Mike Dolbear DRUMS: Interview with Chris Pennie #3

posted: October, 2010

by Sam Slater

Chris Pennie

Chris Pennie

It’s been more than three years since Chris Pennie joined forces with boundary-pushing rock band Coheed and Cambria, but it’s only with the release of their latest album that he’s finally made his recording debut with the group…

Hitting earlier this year, Year of the Black Rainbow is the much-anticipated fourth installment of Coheed and Cambria’s series of concept albums, and the first that Chris Pennie has been able to finally get his recorded drum parts heard on. Mikedolbear.com caught up with Chris at this year’s Download festival to ask him all about the new release and his approach to working in the studio…

You had joined Coheed and Cambria before the recording of 2007’s …No World For Tomorrow, yet the band recruited Taylor Hawkins to lay down the drum tracks. What was the situation with you around that time?

I hadn’t officially joined before …No World, but was writing with Coheed and playing with them every day during the time that a member of Dillinger was suing someone, therefore putting the band on hold. When I went to get permission to play on the record I wasn’t allowed to by Dillinger’s label, Relapse Records, due to technically still being a member of the band and still being on the label.

Was that highly frustrating for you wanting to move on and become part of Coheed and then being reigned back in by a former label?

Yeah it absolutely was, there were all sorts of details and stuff, but ultimately it was definitely frustrating. I don’t give a shit about any of that stuff like contracts but unfortunately it is part of it – I just love making music.

So Taylor recorded the album, but you had written the parts? Is that right?

I had worked with the band on all the tunes; demoed them, rehearsed them, and then everything went down with my situation and he stepped in and did a really great job. He learnt all the material very quickly, plus he had my sketches, and then he just added his own brilliant flair and ideas and made it his own thing.

Chris PennieSo were you there when they were recording?

I wasn’t even allowed to set foot into the studio, because if I set foot in the studio, I might have been sued! So I had to wait until that whole process was done and over with, which was unfortunate, but later on I was able to meet him and hang. I was very thankful for Taylor stepping in. He”s an amazing drummer, and a great person.

How has it been playing a lot of material live which you haven’t recorded? Do you play anything different from the originals?

I do play the tunes differently because we all come from a different place personally, and musically. I think the great thing about firstly joining a band that already had a great drummer [Josh Eppard who quit the band in late 2006], and then following somebody else that came in who was obviously a great drummer as well, is that you get to learn from both of them. You get a real insight into their style, their ideas for fills and certain things that they play and how they approach things. So from the old records, to the one that Taylor played on, I adhere to those but then, almost in reverse of what Taylor did, I’ll pick from what he did on the record and what Josh did on the previous records and make them mine. It’s been a great rock drumming lesson learning those tunes.

So you would say joining a band like Coheed has enhanced your own style and playing?

Yeah I definitely think that. Also it’s a good thing for me to come from a band that’s played as many notes as we possibly could, to Coheed where there’s a lot more space and there’s a little bit more time to get to everything.

With your studio debut just being released do you feel like you’re finally a proper member of the band?!

Yes! I”m really enjoying my time with Coheed so yeah, it”s nice to finally be able to record with the band but I don’t need the validation; I feel like I’ve definitely earned my place in Coheed. But it is very satisfying to hold the album in your hands and think ‘Wow, it was great to make this record’. I also enjoyed the process of making it, especially working with the guys in the studio – producers like Atticus Ross [Nine Inch Nails, Jane”s Addiction] and Joe Barresi [Tool, Queens of the Stone Age].

Chris PennieWhat did Atticus and Joe bring to your drum sound on the record?

Atticus is really good at stripping things down and that’s a real change for me – it’s always been about how much shit can you possibly add. So we would strip it down and maybe play some of the elements on another kit with different sounds, or make loops or something out of it, so it was really cool. I’m always fascinated with production and making a record, and this was the first time I’d really got to be in there and observe it and be pushed to do some different things. It was also good to be working towards the end game; not just being the guy that comes in for two days to crank out drum parts because whoever is on a very tight budget. So it was really nice to take on each song in its own environment and just make it what it needed to be.

