We head over to Matrix Studio Complex in London to catch up with drummer and producer Max Marlow. He has recently been using one of our drums, a 13”x7” Mahogany stave snare. It was previously a school table from 1970. We get his reaction and how he has incorporated this snare into his setup.
"I was really impressed with the character of this drum, particularly the resonance… it’s quite explosive. One of my first thoughts was “this snare has it’s own reverb” it’s hard to explain a sound in words! Ghost notes are nicely articulated, its a powerful and dynamic instrument. I could imagine this being very suited to someone playing James Brown-esque funk grooves, when it’s tuned up wayyy high this snare makes me think of Tower of Power. Great for breakbeats! Sams hardware choices are superb, the drum looks modern and tasteful and the natural finish lets the rich grain show through. I often struggle with traditional snare throw offs but this one felt responsive and smooth. I cranked this snare as high as it could go and played a tea towel on top, this made for a really punchy and short hip hop snare sound, the side stick sounded great in this tuning too."
Could you talk us through your setup and how you utilised the snare?
I have a small four piece kit in my studio that I use for recording, I have the toms from a Mapex M series and a vintage Beverly 20” kick drum. I use a mix of cymbal brands, I generally like darker vintage sounding cymbals. As my drum kit generally stays put I like to swap out snare drums and cymbals, experimenting with tuning and muffling to get different tonalities from the drums. My usual snare is a 14x6 so having a 13” snare to try out was inspiring me to make some breakbeats. At the end of the day I usually like to shred on the drums and blow off some steam and I found that this drum is great for that, it’s a really fun and exciting drum to play with.
How do drum sessions typically pan out at your studio?
I’m usually here by myself, engineering and then either delivering the production myself or sending files out to the producer or engineer that is working on it. What’s great about having my kit set up and ready to go at all times is that I can quickly turnaround drum takes and then get feedback from the other creatives involved without having to be in the same room. If the artist is here sometimes I get a little nervous and would prefer to be on my own. If I’m working for someone else they usually have a reference song that they want the drums to sound like, I try and tune and muffle the drums to sound like the reference and then will EQ and compress in the box. I use Logic or ProTools depending on who it’s for.
I know it is not solely drums you concentrate on, what else is a big focus for you?
I am mainly a writer, producer and engineer these days. I write and produce for other artists, it seems I end up working well with male singer songwriters. It’s a total accident but it is becoming a bit of a theme for me. I also have my own artist project under the moniker “Million”… I would describe it as funk influenced pop with electronic elements.
How did you get into this line of work?
From the age of 12 until 18 I wanted to be a session drummer. I decided to pursue production and writing around this time after I met the Swedish pop producer Max Martin, I was nearly in an American boy band but it fell through. I started listening heavily listening to sugary pop music at this point and began making tracks in Logic. While I was at University of Westminster, pursuing production and still doing little bits of session drumming I met an unsigned Declan McKenna and produced his song “Brazil”. It was instantly successful and lead me to meet producer writer Jonny Coffer. He helped me out a lot and I’ve stolen lots of production tricks off of him! After I finished my course at Westminster I worked there for a year before being asked to work for producer/writer/Snow Patrol band member Johnny McDaid. I worked for him at his studio and have now signed a joint publishing deal with him and B Unique. I am now working at my own studio in the Matrix, writing and producing songs as well as doing little bits of session drumming.
What have you been working on recently?
I worked on two tracks for Kodaline’s new album (with Johnny McDaid) that were released recently. I have recently been working with Declan McKenna, On a movie soundtrack for a film called “Surviving Christmas” and also a song for a new series of “The Moomins” which my Dad is particularly excited about.
From your experience, what advice would you give to someone pursuing this field of work?
I think you have to have a good working knowledge of technology these days, I couldn’t do remote session drumming if I didn’t have the engineering and production skills that I have acquired. I do a lot of different things so I would say that being a multi instrumentalist and a bit of a polymath really helps. I play drums, bass, piano, a bit of guitar, I write lyrics and sing badly. If you want to make your living from music in general you have to invest 10,000 hours of focused practice to be world class. If you are really hungry and really invest a lot of hours into your craft then you will end up with lots of opportunities and you’ll have the skills to make the most of it. No one really does just one thing anymore, even the best session musicians in the world nowadays can produce and mix their own music at least to some extent.
In recent years, what pieces of work or experience stands out the most for you and why?
“Brazil” was a turning point for me, it totally changed everything and made me realise that this could be a career for me. Working for Johnny has been awesome as he has been such a great mentor and I wouldn’t have a publishing deal or a studio if it wasn’t for him.
Is there anything that we should be keeping our eyes open for with future releases?
I plan to release some of my artist project “Million” in the new year and hopefully some Declan McKenna songs for his 2nd Album. Look out for Moomins!