You’d be hard pressed to not give Darren King props for being something unique to the world of drumming. The sound of his band, Mutemath, is largely characterized by his playing, and now that he’s has released a sample pack through I WANT THAT SOUND, I went about seeking an interview. Below you can read our chat about his drum work and the new sample pack, titled Darren King Drums.
Hi Darren. How did this drum pack of yours come about?
Dustin Burnett, co-founder of I WANT THAT SOUND, messaged me on Twitter. That was it. I learned about his company through that. It took a while for our schedules to line up, but when they did, I went out to Nashville for a few days, and that was the first time I met him in person. We’d talked on the phone a lot prior to that. It was a lot of fun working together. We recorded some of the drumming to tape and some digitally in a Nashville studio owned by Paul Moak, called SmokeStack Studios.
It was an easy experience, though some things like file management and editing can be monotonous. But as far as mixing and editing goes, I only had to do a week’s worth of work at a leisurely pace. Dustin and Paul did most of the grunt work.
What are some of the factors that contribute to good drum sound for you?
A lot of things I do, like running the drums through an amp or bouncing them to a two-track and distorting them through a tape machine, or running them through a pre-amp, isn’t revolutionary. My sound also has to do with how I hit the drums, how I muffle it, what heads I use, etc. For example, I only use the top heads on toms. These are things you develop over the years as a drummer that wants to develop his own style. There’s also your room, the drum heads, how old the heads are, the velocity you hit with, where the mics are, the model of mics, as well as the processing you use. I do try to commit to making the drums sound good before recording. That way, you can continue to be inspired by what’s already there as you keep writing.
Both of Mutemath’s latest albums were recorded in regular houses, not expensive studios. Can you tell me about the kind of drum rooms you like, considering that regular rooms seem to work well for you?
My favorite drum room is the one I currently have. It’s only eight foot by eight foot. My studio is in the basement of a 500 square-foot print shop. We just built a room with dry walls. I might put up blankets to deaden the sound even further, but it’s just a small, tight room, and it’s my favorite drum sound. It doesn’t have a lot of reverb or echo.
The natural decay in a small room is really short. Doesn’t that take away from the color of the drum hits?
Not at all. I go for that kind of sound. When there’s not a lot of reverb, it’s easier for you to distort things afterwards to make it punchy and articulate.
Tell me about the drums on the “Odd Soul” album? They sound very colorful.
Those drums were recorded in a medium-sized kitchen, though the mics are pretty amped up. We were going for a John Bonham kind of thing, with natural reverb. But if I had to record drums for the rest of my life in either a small place with no reverb or a big place with lots of reverb, I’d pick the small place. But in the drum pack you have options of both sounds, be it dry snare hits, or the sound of the room mics.
For me, it’s all about distortion. Every good drum sound has a little bit of distortion in it. Back in the day, it came from tape saturation. Nowadays, it can be from a plugin. But the main thing is that you put in the time and effort. I love the story of one of the engineers who recorded the Beatles. He worked under George Martin, and told the story of how Martin walked into the control room, heard the drum sound and went, “Boooooring“. So the engineer got nervous and started running the mics through different pieces of gear until they found a good sound. That encourages me, because it shows that people worked hard even back then. They weren’t just sitting around relying on gear, or allowing it to sound good by accident.
What have been some of the most unconventional things that you’ve done to further process drums after recording?
When I was playing in a band called Earthsuit, we used to run the kick through a bass amp, which was great. Just the other day, I bought a Synare. It was made in the 70s, and it’s a UFO-looking thing. I bought it from a synth store in Austin during SXSW. It’s been modified to run audio through it, and it’s a mean-sounding thing that’s responsible for the “pew pew” sound effect heard on some of Donna Summer’s records. It does great bass sounds too. Another thing that comes to mind is side-chaining. People like to use side-chain compression a lot, but you can use it with a gate too. If you have a nice noise sound, like white noise or the sound of the ocean or someone talking, you can gate and side-chain it to your snare. That way, the gate will open with your snare and you can adjust attack and decay settings.
My favorite drum sound we ever got was on one of the last songs on the “Armistice” album, called “Burden“. We got it by recording in a medium sized room, close-mic’d with SM57’s, and then we ran the drums into a two-track tape machine. That was it.
You’re quite an aggressive drummer. I guess that plays a part of the sound as well, right?
I play quieter in the studio than when when I’m on stage. It pays to let the vibe of the room, mics, and distortion feed into how it sounds, rather than striking the drums too hard. I look back at some of the nasty-sounding James Brown records and they’re not playing hard at all. They’re playing way softer than someone like Dave Grohl, but it still sounds amazing, because the drums are treated well and recorded to tape.
Our new record, which we’re just finishing up, isn’t about as much testosterone as previous ones. It has a lot of synths and lyrics about love, and the sounds cater to that. We still have a few more songs to record before the album is done, but I think we’ve made our best record yet.
What are your thoughts on vintage drum kits from the 60s and 70s versus newer ones made today?
Old drums just look cooler (laughs). They have a better style. In the 50, 60s and 70s, style was often given precedence over functionality. Although with drums the functionality is fairly obvious: you hit it and it makes a sound. But regardless, the look of older drums appeal to me, and that’s why I play them. It has less to do with sound, though I know that the age of the wood affects things. You can’t go wrong with an old school Rogers kit. I’m referring to the ones released before they were bought up by CBS in 1966.
When making your sample pack, were you conscious of what the gear chain was?
You’ve mentioned that you run your drum sounds through amps. What are you looking for when doing that?
Spring reverb and distortion. We’ve done that on every Mutemath album at some point. We’ll always have an amp mic, and it’s usually on the snare. By the way, the bread and butter of my drum sound is a condenser mic in-between my right knee and the bass drum, near the beater side of the kick, pointing at the snare. I’ll get a pretty even blend of kick, snare and hat through that, which is helpful.
What are your hopes for this sample pack? Is it something you’d use for your own work?
I totally use them. One of the loops is on the new Mutemath album, and a lot of the one-shots are used to accentuate our sounds. My hopes for the pack have already been exceeded. Right after we released it, I got messages for days from people who use them. They’ve already been used in commercials. One producer even paid me a session fee for , just because of how helpful they were to him, even though he’d already bought the pack (laughs). That was amazing. So I’m hoping to do another one soon with Dustin and his team.