Nick Mason is a very prolific musician, performer, podcaster, instructor, artist and is above all the Living Dead Drummer.
You have launched a new podcast called “Batter Heads” tell us about that?
Batter Heads was kind of my way of keeping in touch with my drummer friends. Prior to the pandemic I enjoyed getting together with friends for coffee or dinner. We would just catch up, talk nerdy drum stuff, gossip. After things shut down, and most of us lost our jobs I started making the rounds and just checking in on folks. Making sure everyone was staying safe and healthy. That turned into, well what if we chatted for a while? What if we did it on video, and what if I just recorded it and stuck it online? So far just about everyone I’ve asked has been super into the idea. We setup our cameras, and just chat for however long. Mostly just seeing how each others been holding up the last bunch of months, but we do try to talk shop as well.
You must really enjoy podcasts to start one of your own. What have been some of your favorite moments?
I do enjoy them, in fact I don’t really listen to music around the house, typically I have podcasts playing. It’s still really new, so it’s hard to nail down a favorite moment, but I can say I enjoy the fact that none of them have really stuck to the “allotted time.” Every time I asked someone to do the show It’s always, “yeah, let’s just chat for an hour or so,” and we ALWAYS talk for at least two hours, sometimes more! Sometimes we’ve chatted for 30 min or so before and after I even record.
You’ve started a series of “How To” videos, teaching people how to play songs from bands you have performed live with or have recorded with. How is that going and what songs can people expect?
This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but never got around to it for one reason or another. I’m not really a fan of the “drum cover” thing that’s been so popular. I would much rather see the original artist, who wrote, recorded, and/or performs the song demonstrate it. Part of how I learn material is by talking my self through the parts as I play them, and then charting it all out. I pay really close attention to dynamics, and little small details that might otherwise go unnoticed.
I spend many hours each week teaching my students these exact kinds of things for songs they are learning. Rather than create the 5,000,000th cover video for Toxicity, I thought it would be more fun to show people what I do, not some other drummer.
So far I’ve only done a few. The first was for UK based industrial band, V2A. I perform live with them, but the drums on the albums are all programed. I wanted to come out of the gate with that because it’s interesting to see how a live drummer would need to interpret programed parts. I also have one from The Rhythm Coffin’s last record. It’s a song that is 50% double kick heavy metal, and 50% Johnny Cash County. I did record the drums on that song, and basically recreated the parts for the video. What I end up doing next will kind of be out of my hands. I have a list of songs I’d love to do videos for, but because I’m primarily a hired gun, I don’t own the rights to any of this music, even the songs I did the original studio recording for. I have to get permission from all bands and artists first.
Rhythm Coffin is recording their next album at the moment. What can you tell us about the status, the sound and your roles in it?
Yes, as of right now we are nearly complete! My drum parts and vocals are all done. I believe all the Vocals, Bass and Guitar tracks are done too. The mixes I’ve been getting back have sounded fantastic. I still have to do a little sample programing on one song, and that should put the whole record in the can. The whole project started basically because Gruesome Gereg had a hand full of new songs he’s been writing on the side. How we did things preciously, is he would write the bulk of a song, demo it out on his own, using programed drum loops, and present it to the rest of the band. We would then take it into the rehearsal room and craft it out together. This wasn’t any different, but I had just started overhauling my studio when he started kicking demos out. I got the first couple with the generic programed loops, and just suggested, “Hey, why not send me versions without the loops and I’ll lay down some real drums on these demos?” We did that, and they started sounding really good. The last two EP’s we went to a big pro studio when it came time to record, but with the audio quality we were able to start bouncing back and forth we decided we could probably just do it on our own this time and still turn out a great product.
In terms of sound I can say this. If you liked our last two releases, “A Famous Monster I Want To Be,” and “Monster On My Back,” you will enjoy this. I kind of see this trio of EP’s as almost one record. The forthcoming “Coffin Kreep” perfectly captures the band’s current sound, and is an good extension off the back of the last one.
During the lockdown you seem to have maintained a very high level of productivity. Were you this busy before Covid or have you been keeping yourself sane through art and activity?
