May 2015 Interview with John - If you have been following Noble & Cooley on social media lately, you have probably noticed that there has been an uptick of activity. There is a reason for this and it is just the beginning. We are excited to announce that we have entered into a strategic business partnership with John Keane. John is a long time Noble & Cooley player and a successful business person. He approached us recently to discuss his passion for the brand as well as ideas he had for expanding the Noble & Cooley platform and getting more people to play our drums. John is highly enthusiastic and brings a great deal of business acumen to our company. Since he approaches our business both as a fan and as a creative businessman who has ideas for growth, we thought our long time loyal players would like to hear some of his stories and ideas. We also thought that those who recently signed up for the newsletter and may not know much about Noble & Cooley would enjoy learning about him, his experience with our drums and some of the things he would like to do. John is very energetic which comes across when you hear him discuss all things drumming related. He has said repeatedly that Noble & Cooley is not about him but about us and the fans but we want our extended family to know about him and why we chose to work with him. We put some questions to John which we hope will give you a sense of who he is, who we are and where he wants to go with the drums
N&C Why do you want to work with Noble & Cooley?
I have a number of specific reasons but, to put it simply, I think Noble & Cooley makes the best drums in the world and more people need to hear them. I believe I can take my business background, add some additional resources, both financial and otherwise, combine them with my passion for the drums and grow the business. I also want to develop new products which will provide similar profound experiences for other musicians that I have had with my drums.
N&C What do you bring to the business that you think will help the company grow?
I guess what I bring is that I primarily approach this as a long time user, drum junkie and fan but I also have a lot of ideas and a willingness to take risks. If you combine that with a fair amount of sales and marketing experience, financial capabilities, access to resources and colleagues with formidable skill sets who are excited to help, I am pretty confident we will be successful with whatever we choose to do. And oh, by the way, the drums are amazing, the company made the drums for the Civil War and spearheaded the custom drum shop movement and has an impeccable reputation.
N&C Why did you choose to play the drums?
I didn’t, really. I have just always loved the drums. I love the way they look, the way they sound, the smell of the wood, the physical sensation of playing them, sweating, getting in the zone and being all consumed by them. I don’t get this from other instruments, though I may simply not be good enough to get there. I have vivid memories of sitting on the kitchen floor when I was just a few years old and banging on pots and pans with wooden spoons. I also remember a friend in my neighborhood had a three piece Slingerland kit with a just a ride and high hat (which is why he was my friend, he he). He wasn’t into the drums but every time I went to his house I would beg to play them. When I joined the elementary school band, my parents didn’t want to buy me a snare drum right away because they thought I would lose interest. My next door neighbor let me borrow his, but I had to bring it to and from school every time I had band and because of where we lived I had to walk to school. It was over a mile (I know this sounds like a Monte Python episode) and I had to carry, in one case, the snare, stand, practice pad and sticks plus my homework, by myself, at age 5. I can still recall walking 20 yards putting it down, walking another 20 yards and putting down until I got to school. I remember they had a drum teacher who volunteered at my school. There was this show on in MA at the time called Community Auditions which was like an early America’s Got Talent and he was their drummer and he was crazy good in a Buddy Rich kind of way. I remember watching him doing double stroke rolls, inverted paradiddles and flams on the practice pad thinking he was magic. Actually, I still feel that way.
I think most drummers are like this. Every drummer I have ever asked this question to has looked at me like they never thought of it before. They all say, “I don’t know, I just always wanted to play the drums.” I don’t think it is like this to the same extent with other instruments. Some guitar players do it for the spotlight (girls) , and I bet there is a high percentage of people playing that violin and piano who started because they were forced to by their parents, and I know a lot of bass players who started out on guitar. My daughter plays the flute because her junior high and high school bands are very good and all the kids want to be in them. She looked at the different instruments and said, “I guess I’ll play the flute.” No drummer would EVER say that. We all want to play the drums and there is no doubt whatsoever. And when you think about it we better want to play the drums because everything other than playing them, listening to them, and looking at them sucks. They take forever to set up and break down, carrying them in and out of clubs gets old fast, all the pressure is on us both live and in the recording studio. We get blamed for everything, tempo is too fast or too slow (or the guitar player saying it is to slow and the bass player says it is too fast at the same time). Non-musicians think the drums are easy, that we are not real musicians and we oftentimes don’t get songwriting credit. The drums are earned. All drummers know this and only drummers understand this and I think this is why we all tend to get along and admire what each of us does.
N&C Does your daughter play the drums?
