|Matthew Lee Loftus Talks About Playing CIM 2011 With Cephalic Carnage|
|Monday, 25 July 2011 18:54|
Sick Drummer Magazine's Jeff Christopher recently filmed The Central Illinois Metalfest and this is the first video from his weekend. Check out Matthew Lee Loftus playing "Abraxis of Filth" with Cephalic Carnage. More news on Cephalic, Matthew and John Merryman to follow...
SDM: How long have you been playing drums?
Matthew: I've been drumming for 19 years now. From 1995 to 2000 practiced roughly 6hrs/day average (topping out around 6-15hrs/day, or 50+ hrs per week. Studying various styles both with & without the aid of private instructors. Learned to read music, & would transcribe my favorite drum parts, play to CDs drum machines or metronomes, & work from drum instructional books & videos (pre-YouTube).
SDM: What was your major at Berklee?
Matthew: I was a double major in performance (with focus on drum set), and classical composition. I took a lot of extra stuff that wasn't required for either major just to milk it & learn for the sake of knowledge. For instance I took not only every traditional harmony/composition class they had, but all they're contemporary &/or jazz harmony classes, & jazz-fusion composition/arranging classes just to expand my horizons. I dropped the comp major with only 4 or 5 classes left to go in order to finish up sooner & so I could go part time & immerse myself more deeply in whatever material I was working on. I studied under Mike Mangini on & off for almost 7 years, as well as some time under Dave Dicenso, Kenwood Dennard, Kim Plainfield, & John Ramsay. I've since been studying math & physics (I'm working out of a differential equations textbook during downtime on this tour), & have been interested for some time now in the cross-over-applications of mathematics, & music (IE: recursive fractal patterns, combinatorics, & the interpretive translation of abstract multi-dimensional vector fields & geometric patterns into corresponding artistic isomorphisms (in other words mapping them onto musical interpretations). I also teach one of the special summer programs at Berklee in the summers (Berklee drum festival), but I didn't do it this year.
SDM: How were you approached for the Cephalic gig?
Matthew: Nick texted me & asked if I could do the tour. I've known John Merryman, Steve, & Lenzig (as well as former cephalic Guitarist Zack) since 1996, & have been friends with Nick & Brian more or less since they joined the band. There are some good stories about how I gradually came to know these guys.
SDM: How long did you have to learn the material?
Matthew: I transcribed the material & practiced it on my own for about 3 or 4weeks, then drove to Denver & did 2 rehearsals with just Nick & Brian, 3 with the whole band, & then went on tour.
SDM: Is there any talk of Merryman returning?
Matthew: I can't really say. My impression has been that he has a place if he ever decides to come back, but that he is directing his focus toward family (he recently had a child & is working multiple jobs). I haven't had more than a few mins to speak with him directly. I was trying to get him to come hangout when I was in Denver rehearsing & when we passed through to play the Marquis, but he was engaged in prior commitments so we didn't get to hang. (We've had a long tradition of getting together & talking drumming whenever we're in the same town, but the timing just didn't work this time). It's really a question more appropriate for Steve, or Leonard. This has all happened so abruptly that it's not alltogether clear to me what my role is beyond facilitating this tour for them because there was just time to say "on your mark, get set, GO!" and that's pretty much it. I'm in the same boat as you on that one. We'll just have to wait & see.
SDM: Being a schooled drummer, what can you tell us about the charting, phrasing and overall interpreting the drum parts of John Merryman? Can you relate his styles to one or many other styles?
Matthew: Well, you know, it's kind of become a cliche to speak of musicians transcending the well codified common contemporary stylistic categories and I am for one particularly incredulous of the legitimacy of inserting people into convenient little boxes, but John really is harder to classify than most. He's a very well rounded player. He has influences from funk to jazz, to rock & fusion, & even some New Orleans second-line influences. He can do all the requisite double kick work inherent to the Cephalic style, he can blast beat about as fast as anyone out there and he blends it all such that the net result is just John Merryman. THAT'S his style.
That being said, just as you can't describe an organism adequately without describing the environment of which it is an integral part, you can't separate the drumming from the musical environment that brought out the playing that you hear. Cephalic's music has a lot of changes in which it's not just the time-signature or the rhythmic subdivisions, or the accents/phrasing that is changing, but sometimes even the tempo of the underlying pulse in terms of which those phrases & time changes occur. The music is sometimes intentionally abrupt & unpredictable, & the drummers job is not just to "keep up", but to streamline those changes & sometimes-obscure transitions such that it has flow & feeling despite the occasionally avant garde rhythmic ideas.