I’m kind of a workaholic, so yeah I was this busy before, just in a different manner. Prior to the pandemic I spent most of my time on stage and teaching lessons. Now, with travel restrictions and the closure of live music venues, I’ve shifted from live work to studio work. I’m still teaching private lessons, just not as many. The studio work has taken a huge chunk of my daily schedule, and I’m thankful for it. Then add things like the podcast, video production, etc., on top of it and it keeps my dance card full.
How much are you missing performing live and the road right now?
A LOT! I miss the stage more than I can properly express. So much so, that any opportunity for a gig that’s been presented to me the last 5 months I’ve jumped at. There haven’t been many, and so far they have all ended up being canceled anyway. I just got called about one on the east coast in October. I of course said yes, but don’t yet have the details, and it’s not finalized, so I don’t think I can talk about it just yet. The last time I went without playing a show for this long I think I was 15. I miss airports, I miss hotels, I miss tour busses, all of it! I want it back so bad.
Your new custom made Yamaha blood splatter kit is ridiculous. How did that come about? What are the specs? And would you ever take it on the road?
The kit started as kind of a “wouldn’t it be cool if?” I had a Snare that I used a lot, but didn’t match my kit. I asked if they could re-finish it to match my normal live kit. They did such a fantastic job, and I was so impressed, that it got the wheels turning upstairs. I kind of tossed the idea out, as almost a pipe dream, and was met with “We could do that!” The guys at Yamaha were instantly into the idea, and seemed really excited to work on it. Paiste has a line of colored cymbals called the Colorsound 900’s. They are a reissue from back in the 80’s, but much more musical now, I have a full set in black for my primary live kit. The red ones are really beautiful, and I like the idea of color coordinating my drums. The primary kit is black shells, with black heads, black hardware, and black cymbals. These red colorsounds have white logos, so I wanted to make the new kit white and have the blood spatter match the same shade of red as the cymbals. We got one from Paiste and passed it off to Yamaha to go through color swatches until they found the right shade. Then they ordered in the paint and drums.
We used the Stage Custom drums as a base. They are 100% birch shells, my preference, but aren’t as expensive as the big brother, Recording Customs. I chose the Stage Customs on purpose because I’ve taken those kits on the road before and they not only hold up to the punishment, but they sound fantastic. This was also a huge experiment, and if it had not worked out I would have felt really bad if we destroyed some $3,000 drums.
Having a blood covered drum kit, kind of limits its use, I can’t exactly take them out for a Blues or Country gig, so it was decided that this would be made specifically for The Rhythm Coffin. With them I use a pretty basic setup. Kick, Snare, two Toms, Hats, Ride, and two Crashes, super “Ringo” basic. So that’s all I needed for this. I chose mostly the same sizes as I already used for them too. 12” and 16” Toms, 5.5” x 14” Snare, the big change was the kick. I normally use a 24 live, but The Rhythm Coffin has a fair amount of double kick work in their songs, and of course the band is all about showmanship, so I added a 2nd bass drum, mainly for looks. Because of the extra space needed for two bass drums, I reduced the size from 24” to 22.”
The Cymbals, as stated before are Paiste red Colorsounds. The hats, and Ride are exactly what I use for everything else, 14” Sound Edge Hats, and a 22” Heavy Ride. I always use matching Crashes, typically 19,” but because of the “big rock” image of this kit we bumped them up to 20.”
We’ve heard you do Tarot Card readings? Where did you learn how to read and what have been some of the freakiest outcomes?
I learned about 6 years ago, but I didn’t learn the same traditional way most others do. I use a specific deck that was conceived by Rita Morgan and Griffin Ced, founders of the Ced Tradition of Witchcraft, of which I am an initiatory member. Our deck has more cards that a traditional deck, it also has some different suits, and was really written to encompass the Ced lore. This deck is available to the public, and can be read by anyone who knows how to read traditional Tarot, but much of the “Ced” elements would probably go over their head or completely unnoticed.
