I was in Nashville recently, recording basic tracks for our upcoming album “Risen,” due out in March. The drums were superbly handled by Ben Phillips (and no, that’s not a picture of his set). I asked Ben if he’d answer a few questions to encourage drummers who are growing in their skills. He kindly obliged and the questions and answers appear below.
How long have you been playing and who are some of the artists you’ve played for, live or recorded?
I’ve been playing drums for 27 years. in that time i’ve had the privilege of playing or recording for steven curtis chapman, toby mac, francesca battistelli, natalie grant, josh wilson, plumb, rush of fools, 33 miles, matthew west, chris and conrad, ronnie freeman, & mandisa.
What helped you to develop solid time?
The only thing that helped me develop solid time is time. Lots of practice with a metronome. [no surprise here…]
What has helped you pursue creative playing that serves the song rather than distracts from it?
I learn to serve the song by learning to listen. Listen to the song, the melody, the words. Listen to the dynamic of the singer. I finally realized that every single note I played served a purpose. I also learned from a much older and wiser player who would say ‘he spent many years learning when not to play.’
What do you tell drummers about how to tune their drums?
That’s a hard question to answer quickly. but here are a few things. Tune to the room. I usually tune the drums fairly loose. I find that gives me more attack and more low end. That’s for a more pop/rock sound. But it’s such an art more than a science and depends on the style and drum. As a general rule, just make sure all the lugs have even tension. I know that seems simple, but it works.
How many hours a day did you practice/play when you first arrived in Nashville? How about now?
I used to practice about 1-2 hours a day for 15-20 years. Now, not that much. I’ll go through phases every few months where i’ll practice 3-4 hours a week. But other than that, mostly i’m just playing.
What are the most important things to think about when you’re playing?
That’s a good question. I don’t know :)
What qualities do you appreciate in a bass player?
The same thing really in any musician. Someone that listens to other players around him.
What 3 things would you say to a worship team drummer who wants to get better?
Practice. practice. practice. . . . listen listen listen. Listen to other music, styles, drummers. And of course, when you’re playing, listen to the other musicians. And always listen to the song first.
More thoughts for drummers can be found here.