Album of the Week: Stream ‘Drumgasm,’ From Pearl Jam’s Matt Cameron, Sleater-Kinney’s Janet Weiss, and Death Grips’ Zach Hill
Q: How many drummers does it take to record an LP?
The explosive, 39-minute free-wallop Drumgasm is the work of three alt-rock-drumming luminaries making giddy splatter-jazz on three kits: a percussive, improvised Pollock painting that bubbles and shoots off psychedelic sparks. Upon the urging of Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Wild Flag, Quasi), fellow bashers Matt Cameron (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden) and Zach Hill (Death Grips, Hella) joined her in a Portland studio with no notes, no ideas, no prompts — just three drum kits and a stickbag of mutual respect, ultimately creating what Weiss calls a “modern, psychotic drum circle.” All three artists were represented in SPIN’s divisive 100 Greatest Drummers of Alternative Music list, and their formidable talents coil expertly around each other here in a single take of music that takes on many forms: an impenetrable twine-tangle of dueling Corsanos, a funky Boredoms brawl, hardcore minimalism, and one ecstatic scream. It’s somewhere between transcendent blast, jitter-causing fireworks display, and total endurance test.
You can stream Drumgasm below and pre-order it from Jackpot Records. We caught up with Weiss to find out how this demolition derby came to pass.
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What was the genesis of this project?
I would say friendship and mutual admiration was the genesis. I had toured with Zach. Quasi toured with Hella, so we had spent a month together watching each other play. Obviously Zach is an utterly unique drummer. After a month you’re just beginning to understand what he’s doing [Laughs]. So I’ve spent some time studying him. And Sleater-Kinney, around the same time, was doing some touring with Pearl Jam. Matt Cameron had always been one of my favorites — I’m a huge Soundgarden fan. So getting to meet him and know him and share a stage with him was a really big deal for me. We forged a friendship, and Matt and I would sort of marvel about Zach — as probably every drummer on the planet does. I just came up with the idea: What if we just rented a studio for a weekend? We didn’t have any plan as to what was gonna happen.
We ended up playing for these long improv pieces. Some were 20 minutes, some were 30 minutes, some were 40 minutes. In the beginning, it’s like, “Let’s try something slower,” and then it just erupts into what it sort of became most of the time…which is total cacophony. It was like a wild animal you couldn’t hold back. No matter where we started, we ended up all sort of going crazy.
There’s speed, there’s duration, there’s volume. What do you remember, physically, about being part of this marathon?
Well, at the time I think I was in really good shape, luckily. It was a very exciting space to be in. So there was a lot of adrenaline. Watching those two show off for each other was just awesome… We’d play maybe 30 minutes, and then Zach, like always, would be as if he just walked out of a shower. Just dripping, head to toe. We were all sweaty, but no one sweats as much as that guy. As much as Matt and I are playing, he’s playing 20 times the hits, 20 times the speed. His thing is like superhuman. And it was snowing at the time. It was the middle of the winter, around New Year’s, and he would walk outside, and there was this huge cloud of steam just coming off of him.
What is hearing the record now like for you?
Oh, it’s just fun! It just sounds so fun. It makes me laugh and smile. When I was getting [the record] together, I knew I wanted to use an entire, start-to-finish piece. But I had to listen to all of them to see which one summed up the meaning of the three of us. There’s like a moment in this piece where I can hear myself start to play a straight-forward beat. It takes them maybe around two minutes where they actually hear what I’m doing. They’re just going so full steam ahead, and I can tell, all of the sudden, ‘She’s playing a beat!’ And then they both start playing along to the beat. It’s a cool moment where we all sort of sync up on one more simple idea. And then after maybe minute, it just — pwoom — it just rockets off into some other zone. I get a real kick out of listening to it.
Is the record one piece or two pieces?
It’s one. We had to make it two sides. But it is one piece. We played it all in the same sitting… I like that people are calling it “song.” I hear melodies in there, but they’re going by very quickly.
How many takes were there?
We did, like, 10 other ones. Some of them are shorter, some of them are 15 minutes. Drumgasm 2, Drumgasm 3, Drumgasm 4. [Laughs] The world will be clamoring for more Drumgasm, and we will have it to give them. [Laughs] My dream is to go on tour and play some of this stuff live. We would have a great time. I can’t think of a better tour than that. That’s my dream tour.
Soundmen across the world would hate you.
Yeah, but no singers!