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Drummers Centerfold
Drummer to Drummer Interviews
Gary Novak Interview

By: Steven Scott Fyfe
Molson Center Montreal, May 1999

S.S.F.: How did you adjust playing with Alanis after being with jazz great Chick Corea for several years?

G. N.: Everytime I get involved in a new kind of music style, I immerse myself in that genre to change my headspace. You just
have to change gears. With this type of music, it's not about improvisation but rather about finding the right part to support either a dark vocal , a happy or dramatic one. It's not about creating a different mood for a soloist or playing more or less, it's more on how you relate to the message. The interesting thing to me is, if I know the words to the song , I'll play it better than if I don't. There are certain phrases that mean something and if you play a big fill to the most keyed point in the song, you blow off the vocals. So, it's a different perspective, and by playing pop, the drums support the vocals like the rest of the instruments and you have to understand and pay attention to that.

S.S.F.: Can you touch a bit on working with producer Glen Ballard.

G. N.: He does things very quickly. He enjoys the sparseness of not knowing what's happening next. After two days of listening to the
songs on tapes with drum programs, we came in knowing the songs and without any rehearsals we tracked. Glen likes that kinda nervousness on the tracks because some of those tracks are 1, 2 and 3 takes and that's it. As for drum parts, they were pretty much all worked out and he knew what he wanted me to play. We had to rearrange them for a live format and thus resulting in super creativity between us. Glen likes to move fast and I am o.k. with that because, I've done many tracks in the past when I was just hired for the day.

S.S.F.: Rock playing is obviously using a different kind of energy and endurance

G. N.: Absolutely. I am dead tired after a show and it's important however, to learn how to play at a high level as well as a low level
and be able to keep up the consistency. You need to be able to balance a back beat sound and consistence bass drum action. This music is all about consistency.

S.S.F.: Can you comment on your D.W. kit for the tour and the many
ethnics drums and sounds you are using?

G. N.: Actually, I've scaled down a bit on the kit because we are using a couple of samplers for loops for a couple of songs. The original
concept of using the gear was to emulate some of the electronic stuff on the record, and for the club tour we did it was great but when we brought it up to the live stage, some just didn't have the same presence. We have only about four songs that we use sequencers and we do only two a night. The whole percussion thing for me has been a headspace to be in. I've always liked to play Louis Conte and Lenny Castro and these guys are unbelievable but by no way of any stretch of the imagination I claim to be a percussionist. I've been practicing on the road and I am trying to get my djembe thing together. It's a difficult instrument to play and all of us including myself, take a conga approach to playing it. I am sure they are guys from Africa that look at me like I'm an idiot (laughs). We should all respect the traditional side of the instrument and the modern creative approach and go for it. I would like to get more of the ethnic musicology and to understand the grounds from where to go.

S.S.F.: You've played with such greats as Ritenour, Corea, Holdsworth, Sanborn, Ferguson, Williams, etc. What have you learned about the music business?

G. N.: My personal response to this is that I think a lot of the record companies are just going to a certain degree and not the full
distance, because everyone is concerned about loosing money. I think a lot of the creative music is subsided. With the MP3 on the internet and record companies not having as much control might help out artists and I am all for that but on the other hand, I am worried about piracy. I think artists should be more like Alanis and not worry too much about what a record executive thinks. Her first record was what she wanted to do and not aimed at selling 30 million copies. It was a record that was done because that's what she was saying and felt. Now record companies dump you after your first record if it doesn't sell. If a record company likes you, it's an investment and they should hold on to you. I guess they look at it short term rather than long term.

S.S.F.: What's the hardest thing for you in recording a record?

G. N.: Good question. (Laughs). I love to record but the hardest part about recording is letting go of your ego because you might have the
worst take in the world and the producers think it's the best thing they ever heard and you have to let go. I am a first take drummer and the first take for me is always the best one even if I make mistakes, it always has the best energy and focus.

S.S.F.: Do you prefer to track to a click or not?

G. N.: I don't really care. They don't intimidate me but I like to use them because nowadays the way producers work it's never a final
tracking day. It's always," Well, I am gonna transfer this to this and that to there" approach because of Protools units available. It can get confusing but without a click, it's a drag. I've had to try and salvage master tracks in the past and now, for convenience sake, I'll use a click.

