Dennis Leeflang about recording with Bumblefoot
A Dutch Drummer in New York

© 2005

published: August 11 2005 11:20 | source:

In the summer of 2004 Dennis Leeflang moved to New York. Tired of the abstemious possibilities for musicians in his home country, and ready for serious adventure, Dennis exchanged windmills for skyscrapers. The former drummer of Within Temptation and Sun Caged is currently working with guitar player Bumblefoot and can be found on his latest album 'Normal' that is set for release in September. We asked Dennis about these recordings and his living and playing in NY.

- Tell us something about the Bumblefoot “Normal” album recordings

Bumblefoot asked me if I wanted to play on his album pretty much when I told him I was moving to New York (from Holland) in 2004. I was extremely excited about it. After several tours, I finally got to record with him.

I moved to New York in the summer of 2004. We started recording in January of 2005.

The recording process was pretty unique. When I first came into the studio, I had not heard anything yet. There were no rough demos or anything. Bumblefoot had about 5 or 6 songs “written” at that time. Everything was in his head, including the full arrangements. Except for detailed drum tracks. At the studio, he played the songs to me on his acoustic guitar. I was blown away by how catchy and classic everything sounded. The songs were really strong.

Bumblefoot would jam them on his acoustic guitar in the control room and I’d jam along with my hands on my lap until I was familiar with the riffs and form of the song. He would then record scratch guitar tracks and a vocal track. Then I would go into the live room and jam along to the song for maybe 10 minutes. We'd record pieces to see what would work and what wouldn't. After fooling around with the song for maybe a half hour, I'd know it so well that I'd be able to jam it out. Some stuff we played live together. Some bits I did freestyle without a click. We experimented a lot. It was fascinating to see each song develop from an acoustic version into the full band version. Bumblefoot already had those arrangements in his head, but to me, it was kind of like unwrapping presents. Very exciting.

We recorded everything in Bumblefoot's own studio, so there was no time pressure at all, which was a new experience for me. I'm used to having to work on a tight schedule because the studio is costing me or someone else a lot of money per hour. We’d record two or three songs a day and then Bumblefoot would continue writing more songs. I’d come in every time he’d have one or two songs finished.

Bumblefoot's way of working was extremely inspiring. He definitely knows how to get the best out of a musician. I was pretty much able to do whatever I wanted with my drum tracks. Bumblefoot came up with suggestions here and there, but most of the drum takes were very spontaneous. He pushed me to try to just totally get into the songs and play my ass off without thinking too much or worry about screwing up. That was awesome. I’ve been hitting incredibly hard and intense on some songs. I’m surprised I didn’t break any heads or cymbals.

What’s also really interesting, is the way we recorded the drums. We only used a bare minimum of microphones. We used one mic for two toms. So we had one mic on my 10” and 12” tom, and one mic on my two floor toms. We used two overhead mics, but no mic on the hihat. The overheads picked up the hihat loud enough. One mic on the snare (top) and one inside the bassdrum. Then one mic about 2 feet in front of the bassdrum, and a room mic that was at the other end of the room. In the mix, Bumblefoot used absolutely no effects whatsoever on the drums. Neither did he use any gates. He actually uses all the “bleed” from all the mics and it makes the drums sound nice and big. The reverb you hear on the drums is the actual room itself. Nothing else! All very basic, and it came out awesome. I also used a very basic setup compared to what I’ve been using in the past. No splashes or anything. Just snare, kick, 2 toms, 2 floor toms, 2 or 3 crashes, ride, china, hihat… That’s it. For some songs I even only used one tom and one floor tom.

After I laid down all the drum tracks, Bumblefoot recorded the bass, guitars and vocals on top of it. Some of the scratch/live tracks were good enough to be kept. He would listen to the drum tracks intensively before doing guitar and bass takes so that he'd know all the nuances in my tracks. It came out awesome. It all sounds real tight.

The concept of the album is, as the title suggests, "being normal". It's about a person who takes medicine to feel normal, and at the same time, it's about how subjective/relative normality really is. All the different songs cover different moods. Love songs, manic songs... It's all on there!

- When did you start recording and when had you finished them?
We started recording in January of this year (2005). I would come in to record one or two songs, and then we'd live with the rough mixes for a couple of days. Then I'd come in again for another bunch of songs, and maybe redo the previous ones. This went on from January through about early April. When we did a small tour in Europe in March, I was actually still in the middle of recording the drum tracks. Bumblefoot has been very busy with other projects as well (one of those projects being producing the new 24-7 Spyz album), so we weren’t able to work on the album non-stop. But everything is completely done now. Including the mix. The album will be out soon!

- What can we expect of the album? What kind of music/songs?
It is very hard to describe the style or genre of Bumblefoot's music. I honestly think he has a very own sound. I would not be able to name any similar bands. The music reaches from punkrock to oldschool punk, to metal, funk, alternative rock, grunge... Even polka and surf. Lots of very catchy choruses and guitar riffs. And of course, Bumblefoot's signature crazy guitar playing, humoristic lyrics and awesome singing. The album is diverse, but strong and not too weird to catch a wide audience.

