Based in Orange Country, California, Save Ferris is considered to be one of the prominent bands responsible for the ska boom in the 90s. Powering the band’s tight grooves and tempo is drummer, Brandon Dickert. Aside from his drumming duties, Brandon is also the band’s musical director, and has been a producer, engineer and composer on a host of other projects, including Furiosa, Tokyo Disney, Sidewave, Suzy and the Lifeguard and many more.
We recently spoke to Brandon to find out about tour life, producing and engineering records and his drum goals.
Can you pinpoint the moment in your life that made you want to be a musician?
I was 9… my Dad played a little drums, and that Thanksgiving at my Aunt’s house, he ended up in my cousin’s room jamming out his version of the In-a-gadda-da-vida solo. Being in that room, and feeling the weight of the instrument… surrounded by Van Halen posters and other rock n roll memorabilia. That was definitely the start of it. A couple months later I found one of those shoebox tape recorders that took about four D batteries, and had a Phil Collins “No Jacket Required” cassette stuck in it. It was all over from there!
You’re still hitting the road hard at work. Is there a song that you still look forward to playing live every time, and is there also a song that you wish you never have to play live again?
I consider myself lucky to work with a lot of artists whose music provides plenty of opportunities to dig in and play fun drum stuff. With Save Ferris, I always get a kick out of playing Goodbye. It’s one of those classic SF tunes that has a lot of dynamics and different feels, each section building and hitting harder than the last. I’ll occasionally sub on the odd cover band gig, and one song I could go the rest of my life without hearing or playing again has to be Mustang Sally. Haha!
What’s a typical day like on tour for you?
I tend to keep myself busy while on the road. Depending what time load-in is, I like to get out and see a little bit of whatever city we’re in… Often that means going for a run around the venue or hotel. I typically work remotely on my other side projects, so if there’s time, I try to find a coffee shop with wifi to set up shop and work for a little while. Of course, I love to setup a practice pad and shed as much as possible!
Having produced, engineered and played for an incredible list of artists, what’s your secret to keeping it altogether and adapting to every situation?
I think the “secret” is just that: adapting. Versatility. Being organized, professional, and being able to see the big picture. Producing and/or engineering a record is just like building something. It helps if you can visualize the finished product before you even begin. Then you’ll be better prepared for what’s coming, and be able to change and adapt accordingly. Same thing applies to performing. Being versed in multiple styles, and having the right tools for the job not only makes your job easier, but makes it easier on the people you’re working with.
What do you think of your music being featured in films and commercials, and is the inspiration different when you compose for a band instead?
It’s always a proud moment when something you’ve worked on gets to be heard by the masses! The inspiration those situations can be different, but not always. At least in my experience, writing for a band that you’re a part of can usually (hopefully?) be classified under the “passion project” label. I feel like, especially with an artistic endeavor, you’ve really got to want to be there. So in that circumstance, it comes from a more altruistic, natural place. Whereas if you’re scoring to video, it can become more of a collegiate exercise where one medium (and a director) dictates what’s required of the other.
How has your approach to drumming changed through the years?
I sometimes feel like I learned backwards… my first teacher (Drum! Magazine’s Brad Schlueter) was great, and at least tried to ground me in the fundamentals. But like most kids my age, I got bored quickly, and just wanted to learn Metallica songs. My second teacher was the biggest Billy Cobham and Carl Palmer fan around. While I’m grateful for this introduction to fusion, and eventually jazz, I recognize now that I didn’t have the responsibility or discipline for many of the techniques I was learning at the time. In high school, I focused on playing fast singles, and double bass, rather than playing time, playing to a click, reading, or doing any of those things with feel. What a rude awakening when, after being thrust into the the collegiate world, I discovered that for some bizarre reason, it seemed nobody was looking for a drummer who could play really fast, complicated stuff with no regard for tempo, dynamics, feel, or touch… Crazy, right? So, over the last decade or so, I‘ve really tried to re-evaluate, and re-learn those all too important concepts. Learn to record myself… learn to listen… and this, in turn has affected my listening habits in the best way. Opening up a world of music that I might have previously dismissed as low rent for being too simple. Sometimes deliberate simplicity – and the taste to use it – is everything!
The learning journey in music never ends. What are some of your own current drummer goals?
I’ve been trying to get back into transcribing lately. Nate Smith is always a favorite. Trying to break out of the habit of repeating myself… not relying on certain licks. That’s a constant struggle. Trying to make music and be able to react in the moment, rather than playing some premeditated pattern, which is a problem I’m sure other drummers will identify with. Also, I’ve been trying to re-learn foot technique to not always bury the beater. Like so many guys these days, a lesson with Dave Elitch enforced the need for a complete relearning/reevaluation of the balance and technique required to play the feet without so much wasted energy and motion. Still working on it. Ha!
What do you never leave home without when you’re on tour?
Evans magnetic drum key, Finger tape (just in case), Vic Firth rubber tipped practice sticks, and of course, my trusty Flyby.
What MONO gear do you use at home, in the studio or on tour?
I use my MONO flyby as my main carry on for fly out dates, and around LA it’s great for transporting my portable recording rig and other electronics.
“I love the versatility and durability of my MONO Flyby backpack. It’s got tons of storage while still fitting comfortably under the seat of an airplane. Plus the breakaway laptop portion means I don’t have to carry a separate stick bag when space is tight.”
I really appreciate the modular sections of the Flyby. I often use the breakaway laptop portion to carry drumsticks and other small hardware, which is super convenient when I don’t have room to pack my regular stick bag.
Are there any young drummers and bands out there today that pique your interest?
Man, there’s so many cats out there that are killing it right now… Nate Smith, Mark Guiliana, Kris Myers from Umphreys McGee, Eric Moore, Beartooth’s touring drummer Connor Denis, Dweezil Zappa’s Ryan Brown. Then there’s all the people putting out great instructional material like Aaron Sterling, Anika Nilles, Dave Elitch, Todd Sucherman, etc… kind of a smattering of young and old, but there are so many great drummers out there nowadays, it’s relatively easy to find inspiration if you know where to look!
So, what’s next for you?
Working on a bunch of new music with both Save Ferris and Furiosa and looking forward to being on the road a bunch this summer and fall!