May. 08 2006
Rodney Holmes

Rodney Holmes

Steve Kimock Band / Independent

TAMA :You play with an ideal combination of stunning technique, coordination, and fluidity, all with a great sense of musicality. When did you first start playing the drums, and how did you develop your impressive skills?

Rodney : I started playing the drums when I was nine years old. I developed my playing by listening to a lot of records, and early on, going through a lot of instructional books on my own… like Stick Control and Accents and Rebounds, which are both George Lawrence Stone books. And simultaneously, listening to a lot of music, starting out with a lot of my mother’s old records, like Sam Cook and Otis Redding… and some of my older brother’s records, like Earth, Wind & Fire, Parliament Funkadelic, Led Zeppelin, Rush… and then discovering more jazz musicians, Max Roach, Art Blakey, and Elvin Jones. And then discovering Tony Williams, which was huge for me. Also, discovering Billy Cobham and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Hearing Steve Gadd on a lot of records. By that time, I was well into high school… and the more I started learning about different kinds of music, the more I listened and tried to work on things on my own, based on the instructional material that was available at the time. I didn’t really have a private teacher.

TAMA : Did you ever take lessons or have any formal training?

Rodney : The only formal training I had was in the 4th grade. There was an amazing music teacher by the name of Mitchell White, and he played every instrument in the band, and taught all the kids the fundamentals of their instrument. He taught me how to hold the sticks, so I learned to play traditional grip, and I learned all the rudiments and learned how to read. And that was the only real formal training I had, at that time. Later on, I discovered a lot of other things and different techniques, like the Moeller technique… so I tried to figure out which aspects of the different techniques actually worked for me. And it’s just been a continuing process. But one of the main philosophies that I’ve always had, even back when I didn’t realize I had a philosophy, was that I didn’t really box myself into one kind of music. I just didn’t think that really made any sense. I thought all of the music that I was learning about was all related. And so I always approached the drums in that way.

TAMA : You mentioned listening to a lot of records… did you play along with them, or was it more listening, and then playing on your own?

Rodney : In the beginning, I played along. When I was 9 or 10 years old, I played along to a lot of those records… the Ohio Players and Earth, Wind & Fire, that kind of stuff. Even like some of the early Otis Redding stuff, I would play along with, because that was the only opportunity I had to “play with a band.” And then later on, I didn’t play so much to records. I was really starting to work on more technical things… just in terms of being able to execute things on the drumset. It was always for a musical reason, but I got away from playing with records at some point. I started working with other kids, other players, and then really concentrating on my time, and really concentrating on subdivisions and then trying to learn a little bit more about more advanced permutations and things like that. All the while, still listening a lot and discovering different music.

TAMA : You gave an incredible performance at the 2005 Modern Drummer Festival, and received overwhelming praise in return. What was that experience like for you, performing in front of thousands of other drummers?

Rodney : Well, it was a little weird… because I’d never done a festival like that before. So it was a bit weird. But once I finally got on stage, and just got into the drums, and got into trying to create some music with it, it got better. But it was a surreal experience. One of the reasons is because I just had no idea that so many people enjoyed it as much as they did. I couldn’t tell. So when I finished, I had the impression that some people liked it, some people didn’t, and they would soon forget about it when they saw the next drummer. I had no idea that it had gone over as well as it did.

And just doing a drum festival like that with so many other drummers and with other drummers who had done that sort of thing before, it was kind of a weird feeling. And just looking out into the audience and not being able to see anybody, it was totally dark… but just feeling that presence of over 2,000 people, and knowing that everybody’s there with a microscope critiquing every little thing that you’re doing… there was a lot of pressure. So that was a weird experience… weird is not the right word, because it was a good experience… but it was a little nerve-racking in the beginning. But it forced me to learn how to block that out and concentrate on what’s really important and why I became a musician in the first place… to not concentrate so much on the fact that there were all these people critiquing what I was doing, but to try to be in the moment.

TAMA : Are you still involved with the Steve Kimock Band? What’s going on with that group?

