Catching Up With Drummer Chris Nail – ex- Exhorder

By: Noel Smart

SDM:  Do you have any projects you’re in now that might release an album or tour?
Chris:  Not at this time, I’m hording beats – one of the best things with technology is being able to record for later use. I have always written out stuff in short hand at a minimum when I run across a cool beat to use for later. I have boxes of this stuff that is really cool to go into and take a beat and re-learn it etc… My Son is playing as well, so we play a few times a week, which is giving me more ideas to work on every time we play. Probably will be in another band, but waiting for the right thing at the right time. There are very few that I would play with, as I am all over the map with that.
SDM:  Back in the Exhorder days did you use triggers in the studio or live? What’s your opinion about using triggers and drum modules?
Chris:  They used triggers on SITV… Never really used them live – I can go either way. If you have a really good sounding kit, it doesn’t really make as much sense, but to really articulate fast bass drums it does make them heard – probably a blend of the two works best, but has more to do with the sound engineer. They have come along way as well since the 80’s and 90’s. Makes me feel old saying that, but they were monophonic and couldn’t handle 32nd note bass drums with other stuff as well. The big down-side of using them is having your own sound, especially if your engineer wants to use the same one for every band because he likes it.
SDM:  What band or drummer might have influenced your playing on the Exhorder albums: “Slaughter in the Vatican” and “The Law”?
Chris:  SITV was compete in 1987, but released as a demo. Then recorded as an album, but not released due to them going out of business. Then Roadrunner re-recorded and released it in 1990, so I would have to pay homage to some older bands. When I got in the band, it wasn’t really complete yet. Vinnie came over after hearing about me from a guitar player (Jack) I was jamming with. Jack would come over and run scales and riffs while I did the same on drums, weird but we were into it. When Vinnie came over I played some Rush for him. He made me a mix tape of Destruction, Sodom, Exodus, Metallica, Slayer, etc… One of the first songs we jammed on was Deliver Us to Evil by Exodus.
Shortly after I would give Primus and Stewart Copeland from the Police some influential credit on The Law. Particularly the ride patterns, which remind me of Synchronicity with a lot more drums underneath (kind of weird). I have a lot of respect for Reign in Blood, although Exhorder never stays on a groove long enough to really be compared to Slayer, but I got that record (yes a record) the day it came out. It had a lot of influence on me with guitars more than the drums. The drums are bad ass in the fact they are straight forward and in your face – hard in execution, not in design, but the riffs influence me more from bands than the drums I think. Hail to Confessor as well for writing songs that still keep me interested 20 years later.
SDM:  How long did it take you to record the drums for "Slaughter in the Vatican" and "The Law"? Where did you record the drums at? Who recorded the albums? Were you happy with the final products?
Chris:  SITV took forever because it was recorded on three different occasions. The released version with Roadrunner was recorded at Morrisound in Tampa, FL. They took the prior recording from Southlake in New Orleans that wasn’t released and over dubbed the guitars to make them fatter, then did the same with the vocals. At that point the drums didn’t stand out, so the ENTIRE album was punched in on the drums – meaning I was listening to the guitar tracks in the headphones and playing over them. It was done in about 22 hours with only a few takes per song, if that. Mostly because I can’t play Exhorder for more than 22 hours without running out of gas. I don’t know anyone who can either or they could step in. The hard part is on breaks, where the band drops out and I count off. Just dead air in the headphones making it a guess and feel to jump in 🙂 After the 1st hour the owner of the studio came in and said we were retarded and it couldn’t happen, we made it happen. We had to make it happen because we had no budget to start over and the problem with punching in is when you do you erase what was there, there is no turning back.  I think punching in an entire record is a bad idea, but somewhat pulling it off is something unique – although there are a few things here and there I hear that I wish could be fixed. We just couldn’t in 22 hours of studio time.
"The Law" drums were recorded in New Orleans, then the guitars in San Francisco.  I had 2 days with only a few hours of sleep for that one and had lots of things I wanted to put in later that we never got back to.
SITV I was never happy with the overall recording. Some looseness because everything is recorded to other instruments that were then deleted – meaning you are playing guitar to the drums, then the drums are erased and played to guitar that was played to the other drum tracks! Retarded… It could have been a much heavier album if it sounded better. A very raw, low budget struggle.
The Law sounds better. I wish there was more time to do some additions, but I think it is an overall better sounding record than SITV. I was looking forward to the 3rd blowing that away, but…

