Interview: Danny Walker

The lights dimmed. A discordant melody under the voice of a distorted, rambling man bounced between the instruments on the stage. The audience clustered together in the darkness. David Timnick entered, then Sacha Dunable. The two guitarists posted on opposite ends of the stage draped their instruments over their shoulders, plugged them in, and began to prepare them for the approaching noise. Joe Lester, addicted to the glass fretboard of an aged Pedulla bass, strolled on, waved to the few members of the crowd who knew his name, and the even fewer who he, himself, recognised. He was followed by the final member of the band, a man in shorts, with tattoos running up his legs and out through his arms. Danny Walker.

Under the faint, blackened-green haze, Walker quietly readied, fine-tuning his cymbals and adjusting his toms until he was satisfied with the result and the discordance faded into a distant monitor. Dunable approached the microphone stand, looked out into the crowd, and spoke, "We're Intronaut from Los Angeles, California."
And just as suddenly as it would all be over, Walker banged his snare three times and Intronaut leapt into the pulsing rhythms of their opener, "Elegy", as bright, green smoke engulfed the stage.

There is little argument that Intronaut is a band without peer. The ecletic personalities and musical backgrounds of its four members drives its own eclectic sound. It is heavy metal that doesn't sound like any heavy metal with which one is familiar. Jazz, but too noisy. Death metal with the wrong vocals. Doom, without its characteristic trudging tepidity. The only name the band's fans have for it is "progressive", or, otherwise, just plain different. Since their inception, Intronaut has quickly risen from a band with a unique, but characterless sound, to one whose music is unmistakeable.

A large part of that unmistakable sound is their drummer, Walker, whose fluid, polyrhythmic beats transcend genres and styles, and have seen him rise to be one of modern metal's prominent figures. Despite that, it is still fair to say that he has not yet reached his peak. The future is bright for Danny Walker.

My interview with him earlier this year follows.


Joaquim Baeta: You were #3 on Metalsucks' list of the top modern metal drummers.  (Congratulations!)  Do you put any stock in these sorts of lists, which themselves attempt to place value on one's body of work?  Can you tell us how musicians feel about being a number on a list, high or low? 

Danny Walker: Thank you!  I'm definitely honored to be included in the top modern metal drummers. Not sure why I was rated so high considering that I was above so many amazing drummers that influenced me growing up. It just doesn't make any sense. A lot of these guys are still kicking ass and doing big things. I'm not sure how they calculated this! Hahah. It's a great feeling and I appreciate anyone who supports me. 

JB: I wonder if competition, friendly or otherwise, ever arises from these lists.  Does this kind of list pit musicians against each other, in a sense, making you feel like you have to compete against your peers? 

DW: I don't think so... if so that's very childish. We are all professionals doing our thing. Whether you agree with it or not these are just simply peoples' opinions. Everyone's entitled to their belief. I got as much shit-talking as I did praise I'm sure. Personally I drum because I have a strong passion for music and the arts. I'm not here to compete. I'm here to share ideas and break new ground. That's my path.

JB: What do you enjoy most about being a musician?  Writing the music, the live shows, fame, something else?
There's always road blocks. If you don't run into challenges then you're not progressing as a musician.

DW: I mostly enjoy playing live. That energy cannot be replicated! There's just something special about call and response and the uninterrupted continuity between the player and listener. The recording process is not so much fun, but the end result and final products are rewarding. I'm neutral on my stance for fame. It just comes along when people appreciate what you do. We play progressive metal and our fan base is super dedicated. There's nothing wrong with that, but I certainly don't take advantage of that. 

I'm no better than anyone else. This is just what I live for. Take it or leave it.

JB: Is there any time that you don’t feel good enough as a drummer or musician?  Even as a professional, do moments of doubt creep in?

DW: Absolutely! There's always road blocks. If you don't run into challenges then you're not progressing as a musician. I just keep my head up, pound it out and own it!

If you're comfortable playing what you already know with slight variations then that's fine, but I chose to challenge myself. It makes you feel inferior in the beginning, but you just have to pull through it. 

JB: Last time we met, you said you wanted to get into teaching after the Sick Drummer Camp.  You’ve since created a YouTube account for this very purpose.  Is this something you’ve wanted to do for a long time, or did it arise from the camp?  Can you tell us more about it?

DW: I never really wanted to do this, but several people asked me if I ever considered teaching and/or creating a YouTube channel where I could display and break down songs for people. I just went for it and as a result I feel I'm getting my name out there, and making some people happy by revealing tricks and sharing techniques. it's pretty cool and fun. 

JB: You'll be doing the Sick Drummer Camp again this year.  How do you feel going into it?  How will you use the experience of having done it once before?

DW: Well it will be less nerve-racking for one. I know the system now and feel pretty confident in speaking in front of others. You just got to get up there have fun and expect disaster. If you don't and take it too seriously then you set yourself up for failure and forget why it is that you do this in the first place. The first camp was amazing!

