by Ryan Meehan
Born September 8th 1982, Hannes Grossmann grew up in a musical family and started playing the piano at the age of 8. Two years later he chose the drums as second instrument, which soon should become his main passion. By learning different styles of drumming such as rock, jazz, fusion, funk and Latin and taking lessons with Canadian teacher Donnie MacKay, Hannes developed an own style by combining all these different musical approaches with extreme Metal drumming. Hannes’ got his first professional obligation in 2003, becoming a member of German Technical Death Metal band Necrophagist, a band which back then was rather unknown to most people. After recording and releasing the critically acclaimed album “Epitaph” in 2004 the underground status of Necrophagist changed completely: From 2005 until early 2007 Hannes played around 200 concerts with Necrophagist all over the world and gained popularity in the global metal scene. In 2007 Hannes left Necrophagist in order to finish his university degree. In order to accomplish an own musical vision, he joined an underground band named OBSCURA. His empty place behind the drums in Necrophagist was taken by drum legend Marco Minnemann, one of Hannes’ favorite and most influential drummers. In 2008 OBSCURA was able to receive a worldwide record deal with US label RELAPSE RECORDS and one year later the metal music press was stunned by the virtuosity the band showed on their album “Cosmogenesis”, which immediately cracked US billboard charts. In 2010 Hannes was invited to become part of BLOTTED SCIENCE, an extreme Metal super group featuring Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse) and Ron Jarzombek (Watchtower, Spastic Ink), with whom he recorded the critically acclaimed EP “The Animation of Entomology” – released in late 2011. In 2011 Hannes was extremely productive. Not only recording and releasing the BLOTTED SCIENCE record, he both recorded his second album for OBSCURA, entitled “Omnivium”, and also produced his first drum DVD – “Progressive Concepts for the Modern Metal Drummer”. Hannes is a very active clinician, having played at the Dresden Drum Festival 2011, Meinl Drum Festival 2012, E.D.U. Drum Fest 2012, Ammerland Drum Fest 2012, among other masterclass performances. Hannes just finished his work for his first drum book entitled “Extreme Metal Drums”, which will be published in early 2013 by Hal Leonard. Hannes Grossmann plays Tama drums and Meinl cymbals exclusively, and he’s my guest today in 10 questions.
RM: When did you initially come to realize that drums were the instrument you wanted to play above all others? Was there any one specific performance you saw when you were younger that really took you aback and sealed the deal when it came to selecting the skins as your creative outlet of choice?
HG: I was 9 years old and was at the house of a friend who owned a small drum kit and I was immediately fascinated. I sat down and I just knew “That’s it! I want to learn this instrument”. I played the piano at that time, but my parents realised that drums were a serious thing for me. So luckily they bought a starter kit and got me a teacher.
RM: Which song on the Alkaloid record ended up being the most challenging for you to track and why? How many takes did you end up having to do before you finally nailed it?
HG: Oh, I don’t count takes anymore. (laughs) Actually, since I have my own studio I record part by part. So whenever a part is perfect, I move on to the next one. Thus I create my perfect master take. But of course I wouldn’t record anything I couldn’t pull off live. On the Alkaloid album the hardest track was the four-piece track “Dyson Sphere”, because it requires such a wide range of both technical and musical abilities. There are laid back and swinging reggae grooves, which directly lead into fast forward double bass parts. And there’s a blast that’s 280 bpm! Very difficult.
RM: What is the most common mistake younger drummers make that can stunt their growth as a percussionist? How does one avoid such a regular pitfall and get themselves back on the right track as far as progressing to the next skill level?
HG: The most common mistake many drummers make is to not mic and monitor themselves while practising. They put in a lot of ear protection – which is good of course – but they don’t hear the attack of the strokes they play accurately. That’s the reason they get a wrong impression about their own playing, because it’s not tight. But because they don’t hear themselves properly, they think it sounds good enough. Just get in-ear headphones and a little Behringer mixing desk. Put a mic into the bass drum, another mic above the drum kit, and practise with a click! Also, many young drummers – and this goes for every instrument – just see their instrument while they should focus on the music and what fits best. Guys, it doesn’t matter if you use French or German grip as long as you don’t know what a song requires.
RM: You’re involved with the prog death metal project Blotted Science with Alex Webster from Cannibal Corpse…How do the two of you go about discussing the ideas for the framework of the songs together when you’re doing shows or studio work on different ends of the planet; and how does Ron fit in with those interactions?
HG: We don’t do shows…yet. It’s just hard to find time regarding all of our schedules, especially since the songs are super difficult. The songs themselves are very complex and are based on different concepts – musically and artistically. For instance, on our last EP “The Animation of Entomology” we synced movie clips. So I had to make sure that every action in the flick is also backed by the drums. But at the same time all the songs are based on a very strict 12-tone composing system. Most of the stuff is written by Ron Jarzombek, and he’s just brilliant. I can’t stress how lucky I am to be able to play with such a talented musician.