S.S.F.: Do producers who have final say on your overall sound on a record tick you off?

G. N.: That can be a drag but they hire you for your service and it's a service oriented business and we all have to keep that in mind. I'll
bring four even five snare drums, four bass drums, lots of cymbals because they want to hear everything you've got.

S.S.F.: Do you have certain rituals before gigs or recording sessions?

G. N.: Not til recently. I used to not warm up a lot and I've played a long time in high school football teams and broken fingers and as I get older, I need to warm up because I'll get stiff earlier and especially on a gig like this where it's really physical, you need to take care of yourself and body. Drummers beware, tendinitis is a drag and I've had my bouts with it.

S.S.F.: Tell us about your other endorsements you have besides D.W.

G. N.: I've been with Remo for years, Regal tip drumsticks for about ten years, Zildjian cymbals since 1985 and D.W. is my most recent change. It took me a long time to make the decision, I was with Sonor for a while and they had economical difficulties and changed their factory around. I don't know all the politics but it's just a different scene that it was. D.W. is a company that I've always admired and I remember when I visited the factory which is only 20 minutes from my house, I was like a kid in a candy store. Everyone in the factory had a smile on their face and I think those drums are made with a lot of love. They've been really taking care of me.

S.S.F.: Your father hooked you up with some famous players.

G. N.: The experience I've had with my dad was invaluable. I've learned so much and yes, he hooked me up on a million gigs. He would put me in club situations to see if I could handle it and it has paid off in a certain sense. In order to get work, you have to be reliable as far as keeping good time, always be stage alert because things like that go a long way. You can get gigs by being professional. I remember growing up and having lots of older musicians around and I would just listen to them talk, you know, shut your mouth and listen type thing.

S.S.F.: What would you say to aspiring drummers about being on a world tour?

G. N.: These kinds of tours are a rarity when you land a gig with someone who's at the top. It's a different situation when you are in a band that gets signed and the single hits and you are all in it together. These things take a while by living in a certain town, meeting different managers and musicians. The way this whole thing came about is because my roommate was Alanis' bass player. Taylor is a very good friend of mine and when he left, he recommended me. I had friends in this band that respected me musically but also as a friend and when they were looking at somebody to join the band that was going to be together for 16 months if not infinitely, because we are probably going to stay together and I don't foresee it breaking up, you have to have all the elements right. You have to be diplomatic, you also have to have a cool temper because you're around the same people all the time and you have to be very forgiving and be sensitive to when people are frustrated. It's difficult and this is not easy. We are all good friends. I've known the bass player for ten years, Daren (keyboard) was my first friend when I moved to L.A. and Chris I met when I first got the gig. I've known Alanis for five years. At this time we are kinda old friends. You always have to keep yourself in check because your are dealing with people you care about tremendously. There are many other ways to make a living and not be on the road all the time. It would be nice to be with my fiance and my dogs and do record gigs all day and sit around L.A. and get fat (laughs). There are a lot of sacrifices in living this type of life and that should always be thought about.

S.S.F.: Do you have plans in recording a solo project?

G. N.: Yes, I do have plans to make one. I recently went into a small business venture with an old friend of mine Eric, we have a recording studio in L.A. with great gear and stuff so I have a place to do this. I would like to have Daren on this project along with Chris as well as a friend of mine Leslie King. I've been writing for five years and it's kind of a drum and bass thing you know, funky stuff. I would like it to happen within the next year.

S.S.F.: What's the first thing that comes to mind when I say, Mr. Kelly's?

G. N.: (Laughs). Oh man, how did you know this! My god are you kidding. It's what paid for my entire childhood. My father was the pianist there for years and the experience I got after meeting all those great musicians was invaluable. My mother was the pianist at another well-known Chicago club called the "London House". In '67, my father was hanging out with Chick Corea two years before I was even born man! My father had the house trio and everyone played there. Everybody from Steve Martin to Richard Pryor to Miles performed at "Mr. Kelly's"...

Gary recently recorded a CD with his father and bass player extraordinaire John Patittucci to be released shortly. Gary says: "It's just a great piece of music."