A Conversation with: BRIAN KARL

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BORN TO SLAM is the brainchild of ex-Great White drummer Gary Holland.  Each month Gary will bring us a “conversation” with various working drummers to see what makes them tick.  In addition, he and his guests will cover ALL topics of concern to drummers everywhere.  And while their jargon may get a bit technical for us non-drummers, the conversations are sure to keep your interest.


Brian Karl

Brian Karl

GH: Well Brian, last time I saw you, we were having lunch at a diner in Hauppauge, Long Island in 2013, wasn’t it? I’m pretty sure a lot has happened to you since then. Let’s start by giving everyone a summary of the groups or artists you’ve worked with, and something important that you learned as a result of your experience with them. Then, if you wouldn’t mind, bring us up to date. Who have you been working with lately?

BK: “Yes, Gary. Quite a lot has happened since we last spoke. After leaving the band, Station, I formed a new original rock band called D.M.K. with singer, Scotty Dunbar and guitarist, Ted Merrill (formerly of Mach 22). I met both of the guys while on tour with Station. We recorded an EP entitled “3” and a few singles with engineer, Kenny Lewis, and producer/singer, Mark Slaughter (of Slaughter). We also worked with Pete Evick of The Bret Michaels Band.

D.M.K. has been direct support for some acts such as Bret Michaels, Trixter, Y&T, and others. We also supported our EP by playing at The Whisky A Go-Go in Hollywood twice.  In addition to D.M.K., I began doing session work for other artists and bands. I have been playing live shows and recording for these artists both locally and outside of NY. I am able to record drum tracks directly at my home studio and shoot them over to other producers around the world. I recently finished tracking drums on a Country Rock album, believe it or not! I am always looking for the next big project and I try to work with as many different artists as I can. In addition to session work I teach privately at my studio on Long Island and I have also begun conducting drum clinics with Sam Ash.”

GH: That’s impressive! Now I’d like to go back to the beginning of your interest in drumming. Was there an epiphany moment, and if so, please describe it. What type of drummer, or style of drumming, inspired you?  Everyone acquires their skills differently. Some people are self-taught, some seek out formal training, while others are a combination of factors, such as following a certain musician they saw performing live. How would you describe the development of your skill set? How has that evolved over time? Did your elementary-high school offer drumming instruction?

BK: “My epiphany came from watching Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same. Moby Dick came on and I just kept watching Bonham’s solo over and over. I was amazed at his speed, his dynamics, and his feel. Bonham is and has always been my biggest inspiration. There have been other moments similar to that. When I was 11 or 12 my father took me to see Billy Cobham…I thought Bonham was fast!! I have always been a rocker, but, I also really love jazz fusion. I think it is good for all musicians to expose themselves to many different genres.  I always studied with teachers as a young drummer and I still study with teachers. I am always looking to learn more and grow as a drummer and musician.  I love learning new things and expanding my vocabulary on the kit. I studied with many great teachers including; Bobby Rondinelli, Jason Sutter, and Aaron Edgar.”

aheadyt2-cropGH: Tell me about your first band. And how did your first gig in front of an audience go?  As musicians, we learn to deal with onstage technical difficulties usually by personal experience. What was the biggest onstage disaster you’ve ever encountered, and how do you avoid a repeat of it?

BK: “My first band consisted of a bunch of my friends from High School. We played our first show at an open mic night in the High School when we were 15 or 16. It was awful! But, then again, nothing is ever good enough for me. I am always beating myself up and pushing myself harder and harder. I could have the best show of my career and I will still find things that need improvement.

I’ve never had a big onstage meltdown. But, when you’re playing at a club or venue that supplies a kit, there are always problems. My biggest problem was always the kick drum moving forward. Halfway through the set I would be right on top of the lead singer. So whenever I play a gig with my personal kit I use 2 rugs, sandbags and bricks to ensure everything stays where it should!”

GH: A drum carpet is essential! Additionally, I personally use DW-9000 kick drum pedals, which have not only their own spurs, but also Velcro strips on the underside of the decks. Your kick drums will not creep! In fact, when I’m tearing down and picking up my pedals to put them away, the Velcro is so sticky, lifting the pedals literally lifts the carpet off the floor!

