Keep Up With Sean Smith here:
My name is Sean Smith. I am 27 years old and hail from Green Bay Wisconsin.
I’ve been drumming since I was 10 years old when my parents got me my first snare drum so I could play in the 5th grade band. I’ve been a band geek ever since and loved everything about the concept of “time” in music. Being involved in band all the way through high school, as well as marching for The Americanos Drum & Bugle Corps, I started to really develop a fine appreciation for playing parts that challenge my abilities.
Now I’m into playing metal and I enjoy being able to blend my previous experience playing all styles of music into what I do now. My inspirations range everywhere from death metal to tabla, so I don’t feel like I have to restrict myself to one style or sound when being creative.
Hope to see you at a show!
Sean Smith Interview:
SDM: How important are your kick pedals to your playing?
Sean: Extremely! I use 2 single Axis X pedals (regular footboard, not long). So far they’re the only pedals I’ve tried that give me the resistance I want from the springs. I like them cranked to the max for instant rebound from the head. The footboard never leaves my feet! The only curse to playing with max tension is when I do double-hi-hat-bass-drum weird stuff, the pedals usually continue flopping around everywhere, so when I go from hi-hat back to kick, sometimes the beater is at an angle that is pretty close to the head when I need to hit it, resulting in a HUGE loss of power.
SDM: How do you prepare yourself before a show and recording?
Sean: I tend to find myself pacing around awkwardly and breathing heavily. Throw in some jumping jacks and stretches, boom. Showtime.
SDM: What kind of practice routines do you perform when you practice by yourself? Do you practice with a metronome?
Sean: When I sit down to hone in my chops on my own I typically warm up just by playing my originals, then after that chore is done, I turn on the metronome and zone out to it, finding grooves from within myself and playing games to see if my brain can stump my hands or vice versa. After an hour or two of “BEEKOOBEEKOOBEEKOOBEEKOO” I give my ears a break and turn it off to play softly and work on my finesse, usually crescendoing into one big drum solo until I tire myself out.
SDM: Did you ever take drum lessons? Do you play any other instrument? Can you read music like drum notation or guitar tab?
Sean: I’ve taken a total of 2 formal drum set lessons from a man named Pat Fraise when I was about 13. He was an epic jazz guru around the Green Bay area for the Habenero Jazz Band before he moved to California. Other than that, band class, jazz band, marching band and 3 years of drum corps along with playing in bands really helped me develop my chops. And yes, I can read music. My sight-reading of melodies is usually a little slow, but I’d like to consider myself fully aware of rhythm theory. Besides drums I play guitar, bass, piano and didgeridoo. I also love doing metal vocals.
SDM: What kind of gear do you use such as pedals, sticks, cymbals, hardware, and heads?
Sean: 8 Piece Mapex Pro M (13″Black Panther snare, 10″ Steel snare, 10″ and 12″ rack toms, 16″ and 18″ floor toms, 22×20″ Kick), Axis X, Vader 5B or Pro-Mark (usually 2B or 5B, depending how squirrelly I’m feeling at the store, but the FB/RB sticks are AWESOME!) Vader stick wrap, Aquarian Response 2 clear on the toms, Focus-X coated on my 13″ Black Panther and believe it or not I’ve had the same no-name head on my 10″ steel snare since I got it 3 years ago and it sounds great so I haven’t chosen a new head for that one yet lol. Aquarian SuperKick II’s on my kicks. Cymbals…..it’s a hodge-podge of many things. I’m slowly but surely switching over to Meinl, I just love everything coming out of that company! (Meinl) MB20 Ride, 14″ Generation X Thomas Lang Filter China, 18″ Byzance China, 14″ Byzance Fast-Hats on a DW 9000 remote cable for my right foot. (Zildjian) 16″ ZXT Medium-Thin, 16″ A Fast Crash, 14″ K Mini China, 15″ A Custom Mastersound Hi-Hats on a Mapex stand for my left foot (legs folded in and clamped to my rack) (Sabian) 10″ HHX Evolution Splash, 10″ AAX Splash (Paiste) 12″ Alpha Metal Splash (Kasza) 8″ R Series Splash. The Paiste and Kasza I have both inverted and stacked on top of each other to make a kind of “trash-hat” if you will. Mounted in the center above my rack toms. I’ve acquired many other pieces of gear as well but if you really want me to list them it’ll take a while lol.
