LOS ANGELES NATIVE JEREMY BERMAN TALKS DRUMS
As a musician, instrument choice plays a crucial part in defining an individual’s sound. As a drummer, I like to find the perfect sound that suits my needs in any particular musical situation. Having a great sound not only helps within the musical context, but spawns creativity and helps develop musical ideas that can’t be concocted with any other sound. Jeremy Berman, the owner and builder of Q Drums, understands that point completely. Foregoing cheap gimmicks, Berman crafts pieces that not only look great, but sound fantastic as well. I sat down with him at his shop in San Pedro to discuss the company’s history, his methods, and the future of his brand.
Union Weekly: Can you tell us how you got started? I know you started off with Orange County Drums and Percussion. How was the transition from working with that company to having your own startup and what were you trying to accomplish with this move?
Jeremy Berman: It’s been a very difficult transition. When I started working with Orange County, they were already established as the premier custom drum maker in California. I really didn’t want to start my own drum company, I wanted to continue building drums for them; but unfortunately their custom drum building side dwindled due to the economy and it didn’t afford me enough time to make drums. So while I was making drums for a friend of mine, he keep bugging me to start my own company and he happened to become my first endorser. I started to do things on my own, and I talked to the guys at Orange County and they were okay with it. My whole idea of drums is a lot different than what it was when I was working for Orange County, so I wanted to bring in my ideas and start my own brand. It’s been difficult, especially getting your name out there, because unless you have huge artists playing your drums no one really notices your company. And I’ve been in the industry long enough to know plenty of drummers that are in enormous bands and doing really well for themselves, but those guys are already endorsed. So that has been a really difficult and very humbling task but we’re getting there. So far things have been looking up. We have Ilan Rubin on board, and he’s become part owner, and with his success comes success for the company, so that definitely has helped out a lot.
UW: Can you explain your relationship with Ilan Rubin? Ilan Rubin has reached quite a level of fame playing with Nine Inch Nails, and he just recorded with Paramore.
JB: Not only has he recorded with Paramore, but he has also been touring with them for the last couple of months. Anyway, Ilan used to be an endorser for OCDP, and I met him when he was about eleven years old, when he had a drum kit built by us. From then, I’ve become friends with him and all of his family, because his family is all a part of what makes him and what he is. I’ve built almost all of his drum kits myself. In 2008, while I was working with Nine Inch Nails, Ilan was playing drums with Lost Prophets, and Nine Inch Nails had gone through a slew of drummers, about four at this point, and we needed someone who was on top of their shit. At the time it was Josh Freese, but he decided to leave to do his own thing, and Trent Reznor was having a difficult time trying to #nd somebody because it’s not an easy gig. I suggested Ilan, because I had introduced them at Reading and Leeds, the festival in the UK. I sent Ilan a couple of the tracks, and he sent video back the same day of him playing over the tracks, which Trent saw. Then, Ilan came out the next day for an audition and got the gig. After that Nine Inch Nails thing, he’s just been sought after, and from that came the Paramore stuff. All of the press that he has and the fact that he uses our drums has really helped promote the company.
UW: When you’re making your drums, what do you try to model them after? I remember reading your bio where you stated that you were really inspired by the vintage Gretsch and Ludwig kits; is that your main source of inspiration? How are your drums different than all the other boutique drums out there?
JB: For me, it’s always been the fact that vintage drums win the battle in the studio and even live because they are so warm and project so well. It’s weird, because even back then, they didn’t really give a shit about the craftsmanship so much as most drum makers do now, but for some reason, whatever it was that they did to those old drums makes them sound phenomenal. So I try to mimic it with some sort of craftsmanship involved. Cutting the edges the way they used to cut edges is a big thing, how I #nish the insides, and obviously the aesthetics are an important part of the drums. I’ve always loved the look of vintage drums, even when I worked at OCPD. I played vintage Ludwig’s because I thought they looked cooler and were more fun to play, and I try to mimic that with Q Drums. As far as what sets me apart from other companies, I do a few things that I don’t think any other drum company does. I hand make my own metal snare drums and metal drum kits, and I know other companies do that, but the way I do it is di"erent, especially in the drum kits. I use galvanized steel, copper and brass. It’s really thin gauge material, and because of that the note is so much deeper and bigger than your standard wood drum kit. The problem with metal is that it is pretty brassy sounding; if you have a metal edge it sounds tinny and ring-y, and the way I have combated that is by putting wood reinforcement hoops in them. What that does is make them a little bit more subtle in attack, warms it up, and you can still get that big deep sound with a little bit of a metallic overtone. So far, people have been really enjoying the metal drums, and they’re a blast to make.
UW: I’ve noticed with a couple custom drum companies, it’s a lot of crazy #nishes and gimmicks, and the drums themselves sound like trash. How do you feel about the whole style over substance issue?
JB: Yeah, I’ve heard that before. The problem with a lot of custom drum companies is that they go after the cosmetics of the drum, rather than what the drum is supposed to be, which is something that sounds good. It’s a tool to make music, not a tool to make you look cool.
UW: How did you come up with the name Q Drums?
JB: I went through about twenty-five names I wanted to use. I went through my list and picked out the top three. One of them was “Quality”, but the more I thought of the name the more I thought about the fact that a lot of the import drum companies have names like Perfect Drum Company, and I was like, “fuck, that sounds really bad and really cheesy.” I thought if I just drop everything and just keep the Q, I know what it means to me, and that’s all that matters.
UW: Is there anything, sound wise, that you prefer? What is your favorite material? What kind of bearing edges do you use?
JB: Well, my favorite bearing edge (I put on all of my drum) is 45 inner with a radius outer. It’s the percentage of inner cut vs. outer cut that makes it kind of my own thing. My favorite wood kits now are mahogany with maple reinforcement rings; I think they sound amazing. A lot of low end, yet still really warm, and the tone decays fast enough where you don’t have to EQ a lot or put a lot of muffling. As far as snare drums, I love the heavy brass and copper sound. I’ve always been a huge metal snare drum fan, and the metal snares I’ve made have been my favorite.
UW: You said mahogany is your favorite, which is kind of new to me, because the usual is maple or birch. How did you decide upon mahogany?
JB: Well, mahogany is kind of an old material for drums. A lot of companies were using it back in the ‘20s and ‘30s because it was abundant. These shells are a bit different because they are mahogany with a poplar middle, which is really soft. Personally, I like maple a lot, and I play maple kits a lot. Tonally, they resonate and sustain a little longer than I like, so I always had to put tape or moon gels on no matter what, just due to the nature of the material. I have really never been a fan of birch, they just sound too EQ’d. So you have maple on one end of the spectrum, and birch on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. The thing that I like about the mahogany is that you get the best of both worlds. It lets me utilize the kit in all types of situations and music types, so mahogany has sort of become my go to.
UW: You’re having a lot of success and building a reputation. Where do you see yourself in five to ten years and what do you want to accomplish?
JB: We want to take over the drum world. That’s really all there is to it.