You basically want to be one less thing anyone has to worry about in a potentially stressful situation. – Joshua Van Tassel
MM: When did you get your start playing drums? How did you get into session work?
JVT: My first introduction to drums was through my older sister. She played in junior high band, and it was always really exciting to see and hear the concert percussion at the recitals.
I joined the school band as well and luckily had super supportive band directors and parents who encouraged me to keep pursuing music post high school. I continued on to study at St FX Univeristy, Humber College, and then also at the Banff Centre for the Arts.
[pullquote style=”right” quote=”dark”]The sound of your drums really goes under the microscope and small tuning details can make all the difference.[/pullquote]Session work came from being in a variety of different bands, and getting to meet a whole lot of different producers and engineers. It also helps that I have my own studio and am able to do sessions by myself.
On any session I was on I’d always try and pick up any helpful stuff about sounds, mic-ing techniques, or how to generally improve as a drummer without being too annoying while they were trying to work!
MM: What are some key components of your kit set-up?
JVT: I think my key components are having a small but reliable arsenal of cymbals and snare drums that I feel like I know really well. A cymbal is a super complex instrument and depending on where you hit with what part of the stick/brush/mallet/hand, the sound can vary greatly with every stroke.
I have some instruments that I’ve owned for years now and really feel connected to, which helps convey the ideas that best support the artist I’m playing with.
MM: What are some of the major ways that your set-up changes when going from a live performance to a studio session?
I generally bring more gear to a session; three or four snare drums, a few different tambourines, a couple bass drums, a bag of shakers, etc. due to the fact that there’s time to experiment and find the right sound for the job.
Live it’s a bit trickier to bring all that gear, so I’ll tend to make those decisions in advance. If I could have all my instruments with me all the time I’d be happy!
MM: What aspects of the music or session will change the way you set-up the kit, or which drums you’ll use?
JVT: I definitely try to familiarize myself not only with the artist’s music that I’ll be playing, but their influences as well. If someone wants to make a record that has the same drum sound as a Police record, it’s doubtful that I’d bring a 28″ bass drum and a deep booming snare drum.
I also try to be fairly economic with the instruments I’m using once tracking begins. If it’s a tune that just requires kick, snare, and a shaker throughout, I prefer to take the toms away. It just makes for less resonant heads vibrating into the mics as we’re tracking.
MM: Do you have any set pieces, cymbals, or tools you won’t do a session without?
[pullquote style=”right” quote=”dark”]I definitely try to familiarize myself not only with the artist’s music that I’ll be playing, but their influences as well. [/pullquote] JVT: Definitely! I have about 5 shakers that live in my cymbal bag at all times, gigging or studio.
I also have a ride cymbal that I bought about 12 years ago that makes its way on to things 90% of the time. It’s warm and dark, and I have a really intimate knowledge of what it can do and how to use it appropriately.
MM: How important is drum tuning in the studio? Any tips for getting a well-tuned kit?
JVT: Tuning is invaluable especially in recording situations. The sound of your drums really goes under the microscope and small tuning details can make all the difference. Getting a well-tuned kit is relative to the musical context. In some cases I need my drums to be completely “dead” sounding: no sustain or ringing overtones. In others they need to sound huge and ring on forever.
The best advice I can give is to trust your engineer/producer. They’re the outside ears that can hear how the drums sound in front of the kit.
I’ve had many situations where the sound I was hearing and the sound the microphones were hearing were completely different, due to the position of where they were versus where my ears were.
It’s really helpful to have someone else with good ears with you while you tune to give some insight on how things are translating into the room.
MM: What are some of the most common mistakes you see drummers making when it comes to setting up their kits?
JVT: This is a bit tough to answer, because everyone sets up their kits according to what they feel like allows them to perform at their best. I remember seeing Greg Saulnier’s kit (of Deerhoof) before a show and being shocked at how awkward and imbalanced everything looked, and wondering how anyone could ever play something that looked so out of whack from an ergonomic stand point.
However, once he started playing it was one of the most exciting musical displays I had seen in ages. What looked “wrong” to me allowed him to play exactly how he needed to play in that musical context.
MM: What are some things you find make a big difference when it comes to getting a great kit sound in the studio?
JVT: I think that goes back to the tuning question. Being really aware of the sound the artist is looking for, and being open to suggestions from outside ears. We drummers easily fall in love with the sounds of certain snare drums, cymbals, etc, but we need to be open to letting those go in lieu of getting the right sound for the song.
MM: Any advice for artists looking to get into session work?
JVT: Be reliable and prepared. That’s one of the biggest worries bandleaders have: can I count on my band members to be on time, to learn the songs, to show up ready? When you have a session and you do all those things, people notice (aka. producers and engineers), and everyone wants to work with someone who they can depend on.
[pullquote style=”left” quote=”dark”]The best advice I can give is to trust your engineer/producer. [/pullquote] Sessions are expensive and can get pretty intense. You basically want to be one less thing anyone has to worry about in a potentially stressful situation.
Also, take an interest in what’s happening outside of just playing the drums. Some of the most useful tips about recording are one’s I’ve learned after the drums are finished by hanging out and being a fly on the wall.
Every producer and engineer has a different style or working method, and it’s great to take elements from them and try to apply them to your own playing.
You can also check out Joshua’s new single from his upcoming album ‘Dream Date’, slated for release in 2013 on Backward Music.