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6. Do it like Frank (and Terry and Vinnie and Chad).

I listened to a lot of Fran


k Zappa music when I was in grade school. That s how I learned to play odd meters
without even thinking about it. Of course I heard Rush and King Crimson songs th
at had odd times, but I really got into Frank s music at a young age from reading
Modern Drummer interviews with Terry Bozzio, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Chad Wackerman
. They all said Frank Zappa s music was really challenging. I didn t transcribe anyt
hing, but I tried to play along. Over time, you learn about playing in seven or
five or getting into more intricate things like 15/8 or 21/16. For years I thoug
ht Zappa s Keep It Greasey was in 21/16. I would try to count it, but I never could
find the 1. Later I realized it s in 19/16!
8. To get a good take in the studio, listen and ask questions. Sometimes the pro
ducer or artist has a drum machine demo to get an idea across. I ll ask, How close
do you want me to stick to the demo? I cue off what the bass is doing, whether I ll
be playing down or up. If it s the end of the song or the solo section, maybe I ll
play a couple of cool fills, but I won t play fills in the first verse. I make a l
ogical estimation. I m assuming we ll come down in dynamics in the first verse and t
he hi-hats will close up. Then you might open them up in the bridge and go to th
e cymbal on the chorus. Maybe vice versa. It s usually a quick discussion.
10. Turn them down in my headphones! That s how I deal with some musician s bad time
in the studio. Or I ll tell the producer, You know and I know that this particular
guy is all over the place, and they ll dip that person in the mix. Generally you re
not trying to get takes off the floor with everyone playing together. They re ther
e for the vibe. They ll punch in guitars and bass later. It doesn t matter if I m not
listening to the bass player, though if he s a great bass player we ll play better o
ff each other and we can get a take together. Often the bands I work with will h
ave a click going, and that s more inspiring than working with someone who isn t pla
ying well. Then I know everything is perfect and I don t have to worry about someo
ne falling apart.
-------------As I became older and got into singer/songwriters, Freese recalls, I learned the ha
rd way about overplaying in the studio. At first I wanted to play everything I k
new. But what s hard to do is to play slow and make that feel right. Learning abou
t less is more is a sign of maturity. I can do a session where maybe the song is
awful or the groove is supposedly easy, but it s still difficult to make it sound
perfect. You can always play it better, no matter what. I can always do it bett
er. That s what I strive for every day.