Well, here we are again. You certainly are gluttonous in the punishment department! (How is reading these mild-mannered interviews considered punishment you may ask? I don't know! I thought that was a funny sentence. End of story.)
This interview is with Mike Yannich whose drumming, singing, and songwriting are all awesome. I met Mike back in 2004. He played drums and sang in a band called the Ergs, and I played drums and sang in a band called Hunchback. Shortly after meeting, our two bands made an unspoken (yet oddly indestructible) agreement to play together in basements almost nonstop for the next 2 years approximately.
In the time that I've known him, Mike has been relentless in his enthusiasm and dedication to making and playing music. He is someone who actually has a pinpoint-able "style" in so much as, when I do something that reminds me of either his singing or drumming I say: "Oh that was so Mike Ergian!"
At what age did you start playing the drums? Did you have lessons or were you self taught?
I've been playing in some form for honestly as long as I can remember. My mom definitely went through a lot of broken wooden spoons and nicked up dressers and stuff. My father owned a recording studio and there was always a kit set up there so whenever I had the opportunity I would go there and bang on the drums all day. There's video somewhere of me at 6 years old "jamming" with one of the members of my dad's band on a Beatles song and I was pretty passable even then I think. I also played drums in a school concert when I was in fourth grade. That was the first time I played in front of a group of people and it was honestly the most nerve wracking thing I've ever done. So yeah, I'm self taught. Pretty much just played every opportunity I could until it sounded halfway decent.
My first influence was Ringo Starr. My favorite band of all time has to be The Beatles. Mom says my first words were "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" and I've definitely been listening to them pretty much from the day I was born. I think because of him I never really had the urge to be super flashy. Just tasteful with a concentration on time keeping. It always impressed me that Beatles songs were edited together from 3 or 4 different takes from over an 8 hour session. If thats not solid timing I don't know what is. As I got older I got more into heavy rock and metal and Bonham became my idol. I also really loved a lot of what I heard Lars Ulrich do. I'm very into when a drummer has a unique style that lets you know they're self taught. Of course, when Nevermind came around I worshipped Dave Grohl. I convinced my dad to get me a TAMA kit and immediately did away with the extraneous rack tom, got a couple Zildjian crash rides 'cause that's what I'd seen him play on MTV and just tried to hit as hard as humanly possible. Later once I started getting into punk/indie rock I took from various different people, George Hurley from the Minutemen, Bill Stevenson obviously, Terry Chambers from XTC, Pete Thomas from Elvis Costello & The Attractions. All those dudes are pretty mind blowing in their own way.
When did you start singing and playing drums simultaneously? Talk about learning how to do that successfully!
Hmm...It's hard to say when I started. I've kinda just always done it here and there. Before the Ergs were The Ergs we played under the name The Flatliners and I played guitar and sang. At one of our last shows the drummer didnt show so I just ended up playing that show on drums which eventually lead to The Ergs. It was out of necessity 'cause any time we tried to find a drummer so I could get up front and sing it never worked out. I've never found it all that difficult though. Probably cause, at least in the case of The Ergs, I usually found myself playing along to my own vocal melody which added a certain something to the part and made it easier to do as a whole. Plus no matter who I'm playing with I'm usually singing along while playing anyway so I guess it just comes naturally.
How do you feel about the process of recording drums? Any particular records have favorite drum sounds for you?
Recording is pretty rough sometimes. Especially when you're going to tape. Like I HAVE to get a perfect take or else the whole thing is fucked, you know? I like to try to get the keeper performance on the first or second try though because the longer you go at it the less feeling the take has. Usually even if there's a slight fuck up I'll keep an earlier take just cause the feeling is there. As for favorite drum sounds, Albini is probably king. When I first put In Utero in the cd player the day it came out I was absolutely floored by the drum sound. I also love the drums on Weezer's Pinkerton. The opening of Tired Of Sex might be the greatest moment in recorded sound. Zeppelins drum sounds were always great. I LOVE the sound of Bill Bruford's drums to the point where I find Yes's stuff after he left completely unlistenable.
As much as I may detest "gear" talk, do you have any revelations you might wanna share as far as what works (gear-wise) and what doesn't? Heads, cymbals, tuning etc? Do you have a "dream" drum kit?
