190 Bands Per Minute: an Interview with Intronaut Drummer Danny Walker

Yes, I just interviewed Intronaut‘s guitarist/vocalist Sacha Dunable a couple days ago. Yes, I’m now interviewing their drummer Danny Walker (who also happens to be Murder Construct‘s, and formerly Uphill Battle’s, drummer amidst a myriad of session work). Not to over-saturate you dear reader, but I couldn’t turn down this opportunity to interview Mr. Walker, who is mayhaps the best percussion basher in the metal scene right now. Well, either him or Dysrhythmia/Zevious‘ Jeff Eber.

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Nope, stop it, resist your urge to debate “best metal drummers” with me, because 1) I only said that to get your paying attention juices  flowing, and 2) I’m not actually in the room with you, and arguing with a computer screen just makes you look silly. And that hat you’re wearing is doing a good enough a job of that. Seriously, where did you find that thing?

Back to Intronaut, I’m beyond thrilled to see these guys finally getting the fans they deserve after so many albums. I refuse to use the term “progressive metal” here because that’s become a shorthand term for “bands that sound like Dream Theater,” which kind of loses sight of the real meaning. Intronaut are truly pushing boundaries, blending death metal and hardcore roots with a Tool-esque psychadelia, a fretless jazz fusion low end, plenty of post-rock delay, and some creepy fuzzed out leads that remind me of John Wetton-era King Crimson. In short, Intronaut have carved out their own sound, and I’m happy to help amplify it.

So let’s delve into how their percussion ticks…

I’ve noticed that a lot of players with really clean technique starting playing young. Was that the case with you?

I started at a very early age. At 5 I experimented on my mothers pots and pans. At 8 my parents bought me my first drum set. From there I just picked up ideas by listening to records and other drummers. Took drum lessons at 11. Around this time I was learning my rudiments and learning how to play different styles of music. I guess when you have so many years to perfect it things come together.

You’ve been insanely busy with a bunch of different bands. Do you try to specifically focus on certain approaches in each project, or is that not a concern since bands like Intronaut and Murder Construct are so distinct even without the drums?

I feel like no matter what session gig or project I take on it will inevitably reek of me depending on the situation. If I have full liberties to do as I please, then I’ll go nuts. If I’m hired to emulate a certain style, then I’ll work within those confines. It’s what the job calls for. Restraint is just as important as the freedom to do what you want musically.

I learned this doing session work for bands such as Exhumed, Phobia and Jesu. Exhumed and Phobia have a very classic and sort of purist approach and that’s fine. In Jesu I basically had to emulate a drum Machine and focus more on power and stripped down playing. Hardly any fills. In Bastard Noise, Bad Acid Trip and Cinema Strange I had more creative freedom for these session gigs. And finally in my bands Uphill Battle, Murder Construct and Intronaut I have had creative freedom all along.

Can you give a breakdown on your kit? Do you still use DW drums and Meinl cymbals?

DW collectors maple. DW pedals and hardware. Meinl Cymbals, Vic Firth drum sticks and Aquarian drum heads. I currently endorse these companies.

Do you always use the same kit/cymbals/pedal with different bands or does one main one work for everything?

I’ve learned to apply my gear to different styles. I’m sure certain pedals work better for faster music and certain pedals carry more weight and are suited more for groove and slower oriented music. I just change the settings depending on the gig. I adapt to my environment with what I have.

Do you use the same cymbals in the studio and live? Or is there a line that you like the sound of but it breaks too quickly on the road?

I use the same cymbals live as I do studio. Although I feel thinner cymbals sound better in the studio and thicker cymbals last longer on the road. Same thing goes for drum heads.

I thought the drum tones on Habitual Levitations were great.

Thank you! Glad you like it.

Were they all natural or were any of them sound replaced? If I had to guess I’d say maybe the kick and a blended snare, but you can never be sure.

We definitely went for a more organic approach. The toms were all natural but with the snare and kick we used a blend of different tones. The kick we usually sound replace with my actual samples kick. We mic it and trigger it just for more options. We didn’t want an overwhelmingly clicky kick. So we just used microphones. The snare however we used a blend of my actual snare and another sampled one.

Is it important to you to keep the tempos as close as possible to an album recording or do you sometimes mess with them a bit depending on the vibe of a show?

I play to a click live and for the most part use the same tempos as on the record. We’ve always recorded to a click or a temp map. There are a couple songs that we’ve taken down in tempo live. We just all agreed it sounds and feels better. We really do want it to be as accurate to the record as possible. Mood and anxiety can dictate your speed. I had a tendency to play the songs a lot faster live.

Do you always write your parts at the drumkit, or do you do any composing on a computer or on paper charts?

I usually write my parts on the drumset, but sometimes  a band mate will program a beat that sounds cool and I’ll just embellish it. Sometimes I write ideas down on paper.

I heard you’re playing on the new Job For A Cowboy record. Are you rehearsing with them much or is it mainly a situation where they send you the songs and you write your parts?

You pretty much guessed it. Right now I’m writing a lot of drum parts for the new Job For A Cowboy record. They have submitted songs structured to a drum machine, but they’ve given me liberties to do what I want. So while I’m on tour with Intronaut in Europe right now, I’m listening to the guitar tracks to a click, air drumming and imagining my parts. It’s strange but I have no choice. I don’t write out actual notation, but I make notes to myself and unorthodox charts that help me remember what’s going on in the song.

Since you’ve been doing more session work, have you had any inquiries from non-metal projects?

No one has really offered and haven’t really looked. I’d definitely be interested in doing something different. I’m capable of doing a blues or funk gig. Drum and bass? Probably the most thing out of character I’ve done was play for Cinema strange and Jesu.

Sacha told me that you’re hoping to have another Intronaut album written within roughly a year or so. 

I know Sacha has already started to write new songs. I can’t even think about writing with intronaut till after April. My “our” hands are full at the moment.

Any new progress on a new Murder Construct record?

Same thing goes for Murder Construct. I couldn’t tell you when we would be writing another album.

Intronaut

Intronaut’s Habitual Levitations was one of 2013’s best albums, in my humble opinion. It was released back in March, but if you haven’t picked it up, you still have time before the rapture. Get on that. Need convincing? Take a gander at the band’s just-released video for Harmonomicon, and see them on tour now in Europe with Scale The Summit, and this Spring in the US with Between the Buried and Me and Deafheaven.

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Chris Alfano has written about music and toured in bands since print magazines and mp3.com were popular. Once in high-school he hacked a friend's QBasic stick figure fighting game to add a chiptune metal soundtrack. Random attractive people still give him high-fives about that.