If Todd Sucherman is not on the top of the pyramid, he is parked pretty darn close. Playing with a multi-platinum band, such as Styx, is certainly the dream of any drummer who is trudging their way through five sets a night in seedy dives.
But add to that the driving rhythms, precision parts and huge fills; it really shapes up to be a drummer’s drummer dream gig.
And then on top of that, add a killer drum tech (Paulie Carrizzo) and a killer engineer (Gary Loizzo) and when you sit behind your kit, you know the drums will sound as big as the rooms you are playing.
I was able to catch up with Todd, Paulie and Gary at a recent gig in the sprawling metropolis of Provo, Utah, which, coincidentally, played a pivotal role in Styx’s early career. Provo’s KEYY, along with radio stations in Little Rock, Arkansas and Rapid City, South Dakota broke the fledgling band’s first single “Lady” way back in 1975.
Of course, this was long before Todd’s affiliation with the band which occurred years later filling in for the original drummer John Panozzo, and eventually taking his place in the band after his untimely death in 1996.
As the final touches were being applied to the stage at the Covey Center and again after sound check, we talked about the rig and gig . Todd mentions it is not always easy: even touring with an established band has it challenges, some of which are documented in Todd’s “Methods & Mechanics” DVD series.
“There are certain things you have to get your mind set around, such as being gone 8 or 9 months a year, to keep your head straight and your thinking straight. But every night when I get up there and play my beautiful instrument and it sounds beautiful in my in-ear monitors and in my mix, this makes it all worth while.” Todd relates.
“We cover everything from airplane, to towncar, to hotel; these vignettes are sort of peppered throughout the presentations and really go a long way to help the next generation who wants to do this, who wants to live as a working musician on the road.”
To get the sound that makes the journey all worth while starts with good heads on the drums. While Paulie might keep the head on from a previous show for rehearsals, he’ll swap them out before show time.
“I change heads after every 4 hours of play. After 4 hours you start losing some of the highs and some of the attacks from the heads themselves.” Paulie add, “This is the last night the heads are going to sound like this and they will start changing after tonight.”
It should come as no surprise that Paulie has his own philosophy of how to tune the 10-piece kit.
“The best way to tune a drum is to find the voice in each drum. You will hear it sing out when you tighten it up, you make it too tight and it sounds like you are choking it, like somebody’s got their hands around its throat.” explains Paulie.
Todd Sucherman toasting the good life.
Paulie begins tuning the seven toms by starting in the middle, on the 12” tom, then tunes the higher 10” and two 8” toms. Then he tunes the lower 14”, 16” and 20” toms.
“Everything matches; everything is sitting in the pocket where it’s supposed to sit. That’s about it. It’s all touch and feel.” He continues, “I don’t like those gauges that you use to tune drums, the pressure gauge. If your rim is not sitting completely flat on the head, one side’s going to be up, you are going to have the same amount of pressure on the one lug same as the other tension rod but one side’s not going to be tight. Only your ear can only hear that on acoustic drums.”
Todd switched to Audix mics after some of his drummer friends switch to an all Audix setup.
“After listening to them and noticing the difference in the kick and snare, and the cymbal, I switched to all Audix for my live rig…and my first thought was I wanted to do my last 1,400 shows sounding this good. I cheated myself by not switching over sooner.”
Front of house engineer Gary Loizzo is equally pleased with the sound of the Audix setup.
“I’ll tell you it’s made a world of difference, the clarity and tonality in general. I especially like the overheads, SCX25A’s, the lollipops.”
Todd adds, “They are absolutely the secret weapon.”
Gary continues; “Quite honestly what I really like about them is the off-axis feel of the kit, it is very natural. It isn’t distant; it is just nice and warm.”
Todd chimes in, “It is everything that you want to hear out of your drums just magnified.”
Paulie places the overhead mics about 14 to 16 inches above the cymbals, and the tom mics are directly pointing down almost 3 or 4 inches from the head. Extreme care is taken on the exact placement.
“You will hear a difference just a little movement on a mic, (it) will give you a totally different sound so you need to play around with the placement as you are listening with your in-ears…then you will find the sweet spot for the mic…and then it is just remembering where each one is.”
And Todd is pleased with the results, “The drums are beefy, with a wonderful high end, wonderful low end, and a wonderful crack, so very natural.”
After the show, I meet up with Todd, Paulie and Gary again. The response to the performance was huge, and they all seemed pleased, if not just a little road-worn. Good-byes were said and they each ventured off to attend to their own personal responsibilities.
For more information on Todd Sucherman and his “Methods & Mechanics” DVD series click here.
For more information on Styx click here.
For more information on Audix mics click here.