RM: Speaking of Alex, I learned from watching the DVD extras on the “Centuries of Torment” documentary that his playing style incorporates quite a bit of triplet usage as far as the right hand goes…What percentage of the material Blotted Science writes is associated with triplets; and whatever happened to those triple kick pedals that Dualist came out with about a decade back? Do you know anybody who uses those on a regular basis?
HG: Do you mean triplets in the sense of fitting three notes into one count? Or are you referring to Alex’s three finger playing technique? Because with that technique, he’s not necessarily playing triplets. I really don’t know how much of that is used in Blotted Science, I just play drums. Musically we use all sorts of subdivisions. Most of the stuff in Blotted is in 5.
RM: Which negative stereotype of progressive music bothers you the most? Why do you think that particular misconception is so common among music fans; and what – if anything – can be done to change the way people view all things prog?
HG: The biggest misonception is the genre itself. “Prog” is just a label that certain bands use for playing a certain style. It’s actually the opposite of “progressive”. Just using a 7/8 and lots of keyboards doesn’t make it sound progressive. (laughs) But I really don’t know, I just stopped thinking in genres. There’s good and bad stuff in every subgenre, I try to focus on the good stuff.
RM: I’m on your website looking over some of your session work guarantees here, and I am absolutely blown away at how you are able to promise so much to the musicians that you provide work for…You state that you write the drum parts with the primary songwriter, and that you then record the drum tracks in your own personal studio. Do you invite the songwriter to your studio to approve the tracks as they’re recorded, or do you continue to submit them to the client and re-record the parts by yourself until the track is complete?
HG: Oh, that’s pretty much up to the person who books me. If you wanna work with me live in my studio, I’m happy to do so. Most of the session work however is requested by people from abroad, I’ve recorded for people from Canada, USA, UK, Greece, Australia and even Pakistan. So it’s more or less virtual. I receive demos, scratch guitars, Guitar Pro files…really anything I can get. Then I start working on the song and find a drum line. Sometimes people have very distinct ideas of what they wanna hear, so in that case I study the stuff they came up with then I record it and send a rough mix. If clients want changes, I just do it. And then I send over the individual drum tracks. Sometimes I play session drums and also do the mix – I’m a mixing engineer as well. Working on distance never has been a problem, the outcome is really just as good as working in a live setting.
RM: What would you consider to be your most prized cymbal? Why do you think you have such a personal connection with that piece of metal?
HG: To me the ride cymbals and hi-hats are most important – That’s what I use the most. I only use cymbals made by Meinl, because they are by far the best. They have so many great Ride cymbals. One of my favorites is the Byzance Dark Ride in 21″. For hihats I use 14″ Byzance Extra Dry. Best cymbals ever!
RM: I’ve watched a lot of your playthrough videos, and I must say they’re absolutely incredible – almost hypnotic in a way – What are some of the reasons for you posting those clips online? Is the primary intention of the videos themselves more to entertain metal fans or to educate those who play that style of music on drums?
HG: YouTube is a great site for promoting yourself. If you wanna be recognised by the younger generation of drummers, you have to do videos once in a while. Otherwise you just don’t exist. But I don’t do drum covers, I find that boring. I rather present my own music.
RM: It’s pretty obvious watching you that you’re the type of guy who enjoys what he does a great deal…Do you ever take a day and tell yourself “I’m not going to play the drums at all today” or do you have to get some kind of playing in at least once daily to make sure you stay at the top of your game? How would you best describe your practice regimen on days when you’re not doing session work?
HG: I don’t practise a lot anymore. I did that when I was younger, but when I practise nowadays it means that I learn and prepare songs. I don’t really practise technique that much anymore, but if so, I have a great practise method which focusses on merely the basic things I need. But explaining that would go way too far. I think for that you need to attend one of my clinics! (laughs)
RM: What is the most rewarding aspect of having the opportunity to teach others the intricacies of drumming? Does part of that feeling of satisfaction have anything to do with seeing a version of yourself on the other side of that screen wanting to learn the same tips and tricks that have turned you into the percussion powerhouse you are today?
HG: I want people to play music and be themselves…or find out what their own style is. I really don’t teach a lot anymore, because most people just wanna have exercises and I’m bored with that. I’d rather sit down with somebody and find out what he or she wants to do musically and which exercises help to reach their goals. That’s a totally different concept compared to what most teachers focus on. To me I’d rather want to educate people about what the guitar is doing and how you can work with that when playing drums.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
HG: I’m working on the new Blotted Science album. Three songs have already been recorded, but it’s still a long way to go. And then there will be another solo album, the follow up to my 2014 record “The Radial Covenant”. I wrote 8 techy prog death metal songs, which just wait for being released.
Official Website: http://www.hannesgrossmann.com/
Hannes on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hannesgrossmann
Hannes on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ObscureDrummer
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