It’s not often that a band comes along with a sound so unique it needs a separate sub-genre to fit it in. But Los Angeles metal band ISIS did just that with their groundbreaking album ‘Oceanic’ and gave the world post-metal, a genre pioneered and evolved by the band over five inimitable albums, before hanging up their boots.
Indian Drummer managed to catch up with Aaron Harris , the man behind the tasteful drumming and thunderous drum sound that ISIS has come to be known for. Read on to find out more about his gear, current projects, shift from drumming to engineering and producing and the secret to his phat snare crack.
Aaron - Thanks for having me. I’ve been good. I like to stay busy. I don’t do well with down time. Drumming as much as I can manage. It’s my therapy.
ID - Can you fill us up on what’s been keeping you busy post ISIS?
Aaron - Mostly producing/recording/mixing. I love being in the studio, tracking, mixing, producing, the whole thing. I have some great records that I worked on coming out this spring from Jakob, the Mental Architects, The Jezabels, and Mothra. I’ve also been doing a little touring: I drum teched for Danny Carey of TOOL and Abe Cunningham of the Deftones, and I’ve also done live sound for The Jezabels, Jakob, and Pelican. Drum-wise I’ve been working on a record with Bryant Meyer and Jeff Caxide of ISIS. It’s coming along really nicely. We’re planning to start tracking this month.
ID - Isis decided to call it quits in 2010, but it seemed like you guys had evolved tremendously and that you had quite a few albums left in you. What happened?
Aaron - That’s a tough thing to answer. The short answer, and really all that I’m comfortable saying, is that some people felt that they wanted to move on musically and in their personal lives.
ID - How did you muster up enough courage to drop a project at its peak? It must’ve been quite an intense time for the band.
Aaron - It was intense. We were on a steady upward path. It was very tough and heartbreaking for me to let that all go. It was an awful time, but it also opened doors for me to do other things. I’m glad it’s behind me now, though – not the band, but the break-up.
ID - Any chance of a reunion tour or a gig in India? Especially because your Indian fans were probably the most disappointed on hearing the news. With bands like Opeth, Katatonia, Karnivool, Textures, Porcupine Tree, etc playing here in the recent past, Isis was already on the “possible” list.
Aaron - We would have loved to play in India. I’ve always wanted to visit, especially after studying Tabla and Indian drumming with Aloke Dutta. I’d love to see the Ganges and the Himalayas some day.
ID - Can you tell us something about your new band with Jeff and Bryant?
Aaron - We’re still searching for a name. The same thing happened with ISIS. It took us forever to come up with the name. I don’t want to say too much about the sound, but I think you can probably imagine what it might sound like. We have a singer that we’re working with, and possibly some other guests. We’re just focusing on the song writing right now. It’s coming along really nicely, and I’m really happy to be playing with those guys still, and preparing another release.
Aaron - Ben Shirazi (the main guy from Rajas) is a good friend of mine. During some downtime with ISIS he was working on his record and had some songs that he thought I would work well on. I liked the songs so we tracked a few in ISIS’ rehearsal space. It was cool for me to try some new things and do something different.
ID - They’ve been creating quite a stir of late and are in the same sonic spectrum as Isis, did you ever consider joining them full time?
Aaron - The idea had been tossed around a bit, but ISIS was taking up a lot of my musical energy and being in another band wasn’t something I was looking to do.
ID - You’re currently also working as an engineer/producer. How does it feel to be in the producer’s chair considering the fact that you’ve been on the drum throne so many times?
Aaron - I love it! I find it really exciting to help other bands make records. It’s a special feeling when someone asks you to help capture their art. I nerd out about all the technicalities behind it. I love gear. It sounds corny, but I think it’s all really fascinating.
ID - What’s the secret to that phat drum sound? Don’t worry you don’t have to reveal your recording secrets. Just a brief description of your micing techniques, tuning, etc shall suffice.
Aaron - It all comes down to the source. No mic, or pre, or compressor is going to make a bad sounding kit sound good. Those things will certainly help if used correctly, but it’s all about the player. The kit also has to be up to par to produce something exceptional. Drums are a dynamic acoustic instrument. There are so many variables to getting a good sound.
