A long overdue 2016 update / roundup.

So 2016 has been a very weird, perplexing year for us all and has been filled with many changes. I’ve been very quiet on here for most of the year because it’s been tough to know just how to comment on what’s been going on.

My work has been no exception to these changes – 2016 has seen the biggest change in my career since 2007 in that October File has come to an end. I’d briefly touched on this development on my Facebook page back when it was announced but there’s not really more to say about it than has already been stated on the official OF page. We simply ran our course, we’d not performed live in over a year and didn’t feel we could take things any further than we already had.

It’s been a few months now since we came to this decision but it does still feel weird somedays to think that we’ll not play any of our songs together again.

There are some positives to highlight from this year though.

Firstly, back in the summer I tracked 4 songs down at the SAE Institute in Oxford for producer Charlie Davies and these are some of the best sounding drum parts I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing! Each song in the playlist covers a different sub-genre of metal as the project was used for Charlie’s engineering/production dissertation. If you’re interested in checking them out you can do so here.

Not long after this session I was incredibly fortunate to find what had become a snare drum I thought I’d never own – a Premier Artist Brass. These are pretty rare given that they were only available with 2 specific configurations of Artist series kits around 10 or more years ago. Essentially only two sizes exist to my knowledge,  14″ x 5.5 and 14″ x 6.5, with the larger being more rare due to only being included in a pack which featured a 26″ bass drum. This particular ebay listed stated that this beautiful specimen was 14″ x 6″ and I assumed it must be the 5.5″ model measured incorrectly. On inspection I discovered that it is in fact 6″ deep and contacted my Premier artist rep – apparently it’s a weird depth that shouldn’t really exist at all and he’s still looking into how it was created and how it got out there. I’ve added die-cast hoops of course and this snare drum is an absolute monster which chews through a heavy mix in a very distinct way that even my Flynn Drums “The Welly” signature model can’t do.

I’ve also caught up with a major session client from last year who popped over for a fleeting visit and jam session to investigate what he thought was going to be his “new sound” – in reality we ended up discovering that this wasn’t the direction he needed to be going in and by complete accident found exactly where he should’ve been heading all along. So far this is only in it’s early stages but with a little luck in our schedules there’ll be further information about this to share around next summer.

Which brings me to my most recent piece of news – over the last 4 weeks I’ve been rehearsing with a new project that I’m really excited about. There’ll be full details to follow very soon but so far it’s been great to push into a new direction with my playing and be really challenged by what I need to play to make this material work properly – it’s most definitely rooted in the modern / progressive metal genre but has a sound very much all of it’s own.

 

 

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Duallist D2 Double Pedal Review & Endorsement

A little background on the situation…

In recent months I’ve become increasingly frustrated with my Demon Drive double pedal – not through anything in Pearl’s design or through any physical fault of the pedals themselves: they just simply work against the techniques that my body naturally wants to use for playing the bass drum.

The same can be said for just about any other pedal on the market that a player simply doesn’t like the feel of – some of us prefer a super strong feel over a very light feel, others want long/short footboards, offset cams and infinitely adjustable parts and so on. For a long time I thought the Demon Drive was the answer to an old injury that had slowed me down and hampered my control and, in all fairness, it was…for a time.

As I got stronger and redeveloped certain muscle groups I began to find that I couldn’t set the Demon Drive the way I felt I needed it to and the huge number of variables (in terms of adjustable parts) certainly wasn’t helping the situation one bit. I went back to my chain driven Eliminators and although things were a little easier it didn’t change the fact that I was still overwhelmed with variables that weren’t helping me to find the settings I needed.

On many an occasion I found myself thinking about the pedals I’d owned previously to the Eliminators. Once I graduated from my first double pedal (a Pearl P102) I spent 2 years really getting to grips with everything on a Pearl P122 and it was these pedals where I really felt most at home – they were simple and straightforward, there were no gadgets and adjustable parts other than spring tension and the footboard/beater angle on a single adjustment and Pearl’s Powershifter heel which I never tinkered with anyway.

And so the answer became clear – what I really missed was the simplicity of the older pedals I’d owned. Aside from tweaking the springs and footboard/beater angle there was nothing else to it and it was impossible to get bogged down in fiddling with lots of options only to settle on something through not really being able to find the desired positions and feeling.

