Folks, I am not normally one to seek advice - not to say that I "know it all" by any stretch, but after playing bass for almost 28 years I have been around the block a time or two and have a pretty fair handle on most situations I encounter as a musician.
I currently find myself embroiled in a situation that is somewhat perplexing. Oh, sure, I know what my initial knee-jerk reaction is, but I want to be sure I am being reasonable and not overreacting to the problem.
Backtrack a few months - I get a Facebook message from a band wanting me to audition on bass. I learn the five requested songs, show up at the guitar player's house and burn up the audition. No worries. A couple of weeks later the lead singer leaves the band - long story short, he is kind of a tool and an violent alcoholic. The guitarist, drummer and I soldier on with me on lead vocals. I'm not thrilled by the additional responsibilities, but I'll deal - the guitarist is a great guy and we see 100% eye-to-eye on material and work ethic.
Here is where the problem begins: the drummer.
From the first rehearsal (scratch that - even from the audition) the drummer struck me as being laid back, which I normally don't mind. Trouble is, he is laid-back to the point of laziness. I was concerned during the rehearsal that he was leaned back on his drum throne, back against the wall, slouched over playing. The guitarist explained it away that he was just tired from his job, and I bought it.
As it turns out, this was the just the first warning sign.
My biggest troubles with this drummer, summarized:
- He shows up for rehearsal without knowing the material. He expects that he should be able to "wing it". His drums are stored at the guitarist's house where we rehearse, but if we aren't all together rehearsing he doesn't touch them - he doesn't take them home or stop by to practice on his own time, even though the access is always there. We are still working on simple songs we started off with months ago and he isn't getting any better at them.
- He is late for every single rehearsal, even if he is the one that sets the practice time.
- He is impossible to keep on-task during the few gigs we have had - he will get into a conversation with members of the audience while he is on stage, in the middle of a set. He will constantly ask, "What song is next?" even though he has a printed set list I have provided by his kit. He will want to change the set list he approved, on stage, during a show, and is perfectly willing to stop the show to argue about it.
- This one is a good one - the last gig we did was a benefit show for a drummer who recently passed away - we only had a half-hour to play. Our drummer actually took a bathroom break mid-set with only one song left in our time slot - there is nothing quite as awkward as standing on stage in front of an expectant crowd unable to continue until the drummer gets back from the little boys' room.
I could go on and on, but you get the general idea. He won't take his (four-piece) kit home because "it's too much work", won't stop by the guitarist's house to practice (even though the offer stands and the guitarist would love the opportunity to rehearse with him more), and doesn't have another kit to play on.
The flip side of the story:
The guitarist and I get together at least once a week for 4 - 6 hours to work up material - this is in addition to any regularly-scheduled rehearsals.
There is not a day that goes by that I don't take at minimum 45 minutes to an hour to work on learning songs and to push my technique/theory.
The guitarist rehearses at minimum an hour a day.
I download the song lyrics to learn. I set up the Dropbox we use to share the songs over the web so everyone is working off of the same version. I pitch-correct anything in dropped tuning so we don't need to retune or keep spare guitars/basses handy for learning. I learn my bass parts and vocals and have them down cold for rehearsal.
I provide/transport/setup/teardown the entire small PA system in addition to my bass rig for rehearsal and gigs.
No kidding - I practice more in a month that the drummer does in a year. That is in no way an exaggeration - in actuality it possibly somewhat understated. His time feel is atrocious - the tempo changes all the way through the song.
Last week the guitarist and I had enough - we took the drummer to task for wasting everyone's time, since he was showing up unrehearsed for every practice. I'm not asking the guy to be the next Neil Peart, just to know the songs. It's three and four-chord rock and roll - I'm not asking him to play Dream Theater.
The drummer was furious - he is "confident in his abilities" and has "always learned songs at practice" in past bands. I told him that while that might work in a high school garage-rock band, we didn't have that option - I live 45 minutes away from he and the guitarist and I work two jobs. I just don't have time to wait on him to learn the songs *at* practice.
He won't acknowledge that any sort of problem exists with his playing or his work ethic. A couple of my drummer friends tried encouraging him after our two disastrous gigs and he unfortunately took their encouragement as high praise.
He is basically a really great guy from the standpoint of being a friend, but as a drummer he is one of the absolute worst I have ever worked with.
Fast-forward a bit - for New Year's Eve my wife and I had a little party for friends - nothing lavish, just pretzels, punch, etc., and everyone brought additional snacks, etc. She was wondering if my guitarist and I would provide some live music for everyone for fun. On a whim, I called a drummer friend of mine that I thought might like to jam, thinking he was already in another band but might have the time and inclination. As it turns out, he doesn't currently have a band, loved the idea of playing together, loved the material we had chosen, showed up early to set up his kit, knew the material perfectly with only a few day's notice, and played two incredible sets with energy and enthusiasm. The guy is 51 (the guitarist and I are both 43, BTW) and has an incredibly supportive wife and family (his son is first-chair percussionist at the local high school). He practices every day and is like a human metronome - he and I lock in with a precision I forgot that I could have with a drummer.
This all said, my obvious knee-jerk reaction is to fire the current drummer and hire the other guy. To my way of thinking, this isn't rocket science - right now I *dread* rehearsals, and I already told both the guitarist and the existing drummer there is no way I will book another gig until we have our act together.
My questions for you, my bass-playing brethren, are these:
Am I overreacting to the drummer's apparent lack of interest in improving individually and as a band?
Given the situation I described, what would you do?
Is there something I can do to possibly impress upon the drummer the depth of the problem in such a way that he might come to the realization of how serious a problem the guitarist and I think this is?
Here is my other problem - I don't enjoy drama. In fact, I loathe it. I play music for fun, I grant you, but I practice *hard* so when I step on stage I can relax and tear it up without being nervous. None of us have any aspirations of being the "next big thing", but the guitarist and I are conscientious about how we sound and how we are perceived by the audience and the venue management.
Anyone care to share their observations?
Have you found yourselves in similar situations in the past? How did you deal with it, what was the result, and in retrospect how might you have handled things differently?
This is weighing heavily on me right now - I hate being perceived as a "bad guy" by our existing drummer (he and the guitarist have a ten year history of jamming together), but I just don't see myself lowering my work ethic to indulge his laziness, nor do I see him raising the bar for his own practice habits. Any advice you folks could provide would be appreciated!