Visual Cues: an Interview with Rosetta’s BJ McMurtrie

Rosetta have been one of the constants of the metal scene for ten years now, a planet-sized rock of reliable quality in the space metal genre. They’ve had zero lineup changes and a steady growth as they’ve refined their sound. The band’s newest opus, The Anaesthete, tops all previous works of theirs, and just sounds massive, thanks to also-reliably stellar production from Andrew Schneider.

I took the time to speak with Rosetta’s drummer, BJ McMurtrie, about all things percussive, including how to make your drums scale such a massive wall of guitars.

One of the defining features of Rosetta has always been volume. Do you make a point of hitting as hard as possible to cut through the mix or do you assume the PA will pick up the slack?

I never assume the PA will do it’s job, mostly because, unless we’re playing some big venue, the PA will barely push Armine’s vocals through. I’ll usually hit a little harder in certain situations, but it’s mostly compensation for not being able to hear myself, I’ve never made it a conscious decision to try and match Matt or Dave decibel for decibel.

Did you have a background in marching band? I hear a lot of those specific rudiments in your playing, but I’m a guitarist so what do I know?

I’ve never played in marching band or jazz band. I did play drum kit in the pit orchestra in high school for the musicals.

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 Can you give me a breakdown on your kit, cymbals, pedal, etc? You’ve been using the same drumset forever, right?

I used to play a blue Mapex V-Series kit, but recently (in the past couple years) started playing a beat up Pearl Export series. It’s old and clunky, but it’s big and heavy sounding. My snare drum is an Orange County Percussion maple, I forget the series though. I only use a 4-piece, and at pretty standard sizes. My snare is a 14inch, rack tom is 13inch, floor tom is 16inch, and the kick drum is a 22inch. I use a Tama iron cobra double pedal (that probably needs servicing, as I’ve had it for over a decade), and a DW 2-leg hi-hat stand. All my cymbals are Sabian, I’ve just loved them from day one. At the moment I have a 21-inch AA raw bell dry ride, and a 20-inch SR (Sabian reissue) heavy ride, and a pair of 14-inch mismatched Sabian hi-hats (mismatched because the top one broke and I had to replace it with another type). I also play pretty much exclusively Evans drumheads.

Your cymbal setup is pretty sparse. Have you ever been temped to throw a Zil-bel or trash china or whatnot in there? A tambourine on the hi-hat maybe?

I’ve joked in using a cowbell or a tambourine, but those are a no-go for the other dudes. I had a Sabian 16-inch china, and have used it on a couple records, though it’s been broken for a couple years, and I have yet to get a new one, so you’ll hardly ever see me use it live.

Some Rosetta songs have sections that repeat for quite a while. Do you ever have to count out the number of repeats to know when to change or does it all become second nature eventually?

Eventually after playing the songs enough on tour, you just know when to change at most parts. In the early days of Rosetta, we never ever had any set times for parts (except when we had to record it), and we’d rely on visual cues from one another on stage to make the changes happen. Nowadays we’re a little bit more structured, and older songs tend to flow naturally, but we still rely heavily on visual cues from each other. Not only is it nice to not follow a routine every time we play a song, but there’s interaction with each other, rather than just robotically playing a song. It’s more organic that way.

You just recorded with Andrew Schneider again, for the third time if I remember correctly. Is he still micing all the drums on the top and bottom? Did he do anything differently this time? You’ve always gotten great tones through him, but I think The Aesthete tops the previous albums.

He mic’ed up everything. Every nook and corner in the room had a microphone stuck in it. Multiple in the kick, top, bottom of every drum, and I think the snare alone had about 4 mics on it. There was a lot to choose from while mixing the drums, all bases were covered in terms of how we would want it to sound in the end. Nothing really was done differently from before. He pretty much just mics me up and lets me hit things, occasionally telling me to hit harder…and harder.

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Did you use all of your usual drums on the record or was there a sweet 70s snare or something that you borrowed at the studio?

For one song we did use a different snare. It was a more ‘doomy’ song, and Andrew felt we needed something that just exploded when I hit it, so we grabbed a snare that was sitting in the hall and tuned it way down.

 What’s your gaming rig on the road? Laptop I’m assuming?

I have a MacBook Pro that I use for work at home (video/audio production and the like), so it handles most graphics intensive games very well. Unfortunately on tour I actually have very little down time to play games, mostly because I’m usually the one driving (if we’re in the US), but on the occasion I’m not needing to be responsible, I have various games loaded on via steam, and even some emulators for NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis.

 Thanks for your time, BJ. Anything to say in closing?

Be serious about music, but don’t always take it seriously…or something like that.

Written by

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.