I set about researching online to see what pedals existed now that would meet my new criteria: whatever I was looking for needed to be as tough as the high-end pedals I already owned and able to withstand lots of playing and lots of traveling, it needed to be smooth to play on both sides (as I often play left foot lead and need both to feel as close to one another as possible), it needed to be well engineered so that it would run silently during recording sessions (this shouldn’t be difficult for top-end pedals but can be much harder to find than you’d assume) and (most importantly) it needed to be simple in it’s mechanical design (as few points of adjustment as possible).

In all honesty, there wasn’t much that came up in my searches as almost all modern high-end pedals have a lot of adjustable parts and gimmicks.

One design had come up several times but testing one had proved impossible as they weren’t carried by any drum shops and I didn’t particularly want to buy anything from my research without the chance to really try it out fully. So I needed to investigate further.

Haven’t I heard of The Duallist?

If you’re a drummer you probably have and you’ve probably got a strong opinion about the company and it’s products based on one or two “controversial” designs that they’re well known for. Many a drummer I know has had a rant about the infamous D4 Pedal, “that plastic contraption” that allows double bass grooves to be played with only one foot and I can fully understand why – many of us have spent years honing our abilities and it’s only human nature that we rebel against something that can give that ability to another player without them having to work for it in the same way.

I can see it being handy for percussion players,  helpful if you want to apply hi-hat ostinatos to double bass grooves and it could even allow those who might not have the full use of both legs on the kit to play double bass grooves themselves. So, relax, it’s not going to take your job overnight – it’s a tool like any other pedal and I’m sure at one point in time we would have all been called “cheaters” for wanting to use double bass patterns in the first instance and I know from experience that there are still people who take that stance.

BUT…the D4 wasn’t what caught my attention: I don’t own one, I’ve not played one and talking about won’t actually change the way in which terrifies some of us.

The important thing is this…

The Duallist make “regular” pedals too!

That’s right, straightforward single and double pedals just like the ones we all use but with a major exception – apart from a few parts, almost everything about the Duallist range is made from ultra-tough / ultra lightweight DuPont Zytel. Basically, these pedals are lighter than anything else (but they’re still sturdy and stay where they’re put) and probably stronger than anything you’ve ever used. They’re actually in use in some seriously high-profile shows but you might not have even noticed – Machine Head, Living Colour, Saxon, Beyonce…heard of those?

So, they had the road-worthiness issue covered and they definitely had the simplicity angle too – the D1 and D2 use linear cams, chain drive and their only points of adjustment were clearly limited to beater length, spring tension and an all-in-one footboard/beater angle adjustment.

On paper this seemed to be the answer I’d been searching for but one problem remained – how would I even try one out to be sure if they would help?

I realised that I was already connected to one Duallist artist via Twitter (the ace Mr Rick Henry) and it didn’t take me long to reach out to a few others (including the fantastic Michael Brush who has been ever-so-helpful) and all the artists I spoke to were very honest and took the time to answer some of the questions I had relating to feel, build quality and so on but there were still some very technical issues I wanted to investigate – I’m meticulous and I’m drawn to details, I’ve owned a range of pedals over 10 years from all levels of the Pearl catalogue and I’ve had the experience of working on most of the other major brands at some stage or other so I know exactly what parts wear out and have the likelyhood of failing on-stage after months of use.

I went straight to the source, I contacted Kevin Mackie, the Duallist designer himself and inquired about where I might find a D2 double pedal that I could look over and test. The answer wasn’t hopeful, as there are almost no current stockists as the company sells directly and of the few I found there were none I could hope to visit.

I fielded my questions to Kevin by email and this is where he really surprised me – not only did we spend around 45 minutes on the phone but he addressed every single question I had in great detail and proceeded to offer to send me a D2 pedal to try out (along with an invitation to join the artist roster if I felt it was right for me) when one became available as they take some time to manufacture and no “loaners” were currently in stock. I could hardly say “no” could I?

