One of the challenges many up-and-coming drummers face is the process by which they allow an identity to emerge from their playing, enabling them to successfully balance the needs of artists while still being able to creatively express themselves within their given musical situation. As someone who has invested countless hours of time into the study of great music and the great drummers behind it, Evan Hutchings has been able to successfully blend those two worlds into a drumming style that is musically diverse and rich with vocabulary, yet is also uniquely his own. Evan has provided a solid, colorful foundation for an array of artists including Griffin House, Katie Herzig, Tyler James, Matthew Perryman Jones, and Pico vs Island Trees, and continues to grow in reputation as one of Nashville’s most uniquely talented drummers both in the studio and on the road. Incredibly warm and talkative during our interview, Evan exudes an infectious passion for drummers and drumming that continues to drive and inspire him.
DR: Tell me about your upbringing and, more specifically, what your exposure was to music growing up.
EH: I grew up in Arkansas in a pretty musical family. My dad plays guitar and keys, and played enough drums to show me a beat. He grew up playing in the church environment. The story goes – and I don’t know if this is really true or not – that when I was two years old, I jumped up on the drums while my dad’s band was rehearsing. And when the drummer had left to go to take a break I hopped up there and the rest of the band didn’t know that he was gone. So I just kind of picked up [where he left off]! I was just playing at an early age.
I was in junior high concert band for just my seventh grade year. It didn’t really click with me. I was more into sports, but was still playing in bands and things. But then in high school, I got really into playing jazz. A friend of mine who I was in a band with called The Exception was an amazing jazz bass player, so he was turning me onto some stuff like Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, that whole thing. We started playing a lot together, doing jazz gigs in town. We had a traditional New Orleans jazz group we’d play with. I got really into that and just kind of went from there.
DR: Did you have any formal training or lessons growing up?
EH: Not really. Later in high school, I did take lessons at a local music shop. It’s funny man, I learned how to play rudiments from Vic Firth’s website! If you go to the Education page, they’ve got the forty essential rudiments, and I literally printed off the pdf files and watched the videos of how to do it. I just made charts for myself to track my progress. I didn’t do marching band ever, not even in college when I was a music major, so I had to supplement that somehow. It was the most random way to do that! (laughs)
DR: It’s interesting in the way things have changed with technology and the availability of things like Vic Firth’s website that have now become viable ways of being educated.
EH: Right, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that to anybody, it’s just what I had to do.
DR: While you were growing up, what artists and bands were catching your ear? Also, from a drumming standpoint, were there any particular players that stood out to you?
EH: Yeah man. Matt Chamberlain is the man, “the guy,” and I was listening to records he played on where I didn’t know it was him, but I was really drawn to the records - there’s a Steven Curtis Chapman record that he played on! The Wallflowers’ Bringing Down The Horse and Breach were two records where I had no idea who was playing on it, and at the time I didn’t really care. He was a really big influence, almost subconsciously. There was also a band called Polarboy whose drummer was a really big influence on me. It wasn’t until later in high school that I started checking out guys like Tony Williams and Elvin Jones.
Stanton Moore was another huge influence on me. I went and saw Galactic in Tulsa, Oklahoma at Cain’s Ballroom and it was just eye-opening. I was glued in the whole time. I went to a clinic that he did, and later got to take a lesson with him in Nashville a couple of years ago.
DR: Tell me about the process by which you ended up making your way to Nashville.
EH: When I was in The Exception, we were doing tours around the U.S. – we had a trailer on my Explorer and just did it, you know? We were a very ambitious band for being in eleventh grade! So we all moved to Nashville together. The guitar player and I went to MTSU, the singer was at Belmont, the bass player was at Vanderbilt, and we were all in school doing music. I initially went to MTSU to be a recording major, and did that for a semester, but I wasn’t doing enough music, so I changed my major after my first semester. I wasn’t really anywhere near the other guys as far as the classical end of things – four-mallet solos, timpani, that whole thing - so I had a lot of catching up to do. Luckily, the director there, Lalo Davila, was great and really took me in. The drum set teacher there, a guy named Tom Giampietro or “Tommy G”, has been huge in my life as a mentor. He took me where I was, in not being able to really read at all, to helping me jump into the jazz band and salsa band and start sight-reading charts with no problem.