God, no. I offered to show her how to play when she was about six and she said, “Dad, the drums are easy. You just hit this, then you hit that, then you hit that other thing.” That was the end of that. A life’s passion marginalized in two sentences. It’s funny. Her high school band is terrific, particularly the rhythm section. They do all kinds of creative things. I picked her and a friend up after a concert the other night and the percussionists were putting away the marimbas and the marching drums and playing them while doing so. I said, “Drummers NEVER stop drumming”. She and her friend said, “That’s so true. They play in between songs, after class is over, during announcements, on the walls in the hallway. It’s so annoying. All they care about is the drums. They are like a cult.” I just smiled.
N&C How long have you played Noble & Cooley Drums?
I bought a 6 piece set of Cherry CD Maples with a 5x14 SS Classic in 1995 and have played them ever since.
N&C How did you find out about our drums?
I was taking lessons from Anthony Resta who is a Noble & Cooley endorser. He is better known as a producer now but he is a great drummer. I went to my first lesson in his studio and he had this nondescript black kit in the middle of his of the room. The studio is in a converted loft with vaulted ceilings, so the room is really ambient. He sat down to show me some of his interpretations of Gary Chaffee stuff and I was like, “Oh my God. Stop. Where did you get those drums? Those are the most amazing drums I have ever heard”. To be fair, with the open room and the vaulted ceilings, it was the epicenter of drum tone but hearing the drums the first time was an epiphany. I will never forget that moment.
N&C Clearly, you have been in bands.
Yes, several. I played in the orchestra all through school. In high school, I played in a cover band and an original punk band called the Beatniks which was a cool experience. Later, in college and after, I played in a thrash band called Crawlspace and after that in a metal/hardcore band called NOK both of which had a decent amount of success. More recently I have played in a couple of straight up metal type projects.
N&C You don’t look like you play that kind of music.
Gee, I have never heard that before. The joke in my bands was always, “Bands only back here,” because no one ever believed I was in the band and when I went back stage security invariably stopped me with those words. Sometimes I would do sound check in my suit just to mess with people. And the guys in my bands would get asked about me a lot. They would just say, “Oh he’s metal all right. Go talk to him for ten minutes.” When I first approached the Jones family about working together, I had already been to the factory multiple times, including a trip to get my snare drum repaired. They did not remember me having visited. Later, when I returned for further discussions, I had a suit on. Nick (son) said, “Now I remember you. You brought your snare drum to be repaired and your case had your band logo on it. I have your CD and I remember thinking, this dude bought his drums used, because there is no way THAT guy is in THAT band.” So, yeah I am kind of used to it and I am actually kind of proud of it because to me there is no disconnect. I am a business guy and I am a righteously indignant metal head.
Actually, the only thing here that doesn’t fit is the cover band. I was terrible at it. I could never play like the drummers on the track. I could only do my version of what was there and I embellished a lot because I was young, selfish and immature and I made it about the drums, not the songs. Plus, I could never understand why people didn’t dance to YYZ.
You know, I still have to be on guard for this attitude. Not too long ago I was asked to play in the company band at a national sales meeting. Employees came in from all over the world and learned 50 songs to play at one of the evening functions. They asked me to sit in for a couple of songs and I was like, this is what it has come to, playing a couple of songs at the NSM? I picked the two easiest songs on the list to play so I wouldn’t have to do much rehearsing – Jumpin’ Jack Flash and You Shook Me All Night Long. Some of my sales guys were giving me a hard time, “Yo VP, you gonna play in the company band or are you afraid to show up?” I responded with, “Uh, I played in METAL bands. I think I can handle a Phil Rudd track.”
Except I couldn’t. About a week before the meeting, I decided I better learn the songs and I sat down with my iPod to hash it out. Jumpin’ Jack Flash I had played in high school and I remembered Charlie Watts essentially plays the same beat with minimal fills throughout the song so I started with You Shook Me. I could NOT play this song. My body did not want to play the parts Phil Rudd wrote. Had I been in that band, I would have played the song completely differently and no one would have bought Back In Black. Of course, I’m not hooked on crystal meth either. In any case, I was totally panicked that I was going to embarrass myself in front of 2000 people. It took me hours to get it right and even longer to get comfortable with the groove and feel the genius he brought to wrapping the beat around the guitar riff so if flows properly. And there is actually a lot of subtlety to his playing, particularly with his cymbal placement. I probably could have learned all of Fragile in less time. I guess it’s a long way to the top if you want rock and roll. Same thing with Jumpin’ Jack Flash. I had zero chance of getting through that song without using fills to bring me from the high hat to the ride which he doesn’t even do on the studio version. I could not hold that song together for four minutes without some movement. In the end, it all worked out and I ended up having fun and there was someone in the band who played the electric violin which was a new experience for me so it just goes to show you never know.
