Fusion. “The process or result of joining two or more things together to form a single entity”. The general dictionary definition of the word applies perfectly to the music genre as well – it’s a mix of disparate elements from several genres that, put together, make perfect sense. In a seamless merge, it combines the complexity of jazz, the groove of funk and the raw power of rock, particularly when it comes to the drums.
In the Fusion Grooves MIDI pack, drummer Luke Oswald not only draws inspiration from genre forerunners like Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl, Will Kennedy and Steve Gadd, he also adapts ideas from contemporary players like Lil’ John Roberts and Mark Guiliana, while still throwing a big portion of his own personal style into the mix.
Performed in song structure blocks and with an increasing complexity in each category, this collection of grooves and fills was designed to suit both writers looking to make solid, backbeat-driven rock-fusion as well as the ones that are looking for busy, jazz-inspired beats where the drums are racing at full engine speed. This is a collection of drums, oozing of that genre-typical technicality and subtlety. All the traits you’d expect are there; the intricate ghost notes, the busy leading-hand work and a slew of that sophisticated “session drummer” finesse that only a great performer can muster.
A quick example of how to create a song by using elements from the Fusion Grooves and Fusion EZkeys MIDI packs.
When and how did you realize your passion for music?
– I started on piano and moved to trumpet in fifth grade, but it wasn’t until I started the drums that I really got excited about music. I started playing in church at the age of twelve and really enjoyed the experience of playing in a band. Any spare time was spent practicing – and the rest is history. I’ve been playing in bands and working on my craft ever since.
How come you ended up behind the kit?
– When I was twelve, some family friends moved back into town and didn’t have room for their drum set while they were getting settled. Aware of my interest in drums, they asked if they could store the kit in my parents basement for a summer. I was playing trumpet at the time, but all of my interest moved to the drums that summer. I played that kit nonstop. My parents eventually purchased a kit for me after seeing how interested I was and how much I was practicing. As stated above, I started playing in the church band a few months later which was a great (and scary) experience for me at that age. Although I continued to play trumpet in school for the next two years, I switched to the drums exclusively in the ninth grade, studied in college and have continued to practice and study to this day.
Growing up, what style did you start out aspiring to play?
– As a novice, I basically played a lot of pop/rock. I wasn’t into jazz when I was younger, so I practiced anything that was popular at the time, which was a lot of ’90s pop and alternative.
How come you gravitated towards fusion, and why does this genre appeal to you as a musician?
– This was quite a journey, but it started when I was a junior in high school and my band instructor (who was a drummer) gave me a tape of Buddy Rich to listen to. I reluctantly took it because I knew it was jazz and I wasn’t really interested. Of course, when I listened to it, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. For the next couple years, it was a Buddy Rich obsession where I had to have every Buddy Rich CD I could find. I barely listened to anything else. I even purchased the “Jazz Legends” VHS series with video performances of Buddy Rich. Seeing him perform on video for the first time was truly inspiring.
The same thing happened my freshman year of college when someone introduced me to Dave Weckl’s “Back To Basics” VHS video. It was the same experience of hearing/seeing Buddy Rich for the first time. I didn’t know drumming like this existed. So for almost all of college, the majority of my studies centered around Dave Weckl. I listened to every CD I could get my hands on and transcribed everything I could. My study of Dave Weckl led me to other greats, including Vinnie Colaiuta, Dennis Chambers and Will Kennedy, and they in turn led to other influences as well.
Interesting side note, when I was still in junior high school, my father took me to a Yamaha-sponsored drum clinic at the high school I would later attend. Neither of us knew anything about the clinician or whether the clinic would be any good. The clinician was Dave Weckl and of course it was great. The content was a bit over my head at the time and I wish I could go back and experience it again knowing what I know now. It’s still interesting that only a few years later, Dave Weckl would become one of my biggest influences.
Fusion is a style that has something of a “no rules apply” philosophy attached to it. Was it hard to harness yourself and deliver something that would be usable in the context of a MIDI pack and intended for songwriting in general?
– I definitely tried to pick styles within the fusion genre that I thought people would find musical and useful. Much of it stems from the ’80s and ’90s fusion music I listened to when I was in college. For this MIDI pack, I had groove ideas that I’d start with and I tried to keep it simple at first. Then I’d build in complexity until it was a frenzy of ghost notes. In this way, users of the Fusion MIDI pack would have access to grooves that range from simple to complex and everything in between. Other than that, it was a lot of improvisation and really just trying to record what I would do within each of these groove variations while still keeping the fusion style in mind. Ultimately, this collection of grooves and fills is rooted in the classic style of fusion along with my own personal taste and style of playing.
Fusion has brought forth numerous iconic drummers. Who in your mind have been the most important looking back, and today?