SDM: Do you have any touring planned for your latest release and if so with who and where?
Sean: Not yet. This E.P. was really just to get our foot in the door so maybe we can get people excited for the full-length we’re working on. We’re over halfway done tracking the guitars on our upcoming 14 SONG FULL LENGTH. It’s hard. And long. And cool. Fans of the e.p. will NOT be disappointed. Our tastes in writing have definitely matured since Truth in Perception.
SDM: Where did you record your latest album Aronious-Truth in Perception?
Sean: Truth In Perception was recorded with Derek Moffat at 608 studios.
SDM: Do you use triggers in the studio or live? What’s your opinion about using triggers and drum modules?
Sean: I used to use the Axis e-kit triggers with an Alesis DM5, but since I became an audio engineer, (and realized what I’m capable of behind the kit) I have abandoned triggers and prefer to go au-naturale. It may be a pride thing, but I have also been very impressed by some of my favorite drummers NAILING their kick sound with just a mic.
SDM: What band or drummer influenced you on your latest recording?
Sean: Thomas Haake, Pandit Sandesh Popatkar, JoJo Mayer, Rodney Holmes, Vinnie Paul, Hellhammer, Anup Sastry, Matt Garska, Elliot Hoffman, Benny Grebb, Dirk Verbeuren, Aesop Rock, P.O.S, Zach Gibson, …..the list is very long and strange lol.
SDM: What are some of your main drumming influences today and back when you first started? Do you listen to different styles of music outside of the metal realm?
Sean: The biggest influence in my current drumming I think would have to be Thomas Haake. I’ve seen the guy play 3 times and each time has been pretty spot-on and solid. The balance of power and finesse that he has is unreal! Would love to talk chops with him someday. As far as other styles of music, yes I like a ton of stuff. Everything from Gregorian Chants to Electronic Dance. (Drum ‘N Bass usually gets me pretty inspired to drum) Sometimes I even listen to silence just to see where my brain goes. If you haven’t tried that, I highly recommend finding a patch of woods and just sitting there for a while, thinking about rhythm. You’d be amazed at what you can come up with when no other factors are hindering your creative process.
SDM: How long did it take you to record the drums and were you happy with the final product?
Sean: I think total tracking time probably comes to somewhere around 1-2 hours for the whole E.P. Not to toot my own horn, but when it’s time to cowboy-up and we’re wasting time and money by doing 1,000,000 takes I seem to perform on high gear. I was pretty proud of my takes on this CD. (someday maybe I’ll be a 1-take wonder haha) Drums were recorded at 608 Studios with Derek Moffat. I was happy, yes, but will definitely do things differently the next time around.
SDM: Did you record the drums to a click track in the studio? Do you find playing to a click track challenging?
Sean: You betcha! The click was beeping right along with me. I do not find it challenging, more rewarding actually, but maybe because I’ve practiced with it for so long. My view on it is if you can’t keep time to a metronome, then you sure as hell can’t keep time without one, chumps!
SDM: How often does the band practice during the week? How often do you practice by yourself weekly?
Sean: We practice once a week on Sundays and my other band Crater practices on Wednesdays. Sundays lately have been replaced with tracking guitars for the upcoming album. I practice about once a week on my own, but would like to treat it more seriously and more often.
SDM: How were the drums recorded in the studio, and with what kind of gear did you use to record them? How long did it take to write and record the drums?
Sean: I have a lot to say about this subject, but I’ll try to keep it short. This time around in the studio we used triggers on the kicks (I’ve got an E-kit box for each of my Axis’s) to overall get a clean sound for what we were working with. At the time, we recorded in an attic (aka evil sweat chamber) with some run-of-the-mill mics, then after tracking was done, we took the nice mics we had available and sampled each of my drums at multiple velocities, then went and replaced the hits with the clear sounding samples. All the cymbals are definitely live though. So, not ideal….but the end result turned out great! Not bad for a 19 year old kid recording in his apartment. 🙂 Love you Derek!
