Jeremy Hummel is equal parts bombast and finesse. He's just as likely to ride hard on his China as he is to tap out an intricate riff on a 6" effects cymbal. He's as interested in "bringing back the gong" as he is in developing more finesse and subtlety on the kick drum. But even with a casual listen, you can tell that Hummel is a drummer's drummer, crafty and aggressive, but never self-indulgent.
Hummel's band, Breaking Benjamin, hits hard--and
so does he. Still, the drummer makes very musical choices. He knows when to
leave a space empty and when to fill it. And one of the most impressive aspects
of this up-and-comer's drumming is his use of subtlety. Jeremy mixes in musical
elements such as tasty cymbal combinations, ghost notes, well-placed double
pedal licks, and other such textures that you may not even notice until the
third or fourth listen.
Breaking Benjamin is riding high on the success of their sophomore release, We Are Not Alone. The record's first single, "So Cold," is snagging plenty of airplay on rock radio. And
the band is back on the road, having already toured with the likes of Fuel, 3 Doors Down, and Godsmack. They arrived on the rock scene in 2002 with their debut album, Saturate, which featured the hit single "Polyamorous." Hummel co-founded the band with singer/guitarist Ben Burnley, and the two wrote most of the songs on the band's first record.
Hailing from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a small town in the eastern part of the state, Breaking Benjamin began work last summer on its second album in a most logical setting--a barn. After several weeks of work, Hummel and his bandmates had a collection of songs that were decent, but hardly exceptional. So they invited producer David Bendeth (Vertical Horizon) in for a listen. Bendeth sat in on a practice session and took notes, and as he was about to leave, Hummel asked him what he thought of the band's new songs. The producer provided what Hummel says was an amazing amount of feedback.
"He told us, 'You guys need to get out of this barn,'" Hummel recalls. "'You've been here for two months. Let's pack it up. We're going to New Jersey, we'll get a decent rehearsal space, and we'll continue pre-production there.'" According to Hummel, that's when the good stuff began to happen.
MD: How did you approach your drum parts on the new
Jeremy: This time around, everything was spontaneous.
When we went in to track the songs, most of the stuff I
played was not premeditated. I had a skeleton of what I wanted to do,
but I just went in there and played.
MD: Have you always been good at improvising?
Jeremy: Yes. I played in a lot of bands in the past. I was
in a blues band for a
while, a three-piece, and everything we did was based on improvisation. I was
also very into The Allman Brothers, and they were always into that. So impro-
vising has been a big part of my playing for some time.
MD: What advice do you have for drummers trying to develop
their ability to
Jeremy: Listen to what's going on around you. I think one big mistake that a lot of people make is they listen to themselves too much and not to what the musicians around them are playing. A lot of times you can come up with a really cool part that is based on a counter-rhythm to what your bass player is doing. If you listen to people, it makes everything so much more musical, rather than having four or five guys who are just locked into their own parts.
MD: Did you use a click on this album?
Jeremy: Yes. The one thing I've learned to do is "manipulate" the click more. It's there and I'm playing along with it, but I'm not so cognizant of it anymore. I recognize it's there, but I know there are certain points in a song, like a chorus, where I'll want to push the time a bit. I'm able to do that without getting off the click. It's all about getting comfortable enough with the click that you can work with and around it, and not against it.
MD: Talk about a song that stands out for you on the new record.
Jeremy: "Forget It" is unlike anything we've done before. I experimented with how to play that song. Ben (Burnley) had brought that song in with acoustic guitar and vocals and said "I approached this song wanting to write something like I've never written before." I started off just putting a rock thing to it, like a Cars song or something, and that wasn't working. It was too cliché. So I experimented and said to our producer, David, "I hear it being more moody." He said, "Then play it moody," and that's how I came up with the constant thing on the toms. I'm doing a very simple tom/kick/snare pattern. the interesting thing is, if you listen, there aren't any fills in the song. It's just me playing groove the whole time.
MD: What does it take to make a song work with no fills?
Jeremy: The first thing you have to do is be sure you lay down a really good groove. Your job as a drummer is to make the song feel good. Even when we're playing live, if people out there aren't feeling what I'm doing and I don't see them bobbing their heads and getting into it, then I'm not doing my job. And that's what I'm trying to do with a song like "Forget It." The whole time I was recording it, I was thinking that this one of those songs where there's going to be a lot painted on top of what I'm doing. I knew that if I played too much, it would kill the song. So my job was to lay it down and let everything else fall on top of it.