This also made me realize something. It had been 20 years since the last time I learned someone else’s parts. Performing something someone else has written is the exact opposite experience of writing your own. When you write your own, you know what you have played but listen back to make sure the parts work. When you play someone else’s, you know the parts work (or you wouldn’t be learning the song) and the question is getting the parts right. Playing what someone else has written forces you to expand your playing. This is probably obvious to everyone reading this but I had forgotten it.
N&C Do you listen to other types of music?
I listen to all types of music. I really grew up listening to rock, progressive rock, classical, jazz, and fusion but I am open to anything. I was drawn into metal by the complexity and the extreme nature of the music. In all areas of my life I tend to gravitate toward the difficult, the complex, the intense and the challenging and metal fit that bill. The fact that it is completely counterculture and widely misunderstood is a nice bonus. Plus, a lot of metal is really just progressive rock or classical with heavy guitar tones. But If I go to an amusement park I listen to the music on the rides. If I watch a movie, I listen to the soundtrack, if I am on a conference call, I listen to the hold music. It’s not even a conscious thing sometimes. I just love music. I would guess that most people spend more time listening to music than they do with any other art form. It’s kind of a way of life.
N&C Could you share some of your influences?
Sure, although I don’t know if I would call them influences. I would call them drummers I admire and enjoy listening to because I don’t think I sound like any of them, primarily because I am not good enough to sound like any of them. A lot of my heroes are obvious. Early on it was Keith Moon, Bill Ward, Neil Peart, Mitch Mitchell, Billy Cobham, Butch Trucks, Carl Palmer, Jerry Gaskill and John Bonham. Interestingly, I gravitated to the busy players first and really started to appreciate John Bonham later. It is pretty difficult to overstate how much he shaped modern music. The ultimate rock drummer. I could live to be a hundred and I will never figure out Black Dog. I had a separate path of interest which involved Miles, primarily, Philly Jo Jones and Tony Williams, Steely Dan and Spyro Gyra and somewhere after high school I realized Ringo was a really good drummer. In college I got really into progressive rock and Marillion in particular. Ian Mosely is such a relaxed player who makes all of their songs work. They play in 5 and 7 a lot and he makes it all feel smooth. Then my brother forced me to go to a Slayer show and I was like, “Where have I been?” I was so late to the party. I mean, yeah I have all the Sabbath and Maiden stuff but to hear that cacophony on the drums was spellbinding. Dave Lombardo has such a groove at high speed. My brother didn’t even make it into the show because he got his nose broken in the parking lot mosh pit before the show. I was all in after that. Then I got turned on to Fates Warning shortly thereafter and it was all over for me and I went on a metal binge. Later, the Seattle movement had a bunch of drummers with a lot of subtlety to their playing that was still on the heavy side and chops oriented. I remember being at the Clash of the Titans with Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax and Alice in Chains opened. Man in the Box had just come out and I stupidly blew off their set tailgating in the parking lot because I was listening to bands like Suffocation at the time. One of my favorite bands of all time and I missed it. Idiot. More recently I am a huge Danny Carey and Gavin Harrison fan. Both of those guys have it all, groove, feel, chops, timing and taste. I also admire Dave Grohl for being a perfect human being in every way. Hard not to admire someone who performs with a broken leg and is in a Muppet movie. And actually my very first influence was George Jetson.
Seriously. I had anticipated questions about my drumming background for this interview and I was trying to remember a point in my life when I made a conscious decision to play and I could only remember always wanting to play. The only concrete moment in time I can recall is watching an episode of the Jetsons where Judy sent song lyrics into a TV show in the hope of winning a contest. Somehow Elroy’s code words that he used with friends got substituted (Eep, Opp, Ork, Ah Ah) but they ended up winning and George went on the show with her and they had him do a drum solo. My recollection of this is that it was a Gene Krupa type solo, riding the high hat on 2 and 4 and lots of rudiment rolls with that great swing feel that is so joyful and infectious, it makes you yearn to play. I remember asking for a drum set that day. I actually looked it up on You Tube and it was exactly as I remembered it. I don’t know who the drummer is on that but he swings like crazy. I have been listening to Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller all week because of it.
N&C Do you have any heroes?
I have people I admire, some real some fictional. Pete Townshend, Henry Rollins, Greg Allman, Greg Knoll, Ayn Rand, Curious George, Howard Roark, Bobby Orr, Neil Peart.
N&C You mention Neal Peart twice.
