Jason Sutter is no stranger to walking into a new gig. Since storming onto the scene in the mid 90's, this versatile basher has appeared on albums and tours with artists as diverse as American Hi-Fi, Butch Walker, Jason Falkner, Juliana Hatfield, and Smash Mouth. Now taking the helm as drummer for grunge godfather Chris Cornell, Sutter's high energy and command of the kit shine through on Cornell's latest album and tour, Scream. Chiming in from Deutschland, Sutter opens up about channelling the 70's, Ludwig-loyalty, playing for the song, and his super-side project, Run Through The Desert.
LUDWIG HQ: What is your schedule like for the next few months with Chris Cornell?
JASON SUTTER: I am actually writing this while jet-lagged in a hotel in Berlin, Germany! We are over here for a few weeks of shows to do promo for Chris' upcoming CD, Scream. We have another show in London in a few days, and then back to the States for Jimmy Kimmel, Carson Daily and Leno show tapings, and then we head out to a show in Chile. We start a US tour at the end of March, play through April, and then head back to Europe for spring festivals through July!
LUDWIG HQ: Are there particular gigs or events you are looking forward to?
JASON SUTTER: I am looking forward to a London CD release show in a few days for my band Run Through The Desert (runthroughthedesert.com) that consists of myself, Yogi, and Corey from the Cornell band. We also have a week long Norwegian tour that we set up while we are over here, so that is all very exciting. I wrote a few of the songs and even sing on one, so it's a fun departure from being a hired gun. LUDWIG HQ: You have done a lot of studio work in your time; do you still get to record sessions with all you are doing with Cornell?
JASON SUTTER: I'm always really excited to be able to fit in a session here or there, as I have been kept pretty busy on the road in the last two years. I recently finished the new Vertical Horizon record which I am very proud of, and I basically have recorded 13 tracks over the course of two years whenever I'm in town. I've also managed to slide in a few live shows with them, which is a riot. I managed to track 10 songs for the Run Through The Desert record as well as a few TV and movie jingles. Not to mention getting to play on a track on Cornell's upcoming CD, which happened at the last minute as most of the album is programmed.
LUDWIG HQ: The clip LudwigTV is featuring now of you playing "Spoonman" live at the OC Fair is pretty intense. What are some of the things you enjoy about playing with Cornell and his band?
JASON SUTTER: I get to share the stage nightly with one of the best voices in rock history, and the level of playing is fierce, nite after nite. Chris gives it all every show, and they are usually 2 to 3 hours per night, so we are all firing on all pistons. There is also an amazing range of styles of music that I get to sink my teeth into, and it is challenging but really a great vehicle to pull from all my experiences. I also get to follow in the footsteps of such drumming giants as Matt Cameron, Josh Freese, and Brad Wilk. It's an honor and I have no limitations, but to be me, and keep it fresh and new night after nighte.
LUDWIG HQ: Any drawbacks?
JASON SUTTER: It's extremely strenous and takes a bit of conditioning when starting a new run. But I'm not complaining, so no, not really.
LUDWIG HQ: When you are playing tracks made famous by Audioslave and Soundgarden, how do you approach the parts?
JASON SUTTER: I certainly have listened to the Matt Cameron and Brad Wilks parts and worked them out especially the overall flavor and approach they had and then try to keep true to the parts but with my own contribution. If it is a signature fill its definitely in there as the parts are so masterful on those albums but Chris is super suportive and always encouraging me to do my own thing. Its a pretty great mix!
LUDWIG HQ: You were playing with Smash Mouth before you got the call for this gig; how did it all come about?
JASON SUTTER: I called my friend Mitch Marine, who was filling in with them, to get another drummers number to get into a Morrissey audition. He said he didnt have the number but that Smash Mouth were going to be auditioning in a month or so for a permanent drummer so I said sign me up. I get a call a month later from him to see if I am going in as the auditions were that week on Wed. and Thur. with callbacks for 4 drummers on Fri. of course I had never heard from anyone about it and at the last minute, and many calls later, they let me come in to play first on Fri. the day of call backs. The 4 drummers who where called back were waiting while I auditioned. We played jams and it was electrical. It clicked and they hired me on the spot and sent the 4 drummers home!! I had never had that happen before. I did that gig right up until I was hired by Cornell.
LUDWIG HQ: What does being the drummer for Chris Cornell demand?
JASON SUTTER: You have to be able to wear a lot of different hats -so to speak- and be stylistically convincing. You need to be able to play way back behind and rock it as hard as it can get, or play blues like your life depended on it. Now with the new CD, I am playing to songs with clicks and tracks as well as focusing on keeping the tracks creative and interesting, yet simple. Not to mention the many bizare and unusual time signatures and arrangements that made those early Soundgarden records so unique. This gig is ultimately all about feel and that is why I am here. To do my best to make it feel great.
LUDWIG HQ: What do you do to keep up with these demands?
JASON SUTTER: I practice whenever I am in town. Working on songs from the solo cds, to the bands of his career to get into the head space, and be ready for any new/old songs that could come down the pike.
LUDWIG HQ: What was the strangest thing that has happened (or that you have seen,) during a tour?
JASON SUTTER: A woman fan streaking by us as we left a venue in S. Carolina. It was amazing, my Dad was at the show, so I can only imagine he thinks that happens nightly now!
LUDWIG HQ: What’s your Ludwig set-up like for the current tour, and what are you digging about it?
