Matt Halpern - The incredible drummer behind Periphery’s intense licks, patterns and heavy beats.
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Drum Channel caught up with Matt while he was on tour in Canada. Did you know that Matt plays heavy metal with a small setup initially built for reggae music?Drum Channel: You joined Periphery later on, is that right?
Matt Halpern: Yeah, I joined a little over two years ago; I’m the second drummer of the band. I wasn’t a founding member, but I have definetely made my mark within the band and I feel like joining (Periphery) was the best decision I could make for myself.
DC: How did you get into the band? Did you do an audition?
M. H.: At the time before I joined, I was playing drums with Animals As Leaders and I have known Alex (Bois), the guitar player, since college and we kept in touch. I was playing in a lot of other bands and Alex came to see me play many times. Once Travis (Orbin), the old drummer, had decided to leave the band, they called me straight away and said, “We know you are capable of playing the songs. Would you like to fill in?” So I learned the set and I filled in for a couple of shows and after those two shows it was pretty much a deal for me to join. It was just a good fill, it felt right, so it worked out ever since.
DC: How did you become the drummer that you are today? If one is listening to Periphery, it has pretty sick drumming. It is very technical, it is very fast, you have great licks – what did you do to play this kind of stuff?
M. H.: I’ve been playing drums for a long time. I am 27 and I started when I was about three or four. I just have a lot of experience with different styles of music. I’ve had a lot of different experiences with solo drumming and solo performance, I have worked on rudiments and the basics all the way up to playing every style of music possible. Like I said, I’ve played with a lot of musicians over the years who were a lot older and a lot better than me and they kind of helped me mold into who I am, just by telling me: “play softer, play louder, play harder here.” Playing with musicians better than me – whether they play guitar or bass – I can learn so much from them. I think over the years of playing with different people and playing so many different styles of music, I have just been able to really pick up and learn things very quickly. For me, if I hear it and if I understand it, then I can usually play it. I think it has just been experience over the years and I have been lucky to play with great musicians.
DC: "Periphery" is the name of the current album. Did you play on each song?
M. H.: Yeah, I did. For the studio, we used a Roland TD-20 V-Drum Kit and we worked with all the sounds from Toontrack, which is a company that we work with exclusively for sounds, for mixes, for drumming and so forth, and we basically recorded all the midi and then we added all the midi-files within the Toontrack programs. It was the best of both worlds, because we got the performance and the feel and we were really able to make all the parts perfect after that. It was a really unique experience, but that is how we got the sounds that we got now. It is something that we have been able to do for no cost, because Misha (Mansoor), the guitar player, is a great producer and he worked on the mix for so long. We were lucky that we could get a lot done without spending any money, just because we can do everything ourselves.
DC: Isn’t it a weird feeling to record the whole album with an E-Drum Kit?
M. H.: It was a bit of a weird adjustment, but I had some experience with it before, so I was able to mold pretty quickly. I actually had time to practice the songs and get used to the feel of the kit, so when I finally sat down to record, I felt pretty comfortably. There is obviously a big difference between live drums and an electric kit, but when you have this sound style and when you are listening with your headphones and you hear these massive drum sounds, it inspires you and makes you play well. I enjoyed it, to be honest. Of course, if we had the budget, my preference would be to go into a live studio and record it acoustically and that is actually, what we are planning on this next album.
DC: What equipment are you using right now?
M. H.: I just got a brand new drum kit. It is a Mapex Birch Walnut; it is a limited series edition that they just released. It is amazing and it sounds massive. I am so happy to play it. I also play Meinl Cymbals – they have been great to give me a perfect selection to choose from and their customer service is amazing. I also play Vater drumsticks, I use 5-Bs and I play Evans Drumheads. That is my setup. I use Mapex hardware as well and I couldn’t be happier. The Falcon pedals are so awesome and they are so easy to work with. I am very, very happy with the equipment that I am using these days. I feel very honoured to use it.
DC: I have seen some pictures of your drumset and it looks like you have a pretty small setup: only one snare, one floor-tom and another trash cymbal. What kind of setup was that?