I am not one of those Neal Peart maniacs. I simply admire his dedication to his craft, how hard he works at it and I think he stays true to himself and he was an influence so he fits into both categories. I also think he does things that are beyond just the drums alone particularly because he writes the lyrics. As an example, take a song like Subdivisions in which he uses the bland homogeneous housing developments in the suburbs as a metaphor for conformity and lack of individual expression. As drummers, we all know that a subdivision is also a musical term for how notes can be broken down into smaller segments, typically off of quarter notes. I don’t think that it is an accident at all that when the song goes to the chorus about the boring subdivisions, he drops to quarter notes on the China and then when the song segments into talk about escape from that environment, he subdivides the part, the energy level picks up and he transitions to a staccato ride pattern. I believe he does stuff like that on purpose and picks his drum parts to support both the musical context and the lyrical content and he may be the best at drum part structure ever.
N&C What prompted you to reach out now?
The timing seemed right (Hah!). I have actually thought about getting involved with Noble & Cooley for a number of years because I would visit the factory and they would be busy but I would think, “With these drums and this incredible story and history, they should be dominating the drum world. I would love to own this company.” But while it has been rattling in my head for years, it was actually a recent conversation with a friend of mine that prompted it. I approached him for some promotional help on a book I wrote which was getting interest from some publishers and we were catching up on a number of topics. He is someone I know through music who also owns a few businesses, all in areas of interest to him personally. I met him for dinner after a day in my corporate office and had business clothes on. I also was coming off of a couple of extremely stressful years and was telling him about some of what I had gone through. He said, “Dude, you need to get back to something you love. Why do you continue to do medical devices?” I said, “Well, I’m pretty good at it and it pays well and I work with life-saving products.” He said, “Yeah, but how comfortable are those shoes?” I was like, damn, that is so true. So then he said, “When you were in NOK you were CRAZY passionate about the music and everything associated with it. You can’t possibly feel that way about medical devices. What would you like to do right now? “ I said I would love to own the Noble & Cooley drum company and take them to the next level but it is a family business and there is no way they would sell. He said, “Aren’t those the drums you played back then? The ones that were a huge part of your sound and everyone would come and talk to you about and the other bands would borrow?” I said yes. I then proceeded to tell him the N&C story and reminded him of different experiences that he was part of, all specific to the drums, and he kept saying, “I remember that. That’s crazy.” So I approached the Jones family with the idea of doing it more as a partnership with me handling the strategic, promotional and operational end with them doing what they do best which is make beautiful drums.
N&C People would talk to you about the drums and actually borrow them? Can you elaborate on that?
Oh, all the time. One time I was playing the Middle East downstairs in Cambridge opening for some national acts. I was changing the head on my snare and the drummer for one of the other (well known) bands said, “Is that a Noble & Cooley snare drum? Where did you get that?” I said, “It came with my Noble & Cooley kit.” and pointed to it. His eyes popped out of his head. “They make KITS?” We spent the next 20 minutes talking about drums and I asked him if he wanted to use my kit for his set. It turned out he played a much bigger kit (from his major manufacturer endorsement) but ended up using the snare after saying several times he couldn’t impose on me like that. He came up after and said it was one of the coolest experiences he had ever had on the drums.
Another time I was at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland where we got commercial airplay on WMMS. It was a full house but the sound guy was totally dissing me. Corporate looking dude in a metal band. Then he sees my drum set. Keep in mind this is at a time where everyone played black, gray or white wrapped kits. I come on stage with dining room furniture and he says, “That’s an awfully pretty drum set for someone in a metal band.” I do sound check and he comes up after and says, “Dude, I have been mixing at this club for 20 years. Those are the best sounding drums I have EVER heard. “
N&C I'd love to say I've never heard anything like this, but we have heard many stories like this over the years.
That actually makes sense to me. I can tell you, it happened every time I played out. Now, admittedly, times have changed. When I was playing out, most people had pretty crappy kits. It seemed like everyone played beat up Exports and Swing Stars with 10 year old heads on them so my stuff really stood out, appearance wise and sound wise. Now, most of the manufacturers make kits with nice natural wood stained finishes and use better quality wood and have better manufacturing practices and finish work. So the gap is not as great but it is still there. I haven’t seen or played all of the new custom shop stuff. What I have played is nice but I still feel like the Noble & Cooley sound stands out and the snares are more sensitive. But regardless of what people play, drummers on this list need to understand that whatever kit you are playing you owe a debt of gratitude to Jay Jones, because everything started with him and with Noble & Cooley.
N&C Those are some pretty cool examples.