MD: Talk more about groove.
Jeremy: I really think that's one thing I've always had, and I think that came from playing along with records when I was coming up. At one point, when I was a kid, I was into some heavy stuff, but I was also into funk and some rap. Listening to those types of music made me appreciate the groove. As of late, I've started getting into Dennis Chambers, and listening to Dennis you can't help but improve your groove.
MD: To what degree was this album Pro Tooled?
Jeremy: Drum-wise, not very much. I'm the kind of guy where, when you hear it, I want it to be what I played. I don't want to do five takes of a song and then have someone else piece together a performance using the two best verses and the best bridge. I know after a take which part I didn't play well. So I just ask to play the whole thing again, because I know I can nail it. I'm a guy who believes in getting the full performance in there. I'm sure there are a few places where they went in and moved a kick drum or something, but it was never a performance thing.
MD: You've spoken very positively about your work with producer David Bendeth. What advice do you have for other drummers about working with a producer?
Jeremy: David is a special producer. I've heard horror stories from my friends in the business, and I've read articles in Modern Drummer--everything from producers wanting drummers to play less and less, to asking them to do so many things differently. I have an open mind when someone suggests something. The great thing is that David played for two or three years with Bill Cobham, Lenny White, and all these great drummers. He has heard a lot of really good drumming. So for me, if anything, I had to step up.
me to do what I wanted to. There wasn't any time when he wanted me to play less.
If anything, he wanted me to do more. I remember with "Firefly," we
were in pre-production and he would get mad at me because he wanted me to give
him more. I was like, "Dude, I'm just not hearing what you're hearing." There
were a few spots where he wanted me to go crazy. He would actually air drum to
get me to play more, which was funny. And I was thinking, "Dude, what are
you hearing? This doesn't call for
Then I realized it wasn't that he was looking for me to play more. He wanted
me to kick some life into the track.
David would say that with most of our material, the guitars and bass were doing the same thing throughout the songs. So what had room to expand and change? The vocals and the drums.
MD: Can you give an example of where you think the drums really change the vibe of a song?
Jeremy: "So Cold," the first single. What I'm doing in the verse is playing the toms and the piccolo with the snares turned off. And then in the chorus, I'm doing something I often do, which is switch over to a main snare drum. Then in the verse, I go back to the piccolo. It sets the mood for the whole song, along with the guitar. It gives it a tribal, atmospheric vibe.
MD: One of the things you do particularly well is create texture with your cymbals. What do you look for in cymbals?
Jeremy: I have a lot of cymbals because I hear a lot of
sounds for different things. I just switched to Sabian. I have four crashes,
and all four have completely different characteristics.
One thing I do in choruses is, if I'm going to crash-ride the whole time, I'll go back and forth between cymbals. I'll play four bars with one crash and the next four with another. It adds a different vibe. That's one of those things a listener might not notice right away, but it adds another little subconscious change in there, which I like.
I also use accent cymbals--4", 6", 8"--though I didn't use them as much on this record. I also have two splashes and a China, plus hi-hats and a ride. Everything has its own place. If I'm going to come out of a funky fill, I'll end it on a splash. If it's a bigger rock fill, I might want to end it on a big crash. Also, to give it even more texture, I'll hit a crash and the China together. It's cool because they sound really big when they're combined.
MD: You also ride the China a lot.
Jeremy: Oh yeah. I'm big on that. But I've learned that if you do it too much, it doesn't stand out. You have to pick and choose your spots carefully.
When I'm riding the China, the guitar part is probably pretty staccato. The China will give it a bash that just screams out above it and emphasizes the time. When the part has that weight behind it, I want to give it that extra trashy thing that just slaps the listener in the face.
MD: How did you develop your touch on the cymbals?
Jeremy: The studios is much different from live. Live you
want everything to be a show, and you're playing harder. In the studio, one
thing I've always been interested in is how cymbals wash and decay when you
hit them. That was one thing I loved about John Bonham, the way he hit cymbals.
After he hit one, you could hear it wash forever. I've always been into that.
