Drummer2Drummer with Daniel Lyons, Vol. 2 : Mike Greenfield
I’m Daniel Lyons, currently the drummer for Horizon Wireless and SOLARiS, two steadily touring acts in the North East live music circuit. In Drummer2Drummer, 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 their vocabulary that they use to speak. 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.
In this edition of Drummer2Drummer, I will be speaking with Mike Greenfield. As the current drummer for LOTUS, one of the top (international!) touring acts in the scene today, Greenfield is at the forefront of the live electronica movement in the United States. Also playing in one (of his several) super-group projects, Electron, with Marc Brownstein, Aron Magner, and Tom Hamilton, Greenfield is at the height of his craft behind the kit, and is one of the most sought after players out there today. A personal inspiration to my own playing since seeing him drum at my first of nearly 200 Disco Biscuits shows (at Jam on the River 2004), Greenfield has long been a staple and motivating force behind the Philadelphia born trancefusion genre that has literally shaped and redefined the jam band scene forever.
DS: Hey Mike! Let’s start with your favorite piece of gear right now?
MG: It’s hard to narrow down my favorite piece of gear, but I recently upgraded my monitor system and I’m incredibly happy with it. I purchased the “Roxanne” in-ear monitors from JH Audio and a Porter and Davies throne, which is a “tactile generator monitor system.” I’m basically sitting on a 15” subwoofer and it allows me to hear and feel sub frequencies. This gear along with the expertise of my monitor engineer Padge McQuillan makes all the difference in the world.
DS: What’s your current stick make and size, and how did you end up “sticking” with it?
MG: I’ve been using the Jim Keltner model by the now defunct Johnny Rabb stick company. I went on a mad hunt to find as many of the sticks as I could when the company folded, almost in a fashion reminiscent to the Seinfeld episode “The Sponge.” I somehow found a small drum shop in upstate NY that had hundreds of pairs of this model of stick. I bought every pair they had and I’m only about ¼ of the way through them.
DS: Name some of your favorite current drummers?
MG: Benny Grebb, Mark Guiliana, Jojo Mayer, Spanky, ?uest Love, & Joe Russo.
DS: What genre of music most impacts your drumming style?
MG: I would say that I’m still influenced the most by electronic composers in the IDM and minimal techno genres.
DS: Do you remember the first song you ever played live?
MG: Ha, of course! The first song (outside of my public school concerts) was “Smoke on the Water” played at French Woods Camp, currently home of Catskill Chill. We played it in the same pavilion that we play at for the festival.
DS: Do you dream of drums, if so, are they typically dreams or nightmares?
MG: I have both typical dreams and nightmares about playing, but the nightmares seem to be more memorable. The typical nightmare theme revolves around misplacing a piece of gear, missing a gig, or completely forgetting a song.
DS: What 3 words best summarize your experience drumming?
MG: Absorption, Happiness, Interaction.
DS: What do you think the most important beat or pattern is in your playing?
MG: Untz untz untz untz!
DS: It often looks like you are a kid in a candy store on stage. I often try to smile but it only really comes out once or twice a show. What’s the key to happiness on the throne?
MG: I think there are two aspects that you have to be aware of in order to have fun while playing. The first is mental, and the first step is to mentally relax to a degree where you don’t concern yourself with the millions of sensory inputs that are occurring during a show. A worried, stressed, and distracted mind is not a happy mind. I have found that meditation is the best way to become present while playing, and even a 10-minute session can make all the difference before a show. I believe it is also important to not become jaded by the industry and the rigors of touring. I’m not curing cancer when I play drums, but I feel (and hope) that I am improving the lives of the audience, either directly or as a catalyst. How could this not make me happy?
DS: To my ear, your work on the ride cymbal is always so smooth and full of such vibrancy and swing. A lot of drummers in our genre have trouble mastering the ride in the overall electronic landscape, while you are just destroying that thing. In many of the shows I’ve seen you play I can hear your (immaculate) ride playing above the whole band, and it gives such an organic feel to everything happening. I was wondering if you could elaborate on your philosophy towards playing the ride, and let us in on how it became such a secret weapon for you.
