Jason Garner Interview
The first interview to be published in the resumed Artist Interview section is one with Jason Garner of the Polyphonic Spree. Jason was kind enough to take the time and answer some questions for www.kindbeatsdrums.com. Check out what he had to say about everything from his approach to drumming and projects to his unique role of supporting a 22 member band.
KBD: Who are some drummers that inspired you when you started playing and who are some drummers that are currently inspiring you?
JG: Hal Blaine, Keith Moon, Bernard Purdie, Al Jackson, BJ Wilson, Mitch Mitchell, Ginger Baker, John Bonham, Buddy Rich, Ringo, Levon Helm, Gadd…so,so many. I’m inspired from all over. It’s an expressive language and everyone speaks it differently. Some eloquently, some not!
KBD: Have you ever attended a musicians institute or studied with anyone in the past and if so, do you currently study with anyone?
JG: No. I played in marching band and jazz band in high school. I practiced four years solid, every day. Countless hours. By the time I graduated, I was completely burned out and already gigging in punk bands. I did get the opportunity to study with Hunt Sales(iggy pop/tin machine/david bowie) for a couple years in the 90’s. He was awesome and taught me projection, groove, and how to listen…a killer shuffle/swing player.
KBD: Do you have any personal favorite styles of music to play and are there any styles of music that you don’t enjoy playing?
JG: More or less, I like to approach as a foundation or accompaniment. I’m typically a rock player and that is mostly the world I work in.
KBD: Are there any styles of music that you enjoy playing but not listening to or vice versa?
JG: I’m not sure. I guess I’m not as diverse as I thought! 😉
KBD: Of all the drummers currently out there, you are actually the drummer who’s role I envy most at this moment. As a member of the Polyphonic Spree (a personal dream of mine), your musicianship and talent serves as a vehicle for happiness and release for those who need it. Do you ever get the feeling that you are truly making a positive difference in people’s lives?
JG: Well, thank you! That’s really cool to hear and yes, every single show I have played with this band, I have felt that what we do is much more powerful and larger than both the band and the audience. The energy in the room can grow to enormous proportions and we feed off of it. Its awesome.
KBD: As we all know, even the greatest musicians haven’t mastered everything. Are there any particular things that you are currently trying to improve in your drumming or just as a musician in general?
JG: Always trying to improve my drumming! All of it! Especially that stubborn left foot. I’ve been focusing on that and why I hold tension while playing. I noticed in performing during powerful loud choruses, I would hold my breath and hold tension in my neck and shoulders. I’ve been focusing on that and what the entire body does as you play. Stay loose and breathe.
KBD: Is there any style of music that you would like to try and wet your feet in that you haven’t done so already?
JG: More electronic collaborations!!
KBD: How did you link up with The Polyphonic Spree?
JG: Dylan Silvers (These Machines Are Winning), an old friend of mine was playing guitar for the Spree in 2010. Shortly after Bryan departed, Dylan brought me in to meet Tim Delaughter and have an improv jam together. Tim did not want me to learn any material. I walked into the space and there were projections moving all over the walls and moving lights flashing on top of the others. It was totally psychedelic! Drinks ensued and we jammed for about two hours. Next thing I know, I’m drumming in a 22 pc band.
KBD: Besides the Polyphonic Spree, you also play drums in a band called The Deathray Davies. How does your role and approach to drumming differ in each project, especially since one of the groups has over twenty members?
JG: Well, i think the approach is still the same. The Deathray Davies are a 6pc band and its all about what needs to happen within each song. With the Polyphonic Spree, when you dissect it, its really a rock band but with a choir, a string section, horns, and auxiliary percussion.
KBD: You are in another band called Cantina, in which you actually man the bass guitar instead of the drums. Are you trained at all on the bass and what are the similarities and differences between the role you play as a drummer and the role you play as a bassist? Also, in what way has playing drums influenced your bass playing and vice versa?