For example, if I'm playing a part and crash-riding a cymbal, I'm not going to end that part on the same cymbal. If you're riding a cymbal, every time you hit it, you're cutting off the wash or decay. If you're doing that and you end the part by hitting another cymbal, not only does it give you a different sound, it puts a clear ending on the section.
With ride cymbals--in fact, with any cymbal--it's all about how you hit them and how much you want them to wash. If you want the sound to really wash, you don't want to hit a cymbal on the top. You want to give it more of a swipe on the side.
MD: Let's talk about the rest of your kit. What do you look for in a snare?
Jeremy: This time around, I ended up using a Joe Montineri 8"-deep snare drum in the studio. I had never used an 8" before. Most of my life I've played a 5" or 5 1/2". But I used that 8" drum on most of the record. I fell in love with it, so I decided I'd play an 8" live too. It gives you that big rock sound. As for tuning it, though, I still like to crank it up.
My two rack toms are 8x10 and 9x12. I think for versatility and to cut through with the style of music we play, the drums need to be a little on the small side. I just ordered a new kit from Pearl. I kept the rack toms the same, but I mad the floor toms two inches deeper. They'll be 14x14 and 16x16. I wanted more roundness out of the sound. The ones I'm using now are great, but I wanted more boom. I also ordered a bigger bass drum, and 18x24.
MD: Any other equipment changes?
Jeremy: I've been using a rack the past few years, but my tech has talked me into going with stands. We were going to get a riser, but he said, "Dude, the stands look cooler and will make your kit look bigger." I said, "Hey, you're the tech. If you want to set up the stands, go ahead!" So we have to give my tech Jay Ballinger some props.
Also, I've already said that when we start doing big headlining shows, I'm getting a gong. I think the gong needs to be brought back.
MD: How have you developed your double pedal technique?
Jeremy: That's one of the things I'm still trying to get better at. Growing up, I never worked at it a whole lot. I didn't start playing a double pedal full time until about five years ago. But I wanted to start. Most of the stuff you can do with your hands, you can do with your feet. You know, you read about guys who say that you should practice your paradiddles and all that stuff with your feet as well.
Lately when I'm playing with both pedals, especially if it's quicker stuff, I don't have to play them with as much force as I used to. I've been noticing that you want to have a little more finesse with your bass drum work. So now when I'm working on ideas with both pedals, I try to ease up a little bit. This can be tricky, because you're playing something heavy and you want to throw something subtle in, but you have to finesse it.
MD: Is there anything else that you're working on?
Jeremy: One thing I've been pondering since last summer is that I've never taken a drum lesson. I'm completely self-taught. So now I want to take some lessons. There are a lot of things that I know I can practice and develop by myself. But I feel that if I took a lesson from a very good teacher, a top-notch guy like Joe Morello, it could open up something for me that I've been missing. It's just a matter of finding the time.
MD: How do you prepare for a tour?
Jeremy: The one thing I've gotten into over the past two years is exercise. I love running. I try to run all the time, whether I'm at home or on tour. It's almost even better on tour, because you have hours with nothing to do.
As far as warming up, if we're playing five nights in a row or something like that, I just take ten or fifteen minutes before the show. But if we haven't been playing that much, I take longer. I sit down and do rudimental stuff, not on a pad, but on a pillow or a more cushy surface. And I play around with my feet, doing things like alternating triplets. And I stretch a lot. I'm big on stretching, which you have to do in order to play a big rock show. That's pretty much it--stay in shape, warm up, and stretch. I also try to eat healthy.
MD: Was there anything you learned about touring last time that you'll apply this time?
Jeremy: Spending that much time together, we all know how not to piss each other off. You have to learn how to deal with people. Everybody's different, and you might be able to deal with one guy in a certain way, but another guy is different. I learned that when I taught drums.
I don't want anyone to take this the wrong way, but I also learned not to take things too seriously. The first time around, we had a lot of expectations--not only the band, but the record company and the management. Everybody involved had a lot of expectations about how successful we should be and how many records we should sell. When you're focused on that, you don't enjoy it as much because you're too concerned with where you are and why.
We're very fortunate because there have been a lot of bands that have come and gone since we put out our first record. They lost their record deal, broke up, or whatever. So I got to the point where I said, if I can make my living playing music, that is very, very cool. That's a blessing. So I try to go out there and have fun, because it's a fantastic job.