Matthew shares his journey as a drummer, his preference of one (big!) screen rather than multiple monitors, and the realisation that focused practice could have improved his skills greatly.
Leigh Lim: Thanks for agreeing to share a bit about yourself Matt. I noticed that there are a couple of vintage kits, is that a soft spot? (You’d pick, or even rescue an unloved, old-old-old kit, rather than purchase a new, or second hand one that was less than 5 years old)
Matthew David: I own 1 vintage kit yeah, and I had wanted to buy a vintage kit for as long as I could remember. Being able to restore one, well, that kind of makes it even more special. This kit was collecting dust and rusting away in a friend’s garage. When I dug it out and realised it was the exact sizes I wanted (20″ kick, with short 12 and 13 inch toms, plus a 16″ floor) I knew I had to have it. I took it home and spent an entire Easter weekend scrubbing, wiping, scraping, polishing, till the skin virtually came off my hands.
I smelled of polish and chemical and vinegar and detergent and whatever else I was using. But within a week, I had a fully functioning, totally restored kit (I also had to buy all new skins, plus snare wire and throw-off, plus a couple of hoops and some other bits and pieces). I use it in a 50’s/60’s band, and it’s great fun to play and sounds perfectly old-school.
LL: Did you have to wait long to find (and receive) the parts you needed for the restore?
MD: I just went to my previous place of employment (music shop) and bought the parts there. From memory I had to order something in but it only took a few days. I wasn’t up for trying to restore it with genuine parts, so I put generic parts on as no-one would be able to tell the difference anyway.
LL: Also! There are a number of Saluda Sound files! Was that a phase? (or you really like those Saluda Cymbals?)
MD: Saluda are great cymbals. I brought a whole bunch in from America to try myself and sell on to others, to get the name out there.
I don’t tend to use them much nowadays though, the ones I brought in were all within a certain kind of sound and I just don’t play the styles that suit the sounds. In saying that though, I use a Saluda Mist-X 16″ crash a lot, fantastic cymbal, it’s kind of like a Zildjian K Custom Hybrid.
LL: Can you give a quick summary in terms of how you got to where you are with your playing?
MD: When I started playing, I had lessons privately for about the first 6 months from a guy that wasn’t trained himself. We used a book “Progressive Rock Drumming” by Andy Griffiths, and I just basically worked through the exercises.
I didn’t exactly learn rudiments properly, in fact I couldn’t do proper double stroke rolls till I’d been playing for over 10 years (I’d done a lot of press rolls up until that point!). I remember one exercise he gave me was to play the intro part to the Screaming Jets song “Better”. He came back a week later and I played him what I’d practiced. He had to correct me, as what I was playing was actually a more complicated version of the part (I think I had written it down wrong, or just learned it differently and got stuck on doing it that way instead). That basically gave me the confidence to attack just about anything, drum-wise.
From there, I started to delve into blues and funk… nothing tricky though. About 6 years later my tastes all changed, I got more into hard rock, including progressive music, starting with some odd time signatures by guys like Soundgarden, and moving into trickier stuff like Dream Theater.
This got me into even heavier music, mainly Pantera, where I started to write a fusion of heavy metal and progressive music, with solid heavy grooves that you might find in a Rage Against the Machine track.
Eventually I moved into hard rock, then fell in love with latin, which allowed me to experiment with new grooves using the kit plus timbales, bells and blocks, and is really tightening me as a player.
LL: If you were to put together a ‘learning plan’ or practice pack for someone who has never played before, so they could have the capacity to play at your level and skill. What would it look like?
MD: I guess it would contain music by a variety of bands/artists, and chops from a variety of drummers. Even if you only like one style of music, check out a wide range of styles to see what people are doing.
Learn your rudiments, learn how to play to a click, but never forget how important groove is. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Be a bit sloppy sometimes. Don’t be the player that sits comfortably in a song and just plays predictable safe grooves and fills. Be the player that does the crazy stuff, because even though sometimes you might screw up, I guarantee when you play that killer groove or smash that totally out there fill or solo part, you’ll feel amazing, and your crowd will love it (and you’ll be known as the drummer that landed it!).
LL: Would you say it was discipline that got you to where you are as a drummer?
MD: Not entirely. I tended to just have a natural talent, that allowed me to not have to practice a lot in order to get better as a player. Problem was I became complacent and then years later realised I should be better than I actually was! I still feel like I don’t practice enough… I play a lot, but don’t tend to practice things too often.