JB: When was the last time you were wowed by another drummer, and in what way?

DW: I'm wowed by drummers all the time! Just jump on YouTube. Everything is so accessible these days. People talk! There's always up and coming drummers that are killer!! 

I can't keep up sometimes! Eric Moore is amazing! He will be joining us at the camp this year. I recently discovered him. He's another gospel chops dude that just owns. Incredible technique, dynamics and power! The new guy drumming for Animals As Leaders is great too! I watched some videos of him recently. The list goes on! 

JB: What albums influenced you the most as a musician?  Are they different from the ones you just like to listen to?

DW: It depends! There's music that helped shape who I am and music that I just enjoy listening to for its feeling and emotion. It doesn't have to be technically challenging.

Just to name a few... music that influenced my drumming in some way:

  • Primus "Frizzle Fry" & "Sailing The Seas Of cheese"
  • Slayer "Reign In Blood"
  • Megadeth "Rust In Piece"
  • Napalm Death "From Enslavement To Obliteration"
  • Meshuggah "Destroy, Erase, Improve" & "Chaosphere"
  • Gorguts "Erosion Of Sanity" & "Obscura"
  • Death "Human" & "Individual Thought Patterns"
  • King Crimson "Discipline" & "Red"
  • Rush "Moving Pictures" & "2112"
  • Today Is The Day "In The Eyes of God"

Music I simply love listening to:

  • Bjork "Homogenic"
  • Massive Attack "Mezzanine"
  • Dead Can Dance "Spleen & Ideal" & "In A Realm Of A Dying Sun"
  • Godflesh "Street Cleaner" & "Selfless"
  • Neurosis "Enemy Of The Sun" & "Through Silver In Blood"
  • Swans "Children Of God" & "The Great Annihilator"
  • Amebix "The Power Remains" " The Beginning Of the End"
  • Cinematic Orchestra "Everyday"
  • The Cure "Pornography"

Danny Walker, Intronaut European tour, 2010.
JB: When Cynic toured Europe with Chimp Spanner, I got to talk to Sean (Reinert) about the rigours of touring.  Something I did not know was that he actually has to put an extraordinary amount of effort into staying healthy while touring.  How do you stay fit during a gruelling tour?

DW: Well for starters, I try to get good rest, and eat lots of fruits and vegetables. The more whole foods the better. I've been vegetarian for 13 years and sometimes it can be rough depending on where in the world you are. I eat cheese, eggs, breads, burritos and sandwiches. Smoothies and wheat grass is always good. It's nice to shoot for this. Sometimes because of location and time constraints you just end up eating at Subway which is 80% of the time. I like to drink and party, so I try my best to balance it out especially when on the road. Also stretching and exercising is great. I bring weights on the road now. 

JB: If you had any resource available, what would your ideal stage look like?  Would it be flashy with lots of lighting, or more simplistic?  Would it have a screen?  What type of setting do you feel would represent your music best? 

DW
: Well for Intronaut since we are not the most interesting band to watch, visuals would come in handy. Lights that are synced up to our music. Conveying mood. We are pretty technical and the others have tons of pedals they have to worry about stepping on. If we were just a plug in and play band we would be going ape shit I'm sure! Haha.

I like a medium-sized stage. I prefer a room that is intimate. Nothing too big, but nothing to small where we can't move around and don't have monitors.

JB: Think of a band, alive or dead.  They’re about to embark on a months-long tour, and their drummer’s fallen ill.  Now they’ve got you on the phone, and just told you that you have one minute to decide whether you want to be the fill-in.  What’s that one band that will make you drop everything and say “yes”?

DW: Meshuggah/"Old" Neurosis - these are the ones that just come to mind! 

JB: Opinions differ on the value of being self-taught or conventionally-taught.  What is yours on the matter?

DW: Well, I was self taught. I started out listening to records at 5 years old. Mimicking what I heard. My parents bought me a pair of drum sticks and I would play on my mom's tupperware and pots. After getting my first real drumset at age 8 I continued to play along to records and experiment on my own. I think around age 11 is when I started taking lessons. While I support the conventional approach, I think it's necessary to have that time to get familiar with the kit on your own. You want to find your own style. 

I encourage drummers to do their own thing, and also take lessons from more than one source. You don't want to sound like somebody else. Educate yourself and draw influences from all corners. 

JB: Some drummers use two bass drums; others use a single bass drum with two pedals.  I’ve only seen you use the latter, but do you have a preference?  
I had no idea what direction we'd be heading in. I just knew I wanted to be playing technical space metal.

DW: I prefer one kick, I don't want a bunch of drums. Plus I just like the feel of a double pedal because I've used one for so long. Two kicks are better for triggering and also easier to play excruciatingly fast double bass on, but I personally have no interest in doing that at the moment.

