Text & Interview: Andy Fenwick
As a touring drummer, percussionist/producer Steve Bryant lends his superlative kit-skills to everything from Eliot Lipp’s bouncy electronic compositions to Leo Coltrane’s unfussy but forward-thinking rap. As Cru the Dynamic, Bryant has earned the right to name his new album The Versatile (Young Heavy Souls), but he has opted, instead, for The Quick, and rightly so, as The Quick contains seven instrumental tracks of mostly straight-up jungle.
But let’s talk about that word mostly. As Bryant admits in the interview below, The Quick is a labor-of-love-the-genre-workout, but he’ll subvert it as he sees fit. Take album opener “New Things,” which isn’t apparently jungle as first, but flips into speedy breaks only after a head-nodding hip-hop intro. “Here at the Institute” and “Blossom” feature sped-up vocal samples key to the genre, but their complex percussion lines take one step above jungle and into more unclassifiable realms (OK: IDM) reminiscent of Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, or Amon Tobin.
Make no mistake: jungle suits Bryant’s drumming perfectly. His contemporaries might describe his stick work as clear, or precise, and if they listen further, they’ll notice that, beneath the interesting production treatments on The Quick, Bryant’s snare and cymbal work executes the perfect time approximated by machines behind fully electronic giants. If seeing is believing that last sentence, you only have to see him live once.
Your song titles: any stories behind any of them?
Some of these titles are just variations of whatever file name I first saved each project as, but a few of the titles do have some deeper meaning. “Here at The Institute” is about a place that takes you back in time; either figuratively, like visiting a place from one’s past that stirs up feelings of nostalgia, or more literally, as with the concept of uploading one’s entire consciousness to the cloud and being able to re-live past experiences. “Find Us Here” is about a friend of mine who keeps pets in a no-pets-allowed apartment building. “SHWR PWR” (shower power) is just a nod to the rejuvenating power of a hot shower. I get a lot of good thinking done in the shower.
Besides drums, what else are you playing in there?
There’s definitely a lot of programming that went into these tracks. Even the live drums I recorded ended up getting chopped up quite a bit. I also sampled some jam sessions I had at my studio over the past few years, which all got very chopped up, re-pitched, and processed. There are some live keys playing in there, as well as some bass lines which I played out live on a midi keyboard, which allowed me to slide around individual notes. I also laid down some very warbled vocals for “Find Us Here.” I recorded the tracks mainly with Ableton Live but also used Logic and Reason for some additional sounds & production.
How did you become a drum and bass/jungle fan? It’s a deep genre with many tributaries; where do you fall within? Or: all of it?
I was first introduced to jungle when I was in high school by my friend Adrian Michna. I think he knew that as a drummer I’d appreciate the beats, but it was the combination of the fast drums with the spacey pads and halftime basslines that really drew me in. I really gravitated towards the early Liquid Sky stuff, Ragga Jungle, and anything by anyone in the Metalheadz crew, what people were calling ‘intelligent jungle’ at the time. I definitely got into some jump-up/dancefloor stuff, but always had the most love for the more syncopated style of jungle. I also love Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Roni Size, and Plug (Luke Vibert), who I think all were incredibly advanced when it came to composition and arrangement of their tracks.
What, among your previous work, has the sneakiest snippets of jungle?
I have an EP called “Keeper ’89” which has some jungle vibes snuck in there, as well as my first attempts at dipping into the genre of Footwork. There are also a couple jungle tracks on my very first album, “The Dynamic” (there’s a bit of everything on that album). I’ve also put out some straight-up jungle tracks with my friend Rich Spitzer (aka Loveskills) under the name “New York Skykore”.
I’m definitely trying to line up some travel dates for late 2017 and a full-on tour for early 2018, stay tuned for that …
Were drums your first instrument? How did you come to them?
Yeah, I started playing drums when I was 13, I was banging on lots of pots and pans around the house and my folks decided to get me some lessons. Right around the time, I started playing I also got really into soul music, which really informed my playing in those first few years. I spent a lot of time in the basement playing along to Otis Redding.
Here’s the joke that a good drummer in NYC is usually in five bands. Is that true for you? Is there work you turn down?
Yeah, I definitely have played drums for more bands than I can even remember. Not every band is going full steam at the same time, so I’m usually able to juggle them all. I try never to turn down any music related work because I’ve also worked a lot of other jobs to make ends meet and I’m always grateful to earn a living doing what I feel I’m best at and love to do.
How does your music get snapped up for the likes of HBO’s Silicon Valley, or CSI Miami? Kismet, or did it take some footwork? What advice can you give, to other musicians, about making that happen?
I work with a music house called With Lions Productions. For a while, I was their go-to Hip-Hop/Electronica guy, and Silicon Valley was looking for tracks of that style. They pitched it, HBO liked it, and that was that. Music licensing is a really competitive field. The best advice I can offer is to just keep producing/recording as much as you can, in as many different genres as you can. Build a large and varied catalogue so when a music supervisor puts out a call for a song that sounds like (fill in the blank), you’ll be that much more likely to have something that fits the bill.
Favorite piece of equipment? Live? Studio?
The Roland SPD-SX has been an integral part of my live performance for years. I use it for my own shows as well as with most of the bands I play with. As far as in the studio, I’ve been ‘holding’ a Korg SV-1 for one of my bands on a tour-hiatus, and I really love it. It’s got some great sounds (particularly the Rhodes and Wurlitzer sounds) and it’s such a pleasure to play a weighted-action keyboard.
In addition to touring roles, you also have a number of recorded collaborations and projects, like Cruture, Boomclique collective, Leo Coltrane. Any new collaborations planned? Plans to add an MC or vocalist to the jungle?
I have albums in progress with both Phaze 4K (MC/co-writer for Cruture) and Leo Coltrane. Although those are both more traditional Hip-hop sounding projects, I would love to get them both on some of my new solo tracks. I’ve also been working on music for a new live show with Michna.
Damn. So many. Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Squarepusher, Radiohead, Black Thought/The Roots, Bon Iver, Hiatus Coyote, Jaga Jazzist, Mos Def… There are also a lot of drummers I’d love to collaborate with- Mark Guiliana, Brian Blade, Billy Martin, Zach Danziger, Karriem Riggins, just to name a few. I could really go on for days with this question …