SDM: What blast beat method do you use?
Sean: I wouldn’t necessarily say I used a different method for blasts in particular. If I have to play fast, I open up, relax, and find that nice fulcrum balance between speed, precision and power. I do catch myself falling into Moeller technique more often than not though. It’s a great way to stay calm and not over-grip/cramp. My left hand struggles to grasp the Moeller concept as easily as my right hand does. Damned left hands! Useless sometimes I tell you hwutt.
SDM: What are you kick pedals set at?
Sean: Cranked to the max!
SDM: Do you blast with one foot? If so, how did you learn this technique?
Sean: Only when I have to work the hi-hat open and closed during the blast. Otherwise typically 2 feet, because I’m lazy lol. I feel like if I started blasting with one foot all the time, I’d have to do the same to balance out the other foot, and that’s not something I want to spend time on perfecting right now. 2 foot blasts are a nice way to catch my breath in-between crazy bouts of double bass.
SDM: What kind of double bass techniques do you use? Such as swivel etc?
Sean: I’m pretty much a heel-down kind of guy. Most of the time my whole foot is in contact with the pedal board and heel plate. If I need the raw power, I catch myself lifting the heel and using more of the leg. I also lift the heel for little double-stroke accent stuff. Or for a fast swung lick. I am trying to get that heel up though, just to know what the benefits are like.
SDM: How do you recommend drummers build up their endurance and speed? What did you do personally for yourself to enhance both of these areas?
Sean: Practice practice practice. And no, I’m not talking about the fun stuff. 8 on a hand with a metronome. For an hour at a time. If you really want to build that muscle, do it on a pillow and make sure to get full stick heights and proper stroke technique on EVERY hit.
SDM: What sort of tension do you have on your snare? Do you leave it loose or do you tighten it all the way? Do you use anything like Moongel or anything else on your snare? What size is your snare?
Sean: My snare is pretty tight all around on batter, resonant and throw-off. I like that *CRACK* sound. Almost like a pistol. If I was playing other types of music I’d tune it a little fatter. Sometimes I monkey around with this technique below. I use moongels if I can’t seem to tune out annoying overtones as the head ages. Right now I play a 13″ Black Panther and a 10″ Pro Steel both Mapex.
SDM: Do you think the size of your snare affects the velocity of your blast beats?
Sean: Size, tuning, sticks, technique, focus, adrenaline…all factors.
SDM: What sorts of gripping technique do you use?
Sean: Staying loose and relaxed is always my main goal. Once I find the fulcrum sweet spot I just stick with it and try not to over-grip. Sometimes I catch myself in a death-grip and it takes a little mental battling to get them to loosen up again.
SDM: What would you do if you couldn’t play drums? Do you have another profession besides being a musician?
Sean: Well first off I would be very sad. Besides being a musician, me and our bass player Nick run a live audio production company doing sound & lights for bands/festivals all over the place.
SDM: What are some the albums you are listening to now?
Sean: India Lucia – India Lucia. Gorilla Voltage – Ape-X. Lustmord – The Word As Power. P.O.S – Chill, Dummy. Scar Symmetry – The Singularity, just to name a few.
SDM: How supportive are your family concerning your drumming?
Sean: VERY. I have amazing parents who continue to stay deeply concerned about what I’m doing with my life haha.
SDM: What would you say to drummers out there that are just starting off and want to become professional?
Sean: Practice, mingle, watch others, learn, and try to stay humble. Also, don’t piss off the sound guy lol.
SDM: Any tips for drummers who live the tour life?
Sean: Keep givin’er til you gave’r then give’r some more!
SDM: Why do you use the specific type of module and triggers you use now? How did you find out which were the right kind for you? Did you try a lot out or just settle with what you could get?
Sean: The e-kit boxes on the kicks are the only triggers I own. Just seemed to be the smartest choice with my Axis pedals. I have an Alesis DM5 for the brain. I didn’t really try out any, I just bought 2 e-kit’s and a brain and have been satisfied since, but like I said I never use them anymore.