A few months went by and then a package arrived from Scotland about 6-7 weeks ago. Much to my surprise this wasn’t a D2 that had been out with an existing artist or used at trade shows – this was a brand new, freshly built D2 double pedal for me to experiment with!

 

JW Duallist

 

Initial Impressions

Straight out of the box the D2 looked very sleek and fantastic – totally matte black with the exception of the few parts of chromed metal and the silver Duallist logo on the footboard. I looked it over in great detail as you’d expect and was extremely impressed – every part had been painstakingly thought out and assembled and I couldn’t find anything misaligned, loose or wobbly. It was indeed incredibly light but didn’t feel at all weak or flimsy and the connecting drive shaft was chunky and well built. Both pedals had also been fitted with a strip of velcro around the heel area to assist in keeping them in place – if a pedal doesn’t have this as standard I always add velcro anway so it was a nice touch to see it already in place.

It’s worth noting that there wasn’t an included carry-case but this shouldn’t be a problem to source for most of us without spending too much and a worthy investment for any piece of equipment.

There was also a full manual included in the box, two small allen keys, a combi-drum/allen key and a set of Duallist GigGrips which I will test and review at a later date.

And then I put it all together and popped it on the kit.

I was quite honestly blown away by how smooth and direct the D2 felt – far more “direct” than the actual direct drive I was used to. The slave side actually did feel very close to the master pedal and I had no issue with playing left foot lead with it. I only made a single adjustment – I changed the footboard/beater angle slightly to give me a little more “swing” as the D2 is assembled in a way that results in the beater being a little closer to the head than I liked. The only problem now was getting in enough hours to see if it suited me before it had to go back to Scotland as I only had a week if I didn’t want to keep it.

So, for the first hour I was OK with the D2 but obviously muscle memory always craves whatever we normally use even when we don’t necessarily like what we’re using. I packed up what I needed and headed to my local rehearsal studio (Playing Aloud in Lincolnshire) and put in two more hours and once I was properly warmed through the Duallist seemed to be more and more comfortable.

But that was seven weeks ago…

…and the D2 still hasn’t gone back to Scotland.

Within five days it’d already been out on it’s first studio job where not only did it perform perfectly but it also caught everyone’s attention with it’s peculiar “none more black” look and surprising lack of weight – not to mention the super slick slave pedal (which has only gotten better now that the drive shaft is a little run in).

I’ve still not touched the spring tension – all I’ve done is add some rubber to the base of the hoop clamp with some double-sided sticky tape. Did it need it for more grip? Not at all but it’s there for my own peace of mind and to further protect my own bass drum hoop a little more – it’s a personal thing more than anything else, my mind rests easier at the kit knowing that those two little rubber pieces are there.

Overall Impressions

Drums are a physical instrument that involves our entire bodies so no two players play the same way, we all like different sizes, sounds and positions so there really isn’t a “one-stop” anything for any of us. I’m not going to say “buy one of these it’ll make you amazing” because that’s simply not true – whatever is most comfortable for you is what will help to make you amazing at what you do.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in a race to own that single special piece of equipment that’ll change everything and advertising plays us with that: every new pedal or innovation is touted as the “game changer” and for you it might be but it could just as easily not be.

I’ve had some fantastic game changing moments in the last few years with sticks and cymbals to name a few instances and every change in equipment I’ve made has been because I’m comfortable with it and not because I’m convinced I should be before I start – each one of them has been a true “upgrade” rather than just another purchase that I hope makes an improvement.

In all honesty I’m really enjoying working with my new D2 and I’m extremely proud to put my name to it – the pedals don’t “make me play better”, they make me feel comfortable and relaxed about what I’m doing because they agree with me rather than fight against me – and that’s what makes me play better. There’s no gadgets or gimmicks in my way anymore, it’s just me…getting on with playing and feeling comfortable with being able to just let my body do things it’s own way again.

 

John Watt 2 low IMG_0386 IMG_0391

 

If you’re interested in learning more, check out The Duallist range online and on Facebook.

 

Endorsement Announcement: Aquarian Drumheads

It’s with great excitement that I can finally reveal that I am now an endorsing artist for Aquarian Drumheads! I couldn’t be happier to be involved with the company and the fantastic products they make and I’m so very proud to be able to say that they support my work.

