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Roadhouse Rock With Four Kick Drums
Four members, four kick drums, four sides to their debut LP, 4×4. It would be all too easy to write off The 4onthefloor as another indie rock gimmick. That is, until you see them live. Hailing from Minneapolis, the Americana quartet plays with such fervor that, on paper, it’s nearly impossible to capture the swagger of bassist Chris Holm and drummer Mark Larson’s rhythm section, the sticky guitar riffs of James Gould and the grizzly baritone vocals of magnetic front man Gabriel Douglas.
In just three years, The 4onthefloor have completed a handful of national tours, sharing the stage with Willie Nelson and Trampled by Turtles, and released three albums with a fourth on the way. Listening to tracks like “Bricklayer,” and their raucous cover of David Bazan’s “Wolves at the Door,” it takes a serious soul not to turn it up, stomp along and start drinking at noon. The 4onthefloor play that kind of music.
Singer/guitarist Gabriel Douglas took some time to chat with Performer about the band’s gear of choice, recording process and inspirations, putting any question of The 4onthefloor’s raw talent as musicians effortlessly to rest.
What’s your favorite piece of gear? The obvious answer is a kick drum, but is there anything you can’t live without in the studio?
Tube amps – warm, growling, tube amps. BD2 [Bass Drum 2 – guitarist James Gould] introduced the brilliance and snarl of a tube amp when I was still using a solid-state amp early in college. Nothing can get in the way of some boots stomping, but watching those tubes light up and letting them do some of the communicating is something I cherish every day.
Speaking of recording, your debut LP was packed with tracks in its double vinyl format. Where did you record?
Four sides for the debut LP! It was recorded at Creation Audio in Minneapolis. It’s a great space with a large, live A room. So we can all plug in, stomp away, and play simultaneously. It’s next to a great spot called the Bad Waitress down on Nicollet Avenue, so you can sneak away for a quick bite and drink, and scribble and scratch out lyrics with some great food. Miles Hanson mastered the album. He has been instrumental in getting our sound out to the masses.
Was this your first time in the studio as a band?
We have all been in previous bands, but when recording 4×4, it was the first time all four of us had been in a studio together. The experience was a blast. It was all done rather quickly, and we had a great time in the studio with Miles.
Onto songwriting. How challenging is it, on a scale of 1 to 10, to write all of your tracks in 4/4 time? What inspired that decision?
With 1 being the easiest, it’s probably a 4.
It’s not too difficult, but sometimes you’ll find some rhythms that just don’t deliver themselves with The 4onthefloor feel. The decision to write in 4/4 time was made as the band was coming into fruition. A good deal of the songs that were fleshed out in our early jam sessions were very raw, very organic. I’d stomp out the beat to BD2 [James] while sitting on an amp in a vacant bedroom in the house I was living in
Some days the tempo would be different, but the feel would be the same. I liked having control of how fast the songs were going to take off, so I wanted to have a bass drum start off all these songs. As the jams continued, more decisions were made. ‘There will be four bass drums. The songs will be in 4/4 time with a four on the floor feel. There will be 4 members.’
Have there been songs you wanted to cover as a band that you couldn’t because of the time signature?
We do stick to that formula.
What was once seen as a hindrance, now allows us to put our own spin on a lot of songs that traditionally a roots rock/blues band wouldn’t do in their style.
Are there songs that we haven’t touched because of the time signature? Yes. ‘Dig A Pony’ by The Beatles and ‘Wolves (Part I & II)’ by Bon Iver come to mind quickly.
Do you consider fellow Midwestern artists, like Bon Iver, big influences? Otherwise, who would you cite as an influence?
They are big influences. BD2 (James Gould), BD3 (Chris Holm – bass), and BD4 (Mark Larson – drums) have made a point to dig deeper into the blues and country influences of the classic rock we love and use that knowledge extensively in their playing.
