No matter what setting the Impound has encountered Ezra Lipp in – the Ben Harper-esque folk-rock of Huckle, the classic rock pounding of Guitarmageddon, gliding behind pop-rock singer-songwriter Sean Hayes, skipping across genres with Lebo & Friends – he appears and sounds utterly natural, as if each of these varied environments is his organic state as a drummer. Versatility like this isn’t wholly uncommon today where working musicians have to figure out all sorts of ways to shake their moneymaker in order to pay the bills, but Lipp exhibits a steely-eyed intensity and no-holding-back intensity that speaks of an artist that gives himself to the moment, open ears craning to catch what the music needs as his body blurs beautifully to tease out the right moves and deliver them right on time. His sense of swing and power remind DI a bit of a young Art Blakey, a pretty swell model of what a fundamentally terrrific percussionist can be. Our gut says Lipp is going to be one of the greats one day, and it’s not going to suck to witness his evolution on the way – Lipp is just plain fun to watch work.
While his earlier work has found him working in largely rock-oriented projects, Lipp has revived a duo with flavorful, Benovento-esque keyboardist Eli Geller that’s redolent of jazz, free form improvisation, and melodically-minded experimentation. Hogs of Change, whose roots go back at the University of Vermont during the early 2000s, does bear some resemblance to Marco’s celebrated Duo with drummer Joe Russo [check out Russo’s installment of Gimme Some Skin] in that the pair use similar instrumentation and work in the instrumental format, but where they share deeper, truer kinship with the Duo is in their adventurous, beauty courting ways. Possibilities seem wide open with the Hogs of Change, and that’s always the most exciting thing for a certain stripe of listener who hungers for something more than cultured conformity. They’ve got an appealing nose for good covers (see their treatment of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” below), and like the best duos past, they’re charmingly attentive to one another, pushing and prodding in ways that go beyond practice into places of instinct and rudimentary telepathy, the music rising, falling and snapping in time to their widening eyes or groovily nodding heads. More basically, there’s something happening here and while it may not be exactly clear yet it’s got the unmistakable aura of excellence in budding germination.
Here’s what Ezra had to say in the Impound’s drummer survey.
- Favorite part of a standard trap drum kit – bass drum, floor tom, snare drum, tom-toms or cymbals?
- The beauty of the drum set to me is having all the elements of the kit together to create one instrument, however out of this context they all have their strengths. The deep resonance and reverberating power of the bass drum, the bouncy syncopated possibilities of a well tuned snare drum with good action, and the ocean of sound that one can get lost in with a great ride cymbal are some of these examples. The floor tom is also great as you can play it like a drum kit getting the bass drum sound from the center and the “snare” sound from playing the rims of the drum. In a way, the hi-hat may be the most interesting to me. While all the other pieces of a drum kit are either played with the hands or feet, the hi-hat is the only that is played with both hands and feet (foot) simultaneously. If you are really subtle just varying the slightest bit of foot pressure on the hi-hat while playing the top you can emulate changing the pressure like you would on an African talking drum. You can splash it with your foot alone and get a nice sustained ring of the cymbals together or you can crash down and get a sustained shimmer before tightening the grasp and ending the “stroke”. It’s actually a pretty cool and versatile instrument in itself and often overlooked (like in this question). [Editor’s Note: Guilty as charged. DI will add hi-hat to future questionnaires that go out. Change is real, people.]
- Tastiest drummer ever? Tastiest drummer today?