I’ll give you some current examples. Recently, a band that used to jam in the same rehearsal studio I did went into a local recording studio to record a demo. The drummer had just purchased a pro level kit from a major manufacturer but they still called me to ask if they could borrow my drums for the recording because they remembered how good my drums sounded. I let them borrow my kit and since I know the drums well offered to go to the studio to act as a tech, recommending the heads, changing them, tuning and doing sound check for him so that he wouldn’t be too spent to track. I got to the studio and they had Yamaha Recording Customs set up as the house kit. I mention this because I love Yamaha drums and sat behind the kit just to check them out and they sounded really good with no adjustments. I said, “Guys, use these. They sound great, are set up and the engineer knows them and the room.” They kept saying they wanted to check out mine. Then I remembered I use Yamaha mounts on my toms so we swapped out the toms and I sat down and played them. Everyone, including the engineer, instantly said, “Use those!” BTW, I don’t say this as a dis to Yamaha because I bought a set of Custom Absolute Birch drums because of this session which sound awesome but they are birch and when you play maple with clear heads and birch with coated heads together most people are going to pick maple. An interesting footnote here is that while I was listening to the band track, I noticed that the right rack tom had flattened out which is typical of new heads and mentioned it to the engineer. I said I wanted to bring it up. He got this panicked look on his face because he was so happy with the sounds and said he didn’t want to mess with it. I said, “I have owned these drums for 19 years. Maple is a low frequency and the guitars are in dropped C. They still sound great but you don’t want the drums falling off the track with frequency cancellation.” He said, “Quarter turn, no more.” I said, “Eighth, and I will put it back if you don’t like it.” I went out, tweaked it, and came back into the control room. They started tracking again and he just looked at me, smiled and nodded his head.
Here are a couple of others. Just last week, Dave Krusen posted a message on the Noble & Cooley site, saying that he recorded the Pearl Jam album “10” with a Noble & Cooley snare and has never been able to replicate that sound. Of course, typical of what I have found since working with N & C, stuff like this happens all the time. None of us had any idea he had used a Noble & Cooley snare on that recording and it does indeed sound incredible and of course everyone in the free world has heard it. So he sent me a picture of the kit in the studio for the album. The snare is a 5 x 14 honey maple. I happened to have that exact model in my office at home so I snapped a picture of it and sent it back to him with the caption, “Look familiar?” He called me up and he spoke so reverently about it. He said, “I REMEMBER that drum SO WELL. People ask me about it all the time and I think it was such an important part of that mix.” He also told me about some recording studios that had Noble & Cooley kits and I looked up what had been recorded there. Just by the drum tone on the recordings I know they used them.
Separate from all this, Barry Alexander from Jonny Lang‘s band had expressed an interest in possibly becoming an endorser. They were in town a couple of weeks ago and I went with N & C colleague and friend Brian Kinnucane and brought some snares for him to check out. We were at sound check and all the snares were lying on their sides behind the kit. The FOH guy was doing line checks and asked him to hold off playing for a few minutes so he reached back and lightly tapped the different drums while waiting. He got to the 5 X 14 Maple and hit it twice turned around and looked up at me with his eyes wide and said "Oh my God." He put it on the kit and it sounded incredible. The whole band was grooving on it. He said he has never played a standard size snare. I asked him if he wanted to use it for the gig and he did. He told me after the drum spoke to him and signed up on the spot. I totally understood the experience. I think a lot of people have had that experience because the 5 x14 maple was the very first, the one that started it all. It is just a magical drum.
By the way, in addition to being a great drummer, Barry is a great guy which makes me even happier to have him as part of our family. All the people I met from that tour were so cool and down to earth. Chris Layton from Kenny Wayne’s band told me he has a 7x14 SS maple and he messed around with the drums too but he is a lifelong Ludwig player. He is a legend and it was fun watching him play as well and at no point during the evening did I discuss a subarachnoid hemorrhage. A great night.
I also know that we have a number of direct buyers who are endorsers of other brands but then buy our stuff to record with. Think about the significance of that. Guys aligned with major companies that get reduced or even free gear and then come to us to buy stuff they want to use.
N&C Can you elaborate on the resources you have access to which can help the business?
Sure. For starters, I have the financial means to invest in the factory, R & D, supplies and promotion. Most of the infrastructure is in place but there are things the company has wanted to do which were held up based on cash flow. I can help with that. The friend who made the comfortable shoes comments owns a pretty big time, really well run marketing company that focuses on the arts. He has production studios and a whole team of people, several of whom are drummers, who can handle all aspects of visibility from social media to traditional advertising, video production, artist relations, collateral support for our valued dealers and more. I have another friend who owns a home building company who is going to help build up some showrooms at the factory and I also still have a fair number of connections in the music business from my time in bands. Combining all those things, we can develop new lines of drums, expand the existing lines, film them being played so people can hear them, reach a broader audience, and have a venue for people to try them out personally.