GH: Is there any drummer, past or present, you’d most like to hang out with for a day? What might you wish to tell or ask them?

BK:John Bonham, for sure. I would love to know everything about him and his playing. I would ask him how and what he practiced, what he listened to, and what he strived to be as a drummer.”

GH: Working in a professional recording studio your first time is often something that is “trial by fire.” What misconceptions were cleared up during your first sessions, if any? What advice do you have for any inexperienced drummer that is preparing to record on his/her first pro session?

BK: “My first recording session was with Michael Wagener* in Nashville, TN. Talk about pressure!! Michael recorded everything from Skid Row to Alice Cooper. At the time Station was recording our first EP, Wired. I always made sure I was well prepared for any situation. I would practice the songs and I would have everything charted out. I was really proud of how I played on that EP, always making sure I did not overplay. I always want my playing to be solid and my timing to be spot on.  My advice for any young drummer would be to play for the song. Don’t overplay and try to impress others. Always be prepared, practice and learn to write out charts or cheat sheets for yourself.”

* Michael Wagener produced albums for many of the most popular 80’s rock groups of the day, including, Great White, Dokken, Skid Row, Metallica, Alice Cooper, Warrant, Extreme, White Lion, and Ozzy Osbourne, as well as mixing albums for Accept.

GH: How does your live performance style differ from your recording style? How about your performance gear compared to your recording gear?

aheadyt1-cropBK: “When I record I may hold back a little bit. I tend to be a little more conservative with my playing during a recording session because I want the track to be perfect. I want to play for the song and I do not want to step on anyone else’s toes. I think that is the most professional thing you can do.  Live performances are a time for jamming, working off of each other and experimenting with the songs a bit more. I will play more during a live performance, again careful not to overplay. But I like to have fun with the track and take it to a spot it hasn’t reached in the recording. That’s always how I have viewed recordings versus live performances.  When I head to a recording studio I bring the bare minimum gear that I need to record the track. I don’t want to be distracted by all of the other toys on my kit. So I bring exactly what I need. It also makes it a lot easier for the producer to get a good drum sound with a smaller kit. As a result you save time, money and you make everyone else’s job easier.  During live gigs I bring all of the toys…The big kit!”

GH: Did you ever hear a drummer on record and think, “That is the greatest ______ sound (i.e., snare, kick, tom) I’ve ever heard! How is he getting that sound?”?

BK: “Absolutely! That happens almost every time I listen to a record. I always find new, cool things when listening to different albums. And I try to figure it out. I love Brian Tichy’s drum sound on Whitesnake’s album, Forevermore. The drums sound HUGE.”

GH: Have you ever seen a drummer onstage in a club and thought, “OMG! Who IS THIS guy, and where did HE come from??” For instance, I saw Terry Bozzio performing one night in 1985, and I didn’t realize who he was. I wanted to either quit altogether or leave the venue and head straight to practice! Has that ever happened to you?

BK: “When I was younger I saw the Buddy Rich Memorial Concert. There were so many drummers in the show and every guy was better than the next. I loved [Prince drummer] John Blackwell. He had this cool, massive China cymbal behind him and he would swing his arm behind his head and hit it. Phenomenal drummer. Terry Bozzio was also in the show, I’ve always been a huge Bozzio fan.”

GH: Ringo or Phil Rudd?
BK: Ringo

GH: Buddy Rich or Tony Williams?
BK: Buddy

GH: Neil Peart or Mike Mangini?
BK: Mike Mangini

GH: Billy Cobham or Mike Portnoy?
BK: Billy Cobham

GH: Chris Coleman or Todd Sucherman?
BK: Chris Coleman

GH: Sean Kinney or Chad Smith?
BK: Chad Smith

GH: Single kick or double kick?
BK: Double Kick

GH: Paper or plastic?
BK: Paper

GH: Smoking or Non-smoking?
BK: Non-smoking

GH: Aisle or window?
BK: Aisle, for sure. I’ve got long legs!

