Tag: Jamin Wilcox

  • Interview With Drummer Jamin Wilcox: Under the Influence of Giants

    “Can you hear me?” Jamin Wilcox asks again. 

    Our phone connection has been fading in and out for about twenty minutes, and because sticksmith Wilcox and the rest of the guys in Under the Influence of Giants are making their way to a gig, traveling apparently through some black hole of cell phone coverage, there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it. 

    “I was just saying,” he says one more time, “that the next songs that we have to write are going to be way better because we’re songwriters. I mean, a lot of people have that first album situation, and they just can’t pass it, but we…. ”

    And, of course, the line gives up the ghost. Just like that, it goes and dies right during the money quote. You know, the one where Wilcox was about to say the group’s success isn’t some fluky, fickle response to a debut album that’s just accidentally chockfull of groove-based, R&B-tinged, disco-rock glory. And to prove it, Wilcox would surely predict, the band’s next effort will be even more catchy, ballsy, and downright irresistible. So there.

    Sure, he was probably going to be a bit more modest about it, but all crystal-ball prognostication aside, the facts are these: UTIOG, as fans refer to the band, has a hot-to-dowload iTunes single called “Mama’s Room,” a video for the same song in constant rotation on MTV (the shimmy-slinking sexy girls in the video admittedly help a little), and—most important—a unique sound that seems bound, destined even, for dance-floor domination. Thousands of well-shook booties, after all, just can’t be wrong.

    But Wilcox didn’t say that, didn’t get the chance to finish any thoughts about his band’s future. All he could sneak through our faulty phone line was a story or two about UTIOG’s past and how this whole rump-shaking retro-rock ride got going. And it started, as these things always do, with the possibility and the promise of playing great songs.

    About three years ago, while he was keeping time for alterna-rockers Audiovent, Wilcox met vocalist Aaron Bruno and guitarist Drew Stewart. The two were already in a signed band called Home Town Hero, but there was something undeniably, irresistibly sparky about the guys’ musical connection. “Because we’re all songwriters,” Wilcox recounts, “I kind of had a musical flirty relationship with Aaron, just because we knew there was something there a lot bigger than what we had [with our former bands] … I don’t really want to say bigger, I just want to say we knew it would be more to our liking for us to be in a band. So we started jamming together and writing together, and we just knew that it was going to work.”

    And they were right. The guys, later joined by big-beard bassist David Amezcua, whipped out a bunch of diversely influenced (hence the wink-wink-nudge-nudge band name) and incredibly infectious tunes that whipped up so much grassroots digital buzz (courtesy of a MySpace page thousands of friends strong − all without label backing, mind you) that not even the ears of a major record company could ignore them for long. All on their own, then, the four fellows scored a deal. 

    But best of all, they also managed to entice the ears of former Blind Melon stars Brad Smith and Christopher Thorne, who agreed to man the boards behind UTIOG’s self-titled debut. And it wasn’t long before the musicians-turned-producers proved a perfect fit for the tune-conscious band, Wilcox in particular. “They were just as excited as us to try to break new ground in every way possible,” he recounts, “and they go for uniqueness opposed to flashiness.” 

    For Wilcox, that meant he could unleash his creativity and count on their support to record in an unorthodox manner to get certain sounds. Instead of using samples to capture the big-and-booming, layered drum tracks on “Stay Illogical,” for example, the group collectively played kick drums with mallets. And if you listen closely to the bridge of “Got Nothing,” you’ll hear electronic, Simmons-like drum sounds that are actually produced by Roto-toms (who uses Roto-toms anymore!). And though each song had been well rehearsed, Smith and Thorne even allowed and encouraged those spontaneous, organic moments that can make even the best music feel a little more magic. “There’s a song called ‘I Love You,’” Wilcox recalls, “and at the beginning of the second verse, there was a drum roll. What they did on that was I was playing and I dropped my stick. The click was still going, and I picked up by just doing a roll back into the song, and they loved it and put that piece in. Me just kind of screwing around getting back into the song, and it ends up being cool.”

    Way cool even. But all the creative freedom and experimentation never got out of hand, never got in the way of the tunes. Wilcox describes the band, along with the two producers, as “cohesive” during the recording sessions, and he emphasizes again the group’s ultimate strength (the reason, remember, why UTIOG is going to make a mark beyond this first impressive album): the commitment to good songwriting. “I mean, everyone has a very, very strong opinion about music,” he says of the band, “but everyone at the end of the day—and the most important thing—agrees that whatever is best for a song is best for a song.”

    And you fast get the impression that what Wilcox thinks is best for an UTIOG song has everything in the world to do with what he thinks of as “good” drumming. It’s an aesthetic he probably picked up from the players who influenced him most, guys whose grooves and licks he early on tried to get under his sticks—drummers like Clive Stubblefield and Steve Gadd, Phil Collins and Mick Fleetwood, Ringo and, “number 1 on my list,” master pocketman Bernard Purdie. But mostly, though, it’s probably something he got from his dad, John “Willie” Wilcox, who kept a deep R&B beat for Hall & Oates back in the ’80s, and who pulled out a kit when 11-year-old Jamin finally got the jammin’ itch. Way back then, from the beginning, he knew that good drumming was never about, as he says, the “snazzy” stuff.

    “I grew up,” Wilcox explains, “under the philosophy—and I still do have this philosophy—of when playing drums, to play musically and not be self-indulgent. I couldn’t imagine forcing myself to do double-stroke rolls on a hi-hat just ’cause I could. [Being] aware of what the vocals are doing and what else is going on in a song other than yourself—I think that’s what makes a good drummer, you know?.…Hey, can you hear me?”

    Yeah, man, we hear you.