N&C Could you describe your business background?
Sure. I have spent most of my career working with critical care medical products, first as a salesperson in the OR and later in executive capacities launching new products into the marketplace or turning around struggling divisions, particularly in the areas of stereotactic neurosurgery, anesthesia and critical care and radiation therapy.
N&C That’s a long way from custom drums.
From a product perspective it certainly is, but the fundamental aspects of business are the same for everyone: Make a good product, manufacture it well, price it so that you can stay in business but your demographic can afford it, provide excellent customer service, treat your customers with respect and appreciation, listen and be flexible. I don’t know why people spend years getting Harvard MBAs and still don’t get the concept but that’s what business is.
N&C You make it sound so simple.
It is simple. It isn’t easy but it’s simple, at least to me. Maybe this sounds kind of arrogant, but I don’t think it is complicated. Business has always been pretty easy for me. It takes hard work and strategy but it isn’t that intellectually difficult like, say fusion at room temperature or 11 over 5 in 9 / 4 (Dave Weckl, if you are reading this, please don’t write back that it is easy). The drums are REALLY hard. Everyone reading this knows what it takes to be a good drummer. No need to explain that. Making drums of the quality Noble & Cooley makes is really hard. No need to explain that one either. But the business aspect of it all I find pretty easy.
N&C Why do you think that is?
I think it is primarily due to the fact that my dad owned his own medical business and my entire childhood was an involuntary MBA course. Seriously. He would take me to one of my hockey games (another passion), stop at Mass General Hospital, give me the state of the business and ask me how I would approach the customer. I would be like, “Uh dad, I’m 10”. Instead, I would invariably provide the wrong answer and get a lecture on what the proper approach was while sweating in my hockey gear. So I think I was taught business at a very young age just like Jason Bonham was taught the drums at a very young age and therefore it was natural. In any case, once my band broke up there was a huge void in my life and I started taking executive level jobs where I had to essentially run the business. I have worked with Ivy League MBAs and PhDs in billion dollar companies and Investment Bankers in tiny startups who don’t have a clue how to run businesses. I realized over time that I could always figure out what to do fairly quickly and easily.
So, where I am at now is that, perhaps this is what I was meant to do. I was thinking about this the other day. Of all the things I have loved in my life, the only thing that has been with me for my entire life is the drums. I love the drums, love Noble & Cooley drums in particular and I can take my personal skill set and put it to work in an area that is really important to me. It will be fun for me, N&C will benefit, the drum community will benefit, and the fans will benefit.
N&C What are your thoughts on the other mainstream and boutique manufacturers out there?
Well, I'm a drummer first. As a fan and consumer, I absolutely love the custom drum shop movement and virtually all of the larger manufacturers put out stuff that I like. I am such a drum junkie. I have stuff from Tama, Roland, Vic Firth, Vater, Yamaha, DW, Pearl, Meinl, Paiste, Zildjian, Sabian, Remo, Evans, Aquarian, SP, LP, Alesis, Pro Mark, Mapex, Camco, Attack, etc. I love the fact that there are these small drum shops making unique products for us to play and I have no problems recognizing the great products that these other companies come out with and will continue to buy stuff from other companies. My only gripe is that more people need to know about Noble & Cooley and I intend to change that.
N&C What interests you right now?
The Acoutin metal/wood blend snares are really cool though I have not played one yet. Also, although this is opposite of the Noble & Cooley ethos, those Pearl fiberglass drums that light up and change colors are so freaking cool. I so want one of those kits. They remind me of Wonder Woman’s plane.
N&C Who do you think the Noble & Cooley community is?
I don’t know but would like to find out. That was one of the motivations for doing the recent survey because Noble & Cooley hadn’t ever tracked that information. I feel safe saying it is overwhelmingly male since we make drums and I also feel safe saying it is a group passionate about drums and music. You don’t drop a grand on a snare drum when you can buy one for $250 unless you really care about your instrument or you have too much money. My guess would be that the people who play N & C are individualists who like their own sound, purists who want hand crafted perfection, tone freaks who fall in love with the sound and lawyers and bankers who don’t play in bands but set them up in the living room and jam out to Sonny Rollins to relax. I would also bet that a substantial portion of the people who play them were unfamiliar with Noble & Cooley but heard a kit somewhere and had the same reaction I did.