M. H.: When I started off, I was doing a lot of reggae, jazz and funk, so I was using a very small drum kit and I got used to it. The reason that I was using this kit for those gigs was, because I was traveling by myself, transporting the drums myself, so I really needed a setup that was small, easy to move, easy to break down, easy to set up and that didn’t take too much time. I got used to this. To have a small kit is much more practical for heavy touring. It is just less work. With less variables, it is also a lot easier to have a consistent feel and to be more creative. You are forced to do more with less.
DC: So this is the setup that you use for Periphery? You play all this sick stuff on that small setup?
M. H.: Yes sir.
DC: That is impressive, man.
M. H.: Thanks. It is just what I am comfortable with for now. I used to play an enormous kit, but it is just too much to move, it is too much to carry. I like that I have the option to scale up a little bit or scale down to the minimum and still play the songs.
DC: And you really only have one floor-tom in the Periphery setup right now?
M. H.: Yeah, it is just a kick-snare-floor-tom, and then I have a hi-hat, a trash cymbal, a ride cymbal, I have a stack and another china cymbal.
DC: You are in Canada right now. How has the tour been so far?
M. H.: The tour has been great, so far. We sold out some shows; and Toronto, where we are now, is one of our best markets to play. The fans are amazing up here and we have definitely done really well. It is exciting to be here, but we are going back to the States this evening. The tour is finished soon; we only have a couple of weeks left. It is exciting to be able to play up here and travel all over the world.
DC: What music are you listening to?
M. H.: Lately I have been listening to a few things. On the heavier side I’ve been into Monuments – it is really groovy stuff. If Michael Jackson were to write groovy, heavy riffs, that is what it reminds me of. On the lighter side, I’ve been listening to a lot of electronic stuff. I have also been listening to Fiona Apple recently and I am getting into her drummer, Matt Chamberlain, who is a phenomenal studio drummer. I try to vary it up and not just listen to metal. I listen to a lot of different things. Screaming Headless Torsos are also great.
DC: Do you wear shoes when you are playing drums? I just saw a picture where you had no shoes on.
M. H.: Since I injured my foot when I was in Europe, I actually started playing with shoes on, just because my left foot was pretty hurt. I haven’t been playing with shoes my whole life, but I got used to it during that time. I really like that extra weight that the shoes add to my playing. Although, I used to play in socks or barefoot, lately I’m really into playing with shoes. I’m always trying to evolve and trying new things, so lately that’s what I’ve been doing.
DC: You started playing drums at the age of three or four. Have you ever tried out any other instrument or has it always been the drums? M. H.: No. As much as I’d love to learn other instruments, I have only been into drums my whole life. I haven’t ever had an attitude for anything else. Drumming has always been what I am drawn to – the rhythm and the fact that it is such a physical instrument. It’s the only thing I had such a passion for my whole life.
DC: Do you like dogs?
M. H.: I love dogs. I have a dog at home, he is an Italian Mastiff and he is my best friend in the world. The hardest part about going on tour is missing him and missing my girlfriend. But it’s different, you can always call your girlfriend and tell her you miss her. You can’t call your dog and say “Hey, I miss you bud”. It’s tough, but in my free time, my favorite thing to do is to spend time with my dog. It’s the light of my life, so to speak.
DC: Can you drum for a living now or do you have a job when you get back home?
M. H.: I do drumming for a living. When I’m home, I teach on a very consistent basis. I teach online through webcam and I also teach in person. I also teach on tour, so I have students all over the world. Aside from that, I am also very involved in studio drumming and in working with other musicians, to help produce drums, to help inspire them to teach – I teach a lot of drummers how to teach, so that they can use music to make money. It is really gratifying for me to only be playing music and using drumming as my source of income.
DC: How many students do you have around the globe?
M. H.: It is hard to say... maybe 50 to 100, I would say. When we went on our European tour, I taught in almost every single city we went to. It has been so awesome to connect with my fans on that level and to engage them in music – just to share knowledge. To me, teaching is about spreading knowledge, but it also helps you to become a better musician, because you really have to know what you are talking about.
(c) Stefan Fischer 2011, Fischer+Blanchard 2011