Over the years I’d settled on one brand of drumhead but often found myself peeking at the Aquarian website and being rather blown away by the sheer scale of the product range – some models come in up to 4 different variations (with muffling rings, coating options, reinforcement dots and so on) and many heads that Aquarian manufactures have  no comparable model with any other drumhead company (they even make a snare head with a fully integrated triggering system). I always talked myself out of trying them as they can be harder to find in the UK but eventually gave in and tested out a Focus X Power Dot snare head – I couldn’t have been more blown away by the ease of tuning, the great tone and the incredible durability: this head has taken a level of abuse that would’ve left my previous choice of 2-ply snare heads “dishing out” in the centre and needing retuning or replacing and yet, after 6 weeks, it sounds as great as the day I fitted it and shows no signs of wearing out anytime soon!

But why does the brand matter? As a session player I place somewhat higher demands on the tools that I use then most drummers might. I change drumheads more frequently to ensure that the kit sounds clear and fresh for every session, I tune more often, I need a new set of heads to sound the way I expect them to based on the last set that were in use, I need them to tune quickly as time is often of the essence on a studio session and I always need them to be long lasting so that they can survive a session or series of live shows without breaking and without any degradation in sound.

With Aquarian I am able to have all of that quite easily – the head design allows each drumhead to sit flat on the bearing edge before I even place the hoop back on with allows for solid and extremely responsive tuning that is stable and the heads are not only incredibly consistent but they are exceptionally resilient to even the hardest of hitters! The drumhead collar also contributes to tuning stability by locking the drumhead film firmly in place.

A common misconception that’s easily found in online reviews is that Aquarian heads don’t sound as good as the other well known brands and this is not true in my experience at all.  The use of a slightly different mylar film creates a sound that is often a fraction deeper or darker than many players are used to and I can fully see why this may make them suspicious on their first try – on changing my tom heads I’ve found that I now have more low-end punch than I ever had before but I still have a focused sound with plenty of attack and even the resonant heads have made a big difference in the overall sound.

So why’ve I moved from a brand that I’ve used for around 8 years? Because in the last year or so my personal tastes in sound have changed due to my increasing session and studio experience – I’ve come to find that certain things that I felt sounded great no longer met my needs or could simply be improved upon to create an overall better sound / voice for my setup. In short, the voice I wanted had changed but my equipment wasn’t capable of letting me achieve it. My cymbal sound is now darker and fuller and less abrasive in the mix and allows me to offer a wealth of sounds to my clients, my choice of sticks gives me incredible flexibility to use just one model for all styles and now my drumheads allow me to offer a full and defined drum sound that can adapt to any situation and still be my sound at heart.

Setup.

I’ve chosen the following heads for my setup but Aquarian offer many models that I’d love to experiment at some stage:

IMG_3117

Snare Drum – at the moment I’m using either the Focus X Power Dot (for a full and defined snare sound) or the Hi Velocity (for even more articulation and durability). The Hi Velocity may well become my go-to head for touring due to it’s increased thickness and extra large Power Dot. The resonant head is the standard Classic Clear Snare Side.

Toms – I’ve started off with the clear Response 2 and have found that they bring out incredible low-end in my drums while still providing plenty of attack to cut through the mix. They’re also very consistent from one size to the next so I’m able to tune each in exactly the same way and be sure of how each will respond. In time I’d like to test out the coated version, the extra punchy Performance II and perhaps even the Response 2’s beefier brother the Force Ten. The resonant heads are the Classic Clear Gloss Black model purely for their visual impact on my white kit.

Bass Drum – I’ve always sought a very dry and defined bass drum tone to allow every stroke to be heard and have chosen the clear Force I as it delivers amazing punch while still having a really full tone that will lend itself very well to dual-mic situations both on stage and in the studio. So far I’m finding that this head, when used with the double kick pad and felt beaters, rivals the punch of my old bass drum head when using plastic beaters and I look forward to letting the plastic beaters loose at it very soon for even more definition. The resonant head is it’s companion model, the ported Force II in Gloss Black.

IMG_3109

I’ve already said it but it’s worth saying it again – I’m honoured to join Aquarian and integrate their fine products into what I’m proud to call MY sound!

