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Flying High

Ron Welty didn't think about changing his life. He just wanted to learn the drums, play with some buddies in a band, and, ultimately, have fun. Welty's still playing a simple five-piece kit and rocking alongside the same friends from Anaheim California. He's also having more fun then he ever imagined.

Of course, a few hit songs, chart-topping albums, and packed-house tours will contribute to anyone's fun factor. But even Welty's amazed the The Offspring - the band he stepped into as a sixteen-year-old high schooler - became the central focus of his life. The Offspring beckoned grungester fallouts to "Come Out And Play" and Smashed into the national limelight on the forefront of eary-90's pop-punk.

Just when it looked as though other bands, styles, and trends had come along to turn them into pop culture orphans, The Offspring have bounced back big-time. They have launched a new phrase into pop lexicon- "Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)"- and launched their new disc Americana into everyone's shopping bag.

More amazingly, Welty says, The Offspring have done it all without stretching far from their original foundation. For his part, Welty's still playing the same straight-ahead, up-tempo rhythms, striving to hit hard, and, above all, to hike his endurance.

Just before hitting the sage on a recent tour stop in the former Czechoslovakia, Welty talked to Modern Drummer about his stamina-over-style approach, along with the help - both human and technological - that goes into his "physically taxing" drumming with The Offspring.

"My main goal right now is to go out there and try not to suck," he says. "I worry about sucking every night. Even after all this time, I know I can still get better. This music can be so physically taxing. But for maybe the first time ever, I feel really confident I can do my job every night and have a lot of fun at the same time."

MP (Matt Peiken) - Is there anything this tour, in terms of your sound or technique, that marks a shift in the way you've don't things?

RW (Ron Welty) - Yeah, my tech is Chris Lagerboard, who's played with Joykiller, Down by Law, and some other great bands. This is his first tour with us, and he's awesome. We have some samples for "Get A Job" and he's playing some pads for the shakers on that, and he has three rack toms set up so he can play along with me on "Have You Ever," to give it that flam-delay sound. He's just following me, and I have him completely out of my mix, so I don't have to worry about synching up to another drummer.

It's kind of a trip how we're doing "Pretty Fly." We have samples for the backup singer, and that's a set tempo, so I have to hear those and keep my tempo right in line with that. It's a little difficult to do, and there is a little leeway at the beginning before anyone notices if it's out of whack, but it definitely took some practice to get comfortable with it. I'm also playing to a loop in "Get A Job" The loop starts the song, then I come in with the regular drum beat on top of that, so I have to crank that up in my monitors to say on top of that loop. That's something I've never done before, but it makes the shows more fun and interesting.

MP: On the surface, The Offspring's music hasn't music hasn't changed all that much since the early days. But how would you say your playing has evolved?

RW: After playing so many shows, I'd like to think I'm more solid and confident, and I can lay into drums more without loosing the feel or the tempo. I'm also in better condition as a drummer. We've upped our set to something like nineteen songs now, and it used to just work me so hard before to do fifteen songs. It was hard to get through the set with out cramping; I had to work really hard on my speed and endurance.

That's one of the things my tech, Chris, has really been helping me with. He comes into the dressing room an hour before we go on and just kicks my ass-has me jumping rope, doing stretching exercises, playing on a pad, and other things he's picked up from other drummers. I was doing some of it on my own before, but I'm definitely doing much more conditioning with him before every show. It's almost like he's my personal trainer, and it's made such a big difference because I'm not cramping anymore. I'm grateful, because instead of worrying about just getting through the song, I can enjoy them more now and have more confidence.

MP: Was your endurance a major concern for you until recently?

RW: It's always been a concern. In the past, we had to make up our set list with that in mind. We'd have the fast punk songs that we'd have to separate with some of the slower ones, like "Self Esteem" or "Gone Away" so I could get my wind back. Nowadays we just make the list according to how we think it will go over. If that means three or four fast songs in a row, I can pull it off now.

MP: In your faster songs you do a lot of handwork, but you're not really playing blast beats. It seems like you hold your kick notes for specific beats in the measure, deliberately to accent the vocal or guitar punches.

RW: Yeah, that's definitely intentional. When we're rehearsing the songs, we break down the guitar and bass parts to make sure my kick notes match up with their strums on the downstroke. When everyone's hitting at the at the same time, it makes it more punchy. That's something we've always been conscious of and it's something we learned from our first producer Tom Wilson. He taught us that everything need to move the woofer at the same time, and if you're doing different things then you don't get the power you need to make a song come across. So we've always been aware of that, we've just gotten better at that as we've gone along.

One of the potential downsides of that is things can sometimes sound the same from one song to the next, especially when you're doing punk songs. When you've done four or five records, you're bound to play the same beats and rhythms a few times. But we're conscious of that, too so we're always trying to play different rhythms, even if the differences are only suble (I ripped out the first part of the word). We tape our shows, and I go back cover them sometimes to make sure I haven't slipped away from something I'm supposed to be doing, making sure my kick notes are where they should be.

MP: Do you have any role in songwriting for The Offspring?

RW: No, that's all Dexter [Holland, singer]. He writes everything, including the drum parts. There are a few songs were he'll ask for input here and there. But for the most part, he already has in his head how he wants to go. Just like wanting the kick notes tied to the strumming of the guitars, there's not a whole lot of room to do other things. It's already dictated. Dexter lays down very specific things he wants me to play. He comes up with some pretty cool things - some things are pretty different from the way I would do them on my own - and I trust his judgment, for the most part. We hash out a few things once in a while. But it's my job to take what's given to me and be real solid and nail it.

MP: When you were just starting out, how did you juggle school with our growing schedule in the band?

