Steven Wolf is one of the world’s most in-demand studio musicians. He came up as a drummer, and is very much the modern definition of what a studio drummer is today: a player, a programmer, a beat maker, a producer, a songwriter, and a remixer.
Wolf splits time between the drum throne and Pro Tools rig, where he does most of his work composing and producing beats for the likes of Alicia Keys, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé, Pink, Aretha Franklin, Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne, and literally hundreds of other household names. His discography includes Number 1, Gold, Platinum, and Grammy®-winning records.
Throughout his life and playing, Wolf’s mantra, one that has obviously served him well, is fewer, simpler ingredients. He keeps things pretty simple, both in terms of the gear and the parts he plays.
He talks about the snare drum as the center of the kit. And shockingly, in an age in which it’s easy to lust over $1,000, $2,000, or even-more-expensive drums, Wolf makes hits, usually with a pair of snare drums. His standard tracking setup is a pair of 5×14 and 6.5×14 Ludwig Acrolites and/or Supraphonics. And for “the Ringo thing” he’ll occasionally add an old mahogany 5.5×14 Ludwig.
His heads are super simple: coated G1s on snares, coated UV1s on toms, and EQ4 with an EQ3 front on kicks. Bath towels muffle the bass drum, paper towels and tape on snares. That’s it. Refreshingly simple because “it works,” as Wolf says.
Wolf’s minimalism has even extended to his beat making, where it used to take him a lot of gear, today he does it with just a mouse and a thumb drive. No keyboard controller, no drum pads, no MPC… he draws it all in, making the computer his instrument.
Wolf is a fiercely loyal partner to the companies whose gear he endorses. He has a story or connection with each one in a really authentic, honest way. He’s not just collecting logos to put on his front bass drum head as you’ll hear – he’s literally endorsing the companies who make the gear he’d spend his own money on anyway. That starts with Zildjian cymbals.
Wolf talks about his love of super-thin, large-sized cymbals and notes that he asks Zildjian’s Paul Francis to lathe down his cymbals to be thinner. He generally prefers 16″ hats, 20″ crashes, and talks about a K Constantinople prototype ride he worked with Paul on.
His endorsement of Ludwig drums recently expanded to include Atlas hardware. Wolf loves the Atlas Pro pedal and Atlas Classic flat-base hardware because it offers the features of the heavier-weight Atlas Pro stands in a lightweight package.
Wolf lives a very healthy lifestyle including a diet he arrived at through medical assistance and a lot of personal trial and error following a time in which his body simply was fighting him due to the stress of the musician lifestyle. That story has been chronicled in other interviews, so rather than retelling it he, I’ll link to some other interviews of him telling that story and others about his background.
After you finish listening to this episode, if you switch over to radio, chances are you’ll hear a song, or a few, that include Steven Wolf’s playing and beatmaking. He is a straight-talking guy who isn’t interested in overcomplicating things. As gear lovers, it’s easy to get caught up in the latest brand or innovation in drums. But consider this: Wolf, who started the show by talking about the centrality of the snare drum to the song, shows up to his sessions with a couple of Acrolites or Supraphonics, fitted with G1s, and muffles them with duct tape and paper towels. The innovations he’s most appreciated of are indexed snare tension and drumkey bolts on the snare throwoff. And matching cases.
Wolf’s embrace of electronics and beat making, and willingness to adapt to the way rhythm is created today is a big reason why he’s successful. I was really impressed that he writes and programs parts without a drum machine, a pad controller, a keyboard, or an electronic kit. That’s the mark of an artist: somebody who can make music that resonates around the world with a thumb drive and a mouse. It might not be those 60s Club Dates he grew up with, but it’s the product, regardless of the process that Wolf has mastered.