JB: When I first got into Intronaut, I started reading your LiveJournal blog, which you haven’t updated in six years.  In your last posting, you said, “We're really becoming a solid unit more and more each night.”
I had to laugh when I read this recently, because it reminded me that Intronaut was once just another fledgling band trying to figure out where it was headed and whether all the band members could work together.  Looking back at that point, has Intronaut’s, and your, progression gone how you expected or hoped?  Is this where you thought you would be in six years’ time when Void was released? 

DW: I had no idea what direction we'd be heading in. I just knew I wanted to be playing technical space metal. Hahahah!

I think each release is unique and showcases progression. We've definitely gone in a more melodic direction over time and I think it better suits the band. While I love extremely heavy music and screaming  I really just think that the melodic vocals complement our music more. I'm really happy with what we are doing. We are playing music we want to hear. This is why we do this. We're selfish! 

JB: In your blog, you also said, “I need to jump on the endorsement bandwagon.”  Since then, you’ve gotten several endorsements, including ones from DW Drums and Meinl.  How does it feel to be on the endorsement bandwagon?  What was the process of getting them like, and why did you select those particular companies?

DW: It all started with Meinl... I had toured with other bands and friends that had endorsements with these guys. I wrote them an email and enclosed my biography, tour history, videos and music to listen to. I've been with Meinl for over 4 years now. Basically because I'm a busy drummer and have such a huge catalogue they had no problem endorsing me. They're a really great company. After this I just started writing other companies and got the ball rolling with Intronaut's manager. He's got a lot of connections and people listen to him. You need a reputable person to say, "Hey you gotta listen to this guy." Then you don't get lost in the shuffle of countless drummers asking for endorsements.

At the moment I'm currently endorsed with DW, Meinl, Vater and Aquarian. All amazing companies! I'm grateful for all their support. 

Intronaut, clockwise from top-left: Joe Lester, Dave Timnick, Danny Walker, Sacha Dunable.
JB: You said on Facebook that labels aren’t going to let bands use third-party samples anymore.  This sounds like a big blow for many bands, including Intronaut, for whom samples play a large part in the music.  How do you think this will affect your music moving forward?  Do labels say anything about using samples that are in the public domain?  Surely, no one is looking to sue you for using a clip from Hercules Against the Moon Men.

DW: Well I get it. Labels need to look out for their own asses because people are starting to sue. People get sue crazy! Rather than look into it or get approval a lot of record labels today are enforcing contractually. It states that samples that are taken from copyrighted movies, documentaries, other music cannot be used. We can create our own samples or manipulate and edit other samples, but they sometimes won't chance it. It's at their discretion because it's taking a risk.

JB: How do you plan on approaching future Intronaut songs, with labels, as you say, enforcing this new development contractually? Do you intend on no longer using samples, or perhaps sticking to the public domain?

DW: If it‘s public domain then sure it's fine. For Intronaut this will be OK because we are more into creating soundscapes and trippy samples with effects using our Instruments. This was more of an issue for Murder Construct. We had a ton of samples we wanted to use from old documentaries and such, but couldn't. As far as Intronaut goes, I think we will continue to create our own samples without dialogue.

JB: Do you have any advice for someone trying to get into drumming?  With all the variation in equipment, just starting can be daunting.  Where would you tell a newbie to start?

DW: Pick up a intermediate kit with a minimal set up. Listen to records, take some lessons. See if it's right for you. 

JB: Prior to the Tool tour, Sacha said in an interview with Lambgoat that Intronaut will “get down to business with writing a new album” after the tour.  Do you have any updates on that?  What do you think it will sound like compared with your previous albums? 

DW: We are 4 and 1/2 songs deep. All I can say is that it's probably the heaviest material to date, with all the Intronaut ingredients. These songs are super moody! I'm extremely pleased so far! 

JB: Thank you.

DW: Cheers brotha!

End.

Danny Walker can be found on his official site, Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. You can watch his videos on YouTube. Intronaut can be found here and Murder Construct can be found here.

Credit for European tour image goes to H.C.B., as well as the blame for it being a lousy picture! I also want to thank H.C.B. for all the formatting advice and not showing anger every time I said 'no' to a particular request, which was often.

5 comments:

  1. A couple post-interview comments:

    1. Let's be honest, I'm a huge Intronaut fan. Everyone should know this by now. It was difficult to contain my joy and fanboy tendencies throughout this entire piece, as well as maintain any sort of professionalism. I really had to fight the urge to shout, "Yay, Danny from Intronaut!" after every sentence. In fact, it was suggested to me that I put "A fan interview" in the title, because my professionalism had been compromised, but my pride and ego couldn't handle that.

    2. Yes, the introduction may be slightly over the top with its verbosity. Deal with it. I didn't feel like directing people to Danny's Facebook page and doing nothing more. I felt like being EPIC.

    3. Yay, Danny from Intronaut! Guy is awesome.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Do you mind if I use this article for a drum magazine layout concept? It's for a non-profit student project; I'm studying graphic design at the University of Cincinnati.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Michael,

    Yes, it should be fine, as long as there is attribution to Danny and myself.

    ReplyDelete