Subtle Percussion In Stadiums
Daniel de los Reyes of the Zac Brown Band
Cris Cohen: And looking at your kit and watching some videos, there are a lot of subtle percussive elements that you use, be it tambourines or different handheld tools, a lot of percussion that adds subtle flavor here and there. But what's interesting is you're doing that while you guys are playing in a baseball stadium. And so, besides having a good sound engineer, what's the key to making sure even subtle percussion works on a grand scale like that?
Daniel de los Reyes of the Zac Brown Band: Going back to the concept of the cymbals and the floor toms, same thing goes for the percussion instruments that I have. They project very well. All of the shakers that I use project very, very well. The shakers that I use that are made by the company that I endorse and that have my signature… there's a reason why those shakers are made and sound that way. They're very fat and they're loud, but they're not just loud and obnoxious. They're loud and warm. Again, if it's a ballad, I don't want to take little shakers that I would use normally in the studio, not for my live situation. When it comes to those particular shakers and tambourines in my live setting, it's just to compliment what Chris is doing. So, for instance, in a song like “Highway 20 Ride” or “Colder Weather,” those are ballads. So I'm just going to double what Chris is doing, because he is doing eighth notes.
So now it's up to the sound man to mix how he wants to that particular sound out in the house. But I'm giving him this really nice feel between this hi-hat and these shakers that I'm playing on the opposite side of the stage. And the tambourines. The tambourines that I use, some of them are custom tambourines that I make, and some of them are my personal tambourines. I use them almost like a shaker. And they are thick and compliment that hi-hat that he has, whether it's on two and four or just one hit or playing with him as he's playing eighth notes or sixteenth notes. A really nice compliment between those two things.
In comparison to other gigs that I have done. For instance, Don Henley was completely night and day from this. With Don Henley, I had a lot of little percussion, little sounds. But the whole vibe and volume of the whole thing was just in a different level when it comes to the amount of energy that was being emitted.
But the Zac Brown Band, we go from playing Metallica to playing our songs to a country song to playing an island-y song. And everything has this energy to it. And I think a big part of what we've come up with, and why people really gravitate to our shows, is because it's almost like listening to a little bit of a rock band with a country feel, or the bluegrass feel, or an island field. But it really has that kind of rock energy, so to speak. And we approach it in that manner. It's not a heavy metal band. But at the same time, everything, including ballads with subtlety, is played with that thickness, that power that a rock ballad would have. So, I don't want to be playing tinky tinky when it comes to live. I want to be adding really nice, thick stuff throughout there.
That's why I don't have a lot of stuff. I have one chime. I use that in a couple of places. I really don't use it very much. Whereas in other gigs, I've used different sorts of pods and chimes and all sorts of stuff like that. In Zac, I don't do that. It's like meat and potatoes percussion. Meat and potatoes percussion is complimentary to Chris and thick. And when I say "thick," they're really good, thick-sounding instruments instead of thin-sounding.
Cris Cohen: Now, I did notice though, in and amongst your live setup, you also have a set of electronic pads. What sounds do you get from that that you can't get from your other acoustic instruments?
Daniel de los Reyes: Good question. I'm doing this more and I'm getting better at it. When we do these albums that are very different for us – like an EDM song or a pop or techno type of a song – there are sounds that are used on there that then Zac is going to want to hear. So I have my main percussion, but he now is used to hearing certain sounds. And at the beginning of us reproducing songs after we recorded them, usually we have to do right by making it sound somewhat the same (as on the album). So that's what that pad is there for: To trigger samples that I get from the engineers in the studio. They'll send it to me. And then we – with my technician – will take those samples, cut them, and then put them in. So they're the actual sounds of what is on the album.
Little by little, the songs usually morph in the live situation, and start to change, and then we can do them even acoustically. But at the beginning, that's what the electronics mainly are used for.
Watch the full video interview.
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