John likes to make phrase placements that you wouldn't normally expect. For instance, instead of doing a regular fill at the end of a phrase right before the repeat he might instead hold back & make the first two beats of the repeat be a fill that accents the opening rhythmic motif of the riff. Little subtle things like that... or using a bell sound in a clever spot where most extreme metal drummers would opt for something more uncouth and cro-magnon. lol. You see, Cephalic doesn't analyze those tempo & time changes to death, because it's not the sort of approach they resonate with, and because they can feel the changes. They don't need to. Me being a bit of a theory buff, a recreational mathematician, and a generally analytical person... I sometimes get in to the details to try to figure out what's going on at multiple levels to see if there is a better way to quantify it & obtain a more precise way to think of it. Some of the tempo changes can be numerically approximated using something called "metric modulation", but the ratios involved arent always practical to work with and they usually tend to be only approximations. It turns out that such meticulous analysis is neither practical nor necessary with this music. Empirically it seems to work best when I just feel it, because that's what the guys are doing anyway, and frankly it seems to sound better that way. It doesn't need to be like a computer. It already probably sounds like a machine to the average ear anyway.
There was one exception in the set. There's a section in "Divination & Volition" where I use that metric modulation stuff. When everyone drops out but one guitar playing a repeating 6 note pattern. It takes 3 measures of 4/4 time to go through 4 repetitions of the 6 note guitar phrase (played as 8th notes by my way of counting it). Then it speeds up to approximately quintuplet 8th notes at the previous tempo becomes the RATE of 8th notes at the new tempo. The guitar plays 6 groups of that 6 note phrase before returning to the previous tempo on the repeat. But GET THIS: that sped up part (which I think of as 6/8 time), is overlayed with 9 notes on drums sandwiched into each of those 6's that the guitar is playing! John played 8 against each 6 (really it was 16 against every two sets of 6 or a ratio of 16:12), but I found the 9:6 more comfortable for purposes of locking in with the guitars and bass. I understand that this is not everyone's cup of tea so to speak, but I also know there are a lot of drumming fanatics out there who appreciate freaky musical intricacy, so I thought I'd share.
SDM: As fans of MMA we see a link between the levels of intensity displayed among both trained Athletes and extreme Drummers. How does an intense looking guy like you, who apparently enjoys the gym, relax enough to play this level of extreme drumming? No offense of course.
Matthew: Efficiency of action & of energy expenditure, are important for optimal performance in a wide variety of physically demanding disciplines. Fighting, resistance training, athletically/technically demanding drumming, (really pretty nearly any sport or high focus physical activity) must all take that into account. Additionally, an appropriate balance/contrast of action and inaction.... activity & rest is also crucial. It's like the cycles of the seasons & of the tides...l ife & death, existence & non-existence, Yin & yang.... Purposive action vs Wu Wei (Chinese for "effortless action"). Conservation of energy with periodic bursts of intense action. It's less frivolous in terms of energy utilization than constantly holding tension at a moderately high level. The latent energy must be ushered through the appropriate channels.
Adrenaline has it's obvious useful functions, but it also has it's point of diminishing returns. Too much stress hormone release can even hinder maximal performance. It induces wasteful muscle tension in-conducive to coordination & muscle endurance, & it can dramatically impair cognitive function. It must be tempered with discipline of mind. fighters act from a state of more or less subdued emotions.... Only the emotional involvement required to focus intensely, & no more. They focus their intention, & take massive action without debilitating attachment to the desired result. There's no time to worry about it. You just have to get into the zone & let the years of preparatory training take over. At that point you've either internalized the movements or you haven't.
You often hear evaluations of an activity being a certain percentage physical, and a certain percentage mental. I think there may be some practical truth to this, but at a deeper level I view it as a false dichotomy. It's a throwback to the old Cartesian metaphysics of mind-body dualism, a view of ourselves that has, at least as far as I'm concerned been thoroughly discredited by the problems of causality, backward-causality, and the law of energy conservation from basic physics. The physical & the mental are intimately bound together. Physical phenomenon can influence mental states, and those mental states affect physiological processes via the release of hormones, neurotransmitters....etc. I hasten to say that I view the various aspects of the physical & the mental as aspects of an integral organism continuous with it's environment (from the level of the immediate surroundings to the level of the cosmos as a whole), and try to approach whatever I do with that in mind.
Most of the time I'm pretty relaxed, & laid back. I may occasionally stress over deadlines & day to day stuff, and rush around more amped on adrenaline than is entirely useful for the task at hand, but generally I'm pretty good about taking things in stride. I practice yogic meditation, and experiment with various techniques for cultivating emotional wellness, and I try to avoid ingesting many things that may prove counter-productive to optimal physical & cognitive function.