- There are so many! Billy Martin certainly comes to mind. His groove is super infectious and he has a really distinct voice on the drums. I love how he moves around the kit (and off the kit) and uses all sorts of different sounds but is always in his 8th note based funky shuffle (if that’s what he’s playing). He really doesn’t need to do much else and it is super tasty. Andrew Barr definitely also comes to mind as a personal favorite. He takes the standard roll of “drummer” and elevates it to a whole other level with his involvement in the music he plays. Andrew’s more like a painter behind the drums than a “timekeeper” and he has been a huge influence on me. [check out Andrew’s installment of Gimme Some Skin]
- A drum solo I never get tired of listening to is…
- There aren’t a whole lot of recorded drum solos that really stand out in my mind. Ringo’s solo during “The End” in Abbey Road is probably a solo I’ve heard a hundred times or more and never get tired of. It’s certainly not super technical and any clinician may scoff at it, but it’s perfect. I love The Beatles’ use of the solo compositionally and I love how they just throw it to Ringo for his only drum solo with The Beatles at the very end of the last record they every made together (Let It Be came out last but was recorded first). There’s a real special feeling behind the whole thing and that whole side of the album of course is incredible. They didn’t have to put a drum solo in there, but I’m really glad they did. And then when the guitar solos drop out of it it’s really exciting. Gets me every time.
- Preferred brand of drums? Why?
- Besides some starter kits I played when I was younger I had a Pearl export series that I played for about 10 years and could get to sound good, and then I’ve owned a really great early 70s Rogers kit for about three years or so which I love. I definitely gravitate toward the vintage kits but my focus for a long time was just on getting better at the drums and being a better musicianship and gear didn’t factor in as much. Only in more recent years has gear and tone become a more integral part of that process for me. I am usually way more picky about cymbals, and for those I prefer a great Istanbul or Bosphorus with a lot of depth and potential for different tones. I will say whenever I get to play an old Ludwig kit I feel like I’m sitting in a race car!
- John Bonham, Art Blakey or Charlie Watts – which one gives you the biggest drum boner? What makes them SO sweet?
- I would say John Bonham and Art Blakey are in a different category than Charlie Watts. Bonham and Blakey were both such powerhouses and what comes to mind for me with both of them is an astonishing precision mixed with a super wide groove and an unrelenting drive. I feel like Joe Russo is a really innovative drummer today that is carrying that Bonham torch. Charlie Watts to me is cool and I wouldn’t put him down by any means. The Stones are cool and Charlie has been rocking stadiums for decades now so clearly he is doing a lot right. Charlie has a quirky feel. I suppose you could say he’s a “peoples” drummer like The Stones are a “peoples” band. But really a more preferred and elegant “peoples” drummer for me would be Levon Helm. What a feel!
- One lesser known drummer folks should check out is…
- Rakalam Bob Moses. Rakalam is a jazz legend of sorts that has a really unique approach to music and drumming and is just a totally free spirit and really kind, unique man and musician. He had a big influence on me before I even met him just by seeing him play once when I was 18, hearing anecdotes about him from other musicians and reading and internalizing some concepts from his book Drum Wisdom. After years of admiring him from a far I got to spend a day with him at his home outside Boston a couple years ago and the hours we spent together were very impactful. His playing can be totally free and abstract or he can lay down the most effortless, thickest groove you’ve ever heard. His conceptual perspectives and wisdom regarding music run very deep and his shared insights have had a profound effect on my approach.
- What aspect of being a drummer always makes you happy?
- There are so many. As I write this I am on a plane about to start a six week tour through Europe with some friends of mine backing a remarkable Iranian singer and musician named Mohsen Namjoo. It’s the second time I’ve gotten to go to Europe this year to play music (but the first with this particular group). The experience of travel and meeting all different people from all over is definitely a perk. I think it’s amazing that I’m able to cross paths with someone like Mohsen who is a pretty big deal culturally in his country (which he is currently exiled from for political reasons) and make music together and touch people and connect in this way through music even though our backgrounds and life experiences have been so different. It really is the universal language. Drumming has given me context for traveling in places like India and West Africa, and has led the way to connect me to folks, tradition and culture in those places. But really that’s more about being a traveling musician in general than specifically being a drummer.
There may be a more immediate aspect of connecting musically with other musicians when you’re a drummer because you’re not restricted to having to play chord changes or in certain keys. You can play a song with someone for the first time without knowing it at all and if you are in sync with that person you can really still participate in a formative way without being held back because you don’t know what’s coming next harmonically. I think the raw emotion you put into it and get out of it can be accessible more immediately that way. All good musicians surely can play on tunes they’ve never heard and make it work, but I’d say the drummer gets to get away with the most.