ID - Can you also tell us about your live/studio kit configuration?
Aaron - On Wavering Radiant I used a Sonor Designer Series that used to belong to Danny Carey. The sizes I use are 10X10 rack, 14X14 floor, and a 16X16 floor. On a couple songs I swapped the 10″ rack for a 12X12… Always a 22″ kick drum, and on every single ISIS record I used the same snare drum. A 14X5.5 hammered bronze Tama. It’s the only snare that I’ve ever owned. All Paiste cymbals (2002 and Signature series), Vater 2B wood tip sticks, and Evans drum heads. Tama hardware and Tama Iron Cobra pedals.
ID - You mentioned earlier that you toured as a drumtech with Tool and Deftones. How was the experience? Would you like to share any tips that you might have picked up from Danny?
Aaron - I had a lot of fun looking after both of those guys. It was kind of a trip because they’re both big influences of mine. Filling in for Danny’s tech were some big shoes to fill. He’s been Danny’s tech for a long time, and Danny’s kit is so massive and intricate. Of course Danny wanted to use his insanely heavy cast bronze kick drums on the tour. They weigh over 100 pounds each. It was the Big Day Out tour in Australia, so it was a festival tour. The Deftones were on the same tour, and I got to hanging with them a lot during the day. When Abe’s tech had to split to go work on another tour, he called me. It all worked out nicely. Abe’s set up is a little closer to mine, so I adjusted quickly to his kit. As I said before they’re both huge influences of mine, and they’re both such great guys. I was honored to get to work with both of them, and watch them play every night. I love both those guys and have huge respect for their playing.
Aaron - Haha, it was intense! It’s really like setting up a whole separate stage. You have no idea what that kit involves. First you have all the drums, then all the electronics. Danny is a big guy, very strong, so everything has to be overly capable of withstanding the abuse. I changed all the tom heads every night, and the snare heads three times per set. After about 3 songs we’d swap snares and I’d put a new head on the 2nd snare. In fact here’s a video where you can see me changing a snare head mid set through Danny’s 22″ clear gong drum.
ID - I understand that you’re also a passionate biker. How do you find time to pursue this passion? What does your current bike collection comprise of?
Aaron - I’ve been into bikes since I was a kid. Like drumming, it’s a form of therapy for me. It keeps me fit and it’s where I do a lot of my thinking and listening to music. Currently I own 3 bikes. A custom titanium road bike made by a company called October, a Pinarello road bike, and a Trek Cyclocross bike.
ID - Now for the rapid fire session –
a) Favorite snare drum: Tama hand hammered bronze 14X5.5
b) Favorite cymbal series: Paiste 2002
c) Favorite drummer : Currently Benny Greb
d) Favorite album (Non-Isis/Isis): ISIS = Wavering Radiant. Non ISIS = Led Zeppelin 1
e) Favorite Isis song to play live: Threshold Of Transformation
f) Favorite studio : JHOC
g) Favorite time signature : 3/5
ID - Now, it’s time for that completely random question. Did you know that you look very similar to a Bollywood actor by the name of Imran Khan. http://www.imran-khan.org/ Your thoughts?
Aaron - Haha I don’t see it, but hey I’ll take it.
ID - With endorsements from Sonor, Paiste, Evans and Vater, we’re assuming you must be fairly content with your drumming career. What advice would you like to give young drummers so they too may achieve what they set out to do?
Aaron - Feel rhythm with your heart and soul. Play with passion and energy. Focus on playing a steady 4/4. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t move forward. Less is more! There are no rules, just play and don’t think about it too much. Play along to your favorite songs/drummers. That’s how I learned.
ID - This is your space. *Spotlight on the drummer please* *Crowd cheering ‘drum solo’*
Aaron - Aloke Dutta said something very profound to me once that pretty much summed up how I feel about drumming. He described drumming as a language. Just like how we speak, drumming can mean different things depending on how you punctuate and express it. Take for instance “I love you.” You can say, “I love you.” You can say “I LOVE you.” You can say “I love YOU.” Each has a different meaning simply by how you express it. Drumming is no different. Think about that.
Thanks Hamza for the interview.
As interviewed by Hamza Kazi with inputs by Deepti Unni.