GH: What rudiments have you most integrated into your skill set? Are there any rudiments or combinations you’d dearly like to master that are proving to be a bit of a challenge? For instance, I have attempted to learn how to perform paradiddles up top while playing 16th note double-strokes with my feet, and it’s just not working! I know, it sounds easy, but…

BK: “Yea, I overuse paradiddle-diddles, six stroke rolls, swiss army triplets, and hertas. Lately I have been working on moving paradiddles around the kit and creating some really wacky linear patterns using paradiddles. Flam Drags are a challenge for me at quicker tempos. There are so many things I want to learn, it really is never ending.”

GH: Please tell me about your gear. I want to know everything! Sticks, heads, kick pedals, drums, cymbals, hardware, mics, metronome, and anything else you’d like to add.

BK: “I’m a gear nut, I LOVE drums and anything related to drums. Not only do I play the drums, I collect them. I have all different artist series snare drums and everything, but, I am always looking to acquire more. I have a few endorsement deals with some really fantastic companies. Here is my typical set up for a show or recording session:

24X16″ Kick
14×10″ Rack Tom
16×16″ Floor Tom
18×16″ Floor Tom
14×6.5″ Reference Series Cast Steel Snare

22″ Ride
20″ Crash
18″ Crash
16″ Crash
14″ Hi-Hats
20″ China




HEADS: EVANS. I use an Evans Hybrid Coated head on my snare. It is a really heavy duty head. It can really take a beating, but, can also be super sensitive. So it’s great for so many different scenarios.

I also use all Audix Microphones at my home studio.

I have a chrome Kickport on my kick.

I use all custom black and purple Beato Bags when transporting my gear.

I have an Inventor Series Drop Clutch by Billdidit, Inc. on my hats.

All purple Cympads on my cymbal stands.

I use 2 Zero-G Drumstick Holders by Maxonix attached to my hi-hat stand.

There is a GrooveSlider by System Percussion attached to my hi-hat stand just above my hats

I use the Tune-Bot by Overtone Labs to ensure my drums are always tuned exact for shows and sessions.

I have Cymbolts as cymbal toppers on my stands and I use Clear Tune Monitors C-300 custom In-Ear Monitors.

I have so many different metronomes that I use. But, my favorite is actually a $2 app on my iPad!! It works better than my $100 metronome!!”

GH: I hear ya! I spent years working with an Alesis SR-16 which, for my purposes, is really limited. Last year I bought a $2.00 metronome app for my iPhone. It does everything except play the song for me! The best $2 I ever spent! The Alesis now sits collecting dust.


GH: Do you perform clinics? What do you enjoy most about them?

BK: “I do conduct clinics. I recently put on a drum clinic at Sam Ash in Huntington, NY on Linear Drumming using single and double kicks. I love doing clinics and I love teaching. I love showing people new things. I don’t want to perform a clinic where I play a bunch of solos and try to impress everyone. That’s not me and I wouldn’t be happy doing that. I want to put on a clinic where people learn something. I want drummers to walk out of the clinic with something they can use in their own playing. I’ve seen some really great clinics where I’ve learned a lot and I have also seen some drum clinics where I walked out without one useful piece of information.”

GH: I’ve always said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” So, professionally, where do you plan to be in 5 years? What goals have you set for yourself? Instructional books/DVD?

BK: “I plan to be in Nashville. I’m looking to move there as soon as possible. I think that is a really great environment to be in right now. The city is growing and there are so many phenomenal musicians there. I want to expand my home studio in Nashville and really have a good business where I can record drum tracks from home for artists all around the world. I also want to have a full time gig with monster band or artist. I always said I would love to play for Alice Cooper, Taylor Swift, and everything in between. I would play with a rock act, a country act, a pop act. It doesn’t matter as long as I am making a living playing music. I have also been writing down exercises and ideas for a drum instruction book on linear drumming.”

GH:  When people want to know what you’re up to, what’s the best way for them to follow your latest activities and receive news updates?

BK: People can stay connected with me on Facebook and by visiting my website, www.BrianKarl.com. Thank you so much, Gary. It is a true honor and privilege to call you a friend.

GH: Brian, the honor and privilege is mine. Thank YOU! As drummers and friends, we need to support each other, right? Best of luck and continued success to you!



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