INTERVIEW: DOUG GRIFFITH JR. (INERTIA)

Inertia has been leading the Buffalo metal pack in technical prowess for years now, truly setting the bar for all aspiring extreme metal musicians in the area. Blending together their own brand of technical death metal, deathcore, and avant-garde goodness, Inertia are here to stay, with a truly genre-defining sound, and a live presence you have to see to believe. I’ve always wanted to get their drummer, Doug, down for an interview and when the opportunity finally arose, I pounced. Let’s get into it:

1. How long have you been with Inertia and how did you first come to join the band? What was the transition from Calamity From The Skies to Inertia like?

– The origin of Inertia goes back to the spring of 2007 when a friend of mine that I was working with at Guitar Center first introduced me to Kahlil Sarikey. We had a couple fun jam sessions woodshedding ‘Rain in Blood’ and a crazy original jam that had a ton of sweep picking in it. They were both super talented players, but I think my friend had a lot going on, so he gave me Kahlil’s number and the two of us continued to jam on our own. There may or may not be a two-song demo of some material we were working on from back then. Kahlil is not only an insanely talented musician but a class act and a truly great friend. We’ve been buds since day one. The roots of what would later become Inertia were formed here.

– Through another friend at work, I met the Calamity boys sometime later in 2007 and, after showing them a demo of some of my own solo work, was invited to jam. The first Calamity practice is still one of the best first full band jams with a group of dudes I’ve ever had. Instant chemistry. Pretty sure at least half of our song ‘Titan Crusher’ was written right at that first meet. Kahlil joined later in 2008 and we played our final show Sept 8th, 2010. While in Calamity I also became the vocalist of a grind band called “Chikinfist,” which I was a part of from approximately June through October of 2009. Super fun side project while it lasted and it was very cool to have the opportunity to do something completely different musically.

– There was a brief Calamity From the Skies reunion that lasted from July through October of 2011 where we played a handful of shows. We attempted to put some new material together but were unable to solidify much. Between the two renditions of Calamity I joined a death metal band called “Seigewyrm” and jammed with those dudes from October 2010 until April 2011. Although short lived, it was a fun experience and kept the thirst for metal drumming quenched.

– Kahlil was deep in his studies at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, an absolutely grueling time for him given the amount of practice and course work on his plate. During this time I had been running sound for a local cover band called Category 5, which is how I met their vocalist and my now wife, Amy. I began running sound for a group of guys in another cover band named “I4NI” and eventually joined this band on drums in December of 2010. I gained valuable experience doing the double duty sound guy/drummer gig and had a ton of fun with them. I even switched to playing bass at one point and we brought my dad in on drums. Playing gigs with my dad checked a very meaningful box on the ol’ bucket list. Around the time I joined I4NI, Category 5 had come to an end. Amy joined another cover band for a short time, after which she and I formed UltraViolet with our newfound friend, Mike Criscione in late 2011. Our first UltraViolet show was March 9th, 2012. The schedule conflicts between the two bands quickly became problematic despite my best efforts to maintain both, and I had to step out of I4NI. This takes us into 2013.

– After Calamity’s second demise, Kahlil and I maintained contact but didn’t actually start jamming again together until late 2013. I was way out of shape for metal drumming but started to develop better practice habits. The two of us began woodshedding and getting material together in my basement. Steve McIntosh was pretty much always the first choice for vocalist. There were lots of ‘Calamity 2.0’ jokes, but this would come to be something else for sure.

– We played our first show as Inertia at Broadway Joe’s on November 1st of 2015 and began the incredibly stellar journey we’re on now, picking up what we started back in 2007. Steve moved to Boston at one point and though he did make the trek for a couple shows, Kahlil and I found ourselves playing as a duo often until he moved back. I met Augustin Brand at a show we played at Tudor Lounge in March of 2018. I remember Kahlil telling me he was one of the sickest bass players around. Inertia played some shows with Gus’ other bands, including Short Attention Span Theater and Ish kabbible, who opened our Teratoma release show at Mohawk Place in November 2018. After building some rapport, Gus joined us and Inertia became a four piece locomotive. Gus is a living legend and musically the missing link we weren’t sure we’d have the fortune of ever acquiring.

