Canadian Musician


CM Talks Drums With Wintersleep’s Loel Campbell

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Loel Campbell colourLoel Campbell is the drummer for Halifax-based band Wintersleep and has also played and recorded with Holy Fuck, Hannah Georgas, Cold Specks, Contrived, and others.

You can read more from Campbell and other great drummers in the CM 2013 Percussion Panel feature in the November/December issue of Canadian Musician.

CM: When you’re on the road, what is in your kit and how do you like it positioned?

LC: I take an early-‘80s Gretsch kit out on tour now. It’s a 24-in. kick drum, a 16-in. floor tom, a ‘67 Ludwig Club Jazz Encore snare drum and it’s five inches deep. I found it about a year and a half ago in Atlanta and it’s been working great. There’s a dye-cast hoop on the top of it and it doesn’t give me any problems. I can go a whole week without tuning it at all.

I get cymbals from Sabian. I just look at all their artisan models, the dark and light stuff. They’re all ride I think, 22-, 20-, 18-, and 15-in. hats and I’ve got some older Sabian cymbals from the ‘70s or so and I’ve been using them for a while.

I’ve come into some hip problems lately because I was sitting too low. I been aware to keep my snare and my kick leg at a right angle. So when I’m sitting down my leg is coming up slightly because I play with the ball of my foot on my kick so I make sure that when my leg comes up, it’s not going past a right angle because my hip has been bothering me quite a bit. I’ve just started sitting like that in the past year or so and my body seems to not be getting any worse so that’s a good sign [laughs].

I have my snare at a right angle, too, and I usually put my rack tom on the a snare drum now and have it just coming off the snare, basically. The floor tom is even with my snare drum and I think that is quite high. It depends on the person but my body is not proportional to my legs. I have short legs and a long torso so maybe that’s why.

CM: Do you practice on the road?

LC: Not really. I’m always playing when I’m at home. I don’t really ever go a day without playing. Some days are different than other because maybe you didn’t get much sleep or some days you’re tenser than others and I am definitely aware of that. I know how to get my mental state and physical state where it needs to be before I go onstage.

I’ve become less superstitious about drumming in the past couple of years. I used to be very like, “Oh, I can’t wear shoes” or “I need a brand new pair of sticks before I start every show,” but now I’m more easy going about it all. I’ll warm up on a pillow but I don’t carry a practice pad or anything. Or just shake out my hands and a lot of times and I’ll play guitar just to get into the swing of tempos or the feel of songs. I’m not a super crazy technical drummer. Just something musical like singing or anything to get into the mindset.

CM: Having played in a wide variety of bands and projects, do you try to bring a particular sound to the project or just try to get what the songwriter is going for?

LC: I definitely try to have good communication with whoever I’m working with. A lot of the time, if I’m learning a song I’ll learn the chords on the guitar and get comfortable with how the melody if phrased and then I get ideas of where things should sit as far as what I’m going to do on the drums. What’s going to get in the way and what’s not going to get in the way.

Obviously with Holy Fuck, it was more of a free-for-all and that’s where the songs came from. It was based on a groove but it was lots more improvisation.

With Cold Specks, her first record was super sparse and I had that in mind but they wanted to make the change and bring me in and have it feel more like a band. So we always are getting points of reference. There was a song on the record that was more of a kraut-y, Neu-type song and we were referencing that and just trying to get on the same page. It’s pretty easy to do because it’s not like I’m trying to muscle in a big fill every verse or something. But inadvertently you can tell when a certain drummer is playing because of a certain touch.

Myself and Tim [D’eon] from Wintersleep played on Hanna Georgas’ record last year and I’ll get emails every once in a while from people being like, “That’s you on that record isn’t it?” How do they know? But every drummer or musician has certain stylistic things that are a signature.

CM: Were you a guitarist or drummer first?

LC: I picked up the guitar first. My sister had one from music camp or whatever and I started learning some Nirvana songs on guitar and I was drawn to the drums immediately. Especially with a band like Nirvana, they go hand-in-hand. Pretty simple rhythmic quality to it. I played guitar in a few bands in high school before I jumped over to the drums.

Loel Campbell - Photo - Colin RossCM: Does playing guitar influence the way you approach drums?

LC: Yes, definitely. Not that I can really break it down but it makes things come together quicker I think because if you can understand a strumming pattern or a feel of something on guitar, that can help you translate what you’re going to do on drums. I don’t know, I just always assume everybody does it the same way but maybe not. I think it’s a huge help. Just to kind of be aware and actually knowing, ‘Oh, he’s playing a B now” or whatever. You can figure out the patterns quicker and it’s more of the language.

CM: What were some key early lessons?

LC: I had a really awesome guy, his name is Jason Wright, he plays bouzouki now in a band called The Standfields from out east, and he had a band when I was about 14 and for some reason their jam space was just down the road from where I grew up. Me and a couple friends would go down there on the weekends and watch them play and he was a monster drummer, so I just visually took a lot from him. And they would let me sit in and I think I really cut my teeth starting out having an entire Saturday night just jamming “Machine Gun” by Jimi Hendrix. It’s such a forgiving jam and you can do really exciting stuff and play with the dynamics so much and take it up, take it down, do spacey fills, and we probably played that for hundreds of hours.

As far as transitioning into doing this more as the main thing in my life, there’s so many things over the years. Just playing around Halifax and I learned a lot from people playing shows there and just general things as to how one is supposed to conduct themselves in this trade.

CM: Was it a big lesson when you first heard a recording played back to you?

LC: Yeah, like why does it sound so bad [laughs]? Definitely a big lesson. Recording all the time, which I do, I work on stuff a lot when I’m at home and produce music on my own and listening back, you learn so much. Playing with Holy Fuck, I learned a lot then because I wasn’t really used to playing with a click track or anything like that before and I was thrown right into that and I had no experience doing that. That was huge and I always play to a click for recording now. Well, not always but I’m very comfortable now. It’s my buddy now, which I never thought I would say.

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