LL: Where there times when you didn’t want to practice? (What did you do to keep going?)
MD: Quite often I don’t have the energy. Or if I do have the energy, I don’t have the patience, so I’ll tend to just jump on the kit or timbales and smash away for a while, as opposed to practicing technique etc.
LL: Any words of wisdom for drummers who are quite keen to find the energy and the patience, to practice?
MD: You really just have to make time to practice. And don’t let yourself plateau as a player. If you get stuck, change it up and learn a new style. If you’re a right handed player, start playing left handed instead. Flip everything around and it will keep you stimulated and interested.
LL: If you had a chance to redo things, what would you have wanted to practice on and work on?
MD: I just wish I had started to learn latin grooves years before I did. Not only does latin playing require a lot of discipline and feel, it’s also great to play a style where you can go between tight and robotic to crazy improvisation, all while people are dancing along and enjoying it.
LL: Heel-up / Heel Down?
MD: Heel up, both feet.
LL: Has that always been the case since you started drumming?
MD: Yeah always heel up.
LL: Favorite Shoes for Drumming?
MD: I don’t get a say, a lot of the time, because I play in bands that require me to wear more formal shoes. If I have to pick, I’d say light and grippy. Though I’ve had a lot of trouble with my feet and legs over the past 5 years (mostly unrelated to drumming) that have prevented me from wearing that kind of shoe (I have to wear something with a lot of rigidity and support).
LL: How would you describe your generic kit set-up?
MD: 5 piece, 2 up, 1 down, 2 crashes, ride, hats. This is my standard rock setup.
My setup for latin is usually the same plus add in an extra tom (when there’s room on stage!), an extra cymbal or 2, timbales, 3 cowbells, and a block.
LL: What’s part of your arsenal at the moment?
MD: For drums, I have a Pearl VSX graffiti kit, 22, 10, 12, 14, 16, short stack toms, black hardware. I’ve also got a ’69 Pearl kit that I restored, oyster shell wrap, 20, 12, 13, 16. And a Sonor Force 3003, 22, 8, 10, 12, 14, with 10″ accent snare.*
Mainly running Remo heads – Pinstripes and Ambassadors (clear and coated). Tried Evans, Aquarians and Attacks for a while, went back to the trusty old Remos because they do what I want.
Pearl signature timbales. Meinl signature congas. LP, Meinl and Sonor bells.
Tama Iron Cobra double kick pedals.
I use a lot of different brands of cymbals, just whatever I’d collected over the years and I like the sound of. I’m mainly a Sabian man at heart though, they tend to make cymbals that really capture the sounds I’m wanting to use. Also have Zildjian, Paiste, Saluda and Stagg.
Sticks I tend to use Vater 7a in Sweet Ride or Manhattan. I never got the hang of heavy sticks and these ones are long and weighty, but also thin enough to fit in my hands comfortably. I also use a heavier timbale stick, at the moment it’s Pro Mark.
Snares I only have a few, a nice Yamaha Sensitive 13×6.5, a Sonor Force 3003 14×5.5 and a 70’s Ludwig Supraphonic 14×5.5.
* Editor’s Note: Since there has been significant time between Matthew answering this question and him reviewing the draft for publishing, Matthew mentions that he doesn’t play a sonor kit anymore. His main kit is a Pearl Masters MCX, 22, 10, 12, 16. Instead of a Sonor 3003 snare, he now has a Drum Craft Series 8 maple 14×6.5, and a Sonor Force 3007 12×5 maple. As he doesn’t play in a Beatles/Sixties band anymore, his vintage Pearl kit hasn’t had much use in a while.
LL: That is definitely an array of gear! Do you usually go (clear) Pinstripes for the batter and (clear) Ambassadors for resonant (for toms)?
MD: Clear Ambassadors or Evans G1s for bottoms, and basically anything I like the feel of for the tops. It really comes down to the kit, and the style that I play on the kit. On my latin / funk kit, I have clear emperors on top, to give me a hardy and punchy sound, but still tonnes of resonance.
On my old-school kit, I have coated emperors, again for the hardy punchy sound, but with the old-school element associated with it. And on my rock kit, I have pinstripes, for massive punch. Emperors and Pinstripes are highly tunable, you can take the pitch up and down and they still sound awesome.
LL: With your double Pedals, why Tama (Iron Cobras)? (Is it because the footboards are quite heavy and chunky — as opposed to Pearl’s double pedals?)
MD: I bought them because I knew they were good. These days I mostly play single pedal though, simply because I found myself getting a bit lazy and using double pedal too often for things that I should be able to do with just the single pedal.
