Sep. 13 2006
Chad Butler

Chad Butler

Switchfoot

TAMA :How did you develop your skills on the drums? Did you have any lessons or formal training?

Chad : I think it was my mom who first taught me to hold down the 2 and 4 as soon as I could count that high. I got my first drumset when I was 13, set up in my parent's garage and proceeded to drive the neighbors crazy while playing with headphones to the Police and Stevie Wonder. I am largely self-taught and very much still a student. Playing in garage bands for fun was incredible, learning to listen to other people and work together. I think I learned the most from watching countless live shows, sitting as close to the drummer as I could, watching their every move. When I'm home in San Diego, I still take lessons from an amazing drummer named Aaron Redfield.

TAMA : Which drummers have influenced you the most?

Chad : Stewart Copeland, Dave Grohl, Matt Chamberlain, and Questlove from the Roots.

TAMA : When and how did Switchfoot come together?

Chad : We grew up in San Diego where it seemed like just about everybody splits their time between surfing and playing music. We've known each other since high school, played in local bands and left college to start touring in a mini-van 10 years ago. I am grateful to play songs I believe in every night and to travel the world with my best friends.

TAMA : I understand that you are an accomplished surfer, and were teaching lessons around the time the band formed. Did you always want to be a professional drummer?

Chad : Growing up, I always wanted to play drums in a band. I never thought of playing music as a legitimate career, just something I'd always do for fun. I guess that makes me the unlikely professional, and a grateful one at that. The surfing job is a funny story... I thought I had the best job in the world “working” at the beach everyday, teaching a surfing class for the university and playing music at night. The band got really busy so I eventually quit the teaching job, married one of my students, and the rest is history.

TAMA : The band’s popularity has grown steadily with each album, and skyrocketed after the release of The Beautiful Letdown, which has gone double-platinum. What has been the best part of this success for you personally?

Chad : It's great to see the songs become famous but fame was never the goal of the band. I grew up listening to certain songs that inspired me and got me through hard times and it is a really fulfilling thing to meet people around the world who would say that about our music. The live show is a two-way conversation, we throw it out there and to hear the crowd singing it right back even louder is pretty amazing.

TAMA : Tell us about the writing and recording process for Nothing is Sound, the band’s latest studio offering.

Chad : We never stopped touring in between The Beautiful Letdown and Nothing Is Sound so we decided to record on the road. It was a pretty unorthodox way to make an album, rigging up a makeshift studio backstage each day with some microphones and a laptop. We brought out a small drum set and little guitar amps to work on new songs before the show, then we'd go right out onstage and try them out for the first time live. We really should credit the people who came out to the last couple tours with co-producing the album, because they had a lot to do with picking the songs.

TAMA : Your drumming is always rock solid and grooving to perfectly drive the band’s well-crafted songs, but you also sneak in some tasty fills and licks when the music allows for it. What is your approach and philosophy on composing drum parts?

Chad : Thanks for the compliment.  We have a rule as a band that “the song is king” – sometimes simple percussion is all it needs and other times it needs full rock drums. I think as a band we consciously try to create parts that support the vocal, being careful to work with the lyric and melody and not overplay or distract from it. Without the luxury of taking time off of tour to go into a studio, I've had to find practical ways to work on songs while still playing shows everyday. Recording on the road, the process for this record usually started with a garage band demo with programmed drums, or sometimes I'd play V-drums into my laptop. Soundcheck is usually an hour or so of trying out new ideas, while playing with all the volume and interaction that the real stage gives you. It’s usually during those moments that we’ll get time to run through a new song idea. I’ll often record soundcheck with a video camera set up behind me so I can remember those performances of a song in its early stages, before the routine and regularity of more formal rehearsal sets in and the initial creative energy is lost.

TAMA : Can you outline the setup that you are currently using?

Chad : Right now on tour I have a Starclassic Maple kit in Marigold sparkle, with a 22” kick, 16” floor tom, (15” sometimes), 12” rack tom, with an 8” x 14” G-maple snare and a 10" aluminum snare left of the high hat. We also have a 20” Gong bass on stage which Tim (our bass player) is playing on some songs. Over the last couple records I have mostly used a 6.5” x 14” bell brass, but recently have used a hand hammered copper snare and a Superstar wood snare that both record really well.

TAMA : The drums sound huge and powerful on Nothing is Sound. How do you tune your kit, and what else contributed to getting such outstanding drum tones?

Chad : For a long time I had trouble getting the classic thud out of modern thin shell drums. It always seemed like the vintage drums had more power but weren't road worthy due to weak hardware. I found the answer in a Starclassic kit with Sound Focus Rings. They have the old wood thud with all the character and polish that you expect from great modern drums. I tend to tune the snare lower than average and the snares a hair looser to fatten it up. For contrast I crank the little side snare really high. Toms and kick are just above wrinkled.

TAMA : What is next for Switchfoot? Are there any other projects that you are involved with, or have in the works?

Chad : I have been given so much, every morning I wake up, I thank God that I get to play music. The more I travel the more I realize that there is incredible hope in some of the most unlikely places. We just launched an online magazine called Lowercase People, which features music, art, and social justice. It's an opportunity for artists and writers to talk about their art and for us to highlight global communities that we can all have a part in changing. We were in South Africa last year and had the opportunity to record a children's choir made up of kids orphaned by AIDS. Their songs are amazing and their CD is available on lowercasepeople.com with all the money going towards their education. Thanks for listening!