Ha cool! We actually have three drummers in that band. The songwriter, John Dufilho, plays guitar (also Deathray Davies) and plays drums for The Apples in Stereo. Philip Peeples, our drummer (The Old97s) and myself on bass. Also, Marcus Hollar on banjo/guitar (Street Dogs) and Andy Lester on guitar/keys. We just finished recording a new record, so looking forward to that release as well!
I’ve always noodled on bass, since i was a kid. I used to sit and figure out bass lines for ear training and rhythm study. These days, i love recording both.
KBD: You play many “found” sounds ranging from trash can lids to pairs of false teeth. Who or what influenced you to incorporate non traditional sounds into your set up/playing and what are some items that you use?
JG: Depeche Mode was one of the first bands I heard sampling metal pipes and environmental sounds. Also, broken sounds, machines, hitting metal in industrial music opened my mind to these sounds…Imperfect with character. John Congleton really opened the door to this in the studio with The pAper chAse recordings.
I’m not a fan of recording cymbals these days…wait! I love em live, but they tend to take up so much space in recordings (frequency wise) so playing your cymbal rhythms on a rim, shell, ribbon crash, or stack cymbals def changes the color of the kit, and also inspires other creative angles. I guess I try not to get locked into the drum set “box”. Think outside of it but respect being in when you need to be.
KBD: As a musician or artist, do you have any personal goals that you don’t feel you’ve accomplished yet?
JG: I would definitely like to play and create with more musicians. I have some more projects in the works.
KBD: Do you play any world or classical percussion instruments besides the drums?
JG: Not really. I bang on stuff in the studio but not properly trained on any. I do admire the Vibraphone. So cool, especially run through guitar pedals.
KBD: It seems that The Polyphonic Spree has started to use sequencers a bit. Do you now use a click track on stage and if so, do you find it to be more difficult? Also, what is some advice you would offer to drummers who may need to get used to doing the same thing?
JG: I do. Some songs on the new record have drum loops and we wanted to maintain that drum machine vibe with live drums on top. From the studio sessions, I collected samples of assorted sounds: drum machines, flute riffs, ethereal swirly background stuff, hand claps, and so on. I trigger these sounds live with a Roland SPD SX in stereo. In rehearsals, I broke down the other material into 4 categories of songs.
1. Songs w loops and click
2. More standard form, 1 tempo rock songs
3. Epic arrangements with 2-4 tempo changes (these tunes are in the 8 -20 minutes in length)
4. Psychedelic stuff, no click. This band is awesome!
It took a bit of research with the songs and figuring out how to execute it all. I started this without even telling the band. We’ve done it 99% this year. And as in rehearsal, or live, if it ever takes away from the focus of the music, I’ll kill it. I’m very comfortable playing with a click, so its been relatively easy.
KBD: How often do you get to practice the drums and what is a typical practice session like for you?
JG: Not enough these days. I usually touch a pair of sticks to a pad, everyday, but with drum kit, its usually rehearsing in a core band (piano, bass, guitars) or full band rehearsals. We’ve been on the road a lot too, which really limits your practice time. Mostly, I’ll get to a session early and warm up, explore ideas. I did woodshed a ton with the sampler though!
KBD: You are on the road a lot with up to twenty something people at a time. Touring can be hectic in its own right but what is it like touring with such a large ensemble?
JG: It’s awesome. Its always exciting with this band. To this day, bus roll call or airports crack me up. Its insane. Operating in today’s industry with our numbers, you really have to want to do this. It’s a labor of love and everyone is there because we want to be. This is why we play music. We are DIY and everything that is epic about a Polyphonic Spree show is done by the Spree and tremendous help from our volunteers, and fans. You can stay as busy as you want to be. Always.
KBD: Is there anything you’d like to tell your fans and supporters?
JG: Everyone fro our Kickstarter supporters to our fans, old and new, and to anyone who’s ever stopped in for a listen. Thank you! 2013 was a busy one for The Polyphonic Spree and in 2014, there will be more of it. Stay tuned. Take care of each other, do something kind for someone, and work twice as hard next year…we Will!