Pvris’ sticks­man on keep­ing the big live gigs

Rhythm - - CONTENTS - Words: Chris Barnes photos: Matt Vo­gel

Tour­ing at a pro­fes­sional level can be both ex­hil­a­rat­ing and frus­trat­ing. On the one hand you get to ex­pe­ri­ence the world with a cer­tain de­gree of lux­ury and play to thou­sands of de­voted fans; on the other, there are hours of press, pho­to­shoots, busi­ness meet­ings and flesh press­ing to con­tend with.

For Pvris live drum­mer Justin Nace, the lat­ter doesn’t cause him any headaches. It’s singer, guitarist and song­writer Lynn Gunn [aka Lyn­d­sey Gun­nulf­sen], guitarist/key­boardist Alex Babin­ski, and bassist/ key­boardist Brian Mac­Don­ald who fea­ture in the trio’s promo pic­tures, do most of the in­ter­views and record the mu­sic. Yet since 2013 Justin has been a vi­tal el­e­ment of the band’s live shows, adding a sonic and vis­ual boost that elevates their dark, groov­ing, synth-fu­elled pop rock.

While this means Justin is a rel­a­tively anonymous part of Pvris, that didn’t stop him earn­ing a nom­i­na­tion in Rhythm’s 2015 end-of-year polls in the Best New Drum­mer cat­e­gory, prov­ing you don’t need to be on the front­line to make an im­pact. Fol­low­ing up the band’s 2014 break­out al­bum

WhiteNoise, which fea­tured un­for­get­table hits in­clud­ing ‘St Pa­trick’ and ‘My House’, Pvris re­leased their new al­bum All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell in Au­gust. Both al­bums fea­ture the bold play­ing of rock ses­sion drum­mer Chris Kam­rada, but it’s Justin’s job to nail both the epic sound and unique feel of the band’s mu­sic on stage – a role he takes in­cred­i­bly se­ri­ously.

With the new al­bum re­leased and a string of Novem­ber UK dates, we wanted to find out what it takes to land – and keep – a high-pro­file gig as a live drum­mer, and dis­cover how Justin was able to in­ject his love of a fa­mous wiz­ard­ing world into his set up...

What’s your drum­ming story pre Pvris?

“I started drum­ming at a pretty young age. I got a kit when I was about six years old from my par­ents. I grew up with mu­sic. My dad played gui­tar in bands. See­ing his drum­mer was some­thing that al­ways re­ally fas­ci­nated me. I used to play around with the drums a lot, but I never took it se­ri­ously un­til I was about 12 or 13. I’m left handed and that was one thing that deterred me when I was younger. I went to take lessons when I was eight. The guy said he prob­a­bly wouldn’t teach me un­less I switched to right handed. Be­ing eight I was like ‘ugh’. From then on I taught my­self. I used to play to CDs. When I was grow­ing up I lis­tened to Nir­vana, AC/DC – ba­si­cally mu­sic from the ’60s to the ’80s, the stuff my par­ents lis­tened to. Now I wish I had taken lessons, but it’s just one of those things. At the time I wasn’t su­per keen; be­ing young I didn’t fully un­der­stand what the benefits would have been.”

Did you play in bands?

“My brother and I started a band way back when we were in high school. We did that for al­most seven years, un­til 2011 or so. We won Bat­tle Of The Bands com­pe­ti­tions to play the Vans Warped Tour. Then we had some mild suc­cess in our lo­cal Philadel­phia/ Pennsylvania area. In 2011 I got a call from Pvris’ cur­rent man­age­ment who were working with a band called Ver­saEmerge. They were on Fu­eled By Ra­men records and they had their first al­bum out. I was sup­posed to play drums for them and tour with those guys. There was maybe a year and a half of things start­ing up and fall­ing by the way­side, and sched­ules get­ting changed. It fell through, they de­cided to drop off their la­bel and things just flat­tened out with that. That was a real bum­mer ac­tu­ally be­cause it was my first proper op­por­tu­nity to hit the road and play some mu­sic.”

The re­al­i­ties of the in­dus­try! So how did the Pvris gig come about?

“I was ac­tu­ally down vis­it­ing [pro­ducer] Blake Har­nage who did the first Pvris record. I was on va­ca­tion down in Florida and he hap­pened to be do­ing Pvris’ first al­bum the fol­low­ing week. He said to me, ‘There’s this band and I’m working on their record. I don’t think they have a drum­mer but you should do an au­di­tion video and see how it goes, I’ll talk to man­age­ment.’ I did that, they loved it and I’ve been with Pvris ever since! I started at the end of 2013 and the first tour I did with them was be­gin­ning of 2014. It was be­fore the first record [ WhiteNoise] came out.”

So you joined when WhiteNoise was tak­ing shape?