I’ve always been a music enthusiast. If I’m in Minneapolis, you will find me out in a club taking in some music. There’s so much great music being created in our city and region. I was huge on golden oldies growing up. My dad is big early Chicago and Guess Who fan, so they still ring true in a lot of the things I do.
I found my own musical muse in post-pop-punk bands like Brand New and continually bring the dynamics from that scene into our own shows. You can play loud and bring it down to just bass drums and murmurs and then bring it back up to levels that make the hair on your neck stand up. I’ve always been a huge fan of singer/songwriters, too. People like Neil Young, Sam Roberts, Tommy James, Harry Nilsson, David Bazan, Kevin Devine, and Brendan Benson. People who can paint landscapes, can burn with passion, can put you in the perspective of having matches in your hands, can motivate you, and ultimately can relate to you.
Moving back to your releases – in addition to your debut album, you released a split 7-inch earlier this spring. What draws you to the vinyl format?
Vinyl. It is always an experience. I don’t think it ever left, just more like-minded music enthusiasts have found less and less use for any physical medium other than vinyl. I love the warmth that only vinyl can give you. I enjoy the visual element that full LP artwork (or even a 7″ or 10″) brings to the listener’s environment. It’s an element that was lost for me with tapes and CDs.
Did you guys do anything for Record Store Day this year?
We played the Mid West Music Fest down in Winona, MN this year. We did some busking in Winona and played a show later that day there. On tour, any day is Record Store Day for us. We love going to record stores and scrounging around the used vinyl selections, as well as looking at the new releases.
What would be your biggest suggestions to a band that wants to put out vinyl, but has never released on the format before? Did you encounter any major challenges with releasing on vinyl?
Do it right. Spend the time to get the artwork right and find the right pressing plant. Promote it! Your vinyl looks lovely. Congratulations. BUT YOUR JOB IS NOT OVER. You are your music’s best ambassador. Go out there and show people.
No major challenges, but circumstances always arise with products. There were some delays, but nothing MAJOR, all minor, and accounted for. Artwork delays, plant running behind and shipping delays were all part of our experience. But it was STILL worth it.
Speaking of challenges: four kick drums. Have you ever just looked at your back line and thought, ‘Forget about it?’
The kick drums go wherever we go. They are a part of the band. They are an integral part of our live experience. That being said, they are kick drums. They are not people.
This band’s heartbeats belong to James, Chris, Mark, and myself. Without those beats, there would be no band. People make the band; kick drums help those people communicate.
A friend and journalist who caught your show in L.A. said that he thought you guys drank more on stage than what he’d seen Mötley Crüe drink on their tour bus.
We do what we do. We play music. We celebrate life. We have great times. I definitely don’t take offense to that. But I’d like to see the stats. I’ve heard stories about those guys and I wouldn’t challenge any of them to a table match.
A major part of your live show is how incredibly in sync you all are on four kick drums. How challenging does it get, beer in hand?
People enjoy themselves in many ways. We enjoy throwing a few back. We’ve played hundreds and hundreds of shows, and it’s a joy to be on stage together. It’s become instinctive for us to play guitars, sing, be merry, AND play bass drums together.
We had a karaoke party for our Workin’ Man Zombie release, where we brought in our bass drums and folks could sing our songs. It was noticeable that playing bass drum and singing is something that can take awhile to do successfully, especially while getting inebriated.
What’s the best show you’ve ever played?
We played a sold-out [headlining] show at First Avenue this spring that completely left us in awe. Playing on that iconic stage and having the entire building moving with you – there are few things like it. As support, we’ve shared the stage with Drive by Truckers, David Allan Coe, Tommy Stinson, an orchestra, and many others, but the cake would probably have to go to Willie Nelson. We played with him in Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth, MN and that venue is right on Lake Superior. It was a majestic night.
Do you have any releases planned for the remainder of 2012 or coming up in the near future?
We’ve got some plans for a couple more 7″ releases before the calendar strikes 2013. And we’re always working on new material; hopefully a full-length release will be in everyone’s hands in the spring of 2013.
photos by Jessie Maltz