SDM:  Did you record the drums to a click track in the studio? Do you find playing to a click track challenging?
Chris:  No.  I can, but that doesn’t make sense for me. The whole point of grooving is together, not with a mechanized feel. I like when there are subtle fluctuations in the feel of music. We often slowed parts down more or played them different live – which was another problem with SITV. When we first recorded it 3 years earlier or so, we were playing the songs much faster. Over the next years playing live we had brought some speeds down – made it harder to play over the faster tracks – harder in the feel.
SDM:  What are your thoughts on “Pantera” taking the Exhorder sound or influence and developing their sound based on it? Do you feel that played into their success? How do you feel about all that and Vinnie Paul?
Chris:  It is an over discussed topic… in short, every band has influences. I don’t think they developed their sound off of Exhorder. I know Phil liked the band, but we all like other bands and all of that goes in a hat somewhere in writing music maybe, but their success I think was more along the lines of they had connections and we didn’t – think they also wrote good songs and toured their asses off. The Cowboys from Hell production alone put them in peoples faces wondering where that came from. I can’t say the same about our recordings, they fall way short in comparison.  Add in Concrete management and ATCO Atlantic Records and they had a solid foundation to build on. There were so fewer bands around back then that the comparison came up more than it should have. Also, Phil lived in New Orleans and Down was next door in one of the practice rooms, but that's about it. I don’t hear as much as other people apparently hear. I can say when you are an up and coming band on tour and every interview is Pantera questions, it gets old. It would have been cool to do a tour together and open for them! Exhorder could have really benefitted from that, back in the day I think.
I don’t know Vinnie Paul that well. We hung out a few times and he seemed cool.  Other than he is a Dallas Cowboys fan – HA.  His playing and set up is more traditional metal than mine I think.  We joked in the day about a drum off Texas Cowbell match, like a cage fight on drums, but that never happened which is probably for the better anyway.
SDM:  Tell us about playing in Floodgate? How come you left and how long were you with them?
Chris:  Floodgate was Kyle and his brother Kevin, Steve, and Neil. I filled in when Neil Montgomery wasn’t playing with them for a few shows. It was a way for me to gig on vintage drum sets to a groove-style band. Floodgate was a better band live than the recordings. I don’t know how many shows I did with them, but they were all in the NOLA area. I didn’t leave, as much as Kyle got involved in other projects.
SDM:  How important are your kick pedals to your playing?
Chris:  They seem important lately, but I’ve been playing so long I really just play whatever is around. During Exhorder days I used (2) Tama flexi flyer pedals, about $50 each on a double bass kit. A very low end pedal, but pedals have come a long way. Back then Ludwig Speed King was the shit, but I never really liked the squeaking and honestly they were more expensive and I didn’t have one, much less two of them.
SDM:  How do you prepare yourself before a show and recording?
Chris:  I play because I want to… That being said, it is far easier to play things you wrote versus playing something someone else did. Knowing the music and playing within your ability goes a long way. I play a lot so don’t really have any routine, I just play with the band and hack out some exercises to loosen up a bit, but nothing terribly unique.
SDM:  What kind of practice routines do you work on?
Chris:  I practice based on what I’m trying to be able to play, breaking down beats or fills into pieces so they can flow together or make sense. I spent a lot of time on roll exercises, playing snare drum through the years and have adapted many of those to the feet with a beat on the hands to keep things interesting. Some of which turned out in songs like in the beginning of 'I am the Cross', and most of 'Cadence of the Dirge' – which is a roll pattern played really slow on the feet, with a open cymbal and snare back-beat. Most all of those sound pretty cool with a heavy guitar riff!

SDM:  How often did the band practice?
Chris:  Exhorder practiced by gigging and the practice room was for writing. Everybody showed up knowing there own shit. I played so much drums it wasn’t an issue of keeping in shape or anything. We all hated to sit in the room and play the songs over and over again, so we just didn’t.
SDM:  Did you ever take drum lessons? Do you play any other instrument? Can you read music  like drum notation or guitar tab?
Chris:  I studied snare drum with the late, Marty Hurley.  He was one of the foremost rudimental drummers and has spawned many drummers through the years at Phantom Regiment Drum Corps and locally in New Orleans at Brother Martin High School where he taught. I took weekly lessons with him for about 3 years. I am fluent in reading and writing snare and drum set music.  And in the day, tympani, which is notes as well as rhythms. No guitar here, always thought any time on another instrument was time I wasn’t drumming and still feel that way pretty much.
SDM:  What kind of gear do you use?
Chris:  I have different sets for different things, which has taken years to horde the equipment for that, but it is what it is. I have an Ocheltree Phantom Steel drum set, which is a one-off carbon steel solid shell – it weight over 300lbs. Danny Carey from Tool has a Paiste set which was made by the same guy, but it is cymbal alloy instead of carbon steel. The weight isn’t the purpose, it is the amazing sound the shells have. This is my metal kit I played on the Exhorder reunion shows a few years back: 8, 10, 12, 14ft, 16ft, 22 bass, 14 snare.  It has DW hardware, mostly because the drums are so heavy nothing else will hold the toms up! I alternate between cymbals on this kit and at the moment I am using Sabian HHX Legacy crashes: 16”, 17”, 18”, 19”, HHX raw bell dry ride 21”,  18” china, 20” Prototype china (similar to Paiste Nova China), 10”, 12” HHX Splash, 14” HHX Xplosion hats, and a 2nd (aux) snare on the left side which is another Ocheltree 5"x14" vs the 6"x14" main snare. It's cranked up! Remo Emperor drum heads. I use lots of sticks, but prefer Vater 1A in wood, and occassionaly Vic Firth 1A wood tip. The Vater are heavier and last longer, but if you are not in shape they will wear you out on a 2 hour gig.
I have a 1965 Ludwig kit 12, 12, 16, 22, snare with original Ludwig coated ambassador heads and original Zildjian 14" hh, 18" sizzle, 20" ride… in Black Diamond! I love this kit. It brings beats out just sitting behind it and  sounds exactly like early Sabbath! Which is why I don’t mess with changing up anything.
Tama Silverstar in Burgandy sparkle: 18” bass drum, 13” snare, 12" tom, 14" floor. This is more of jazzy set up, it has Armond Zildjians: 14" hh, 18"cr, 19" sizzle ride, 21" ride.
Premier late 60’s: 22", 12" tom, 14" floor tom, Royal Ace 14” snare rock kit. 70’s Zildjians on this one. I have stacks of cymbals I have been hording through the years and will swap out cymbals here and there. It's amazing how much different they will make you play. I put a low boy hat (predecessor to the hi hat) which is a 1920’s Leedy on the Ludwig kit and it is pretty cool the stuff that comes out and hearing beats and hi-hat without seeing it.