“The first al­bum was writ­ten but a lot of the stuf wasn’t ac­tu­ally fin­ished, it was still in the demo process. When we started play­ing shows, ev­ery­thing we were learn­ing was pretty much the older songs and the stuff off the EP prior to that first al­bum. We would play one or two of the new ones that weren’t fin­ished. I re­mem­ber ‘St Pa­trick’ was one of the first songs that we played live be­fore the record even came out.”

When you heard those songs, did you have a sense that the band was des­tined for big things?

“None of us knew any of this was go­ing to take off like it did. Ev­ery day we’re blown away and very thank­ful for where it’s gone. When I first au­di­tioned and they said they wanted me in the band I had run into dif­fer­ent friends – ei­ther mu­tual ones they knew, or peo­ple that had come across them – and they were like, ‘Those guys are gonna be huge, it’s gonna be awe­some, their stuff sounds so great’. Put­ting out the al­bum I know all of us had a lot of anx­i­ety. I re­mem­ber back in 2014 when we got the CDs for the first time, we were sat out­side the van look­ing at them and go­ing, ‘Al­right, this is it. We’ll see where this goes, this could go awe­some, or it could go south.’ But we’re do­ing what we love, we’re play­ing our hearts out ev­ery night and that’s all we re­ally can do. It’s gone ten­fold com­pared to what we thought it would have the abil­ity to do.”

Drums are a key part of the Pvris sound. Do you feel the weight of re­spon­si­bil­ity to get the sound and feel right on stage?

“For sure. Chris Kam­rada played drums on the al­bums and he to­tally smashed it. [Drums] are a big back­bone of Pvris’ mu­sic. There are plenty of lay­ers that go through all the songs with dif­fer­ent synths and elec­tronic parts, but a lot of the feel that you’re get­ting and the drive from many of the songs is based on the drums. That’s kind of the driv­ing force be­hind it. I just do my best ev­ery night to try and hold it down and give it my all. When I’m play­ing I’m feel­ing it.”

How much prac­tice do you do away from the band to stay on top of your game?

“I do a pretty de­cent amount. We spend a lot of time on the road, but while the new record was be­ing done we had a cou­ple of months off. I was able to re­ally sit down and play as much as I could. Most days if I’m home I’ll sit down and play for be­tween an hour and two hours. When we’re on the road con­stantly I have a prac­tice pad. But when you’re play­ing the same set ev­ery night you don’t get a whole lot of op­por­tu­nity out­side of a quick sound­check to sit down and play. You can feel like you hit a plateau when you’re on the road be­cause it’s hard to progress. When I’m home I try to take ad­van­tage of that, sit be­hind the drums and play dif­fer­ent styles and push my­self.”

When you do solo prac­tice, do you find your play­ing has im­proved once you get back on tour?

“For sure. Most of the time I’m fol­low­ing what was on the record, but more re­cently we’ve done a cou­ple of songs where we tune it up a bit. It’ll be like, ‘Hey, maybe this time in this cho­rus, in­stead of play­ing on the drum pad we’ll play it live and you do some­thing.’ I’ll go off on it and do my own thing and it al­lows me to ex­press my­self a lit­tle bit more. When I’m home and I get to play around with stuff it’s nice to come back fresh and have some ideas that I can play around with.”

You have to be a de­cent groove drum­mer to play Pvris songs.

“It’s nice be­cause it is groovy and it al­lows me to em­pha­sise that side of my play­ing. I don’t con­sider my­self a su­per-math­e­mat­i­cal or tech­ni­cal drum­mer. It’s tough to be su­per-math­e­mat­i­cal with the way that I’m play­ing be­cause I’m flail­ing around and swing­ing my head around and stuff. I’m feel­ing the song and the mu­sic and I’m en­joy­ing my­self, and that’s the kind of en­ergy that I like to put into it. That al­lows me to re­ally get into it and have more of a feel­ing and con­nect in with Brian on bass.”

“If there’s a time when we don’t play for a while, when we come back af­ter that first show I def­i­nitely have a solid ban­gover”

Have you ever an suf­fered in­jury be­cause of the way you play?

“I might not have the best pos­ture while play­ing drums. I’m go­ing at it full force as much as I can and I’m bent over a lot, but the main injuries I’ve had is whack­ing my knuck­les! That just hap­pens ev­ery once in a while. I try to fo­cus as much as I can and I’m al­ways stretch­ing. That’s one of the big­gest things I do be­fore go­ing on stage. I know it’s one of those things that I have to be smart about and pay a lit­tle more at­ten­tion to as I get older.”

How do you stay in shape on the road?

“Most of us in the band like to run and work out reg­u­larly. If there’s a time when we don’t play for a while, when we come back af­ter that first show the next day I def­i­nitely have a solid ban­gover. Af­ter the sec­ond show I’m usu­ally pretty good, but af­ter that first show I might wake up a lit­tle sore.

