This article is the first of a five article series dedicated to five legendary drummers: Kris Myers, Dave Lombardo, Neal Peart, Tim Alexander, and Brad Wilk. Skip Powers, the writer of this series, has chosen these 5 because of their profound impact on his own drumming style. Skip Powers is a drummer in several up and coming bands, two of which are rapidly gaining notoriety: Orifice A, a progressive punk band influenced by legends such as Primus, Rage Against The Machine and No Means No and Telepathic Sandwich, who touts Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and Ween as their inspiration. Enjoy!
Because of my love for both writing and music, I’ve been asked to begin a writing series on all of my drumming influences. I have many but some stand well above the rest in importance for me. I’m starting tonight with the biggest one of my life, Kris Myers of Umphrey’s McGee.
I am currently enjoying a 2+ year band crush on one of the greatest progressive rock bands of all time. Umphrey’s McGee is a six piece band from Chicago currently riding a huge wave of success that is skyrocketing the band into the realm of national fame. I was fortunate enough to have two awesome band mates turn me onto them in 2007. I saw them for the first time at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colorado, having never heard of them before. Within seconds, my jaw was on the floor. The musical competence of the band is impressive to say the least. I picked that up immediately. In particular, I was impressed with the skill of their drummer.
Kris Myers resembled a hummingbird on stage. He played open often and had his kit set in a V position to accommodate a competent open playing style. His chops were spectacular. It was truly an eye opening experience. Several years later, while working in live concert production, I had the pleasure of working a half dozen backline shows with Umphreys.
The first few were at Telluride Blues and Brews in 2009. They toured with their own back line techs. The same two working for them today. So I spent time with Kris, building his kit with him and talking drums. We talked about his drum influences as well as mine, finding we had a lot of similarities. After their set, Kris ran up to Brendan, the band’s frontman, talking about how he had just played the kit he wanted to be sponsored by. The Pearl Reference Kit. He is currently the drummer showcased by Pearl for the Reference kit. Something I take a little pride in for sure. The next time I worked with them, they were co headlining red rocks with Galactic. When Kris saw that I had showed up, he came running out from backstage as excited as a kid on the last day of school, because he could not wait to play to get the gear out and start set up. It was a funny moment caught by most of his band mates, as well as my band mates at the time who were there helping me unload, and Stanton Moore, the drummer of Galactic.
Kris, while very impressive as a drummer to me, he did not become a personal influence on my drumming until two years ago. I was with a few close friends one night and decided I would turn them on to Umphreys, partially because of our state of mind at the moment and partially because they were all music appreciators. And that is what began my current band crush.
I am always careful with band crushes because they can be so intense that I will over-listen to them until I can’t listen to them anymore. With Umphreys just passing the two-year point for me, they are now the second longest one I’ve had, next to Rush. In that time, I’ve immersed myself in Kris’ unique playing style and noticed some things very specific to him.
Kris is almost militant in his counting. His time keeping hand is always breaking down beats. Quarter, eight and sixteenth notes are always counted, sometimes painfully so. This allows for Kris to create room between the notes. because of that, and because of Andy Farag’s amazing talent on the alt-perc side, Kris had the ability to hit cymbals, drums, and synth-drums in the most difficulty places possible. His accenting is often against the grain of the pockets created by the band. If you watch Kris in live performances, which there are hundreds of on YouTube,
He never ungracefully wobbles though a beat. Even if the groove has a wobbly feel, he is still breaking the beats down to the most basic element needed to create it. This is very different from other great drummers who create a wobble. Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band’s drummer, known for his wobbly style, demonstrates the opposite side of the wobble. Typically, this is done by skipping beats or breaking the beat instead of counting every 1/4, 1/8, or 1/16 note. So when you see Kris performing live, he has a very stiff and herky-jerky look while he is playing. And while it seems to flow against the pocket, it in fact allows for a more malleable one.
Kris is not only great at wobbling and creating space. He is also an amazing technician of rudiment utilization. He often flams though his fills, not an easy task, but he also throws in a plethora of other difficult rudimentary fills. The two I notice the most are the 5 and 7 stroke multiple-bounce rolls. They are very similar except that the five stoke uses 2 doubles and a single and the seven stoke uses 2 triples and a single. The best song I can recommend to understand this is Eat. The last major fill in the song is a collection of the best five and seven stroke rolls I’ve ever heard done. And they are played so flawlessly that it is easy to hear the difference between the two.
The best part of Kris’ style is his ability to play almost anything. He is great at rock beats, metal beats, jazz beats, funk beats, Latin beats, house beats and hip-hop. Most drummers do well to master one or two styles, while floundering their way through several more. The result is one of the best improvisational bands in history. The band’s synchronicity, unrivaled by any band I can think of, is a huge contributor to that skill as well.
So the next time you watch an Umphreys, live or on video, pay attention the the guy upstage right. He may be the hardest working drummer ever.