Rodney : Yes. We had done a lot of touring at the end of last year, and we’re taking a little bit of a break. And I’ve been concentrating on playing… well, my record was just released… so I’m sort of in the middle of getting a quartet together to perform that music. And some other things. So Steve and I are kinda taking a break from The Steve Kimock Band, just to regroup and write some new music. And we’re probably going to be doing some side projects together, under a different name… and then when we start The Steve Kimock Band touring schedule again, we’ll have a lot of new material, and we’ll be more prepared to go in and do another studio record. So we’re just taking a little bit of a break right now.

TAMA : Eudemonic, your first recording with Steve, sounds deceptively improvisational.  There are sections on the record where on the surface it sounds like you are “jamming,” but one gets a sense that the arrangements are actually well orchestrated in advance. How much of the material is rehearsed, and how much was improvised?

Rodney : Your perception of what was going on is very accurate… it is very well-arranged. For the recording, I think the material is more arranged than not. But what we didn’t want is a lot of unison lines and things… we wanted it to feel – I guess “loose” is not the right word – but we wanted it to breathe. And so a lot of the things that sound like they are improvised are actually written. But there were sections in the songs and things that were written in to give everyone space to kind of reinterpret things. But we’re always dealing with the parameters of that particular song… so it’s hard for me break it down percentage-wise.

TAMA : And how does that translate to playing the material live?

Rodney : There’s much more improvisation live, because the sections that are designed to allow for improvisation are open. So the songs are longer, and there’s much more improvising live, within the parameters of the song. We open things up a lot more. And some of the arrangements are live arrangements, different from the record, just because they play better in front of an audience and it allows everyone to sink their teeth into it a little bit more.

TAMA : Please tell us about your recent solo record, 12 Months of October. How did this come about, and what was the writing and recording process like?

Rodney : This came about a few years ago now. I started to record a quartet CD which didn’t work out. The studio and personnel… it just didn’t work out. And I was pretty discouraged, and had spent some money, but since I told everyone I was doing a record, I decided to just start from scratch and not give up. And that changed the whole process; that changed the direction of the music. So I just started writing music and took a completely different approach. And at the time, I was listening to a lot of Massive Attack and Prodigy and DJ Goldy and a lot of electronica. I just liked a lot of the sonic possibilities, and so I wanted to take a lot of music that I loved and a lot of my influences, and kinda just pour everything into my brain just to see what kind of music I was hearing.

I felt I was walking the tightrope between using my influences and not being derivative. So it was a little tricky, because I didn’t have any reference for the stuff I was starting to write. So it was kind of a touch-and-go process… I’d write the material and just try to get an idea of how the songs would play sequenced… and decided to just try it. I’d have just the skeleton of the sequences, and go in and track to them. But I had to play as if I was reacting to other people, and that’s hard to do when you’re the only one in there with a sequencer. And there were some grooves and some concepts that I wasn’t sure would actually work. So after that, I just made sure that the drums and the tracking went well, and then started replacing some of the instruments. I knew I wanted real bass on some of the stuff, and brought in the guitar players, and finished the sound design… and sculpted the thing and tried to get it to sound, as much as I could, like what I was hearing in my head at the time. I had to learn a lot about sound design and recording things, because I’d never done that, I’d never produced a record on my own. So it was quite a learning process.

TAMA : What are some of your favorite tracks on the album, and why?