MG: Thanks! I believe that my FOH engineer Evan Bates should get some of the credit for this compliment. He has explained he importance of the cymbals in his mix to me and he spends a lot of time to dial it in. He additionally places a separate microphone underneath the ride, which helps a lot with the definition. Even though I would thoroughly embarrass myself if I sat in with a be-bop band, I am heavily influenced by jazz music. I played in jazz ensembles all throughout my childhood and it has left its mark on my playing. A jazz drummer’s world revolves around the ride cymbal and I sometimes bring that element to my Rock/Electronica bands.
DS: Between your various sit-ins throughout the years, be it at Jam on the River, the Electric Factory, filling in for an entire show in 2010, and so many more, your relationship with the Disco Biscuits and their various projects has produced so many wonderful results. (Not only did you drum at my first Biscuits show, but I was convinced that you would be the replacement drummer for Sammy during the interim period before Allen Aucoin joined the band.) Could tell us roughly how that relationship has developed? And what would you say your favorite Biscuits related experience has been, be it Electron, percussion, or otherwise?
MG: The Disco Biscuits have been a large influence on me and I’m honored to also include them amongst my closest friends. I first met them in 1999 when I joined the Ally, who were also based out of the University of Pennsylvania. A few members of the Ally were tight with the Biscuits so I eventually met them and we soon began to play together. Honestly, the first few times I heard the Biscuits I just didn’t get it. It maybe took 5-8 shows before they started to grow on me and I eventually began to appreciate the subtle minimalism of Sammy. I have a lot of incredible memories with them, but right now the one that stands out the most is when I subbed for Allen in 2010. Jon called me on Christmas day and we talked for 30 minutes, which of course was full of witty Barber banter. When the conversation eventually came to an end he casually told me Allen was sick and asked if I could sit in for a show. They gave me about 20-25 songs to learn for the set, so I charted them out (I read charts for the entire show) since I didn’t have enough time to memorize them. Then, of course, there was that severe snowstorm that practically shut down NYC. It was nothing but chaos from start to finish but somehow I made it through without any train wrecks.
DS: Let’s face it, you’re a pretty hot ticket right now! What advice would you give to the — let’s say — “graduating” class under you as a musician? There are so many of us who are pushing every day, every weekend, every festival to make something great of ourselves, even though the money and the exposure haven’t fully come to bloom yet. What knowledge can you impart on those hard working musicians trying to be in the next Lotus?
MG: I think a lot of people wish they could make it in the music industry so they don’t have to work a grueling 9-5 day job. However, every successful bandleader I am involved with works on music and the music industry incessantly. The Millers spend countless hours composing music as well as formulating business ideas with management. It seems that every time I run into Brownstein he is on the phone with his agent Hank planning future shows. Therefore, if you are trying to get a band off the ground and are only putting in a few hours a week, then you are just kidding yourself. (This doesn’t apply to bands that are just playing for fun).
DS: What’s it like playing in Japan?
MG: Every time I play in Japan I appreciate the country more. The culture, the food, the architecture, and the people are all incredible. I feel Japanese audiences redefine the concept of “music fanatic” through their dedication and rapt attention during concerts. I can’t wait to go back!
DS: What are you most looking forward to in your upcoming music schedule? Either live performances or releases. Plug yourself!
MG: Festival season is now upon us so I will spend the next few months in that world. I’m especially psyched about Catskill Chill since I will be playing with four bands that weekend! It will also be its last show at those grounds, which I mentioned before as the first place I played a rock show.
Finish these sentences for me, Mike:
“Every drummer should ____
–read “War of Art” by Steven Pressfield
“A drummer should never ____”
“Behind every good drummer, there is ____”
–a pair of very understanding and slightly deaf parents.