I pretty much swear by Remo Powerstroke 3 Heads for Kick and Snare. I also really love Zildjan Projection rides and crashes. My two favorite things I own though are my Pork Pie Acrylic 7x13" snare and my Paiste Giant Beat 24" ride. That ride is loud as hell and nice and splashy. I actually used it as a crash in the final few months of The Ergs. It's since cracked sadly so I need to work on getting a new one. I love the kit I have now, an old Ludwig that dates from the 70's (excluding the floor tom which is from the 60's), but my dream kit would be a Ludwig Vistalite with ridiculous dimensions (26" kick, 14" rack, 16", and 18" floor!).
When did you start picking up other instruments and was it mainly to aide in songwriting? Did you want to play guitar/bass in a band also?
I started playing guitar when I was around 12 or so I think. I'd started lessons when I was like 8 but I hated it and gave up really quickly. One night I was lonely and bored and decided to teach myself every song in the Beatles song book I had. I stayed up all night learning the chords and playing these Beatles songs. I'm pretty sure I'd already learned what the notes of the frets were so then all I had to do was practice getting from one power chord to another and I could play punk. haha. I listened to an Elvis Costello interview where he said that he only cared to know enough guitar to accompany himself so I figured that was good enough for me too. At that point I really had no intention of writing songs...just 'cause I kinda didn't think I could. I think the first songs I wrote were a good 3 or 4 years later.
What songwriters have influenced you the most over the years? Any songs that, when you heard them, changed how you thought about the writing process-either lyrically or musically?
Well definitely Elvis Costello and John Lennon Lyrically. Andy Partridge too. I absolutely LOVE their use of clever word play in lyrics. I also grew up on Tamla/Motown and 50's and 60's soul so I think that's where I developed my love for the love song. I think it was when I heard Pinkerton though that I really decided how I wanted to write. I had really never heard songs like that before. All of the love songs I'd heard previously sounded, like, so matter of fact. like "yeah yeah, sure I love you, yeah) but Rivers was just fucking POURING his heart out and I was like "THAT'S what I need to do.".
When you're writing a song, how consciously do you try and balance catchiness and originality? (Meaning like, it has to sound like nothing else, but it also cant be so far out there that no one will listen to it.) How much of the catchiness/originality ratio has to do with lyrics?
It's tough. The kind of songs I write aren't terribly original to begin with. Everybody can write a love song. I just try to come up with a different perspective on it. A new way to describe something we can all relate to. Catchiness is definitely key. There's so much out there so you have to try and make the songs memorable. I find that my catchiest/most popular songs are the ones that I've written essentially in one sitting. Basically in the time it took to play the thing it was written. Miles Davis, Everything Falls Apart, Pray for Rain...they were all pretty much written that way. So I kinda just make sure if something comes out of me like that to get it down asap before I forget it.
Going into as much detail with which you are comfortable, what was your childhood like and what kind of influence, if any, did your parents have on you musically? Did they support your musical interest then and how do they feel about it now?
My childhood was pretty great in musical terms. Early on my parents and grandparents would pretty much buy me whatever albums I wanted. I was definitely requesting records at 3 or 4 years old. I was also taken to see Michael Jackson/The Jacksons on Victory/Thriller tour in 1984. My dad gave me most of his records and He showed me so much music when I was a kid and I'm very grateful for that. He opened me up to Jazz, funk and soul at a very young age. He also got me my first drums and guitars so I was very lucky in that way. I think it was pretty evident early on that I had absolutely no interest in anything else but music. Now I think they're pretty happy for me that music has enabled me to travel all over the world. I know that my mom is pretty jealous of the trips to Europe and Australia. haha.
Besides being a source of income, what motivates you to keep playing, performing, and recording?
It's just in my blood. Part of the reason I play with so many people is I kind of just want to be doing it all the time. I've met pretty much every single one of my friends through music. I get to travel, I've gotten to meet many of my heroes. There'd really nothing else I'd rather do. Also I don't know how to do anything else!
Ghost stories. Spill em. (If you got 'em.)
I got none!
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