8 Drummers Who Have Seized the Spotlight
Drums are one of the best instruments out there for aggressive musical therapy. Got problems? Simply bang on your kit until your they go away. Quite a few percussionists have died young (John Bonham, Nicholas Dingley, Keith Moon), and as ‘Spinal Tap’ teaches us, some have even spontaneously combusted, so you know these folks can live hard.
Drummers who’ve managed to escape their stereotypical rock star fates have done so by altering their musical paths. They’ve either stepped away from their drum kits altogether and, picking up guitars or microphones, or they’ve taken part in projects that channel their unbridled energy in different directions.
What follows is a brief look at a few of the indie world’s most interesting percussionists — 8 Drummers Who Have Seized the Spotlight and taken center stage. These men and women have transcended their drumsticks and become something more—not that being a kick-ass drummer is a bad thing. We all need a steady beat to help us move through life, after all.
Blues-loving rocker and multi-talented label boss Jack White is known mostly for his superb guitar work (check out the documentary, ‘It Might Get Loud‘), but he actually got his start on the drums. When he was a child, he turned his tiny bedroom into a drum studio, where he practiced for years. For a taste of his drumming, check out some tracks from his post-White Stripes band the Dead Weather.
Before fronting the Foo Fighters (“foo” were UFOs spotted by pilots during the Second World War, by the way), Dave Grohl rose to prominence as the drummer for a mangy Seattle trio whose records you might have heard. While touring with that band, Grohl would bring his guitar along, write songs and surreptitiously book studio time now and then in order to record demos. After Kurt Cobain tragically took his own life, Grohl shunned offers to drum for other bands and eventually formed the Foos. It seems like he made the right decision, as he’s been rocking hard and selling truckloads of records ever since.
Moe (Maureen) Tucker—famous for beating the skins with the Velvet Underground—has released an impressive collection of solo albums. Since making the jump from drumming to singing, she’s hit us with good lots of old-fashioned angst-driven rock songs, as well as a few Velvet Underground remakes. Her tunes are, as a rule, fairly loose and even a bit raw sounding—not that the production standards matter much for true Tucker fans. It probably doesn’t hurt that she’s had help from her old bandmate Lou Reed on a few of her solo projects as well.
Hüsker Dü drummer Grant Hart made his foray into the world of the “solo artist” after the trio broke up in 1987. Hart had some difficult times after the Hüskers disbanded. He was diagnosed with HIV but later found out his diagnosis had been false. Despite various hardships, the Minnesota native has retained his rocker cred and released tons of solo material, starting with the EP ‘2541,’ which came out in 1988, all the way up to ‘Hot Wax’ (2009) and ‘The Argument’ (2012).
Phil Selway, of Radiohead fame, took the plunge as a solo performer with his 2009 album ‘Familial.’ Rather than try to mimic the work he’d done with his regular bandmates, this English drummer chose a different path, earning mixed critical responses for his efforts. ‘Familial’ is a much quieter album than one might expect from Radiohead, and the songs — notable for their melodic undertones and Selway’s surprisingly solid singing voice — address issues of family. If you’re a Radiohead fan looking to give a member other than Thom Yorke some solo love, you can do a lot worse than Mr. Selway.
Fans of Australia and/or fierce indie rock music may already be familiar with Spiderbait, but if you don’t know the band, check out tunes like ‘Black Betty (Bam-ba-Lam)’ to hear Mark Maher’s frenetic drumming and singing. “Kram” (Mark spelled backwards), as he’s also known, is a musical force to be reckoned with, and in 2009, he released a solo album titled ‘Mix Tape.’ Hopefully, he’ll keep drumming, singing, screaming and creating music for years to come.
Jason Hammel, of Mates of State, handles multiple responsibilities. He’s this indie rock duo’s drummer, lead percussionist and singer. (His lovely wife, Kori Gardner, does the rest, sharing vocals and playing various types of keyboards.) Hammel manages to keep tempo and sing his heart out while moving through different melodic, harmonic and rhythmic structures, depending on the song. If you dig quirky, thoughtful music, Mates of State don’t disappoint.
Low’s Mimi Parker is one drummer who makes expert use of rhythmic spaces. That’s evident in the ways she brushes and taps her drum kit and breathes when she sings. The result is a sweltering sound that sticks to the listener’s soul like a sweaty t-shirt. The music might be stripped down and raw, yet with Parker’s vocals and minimalist drumming style, every beat and note carries extra weight. The songs she and her bandmates carefully assemble have a way of slowly working their way into your body, where they’ll sit and simmer until long after you’ve turned your music player off.