Groove Alchemy featured on Huffington Post
Stanton Moore: My Questions and His Answers on Drumming, New Orleans, and “Groove Alchemy,” His New Book, DVD, and CD.
By Sal Nunziato
When you think of New Orleans, some things are automatic — Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street, Louis Armstrong. But there is a new generation of people who without hesitation will add Stanton Moore to that list. In a city where the horn and the drum are sacred, Stanton Moore is at the forefront of a pack who, with their unique styles and impossible rhythms, has changed the face of not only New Orleans funk and jazz, but all music; a pack whose members include Zigaboo Modeliste, Smokey Johnson, June Gardner, Herlin Riley, Herman Ernst, Bob French, Shannon Powell, and Moore’s mentor and New Orleans treasure, John Vidacovich.
As co-founder of Galactic, a New Orleans funk collective and mainstay on the jam band scene, as well as a leader on his own, Stanton Moore’s creativity and power behind the drum kit is often otherworldly. Moore’s new, April 13th release, “Groove Alchemy” is unique in that, it not only serves as one badass funk recording, but with its accompanying instructional book and DVD (available separately), pays homage to three drummers specifically–Clyde Stubblefield and Jabo Starks, both integral in shaping James Brown’s sound, and the aforementioned Zigaboo Modeliste, the groove master behind New Orleans’ legendary Meters–and shows drummers how the grooves of these three masters can be incorporated into their own playing.
I talked to Stanton about the release, his playing, and New Orleans.
SN: A half-dozen or so records with Galactic, countless others as a session player, and 4 previous solo records, is it safe to say “Groove Alchemy” is the most personal record to date?
SM: For me, it’s one of the most conceptualized in that it ties in with the DVD and book. The concept was to examine and re-examine the playing of these masters, namely Clyde, Jabo and Zig and to develop my own grooves based on that. I wanted to demonstrate those creative processes in the book and DVD. Then, put those grooves into the record. So it probably had the most preparation. I’ve been working on the book for about 5 years and I’m really pleased with the way everything came out.
SN: So, the book, the DVD and the new CD—the whole project started at the same time?
SN: You don’t necessarily need the whole package, though. The “Groove Alchemy” CD can certainly work on its own, but with the DVD and book, which also comes with an MP3 disc of audio of all the grooves you demonstrate in the book, you’re showing how to take existing ideas and create your own.
SM: Right. I guess the idea came from when I did my first book, “Take It To The Streets.” It started off as a column on New Orleans drumming for “Drum Magazine.” I realized I had a knack for explaining this stuff. People really appreciated how I explained it. Then I was brought to the attention of Sandy Feldstein, who is a great godfather in the drum education world; he wanted to do a book with me. We had enough material for a book and a DVD. So to demonstrate all this stuff, I wanted to do it as authentically as possible. I got the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, George Porter Jr. on bass, Ivan Neville on keys and we did all this music to show what I was talking about. I liked it so much, that a few years later I released just the music as a digital download on my website. I started thinking with this one, I should release the book, the DVD and the record all at the same time.
SN: I’ve played drums since I was 5 years old, but I never learned to read charts. But I found that the accompanying CD with the book, with its examples and groove snippets, very helpful. It’s like a candy store for drummers. Listening to you explain and play all the great JB beats, The Meters grooves, John Bonham’s great shuffle on “Fool In The Rain,” is just thrilling.
SM: Thank you man! That means a lot. That’s what the DVD is there for, too. Some people would rather not learn out of a book. Some people prefer having things shown to them. Some like both. I like learning that way and I wanted to reach out to as many people as possible. And with the MP3 CD that comes with the book…with all these programs now, you can take the 15 second groove and loop it up for 8 minutes. That’s what I did when I was learning all the James Brown stuff, and particularly on the more challenging things like the “Soul Pride” break. Man, trying to learn THAT note for note…
Or the break on the fade of “Funky Drummer,” most drummers have heard this stuff, but I’ve never seen it transcribed or heard anyone really attempt to understand it. I mean, I can practice this for the rest of my life, but I am never gonna sound like Clyde Stubblefield, but that’s not the idea. The idea is to understand it as much as you can, and then twist it into your own. What I also did with the James Brown stuff was aside from looping it up, I looped it up at 85% speed, so I slowed it down just a little bit, threw it on my iPhone and walked around listening to this stuff. You wanna learn “Fool In The Rain,” loop it up for 8 minutes. That’s how you really learn these things, by listening to it over and over and over.
