Daniel adair

Nick­el­back’s drum­mer talks through his ca­reer

Rhythm - - CON­TENTS - Words: Chris barnes

It’s been 12 years since the world first heard Canadian drum­mer Daniel Adair’s blis­ter­ing drum in­tro on ‘Fol­low You Home’, the hard rock­ing opener to Nick­el­back’s fifth al­bum All

The Right Rea­sons. The al­bum, Daniel’s first record­ing af­ter join­ing the band, has since achieved Di­a­mond sta­tus (10 mil­lion copies) in the US and the band en­joys con­sis­tent suc­cess, re­leas­ing a new al­bum, Feed The Ma­chine, in June.

“But Daniel’s pro­fes­sional drum­ming ca­reer started much ear­lier than Nick­el­back. From his time as a mu­sic store worker in Van­cou­ver, Daniel knew he wanted to play drums for a liv­ing. Along­side work­ing hard on his chops, he be­gan hus­tling lo­cal mu­si­cians to add stu­dio and stage hours to his mu­si­cal CV. Around that time he also started a long and fruit­ful re­la­tion­ship with lo­cal fu­sion gui­tar mas­ter Dave Mar­tone, spread­ing his ac­com­plished Weckl and Vin­nie-in­spired chops on six al­bums over the last 20 years. Daniel’s big break came in 2002 when he landed the gig with US rock­ers 3 Doors Down at the height of their fame. Tour­ing and record­ing at that level was a steep learn­ing curve, but it meant Daniel was bat­tle-ready when the op­por­tu­nity came to join Nick­el­back just as their pop­u­lar­ity ex­ploded.

It’s been a mon­u­men­tal jour­ney, only made pos­si­ble by hard work and tak­ing his ca­reer into his own hands. Daniel re­veals the lessons learned, plus why he’s em­brac­ing the head­set mic and how build­ing a home stu­dio is in­sur­ance for the fu­ture.

Was there a mo­ment when you knew you wanted to play drums?

“I think it was pretty early. I started bang­ing around on my dad’s drums and re­ally got the bug for some rea­son. When you’re a teenager you feel a lit­tle lost, you know what I mean? It was some­thing I con­nected with. I re­mem­ber one day I was drum­ming at home and my brother’s friend walked in and was like, ‘Holy s**t man, you sound like Tommy Lee or some­thing!’. That was the first time that any­one had ever heard me play drums. It was an af­fir­ma­tion that I could play and I wasn’t just delu­sional.

“I had an in­ter­est­ing up­bring­ing. It was kind of a dys­func­tional fam­ily so mu­sic was re­ally there for me. I would sit in bed lis­ten­ing to Rush’s, Exit...StageLeft and hear­ing the crowd cheer­ing. I was blown away by this mu­sic and I wanted one day to make other peo­ple feel like that. It was a pretty big mo­ment. I guess I was about 15 or 16.

“Fast for­ward a bunch of years and I was work­ing at a mu­sic store. I’d never re­ally played live be­fore so that was go­ing to be the true test if I could han­dle it. There was this lo­cal duo called Si­b­ling Ri­vals. I was like, ‘You guys don’t have a drum­mer, can I come out and play for free?’ I just wanted to get some ex­pe­ri­ence. We went out and jammed at this bar and I loved it. They started hir­ing me and it went from there.”

Look­ing back, is there any­thing you wish you’d done dif­fer­ently with your early drum­ming ed­u­ca­tion?

“For sure. I def­i­nitely want to work on lots of stuff still. I was too caught up in tech­nique, to the point where it was paral­y­sis by over-anal­y­sis. I was just think­ing way too much about how the stick works in the

“In hind­sight [join­ing Nick­el­back] was a no-brainer, but at the time it was re­ally hard. I had record guys call­ing say­ing, ‘Don’t do this, man, you’re jump­ing to a sink­ing ship.’ But it kind of all worked out, didn’t it?”

hand, the ful­crum and stuff. There were a lot of years where I started to get more and more tense and things weren’t work­ing be­cause I painted my­self into this men­tal cor­ner rather than just re­ly­ing on the foun­da­tion I’d built. In that pe­riod I kinda got away from the whole Moeller tech­nique I’d worked a lot on, that nat­u­ral loose­ness and the whip­ping mo­tion. I’m ac­tu­ally in the process of un­do­ing that right now.”

