Jeff Bowders Interview Continuation from Sick Drummer Magazine Issue 7
By: Craig Sternberg
SDM: Tell us more about the Essential Drum Fills book?
Jeff: That came out of the class I was talking about earlier. The idea is basically being able to incorporate basic concepts, meaning like hand-foot patterns. So what are all the hand-foot pattern variations in, say, a 16th note pattern? So I write all those out, and call them components. I break each concept down to its bare minimum, here are the components based around this concept, this one happens to be hand and foot concepts. So I break all these downs to their essential basics, and take them through a series of applications, so you know how to apply them to the kit in various creative ways. The first way is to understand the component, and then start to combine those components to create entire measures. Then orchestrating them in different ways, and how to voice those patterns around the kit. Then the next thing is, I'm a big fan of slams, it's a rudiment that every drummer has to learn, but they are really effective in their application to drum fills. Then the last step is being able to phrase it within four measures, being able to play a fill in a measure that maybe starts on beat 2 and end on the & of 4. Or maybe even go over the bar line and end on the & of 1 in bar five. So just being able to know what it feels like to phrase over the bar phrases or fills that go over the bar line, that don't always necessarily end on 1. So that's basically it, I have seven different concepts; I break down the sheer components of them, and take them through that series. Just because drummers are so habitual in their practice, as most musicians are, where you get one fill idea and you apply it one way, and that's basically it. I love taking students who play me one of their favorite fills, and I say, "Okay, alter it this way -- add a flam here, why didn't you orchestrate it like this? Why didn't you start it on this part of the measure? Why don't you play it over the bar? Why don't you add a cymbal? Why didn't you change the voicing?" It's just that you can do so much! The idea of the book is just to inspire the many possibilities that are options for you that you can take your run-of-the-mill standard fills and come up with a zillion other ones. So that's the main purpose of the book. I have so many students come up to me with things they want to learn, and they tell me they don't really have much of a fill vocabulary. So I said, "You know what? I'm going to write a book that's basically every fill concept idea that I know, and I'm not going to hold anything back. This is everything I play, and I want you to do whatever you want with it, because I know you will be able to look at it in a different way and apply different concepts to it". It has been exciting for me, because I already have students come up to me and say, "hey, that one idea in your book today, I switched it and I'm doing this to it", and I'm like, "that's the whole idea! That's exactly it! Make it your own!". It's one hundred and twenty pages of non-stop fills, I love it!
SDM: So what does your Double Bass Drumming Workshop DVD offers an extreme metal drumming fan? What does it teach outside of pure metal drumming?
Jeff: I'm trying to dispel the myth that double bass drumming is a metal thing. If you play double bass, it doesn't mean you're monostylistic. Unfortunately, that's what a lot of people think. Double bass is just a technique. Just because I can play brushes, does that make me a jazz guy? No! Can I play brushes in a rock song? Yeah, sure I can! It's just a technique that is a little more associated with one style than others. My approach to double bass, and the reason I even wrote the double bass book, was mainly out of frustration with me wanting to play rhythms with my feet that weren't comfortable. Every double bass book I've ever owned -- now when I'm on tour, I did this for years, I'd seek out double bass books and see what they had to offer. And they were all the same! They were all the same in their approach and their ideas on how to gain double bass technique! That just meant, right foot is always playing the eighth notes and the left foot is always playing the Es and the Uhs. That's fine if you are going to play a rhythm that is just straight 16th notes, but say you want to put in a little three note rough. Every time you put in one of those three note roughs, it changes the lead foot. So now it's RLRLRRL, instantly now your lead foot is your left foot. If you are not used to being able to lead with your left foot, there's no way you are ever going to play those ideas with any sort of conviction at all. So I saw Virgil Donati play this in like 1996, these ideas, and I was like "What the hell is he doing!?". So I started writing these ideas that forced me to switch my feet back and forth. I wanted to play this rhythm, but I wanted to play with my lead foot as well. So I'd write it out again, starting out with my left foot. So I said, "Why don't I try to write these measures like a two bar phrase? The rhythm is identical, but the footings are reversed. And I'm going to write it in such a way that I'm going to alternate every single stroke. By the time I get to the second measure, I'm going to repeat the same phrase, but it's going to be the opposite footing". So I just ran out a ton of these. I instantly saw my feet start to gain much more control and comfort just for simple bass drum patterns that weren't necessarily speed driven, although it did help with my speed because, how do you get speed? You gain speed through control. If you don't have control, you have false speed. So when I was practicing this stuff, I saw my speed grow immensely because I could understand the mechanics of the technique itself. So in my Double Bass DVD, I think the fastest thing I play on is 170 bpm, 16th note triplets. There's nothing over 200 bpm. The ideas in the video are very valid. It's being able to understand the mechanics of double bass, being comfortable leading with a strong foot, having equal feet, being able to play everything right or left foot. When you develop the technique to that point, freedom is your best friend all of a sudden. If you practice something for so long, you start to wonder why everything else is coming so much easier to you, and it's because you probably hit upon something that was a Pandora's box of technique, and now all of a sudden, all these other options just opened up to you, even though it wasn't intentional. The idea is: have control and don't depend on any foot! You can't; it's going to limit your creativity and add to your frustration.