JASON SUTTER: It is a green sparkle Legacy with large classic lugs. 13x10 tom, 16x16 floor and 18x16 floor tom both with legs. A 26x14 bass drum and I vary from using different brass 6.5x14" snares. The chrome-over-brass is my baby, but I have a few new black beauties that where custom engraved by the great John Alderidge, and they are pretty much winning right now. I also have a hammered bronze that is delicious! I have been experimenting with die cast hoops on all the snares, but the chrome over brass drums still sound massive with triple flanged hoops. The drums are super warm but have that punch and famous Ludwig tone that is indescribable. It's what I grew up playing and hearing all my life. I am also using the Ludwig heavy coated batter heads, and they are super inspiring at the moment! I am looking forward to my new Epic X-Over set that is being built for the summer shows in those same sizes, but with die cast hoops on everything, in the striped walnut/maple/walnut laminate pattern!! I cant wait.
LUDWIG HQ: On the upcoming DVD Ludwig Drum Co.: 100 Years of the Most Famous Name On Drums, you mention one era of Ludwig manufacturing that really connects with your playing style. What is that and why?
JASON SUTTER: The 70's. I think its because I grew up in that era being affected by such great Ludwig players like as Bonham, Ian Paice, Simon Kirke, Roger Taylor, and especially the late great Cozy Powell. It was at the end of that era that I got my first Ludwig set and there is just a spirit in the records of that era; its really where the rock touring began. It was -and still is- super exciting and original to me and Ludwig was the epitome of that sound and era.
LUDWIG HQ: How do you think the Ludwig gear of today measures up to the gear from the "Damen Era"?
JASON SUTTER: I think Ludwig gear today, in the last few years is far superior, and yet still true to the sound that made it famous. I have a collection of old snares and drums from the early 70's -from 3-plys to the rainbow vistalites- and it all sounds amazing, but its rare that you will find a photo of me playing on my old drums as there is just so much new and exciting going on at Ludwig. I want to be involved in moving the Ludwig legacy forward!!
LUDWIG HQ: Can you describe how you tweak your drums to get your personal sound?
JASON SUTTER: I am always told I crank my drums higher than anyone. Most drummers are really surprised at how my drums sound out front, but how high they are when playing them. I think its the Bonham and early 70s rock sound of taking big drums and tuning them as you would a jazz set. For the most tone -almost to a note- and for the most resonance. I tune my top heads slightly under my bottoms ( a half step at times and more drastic on the bigger toms,) and crank my front bass drum head as well as my snare side head for the most resonance. Drums really drop in pitch as you get farther away from them, and I like that elastic rebound I get from cranking them...its not super original but not many people are doing it today. It's my thing. I got to get behind Alex Van Halen's Ludwigs on this recent reunion, and he still tunes that way. It freaked me out. I felt right at home, and I would argue that out front, that tour, he had the best sounding set of live drums my ears have ever heard!!
LUDWIG HQ: What are some of the sessions you have played on that, in your opinion, are the best examples of your playing?
JASON SUTTER: That is always a tough question. This new Vertical Horizon CD is a lot of fun, but mellow for me. Smash Mouth's Summer Girl record was fun and swings hard. Juliana Hatfield's Beautiful Creature cd is another side, or my old band Jack Drag has a whole other feel to it. Ultimately I am currently very proud of the Run Through The Desert record as the sounds are pure, I was in and out, did two takes per song max. We were in a hurry so there wasn't a lot of thought or pre production. It just flowed, mistakes and all. I honestly couldnt be happier with it and my playing. Reckless, but still holding it together. No click, just natural.
LUDWIG HQ: What about your playing says “HIRE ME” to a given artist?
JASON SUTTER: I think being someone who is positive and fun to be around. And ultimate preperation for the gig at hand. I think the main thing for me is feel. It's what its all about, from Charlie Watts to Bonham. When you sit down and play, you want to make other musicians want to pick up their instruments!
LUDWIG HQ: Everyone has their own snare drum sound. What snare are you playing, and how have you made it your own?
JASON SUTTER: As I've said I'm primarily a brass guy. Its either a new Engraved black beauty with Die cast hoops or my trusty Chrome over brass with triple flanged hoops. I almost always use the classic imperial lugs and the P-85 Strainer. I crank the bottom head almost as tight as it will go and try to bring down the top to the point where it finds its magic place and with these drums, and I ALWAYS find the magic place. Then its like they play themselves. It's close to the best sound in the world to me.
LUDWIG HQ: Who are your major drumming and musical influences?
JASON SUTTER: Another hard one but I would have to put John Henry Bonham at the top of the list, then Cozy Powell, Tony Williams, Vinnie Colaiuta, Alex Van Halen, Phil Collins, Al Foster, Jack Dejohnette, Bill Stewart, Toss Panos, Vinny Paul. The list goes on and on.
LUDWIG HQ: If there is one album you WISH you could have played on, what would it be and why?
JASON SUTTER: That's a tough one too. Maybe a Stone Temple Pilots record, because the drums always sound so killer and the songs are amazing. I'm friends with the Deleo brothers too, so it would be fun to have been involved, they are a riot!!
LUDWIG HQ: What advice can you give to drummers that see your playing and want to advance to the next level?
JASON SUTTER: Practice while you are young and try to figure out your niche, or who you want to be as a player. Find your voice or strive to. Be cool and people will remember you, and when you play out, play great every time because they will remember that more. Go out to see shows and get involved in your local scene; out of sight out of mind. Play with players better than you, and always go for it! And wear earplugs while youre at it!! Hope to see all of you out there on the road this year and in the years to come and Happy Birthday Ludwig!!