The fine people of The Music Shipping Company deserve huge thanks for making the introduction to Aquarian, bringing all of this together and for the fantastic level of support they’ve shown me since I joined the Shaw roster last year.

 

Two new single releases & festival dates

As of this afternoon the very first single from the new October File record is released – the lyric video for “Heroes Are Welcome” is currently being hosted exclusively by Metal Hammer.

Pre-orders for the album are also available via Plastic Head, iTunes and most online music retailers.

October File are also confirmed for festival appearances at both Bloodstock Open Air and Rebellion so far with more to follow very soon.

In other news “Tears of Lust”, the first single for London-based operatic metal band EnkElination, was released last week. I recorded drum parts for the album last August with Chris Johnson of Fractured Sound in Scunthorpe and I’m very pleased with how the finished track sounds. The full album will be available for purchase in the summer.

 

 

 

Endorsement Announcement: Murat Diril Cymbals

So this announcement has been a long time coming and is something I’ve been hinting at since an important meeting at the London Drum Show last October. I can now officially disclose that I’ve signed an endorsement agreement with Murat Diril Cymbals and have joined their family of artists!

Each cymbal is totally handmade from B22 Bronze on the coast of the Black Sea in Samsun, Turkey and I couldn’t be more proud to be incorporating them into my overall sound.

I’ll be heading into the studio and out on tour with the following “core setup”:

14″ Renaissance Hi-Hats

17″ and 18″ Renaissance Crashes

16″ and 18″ Renaissance Thin Chinas

10″ Renaissance Splash

20″ Black Sea Megabell Gold Ride

IMG_2452  IMG_2457

If you’re curious about what Murat’s cymbals can bring to your playing, head on over to www.muratdiril.com

A January Update – East of Eden, new October File record and more…

Last autumn I covered a few dates for an upcoming hard rock act from the Black Country called Audio Disease while they got their new drummer settled in – I had a great time working with the guys but completely forgot to blog about it as I had a lot of recording sessions to get through immediately afterwards and totally forgot to post!

At the very start of the New Year, the band’s manager called me with a bit of an emergency on his hands – the band’s replacement drummer who took over after the shows I did had left the group rather suddenly after a lot of bookings had been secured for the Spring. In the space of 2 days I refreshed all the old material and learned 5 new tracks and headed over to rehearsals with the band as the very first gig was less only a week away when I’d been contacted!

So for the last 2 weeks I’ve been rather busy playing with the guys (who’re now performing under the name East of Eden and can be found by searching for “EofE Official” on most social media websites) and I’ve had a great time seeing the fantastic response that the band get from their growing fanbase!

There’s a lot more East of Eden dates in the pipeline and I’m officially booked to handle them as far as April at the moment –  that includes a trip to Wales for Hard Rock Hell’s AOR Festival in March so I’ll be sure to get some good photos to post up here and on my website.

In other news, the Christmas charity single I recorded at Shane’s Recording Studio with a group of local musicians from various bands and projects managed to raise almost £300 in the Grantham area for CHICKS.

Also, starting on Monday I’ll be down in London at Orgone Studios to begin drum tracking for the new October File record – the album is slated for release via Candlelight Records at the end of May and more details will be posted on the OF Facebook page as we progress through the recording process.

There’s one other piece of really exciting news that I’m still sitting on but that will have to wait just a little longer before I can make a proper announcement.

Christmas Charity Single Session

Last week I took some time out from my existing sessions to head on over to Shane’s Recording Studio in Grantham to lay down some drum parts for a project that’s very different to those I usually work on.

Recently I was contacted by Shane and asked if I’d be interested in working on a cover of The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York”, which is a song that’s very hard to not hear at some stage over the Christmas period each year! This particular version will feature a number of local musicians who’re lending their talents to the project and a full list of those involved will no doubt be available soon.

Personally, I think Shane captured a fantastic sound from my setup and I’m really pleased with how even the working versions are sounding as more musicians are adding their performances.

The single will be released on December 1st and will be available digitally and also as a physical release around the Grantham / Lincolnshire area.

For further details, and for information on where this single can be purchased, please head on over to the studio Facebook page.