The sound of the band Mutemath, is largely characterized by the drumming of Darren King, known for his energetic live perfomances and stage diving. Now that he’s released a sample pack through I WANT THAT SOUND, I went about seeking an interview, and can read below about his drum work, production techniques and the new sample pack titled Darren King Drums.
– Hi Darren. How did this drum pack of yours come about?
Dustin Burnett, the co-founder of I WANT THAT SOUND, messaged me on Twitter. That was pretty much it. It took a while for our schedules to line up, but I eventually went out to Nashville to meet him in person. We’d only talked on the phone prior to that, but it was a lot of fun working together. We recorded drums both to tape and digitally in a Nashville studio called The Smoakstack, owned by Paul Moak.
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 Mabury did most of the grunt work.
– What are some of the factors that contribute to good drum sound for you?
Whether running drums through an amp, bouncing them to a two-track, distorting them through a tape machine, or running them through a pre-amp, nothing I do is revolutionary. My sound also has to do with how I hit the drums, how I muffle them and what heads I use. For example, I only use the top heads on toms. These are habits you develop over the years as you work out your own style. There’s also your room, the age of your drum heads, mic placement, mic models, etc.
– Both of Mutemath’s latest albums were recorded in regular houses, not expensive studios. What preference do you have for drum rooms considering that regular rooms seem to work well for you?
My favorite drum room is the one I currently have. My studio is in the basement of a 500 square-foot print shop and the drum room is only eight foot by eight foot. We built it 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. We were going for a John Bonham kind of thing, with natural reverb. But if I had to record drums 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.
A lot of it is about distortion for me; every good drum sound has a little bit of distortion in it. Back in the day it came from tape saturation, whereas now it could 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 was encouraging to me because it shows that people worked hard even back then. They weren’t just sitting around relying on gear or allowing things to sound good by accident.
– What are some of the most unconventional things you’ve done to develop your drum sound?
When I played in a band called Earthsuit we used to run the kick through a bass amp, which was great. 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 ocean sound effects, you can gate and side-chain it to your snare. That way, you can adjust attack and decay settings to make the gate open with your snare.
I recently bought a UFO-looking thing called Synare from a synth store in Austin during SXSW. It was made in the 70s and was responsible for the “pew pew” sound effect heard on some Donna Summer’s records. Mine’s been modified to run audio through it and it does great bass sounds too.
My favorite drum sound is on one of the last songs of the “Armistice” album called “Burden“. We achieved that 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.
– 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 I’m on stage. It pays to let the vibe of the room, mics and distortion feed into how a studio recording sounds, rather than striking the drums too hard. I look back at some of James Brown’s 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 upcoming record, “Vitals“, isn’t doesn’t have 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 and have a better style. In the 50, 60s and 70s, style was often given precedence over functionality. Drums tend to have a fairly obvious functionality anyway: you hit it and it makes a sound (laughs). The look of older drums appeals to me and that’s why I play them. It has less to do with sound, though I know that things like the age of the wood affects the sound.
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 definitely 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 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.