Drummer2Drummer with Daniel Lyons – Vol 1. w/ Jules Jenssen
My name is Daniel Lyons, and I am currently the drummer for Horizon Wireless and SOLARiS, two steadily touring acts in the North East live music circuit. In my Drummer2Drummer series, I will be interviewing fellow drummers every month from the live music scene, seeking out answers that will illuminate the special differences and preferences that make every drummer their own unique performer.
More often then not, the process and experience of drumming mirrors that of an actor on a stage. Rudiments and patterns act as a script for every drummer, but much like an actor, it is up to each individual player to put their own stylistic spin on the words they are given. Years of training, experience, empathetical understanding, mimicry, and discipline give drummers the vocabulary that they use to speak. Each drummer’s individual voice can be emulated, quantified, and even repeated, but it is still a fact that no drummer will ever be an exact duplicate of another. Every player has his or her own unique voice that is built from individual experiences, tastes, and years of love and study.
In this series of ongoing articles, I will be exploring what makes each of us as drummers so beautifully different and special. As a drummer myself, I will be asking questions that burn in my mind on a daily basis as I seek to master such an amazingly diverse craft with help and insight from my peers, mentors, and friends.
First up on Drummer2Drummer is Jules Jenssen, one of the most creative, prolific, and genre melding drummers in the scene today. Playing in the Indobox, Normal Instruments, and formerly of Higher Organix, Search Party and more, Jules has embarked on a rich and diverse career full of projects and progress. Join me as I chat with Jules about everything drums, while investigating his new project Ross Jenssen as well as his current fill-in as the drummer for Particle.
JJ: Man, I love my snare drum. It’s a Dave Weckl maple custom dual strainer signature model from the early 90s that has the same finish and logos as my kit. That and my Sabian HHX Cymbals. They’re nice and modern, and have such a nice dark mix. Or my MOOG sub 37, but that’s not a drum question…but it’s a good metronome!
DS: What’s your stick make and size, and how did you end up “sticking” with it?
JJ: I’ve been playing the Vic Firth 8D for a long time now. But I’ve been trying to get a hold of the Vic Firth X 8D. The thing with the 8D is that it’s a 7A diameter and weight, but it’s half an inch longer. The X 8D would be an inch longer. As you probably know, even half an inch feels like a foot on the drumstick in length. It’s allowed me to find a nice balance between leverage on the stick, if I wanna choke up for a little more power, and being able to make my setup a teeny bit further away from me and not cramped in. I know that at my maximum reach I’m right where I want to be. I can always dial it back in but know that my full reach is a good controlled hit.
DS: Name some of your favorite current drummers?
JJ: Definitely Matt Garstka from Animals as Leaders. The other one who’s really been doing a bunch for me lately is Perrin Moss from Hiatus Kaiyote. He’s got such a cool style. From what I’ve read he wasn’t a trained drummer until fairly recently, and used to be an MC before that. So he’s got this great, swingy, J-Dilla kinda sensibility mixed with some really tight jazz precision. But when you watch him play, he’s so unorthodox. He’s switching back and forth—open handed and left handed—he’s got a ride cymbal on his left side. He’s really cool, really comfy, really loose and really precise. That whole band has been crushing my mind lately. Love them.
DS: What genre of music most impacts your drumming style?
JJ: Well it’s always changing. Like the two drummers I just listed are a good example of the kind of dichotomy of my interests at all times. I’ve been seriously getting into the technical end of metal and progressive drumming in the past four years. The reason that attracts me is that it’s the music where your maximum technical facility is still musical. In metal you can play at your full ability and it’s not like you’re overfilling or overplaying. I’m always looking into new ideas and seeing people who are just free and express themselves in a musical way – it doesn’t always have to be the most technical.
DS: Do you dream of drums, if so, are they typically dreams or nightmares?
JJ: Damn, I haven’t remembered my dreams in too too long…but when I do, they’re rarely about that. Which is weird. Maybe my subconscious is exercised enough by that in the real world so that it’s not begging at my mind when I’m sleeping. Maybe if I didn’t play drums for a week I’d start getting some subconscious asskicks to get back on it or something like that.
DS: Do you remember the first song you ever played live?
JJ: Hmm. When I was a very little kid at my dad’s roadhouse funky music night club that he owned, one night at an open mic I hopped up on the kit with my dad on guitar and played “We Gotta Get Out of this Place”. And rocked on that one. I also remember playing the spoons when I was in kindergarten, and playing the old classic “Buffalo Girls” with my dad on his fiddle, and me on spoons. That might be the first public performance I remember actually. Old school. But the rhythm’s been there. I mean there’s pictures of me playing on my drumset at my parents’ wedding when I was barely two, playing with bowls and spoons as a little kid.
DS: What 3 words best summarize your experience drumming?
JJ: Humbling. Inspiring. Motivating. You gotta be humble. As we all know, we gotta be brothers, we gotta have camaraderie. There’s always talented people, it’s about being musical. We all have our own way of doing that, and being musical people, and translating those thoughts and feelings. You can always be inspired and always be humbled, and it doesn’t have to be by complex stuff. Gratification comes from reaching goals, whether career-wise or personally on the instrument. Once you put in that time, and really feel the reciprocal energy come out of the instrument, it’s great. It’s amazing. The power is really in us to hold that. That’s what defines any good musician: not getting discouraged instantly. No one wakes up and is just amazing instantly. It’s about using inspiration, instead of thinking “Well I’ll never be that good.” And I’ve seen that happen, talked to people like that, and it’s not a good way to be. There are parts of my life I may be not as good at following through on as I am at drums, but you gotta transfer the things that get you down to just make yourself better.