I would add that these are the types of players I want. I want the high school kid who does press rolls on the tile walls in between classes, the death metal guy who buys a separate speaker cab that he brings to clubs so his kick drums will cut through the mix, the guy who learned everything for an audition by playing on his bed pillows because he had to sell his kit to pay for a car transmission and then is playing the Open Air fest two weeks later because he got the gig. Or the guy who took a “lunch break” and eats his sandwich while doing rudiments on the kick drums. Or the guy who rehearses so long in the drum room in his basement that, by the time he comes out, it has been raining for hours and his car is in the driveway with the windows down and it’s flooded. All of the above anecdotes are from people I know. A couple of them, people reading this know, because they are famous drummers and the last example is me. These people are the freaks, the drum obsessed, the driven ones who care the most. I have often been told I am intense and obsessive. My response is always the same: So is Jerry Rice. Most people who are good at what they do are intense and obsessive at it. Some of the best experiences of my life have involved my Noble & Cooley drums and the experiences were directly related to the beautiful tone. When I look on Noble & Cooley’s social media and see the comments from the players, that’s exactly what I see and it makes me happy to be associated with them.
BTW, I would like to give a shout out here to the long time devoted Noble & Cooley players who have remained loyal to the brand despite some of the difficulties the company has had following 9/11 and the collapse of the domestic toy drum market which used to provide the resources to develop new products. I’m talking about guys like Darren Metz, Jorgen Ingmar, Chad Clark, etc., who are long time advocates, great drummers and support the brand and their communities. I want to say on behalf of all of us here, we appreciate your loyalty and are going to be bringing out cool new stuff for you to play.
N&C Could you share your vision for the company?
Sure. I want Noble & Cooley to remain a boutique company but I would like us to have a larger presence in the music community and I would like to get us to the point where we are recognized globally as the best custom drum shop. That reputation exists to a certain extent now but it is sporadic because the company has never really done much promotion. Consequently, we sell stuff in the Pacific Rim but I stop for a bite to eat five miles from the factory and no one will have heard of us. Also, for some reason, we are known primarily for our snare drums. Yes, the snare drums are amazing but so is everything else. My favorite part is the kick drum actually. It has this really warm, distinctive thud that makes any beat sound good. When I was in Crawlspace, the guys in the band would notice in the middle of a song when the kick drum head started to go bad and make me change it. Think of that. Guitar players don’t even notice there is a drummer in the room half the time much less listen to the tone of the kick and yet my band would stop and wait for me to swap out a kick head so they could hear the proper tone.
I also want to create a broader experience and a sense of community for our players. I would like to create a factory experience where people can come and try out different gear or take factory delivery of their kits. This way they can tour the factory and the museum, meet the people in the company see drums being made and see the different lines of drums available. They can immerse themselves in the history the company and the country and develop a more personal connection with their drums and the company. This is an experience that I think only Noble & Cooley can provide.
N&C Did you see the “Prophet” episode involving SJC?
N&C What did you think?
I laughed. Two brothers, running a company together and they fought. What are the odds? My brother and I were in bands together. I get it. But I also saw a bunch of guys who understand drums and don’t understand business and a guy who understands business but doesn’t understand drums. I think they should stay focused on the creative stuff they have been doing which is cool stuff. I don’t see how a boutique company can achieve the economies of scale that companies like Pearl and Yamaha can, who can outsource American designs to China, and manufacture in large quantities at a fraction of the cost. I don’t see any way to compete with that and I don’t want to. I am glad those companies make good sounding drum sets at reasonable prices because when friends ask for help picking out drums for their kids who are interested in playing, I can make good recommendations for them. The same is true for people on a budget or casual players. These drums will sound good and we need to keep expanding the drumming community.
But my belief is that what Noble & Cooley and other boutique companies have to offer is what large manufacturers can’t- hand crafted, high quality products made in America with care by skilled craftsman that become high end musical instruments with beautiful looks and sounds. If you buy one of these kits you own something precious and unique. I think we need to continue to build custom instruments for people who want the absolute best and develop different lines of high-end drums so they have more choice from us and don’t need to go elsewhere for something other than a maple kit or an SS Classic snare drum.
I do wish SJC well though. They have brought out some cool stuff. They continue to make cool stuff and the people I have met I really like. I admire their passion and know one of their builders is a former Noble & Cooley employee. I've learned that most of the drum companies are pretty collegiate which is another thing I like about being involved in this business.
N&C Care to discuss some plans for the immediate future?
