” Yeung explains. “My beaters are not touching the heads and they aren’t far away either, they’re about 7” off the head [in a resting state]. Some guy’s beaters hang way back. Gene Hoglan’s beaters are fairly far back. Everyone’s technique is slightly different. But you can’t set your pedals according to someone else. You can take elements and try to apply them, but it’s hard to set up your pedals like someone else and expect to do what they do. It’s not gonna happen.

“Tension has a lot to do with speed on your pedals,” Yeung adds. “If a head is too tight it feels weird, rubbery. It doesn’t feel good. You can actually tighten a head so much to where you don’t get a good rebound. Kick drums don’t sound good tuned really high. They sound good tuned medium or low. My heads are set medium tension to medium low tension.”

Like some other blastbeat drummers, Yeung uses a swiveling, side-to-side foot motion that seems to pump the pedals. Performing at such a high velocity, Yeung can’t always explain what his feet are doing. It’s like asking a tennis player to stop his serve in midair.

“That motion progressed naturally,” he says. “It’s easier to turn your foot side to side when you’re at a certain pace rather than going straight up and down on the pedal. Your body just naturally does that to reserve energy so you’re not straining. The swivel happened naturally. And I don’t do it all the time, just when I hit bpms over 220.”

When Yeung pushes the internal overdrive button that launches a blastbeat into hyperspace, his feet aren’t the only part of his body that undergo transformation. His left hand also changes position, from German to French grip. And he gets his arm into it.

“It’s really hard to maintain consistent volume playing only with your fingers and wrists coming straight up and down. So when I move my arm out I am actually applying a lot of upper arm, and shoulder even. I am driving my upper body as well as my fingers and wrists. It stiffens up a little bit, applying a lot of upper arm to compensate for it being such a short stroke. When I am playing slower I have more time to bring the stick back, but when you’re at 240 or 250 bpm you just don’t have time to bring the stick all the way back and then strike down to the drum.

“At those tempos you want to maintain volume,” he continues. “It really bothers me when I hear a drummer play a blastbeat and the snare drum disappears. Using my upper arm on the faster parts enables me to maintain snare and volume consistency. You will never hear my snare drum drop out of a blastbeat — not on an album or live. It’s there all the time.”

On the road with Morbid Angel, Yeung doesn’t always have time to practice. But his warm-ups remain an essential part of his evolution.

“I might work my left hand playing sixteenths at one tempo [with a metronome], then slowly turn up the tempo. I start at 230 and see how long I can hit with my left hand. You can’t stay on the click long, but try to keep up with it. Or I will play a single-stroke roll as fast and as long as possible. Again, I’m not trying to be consistent with the metronome but working on duration. The longer you can do it the longer you’re working your muscles and conditioning them. Before Morbid Angel gigs, I usually warm up for 45 minutes, at least 20 to 30 on my knee. I play on my knees or on a cushioned chair.

“For kick drums,” he continues, “I play sixteenths as long as I can while maintaining consistency. When you’re working on endurance, you can’t maintain 220 for [extended periods]; that’s really hard. Building speed is not about being consistent with the metronome. You’re working on building and conditioning your muscles. It’s more about how long you can do it, not at what tempo you can do it. How long can you keep it going, no matter the tempo? Try playing for four minutes. Work your muscles, that’s key. Go as fast as possible without your kick drums sounding like shoes in the dryer.”

Keeping It Real

Tim “The Missile” Yeung plays drums in a world of sound replaced, beat-triggered madmen who see speed as a means to an end — an unholy grail of aggression, musical brutality, and Pro Tools editing where a drummer’s actual skill is sometimes called into question. Yeung would do it all organic and all natural if he could.

“There has been some minor drum editing on a few of my recordings,” he reveals. “I would rather hear an honest mistake than a flawlessly perfect album that has been Beat-Detected and super edited in Pro Tools. If you can’t play something why would you record it? Isn’t it boring when all the productions sound the same, when everyone is on the grid and its perfect? We don’t have to strive to execute things perfectly anymore because the producer can fix it all in Pro Tools. It’s sad.”

Working with Morbid Angel brought out yet another side of Tim Yeung’s acuity and aggression. The band’s first album since 2003’s Heretic, Illud Divinum Insanus is a death metal riot of oceanic proportions.

“This album is different from anything I’ve ever done,” Yeung says. “The band wanted to have these electronic songs, but with a real drummer playing electronic sounds. They had song models laid out, but without drum beats, just electronic noises. I had to convert the noises into beats, and figure out drum beats to match what they wanted to hear. It was pretty challenging. Eventually we got electronic pads into the rehearsal room for preproduction, but I had never been asked to do that before.”

Blasting beats, kicking ass, and taking names, Yeung excels at doing what it takes, whatever it takes.

“In the past, I had more downs than ups,” he says. “Those times when you’re not making enough to pay the bills. Or when you have to pawn your gear to pay the bills. When you get discouraged while climbing that mountain, you might get kicked down a couple steps, but don’t look at where you want to be, look at everything you’ve endured and sacrificed to get to where you’re at, even if it’s not exactly where you want to be. Always persevere.”

Yeung’s Setup

tim yeung drums set

Drums Ddrum Dominion Maple (Black Gloss)
1 22″ x 20″ Bass Drum
2 14″ x 6.5″ Tim Yeung Signature Detonator Snare Drum
3 10″ x 7″ Tom
4 12″ x 8″ Tom
5 13″ x 9″ Tom
6 14″ x 13″ Tom
7 16″ x 14″ Floor Tom

Cymbals Sabian
A 14″ AAX Metal Hats
B 14″ AA Mini Chinese
C 18″ B8 Pro Chinese
D 18″ AAX Stage Crash
E 8″ AAX Splash
F 18″ AAX Studio Crash
G 19″ AAX X-Treme Chinese
H 22″ HH Power Bell Ride
I 12″ AA Mini Hat stacked on 14” AAX Mini Chinese
J 20″ APX Crash

Groove Analysis: Bombs Away

Tim Yeung is a rising star in the world of extreme metal and he’s certainly got the fast feet and hands needed for the job, combining solid drumming talent with raw athleticism. Though he’s technically a temporary addition to Morbid Angel, recording and touring with the band while longtime drummer Pete Sandoval recovers from back surgery, his skillful drumming is always worth checking out.

“I Am Morbid”
The transcription starts at the verse, where we initially see Yeung playing a slow and sparse pattern. But that doesn’t last for long. He peppers the section with short thirty-second-note runs that lead us into the prechorus. Here, Yeung plays eighths on his kick and uses cymbal crashes to outline the guitar hits. For the chorus Yeung puts his stellar feet into action and plays a blazing thirty-second pattern with what sounds like overdubbed tom hits on 1 & of each measure that are used to emphasize the lyric “mor-bid.”

“Nevermore”
This song begins with cymbal crashes that follow the guitar hits. Yeung then rips into a series of snare and hi-hat hits with thirty-second-note bass drum ruffs between them. Killer!

“Beauty Meets Beast”
Though this song is in 12/8, it certainly isn’t a blues song. The first thing you probably noticed about this transcription is that Yeung played so many notes in the second measure it barely fits on one line! If the music police issued speeding tickets, Yeung would get the Denver Boot put on his bass drum pedals.