One time in the music shop I worked at I managed to get a cheap Pearl double pedal to feel as good as the more expensive Pearl pedals, and even setup a Dixon double pedal to feel just as good as well. So this led me to believe it was more about the setup than any other variable. In saying that, I’m happy with my Iron Cobra pedals, and can’t see any need to replace them any time soon.
LL: Did it take awhile for you to settle on the kind of set-up that you like?
MD: I’ve always liked having at least 2 rack toms, and at least 1 floor. I like having a lot of stuff to hit! Also I avoid putting a ride cymbal where a tom might go, such as in a 1 up 2 down setup (even though it’s so trendy to do it!), because I prefer to have a nice flow between each tom, instead of a gap that a ride would create. Ultimately I think my ideal setup is 3 up, 2 down, with timbales, cable hats, and a whole bunch of cymbals.
LL: So having your ride a bit further from you isn’t an issue, as they would be (Comfortably) an arm’s reach, and you can spend a whole gig on the ride, and you wouldn’t have any muscle tension (as opposed to if you had to reach out a bit to get to the ride)?
MD: Usually don’t have any problems. I don’t find it’s “further away”, more like just positioned differently. I’ve spent 20 years with the ride in that position so I don’t tend to think too hard about it. When I play latin I also ride on an 18″ cymbal that sits over behind my hats / timbales. It really just comes down to what you get used to.
LL: Are cable hats for your auxiliary Hi-Hats? (Or are you using it as your main hi-hat stand?)
MD: Cable hats I only use when I play latin, as it allows me to place the hats closer to the first rack tom, meaning I can position the timbales closer in (so I don’t have to stretch out as far to the left in order to play the timbales). It beats me why more latin players don’t do this, to be honest I haven’t seen anyone else doing it like this.
LL: When tuning your kits, do you have a specific process?
MD: I just wind up the top and bottom till the key starts to feel a bit of tension, then I tweak with quarter turns top and bottom until I get the tone I want. I like to tension my top and bottom skins to be fairly close to each other, I think the drum resonates the best that way.
LL: Drum Maintenance and Storage?
MD: Not as much as I should do!
LL: How would you go about restoring hardware that has started to rust?
MD: A few pieces I abandoned entirely because they were too far gone. Most of it I was able to salvage by a combination of aluminium foil, steel wool, vinegar and polish. There was a lot of rust and corrosion but I was able to fix most of it no problem. The Ludwig snare is pretty rough but it doesn’t bother me in the grand scheme of things, I play it for the sound not for the look!
LL: Would you recommend buying consumables in bulk? (heads, Sticks)
MD: I’ve never done it so I wouldn’t know. Probably not a bad idea. I’ve bought sticks in 3 or 4 sets at a time before, but that’s as “bulk” as I’ve gotten. If I was going to tour, or was playing more than a couple of times a week, I would buy up more in bulk.
LL: During a gig, do you keep some notes as a guide?
MD: If I’ve just started with a band I may keep a note of who starts each song, until I’ve done a few gigs with that band and then it just becomes habit.
When I first started playing latin, I took a lot of notes, writing down how each song started, the main grooves in each song, the way the songs finished, and the main lines that were sung (so that I could differentiate between tracks, because at the time, since I was only just starting out, a lot of the tracks sounded the same to my untrained ears!).
I try to avoid having any notes at gigs, I prefer to just memorise the songs and stay alert on stage.
LL: With the gigs you do, are there universal communication signs that you agree on beforehand?
MD: Depends on the band really. In some of my bands I end up doing a lot of the leading, and people watch me for the cues. Other bands, I just sit back and let other people manage it. You tend to work things out on the stage, more than agreeing on things beforehand.
The trick is to just be flexible, watch other band members constantly and don’t get too absorbed in your own little world.
LL: What is your warm-up / practice routine like?
MD: It doesn’t really exist. I typically just jump on stage and play. Though I will take it easy and remain as relaxed as possible in the first instances, which helps me keep my energy up for the whole night.
LL: Are there times when you turn down gigs?
MD: Definitely. Although I tend to take most gigs as I earn a substantial amount of my dollars this way.
LL: Do you have a specific diet that you stick to and exercise regimen?
MD: I should, but I don’t. I was doing cardio at a gym for a while there, but then moved house and didn’t join up to another gym. Lately I’ve been really conscious of stretching, just making sure I’m fairly limber before I start bashing away.