– Calamity From the Skies, seemingly never to be put to bed (lol), recently played a one-time reunion show for our friend Corey Coleman, a local booking agent for Chernobyl Agency. It was as a part of his pre-wedding festivities this past June which turned out to be a lot of fun. It was cool to rehash those jams with Dave Mahoney and Jayke Jerla. We invited our good friend and touring buddy Adam Matthews on as well to have the classic Calamity three guitarist spread.

– Sometimes I look back and wish I had maintained the kind of practicing I do now, even thinking things like “I wasted my twenties musically.” In the process of digging through history for this interview I realize, although I definitely should’ve been practicing much harder post-Calamity era, I can take a lot of pride in how it all played out and everything musically I’ve been able to be a part of. So thank you to Mike Marlinski for hitting me up to do this. It’s been fun and validating so far and I’m only on the first question! I feel I’ve landed where I needed to and feel extremely fortunate and grateful to be jamming with, and maybe more importantly being companions with, the sweet sweet ‘Nertia boys.

2. How did you get your start playing drums and what made you gravitate toward drums over other instruments?

– When asked “how long have you been playing?” I refer to my mom’s answer which is “since birth.” My dad is a drummer. My mom played piano back in the day too. Being surrounded by music and having access to my dad’s drums growing up pretty much set me on the path. I dabble with bass and even more rarely with guitar. I’ve written some solo records in my mid-teens and early twenties but drumming has always been number one. It just feels like what I’m supposed to do. It feels natural to play and brings me a kind of existential joy that can’t be put into words.

3. What was the first drum kit, hardware, and cymbal setup you ever had as a kid?

– My dad had the big Ludwig kit – double 24” bass drums and every tom size you could get. He had an array of old Zildjian’s including a 24” ride he still has today. It is the truest of ride cymbals. I was able to play on a kit I made out of drums he wasn’t using for a time, but the first actual drum kit of my own was a Tama Swingstar 5 piece. All black finish, just like dad’s kit. I had Zildjian Z custom crashes/ride and a dreadful sounding set of heavy Z Custom Dyna Beat hi hats. I thought they would be great for the heavy punk rock jams, but they were shrill and awful. I later received a pair of 14” regular Z Custom hats as a Christmas gift. Loved those hi hats! Also snagged an 8” add on tom somewhere down the line as I moved from punk rock/hardcore to progressive metal playing. I had Iron Cobra Jr double pedals. Remo pinstripe heads. I discovered the Remo Control Sound head through Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, a big influence for me. I used Promark Neil Peart signature drum sticks as Neil and Rush were also a HUGE influence growing up. My hardware was entry level Tama but it was solid. Nothing broke or fell over on me.

4. Talk about gear you love, specific brands, makes, models, etc.

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5. Discuss the ways your drum setups have evolved over the years.

– I began working at Guitar Center in 2005 (the year I graduated high school) and laid eyes upon the Dark Cherry Fade finish of a Tama Starclassic Birch kit not long after. I couldn’t afford it (let alone its slightly higher end maple version) but I bought it and several other pieces, including a second bass drum, anyway. I LOVE Tama drums. Awesome finishes and the best hardware. I like other drum companies too but for me Tama does it the best. I still remember opening the box in my living room feeling supremely stoked at what I was unwrapping. The craftsmanship and the finish were immaculate.

– I still play Remo heads. For tom toms, I was a Pinstripe guy for many years but then really came to like the Vintage Emperors. Recently I tried the Remo Ebony heads. I was concerned about the ‘rubbery’ sound they might have due to their thickness, but it’s minuscule. For the fast metal fills they have the right attack and low end I’m looking for while still being relatively muted. I’ve come to love the P77 for snare and either Powerstroke or Black Dot for bass drum batter heads. I’ve considered trying Evans heads but haven’t made that leap yet.