SDM: How important is it to your drumming to know the basic 40 drum rudiments?
Sean: HA! I used to have most of them memorized back in drum corps. Hell if I remember half of them now, which is quite shameful. I’d say it’s VERY important to at least learn your basic paradiddles, flams, drags and different stroke rolls. It helps you expand your motor control separation and really hones in your perception of the rhythms you’re playing.
SDM: Do you have any problems or have issues with your less dominant hand when drumming?
Sean: Yup. My left hand is like a kid that needs babysitting, positive reassurance, and the occasional discipline. I’m always trying to incorporate it in different ways to make it the dominant one in a groove.
SDM: Do you use a practice pad when practicing? What kind of practice set up do you have?
Sean: I do when I’m trying to chew through some boring exercises, otherwise I just go to our studio and play my kit.
SDM: Do you go to drum clinics in your area? What sort of materials do you use for practice? Any certain books or videos that you watch? Any certain Youtube sites?
Sean: They are far and few between around here, but I do love going. Saw Mike Mangini, Todd Sucherman, Rodney Holmes and Dennis Chambers to name a few, but that’s when Henri’s Music was still open in Green Bay. I have an app on my Ipad called Drum Guru. It’s pretty cool. Lots of videos and sheet music. Stone’s Stick Control is a good book.
SDM: What are some of the new techniques you would like to get better at?
Sean: I guess I wouldn’t mind getting better at the Moeller approach. New techniques aren’t really something I’m looking for. The old techniques are tried and true and if you pay attention to what you’re doing you can just do your own thing if it’s working for you.
SDM: How do you get an endorsement?
Sean: Hopefully by doing more interviews like these 😉 haha. I actually haven’t even tried yet. Waiting to sell a few hundred CD’s, do a little DIY touring and see where it goes. I’ll probably apply soon. Is that how you do it? “Hello, Mapex? Why, yes! I WOULD love a free Saturn IV!” I LOVE MAPEX, VADER, GIBRALTAR and MEINL!!!!!!!!! ……………<——-do think they’ll see that?
SDM: Do you do any cymbal chokes in your playing?
Sean: Hells ya I do. Good examples on the E.P. are in Cognitive Process, Truth in Perception around 2:03 – those diddies repeat a few times in that song. The mutes are on the &’s of 2 and 3 in that 6 beat phrase.
SDM: Do you use ghost notes in your playing?
Sean: Also hells ya. Good examples of that on the E.P. are in Disillusionment I at 4:42, I just started recently adding them in Disillusionment II at 1:50(8th notes along with the hi-hat, both with their respective accents) and at 3:25 onward. 4:13 in An Oblivious Contribution is a cool ghost note diddie that I do between the ride and left hat.
SDM: Do you make use of paradiddles, polyrhythms, various stroke rolls, etc?
Sean: I try to as much as possible. A lot of times I will create my own diddles depending on where I need my hands to be on the kit relative to the next part coming up. Polyrhythms are always super fun. You can get carried away so far from your original idea if you’re not careful using them though.
SDM: What do you wear on your feet when you play?
Sean: I used to use these big, fat, bright orange flip flops made by Nike but I can’t find them anymore. They were soft rubber type stuff so they grip the pedal nicely. Really anything that won’t slide off the pedal. I used to be a barefoot guy but then puberty hit and I started sweating more lol.
SDM: How do you keep your drum patterns original and innovative?
Sean: By thinking deeply. TOO deeply sometimes. I will play one groove for 3 hours if it means I can tweak it to make it fit perfectly into a lick.
SDM: How important is it for drummers out there to support their local scene?
Sean: As a live sound engineer, I’m at shows every single weekend so I feel like I don’t count. But if you know there’s music going on that you might enjoy, or even don’t know anything about, JUST GO! If your local scene is weak, shows won’t happen. Go out, get a beer or 2, enjoy yourself and listen to what your peers have to offer.
SDM: What’s more important to you… having your drums sounding sick and fast, or having character?
Sean: Character for sure. The metal scene is already over-saturated with mindless blast beats and double bass. If I was born as a computer maybe I’d feel differently haha. Complex rhythm structure and taste are what really get me going. Fitting in the pocket is more important to me than showing off. I like to combine both when necessary.