As you’ve got a lit­tle older have you be­come aware of the lim­i­ta­tions in your body ?

“It’s so funny you say that. For a cou­ple of years now my play­ing has def­i­nitely re­ceded. It’s not for a lack of prac­tis­ing. I have my mic to my left. I sit on my drum throne and turn my head up­wards and left to sing. My chi­ro­prac­tor says if any­one worked in an of­fice like that they’d tell them to quit their job! I sing back­ups to 85-90 per­cent of the songs, so the whole time I’m sit­ting with my head up and to the left, my back’s twisted and I’m smash­ing drums. Over 10 years of do­ing that, my hips have shifted a bit. The body is a sys­tem of pul­leys, so if things aren’t in line they stop work­ing. I started to no­tice my groin mus­cles would start to hurt, and my hip flexor, then all of sud­den it was hard to do dou­bles with my foot. I felt like I was fall­ing off bal­ance. I didn’t know what was go­ing on so I prac­tised more, but that only made things worse be­cause I was not aligned prop­erly. When one lit­tle thing changes ev­ery­thing else starts to change. I’m un­wrap­ping all of that now.

“That’s why I have the head­set mic now. That’s one thing I never wanted to do, be­cause it’s a head­set mic! It’s got to be done to be able to keep play­ing, but, man! At least now I can sit up straight and look for­ward when I’m singing and not be trapped in this one twisted po­si­tion. It’s hard to be a singing drum­mer. There was def­i­nitely a dark pe­riod there for the last al­bum or two.”

How did you your pro­fes­sional ca­reer take off?

“By the time I got the 3 Doors Down gig I was def­i­nitely ready, play­ing-wise. I had an­other band, which is in­stru­men­tal pro­gres­sive stuff and I was play­ing in bars all over the place, in dif­fer­ent types of bands and do­ing lots of stu­dio stuff.

“I was def­i­nitely hus­tling. That’s the rea­son I learned to sing back-ups. How can I get a gig be­fore the other guy? If a band leader came into my store to rent a PA I’d be like, ‘Hey, you got a drum­mer?’ A cou­ple of singers would say, ‘Man, if you could sing a cou­ple of songs lead and just give us a break…’ I picked 12 or 15 hits, ter­ri­ble stuf like ‘Boot Scootin’ Boo­gie’ [by Brooks & Dunn], OMC’s ‘How Bizarre’. I’d learn how to sing them lead. I had to go through that chal­lenge of play­ing the drums, the rhythm of the vo­cals and then re­mem­ber­ing lyrics. I’d go to my lit­tle re­hearsal spot in New West­min­ster BC and ham­mer it for hours a day. It was a lot of dis­ci­pline, a lot of hus­tle, a lot of luck and, hope­fully, a bit of nat­u­ral ta­lent. It seemed to work.”

You spent three years with 3 Doors Down. What’s the big­gest les­son you learned from them?

“I guess there were two things: play­ing-wise it was re­ally ben­e­fi­cial. I spent a lot of time on the Moeller tech­nique, that re­ally loose grip so you can hit with a lot of power and not hurt your­self. I still don’t have any pain, thank­fully, af­ter all these years.

