Like the great prog drummers of old—Bill Bruford, Neil Peart, Phil Collins—Tool’s Danny Carey is an artisan. They don’t make drumming like that anymore. He says so himself (sort of) in an interview with Music Radar about his side project Legend of the Seagullmen with Mastadon’s Brent Hinds. Remembering how Robert Fripp would stand on the edge of the stage, watching Tool play when King Crimson opened for the modern prog-metal giants, Carey remarks, “We weren’t syncing to some bullshit like so many other bands. We were actually playing live. It’s a sad thing when almost every band you see isn’t doing that. It’s the clicks and backing tracks that are keeping time. I’ve never played to a click on stage in my life.”
A “click track,” for those who don’t know, is exactly what it sounds like: a playback of clicks (or any percussive sound) to the desired tempo, pumped into a musician’s earpiece to keep them playing in time. A useful tool of the recording studio, many musicians, as Carey says, now use it on stage, along with vocal pitch correction software and pre-recorded backing tracks to make sure everything sounds exactly like it does on record.
All of this technology ruins the feel of live performance, Carey maintains. He would know. He’s been playing live since the 80s and playing with Tool since the band formed thirty years ago. He also jams every other month, he says, “with these weird dudes who played with Miles Davis or Mahavishnu Orchestra.” So… yeah. The dude’s got some classic chops.
But technology isn’t all bad in live music, far from it. Being a drummer used to mean that hardly anyone could see you on a big stage. You might be the most talented, best-looking member of the band, but you were hidden away behind your kit with the singers and guitarists soaking up the glory. Even when certain celebrity rock drummers get their own stages (with their own mini-roller coasters), it can be impossible to see what they’re doing up close. No longer. Thanks to unobtrusive cameras that can stream video from anywhere, no corner of the stage need be obscured. We can watch a Tool show from over Carey’s shoulder, as in the video of “Pneuma,” live in concert, at the top, produced by drum equipment company Vic Firth to demonstrate Carey’s new signature sticks.
It’s better to let Carey’s playing speak for itself, but for reference, “Pneuma” comes from Tool’s very eagerly-awaited 2019 album Fear Inoculum, just one of many tracks “filled with twist after turn, conventional song structure be damned,” Ilya Stemkovsky writes at Modern Drummer, “with Carey at the center of the storm, providing the heaviest, most massive bottom possible. He even gets his own solo percussion track, ‘Chocolate Chip Trip,’ on which he incorporates gongs and bells, among other sounds.” Maybe this live view, and Tool’s well-deserved Grammy Win for Best Metal Performance this year for “7empest,” will inspire more drummers to drop the click and bring back what Carey calls the “dedication to your vibe” from the days of artisanal drumming.