Have you got any particular favourites from the album?

Definitely. I really like the song Pearl of the Stars which is very ballady. I really enjoy the melodies and what Claudio [Sanchez, vocals/guitar] has to say with the lyrics – it was one of the songs that we started working on a little bit earlier, as opposed to some of the others that were just worked on in the studio. We tried to approach it differently; Atticus would challenge me to think of different ways to do something – we had a bunch of those Johhny Rabb sticks [RhythmSaw] which we were sawing the hi-hat with, trying to come up with different sounds and different textures. Guns of Summer was fun to play too as it’s one of those tunes with lots of stuff gong on – there’s a linear pattern going on through some of the verses, for instance – while still maintaining the groove within the tune, which is important. I think those two are two opposite ends of the spectrum but both fun and challenging in totally different ways.

Were there any songs that you have to play differently live to what was recorded?

No, not at all, I definitely felt that anything we were doing I had a pretty good handle on, so everything that we played on the tours felt fine and good. We rehearse the tracks as a band and anything that we did in the studio was true to what we did in those rehearsals. We didn’t stray too far from that; if things were overdubbed it was just to add a layer, we didn’t add anything unrealistic. I’m never a fan of that; if you can’t do it live then what’s the sense in trying to mess with something in the studio?

There seems to be a huge shift away from that ‘gridded’ sound at the moment…

Yeah, I think that stuff is totally retarded. It sucks all the life out of the recording; I’m really against that. Of course I play to a click and stuff like that, but if you’re behind it, you’re behind it, if you’re in front of it, you’re in front of it – you need to maintain some human feel to it. Some things nowadays are just so on the grid that there’s no feel at all.

Chris PennieIs the songwriting tackled collectively? Obviously Claudio has a strong vision of what direction he’s going to take each album, so how does that work?

It’s great! Claudio has a big vision for what he wants writing-wise – he pens the lyrics and he writes accompanying comic books and stories and there was the novel that came with the deluxe edition of the album – it’s great; I think it’s really smart. He’s really passionate about it and I think it’s a beautiful thing that gives an added dimension to the band. So Claudio will start out with a lot of it, the basic ideas, and then he’ll pass those around and we’ll all work them. It’s nice because it is a collective and I think that’s very cool; with Dillinger it would always be Ben [Weinman, guitar, Dillinger Escape Plan] and I and everybody else would come in a little later, so it was nice to step out of that and into something completely different. It was really refreshing.

What’s coming next for you and the band?

The rest of the year looks very promising with Coheed getting ready to do a bunch of shows with Porcupine Tree and Circa Survive. Gavin Harrison is a great player and his books have been a great source of inspiration to me. Also Anthony Green from Circa Survive is a great singer, and I look forward to hearing him again. We will also be coming back to the UK next month opening for a band I”ve always been a huge fan of, and always wanted to tour with, Deftones. I can’t wait!

You always seem to have lots of projects on the go, what are you working on other than Coheed and Cambria?

I am writing all the time. I have three other projects that I work on, and make the time for, either on the road or at home. One is a band called Return to Earth which just put out a record on Metal Blade called Automata. I am very proud of that record. I also have started a production company called Fight Mannequins, which concentrates mainly on soundtrack and orchestral pieces. It”s important for me to focus on other aspects of playing, it helps me to learn to become a better musician, writer and drummer, and these help facilitate ideas for when I get together with Coheed.

Finally, we’re just seen you play to an enormous crowd at Download, you’re out on tour straight after that… have you got yourself a drum tech yet?

No! In regards to playing live, I love setting up my own drums, tuning them, trying new heads… These techniques are a means to create and define my sound just as much as any hand technique, or how I hold the sticks. It”s an evolving process, and a good way to relax.”

Photos: Sabian and Chris Pennie

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