“On the other side I learned that you gotta re­ally work on try­ing to keep the peace and get along with peo­ple. It can be very frus­trat­ing and peo­ple can get strung out and you’re tired from the road. I’ve seen a lot of guys get fired from their gigs be­cause they ei­ther dig their heels in about cer­tain things, or they don’t think they’re get­ting enough recog­ni­tion and you can see this re­sent­ment hap­pen­ing in the band. I’m not say­ing be a yes man, but just try to find cre­ative ways to make these sit­u­a­tions work. That might mean just to shut up and don’t say any­thing. A lot of great bands never last past two or three al­bums. You look at Soundgar­den and Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots. They have one or two good al­bums, go and tour the world with each other, they end up fight­ing and that’s it.”

3 Doors Down co-head­lined with Nick­el­back. Did that lead to you tak­ing the Nick­el­back gig?

“I kinda knew the [Nick­el­back] guys from

“I was too caught up in tech­nique, to the point where it was paral­y­sis by over-anal­y­sis. I was think­ing way too much about how the stick works in the hand, the ful­crum and stuff”

Van­cou­ver. Ran­domly, when Nick­el­back was record­ing TheLongRoad al­bum, a friend of mine would watch Chad [Kroeger, Nick­el­back front­man]’s house when he was on the road. We’d ac­tu­ally jam at Chad’s house. I’d play on his Ay­otte kit with the 28" bass drum. They were record­ing ‘Satur­day Night’s Al­right For Fight­ing’ for Hockey Night in Canada. The drum­mer was on va­ca­tion or some­thing and so Chad would just have me at the stu­dio.

“The kit had clear Diplo­mats on the toms and some weird hy­draulic head on the snare. They didn’t know what they were do­ing be­cause there was no drum­mer or drum tech there. I was as­sis­tant man­ager at the mu­sic store so I had keys and I said, ‘I’m go­ing to take these off and go swap them for some real heads’. I ended up tun­ing it and record­ing the pre-pro­duc­tion ver­sion of that song with Chad. It was pretty cool. We had that lit­tle bit of his­tory. Chad and I have talked about it and he said since then he was al­ways keep­ing his eye on me. That was nice to hear. He ob­vi­ously liked what I did that day.”

Was it easy to leave 3 Doors Down?

“At the time it wasn’t. The Long Road wasn’t as suc­cess­ful as 3 Doors Down’s Sil­ver Side Up. Nick­el­back were wrap­ping up their world tour, but 3 Doors Down had just had a Num­ber One rock sin­gle and the al­bum be­fore that sold three or four mil­lion copies. Ev­ery­one in my cor­ner wanted me to stay but, I don’t know, Chad wrote a song with San­tana, he did the The­ory Of A Dead man al­bum, he wrote ‘Hero’ by him­self for Spi­der­man. This guy does not stop.

“In hind­sight it was a no-brainer, but at the time it was re­ally hard. I had record guys call­ing say­ing, ‘Don’t do this man, you’re jump­ing to a sink­ing ship.’ But it kind of all worked out, didn’t it?”

You went straight into record­ing Al­lTheRight

Rea­son and things went in­ter­stel­lar for Nick­el­back. What are your mem­o­ries from that pe­riod?

“I won the lot­tery, twice. I re­mem­ber when I got the 3 Doors Down gig, I was sit­ting on that plane fly­ing to Alabama and I can re­mem­ber how it felt. I was just glow­ing. And then it hap­pened again, which is pretty lucky! To get that type of gig that’s even an­other step up. The stand­out mo­ment was that it was re­ally nice to be in a band with fel­low Cana­di­ans. We all grew up with the same CBC shows (like you guys have the BBC) and Canada-only bands.

“Chad is a very ex­treme guy, ev­ery­thing’s over the top. The show is over the top, the py­rotech­nics, it was just awe­some, such an ex­cit­ing time. I guess I can only en­cap­su­late it in the way I felt again, which was very for­tu­nate and very ex­cited. I was ex­cited to get up there and prove my­self with this band and their fans.”

‘Fol­low You Home’, the open­ing track on Al­lThe

RightRea­sons kicks off with a mon­ster drum in­tro. Was that your way of an­nounc­ing your ar­rival in the band?