RW: It really wasn't that big of a conflict while I was in school because we didn't do a full-on tour until just after I graduated. It escalated from there. My parents weren't really that excited or supportive about it at first. They didn't understand why I was spending so much of my energy with the band. I don't think it really hit them until the Orange County Register or LA Times would come out and write about us, and then it was like, "Oh, we've always supported you." [Laughs]

I actually went to electronics and engineering school and got an associate of arts degree, but I couldn't really use it trying to get at Fostex, but the guy who was gonna hire me wouldn't let me take off during the summer. So I ended up just working at a frozen yogurt and muffin shop until I could support myself doing music.

MP: Were you that committed to music and drumming, or was it more The Offspring, specifically?

RW: I think it was all of the above. I liked playing drums from the moment I started but I've never had any lessons and I never ever really played to records. I just got in the band, and all my development came from getting on the road and playing. That's pretty much how everyone in the band did it. None of us took lessons. We just stuck together and learned along the way. We all had about the same ability when we started, and we've all grown together. It was always serious for me-though I never really believed it would pay off-but playing was just so much fun at the time that I was gonna do it anyway, regardless of what happened. Luckily, it worked out.

MP: Is there anything you want out of your playing that you didn't necessarily concern yourself before?

RW: I've never worried about learning new fills or trying to be a drummer's drummer in that way. I want to get through a show with more stamina to hit hard and keep control of the tempo. It's just about being more solid. It's hard to do that at consistently fast tempo, but that's what I'm striving for all the time. That's why Dave Grohl is one of my favorite drummers, because I like how hard and powerful he plays.

MP: Along with that, is it important to you to play cleanly with precision?

RW: Fortunately, with technology, it's easier to make your parts sound cleaner in the studio than you're actually playing them. I do the best I can, but we used Pro Tools on the new record to sharpen up some of the parts. If there are certain fills I'm going to do again and I'm not quite nailing the next time around, Dave Jerden, our producer, would take an earlier fill and just splice it in, to make it sound perfect.

One part that comes in mind is on the song "The Kids Aren't Alright." I'm hitting pretty hard during the regular beat, but when it comes up to the fill, it's kinda fast and it's hard to keep up that intensity, and I had to do it over and over again. I pulled it off a couple times, but we pretty much put and pasted the rest of it in - which I found out a couple of months later.

MP: Would you like to record to be more pure, even if it's imperfect, or does that matter to you?

RW: I just want to sound right on the record. I'll try my best to do that on my own, and I really push myself to the limit to do that. We don't have to edit a lot but sometimes it doesn't work out and it's a nice tool to have.

MP: How do your choices in equipment come into play with regards to hitting hard and getting the sound you want?

RW: In the studio, I usually leave that up to Dave Jerden, and I have the Drum Doctor, Ross Garfield, come out with every album. I usually use this drum called The Terminator, which is used on about ninety percent of the recordings in Hollywood. Everyone who rents the Drum Doctor get The Terminator. It's a snare that was made by Zildjian and Noble & Cooley, I believe, and it's the heaviest thing on the planet. It's really thickbrass snare that just weigh fifty pounds, and it cuts through the mix like mad. There are probably only four of them in existence.

I've used The Terminator on every record with the exception of this last one. I did some different things for Americana, like using concert toms without a bottom heads on them. It was weird for me - the sound was just bizarre and hard to get used to - bit they were going for different things on the record. I don't know if people can really hear it, but the snare and toms sound different from our other albums. I used a Black Beauty and another snare, which I can't really recall, and I also used the newest Roland electronic drums on few parts. We used them in combination with the acoustic drums in the breakdown part of "Have You Ever."

I guess the strangest part about my kit is the angle of the rack toms. I sit really low and have my rack toms facing toward me, instead of flat. Every drummer who sits at my set can't deal with it, but it's just easier for me. The time it would take me for to go up and over my drums, on each stroke, is more than it is for me to got at them. It's easier for me to get through some of those fast rolls, like on "Feelings." The snare is set up at pretty much the same angle as the toms, so it makes sense.

MP: By having the snare angled so sharply, isn't it just hard to nail a rimshot?

RW: No, I just have to pull my left leg out of the way a little bit.

MP: Tell me about the drum sounds on "Why Don't You Get A Job" and "Pay The Man." They're noticeably different from the rest of the album.

RW: The loop on "Why Don't You Get A Job" came from my playing on the Roland drums. Then I went in and played the acoustics on top of that. "Pay The Man" was a song we originally recorded and mixed for Ixnay On The Hombre, so we just pulled it from the session for this record.

We spent a lot of time on that song. It's long and hard to get through, but it's really for us, and I think that's one of the reasons it didn't make it onto Ixnay. It was just a little too out-there, so we saved it for a time we thought we could take more of a chance with that kind of song.

MP: Are you still active in your side-project band, Spinning Fish?

RW: Yeah, but there's really no time for it when The Offspring is going. We do it whenever I'm home which won't be for a long while now. It's totally different style of music, not punk in any way. It's a rock band - some of it's kinda Jane'sy, some of it's kinda Alice In Chains, but the vocals are different. The tempos aren't as fast, so I'm able to hit harder and I'm able to come up with beats that use the toms more, rhythms that are more tribal and interesting and fun to play.

It's just really fun thing I have going with my best friend. If something comes of it, that's great, but for me it's mainly just an outlet for fun, and I don't think that's gonna change. We've only recorded in my garage studio, but that's another thing I really enjoy - engineering. I've always watched our producers work, taken mental notes from them, and tried taking it all back to my studio. It's fun affective the music from a producer's perspective, and I'd like to get into doing that a lot more down the read, working with other bands on their records.

By Matt Peiken, from "Modern Drummer" magazine - June 1999