This is the second part of our interview with Mike Drolet, who among other things, is an accomplished amateur drummer. Drawing on his years of experience of playing drums, I ask Mike what he looks for in guitarists that he plays with. With his characteristic wit and charm, sprinkled with dabs of sarcasm, we get some insight into the mind of this drummer. I believe what he says is common to many drummers.
He starts off by saying that drumming is a structured discipline and that drummers “are structured and (therefore) look for structure. He wants the other members of the band to understand the “structure of the song” being played and to know “where it goes, when things happen, when the punches happen, to keep yourself on time, and to play the right number of…notes.”
Mike says that he wants drummers to “stay in time and respect the time signature being played.” He wants them to avoid playing extra and unnecessary notes that throw off the timing of the song being played. He also looks for the singer and the guitarist (sometimes both roles are accomplished by one person) to use the “bedrock, solid base” created by the drummer to do “something special” that makes everyone say “wow, that was incredible.”
The singer and/or guitarist (s) need to infuse the song being played with passion and enthusiasm, and “do something extraordinary.” Compared to the singer and guitarists, the drummer is limited in his scope to be able to add those elements and Mike considers them to be more the job of the singer and/or guitarist.
Summing it up, his top three requirements are:
- Play in time
- Respect the right number of notes to play, relative to the time signature of the song
- Engage the audience in an outgoing and entertaining fashion – “be that leader that brings people in”
He says, “it’s about the suspension of disbelief,” just like when you’re reading fiction or watching a movie. Your audience knows that it’s fiction and is willing to “accept it as reality within the confines” of the environment that your music is being performed in. The job of the people “making the fiction is to make it as believable as possible so that they don’t break the illusion of reality” that your audience has invested time and effort in creating. You must engage your audience in your storytelling because their attention can be broken in the snap of a finger. At that point, you will lose them and your performance will suffer greatly.
The musicians must “internalize” their material so that it becomes second nature. The audience looks for soul, emotion, and feel, and those things can only be attained through that internalization of their material. The singer must be “real.”
Mike then talks about his love of Metallica, even though he considers Lars Ulrich to be not that great of a drummer, technically. But what he does have is “passion and speed.” He “brings something special” to each performance, mainly because he’s been at it for over forty years. Mike then tells us that he considers James Hetfield, the band’s lead singer and rhythm guitarist, to be “the best drummer in Metallica” due to his precise way of playing the guitar. Mike tells us that Hetfield was a drummer before becoming a guitarist, similar to Dave Grohl, who is someone else we talk about during this interview. According to Mike, James Hetfield describes his guitar playing as “playing drums on the guitar.”
In a recent interview with Dave Grohl I saw on Instagram, he says much the same thing of his own guitar playing. He says that he considers the lower strings as the kick and snare, and the higher, brighter strings as the cymbals. This is, to me, a unique way of looking at playing guitar.
We then talk about how learning to play the drums can help any musician become better at the instrument they play, mainly by teaching them rhythm and timing. This topic then led us into a discussion on band dynamics and how, in a healthy band situation, each member plays of each other and each member supports each other.
In Mike’s words, “it’s the give and take between musicians” and the “gel” they create in a supportive and collaborative environment. He sums it up succinctly in saying, “don’t be a prima donna.” Support the team and don’t make it about yourself and your illusions of grandeur. Mike says that being a great guitarist doesn’t entitle one to be a prima donna, and that oftentimes, the really good ones will help to make the other musicians better versions of themselves.
We finish off we with Mike’s top 4 rock drummers of all time. His choices are:
- John Bonham
- Ian Paice
- Keith Moon
- Mike Portnoy
We will get to more of his top rated drummers in the next video.
To read the first part of this interview, please click on the link below: