STUDIO OF NERDS: VINCE MAYER (DRUMMER @ GRIZZLY RUN)

WE’RE BACK! Just when you thought STUDIO OF NERDS was over for this month, we’ve got another unique take on the modern hardware and software of the music world from Vince Mayer (drummer of Grizzly Run, digital recording wiz, and mad scientist of elaborate light shows)!!

1. What first inspired you to start playing drums?

First of all, thank you for having me back for another big pile of words! Drums was definitely something my dad picked out for me. He was a very talented guitar and bass player, and his parents were well known members of the Buffalo Philharmonic and taught cello and upright bass out of their home for decades, so it’s not surprising that the next generation of Mayers was going to be musicians.He set me up with my first drum teacher and drove me to my lessons (Ted Reinhardt of Gamalon/Spyro Gyra fame initially, and then Kevin Soltis who co-authored the Groovezilla Drum Method), bought most of my equipment when I was young, and guided me to keep playing. In the first couple years of playing I was introduced to some challenging stuff like Fear Factory and Dream Theater and I think that boosted my development on the instrument at that age and helped cement it as a core component of my life.

2. Discuss the evolution of your drum setups over time going back to your very first kit. Be as specific as possible. Talk about any and all modifications and replacements over time, the decisions you made regarding major changes, and why.

My beginner kit was an orange sparkle Kent kick drum with a rack tom and floor tom, an unknown brand marbled-looking middle tom, and a no-name snare drum. Zildjian ZBT cymbals, unknown hardware. I’ll always tell its origin story when it comes up: My dad knew a guy with just a bunch of drum gear all over his house that sold it to him. Nice enough guy, was a big talker like my dad so the couple times we were there to pick out a piece of gear would be a lot of hours of standing around (his claim to fame was a 45 minute conversation with a wrong number!). Anyways, when my dad picked up the drums, I’m sure he expected a couple hours of conversation again, but he was asked to leave in a hurry, as the seller had hired a prostitute, she was on the way over, and thats where the money was going! Talk about…get ready for this….drumroll please….Bang for your Buck!

Yes I can hear your future sigh from here.

So my time with the first orange frankenkit above was thankfully short. That was the “hey lets see if he sticks with this” purchase. (Sticks! Get it?) In 2000 for graduating 8th grade (please, hold your applause), my parents bought me a Sonor Force 2001 5 piece kit, and I soon after would get my first gibraltar drum rack. This kit spent a few years with Jeff from Red Letter before I re-acquired it, I still have it and have used it in the last few years, it’s pretty decent for its age and being a relatively entry level kit!

In 2002, I was hired to drum for a production of “Grease” at the Lancaster Opera House (my dad was brought on to play bass and happened to have a young drummer in-house). Funny aside from this experience: some of the rehearsals with the actors would have them rehearse without microphones, so the instruments had to play impossibly quiet to match single voices across the large room. Very difficult on drums. So I ran next door and bought two large size slim jims, and swapped my sticks for them for that rehearsal. They tenderized quickly but were still entirely edible. Anyways, the guitar player on this gig was some sort of instrument buyer and seller, and I used some of the proceeds from the shows to buy a TKO drum set in the exact blue color as my Sonor kit but in different sizes. So when the Ultrazord was assembled I had a 20” and 22” bass drum, and the toms were 10, 12, 12, 13, 14, 16. Oh to be a 16 year old Dream Theater fan again. This spawned the double Gibraltar rack which I’m still using components of.

Late 2004 I bought a DW classic series kit on eBay, and this was the best worst kit ever. The hardware was some bizarre third party ratchet system, it had weird unlined cases that didn’t fit the drums with the awful hardware on them, cymbal stands that were missing pieces, it was a bizarre collection of items. I think this was the seller parting with all of their unwanted stuff. But it came with the hi hats I use today (Zildjian A Custom, recently cracked which does not spark joy) and a few good cymbals I used for many years, a set of DW 5000 double pedals that I used for a long time, and some awful drum mics that also did not fit on the drums. I ended up selling the kit to my much more talented cousin and hanging on to some of the stuff that came with it.

Later in 2005 I ordered a Starclassic Birch Performer drumset from the Easter Bunny at Guitar Center, but some issue with the ordering made it miss the quarterly ship from Japan and the 5 month lead time was too much for me, so I canceled that, and ended up buying the Tama Starclassics that I’ve used ever since. It was during this kit that my setup evolved, I added the Mapex Black Panther Sledgehammer snare somewhere around 2014-2015 when I wasn’t playing actively, and all the big changes during my time with The Last Reign with the new pedals, cymbals, hardware, and electronics.

Tama Starclassic sizes: 20×24 kick drum (2x), Toms are 7×8, 9×10, 10×12, 14×14, 16×18

And now finally in 2022, I have purchased my first brand new drum set, a DW Design Acrylic kit. This is specifically meant for live use, although I’m sure it would sound great in the studio. This one keeps my Tama’s safe at home from the wear and tear of the road since they’re so special to me, and enabled me to condense my stage footprint and setup time. I’ve been researching how to get some programmable lights inside this kit and am really hoping I can figure that out, the one or two companies that made specific stuff like this went out of business so it will be a custom project.

DW Design sizes: 18×22 kick drum, Toms are 8×10, 9×12, 14×16. Snare is 5.5×14 although I haven’t used it yet!

Here are some specifics for you to go along with the stories above that were in no way copied from any past interviews, obviously.

Cymbals:

For cymbals I didn’t have any particular brand loyalty, especially early on. Started on a Zildjian ZBT pack, I remember a big upgrade in moving up to Sabian AAX crashes (16 and 18), I remember an 18” Sabian china that my dad got me for Christmas one year, which actually was delivered by way of scavenger hunt, that had me looking all over the house for clues until I found it wrapped in our at-the-time under construction bathroom! After the Bathroom China came splashes and bells and all that. My favorite cymbal of all time is the Sabian Max Stax Mid, I’ve had two of them in my lifetime and it really became part of my style. I also really liked and miss my Sabian 14” HHX Evolution mini china at the center of my kit. I’ve gone through a few of them and they’ve become harder to find and more expensive as the years go on.

Now in 2022 I do have much more preference in cymbals. I have chosen to go for all Meinl because I do like the uniformity of one brand even if I’m definitely all over the place as far as the series they offer. I’d love to say I am so knowledgeable about bronze alloys and manufacturing processes and all that, but really I’m a pretty easy sell: I see or hear models other drummers are using and end up buying those things. The 8” Benny Greb crasher hats I heard in an Anup Sastry video, 8” classics custom bell was in a Darkane/Peter Wildoer video, 18” Matt Gartska Fat Stack because Matt Gartska (Animals as Leaders), the 18” Classics Custom Brilliant China I liked from the Galactic Empire records, and my favorite one is the MB20 Heavy Bell Ride used by Soilwork, Darkane, In Flames, and a bunch of other drummers that could use whatever they want and choose this one. It’s discontinued and I hope I don’t need to find an alternative any time soon!

The rest of the cymbals have been guess and test, since we don’t really have a place in Buffalo that stocks the nicer Meinl cymbals that I am aware of. I found that the medium thin crashes preferred by a lot of artists I look up to don’t last too long for me so I’ve been rotating different crash models and will continue to do so.

Snare:

Beyond the “whatever came with the kit” snare drum days, I’ve used a Pork Pie green acrylic 13” snare from 2005-2014, and then the Mapex Black Panther Sledgehammer snare since then (saw it in a Matt Halpern video! See a pattern yet?). I’ve recently had a few sessions at GCR using their Gretsch bell brass snare and have my eye on that when it is next feasible to acquire one. If money were no object I’d love to locate a Tama bell brass like everyone else but we’ll have to put that on the bucket list for now!

Drum Heads:

Evans all day! Been using HD Dry for snare heads for probably a decade, EMAD for bass drums, and I’ve tried a few series for toms, currently digging the EC2. I’ve been advised to try batter heads on the resonant side of my toms for the acrylic kit so I plan to give that a shot next batch of heads. That said I’ve used plenty of Remo, I really liked the ebony pinstripes, especially visually on the green and gold kit, and a friend at the musicmall had me try some Attack drumheads that were actually really nice. There are more knowledgeable people than me on this topic, I’ve not really had drum heads that I disliked so I may not be very discerning on these!

Hardware:

Hardware I’ve been back and forth on, for a semi-permanent setup I love having all my gear on a big drum rack. I recently split up my two or three sided racks into individual freestanding single racks and felt like I should have been doing this all along. Getting three or four guys to carry a fully loaded rack onto a stage around a crowd of people not paying attention and hoping it lands intact has always been a miserable experience. It’s one thing if you’re playing Rapids Theater and have all the time and space in the world to set up but for the traditional Buffalo venues it’s a hassle, the separated free-standing pieces made it much more manageable.

That said today I am using one rack for the DW kit up front and supplementing it with a few stands on the right. Fits in the car better and allows for a little more stage flexibility. I have no specific brand loyalty on that kind of hardware yet, the Gibraltar/DW/Pacific/Tama rack ecosystems all work together. I have my eye on a Yamaha hex rack (something like that or a Pearl rack that is a rectangle has less variation when setting up than a round tube), but it’s a big investment so I haven’t made the leap yet. Also very much enjoying Trick cymbal toppers for all of my cymbals, they are quick release and very solid. I have a pair of new stands that don’t seem to fit them but I’m going to find a way!

For pedals I’ve had quite a few: DW 5000 and 7000 double pedals, two single Axis pedals, Tama Iron Cobra, and right now I use the Tama Dyna Sync. (Matched it up with a Dyna-Sync hi hat stand). Swapped the Tama linkage for a Trick assembly and I strongly recommend that for everyone! I have goals of learning some of the doubles techniques that favor direct drive and longboard pedals and am pretty happy with these, but I do want to try ACD Darwin’s sometime as I see and hear a lot of good things about them. I have a mismatched set of Trick pedals I bought from another drummer (one dominator and one Pro-V) that I’d like to match up with their mates sometime and spend some time with, although they’re not the longboards I would have chosen if I had bought them new (and in general would not recommend mixing different pedals for use as a double pedal unless you have a use case I am not thinking of!)

Electronics:

I’ve tried kick triggers a few times and enjoy the sound it can bring, I used a regular Roland trigger before moving up to Footblasters. Generally if you are going trigger-only, two kick drums will perform better than one (stuffed to the gills with pillows and very tight heads). However, you are entirely reliant on the trigger system and lets be honest, it’s a gamble if the venues we play will be able or willing to dial them into the mix properly, so you run a real risk of no audible kick drum. Footblasters instead install right on the pedals and you can use that pedal with a regular kick drum, so it’s kind of a win-win and makes so much sense if you think about it. I’m not using them at the moment with Grizzly Run as I’m engaged in a game of balancing a wishlist of setting up all of my toys with the reality of stage space and setup time restrictions, and honestly the kick drum on my DW kit sounds really good on its own.

I only wanted to buy in-ear monitors once so I went for a set of custom molded Ultimate Ears UE11 Pro, and the current mixer/tracks setup is a macbook pro and a Behringer X32 Rack. I made it work with a Cymatic LP-16 for backing tracks a few years and still use it occasionally, but there’s a lot about it that is inflexible for live use without breaking out a laptop to make changes, and I like being visually able to see where a song will start and pause if needed. Also it’s discontinued so I try not to design a system based off a product that is not replaceable.

Mics are Shure Beta 98Amp (Saw mike Mangini using them), Shure Beta 91A in the kick drum, AKG CS1000 condensers for overhead. There was a video from KRIMH regarding an in ear setup where he uses his kick triggers and a single overhead for himself and does not need anything from the sound board, so I have been running a modified version of this with my kick mic and an overhead for shows that are just for me and separate from what the venue uses to capture my playing.

Getting all of this stuff sorted and streamlined and redundant and labeled is a forever process that I am in the middle of, I’ve been tinkering with different approaches each show to get that sweet spot of monitoring for myself, quality audio out to front of house, ability to make some changes on the fly, and have everything be pre-wired, self contained, safe from damage, and just reliable in general. I have been running the guitars and bass direct into my mixer for my ears, and next step will be to run vocals through my mixer as well so I can hear more of the live band. Also in my ears I have the click and some cues to start the song and for key moments.

3. Discuss your philosophy on drummers helping drummers in the underground live show setting. We’ve had many conversations about this lately.

Oh man this could really be summed up into the “Treat others as you want to be treated” golden rule! I have always needed a ton of help setting up. I can get there on my own but it’s faster and I can retain more energy for the actual playing part of the night if I have a couple people helping move my gear around. I have been SO fortunate to have wonderful friends and family and bandmates, every show I’ve played there are usually a few around that can help move stuff back and forth. Especially when coming offstage, you really want to give the next band as much time as possible for their own setup.

To that end, drums are complicated and can fall apart/fall over if not handled correctly. More often than not, other drummers will be familiar with the components and the gotchas that come with moving drum gear, so of everyone in the room that could potentially help you, they’re the ones that are likely going to have some intuition of how to carry things and where to put them.

So with all the help I’ve gotten over the years, I try to pay it forward and help out my friends when I’m at their shows: They’ve been prepping all day to make the show happen and I’m more or less standing around, why not help? The intricacies of setup are best left to the drummer but getting the components from one side of the room to the stage and back is not a big ask, and in some cases just having someone to manage the crowd that inevitably stands RIGHT in the path and zones out is a big benefit. This is a no-cost thing you can do to make someone’s life better, why not? As with anything, use your best judgment. If you’ve been enjoying some special beverages, or like me are not the best fit to lift an 8×10 cabinet over your head, don’t bet someone else’s gear on it. Coming out to the show and yelling Woo at the appropriate moments is plenty of support and I assure you very much appreciated!

And if you happened to find someone exceptional at this task, consider hiring that person to do this for you more often!

4. When it comes to guitar, what are your preferred makes, models, amps, and plugins. Most importantly, why are these your preferred options?

Well, I don’t consider myself an expert in this field, but I’m happy to tell you what I like! Similar to a lot of drum stuff, I get pretty inspired by artist models. You gotta be careful here because what you hear on an album and what an artist uses live are rarely the same.

Guitars:

For a general purpose guitar that’s good at everything, you can’t go wrong with a Musicman Majesty. I have one of the earlier models and man, everything is just premium on it. A lot of thought went into every element, and it’s just loaded with tech. Push/push volume boost, coil split, and a Piezo pickup along with blending options and the ability to even run stereo with magnetic pickups on one side and piezo out the other.

For ergonomics, I’ll get some hate for this but I’m digging the headless! I have a Strandberg Masvidalien Cosmo but would get a Plini or a Boden Prog given the chance. They’re so light and portable, when I get older I think it’s all I’ll play.

You know what isn’t particularly light? For metal rhythm playing and tracking, you can’t beat a guitar with an evertune bridge. Honestly it’s one of the most important advancements on the guitars themselves in quite a while, it just stays right in tune. No string stretching, no effects from change in temperature and humidity, depending on how you set it you can’t bend a note if you tried. It’s very customizable so you can pick which strings you can bend and how far, and there’s a trick with the zones where you can do a quick change from standard to Drop D type tuning. As far as guitars that come with it, there’s a few by ESP/LTD, Schecter, and Solar, or you can get it on a custom. The Grizzly Run guys have them on their Balaguers and they are fantastic. I have a 7 string LTD Ken Suzi model with one and it feels great to play and hear those chords ring out.

Pickups are subjective, I’ve had dimarzio’s, EMG, Fishman Fluence, Duncans…I think my next guitar will have Bare Knuckles as they’ve been killing it lately especially for metal stuff.

Amps

Tube amp guys and modeling guys, amirite? Is it too much to ask for both? There’s a couple schools of thought here. I owned a 5150 II and a Mesa Dual Rectifier back in the day, and those are fantastic amps. There’s a reason they’re on so many records. But modern setups have different requirements, so many bands are going direct to front of house and in-ears, and that’s modeler territory all day. You could technically use a tube amp and an IR load box but that is just not portable. Gas is expensive, trailer space can be at a premium, so there’s a lot to be said for the consistency of AXE-FX/ Kemper / Quad Cortex / Helix night after night for a touring act.