SN: I think there are few drummers that are instantly recognizable from their sound; Stewart Copeland of The Police and Bill Bruford, who has played with Yes, King Crimson and Genesis, both have that distinct tightness to their snare. John Bonham had that monster bass drum and that insanely fast right foot . I’d like to put you in this group. Your work on the snare is often mind-boggling, specifically that move—which I will call the “inverted buzz roll” until you correct me—that you brilliantly employ in so many grooves. Where did that come from and please, make me look less like a fool and explain what I’m talking about to the readers?
SM: When I went to Johnny Vidacovich the first time, later he told me this, but he was thinking, “Oh God, what am I gonna do with this kid?” I was wound up so tight, and at the time I didn’t know any better, when I played a buzz roll in the second line stuff, I was trying to insert these pristine buzz rolls and my feel was whack. John was like, “Oh man, come on!” So I had to learn how to play these buzz rolls while pulsing the hand at the same time, which created what I thought at the time was a very sloppy buzz roll. But then, I started to use some accents—
(STARTS SINGING THE DRUM PARTS–not going to attempt to spell these out)
…and once I started to embrace that, I realized it was a looseness not a sloppiness that I could use to my advantage. And here’s the funny part, where I got to really develop my buzz rolls was playing with the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars. So I guess really, my “signature” buzz roll, and people have asked me about this before, was really developed playing eastern European Jewish folk music. (LAUGHS) That’s really where it started and then as I perfected it, I adapted it for New Orleans music.
SN: Jon Cleary once said, “If a band is from New Orleans and they’re playing in your town, the chances are they’re going to be pretty bloody good!” There is so much truth in that. What do you think New Orleans offers its musicians that other cities do not?
SM: I think it boils down to community. Trying to put a finger on it is difficult, but I think you can trace it back to…New Orleans was the only place in the world, at the very least, America, that allowed African people to play their music when the slave trade was happening. You have Congo Square where all these people were playing their instruments, making their instruments, you got this community, people playing together, enjoying playing music together, and that communtiy aspect has continued in New Orleans. You’ve got a lot of musical families here, professional or not, they enjoy it. And that enjoyment, and that laissez-faire attitude…when your playing in New Orleans you’re not playing because you think that a record executive is judging you. People are playing because they love to play. They’ve been playing since they were kids, playing with their families. I think playing in those situations creates such joy in the players and it conveys to the audience. I truly believe that has a lot to do with it.
In New York, you’ve got great players, but it’s hard. People are very guarded. You know, like “This is my gig. Who are you? You can’t sit in on my gig.” Where in New Orleans, Shannon Powell is playing drums and you’re from Norway, and if he even hears that you own a clarinet, it’s “Oh come on! Sit in! Oh you’re a drummer? Come on up here!” You’re in New York, you pay a $30 cover, 2 drink mininum, and the drummer won’t even talk to you. Come down to New Orleans, you tell Shannon Powell you’re a drummer, he doesn’t care if you’re good or terrible or what, he’s gonna say “Come on up and play.” Same thing with Johnny Vidacovich and Russell Batiste. Where else in the world are you gonna hang out and upon meeting someone of the caliber of Shannon Powell, Johnny Vidacovich and Russell Batiste, not only meet them, talk to them, ask them questions, but sit in on their gig? It’s that community aspect that perpetuates that whole joy of playing. When you’re enjoying something and you put your heart and soul into something, it just develops. And when a whole city is operating on that MO, it’s contagious.