Sure. We have a multi-tiered plan for products. For starters, we are building up a bunch of CD Maples in different finishes and configurations and getting them out to our dealers. Next after that is to bring back the Horizon series. This was Nick’s idea. His favorite drums are the Horizon series. I had never played them and was somewhat skeptical because I am so partial to the CD Maples but he has a kit set up in the studio in the factory with coated heads on them. I tried them out and immediately agreed that we should bring them back. They have a sharper attack and darker tone than the standard maple kits but still have the warmth of maple. To me they fall in between maple and birch, which is a great combination. (To get an idea of what they sound like, the drum samples for Vintage Superior Drummer were recorded by Chris Whitten with a Horizon series kit). After that we are going to build out the other woods into kits and put all of these into the showroom we intend to build at the factory for people to come check out the different designs. I am a firm believer that if people see and hear the drums they will want them. We are also going to reach out to our former partners (like Zildjian) to see if they want to do anything together. I also would also like to come up with limited edition drums that are specifically for our dealers such as Portsmouth Drum Shop, Memphis Drum Shop, Fork’s Drum Closet, Columbus Percussion and Sound Pure. These shops provide a real value for us a manufacturer and are even more important to the drumming community and I want to support that. After all this this we are going to bring out new lines of drums and we are exploring some ideas for drum accessories.
N&C What do you envision us developing together?
Conceptually what I would like to do is bring out drum styles that have not been fully explored from a custom shop level. An example would be the limited run of walnut snares we made for Portsmouth Drum Shop which sold out and were well received. I would like to create other high end drum lines, perhaps an ultra-premium drum line as the high end market has moved up considerably since Noble & Cooley started. I want products at different price points for different players but they will all be custom drums. One set won’t necessarily sound better than the other but they will be separate and distinct based on the complexity of the manufacturing process and the type and cost of the components on the drums. For example, our sparkle finishes cost more than our natural wood drums because they are hand painted, not wrapped, and the process involves more material and more time in the manufacturing process. The Horizon series is more difficult to make so those are more than the CD Maples but they are just different, not better. So my thoughts are that we will have all different lines, all of which look beautiful and sound great and we will have offerings for different types of players.
By the way, I wanted to talk about the drum cost for a moment. I have seen a few comments about the cost of the drums on social media. There is no question Noble & Cooley drums are not inexpensive, but an interesting thing has happened. Since the time that I bought my kit years ago, the company has kept the prices fairly constant. During that same time frame, other companies have entered the market, copied what Noble & Cooley did and are charging MORE for their drums than Noble & Cooley does. So, ironically, while still the best, our drums are actually less expensive to purchase than some others. Having said that, we are exploring the possibility of a simple road kit which would be good for gigging drummers who don’t want to damage their dream kit on at shows but want the sound. This might give us something in a lower price range. Don’t know on that one yet.
N&C What are some things you would like to see?
I’d like to see more women play the drums. Maybe this is because of my failure to get my own daughter interested but when you think about it, the drumming community is almost exclusively male. The pulse of the song, the feel, the soul of the track comes from the drums. That means that the overwhelming majority of songs have a male perspective. I would really like to hear more songs with a female heartbeat. And that means more young girls playing the drums because you don’t have adult drummers without child drummers. I have had the opportunity to watch some young girls pounding away on the drums with enthusiasm and no self-consciousness and it just gave me an ear to ear grin. I don’t know why they don’t play the drums. Maybe it’s because the drums are physical, maybe it’s somehow viewed as not feminine but, for whatever reason, it is unusual to see girls playing the drums. If we have to build pink drums or go with a Lilly Pulitzer theme (google it, guys) to get more females playing, I want to do it. We need more Hannah Fords.
I would also like to see more people playing the drums in general. Sure, it would be good for business but really I would just like more people enjoying the experience. I was talking to Jim Rupp at Columbus Percussion recently and I was talking about Gene Krupa and he commented that we have no drum heroes like Gene and Buddy who get young players excited to play. I thought this was an interesting observation.
Mostly, I would like there to be some new huge rock album to come out which will reinvigorate the genre. Some Appetite for Destruction type album that’s larger than life and dominates the charts and gets the kids thinking about Rock and Roll again along with defying authority and playing air guitar and listening in the car at obnoxious levels. And I want that band to play completely live and make mistakes and speed up and slow down and not play to synchronized parts. Maybe then the kids will stop staring at their iPhones all day and actually start enjoying the real world. Maybe some of those kids will want to play the drums and we will have a whole new generation who will experience what it feel like to hit this, then hit that, then hit the other thing.
N&C We are looking forward to working with John and are excited to be offering new things to the drum community. If anyone would like to talk drums with John, you can reach him at John@noblecooley.com