LL: Description of your playing style?
MD: I try to keep pretty consistent grooves happening. Sometimes I’ll get bored and chuck in some silliness for the sake of it. I tend to overplay as opposed to under, and I’m quite aware that it’s something I do so I make an effort to avoid doing it in gigs (though I’m pretty sure I still overplay haha).
Ultimately I just attempt to be sensitive to what’s happening in the music at any point in time, I try to have fun, create some energy and put on a show. I’m a little sloppy, I’m not the tightest player around, but I can slot into pretty much any style and take the music to a new level, which keeps me employed and has a lot of bands always asking me back to play with them. I’m also my biggest critic!
LL: When you overplay — is it just enough that it satisfies your need for silliness?
MD: Very rare that my overplaying annoys other musicians. Typically if I try something tricky and pull it off, other band members will smile because they’ve noticed it. Sometimes I do it just to see if they’re still awake!
LL: What’s next for your playing?
MD: My next goal is to play for a Latin band where all the other musicians are miles better than me! I love a challenge and, providing they can be a bit patient with me, would love the chance to get to the next level with Latin music.
There are definitely plans to visit Miami (again) and Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia…
I also have some connections with some solid Brazilian musicians so am keen to get back to Brazil to jam with them and see where it leads.
Technicality-wise, I spend a lot of time working on chops and jamming to Latin tracks, in an effort to just keep honing my skills. I don’t think I would ever reach a point where I wouldn’t want to be better, I’m always looking for that next level.
LL: Have you been always mindful of ergonomics when you play?
MD: Extremely mindful now that I’ve had the issue with my feet and legs for the past 5 years. The main thing I think about is my posture, and I have spent basically this year learning to sit more upright as I play. I also have to go easy on my feet so sometimes have to play softer so as to reduce the stress on my body.
Matched grip was just how I always played, and it feels right to me so I stick with it.
LL: What’s the average amount of takes per video?
MD: Depends on the video, and depends on the day! Some days I just crack it, other days I’m playing terribly. Or then the gear stuffs up and you only realise after you’ve done the perfect take that it only recorded the first 10 seconds then turned off!
LL: With your recording equipment, what are the current specs you use? (in your Saluda test video – you use a mobile phone, and some mics — what software did you use? And what did you use to keep that LG phone still?)
MD: Typically I record in Adobe Audition. Simple, easy to use and does everything I need it to do. The LG phone would’ve just been propped up against something. No other clamping devices or anything were used. The second video you referenced was filmed on a Canon DSLR. I tend to do all my videos now on that setup, as I own a lot of lenses and it gives me the best visual quality.
LL: Was choosing a DSLR something specifically for video?
MD: I had a couple of DSLR’s before I bought my 600D, and the reason I bought the 600D was purely for the 1080p video (I had a 40D before that and it took great photos).
LL: Do you mix the audio for your videos?
MD: Yeah I do all my own mixing. When I have mic’d in anyway. Otherwise I’ll just pull the sound out of the phone/camera and do a quick tweak before uploading. But I try to do things properly, with good audio, when I can.
LL: Will we be seeing gig videos with sound from the main mixer soon?
MD: I attempted it earlier this year with one of my bands, and because I didn’t get the chance to sound check it, it wasn’t perfect. I ended up combining live audio in the camera with the mixer output, and it sounded OK.
I’ll probably do more down the track as I have a new mixer that allows me to quite easily record the full mix in stereo. Usually it’s just enough to get the gig sounding good, so I don’t have much time to do a proper recording.
LL: What are your ‘go-to’ mixing settings for the kit?
MD: Typically I’ll roll off the mids in the kick, if there’s a way of doing a parametric on around 2.5khz I’ll do that. On toms I’ll do similar, just pull a bit of mid, and sometimes a bit of low if I’m getting too much rumble in them.
Snare I pull a little bit of mid. Ultimately if the gig is big enough to warrant doing a really nice mix of the kit, I won’t be in charge (it’ll be a sound guy running his own PA).
LL: Did you have to deal with latency issues when recording?
MD: Haven’t had to deal with latency too much. I’m usually running decent sound cards and don’t have the problem. If anything is slightly out of sync I’ll just jump in and match it by ear/eye.
LL: Do you have a regular schedule of posting videos?
MD: Just whenever I get the urge, and have the spare time, to record one.
LL: Are there certain things you ‘geek out’ about?