DS: Let’s do some word association. I’ll say a word and you tell me the first word or phrase that comes to mind, okay?
JJ: Hopefully not long.
JJ: Hopefully not mean…and knows about gain.
JJ: Expensive, but worth the investment.
JJ: Water and IPA.
JJ: Crucial…and different. They can be very different. It’s a very open instrument.
DS: Help me finish these sentences:
“Every drummer should have ____”
JJ: Extra sticks!
“A drummer should never ____”
JJ: Not listen to the other people playing.
“Behind every good drummer, there is ____”
JJ: A drum throne! And a practice regimen.
DS: Let’s talk about what you’re working on now. Your new project, Ross Jenssen, seems to be a darker and more surreal project than the usual Normal Instruments or Indobox show. How did you get involved starting this project, and how do you feel about the tonal shift of this project compared to your other bands?
JJ: Brian Ross and I have been playing together for 7 or 8 years now, and we’re partners in crime on the bass and drums. Brian has always been into the heavier stuff, he’s been listening to it his whole life. Meanwhile my technical facilities have grown, to heavier metal and more progressive things. You know, after so many years playing in the jam scene, dance music mostly—and that’s not to say you can’t dance to Ross Jenssen (editors note: you can!)—it’s darker and more surreal, as well as more cinematic. We’re really excited about it because we feel like we’re expressing ourselves in a clearer and more concise way, and it’s gonna allow us to have a pretty awesome visual show too. I like to have [Ross Jenssen] for different tones, because it allows me to think musically in different ways while not trying to get everything out in one project. That’s not appropriate. I don’t want to be playing crazy chops in a band where I should just be fat backing, but I want to know crazy chops! But it’s great to have a project where I can stretch myself and my technical chops to new levels, and remember complex arrangements and manifest this whole vision.
DS: So what’s next for Ross Jenssen?
JJ: I’ve been working full time on this since Normal Instruments tour to get ready for Disc Jam. We’ve got a great stage to play on and a great time slot right in the late-night tent. I’m really grateful and I’m focusing pretty much my whole life, except for these upcoming Particle shows, into making this happen. I’ve been keeping 3 video people on schedule, one of which is Drew Suto from Conspirator and the Big Up Festival, as well as my friend Josh Crane who works for Douglas Trumbull, one of the most prolific special effects engineers of all time. [Josh] has been getting some amazing cameras and equipment for us to shoot some original content which will all be shown on a projector behind the live set. We’re also doing light programming down to every millisecond of every song. It’s going to be a spectacle to behold. We’re going to be able to accurately recreate the tones of the album. Some people will think some of the effects are produced, but they are actually being played live in real time. I think it’s going to blow people’s minds. It’s gonna be worth it, we’re gonna come out of the gate strong.
DS: Tell us a bit about how you got involved playing with Particle.
JJ: Higher Organix opened for Headtronics, a side project with Steve Molitz, in Albany. The bass player Freakbass and DJ Logic asked me to step up for a jam, so that’s how I met Molitz. We had a great jam, great chemistry on stage, and stayed in touch. Then I sat in with [Headtronics] at Catskill Chill Festival two years in a row. Last year for Disc Jam they asked me to do the Particle and Friends set, and I thought that went well considering it was short notice and I didn’t quite know their songs, but other than seeing them and listening to their album when I was 16 or whatever…man! You remember when it was just Particle, the Disco Biscuits, Sound Tribe, The New Deal, and little baby Umphreys off on the side? 1999, 2001, there was like 5 bands in the jamtronica scene! Anyway, they hit me up a couple weeks ago and said they might need a sit in. They sent me 20 something songs, most of which I had to learn a year ago for Particle and friends. Now I’m just retouching those and making sure I’m not confusing one with another. Comparing studio versions with live versions, looking over the notes they gave me. I’ve tried to put in 2 to 3 hours a day just playing through those and hearing them. I’ve fully submersed myself in them, when I’m in the car, whenever I have time.
DS: What tips can you give on how you learned so many songs so fast?
JJ: A huge thing for me is to as quickly as possible be able to hear the first notes of the song. Know the name, know how I have to come in, try to identify later parts and how it ends, as well as look at just the name and be able to do it in my head. And if I don’t look at it, I have to be able to hear it if it was teased in a jam. I have to differentiate the songs so if we’re improv’ing into something else, I can quickly associate where I am in the overall arrangement. It’s come along, and at this point I’ve got every song on the setlist and I feel good about it. I’ve really committed a lot of time to show them I’m serious, and will come in on short notice and play like I’ve been doing it for a while. We all sit around and play our instrument and hope we’ll get recognition in some way, but it doesn’t come without earning it. It’s great to get a gig like this and fill it, and have the confidence and humility to sit in front of 20 minute songs, and be like “Can I do this?” And then just having a method, sticking to it, being pro and getting that gratification and inspiration from pulling it off. Being inspired by even yourself sometimes, like “Wow, I can do that.” It allows you to be confident and then take that next step.
DS: Thank you so much Jules!
In the next installment of Drummer2Drummer, I will be speaking with Mike Greenfield, a career-long inspiration to my own drumming, and the man behind the kit in top national touring acts Lotus and Electron.