“I’m a vi­ta­min guy. My brother is a per­sonal trainer back home. He’s big into it and he makes me look bad! I try my best to eat healthily. Some­times it’s tough when you’re con­stantly go­ing and you’re trav­el­ling a lot. I have a ve­gan sup­ple­ment called Pro­tein & Greens. It gives me a full serv­ing of veg­eta­bles ev­ery day and it means I get pro­tein af­ter a work­out.”

The new Pvris tracks have a pretty big drum sound. Have you had to change your set-up for the live shows to match?

“Tun­ing-wise noth­ing too much. Per­son­ally, I like to have low-sound­ing toms, snare drums with a nice fat tone and a good crack. There are cer­tain set­tings that my­self and our front of house guy will talk about. Some­times tun­ing them up al­lows them to cut through the mix a lit­tle bit, but my set-up has stayed fairly sim­i­lar. One thing I did change up was my cym­bals. I was a big A Cus­tom guy with a lot of bril­liant cym­bals. I love them be­cause they cut through the mix well, but they are very bright. I love to have nice clean, bril­liant-fin­ish cym­bals and on the road I’m clean­ing them con­stantly, but on the nights when Lyn­d­sey spits some wa­ter up in the air that’s it done for the night!

“I switched over to pri­mar­ily K and K Cus­tom cym­bals, so more of a tra­di­tional fin­ish. They def­i­nitely help with the live mix be­cause they’re

not as abra­sive and they can get bet­ter tones through the front end in terms of front-of-house. They’re not so pierc­ing to the ears and they don’t bleed so much into other mi­cro­phones. I’m su­per thank­ful to Zild­jian for tak­ing care of me and al­ways help­ing me out, let­ting me try out dif­fer­ent cym­bals to get the right sound that I want and that works for ev­ery­one else as well.”

What about elec­tron­ics?

“We don’t do any kind of trig­ger­ing. The only elec­tron­ics I have is the SPD-SX. On this new record there are so many lay­ers and there’s so much in­volved with each song, but we as a band play ev­ery­thing live that we can. We don’t want to throw things on tracks.”

Do you play to a click?

“When we first started out I was the only one that had the click so ev­ery­one was de­pend­ing on me. I used to use my iPhone with the click tracks on there. It’s cave­man-es­que, but that’s the way we got through it in the be­gin­ning! Now we have a sys­tem where ev­ery­body’s on in-ear mon­i­tors, we all have our own mix.”

You’re not an of­fi­cial mem­ber. It must be sat­is­fy­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence tour­ing the world at a high level without the added pres­sures ex­pe­ri­enced by Lynn, Brian and Alex?

“I def­i­nitely have a lit­tle less stress when it comes to that. Some of their press can take hours and it just gives me a lit­tle more down­time to work with. It’s nice get­ting to meet fans that come out to the shows and ap­pre­ci­ate what I do and show me love when I’m not on the meet and greets and what­not. It’s very hum­bling and means the world to me. I’m thank­ful just to be out here get­ting the op­por­tu­nity to play drums, re­gard­less. I’m get­ting to do what I love and I’m with great peo­ple, ev­ery­body’s very hum­bled and it’s nice to be sur­rounded by those guys. We’re with each other for 10 or 11 months of the year. Some­times it’s tough to spend that much time with the same peo­ple, but we re­ally don’t have any prob­lems be­cause we’re all best friends and en­joy each other’s time. Get­ting the chance to see the world is more than I could ever ask and I’m thank­ful for that op­por­tu­nity alone.”

Pvris has quite a fol­low­ing in the UK...

“I’d say that Eng­land is my favourite place to tour. It’s like a home away from home. I grew up lov­ing ev­ery­thing there is about the UK – not just be­cause I love Harry-Pot­ter (see box­out) – but the cul­ture, the build­ings, the his­tory. My­self and Lyn­d­sey are big fans of the ar­chi­tec­ture. We walk around and check out the old cathe­drals. The shows are al­ways amaz­ing, the fans are in­sane and we have such a good time. The BBC plays our stuff and that’s awe­some. The fact that you have such a great ra­dio cul­ture and that the kids come out and sup­port us is to­tally awe­some.”

“I’m get­ting to do what I love and I’m with great peo­ple, ev­ery­body’s very hum­bled and it’s nice to be sur­rounded by those guys”

“It is groovy and it al­lows me to em­pha­sise that side of my play­ing,” says Justin of Pvris’ mu­sic

Justin’s fre­netic play­ing style has, sur­pris­ingly, re­sulted in no injuries – ex­cept for grazed knuck­les

Justin’s SJC maple drums in off-white fin­ish and Zild­jian cym­bals, plus cus­tom SJC Harry Pot­ter-in­spired snare

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