I believe Dave Weckl has had one of the biggest impacts on the drumming community at large, not just for the fusion genre but for any genre. His name comes to my mind because I rarely hear a well-known drummer who doesn’t reference Dave Weckl as a major influence. Another drummer who comes to mind is Vinnie Colaiuta. His style of playing definitely fits within the fusion genre. Vinnie’s linear and rudimental style of playing in the ’80s and early ’90s is still something that amazes me every time I watch him play. You can’t help but be inspired after watching or listening to him. Vinnie is also referenced by many of the drumming greats as being a major influence, and he’s someone I’ve spent a great deal of time studying and transcribing as well. As for today’s drummers, I’d have to say Chris Coleman is one of the best. His chops are ridiculous, his rudimental playing style is something that intrigues me and his hand-foot combinations are incredible. He’s another drummer who inspires me every time I watch or listen to him play.
What do you hope users will take away from this collection?
– I hope songwriters will find a collection of grooves and fills that works for many genres. Even if they’re not creating a fusion track specifically, the grooves in this MIDI pack can work for funk, latin, hip-hop, half-time and funky swung grooves. Of course, if you’re making a fusion track, you’ll have plenty of great content to work with. I also hope that drummers are inspired by what they hear in this MIDI pack. I have numerous MIDI packs from Toontrack, simply because of the drummer who made them or because of the specific collection of grooves. I use them as a tool for learning and inspiration. They’re great to analyze, break down and transcribe as well as practice with. I also want to mention the amazing Fusion EZKeys MIDI pack that Stefan created! It’s the perfect compliment to these grooves. It’s so easy and enjoyable to create music using both of these fusion packs.
You are also an avid e-drummer and longtime user of many Toontrack products. Which ones and how do they help you?
– I discovered Superior Drummer 2 in December of 2008. I remember distinctly because it was another one of those moments, like when I first discovered Buddy Rich or Dave Weckl; it was truly an epiphany for me. I sincerely mean that. I saw the potential of what you could do with this software right away. I couldn’t believe this kind of technology existed, and I immediately started on a path to acquire the knowledge and equipment to use it. Here I am eight years later creating a MIDI pack for Toontrack! Superior Drummer 2 is my go-to plugin. Even if I’m using EZX libraries, I still like to use them with Superior Drummer 2. The flexibility you have within this software is second to none. I love the depth of the SDX expansions and the Producer Presets are a lot of fun to use. They’re also a fantastic tool to utilize for new production ideas. I use Superior Drummer 2 for recording, producing and performing live, and am frequently complimented on how great the drums sound. I use EZdrummer 2 as well and love the ease of use and the ability to make quick FX adjustments in the mixer. When I mix for my bands or for a client, I like to use EZmix 2 on other instrument channels and vocal channels. My favorite EZmix 2 expansions are the Mastering expansions and ANYTHING created by Neal Dorfsman.
Name five drummers that helped shape YOU as a drummer.
– It’s too difficult to name just five, so I’ll name a few more.
Early influences: Buddy Rich – Dave Weckl – Vinnie Colaiuta – Dennis Chambers – Will Kennedy
Post College Influences: Calvin Rodgers – Chris Dave – Gerald Heyward – Marvin McQuitty – Brian Frasier-Moore. Recent Influences: Jost Nickel – Anika Nilles – Matt Garstka – Benny Greb – Chris Coleman
How would you describe your own style of drumming?
– I thoroughly enjoy playing and practicing rudimental grooves and linear grooves with lots of ghost notes and rudimental hand/foot combinations. It’s always a fun challenge to see what kinds of new grooves and combinations you can come up with. I’m definitely a “double-stroke” drummer as well. I use double-strokes in much of my playing, both with my hands and foot. Rudimental combinations with double-strokes are an integral part of my overall style.
Dave Weckl “Transition” – This just reminds me of a great time in my life studying music and playing in bands. I also saw Dave Weckl perform with his band while supporting this album and it was a great performance. Fred Hammond “Speak Those Things: Pages of Life, Chapter 3 (Live)” – This is a live performance DVD with some incredible musicianship. Amazing drumming by the late Marvin McQuitty and an amazing bass performance by Maurice Fitzgerald. Chick Corea Akoustic Band – (Studio and Live version) – These albums are incredible. Especially the live video/CD. Great footage of Dave Weckl from the early ’90s.
Mike Stern “The Paris Concert” (2008) – Another great performance with Mike Stern, Bob Franceschini, Tom Kennedy and Dave Weckl. The live mix was produced by Dave Weckl as well. Chris Botti Live w/ Orchestra & Special Guests (Dec 2005) – Another amazing live performance with a great band. Billy Kilson is very entertaining to watch on the drums and the special guests are incredible.
A collection of classic as well as modern songs that inspired us to create this collection of grooves and fills.
A playlist of some amazing drummers and classic performances.