So yeah, I did the classical thing, practicing for hours each day behind a marimba, at the time going, “Why am I doing this?” But now, I see the validity of all that and how you can use it in musical situations. I was there for three years, and basically lived in a practice room. Even after I changed my major, I was still a recording industry minor, which continued to give me exposure to being in studios, seeing how all that works, getting tones, and being able to hone the craft. But really, I wanted to be a jazz drummer. That was my thing and I really loved it, but then I just really fell in love with Nashville, even with the songwriting thing. I was looking to transfer to a different school in New York, went up to check it out, and even talked to some professors there. I went to North Texas for a camp, and was going to go there, but I just loved Nashville. Going away made me want to come back even more.
DR: I want to pick your brain a little bit more about some of the players you mentioned. It’s interesting that you such an early affinity for great jazz drummers, but also for great studio players as well. What specifically about the players in each of those worlds resonated with you?
EH: The way I view drummers is sort of like a tree. There are three guys that I look up to that are, for the most part, “non-jazz” drummers – Ringo Starr, Charlie Watts, and Levon Helm. The guys that I love, that I could listen to for hours every day, are guys that came from that style, like Jim Keltner, who is probably one of my favorite drummers of all time. He and Charlie Watts even did a drumming record together! Jim Keltner, Matt Chamberlain, Jay Bellerose – they really come from those first three guys. Even Matt Chamberlain, who has a jazz background, plays on the back side of the beat most of the time and has a lighter touch, which is what I was really drawn to with most of those guys – their touch. They never overplay, and if they do play something that sounds like they’re about to, they land it. It’s inside them all the time, so if something comes out, it’s amazing. There’s this YouTube video of T-Bone Burnett playing on Leno in ’06 or something with two drummers – Jim Keltner and this girl, Carla Azar, who’s amazing. Keltner’s doing his thing, playing with a maraca and a stick, the whole deal, and then going into one of the choruses, he does a double-bass drum triplet fill! I didn’t even catch it the first time! Who does that?! But it worked! He had the double-bass drum pedal, and I’m not really into that, but it’s cool to see the guys who can do “chops” things and be so tasteful with them.
With the jazz guys, the thing that resonated with me about their playing the most was the emotion behind it – the feeling, the way they would play melodically, and how they would utilize different aspects of the drum set to make music. That included playing on the rims, the shells, just doing weird things.
DR: It’s funny, because everything you just mentioned makes absolute total sense in describing how you yourself play. You have this very warm, earthy, inviting sound that’s loose but tight at the same time. It’s a quality that I feel reflects a lot of the Ringo influence you mentioned. You couldn’t ask for someone to better serve a song than Ringo Starr, who brought tons of personality to a track, yet was somehow able to stay out of the way and become a part of the overall sound. You know it’s him as soon as you hear him play, but it doesn’t detract from the song at all.
EH: He’ll play things on the drums that most drummers wouldn’t ever think to play. That’s what I like about Keltner too. With those guys, they may play on a chorus that’s part of a pop song, and they’re only using the bass drum and the hi-hat and making it feel so good. There’s a record that Keltner played on for an artist named Neil Finn where, on one song, he literally just plays bass drum, hi-hat, and the rack tom every once in a while on a chorus. It feels so good. During the past couple of years, I’ve been trying to understand why that feels so good, and how to make that happen. That’s a lifelong process, and it’s a lot of fun.
DR: Something else as well that you mentioned about Keltner’s double-bass chops –
EH: It’s so random! (laughs)
DR: (laughs) Yeah! The funny thing is that here’s a guy who I saw a video of that was posted recently playing with Steve Jordan in the studio, just hanging out with a stick and a maraca.
EH: And his entrance on that, when he reaches over to get that stick, and hits the snare and the shaker with the stick at the exact same time – it’s flawless. I didn’t get how hard that was until I tried to do it. I was talking to Dennis Crouch, the bass player who’s played a lot on T-Bone’s stuff and said, “Dennis, how is Keltner getting that sound?” He had a little thing with duct tape on his stick, and it’s the same sort of sound he used on this Mavis Staples record that Ry Cooder produced. I don’t know if I should be saying this – it’s one of those “secret” things, but it’s kind of cool. Dennis said that they were on a session together, and one of the runners asked if anybody needed anything. Keltner said, “Yeah, I need some baby food and some Tic-Tacs.” Everyone’s looking around thinking, “What?” They think they’ve heard it all at this point. So the runner goes out and gets him two jars of Gerber baby food. Keltner empties them out, takes the two caps, puts the Tic-Tacs in the caps, puts duct tape around them, and tapes that to his stick and that’s how he’s getting that sound.
EH: So I tried that, and I couldn’t really get it the same, but I made a different version of that. But it’s so cool man – if you try something like that, you’ll hear that sound.