“That was a good, ‘Hey, I’m here, the new guy’ mo­ment! It’s funny how it worked out. We had that tune and Joey our en­gi­neer and Chad were like, ‘There should be some kind of drum fill or drum beat in­tro on this’. I think they went to grab a cof­fee. I kept drum­ming. I was work­ing on some Vir­gil Donati dou­ble-kick stuff at the time soI just started play­ing that, but I didn’t think it would ever make it. Then Chad goes, ‘That’s awe­some!’ Even Chad’s brother, Mike, was say­ing maybe it was a lit­tle too com­pli­cated, but ev­ery­one loved it. It’s per­fect from my point of view!”

Re­flect­ing on your de­vel­op­ment as a drum­mer, how do you think your play­ing has evolved through your ca­reer?

“I’m def­i­nitely more ac­cu­rate. Early on with 3Doors and with Nick­el­back, you’re full of p**s and vine­gar, you’re swing­ing your arms and smash­ing and bash­ing. I used to hit my knuck­les on the rim a lot, like a cave­man. I toned that back and found my­self be­ing a lit­tle more ac­cu­rate and not serv­ing up all this su­per­flu­ous drum­ming. I’d lis­ten to some board tapes over the years and go, ‘Wow, that’s busy!’ Even some nights Chad would go, ‘Dude, you got the gig, don’t worry about it.’ Then there’s just a calm­ness in gen­eral, be­ing used to do­ing this. I’m a vet­eran, I guess you could say. Just to have the headspace of not be­ing freaked out play­ing in front of 10,000 peo­ple.”

You’ve just re­leased a new al­bum FeedTheMa­chine. Tell me about the writ­ing process for this one.

“This last one had some dif­fer­ent stuff on it for us, which is nice. Ryan our gui­tarist, he was like, ‘Man we just keep writ­ing the same stuff.’ He was feel­ing like the gui­tarist stuck in the same rhythm all the time. He asked me to record a bunch of loops, dif­fer­ent kinds of drum beats. I went back to my stu­dio and made four or five tem­pos, did some stuff in three, lots in four, half time, dou­ble time, 5/4, 7/4. He ended up pick­ing this re­ally cool 140bpm, 3/4 beat with busy toms and stuf. He wrote a riff for it and it’s on the al­bum. It al­most sounds like pro­gres­sive me­tal! I got to stretch a bit on this al­bum.”

You recorded your drum parts at your house...

“I bought a new house about three years ago. I have 10 acres out in the val­ley from Van­cou­ver. I have chick­ens, it’s heav­ily wooded, and the guy who owned it be­fore was an alu­minium fab­ri­ca­tor so he had this big shop with 18-foot ceil­ings. As soon as I saw that I was like, ‘I gotta buy this place’. My stu­dio is 500 feet away from the house. It’s com­pletely sound­proofed, I did it up right. We did the whole al­bum drum-wise at my house. The guys would email the tracks over. They’d be at Chad’s house writ­ing, they’d send me the stems, then they’d keep work­ing on an­other song, I would do a bunch of passes, send them back, then I would punch in some fills.It was great. I could go out there and track, then pick up my kids from school, come back, track. It’s such a great sound­ing room. I’ve got all the right pre-amps and mics.”

Set­ting up that stu­dio is also a great in­vest­ment for the fu­ture.

“I look at it that way too. When I put the money into the stu­dio I was like, you know what, if s**t hits the fan I have a com­mer­cial stu­dio I can rent out, I can teach out of it, I can play for other guys. I think it was a good move. It would only ben­e­fit me to em­brace tech­nol­ogy and wrap my head around it. Maybe I’ll learn how to mix and stuff. I don’t know if I want to go that far into it – when I do some­thing I try to do it right, which means it takes a lot of time. Or I could just for­get all that and go fly my plane!”

Daniel keep­ing it loose on stage with Chad Kroeger (Nick­el­back)

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