"When you listen to music for so long, you get a feel and a sense for something that is really right. Working for so many years, I have a wealth of knowledge that I can contribute to the music."
Hummel backs up his claims with his ear-opening performances on Breaking Benjamin's sophomore album, We Are Not Alone. He's been gearing up for this disc for 25 of his 30 years on the planet, ever since he started out as a wide-eyed kid who was impressed by his guitarist dad and the makeup of KISS' Peter Criss. "I got my first kit when I was five, and began playing in clubs when I was nine," he recalls. "I would play drums and sing lead vocals, and that's how the whole thing started. The one thing I was blessed with growing up was that it never took me that much time to play what I heard from other drummers. I would play along with records, and when I heard stuff in my head, I would sit down and play it. If I couldn't get it right off the bat, I could teach myself how to get there."
Influenced by a long list of innovators including Stewart Copeland, Jaimoe/Butch Trucks of the Allman Brothers, John Bonham, Dennis Chambers, Tony Williams, and Danny Carey, Hummel plugged away in his home state of Pennsylvania until he came up with a winner of a rock outfit in Breaking Benjamin. Along with Ben Burney (vocals/guitar), Aaron Fink (guitar) and Markus James (bass), the group made a decent amount of noise with their 2002 debut album Saturate. Now that the full lineup has enjoyed two full years together, they're ready to make a lot more.
"That first record's sound was pretty accessible, you can put it on and it kind of grabs you from the very beginning," Hummel observes. "The difference with We Are Not Alone was that it was the four of us all contributing. Sometimes it's not as good if you have more chefs in the kitchen, but we had been touring all the time, and with more guys contributing, it just made for a more mature sound.
"We're making melodic, heavy rock. When I think of heavy metal I think of bands like Slipknot, and when I think of modern rock, I'm thinking of Matchbox 20. We're one of those bands that combine a heavier edge with melodic sensibility."
The 11 songs show a smart combination of aggression and the songwriting mentality, with tunes like the opener, "So Cold," slinking in with ride pings and tense guitars before Hummel propels it deeper with a satisfyingly tough 4/4 smack, halting snare fills, and a dramatic verse pattern that tells a story of its own. "Firefly" heats it up even more with a punky fast beat and super-quick rolls across the toms. In between the tricky stuff, Hummel holds everything down with pockety patience.
"Right now, I'm really all about groove," he says. "On the first album, I was leaning more towards the progressive side. When we recorded this record I was listening to a lot of Dennis Chambers, Brad Wilk of Audioslave, Zeppelin, but here, rather than getting progressive with it or too simple, I wanted to give it a nice, solid groove.
"My approach to grooving is that you've got a lot of guys who will lead with their head, instead of their soul. Bonham was so great because he had this thing deep inside of him, that's where the groove starts, feeling the whole thing. You also have to understand the breath between notes, understand space. A lot of guys don't understand there's a certain amount of space that has to be felt."
As a natural lefty, Hummel taught himself some double bass pedal moves that players of either orientation can benefit from. "I've found that whenever I am going to do some stuff with sixteenth-notes, I lead with my left foot instead of my right. When I was learning to play, I thought that if I have the left foot play at the same time as the left hand, it just seems easier – so if you do a straight sixteenth-note pattern, alternating back and forth with the feet, and just doing snare drum on a simple groove, your left hand will match your left foot on beats 2 and 4. I think it just helps keep everything more even, instead of fighting yourself by doing left hand and right foot (together)."
Outside the studio, Jeremy Hummel's attention to the audience is his latest obsession, as he attacks the next round of touring with a renewed commitment to putting on a fantastic visual show. "If I'm playing live, as the drummer I'm supposed to get heads bobbing," he states. "If I look out there and I don't see people moving and heads bobbing, I'm not doing my job. If I see fists pumping in unison, I know I'm on to something.
"One thing I learned from Shannon Larkin of Godsmack is that even if
you're in the umpteenth row, he will still show you what he's doing. Playing
the ride, most guys will keep it close to the cymbal, but he brings it up.
He does the whole windmill thing, and he's inspired a lot of guys to bring
that element to the forefront. In heavier rock music, drums are often a physical,
bombastic instrument, so why not give it everything you have?"