DR: That’s where I was about to go to with all of this. He is somebody who will do almost anything in the studio to get new sounds. Coincidentally, I have seen many videos and pictures of you in the studio coming up with these cool, bizarre kit configurations where you’re able to create new grooves and sounds on the spot. Do you feel that literally altering your physical perspective as far as what you’re playing on and where and how you’re playing it changes how you approach things in the studio? Even when you get back behind a standard kit setup, do those types of experimentation influence your approach in that setting?
EH: Totally man. Those two things influence and affect each other. I did a tour with Katie Herzig last year, whose music is very percussion-based because she plays drums, and she’s a great drummer. With some of her music, the drums are kind of pieced together as far as playing parts, so I had to take those sounds and make it work from a drummer’s perspective. I had things taped to my legs, I’m playing with a mallet, or two sticks in one hand and a brush in the other, just figuring out how to play it. There was only one song on the whole set where I was playing with two sticks! Even when I was doing that though, I was still hearing those other things in my head, so it kind of strengthens what you’re playing when what you’re playing is really simple.
I do a lot of sessions with songwriters, and so to not get in the way of what they’re doing with their voice and where it sits frequency-wise, I may have to come up with other ways of making things happen. Maybe instead of playing the hi-hat, I’ll play with two marimba mallets on the bass drum or something. That’s totally a Jay Bellerose rip-off, but he’s a guy who really changed the way that I listen to music. A good friend of mine gave me a record he played on called Civilians by an artist and producer named Joe Henry. It literally changed my perspective on music, drumming, everything. It’s such a dark-sounding record, and I’d never heard music sound the way it sounds on that record. He doesn’t use hi-hats at all on the whole thing. I thought, “How can you make something feel so good and not use hi-hats?” I delved into that for a while, but I had to kind of step away from it - I’m still in Nashville. I still like playing loud!
DR: After having internalized the influences you’ve mentioned, I want to hear your perspective on your own personal concepts of things such as groove, time, coming up with parts, playing for the song, etc..
EH: I feel like my time on the drums is always relative to the band, whoever I happen to be playing with. I always try and hone in and see if the singer plays on top of the beat and maybe sings on the backside while they’re playing, or the opposite. Maybe when they get excited, they want to rush a little bit. Musical time can kind of ebb and flow when you’re not playing with tracks or whatever. I did a record with Griffin House a few months ago, and there was no click track on the whole record. It was all to tape, there were no punch-ins, and everything is how it is – it’s a “one pass” kind of thing. So I just had to have big ears and listen to everybody. During the past year and a half, I’ve been really able to hear if my time is slipping, if it’s going too far back or too far forward. I’ve been able to hone in on that more recently, just from listening more. The more you listen, the better your time will get. Practicing with click and all that is good, but playing with people can be even better.
I think my approach to coming up with grooves really just comes down to what feels best for the song, in being able to stay out of the way, but coming up with something creative and interesting that may set it apart from every other record that’s out there. I just did a record with this Irish artist named Ben Glover, and we brought in a 1930s-era 28-inch kick, just to have a different feel. When you hear that, you play differently. An 18-inch Gretsch bass drum that’s tighter and punchier [will make you play another way.] A lot of times I’m more inspired by sounds that will make me play a certain way.
DR: After having played with the eclectic range of artists you’ve played with, are there any experiences, either in a live setting or in the studio, that stick out to you above the others?
EH: Yeah man! I play sometimes with this girl Angel Snow, and Viktor Krauss plays bass. Working with them has been just an amazing experience, especially playing with Viktor, who plays with Matt Chamberlain a lot, and Steve Jordan played on Viktor’s record too. To play with somebody who has worked with those guys, and for him to say to me, “Man, this feels good,” is just one of the best compliments. That’s one of the highlights. And then, you know, playing big festivals and stuff is always fun, but to me, there’s nothing like being in the studio with a group of guys helping to create something you’ve just heard. You’re coming up with something on the spot, and then you go back in the control room and listen to it come back at you on the speakers. That’s what I live for. That’s what gets me going, whoever it may be – it could be a pop artist doing a pop-rock thing, or if it’s super mellow, and really vibey. I love it man.
DR: This is sort of the opposite question - what are some of the big things that you take away from being a part of those situations, among many others, that have ended up influencing you and helping you grow as a player?
EH: I think with the whole studio thing, it’s really been [about learning] the mindset and psychology of the session world. I’m not really a “session guy,” but from what I have done, being able to work as a team and to communicate well with other people is so important. You may say something that you may not mean to come across a certain way, or somebody may say something to you, and it will just totally kill the vibe. [You have] to be able to be sensitive to other people. That’s been a huge thing that I’ve taken away from playing with so many different people is how to interact with them. You’re creating something that is so special to everybody, and you’re playing on something that somebody put a lot of work and time into, so you want to serve that as best you can.