Rodney : I really like “Electric Wildlife,” which is the second track… the title track… “The Thief of Always”… and the first tune, “Radio Warning.” And I guess the reason why I like these tracks is because they’re impossible to categorize. And I think we managed to do something that wasn’t derivative, but at the same time there’s something in the music that’s familiar enough to pull people in, I believe. It’s not so alien that people wouldn’t be able to relate to it, but at the same time when they’re pulled in, I believe that they’re hearing things that they don’t normally get to hear. I think that’s kind of a rare combination, and I thought we pulled that off pretty well. Those are the kind of responses that I’ve been getting from people who heard the record. And they kept saying that they’d find themselves listening to it over and over again, and every time they’d hear it, there was something new about it that they hadn’t noticed before. So I’m proud of that, and that was something that I intended. When I made this CD, I decided that I wasn’t going to try to fit the thing into any category. I wanted to make the kind of record that I would want to hear… like if I went to buy a CD, if I put this on, I would dig this… I would be very interested. So I tried to think of what would make me wanna go out and buy a record. So I figured if I felt that way, I couldn’t be the only one on the planet (laughs). I think if people give it a chance, it’s quite interesting. Oh, and I forgot to mention “Hallow’s Eve,” that’s definitely one of my favorites too.

TAMA : Perhaps even more impressive than your technical dexterity is your feel and impeccable sense of time. You often play fills well over the bar-line and phrase things in odd times, without ever losing the groove. How did you develop such a strong command over time?

Rodney : The time was always first priority when I was trying to develop. When I was younger, I’d pay close attention to developing a good sense of time, and I started to really work on concentrating on the subdivisions. And I think that has a lot to do with having a strong sense of time, but having it feel comfortable at the same time. You know… not necessarily feeling stiff. So I concentrated a lot on the subdivisions in between the notes, and the spaces in between the notes within the subdivisions. And I worked on having those spaces breathe in a certain way, so those things don’t feel rushed, and so things don’t slow down. And that helped and still helps me a lot when I have to deal with odd meters and things like that, and when I’m working on putting certain groupings together or trying to shape things a certain way to be able to play over the bar line and create certain shapes. I didn’t ever want to have to guess about where things were coming out. So it was a combination of really concentrating on the subdivisions and understanding how groupings fit in a bar, but also trying to make it feel as comfortable as possible. That helped a lot.

TAMA : When you play some of these extended fills and things, do you have to count or have you been doing this so long that you can just feel where the 1 is?

Rodney : For the most part, I can feel where the 1 is because I’m concentrating more on the phrase. In the beginning, I was concentrating more on the math. And the reason I was concentrating more on the math is so I would be able to create phrases. Once I started to get used to a certain language and a way of phrasing things, I was able to use different combinations of groupings and things like that. I’d finish things in different places just to change the feel or change the phrase. And just always having a strong sense of pulse, always knowing where the pulse is, or where the musical phrase fit within the bar. And it has a lot to do with if I’m playing in a different meter or if I’m playing in 4/4… but at this point, I usually have a pretty good sense of the pulse and I don’t have to count. The only time I really have to deal with counting is if I’m playing someone else’s music or something that I’ve written that I’m not used to and there’s some weird meter changes or  accents that may not be in the most natural places. And then if I have to count it out, I’ll count it out. But after I learn it, the last thing I want to do is to have to count, because I never want it to sound like I’m counting.

TAMA : You have an extensive and diverse body of recorded work. What other recordings do you feel best represent your drumming, or are you particularly proud of?

Rodney : I’m proud of the 2 or 3 tunes I did on the last Brecker Brothers CD called Out of the Loop. Even though that was quite a few years ago, I was very proud of how that came out, because the material wasn’t easy, but it feels easy. And I’m proud of that. There’s also a record I did with a guitarist named David Gilmore (not Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour) called Ritualism… and that’s another CD that was recorded quite a few years ago, and it’s an acoustic record that has more of a swing feel to it. But there are a lot of odd meters. I mean the way Dave writes, he used to work a lot with Steve Coleman, and Steve dealt a lot with odd meters and had a pretty unique way of putting things together. So I think David had a lot of that influence, but it was within an acoustic jazz setting. And it’s one of the few records I’ve heard that really bring those worlds together in a natural way. I played on most of the tracks on that record, and it took me awhile, like after a few years I’d listen to it again and I feel pretty good about how it came out. I think it’s fun to listen to, and I think there’s some great playing on it. So I’m proud of that.

