To keep a long story short, You Ain’t No Picasso is basically here because of a Helio Sequence show I saw in 2004. It was the first real club show I saw and it inspired me to take a few risks. A huge part of the reason it had such an impact was the insane drumming of Benjamin Weikel. So when I made a list of all the drummers I had to interview for My Favorite Drummers, he ranked right up there.
This is the second in the series of drummer interviews I’ve done. The first was with Danny Seim, which is referenced in this interview.
But enjoy the interview. Danny sheds light on the impact that middle school band, Mickey Mouse bouncy balls and “Funky Cold Medina” had on his drumming and why the best shows are usually the ones he can’t remember (no, not for that reason).
My Favorite Drummers… Benjamin Weikel of the Helio Sequence
So how did you get started drumming?
I think my older brother was doing drumming in band. I thought it was really cool and somehow convinced my mom to by me a pair of drumsticks when I was like seven. And you know those Mickey Mouse hoppity hop balls? Those giant rubber balls?
With the handles? yeah!
Well we had four kids, so we had four of those — so I would set all of those up and hit them with my drumsticks.
Were they all the same size?
Yes, they were all the same size. But it was a very cool experience for me, being seven years old and rocking out to the Mickey Mouse hoppity hop balls.
When I was a kid, I was always running around making really rhythmic sounds with my mouth — it was very funny to watch. but for as long as I can remember, I’ve loved and wanted to be a part of music.
How old were you when you got on a real drum kit?
When you went from elementary school band to junior high band, they had a drum set. Everyone would get up there and show their stuff. So that was my initial experiences of trying out a drum set. I played stuff like “Funky Cold Medina.” [Laughs] You know, pop stuff of that era.
Some time in middle school my parents wanted to be supportive, so they bought me a drum set. It’s actually the same drum set that I play today.
How old is it?
I would say… it’s at least 18 or 19 years old.
Oh wow. Did you have any favorite drummers when you were starting out?
Yeah. I listened to so much top 40s music and early rap and stuff like that, so a lot of my initial drumming was trying to play looped funk beats. I think my first drummer that I learned some of their beats was probably Larry Mullins from U2 — learning how to play “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” and stuff like that.
That’s funny that you say that about hip hop. Danny from Menomena said that he was really into hip hop growing up. And when he was starting to drum, he thought they had a drummer playing a simple track all the way through, rather than it being a loop.
[Laughs] I remember some of the first beats I played — they were really complicated, you know, and I figured out kind of how to do them. Now it’s like, I realize that there are two beats going on at the same time: one slow and one fast.
Do you think that had any impact on your drumming style or approach?
I think so, a little bit. I feel like I’m kind of a busy drummer. That’s kind of the marching “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” stuff mixed with really busy hip hop stuff… that definitely could kind of describe the way that I play.
Do you have any favorite contemporary drummers?
I guess that’s one of the cool things about touring around — there’s a lot of great drummers. Matt Schultz from Enon, he’s awesome. Mike Kennedy, he used to play with Matt Pond PA and now he plays with Oddball, he’s an amazing drummer. Of course Danny Seim is probably one of the drummers who actually has an imput on what I do. His ideas are so great, you know.
Are you two friends?
Yeah. We just traded cars over the weekend — he needed my van. He just left here like a few minutes ago. [Laughs]
Jeremiah Green is another one. I love his drumming, especially the modest mouse stuff.
What was it like playing his stuff when you were in Modest Mouse? Did you stick to how he played it, or change it up?
It was a little weird because Jeremy really is totally random all the time. I was basically, just form knowing the record, I would just emulate for the most part what he played on the record. I would play it the way that I play, though.
I loved playing with them though. All the new stuff that we wrote together, Good News and all that, all that stuff felt great. When I see them now I’m always like, ‘oh no, you’re not doing it right!’ and I’m pretty sure that it would be like him watching me play the old stuff. I may be a little too rigid. He’s such a loose player. I don’t know that I would ever be a loose enough drummer to be really free and play like Jeremy does.
It was one of those things where I just loved the songs and I would enjoy myself. But, to me, it just wasn’t the same as the old recordings that Jeremy did. There’s something about those that have a great, loose feeling that’s hard to emulate.
I never got to see you with them, but from the videos I saw, you did a good job
Are you more of a loose drummer or rigid with your own material?
I think I really enjoy composing my drum parts. … I feel like there’s something about playing a certain way — it’s almost like a dance or something like that. If I play a certain way then a certain sound comes out of the drum. Some of those songs it’s really hard to get the right sound. It’s just this crazy, intense, draining kind of experience trying to get the right sound out of each song. That’s why I concentrate on that so much that I don’t really think about trying to improvise or anything.
Yeah, I’ve seen you play. It’s like your whole body is engaged in a really crazy pattern
Yeah! It’s funny because some times you’ll play an old song and it won’t start sounding or feeling right until I remember what the dance is. There’s some kind of movement that sounds right and feels right. It’s interesting.
So I looked up a few youtube videos to refresh my memory of your live shows. Do you always drum with eyes closed?
Umm… It really just depends on the show. I could play a whole show with my eyes closed … I probably would never play a whole show with my eyes open. I guess they’re closed a lot of the time, but it’s not like I can’t open my eyes or I’ll break concentration.
I read an interview where you said that you frequently “work stuff out” when drumming — is your mind pretty occupied when you drum?
I think it’s interesting because a lot of the time … I don’t know if you’d call it a zen, kind of thoughtless point that you can kind of aspire to get to where a whole show can go by and you might just remember colors and lights and not anything specific. And to me, that would probably be a really great show.
But there’s also shows where you’re kind of more focused on the people who are in front of you and reacting more to what’s going on. That can be great too. But there are also shows where you’re thinking about, maybe someone rear-ended you in Chicago and you can’t stop thinking about it. That, probably, is not going to be a really great show.
And even without thinking about things you can get a lot of stuff off your chest just by playing. I think when you’re thinking about really concrete things, those aren’t the greatest moments. It’s like if you were trying to meditate and you couldn’t stop thinking about something, it kinds of makes meditating not work.
Do you have a favorite song to drum to?
I haven’t played that many other people’s songs. I don’t know, maybe something like Can’s “One More Saturday Night.” That seems like, if I could play that part, that would be something fun to play.
One last question: If you had to go out like the drummers in Spinal Tap, how would you like to meet your end?
[Laughs] Now, does it have to be on stage?
If I played a really, really, really great show… I think my favorite would be accidentally driving off a bridge or something.