SDM: What other instructional stuff do you think you will do in the future?
Jeff: Well, I'm going to do another DVD. I'm really excited about that one, because I'm going to have control over it, when last time I really didn't have any control over it. I'm going to have a DVD on all the Thingamuhjig stuff, which is my solo thing. I've been writing it, but it's kind of an encyclopedia of rhythm. The two things that I teach are rhythm and coordination. Rhythm: being able to understand it, read it, write it, subdivide it, modulate it, quantize it, displace it, whatever you want, just know the ins and outs of rhythms so well that that's no longer an issue. Coordination: how does your body play those rhythms? How do you get your four limbs to play these rhythms? What is the mind-body relationship? What do you have to do to get it into your mind to send a signal to your limbs and then effectively start practicing in such a way that you are reinforcing these rhythms in your muscle memory so that, once again, you get this freedom that you are looking for. One of the days that really helped me was thinking outside of the rhythm box and coming up with really polyrhythmic kinds of ideas, playing two rhythms on top of each other. The idea of the book is a polyrhythmic approach to the drum set by really understanding rhythm and coordination. Once you understand that, you can play any style you want, because all styles are broken down to specific rhythms and specific grooves and fills. All the stylistic stuff is not my job, my job is to introduce you to the world of rhythm and coordination, and what you want to do with it is your thing! You have the freedom to do whatever you want. That's where the science becomes art. That's the hard thing about teaching; music education to me is an oxymoron. You can't teach expression. I don't have the right to say who is expressing themselves better, but I do have the right to say, "did you pronounce that right? Did you use it in the right part of the sentence?". The science of it! There are absolutes in science, but not absolutes in art, because if there were, there would be no such thing as expression. We'd all be conforming to an expectation or standard. The book is more on the science of music; I don't want to be a dictator of expression. I want everyone else to do that, because that's what inspires people. Not conforming to the expectation or the status quo, someone branching out, taking the chance, and expressing themselves in a way that maybe some other people are too afraid to do. You'll never have that ability until you have the science behind it. So the book is basically the Magna Carta behind that.
SDM: What happened with your involvement with Memento and Nine Times Bodyweight?
Jeff: I didn't really know what I was getting myself into when they were auditioning drummers. At the time, the drummer, Steve, and Space, the guitar player, had a falling out with Justin and Lats. Columbia was pushing them out the door as well. So on top of their personal issues with each other, they had the label trying to push them out. There was a lot of tension there. From what I understood of it, Steve wasn't really satisfied with the attention the band was getting from the general music public, and got kind of burned on it. He sells real estate now, and has been doing that for a while. Space was writing music and has his own publishing thing as well. So he'd been writing music for other people, and then Justin and Lats questioned his loyalty and dedication to the band. Once that stone is thrown, everyone gets really sensitive, and everyone starts calling out everyone else on how they aren't dedicated, and it escalates from there. It turned into Justin and Lats's project, and they hired a new band, and we did this thing called Man vs Clock. It was basically just re-hashed Memento B-sides, and Justin's stuff that the band never wanted to do. Justin is like the riff master! He's got great riffs. Riffs too heavy for Memento. We did a bunch of those tunes, and Justin kind of fell into a substance issue and had to get cleaned up, so that thing disbanded. Then Justin wanted to start something just with me, the more we talked about it the more it was like, "You know, we should get Lats down here". We started jamming, we auditioned guitar players, and it wasn't happening. Justin and Space didn't talk for a couple of years, and Justin was like, "Hey, I got a text from Space today, and he wants to meet up". The next thing you know, we are doing another project. We did a bunch of recordings and a bunch of shows. I was still playing with Paul at the time, and I hate to say it, but I think I may have been the reason that didn't take off. We had a few people interested in us, and everyone was freaking out over the demo; they loved it. They were like, "We are going to get you this van, and you guys are going to tour up and down in this van". I think that bugged Space right away, and he was like, "We were on a tour bus in Memento, we deserve better than that". But at that time, the music industry was a completely different environment. Labels aren't taking those risks anymore. Space got a little sensitive, and I went on tour with Paul, I came back and rehearsed, and there was all this weird tension, and they were like, "Okay, we're going to go, and even if we have to tour in a van...", and I was like, "You know what guys, that doesn't excite me". If I was twenty-one, I would have been all about that. I did like the music a lot, but not enough to where I'd say, "is this fulfilling enough that I'm willing to sacrifice other gigs and eat ham sandwiches everyday?". Between studio stuff here in town, every now and then touring and recording with Paul, teaching at MI, I really like my career as it is. The music wasn't good enough for me to throw that all away and take that risk too. It was between Space being kind of a brat about things and my reluctance to be full-on like "sweet, let's van tour it!". Lats started to play with another really heavy band too, kind of a death metal band from Australia. Justin started getting pissed because everyone seemed to be doing something but him, and he started doing his own solo stuff. Once again, just didn't work. I did Space's solo thing last year, which was fun. It just wasn't meant to be.