There’s a record I did with Jim Weider, who replaced one of the guitar players in The Band, and is a great rock/blues guitar player. We recorded this CD a couple of years ago called Percolator. Tony Levin plays bass on that, John Medeski plays organ on it, and it’s much more of an instrumental rock CD… kind of like a rock/blues thing. But it’s really cool how they used sequences, and I thought that came out particularly well. I mean, I’m proud of all the CDs, but I just don’t think many people have heard those recordings… and I liked my performance, and I really like the music on those particular recordings. And my own record I thought came out well. I mean, it took me about a year, but now I feel good about it… I think it came out pretty well. So those are my favorite recordings to date.

TAMA : Can you please outline your current kit?

Rodney : At the moment, it’s a Starclassic Maple kit. I’m going to be checking out the new Bubinga drums, and I’m very curious about them. As for my setup, I use either a 16x20 or 16x22 kick, with 8x10 and 8x12 rack toms, and 14x14 and 16x16 floor toms.

TAMA : I’m sure you have several snare drums… what are some of your favorites?

Rodney : The one that I’ve been using the most is a 5x14 maple… sometimes I’ll use a bronze 5.5x14 snare. So those are the ones I go back and forth with.

TAMA : How do you like your drums tuned?

Rodney : Relatively low… I try to find a spot where that particular drum and that particular shell resonates the most. So they’re relatively low, there’s a lot of tone, and a slight pitch bend, because I like to try to get the drum sounding… almost like, not timpani, but just so I can play melodies on the toms. They’re not floppy, they definitely have a nice tone and a pitch bend to each one, but I guess they’re tuned relatively low. And I usually have the bottom head tuned slightly higher than the top head, because that gives it a little more of a pitch bend, and I think the note is quicker… the drum reacts a little bit quicker than if they were both tuned exactly to the same pitch. I guess some guys might disagree with that, but that’s my perception. And I guess some people would consider it more of a rock tuning. I try to tune the drums so that any situation I’m in, I can pretty much use that tuning. Like any musical situation. When I recorded David Gilmore’s record, which is much more of an acoustic record, the tuning was almost the same as the Santana recording, but it was much more of a jazz record. The bass drum was a little looser, and it didn’t have as much attack on it, and the snares were a little bit looser, but basically the only change between that kit and some of the electric records I’ve done was the ride cymbal. So I try to find a tuning and a sound that can work in a lot of different situations.

TAMA : You draw a wide variety of colors and tones from your drums and cymbals, but use a relatively simple setup. How do you achieve this range of sound?

Rodney : I don’t really know (laughs). I think it might have something to with the fact that when I was a kid, I didn’t have a lot of equipment. My family couldn’t afford to buy a million drums, so I had a 4-piece kit… one kick drum, 1 floor tom, and a tom-tom. And one cymbal… an old Camco ride cymbal, and a hi-hat. That’s what I had. Later on, when I was a teenager I got a 5-piece kit, but that’s what I started on. And I listened to a lot of records, having no idea what equipment the drummer on those records was playing… if they were using 2 pedals or 6 cymbals, I had no idea. It was just what I heard. So I tried my best to try to emulate those sounds, and try to replicate those sounds with what I had. So I would experiment with different things, like playing the cymbals in different ways, choking the cymbals, or playing on the edge of them to try to get a certain sound… I really tried to pull as much as I could out of the kit that I had. So maybe that had some influence on trying to pull as many different tones out of a smaller kit. Plus, I just think that there are a lot more sounds to be pulled out of the drums than people realize.

TAMA : With so many chops at your disposal, do you ever find it difficult when composing drum parts to reconcile your complex, technical side with simpler, more groove-oriented playing?

Rodney : No, I’ve never had a problem reconciling that at all. My approach is to use what’s necessary. My overall approach is that the technique that I’ve developed, and am still trying to develop, is there to create music. That is the priority. And if there were certain things that I was hearing and wanted to create a shape that I couldn’t do, then I had to develop the techniques in order to do that. I think sometimes that people tend to separate the two. And I guess the way I came up, there was no separation between playing music and having or developing technique. I believe that if you separate the two, then you diminish each one.