I don’t recall any freaky outcomes; most of the time the results give me a message that reinforces the obvious or logical answer. When I read for others, it tends to do the same. I don’t ask people what they are having me read for. I don’t want any outside influence when I pull cards, I want my interpretation to be blind so the individual getting the reading can see if what I have to say aligns with what they are asking. I get a lot of responses like, “That makes a lot of sense,” hahaha. Once and a while I’ll get someone who doesn’t like the reading, but knows it’s accurate. They are trying to choose between “A” or “B,” they know “A” is the logical, smart, and rational choice, but they want “B.” I pull cards that all say “Go with A,” and they kind of sign. Like, “I knooooow, but, but, but.” Sorry, the universe says “A” and you know it!
What was it like to perform at Wasteland? That had to be physically challenging and mind blowing at the same time?
It’s a blast! I’ve done it three years in a row, and had it not been for covid, this would have been my forth. The weather definitely can make things more difficult, and put a strain on the physical aspect of performing. Sound checks can be tough, if the wind picks up it’s like getting sand blasted while trying to play a song. Thankfully we always go on later at night after the sun goes down and it cools off. Normally we have pyro in the show, and have these big flame towers on top of the stage, but last year the wind was a bit much, and the fire marshal shut that down. So instead we brought out two massive snow cannons!
My first trip up there I was dumb founded. Photos and videos online do not do this place justice. It’s a whole city right down to a post office and radio station. Everyone there is 100% into the lifestyle, and really friendly. Now that I’ve been there a few times I know my way around, what “clubs” to hit on what nights and so on. It’s incredible and I’m looking forward to going back again and again.
You’ve been doing a lot of session work during Covid. What bands have you recorded with and what’s the process?
Session work is the bread and butter right now. I’ve been fortunate to have a steady stream of clients based all over the country. Some of them include Tara McLeod from KiTTiE, FLAKE, Jules & The Howl, Sammy Burke, Matt Fuller from Puddle of Mudd, of course The Rhythm Coffin, plus a huge amount of indi artists. Outside of one session early on in the pandemic with Kapali Long, everything has been remote. I have my own studio where my drums are miced up at all time. Clients will email me demos or scratch tracks with some notes on what they want, and then I get to work. I’ll typically bounce back a couple demo ideas based on the notes they provided and see what they like. Once they’re satisfied with the direction I’ve taken I track the song. I’ll email them the raw stem files so they can do the editing as they see fit, or sometimes they’ll ask me to take care of the editing and EQing so it captures “my sound” more.
Overall it’s a fairly simple process as long as you have some basic knowledge of recording, and I’ve been really enjoying it. There’s no pressure of being on the clock like a bigger studio and thus far most people have trusted my natural instincts behind the kit.
Same with your teaching. How has that been going and how does the Zoom type virtual classroom hold up for drumming instruction?
It wasn’t hard for me to transition my teaching practice to an online setting. I had been doing some online lessons prior to Covid, so I already knew how to navigate the system, and got that trial and error process out of the way a couple years ago. Some students have really thrived online, and I’ve seen them take great strides in their skill level, while others have had a bit of a slow down in progress. I definitely run into some roadblocks where I think “Man, if I want just there with you I could show you want I mean so much faster and easier.” Overall it’s not too bad. I invested in some upgraded gear right at the beginning of the pandemic to ensure my students would have a great experience online, and try to make the transitions as comfortable as possible. I’m setup with multiple camera angles that I can switch between with one click, and everything is miced up through preamps and mixers so no matter what device they use the audio they receive is really clean and clear.
One benefit to being able to conduct a successful online lesson is that there are no more restrictions on location. I don’t have to just be an “LA teacher” anymore, and I now have students in multiple states.
What’s your plan for the rest of this lovely year?
Well, if all goes well I’ll be jumping on a plane in a few weeks and dusting off my stage persona. I’m hoping that leads to another, and another, and I can slowly get back to being a touring musician again. Outside of that I’m going to be really focused on session work, branching out to work with new producers and artists, no matter where their located. Of course I have the podcast now, and already have guests booked through the rest of the year. The Rhythm Coffin’s new EP should be out in time for everyone’s Halloween playlists, and I’ll probably work on some more instructional videos here and there. Let’s see if I actually have time, haha!
Any additional thoughts?
I’d just like to say thank your for taking the time to chat. Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel for the podcast, as well as other content like music videos, how to videos, and other goodies, YouTube.com/LivingDeadDrummer. And of course I can be found on all the popular social media platforms under the name Living Dead Drummer.