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FEBRUARY 21-22, 2020
VANCOUVER, CANADA
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One of the best things about Broadway is that any idea can become a musical. King Kong fits this perfectly. It takes a whole team to operate the giant puppet, which is the perfect analogy to how many musical styles are used to make his (its?) show.

Warren Odze is the drummer who plays a slew of genres and navigates all sorts of challenges to put out a consistent nightly product, lest he face the Wrath of Kong.

You’ve been doing this a long time. How have you adapted to the changing roles of the pit drummer?

There’s not that much adapting for me because this stuff all reflects what’s going on out there in the world. It’s slowly getting away from the old school conducting. More and more of these shows are on a click system, as more of it becomes pop music away from My Fair Lady kind of shows. And I’ve done a bunch of them. But the more modern shows seem to be click-driven, with more pop music, and more isolation-driven.

King Kong is using an orchestra, a click, and tracks. Could you explain?

So the tracks came first with the show when it was done originally. Grammy winner Marius de Vries (Score composer/producer) did these tracks and they’re very ambitious.

If it’s just a conductor with no click, we play together as a group with our frailties, and that makes for music, right? Then you add the next element, which is the click. It’s just a tempo guide. So even inside the *tick tick* there’s feel. But now we have tracks, which have all the subdivisions. So the name of the game here is precision. So to me it’s almost like data input.

There’s no wiggle room for about 95 percent of the show. It’s kind of like going back a million years to those records that John Robinson played on, like Stevie Winwood’s “Higher Love” and all that stuff. I mean, he was famous and still is famous for his precision.

So how do you get “feel” when playing with all of that precision?

When you put the show together it’s really a fast process. A lot of the parts were kind of wacky and hard because they’re just transcriptions of the tracks, which are sort of unplayable because it was a guy on a keyboard – you know, like five voices at once. So I had to find a way to put a little more John Bonham in the mess.

I spent a lot of time with the metronome making sure I could play the part and relax, and then going back to the (music) styles a little bit.

  • Warren has a noisy neighbor, but Warren is also the noisy neighbor. They can’t hear each other, though (except through the mix).
Eddie Perfect (music & lyrics) is known for writing with a potpourri of music styles. Do you prefer that?

I do like doing that! Some of it sounds like Game of Thrones. Some of it sounds like AC/DC, or even a “We Will Rock You” vibe. Some of it is this sort of big band swing, and there is a tiny bit of goofy old school Broadway vaudeville. It’s fun here.

Author’s Note: Composer Eddie Perfect also wrote the songs for the new Beetlejuice musical. That show uses double bass drumming for some of the metal sections!

We are a stick’s throw away from the percussionists’ setup (they’re in neighboring rooms). How are you syncing up with Dave Roth?

It’s like a recording studio; it does feel weird at first, but everybody’s so used to it at this point.

One of the big things to be successful in a recording studio is “act as if.” If you’re just used to playing with people in [the same room], there will be the sensation of “wow, that sounds weird” and you’re second-guessing. It’s a lot of acting like they’re there.

I guess asking for your “favorite song” is like asking your favorite genre. But anyway…what’s your favorite song?

You know, there’s a couple of favorites. There’s this one that’s at the beginning with a boat and it’s got this Peter Gabriel-esque rolling on the toms thing and it creates a mood. I like stuff that is trance and in a mood.

There is a scene at the end where Kong goes completely cuckoo. And we play that “We Will Rock You” type thing. And I love that kind of music. Simple.

Challenges each night?

A little saving grace here is that the track is always running. So you hear it in your subconscious. Once in a while, the monkey goes cuckoo and it happens in my least favorite piece, “The Cobra Fight” with Kong fighting.

It’s a very complex piece of music that’s constantly shifting meters and fields. The conductor’s constantly getting out of vamps into the next thing and it’s a little nerve wracking.

Yup. That is a Cobra fight. (Credit: Matthew Murphy)

And how about when things go wrong for you?

Well, when we first started, I came in early with this entrance. It was not a great thing, but if you didn’t know the show you would almost think I was supposed to. The lead character is screaming and I played this fill at the wrong time; it almost sounds like a Phil Collins moment.

Of course [the band] never lets me live it down. They can’t. It’s a great fill, but I played it wrong. I keep the sticks out of my hands during that part.

Small monitor for Conductor/Keyboard (Michael Gacetta). Big monitor for Kong. Those lines behind him are the gigantic LCD screen on stage.

Crack the track:

Here’s a music video for “Queen of New York”. It’s a good exercise in approaching the kit from a pop perspective, and trying to replicate the percussion sounds as much as possible. Notice the lack of hi-hat or ride. Also great for improvising a drum part on top.

Inspired by:

Keith Carlock
Elvin Jones
Jack DeJohnette

The artillery:

Yamaha Stage Custom Drums
Zildjian and Sabian Cymbals
Assorted Percussion
Vic Firth Double Glaze Sticks (“One pair lasts me 2 months”)

King Kong is no longer running on Broadway. But after hanging backstage, some may say he’s just hibernating…

Feature photo: Matthew Murphy

Brian Cudina

Brian Cudina is a lyricist, writer, and drummer based in New York City. After studying sportscasting at college, he fell back into the music world to indulge in his love of drumming, musicals, songwriting, and STYX.

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