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CM Talks Drums With Slipknot’s Joey Jordison

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Joey Jordison

By Michael Raine

Joey Jordison is the drummer and co-songwriter in heavy metal icons Slipknot and is widely considered one of the best drummers in the genre. He is also the lead guitarist in Murderdolls and the multi-instrumental driving force behind Scar the Martyr. Jordison has also filled in behind the kit for Rob Zombie, Korn, Metallica, and others.  

You can read more from Joey and our  other panelists in the CM 2013 Percussion Panel feature in the November/December issue of Canadian Musician.

CM: What is in your live kit and how do like it positioned?

It’s kind of weird because there was a show that I had to play on Johnny Kelly’s kit on the Danzig run because there was just no room on stage to get my shit up there. It was a five-piece kit, which means rack tom, two floors, kick, snare, and I had a fucking blast on it because it had been such a while since I’d played like that and it was great. It’s kind of cool knowing that I don’t need to have all my shit to make it rock. It was definitely cool for me playing on a small kit and being able to get all the sound in there. If I had to, I could probably make it work with a kick, snare, and a floor tom.

On this tour [with Scar the Martyr], it’s the same kit I use with Slipknot. For toms I have 7 x 8-in., 8 x 10-in., 9 x 12-in., and 11 x 14-in., 16 x 16-in., 18 x 18-in., and a 15 x 15-in. on my left. I use all clear Emperors now and an Ambassador on the bottom on the resonant.

For tuning, I don’t really have to do much. I use Pearl Reference series, I just put the  head on, like an Emperor, on the top and usually on all the toms, from the time the head is on, it’s usually about five turns up, maybe a little bit less. Just until it sounds good and then I go around it and make sure everything is in tune. Pearl makes such great drums and those heads just tune right up.  So I tune them in fours and I really have no problem with them. I noticed the better the drum, the better they are to tune. It’s pretty simple.

The kick, I keep it a little above mid-tension. I used to play flat tension, almost completely flat, in the early days just so that I could get more click out of the kick drum but I realized I was going through heads so much and I didn’t really sound as great out front as a I thought it would. So now I get tension pretty good and then I sweet spot it to where I make sure that when I hit the kick, I am feeling it in my gut. When you hit your kick drum you should almost feel your knee going into the kick drum. If you’re not feeling your knee clench and go into the kick drum, you’re not getting the right punch.

CM: What is your practice regimen before and during the tour?

I only do 16th on my legs and double stroke rolls and reverse paired rolls back and forth on my hands and then just go up in different tempos. It might just be that I start slow and then gradually get faster and I practice for about 45 minutes before I go out. Just so I’m loose.

CM: You started off playing guitar and you’re obviously a multi-instrumentalist. Why did you make the switch to drums?

I was young and I just thought the guitar looked cool and I learned a few chords and shit like that, but for some reason the drums just kept calling to me because I liked the bombastic part of it. I like it fucking loud and there was a lot of shit to hit. Professional drum sets, I was just in awe of them. I still fucking love guitars and have a huge guitar collection, but the drums were just calling to me constantly.

My grandfather had a five-piece kit that his nephew had, my uncle, and I would go over there and play this shit and I just started really young, around seven years old. So I asked for a kit for my birthday, got one, and this is when I was getting into Kiss, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones, and all this shit and all I did after school until literally I had to go to bed was just practice to these records until I could play Kiss Live from front to back. That was the mission. It just evolved from here until I started getting into heavier music.

CM: Does playing guitar and bass inform your drumming?

Yes it does. It’s kind f weird because I never start writing on drums ever. I start writing on guitar first and I start writing out a song and mapping stuff out. I always have a tempo in my head and I’ll sit there I will fuck with the tempos on a Beat Detective or on a metronome. I will sit there with a tempo and keep fucking with it and then record a riff in six different tempos. I get the main riff and the chorus of a song flowing right and then I already know what the drums are going to do.