MD: Not entirely. Though I am a bit of a purist when it comes to latin grooves. Things like clave, you have to get that stuff right. And what instruments and sounds go towards creating different latin styles (for example, a lot of latin jazz / mambo gets passed off as salsa, when it’s clearly quite different.) Things like understanding why Colombian salsa is different to Cuban, Puerto Rican, USA styles of salsa.
LL: Can you share some of the artists that you absolutely dig, and are surprised that others haven’t heard of?
MD: Just about all the latin artists I listen to are fairly unknown in Australia. With exception to guys like Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin, and bands like Buena Vista Social Club.
My favourites would have to be Victor Manuelle, Timbalive, Gilberto Santarosa, Jose Alberto, Oscar De Leon, Grupo Gale, Fabian Torres, Huey Dunbar, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Luis Enrique, Andy Montanez, Moncho Rivera, Frankie Ruiz.
Non-latin bands like The Truth, Directions in Groove, Incognito, not too well known around here but fantastic bands.
LL: How about songs/albums that you cannot get enough of?
MD: Pretty much the guys above. Can listen all day and not get tired (and I do listen all day haha).
LL: Do you go out of your way to discover new music?
MD: Yeah all the time. Because I also do latin DJ’ing, I’m constantly on the lookout for new material that no-one else is playing around these parts. It keeps my DJ’ing fresh and means that I always get rave reviews.
LL: Where do you go for inspiration? What do you do when you need to come up with a musical idea?
MD: Usually ask my brother! He’s a mad crazy guitarist and just a freak of a musician. Or I just absorb all that above music and bounce off that.
LL: What’s your view about social media?
MD: Took me a while to get into it. I see the benefits of it, but I think there’s still way too much crap out there.
LL: What are your favourite sites at the moment?
MD: Anything car related usually 🙂 Or just Youtube, checking out music / drum videos.
LL: What would you do when you need cheering up?
MD: Play the kit. Or the timbales. Or the congas. Or work on my cars.
LL: Would you be open to collaborating with other artists?
MD: Definitely. If they’re the same level as me and interested in doing the same types of music that I am, for sure.
LL: Are you interested in technology?
MD: I love audio plugins, I have a tonne of those. I like upgrading my computer every now and then, at the moment it’s a quad core beats with a fast graphics card, and my monitor is a 40″ Sony LCD. I’m definitely a tech head, though I don’t really have the income to be a very good one!
LL: A 40″ monitor!? Quite sizable! Did you choose that size because you needed more space when editing?
MD: Laptops bug me, I love screen real estate. the 40″ screen allows me to do audio and video with ease, opening multiple windows at once (like, a mix window and an FX window, for example), rather than running dual monitors. I’ll probably upgrade down the track but at the moment 1080p on a 40″ screen does me fine.
LL: With your videos, are you looking to upload the same kind in the future? Or are you looking to do different things?
MD: I’d like to do some more guides, and also some more timbale covers. I’m probably due for uploading 1 or 2 more, now that I have a bit more free time that could be a possibility for the next couple of weeks.
LL: If you were asked to pick from the videos you have, which one would be your favourite?
MD: Hard to tell. Really depends what I’m picking for. I like my timbale cover, since I like the song and I enjoy playing Latin. But I know it’s not my best playing. I don’t really have one that I feel highlights my playing properly.
LL: For someone watching a video of yours for the first time, what is the message you’re hoping they’ll take with them?
MD: Well, it comes down to the video. If it’s my latin band, I want them to think “these guys aren’t too bad!” and then they book us for a gig! For my personal playing, I’m happy if it inspires people to make up their own stuff and get better as a player. After all, it’s not a competition. And I am of the mindset that if I’ve learned something, I just be gracious enough to pass that on to others.
LL: What feeds your soul?
MD: Playing with awesome musicians definitely does that. Or just jamming along to my favourite tracks.
LL: What do you find is the best way to connect with your audience?
MD: This is still something I struggle with. Audiences are fickle and sometimes you just can’t figure them out. Ultimately I just try to do things that I think audiences will enjoy. Keep people entertained and do things in a way that they haven’t seen/heard before. And it usually pays off.
* Matthew is a drummer based out of Queensland’s Gold Coast. You can find content on his Youtube channel where he shares groove ideas, covers, as well as gear reviews. See things through his eyes (as well as have a glimpse of the projects he’s working on) via his Instagram feed. He is open to teaching privately though he thinks he’d be better at doing instructional videos than getting students in and trying to teach them. As for gigs and recordings (in person or online), you can reach out to him to have an initial conversation to see if your project would be a fit for him.
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