– I began using Vic Firth drumsticks during my Calamity days. I used the MS2 marching sticks with the butt ends out. This was inspired by the legendary Alex “Grind” Pelletier from Despised Icon who used the much heavier MS4s for a time. All my heads were caved in. It was absurd. Honestly heavy sticks like those actually kind of help with the fast blast beats but are obviously a detriment to the gear. I like the Benny Greb and Matt Garstka signatures a lot but needed slightly more weight and length so I’ve been using the X55B’s as of late.

– I started out with Zildjian cymbals, but largely because of Mike Portnoy’s influence and Sabian’s seemingly better variety (at least at that time) I used Sabian for a long while. Love the AAX and HHX crashes. The holy chinas are sick. Their XSR crashes are dope too and a great price point. Thanks to a whole slew of sick younger metal drummers using Meinl cymbals including Alex Rudinger, Anthony Barone, Jesse Beahler, and Aaron Stechauner, I’ve been inspired to migrate over to Meinl. I’m using mainly Classic Customs both light and dark along with an 18” Heavy Mega bell ride. Loving the Meinls except for the fact I can’t make the dark china to my right side last more than a month or two anymore. The Inertia breakdowns are becoming heavier and more expensive these days, no doubt. I still have AAX 14” Sabian hats but have my eye on some 15” Byzance hats. I love the more papery sound and the feel of thinner hats so someday I may snag those up. I’ve also been using two Meinl 8” splashes, two 8” bells, and a small trash stack.

– My pedal experience started with Iron Cobra Jr double pedals and then went to regular Iron Cobras for a time. I picked up Speed Cobras next and probably used those the longest before switching again. Other sick pedals I’ve tried (but haven’t owned) were DW 5000s and Pearl Eliminators. I tried Axis direct drive pedals but couldn’t get them to feel good for both high tempos and groove playing. Tama came out with the Dyna Sync and that’s where I’ve landed. Absolutely love them! The feel and groove of a chain drive pedal but with ability to also play the higher speeds without feeling limited by the pedal. I’m not really doing heel toe, swivel, doubles, or any of that although I did try learning swivel at one point. I’m basically still playing singles, but above 200 beats per minute the mechanics definitely begin to change. Dan Presland has my favorite and most apt description of this, comparing it to dribbling a basketball (except with your feet).

– For hardware it’s always been Gibraltar racks and Tama hardware mixed together. I tried regular stands more than once, but I like the permanence of the rack setup. It makes it easier to have mics and mic cables permanently fixed on my setup, and it also reduces my footprint. The amount of banter over the size of my kit and how much room people think it takes up has kept me on my toes in this regard. If you get a measuring tape out though, you’ll find that my kit really doesn’t take up much more room side to side than a standard 5 piece set up with cymbal stands.

– I was using Roland triggers through a Roland SPDX sample pad from Inertia’s conception until the pandemic. I took that lock down period in 2020 to reinvent myself a little and decided to ditch the triggers for now. One of my inspirations behind this move is Eloy Casagrande who absolutely crushes his kit and sounds incredible doing it. The dude is such a beastly player. Literally a human hammer. I feel that this more assertive way of playing has made my drumming much more refined and consistent. It’s easier to hop on stage and go whereas previously it took a lot of warm up time to perform properly. Any kind of nervousness or anxiety would stifle the mental focus needed to execute the more finessed, technique-driven way of playing (ankle motion and finger technique, for example). One of my good drumming buddies refers to this as ‘caveman drumming.’ Also, my left foot had become so weak from relying on the trigger that it was almost like starting over again with my feet. The sonic advantages associated with triggers may lead me to used them again someday, but for now I’m looking to keep it as raw and authentic as possible. The Roland sample pad is only used for click and backing tracks these days.

– I use Shure SE215 in ear monitors and a Behringer XR18 mixer. I also have the kit pre-mic’d and wired including internally mounted bass drum mics. This saves the sound technician a lot of work and allows me to hear my kit processed through my in ears. The mics go from my kit into a rack mounted splitter that allows me to run lines into my mixer and a second set of lines to the house. Everything is zip tied and labeled. I can usually get my entire kit set up, including the electronic elements, in 6–8 minutes. I practice quick setups occasionally to keep myself honest.