Then, in the studio, I will do maybe three or four drum takes that are completely different from one another until I find the one that I like and then I’ll do it for real and then I start mapping out the rest of the song like that. I never just settle and say, “Oh, the song’s going to sound like this” and just play it. I try out a bunch of different styles when I’m recording to see what is going to be the best for the riff and the best for the song.

CM: What key lessons did you learn early on?

I started playing the Kiss records early on and then I started getting into a bunch of little bit harder ‘80s bands. When I started getting into the technical aspect, like getting into double bass, I started learning paradiddles on my feet along with my hands just to see if I could do it. I didn’t know that that was an actual exercise. I thought I was just being a smart ass but now I know it’s an actual exercise. That’s how I started developing my double bass drumming, doing paradiddles on my feet just to see if I could do it. Then someone told me, “Anything you can do on your hands you can do on your feet” and thought that was kind of bullshit and then, later on, I realized they were right.

It depends on the music that you want. I always say, whatever music that you like, start there. Just start playing to the music that you like and I would say, if you don’t want to take a lesson, and I didn’t take lessons for years, but now I will take lessons from people so I can learn more. Learning from people is absolutely fucking essential. If you’re just trying to play along to the records that you’re digging, that’s great too, but I would learn the basics first. Don’t try to go fast first. Everyone wants to go fast first, I did, and I realized I missed out on some of the basic shit. Now that’s all I concentrate on. The fast stuff, that’s there and I kind of got that part. But I like to concentrate on all the beauty of the drums and the music the drums can make now.

There’s so much to learn and it goes way beyond just the drum part. A real drummer  is someone who can make music with their drums and not just hit stuff and keep a beat. Drums can make actual music and that’s where I’m at now. It’s not about being fast all the time, it’s all about tone and all about accent in the right places, the right cymbal to hit, the right tom fill, and not always about being fast.

But even in fast shit, you’ve got to be careful about what you’re doing in the fast stuff and also really listen to the guitar riffs. Listen to the guitar riff and complement the song, don’t get in the way too much. You’ve got be really listening to the song you’re playing. That’s why there’s drum solos [laughs], so you can do all that other shit. As far as the song, there’s great ways to project a lot of your talent incased within the song and be very technical without sounding bombastically crazy.

To the average listener, like when I listen to Led Zeppelin song, I don’t hear like the guy that’s just driving and working nine to five. I’m listening to the fucking nuances of the guitar strings and picks. Same way when I listen to a Copeland song of The Police, I’m delving into how much magic is in that. You can still play fucking straight, you don’t have to be strung out the whole time to realize how fucking technical and how precise each hit is. Each hit, just to give it the right hit all the way through a song, that’s technical in itself. There’s a way to play four/four like shit, and there’s a way to play four/four beautifully.

CM: I bet a lot of people would be surprised to hear you listen intently to The Police.

Oh yeah, that’s my shit! They’re still one of my biggest influences. I am still learning from the greats. There is so much, still, that the drum wants to tell me. It’s like he still has shit that he needs to school me on because there’s so much beauty sitting in the drums. When I look at the drums, I’m like, “He wants to talk; he’s got something he wants to say” and it’s up to me to get that reaction out of the drums. That’s where the human emotion is. A lot of people think the drums is just hitting shit. But what they don’t realize is that there’s so much emotion you can pull out of that shit. I was watching a Tony Royster Jr. video the other day, and I love all of his videos, but I was watching him play and how he makes the drums talk, I was like, ‘Fucking sick!”

CM: You talk about drums so passionately and enthusiastically…

It’s very personal to me and I am talking this way to you because you get what I’m talking about. A lot of people, when I talk to them about it, they’re like, “What drug are you on?” They don’t understand it but that’s how I communicate is through my drumming and that’s where I feel the most at home. Just a simple hit of a tom and if you have it tuned right and the way it speaks, just a single hit can make the hairs on your arms stand up.

CM: Over the course of your career you’ve played live with a lot of groups, including Rob Zombie, Metallica, and Korn. What advice you give about playing with a new group for the first time?

