Episode 10: Aaron Comess of Spin Doctors and Joan Osborne

25 years ago, a young Dan Radin heard the opening fill and drum groove on a song called Two Princes by the Spin Doctors and immediately said, “I need to do that myself.”
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The drummer on that track, and one of the driving forces in that band was Aaron Comess. The Spin Doctors went on to sell more than 10 million records. Aaron’s sound was one of my defining drum sounds of the 90s, with his cranked-up Brady snare cracking backbeats, ghost notes chattering away; Zildjian A Custom cymbals contributing glassy, not-too-bright wash, and the whole thing anchored together with thunderous Brady kick and toms.

Since those Pocket Full of Kryptonite days, Aaron has reinvented himself as a producer, composer, and a drummer with a pretty different sound. Today, Aaron’s music tends to have more balance and blend than the cut and pop of those early days.
He’s played on, written on and/or produced over two hundred albums with Joan Osborne, Bilal, Rachael Yamagata, Marc Cohn and Chris Whitley to name a few. And in recent years, he’s stepped forward as an artists and bandleader introducing music under his own name with Catskills Cry, Beautiful Mistake, Blues for Use, Aaron Comess Quintet, Live 2016, and another one due for release in early 2018. Aaron also recorded The Spin Doctors’ latest blues record, If The River Was Whiskey, at his NYC studio, His House-Innsbruck Studios.

In this episode, Aaron and I get deep into his background as a player and band member, from his early days studying under luminaries including Rick Latham of Advanced Funk Studies fame, to forming and building the Spin Doctors from scratch by writing good songs and performing a lot – a novel concept as recounted by Aaron!

We talk about recording Pocket Full of Kryptonite and everything – and everyone – that went into creating that snare drum sound, from the Brady 4.5×14 Jarrah piccolo purchased from Manny’s Music, to the coated Remo Ambassador tuned up high and outfitted with a dampening overlay ring, to the incomparable A Room at then-Power Station, (subsequently Avatar), now Power Station at BerkleeNYC, to the compression and two-inch tape recording techniques.

Today, in addition to playing 30 to 50 dates a year with the Spin Doctors, Aaron is a busy and in-demand composer, producer, and session drummer. He works with artists including Joan Osborne, on whose album, Songs of Bob Dylan, he played many different tunings and implements to create a range of tones and colors on the drums. We talked about how his sound today has changed since the cracking pop of the early Spin Doctors records. Aaron employs a range of lower tunings and modifying devices to augment his drum tone, including the Big Fat Snare Drum, Roots EQ, tea towels, t-shirts, mallets, Blasticks, brushes, and more.

In addition to still owning his old Brady Jarrah kit, Aaron is a Yamaha drums endorser and loves his Yamaha Club Custom drums. (For reference, Yamaha also produced a midrange line of drums called Club Custom in the mid-1990s. They were comprised of the birch/mahogany Tour Custom shell formula and long Power V Special lugs. They are unrelated to the 2010s Club Customs Aaron and I discuss here.)

In 2011, Yamaha introduced a line called Club Custom which was designed along with icon Steve Jordan, noteworthy vintage drum lover. Steve and Yamaha worked together to develop a new line of drums that would offer a sound approaching that of vintage drums, but the modern hardware durability and stability. These drums were the first to feature an all-kapur shell, which is an Asian wood that is harder than maple. Being harder than maple, the shells can be quite lightweight and still rigid, and therefore create a different sonic shell-forward character than the maple shelled-drums many drummers are used to.

In 2013, Yamaha parted with its longtime manufacturing partner, Sakae, which now produces excellent drums under its own name. As a result, the Club Customs were discontinued, but like the Recording Customs that have been wonderfully resurrected for production within Yamaha’s own factory, Aaron mentions he’s heard rumors that the Clubs might return as well.

There have been other drums made with kapur mixed-material shells including Pearl Session Studio Classic, the company’s excellent Wood Fiberglass drums that harken back to early 1970s Pearl days; and Tama offers all-kapur snares that are affordable in case you’d like to check out what kapur sounds like for yourself.

Aaron also mentions that the Yamaha Recording Custom aluminum snare drum is one of his favorites along with his 1984 Recording Custom “Gadd” kit.

He endorses Zildjian cymbals and loves the A. Zildjian sound, singling out a few models as among his favorites including his Avedis 20″ ride, Avedis 18″ crash, as well as his 1950s A. Zildjian 15″ hi-hats.

Learn more about Aaron Comess and what he’s up to at aaroncomess.com. Aaron endorses Yamaha drums, Zildjian cymbals, Remo drumheads, and Vic Firth drumsticks.

Listen to Drum Showroom Episode 10: Aaron Comess here, and please subscribe and leave a review if you like what I’m doing. It would really mean a lot.

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