– One final note on the evolution of my setups is my habit to play a certain configuration for a year or so and then start over completely from scratch. I’ve had the double bass curved bar setup, a two-tier Mike Mangini inspired rack setup, and regular cymbal stands. I later reduced it down to smaller rack sections for my left, right, and center to make it easier to carry. I then realized I could mount everything from the center rack (two toms and two splashes) onto my bass drums, so now I just have one rack each on my left and right side. I mount my ‘floor’ toms and the rest of my cymbals off of those. Other than being a bit heavy, it’s the most efficient my setup has been and I’ve been playing on this particular configuration for several years now. I understand the importance of being able to get on and off stage quickly, so I do my best to take that into account when I’m building my kit. One might suggest using one bass drum instead of two, but I’ve tried that and just can’t get down with the feel of double pedals versus two single bass drums. My very first setup when Calamity started was two bass drums, a left-hand tom, four rack toms, and two floor toms. I’d say I’ve sized it down substantially since then.

– My current setup is as follows: left to right (from my perspective) 8” Bell, 18” China Trash, 14” Sabian AAX hats, 18” Classics Custom Dark Crash, 8” Dark Splash, two 22”x18” bass drums, 13”x11” ‘floor’ tom (left), 10”x8” rack tom (left), 12”x9” rack tom (right), 14”x11” ‘floor’ tom (right), 8” Dual Splash, 18” Classics Custom Crash, small trash stack, 18” Dark China, 8” Bell, 18” Dark Heavy Mega Bell Ride, and finally I’ve been using a 14”x5.5” Bronze snare I won in a drawing during Alex Rudinger’s Music Mentors Webinar. I also have a 14”x8” Tama Big Black steel snare I love.

6. List off every active band (has played at least one live show at an established venue) you’ve ever been a part of in chronological order.

• Live on Impact (pre-2004) Rock

• American Protest (pre-2005) Political Punk Rock/Hardcore

• Calamity From the Skies (2007–2010) Deathcore

• Chikinfist (2009) Grind

• Siegewyrm (2010–2011) Death Metal

• I4NI (2010–2012) Hard Rock Cover

• UltraViolet (2012–present) 90s Hip Hop, R&B, Pop, Rock Cover

• Inertia (2013–present) Technical/Experimental Death Metal

I have jammed in a few other projects but these are the bands that made it to the stage. Chinkinfist was a vocal endeavor (screaming, no clean singing) and I finished my time in I4NI on bass guitar. All other projects were behind the kit.

7. Discuss the most memorable local shows of your career. When thinking back, which local gigs stick out the most and why?

– Live on Impact was a rock band with two of my best buds from high school that I’m still friends with today. For the most part we didn’t leave the basement or backyard much, but we did play at our high school talent show and at a club called ‘Chasers’ in Lockport. American Protest also played that same venue. Cool spot for young people to get their music heard. Chikinfist played mainly at Club Diablo in Buffalo which was fun because, despite being the ‘frontman,’ I was super timid and Diablo’s tiny stage allowed me to stand down on the floor and off to the side. My most memorable Seigewyrm gig was an out of town show in Massachusetts. I remember feeling unenthused for this particular show until walking on stage to set up and seeing a surprisingly large crowd. After our first song the audience erupted and it ended up being an awesome show. That gig single handedly taught me the importance of treating each gig like they matter and bringing my A game every time. Calamity From the Skies also played some Diablo shows. It was hilarious trying to fit my kit plus two full stacks and a bass rig on that tiny stage. We also played a handful of Xtreme Wheels shows, which were a great time. X-wheels was another place that had the vibes and support for local music that you love to see and be around.