For my home use I use a Fractal FM3 and would move up to a Quad Cortex some day, and a Friedman 1×12 FRFR cabinet. It’s versatile and sounds good clean or heavy. If money were no object I’d love to try the Mesa JP-2C and a Mesa 4×12 to go with it, and I think for me I’d take the convenience of a multi-FX unit like the modelers listed above over all individual pedals but that is also very subjective. I think when you’re home or in the studio you can have the luxury to dig into specific amps and pedals, but for live anything you can do to reduce setup complexity is great. That said, not every venue has a high end sound system and unless you’re showing up with your own sound guy, going direct is a bit like drum triggers where you are putting your whole sound in their hands. The Grizzly Run guys generally use power amps and cabs for stage volume (KSR PA-50 heads and Orange 4×12 cabinets) with a Quad Cortex for really the best of all worlds. If I got back into live guitar playing that kind of rig would make me very content!

Plugins

NeuralDSP all day, like I’ve recommended to you, they have two week trials of most of their plugins so you can really dig in and see what you like, there are persistent 30% off codes out there and they regularly go on sale for 50% off around Black Friday etc. I use the Plini and Nolly plugins myself and would like to try some more of them. I’ve also been seeing some great stuff coming out of STL Tones that would be worth checking out!

5. How did you first get into studio and stage lighting and what are some of the challenges you still face today with light shows now that you’re somewhat seasoned?

So I’ve been a bit of a lighting fanatic all my life. I have a video from 2006 with 26,000 views of my first gaming PC with some USB lights and keyboard I was able to sync up to some Arch Enemy so its been a long time coming! I’ve got PC setups and hue lights in the living room and just in general it’s something I’ve always enjoyed. Even stuff like the Darien lake laser light show I have fond memories of, and I’m told when I was low single digits years old I would run directly at the arcade given the opportunity even though I had no idea what was happening there!

I can give a few specific inspirations for the live lighting, one was The Bad Thing by Periphery, they have a very stop and start section and I remember the room going entirely dark between notes and how cool that felt. There is a band called Abiogenesis with a video for Visualize (Man I wish that band kept going) that I just really got inspired by and wished I could replicate in my own projects, and then some footage from Archspire’s Tech Trek IV where they had some moving light bars going with the music on the amps made me think it might be possible to get my bands into that space between standard local gig and the professional tours that come to town.

I picked out a few programmable lights and a manual control board, and then graduated to a DMXIS interface which is billed as being good for musicians since it’s more or less MIDI controlled at the end of the day. Since then I’ve done a couple light shows for music videos for The Last Reign, Washed Ashore, and Vertigo Child, and used the computer and software side of my setup to run the fire elements for Red Letter’s video. I’ve got a rough setup for Grizzly Run live shows that is under constant iteration.

The challenges are plenty, for one thing it’s a whole extra system to set up, while I arguably have the most time intensive setup in a band already (the drumset). The first show I went to use them, it was so cumbersome that I had turned around and the fantastic Ryan Hare had supervised my entire kit’s transport and construction on stage with the help of a few of my friends. So now I want to have a drum tech all the time! The rig I have set up now doesnt have any front lighting for the band yet, so our first show with it was mostly silhouettes and the brightness generated some feedback from a few attendees! For the next show we had the venue leave some front light on us and I raised the height of two of the lights and adjusted the intensity of the others which helped somewhat, but of course an electrical issue on stage reset the lights to auto so it was random rainbows for the rest of the set if they did anything at all. For our next show we have replaced the DMX wiring with wireless transmitters and receivers so they mostly need to be plugged into outlets and will be good to go.

Some of the other challenges : a pro setup should also manage front lights, and lights that are above the band, but this would be well beyond the scope of something that can be set up in a standard 4 band show changeover. This is just another tier that requires multiple people and a ton of equipment, and a lot of setup time earlier in the day. Realistically when you see a pro light show, the band doesn’t own those lights, its all rented because the cost is excessive, some good fixtures can be $5k each! They also have technicians to run the show and for a tour adjustments can be made on the fly and optimized night after night, on my end I hit Go on the laptop and that’s the end of my involvement so all of the magic is in the preparation. I recently was introduced to someone that does a more professional version of what I do (designs light shows and rigs for bands to take with them on tour), and he guided me to the next tier of software and methodology so I am excited to kind of start over and rebuild my show files. DMXIS is very guess-and-test and is fatiguing to work on since you’re subjecting yourself to a facefull of strobes, so something more timecode based (ShowExpress is the next software for me) is appealing, and perhaps a modeling software where I can build the show in software rather than with live lights in the room!

My last big challenge is deciding how I want to light my drum area and implementing that, I so badly want to get programmable light strips into each drum but the company that sold a kit for this went defunct and the engineering required is a bit beyond me. Otherwise I’ve flirted with the idea of attaching a few wireless battery operated lights right to the drum rack, or what area around me I could set a few pars and write them into the show.

I’m still open to music video work in the area, I’m not in a spot to offer live lights for other bands yet but I’m always happy to share what I’ve learned so far if someone wants to do the same for their band!

6. What’s the best advice you can give a young musician looking to start or join their first band?

Let me deploy some bullet points for this one!

Being in a band should be fun! There is a lot of work involved but the ratio of enjoyment to frustration should be well into the enjoyment side of the scale more often than not. If you’re not having fun, re-evaluate what will restore that for you and if the group you are in is the best fit for that.

That said there’s a ton of work involved! You should be competent on your instrument and have a working knowledge of your equipment and the general standards for your genre. Know your amp settings and a basic knowledge of frequencies so you can properly ask your sound guy for what you need (“Can you boost around 5k in the monitors” etc).

Beyond your instrument, there is a lot that goes into being in a band in the modern era. Social media strategies, ability to record/mix/video yourself, edit video and audio, financial decisions around merchandise and promotion. Don’t let it stress you out, there are resources for all of this!

For young/new musicians, there is so much YouTube content available for every type of technique. However, if you can find a local instructor for the basics, the value in correcting what would have become bad technique is high! Also take care not to compare yourself too harshly to the musicians you see in videos : remember that in social media you are comparing someone else’s curated highlight reel to your regular Tuesday, it’s not real life. It may have taken 90 attempts before they captured the perfect one that made it onto the video.

I can’t promise resources and not list any. RiffHard Podcast taught me a ton about guitars, how the top level pro guitar players operate, and the interpersonal side of being in a band. “Being in a band is like being in five marriages at once”, “Every member of your band will have a different communication style and a different way they prefer to be communicated with”. The “Don’t Shit on the Bus” podcast is a fantastic resource for learning about absolutely every element of touring and the roles and responsibilities of all the different crew members. I never realized how much of a monitoring engineer’s day was spent scanning and identifying frequencies and backup frequencies for all the wireless elements of a band’s in-ears and instruments, and how much that can change not just city to city, but between load-in and showtime even! There is a book recommended to me by Jay Zubricky at GCR called “Get More Fans”, the Kindle edition has been updated regularly and has a TON of how-to information for making a band successful.

Have an idea of what your goals as a band are. Are you looking to tour? Just play a few local shows? Become an internet-focused band and do live streams? So many of your decisions should reflect this, the amount of promotion to do where, how much to invest in music videos and other content. If your band has a mismatch here with some members looking to make this their career and others treating it as a hobby you can run into issues so it’s good to be upfront and honest with this stuff!

Etiquette is so important: you could play the best set of your life and kill it with the crowd, but if you go over your set time and cause problems for the rest of the bands after you, that will be how you are remembered. Get your stuff off stage as fast as possible. Be respectful of your bandmates and other bands gear. Really set yourself up for success and remove as many variables as you can think of. There will always be surprises to come up and deal with, which is frustrating, but just work through it and try to remain approachable, your peers and fans and new potential friends will thank you! Everything in this world is relationships.

I may be the worst person to give this advice, but gear will not solve all of your problems. New gear definitely inspires, and there are milestones that will make a big difference in your sound and comfort, but there hits a point where time spent practicing and learning a new technique will have a larger impact on your sound than another $1000 toy. Some people really do just like to collect so don’t get discouraged if you’re not deploying a $10k guitar rig at every gig, focus on the elements of your playing that make you special and the upgrades will come over time!

EDIT:

“I’m regretting not writing about developing yourself as a musician rather than just your band since you don’t know what opportunities may arise, and just creating a brand for yourself so that you become a catch for any band that would approach you, but I forgot…”

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