Also, taking someone’s direction, being able to translate what a singer may want you to play, and being able to get that as quick as possible is something that I’ve been learning. Learning how to be in a van for a long time too is also important! (laughs)
DR: What advice would you give to someone who is looking do what you’re doing, in being able to play with a wide variety of artists both in the studio and on the road?
EH: I would just say take every gig that you can get, but also be happy about what you’re playing. If you take a gig where you may not necessarily be into the music, don’t take that out on anybody else. Never say “no” unless it’s something you know is going to be negative for your career or something you may not enjoy. But also, just go for it, just do it. I know that’s easier said than done, but my mentality is don’t waste time.
Be fearless about what it is you do. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t be worried that somebody won’t hire you because you do something different, because the guys that I look up to are where they are because they’re different. Matt Chamberlain does some things that you would never dream of doing on a session, but he does it and does it well, and he owns it.
DR: What are you currently working on at the moment, and in a bigger sense, what are you aspiring towards in the future?
EH: What I’m working on right now is getting more recording gear. I feel like it’s really important now to be able to record drums and get great sounds at home. A lot more people are outsourcing their work, where people are just coming over to the house and plugging in a hard drive and getting amazing sounds. Me and a friend of mine named Scott Hundley, who I was in The Exception with, are kind of pulling our resources together to try and do more of a home studio thing right now. I’ve also been writing more, which has been a fun experience, and I’m wanting to get into more of that. I’d love to be the next Matt Chamberlain or Jim Keltner, but having my own voice and my “print” on whatever it is that I’ve played on, and just being a part of a healthy musical community that I’m happy to play with [are all things I aspire to]. Some of those friendships will last forever. I want to keep building those, and hopefully be working with those same people twenty years down the road. I feel like that’s more meaningful than just random things.
After the interview concluded, our conversation about the musicians, artists, and bands we both admire led to a sort of impromptu interview about some more of Evan’s influences and stories about his life and career. I started recording again, as I sensed it was something that would definitely be worth documenting. Here is the transcript:
On Will Sayles:
In 2005, I saw a Derek Webb concert at John Brown University where Will was playing drums, and I’d never been to a concert quite like that. At the time, I was on the fence about whether I wanted to go to Nashville, to Texas – I didn’t know what to do. I really wasn’t going to go up to Will after the show and say “Hey.” I was pretty nervous, but my sister said, “You need to go do it!” So I did, and he was really nice, responded to emails, helped me out with gear choices and things like that, acting as sort of a big brother to me, and then was really instrumental in helping me get gigs in town too. Some of the really cool stuff I’ve done has been through him. That was one thing that was really influential in helping me decide what I wanted to do.
On seeing Wilco:
I saw Wilco in either 2004 or 2005 at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis on the A Ghost Is Born tour, where they had the backdrop with the images going on. Seeing Glenn Kotche play, I didn’t get it at the time. In my head, I was thinking, “Okay, this is exactly what I want to do. I see it, it’s here,” but I didn’t know how to get to that point. His playing was so different, so textural and creative. I was just blown away. It was amazing. I’ve seen them a couple more times since then, and after one of those shows, which was in Tulsa, me and one of my friends snuck backstage and waited by their bus to talk to them! (laughs) So I got to talk to Glenn, and was asking him things like, “What’s your electronic rig like? What are you using?” and he was so nice. That was another thing that was really influential to me, in hearing music being played that way.
The guys in Wilco are so tuned into tones and sounds, and that was another thing that really struck me and perked my ears up, where I was thinking, “How do I get that sound?” On “Reservations” he does kind of a timpani thing, but finding out that he actually has a tube going into his floor tom that he’s blowing into [was mind-blowing for me]. I feel really fortunate in being exposed to that while in high school, at an earlier age, and kind of having to deal with that then. Listening to that stuff early on…it was so different than everything that I listened to that I didn’t really like it at first. The first time I heard A Ghost Is Born, I thought, “I really don’t think I like this!” But listening to it more and more, I sort of began to understand it, even though I had never heard anything like that. I knew it was cool, but with anything that’s new, you can be a little hesitant with it. I mean, the song “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” is ten minutes long! But that’s a testament to Glenn’s playing, in that he can hold that so tight and not change for that long, and it feels so good. It’s kind of like the Steve Jordan thing, where playing simple parts becomes harder than playing a lot of notes.