– For my cover band experience it’d have to be an interview of its own to truly do it justice so I’ll just say that I’ve enjoyed my time in both bands greatly. My relationships with most bandmates goes further than the music, especially in UltraViolet. Mike Criscione is a legend and rips it up on guitar. He’s a guru with his pedal board, achieving all the various tones required to play the vast range of songs we’ve covered. I’ve met a lot of cool people outside the bands along the way as well. One final note is the occasional commentary I get when my metal friends find out about my cover band, usually something like, “that must be easy and boring for you.” My drumming has benefited tenfold from playing other styles and it’s never easy. It probably could be at times, but I prefer to make it a challenge. There’s always plenty to work on behind the kit and I think the best players push themselves in any environment. Remain shallow if you must, but my cover band experience is nothing I would trade away and I would not be the player I am without the conditioning and challenges I make for myself gigging with these bands.

– For Inertia the most memorable show to date was our Teratoma CD release at Mohawk Place in Buffalo. Sold out. All our friends and family there. I didn’t mess anything up too terribly which was good because I had at least four of the area’s best drummers staring at me side stage. An all-around epic experience. Our very first show was memorable as well because I’ve never been so nervous for anything in my entire life and I went completely blank soon as we started ‘Relapse.’ Like most of our jams, that is not a good one to mess up but we pulled it together and the rest was great. We’ve been on two tours now that were both everything we could’ve wanted them to be. Shout out to our touring buddies in Sleepers and Wasted Space. Awesome dudes all around.

– I think the main takeaway for me with playing shows, especially in Inertia, is how much the people you’re around matters. Your own band mates, other bands you play with, and the audiences alike. I’ve always been consumed by the technical aspects of playing music. How good or bad is the sound system? What is the load in like? When and where can I get a warmup in? General concerns before and after the set about my performance, all the while being fairly introverted and keeping to myself or to my friends at shows. I think touring woke me up to the realization that the friendships you can make and impressions people leave on you, and you on them, is what really makes the whole thing meaningful. Performance is still super important of course, but it’s not all there is. One final shout out to the promoters that grind it out daily to make these things happen in the first place. You’re the real heroes. Grateful for everyone we’ve worked with and the opportunities we’ve landed.

8. Discuss your most memorable out-of-town experiences performing with Inertia or any other band you’ve been a part of. What made these road experiences so unique, or noteworthy? As a follow-up, give us the rundown on the tour you guys just completed going from July to August 2022. How did it go, and how would you rate it out of 10 compared to past outings?

– First and foremost I have to mention JB Lovedrafts in Harrisburg, PA specifically because that venue/city has become a home away from home for us. Absolutely love playing there. Shout out to Travis Sanders from Reaper Booking for giving us a chance and having us back multiple times.

– Our first tour was with Sleepers and Viridian. We rented a Ford Transit and brought all of our gear and our friend Adam Matthews out in one vehicle. We had 8 shows on that run that started in Brooklyn, then Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Ohio. Slept in a couple Walmart parking lots. My mom made the trek out for the show in Greensboro, NC and the two shows to follow which was another meaningful check off the ol’ bucket list. The shows were mad fun and hanging with the Sleepers boys was a riot. Nate White was key in setting the whole thing up so I’m grateful to him and to all those dudes for showing us what the road is like.

– The recent tour we just got back from took us to Baltimore, Philadelphia, Rochester, Harrisburg, New Hampshire, Troy, and Buffalo with the Wasted Space boys. We did not have Gus for our first tour with Sleepers, but we did this time. In fact, Gus was my driving buddy for most of it as we were unable to snag a large enough rental for the whole band. We embarked with our own vehicles this time. Steve handled most of the booking. The run was in support of Wasted Space’s EP release ‘Never Odd or Even’ which you should all check out. Unfortunately their drummer Collin had a last minute family emergency, so only Matt and Jeremy rolled out for tour – along with Collin’s laptop so they could play along to the recorded drum tracks. Despite this, they brought it every show. So much personality and energy, they make themselves known everywhere they go. Awesome dudes to hang with too. I’d call every date a success on this run.

– It’s hard to rate one over the other so I’d give both tours a 10 out of 10. It’s a lot of driving, not a lot of sleep or showering, and feels strange to make such efforts to play for as little as 30 minutes sometimes. It goes back to what I mentioned previously about how much more there is to it than just the performance itself. Anytime we can play out of town we’re always stoked for it and I’m genuinely excited for the next time we get to roll out.

9. List off, or promote any and all upcoming shows you have in the works that you’re allowed to talk about.

– We are actually trying to lay low right now to finish up some jams we’ve been working on since the pandemic, so there’s nothing to currently promote. We hope to hit the road again once we’ve got our new material recorded and released. Best guess I could give you is hopefully by spring of next year. After being well received on this recent run we’re feeling extra inspired and motivated to get things ironed out as soon as possible. We’re looking to start recording this fall and will probably be doing it in house once again. I’ve never been a fan of a strict timeline in this band because the material is always so challenging. For example, the clean section in our new track ‘Westboro BBQ’ took me about 6 months to write parts for and be able to sort of execute. We’ll continue to grind and it should be noted, especially with the addition of Gus on this next release, we are supremely stoked for everyone to hear what we’ve been up to, whenever it comes out. Very grateful for everyone that supports us and gets excited about our music.

10. Looking back at your career, talk about the bassists you’ve jammed with going back to your very beginnings as a musician. Discuss the bass players that you feel pushed you to enhance your playing, or who just had a great dynamic with you in a band setting. As a follow-up, how would you describe the transition you experienced in Inertia going from Kahlil’s bass backing tracks to having Gus Brand live?

– I’ve been fortunate to play with a handful of bass players. Derek Schwarzkopf from Seigewyrm was the first metal bassist I think I truly vibed with musically. As a metal drummer I’ve always tended to gravitate towards the guitar. I found myself following the same tendencies in both my cover bands as well until UltraViolet brought Mario Nobilio on board. This was my first experience of truly feeling locked in with a bassist and also Mario is just the best kind of person and super fun to be around. When Mario left we brought in Eric Richardson who I had worked with at Guitar Center in the past. This was where the real shift in focus from guitar to bass happened. Eric’s playing is ‘sexy smooth’ as we would say. Also a great guy to hang with. Something about his playing just connected with the way I like to play drums so it wasn’t even necessarily a conscious thing, just a natural gravitation in my focus.

– Enter Gus. I think he gets tired of the onslaught of compliments, so I’ll try to keep it brief. First of all he’s the most humble and truly genuine spirit I’ve encountered to date. I’m used to being surrounded by talent with Kahlil and Steve in the room but when Gus starts playing we’re just as well suited to set our instruments down and give him space. Seriously though, if you’ve never seen Gus play bass, it’s astonishing. All techniques, crazy sound effects, and aweing melodies aside, his attention to detail and precision on the fretboard mirrors that of Kahlil, who has always been THE legend on the strings from my perspective. Kahlil’s bass backing tracks are baller too but Gus has taken them and run with them, refining our older jams and even taking on some of the guitar backing tracks as well (orchestrating the parts in such a way that supplies the bass part and the extra guitar part at the same time). Having him in a live setting adds so much energy and authenticity to our jams. It’s another visually jaw dropping element to our live show to see Kahlil and Gus two-hand tapping the same ridiculous passages together.

– As far as I’m concerned, drumming is my life’s work. Creating Inertia with Kahlil, Steve, and Gus is a true honor. Words can’t say how meaningful it is for me to have jammed with many of the musicians I’ve jammed with but especially these three gents, the truest of the true.

Quick final shout out to my parents, family, and the friends who’ve always shown me love and support.

My wife Amy, who not only tolerates but encourages and motivates me in my endeavors. Lucky as I am to have all these things in place, I’m more motivated than ever because of it – which is good because I’m not getting any younger! Thank you to Mike Marlinski and Wretched Sound for this interview, giving me the opportunity to reflect on my past. Thank you to those who support Inertia and UltraViolet and thank you for reading.

Thanks for reading! To purchase a physical copy of this interview in our September ’22 ALL-RHYTHM edition, click here.

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