Dave Morello – Have no fear
By Andrew Healey
“Have no fear” is advice Dave Morello offers up and coming drummers.” Drums are not a timid instrument – don’t be afraid to hit them.” Morello practices what he preaches. As the man behind the drum kit for Auckland rock quartet Fuser, he’s an explosive, animated force – known for putting on a show. “I put all my energy into it… I play like I’m really having fun…like I really enjoy what I do.”
Hailing from Kamloops B.C Canada, a very young Morello seemed destined to become a drummer: his friend’s father played drums in a band that performed concerts at his primary school, and Morello was allowed to play on the kit of a family friend. His earliest drumming memory is as a four year old pounding out a beat on his mother’s pots and pans.
When aged eighteen, Morello attended Canada’s equivalent of Berkley – Vancouver’s Capilano Music College. “It was like fame,” he recalls. There he was tutored by some of Canada’s top session musicians and played with four different bands at once. “I learned valuable skills like comping,” Morello explains: “Comping is learning to play with other instruments – you can have twelve musicians on stage and they sound like shit, or twelve that sound brilliant – it’s because those musicians are skilled at complementing.”
At Capilano, Morello, and a fellow student formed a band called The Running. Together they produced an album that yielded a top twenty single in the Canadian charts. He was also employed as Musical Director of a government funded programme for the development of young musicians. In 1997 Morello immigrated to New Zealand with his Kiwi wife and their son. His ties remain strong to Aotearoa, and has no intentions on returning home I ask if moving to New Zealand from a much larger country has been detrimental to his career. He doesn’t believe so. “There are many more venues and opportunities over there, but the competition is much bigger,” he explains: “it’s just as hard to make it in Canada as it is in New Zealand.”
Since moving to New Zealand Morello has played for bands FUSER, Spinner, Running House and Siren Junkies worked as a session drummer with artists like Tim Mahon (Blam Blam Blam) and The Topp Twins. He also Produced recordings for several local artists.
“I describe myself as a guitar players’ and singers’ drummer. I always fit my licks around the melody lines,” says Morello. He lists a variety of drummers as influences, usually for one aspect of their drumming: Stuart Copeland for hi-hat work, Mick Fleetwood for toms. “I love Keith Moon for his ability to express himself and try licks beyond his ability – he always had a way of coming out of it,” he enthuses.
Morello plays a custom-built Ayotte drum kit and Paiste cymbals. He says: “Paiste cymbals sound phenomenal….I could grab ten different cymbals, and they would all sound great together.” He also loves Yamaha drums: “I don’t tap the drums …..I’ve played drum kits that have collapsed,” he laughs. “I hit the drums flat – the rim and the skin at the same time. This means the shell of the drum plays a big part. A Yamaha maple or birch studio kit sounds fantastic at any volume.”
Morello is also a Producer, and I put it to him many musicians don’t actually know what a producer does. His explains his method is listen to the song, discuss with the musicians about what they want, get a picture as to how he feels the song should sound and then sell the idea to the band. It’s important to find an engineer that he can communicate with. He believes in achieving the desired sound from the source, so rather than recording the sound and adding effects and EQ later, Morello records the instrument how he wants it to sound from the beginning by using the correct microphones and placement. He often works with Auckland engineer Peter Van Gent – Van Gent’s specialty is live sound recording.
Politics mustn’t be overlooked. “You have got to be the one to kiss the guitar player’s ass – most producers are fired before the recording is finished,” he laughs. Morello’s current band Fuser, is keeping him occupied. After their single ‘The Rules’ reached number 32 on the NZ charts, the band is now promoting the song on live Pod casts. They are also pursuing over-seas licensing deals and preparing to release their second Morello produced album.
“Drums aren’t just an instrument that sits in the back. I’ve got to play within the limitations I’m allowed, but I stretch them as much as I can,” says Morello. Fear what’s that? When it comes to drumming, this Canadian import doesn’t know the meaning of the word.