The main thing you have to keep in mind is that it’s not all about you. It isn’t your show and that’s what a lot of people think. I realize you want to impress all the other people, and you can pretty much do that by your warm up exercise, but when it comes to playing with other people you’ve got listen to other people and what they’re doing and they’ve got to listen to you. It can become difficult because the thing is, when all musicians are on the same page, that’s when the magic happens. It’s not all about flash all the time. You’ve got to realize that you’re making a song and you want people to feel and hear an emotion that they can latch onto. Now, you want to make music for yourself first and foremost, but the same time we all want people to listen to our craft or otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it. That’s why we do this.

You got to listen to each other and you got to learn each other’s strengths and learn from each other on stuff you need to work on and never stop trying to learn. I’m still learning to this day and I’ve got a lot to learn still. Never think you’ve learnt it all and always try to learn more. You’ll never learn to play it all but do strive to learn to play it all.

CM: How does your approach change in Slipknot change when you’re playing with two other percussionists versus when you’re the sole drummer?

It teaches you balance more than anything because we don’t play to a click; I am the click track of the band, basically. Just like the old days. So I really hand it to Chris [Fehn] and Shawn [Crahan, Slipknot percussionists] because it isn’t easy to play along and match me without slamming everything, especially in a live setting. Of course there are slams here and there because there are three drummers, but those guys are so fucking tight after all those years and they’re standing up and playing with sticks that may as well be tree branches. They’re huge and it takes a lot for those guys to keep track of what I’m doing because when it comes time to do a fill, I have a lot of weird fills all over the place, they have to cut out and jump right back in on the down beat otherwise it sounds like a drum set falling down a mountain, no matter how good we are with three drummers. When it comes to technical fills, no drummers sound the same; it’s impossible and just doesn’t happen. So they really drive the pulse extra hard for Slipknot and that’s where a lot of our power comes from is from those two extra percussionists.

CM: Do you approach your work the same way with all the bands you play with?

With Rob Zombie or Korn or Ministry, I play the song the way that the fans want to hear it, but there are certain parts of the set, like at the end of “Blind” when I was playing with Korn, the end becomes a crazy fucking drum solo and they just let me go off. We did the same thing in Ministry and in Zombie I would add different things in there but I never did it so much that the song loses its focus. I was mainly there for the song, it isn’t about me, I was just glad to play with those musicians and those bands and I feel I brought enough of my style to it while keeping it exactly how they wanted to have it.

I have to say, that was a challenge in and of itself is to be able to play what these guys actually wanted where they want to keep the feel of what people are used to. I am the one who has the challenge of having to match these other drummers’ styles but they also want me to bring my own thing. I want to stay true to their music. That’s why I learned so much because it is not only learning their songs, a lot of people can learn their songs, but it’s their feel that I have to learn.

Do you all always use a double bass or have you ever used a double kick pedal?

Oh yeah, I like using a double kick pedal but it just depends. I like using a double kick pedal because, especially if I’m using half a trigger and half acoustic, I’d rather just be on one kick drum anyway. The thing is you’re doing the same amount of work. Most of the time I’ll use two kick drums but it just depends. If I’m not triggering at all, I usually stay on one kick drum. I have two up there but I position the tension on my foot still on the bass drum as I’m playing on that bass drum. It’s still hooked up and everything to the kit but it just depends, sometimes I’m using two and sometimes I’m using one. It just depends on what I’m doing and what band I’m doing.

CM: Thanks for this, Joey. It’s a pleasure listening to you talk about drumming with such passion.

Thanks man. It’s my fucking passion dude. You know what, it’s just an attitude. That’s why when I did the Scar the Martyr record, I played guitar on almost all the album and bass and stuff and I could’ve went out there [on tour] and played guitar. I’m like, “Fuck that. I already did that.” It was fun but really, fuck that. I’m staying where I belong and I belong on drums and that’s what the fans are really responding to. They’re like, “Good! You stay on drums and fuck the guitar!” I wanted to do it not only for myself but for my fans too. If they want me on drums, I don’t need to be up there with a fucking guitar, I’m at home on drums.

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