SDM: How about practicing linear patterns. Do you cover any of this in your practice routines?
Sean: Yes! I love thinking linear. It’s a good mental workout to try and create good sounding grooves that way. Makes you think about the elements behind the groove, as opposed to adding elements to the forefront of an already existing one.
SDM: What inspires you to create new grooves behind the kit?
Sean: BEEKOOBEEKOOBEEKOOBEEKOOBEEKOOBEEKOO! Is that a word? Bust out my metronome, set it to something screwy and try to keep up. My band mates also inspire me to make new grooves will all their riff-raff lol.
SDM: How are your drums set up in order to create the ultimate results from your playing?
Sean: I feel like everything flows and feels mostly symmetrical. I’ve got a splash on either side, a hi-hat on either side, a closed hat in the middle, a crash on either side, a china on either side, 2 snares… I like as much symmetry as possible so that there always toys to play with for both right and left hands. I basically just copied Chris Adler when I was 16 and let it evolve on its own haha.
SDM: How much of your time do you concentrate on practicing things you’re not so good at yet? What are some of your strengths and weaknesses?
Sean: NOT ENOUGH haha. I’d say my strengths are timekeeping, power, and creativity. My biggest weakness is stamina for sure. I tend to run out of breath during intense, fast parts where I’m also doing backup vocals.
SDM: What motivates you do get behind the drums every day and how do you keep motivated to drum?
Sean: My main motivation is my weakness for groovin’ out! lol. I crave it. That moment when you nail a part and all the sudden the metronome seems to disappear, you know you’ve got it locked in. And it makes you want to play more!
SDM: How important is it to keep eye contact with your fellow bandmates while playing live in order to lock in and connect with them on a song?
Sean: If me and my bandmates are making eye contact that either means we’re making stupid faces at each other or that we’re in SERIOUS trouble and are in the process of falling apart during a song. Soooooo ya, I try not to look if I can help it.
SDM: Are you a fan of pro tools and do you support others in the studio copy/pasting, manipulating your performance on a track?
Sean: I hate it. To be honest, though, it’s a new reality that a lot of studios have embraced and have been very successful at. Although you can get perfect sounding recordings doing that, sometimes the imperfections are what can make a band sound like….themselves. Copying and pasting is lazy and quite frankly an insult to my chops. Nice microphones, nice room, good takes, and good tuning is the way to go.
SDM: What factors do you consider when buying a drum head? Is it just durability, plenty of life, or an open bright tone or a fat sound you’re looking for?
Sean: I like my snares to be bright and punchy, yet dead. Toms nice and fat with a good amount of attack and not too much resonance. Kicks I tune super low with little-to-no padding on the inside. Doing that allows the really low bass frequencies to have short sustain without overwhelming the snap of the beater so it can actually shine through.
SDM: In order to create common time in any one of your songs, do you use alternate time signatures to add variety?
Sean: Yes! I do this all the time to put a little fire under my bandmates lol. Or if they have a riff that sounds TOO common, I will devise a way to change the time sig so that it’s still groovy. Sometimes though, deviating too far from the original idea is a bad thing. Nothing wrong with a straight simple riff from time to time.
SDM: How old were you when you started playing?
SDM: Did you play in a school band or any drum corps?
Sean: Yep! I started in 5th grade in band class and continued public school band all the way until I graduated. During high school years, I played the tenors for The Americanos Drum & Bugle Corps. 8th grade until now I’ve also been in many bands/still am in many bands lol.
SDM: Who are your top 5 metal influences?
Sean: Gene Hoglan, Thomas Haake, Elliot Hoffman, Dirk Verbeuren, and Daniel Luttick (that was hard to only pick 5)
SDM: Who gave the best live performance you’ve ever seen?
Sean: Meshuggah. Every. Damn. Time.
SDM: Aside from drumming, what else do you like to do?
Sean: I like to spend good quality time outside when I get the chance. Otherwise, meme’s and cat videos eat up a shamefully large amount of my free time when I’m feelin’ lazy.