- How is it to work with Bumblefoot?
It's super cool. Bumblefoot is the most creative, patient, and gentle person I know. There hasn't been a single moment of annoyance or frustration during the recording sessions. It’s all been very inspiring. I've been working (mostly touring) with him since 2002, and I'm loving every second of it. There's no stress and absolutely no ego issues, which makes it possible to completely enjoy the ride without having to worry about a thing. It's the most challenging situation for a drummer as well... The music is so diverse. And so much fun to play. There's definately also some sick chops going on!

- How did you hook up with Bumblefoot and what made him decide that you are awesome?
Haha. You are funny… Awesome? You’d have to ask him…

I met Bumblefoot for the first time when I was on vacation in New York City in the summer of 2000. We got in contact through a mutual friend, and hung out a couple of times that summer. We jammed a bit at his studio, and had a lot of fun. We stayed in contact, and I went to see him play in Paris in 2001, which is still one of the most intense concerts I ever attended.

When Bumblefoot was asked to do a clinic tour for Vigier guitars through Holland in 2002, he contacted me and asked me if I'd be interested in learning some of his songs and jam with him at those clinics. I gladly accepted the invitation, and I drove around the country with him for about a week. The "clinics" were really in-store mini-concerts, and we drove several store owners and their neighbors crazy by blasting out songs like "Hands" and "Shrunk" at full volume. We also did one actual show at a venue in Holland.

Then, a couple of months later, I was backstage in Hamburg (Germany), getting ready to go onstage with my band Sun Caged at the time, when I received a call from Bumblefoot on my cell phone. He had just started a 3 week tour through France, and his drummer had to drop out due to personal problems after only two shows. He asked me if I would be able to fly over as soon as possible. I drove back to Holland right after the Sun Caged show and flew to France the next morning. I had to learn 7 or 8 songs that I hadn't played with him before. I learned those songs on the plane as much as I could. I was picked up at the airport by a couple of crew members and pretty much ran right onstage when we got to the venue in Marseille. I finished the rest of the tour and it was an awesome experience. Most venues were sold out and the crowds were wild.

I've been playing with Bumblefoot a lot since that tour. Since I moved to New York last year, I’ve also done some shows with him in the US. I am not his "permanent" drummer, as he likes to jam with different people all the time. I play with him whenever he invites me. Lately, that’s been pretty much 99% of his shows.

Bumblefoot has had a lot of bad luck with musicians in his bands in the past. He’s very popular in France, and most of his shows are in France. Despite the fact he sells out venues and the fans are awesome, the "behind the scenes" situations on our tours are usually quite stressful (not to say completely insane), which is something not everyone can handle. Sometimes a band member only finds out that he can't handle the craziness of a tour when it's too late... on the road. Luckily I can handle it, and actually love life on the road. I love traveling, seeing lots of different places, and jugging with crazy schedules is a great challenge to me. I guess Bumblefoot likes taking me on tour with him because he knows I won't flip or get into trouble on the road ;-)

- How does his music influence your playing?
That question is pretty huge. Playing with Bumblefoot actually made me enjoy playing on a different level. It’s a whole different approach. There’s a lot of respect and freedom. As long as what I play fits the song, I can play something different every night. I never really overplay, so I never abuse that room for improvisation, but it’s a great feeling to be so free.

Bumblefoot's music is the most challenging music I ever played. It's so diverse and original, it totally pushes my creativity and ability to adapt to different vibes and styles. Until recently, I've only done tours and random live shows with Bumblefoot, playing song that were recorded with other drummers. He always left me free to do my own thing on all of the songs, which is awesome. To Bumblefoot, chemistry, vibe, intensity and personality is most important on a stage. Although it's his music, and people are there to see him, he doesn't act like a band leader. When playing with him, it really feels like every musician on the stage is equal. And because there's room for improvisation and I don't have to worry about playing a note that he doesn't want to hear, I can totally get into it and enjoy playing to the fullest. The entire band enjoys that and shows are a lot of fun.

Recording with him was a whole other experience, and took everything to the next level. The songs I recorded with him have sort of become "my songs" as well now, and I can't wait to start playing them live!

- Do you actually play on pots and pans as you told in our earlier conversations?
When a situation calls for it, absolutely!.

- When is the album due for release?
I think the release is tentatively set for September 20th.

- What gear did you play on during these recordings?
I used my custom Chop Shop set on the recordings. With Meinl Byzance cymbals. The exact details can be found at my web site.

- How do you like working in NY?
The past year has been completely insane. But by far the most intense and positive experience of my life. Moving to the US and getting a visa (to be able to work legally as a musician) were not as easy as it sounds. I went through hell and back to get everything sorted out. But now I'm playing full time, with tons of different people. All kinds of music. I've been playing everything from metal to jazz, funk and acoustic singer/songwriter settings. I've accepted gigs in genres I had never played before. Just to push myself. I've learned more here in the past year than I've learned in Holland in the past 5 or 6 years. And I'm not exaggerating. Sometimes I play with 3 different bands on one day. In completely different genres. It's a huge challenge. The biggest thing I learned in NY is to have control over my dynamics. Playing with an acoustic combo requires a completely different approach than playing with a metal band. But being able to comfortably play in both situations will enhance your freedom in both situations. It's huge. It feels great to be doing all of these different gigs and play constantly. I'm spending so many hours behind drums. It's a dream come true. I'm also constantly meeting all kinds of great people in New York that inspire me to keep pushing things to the next level. Great musicians, producers, teachers. The possibilities and sources of inspiration are endless over here.

- Could Bumblefoot himself tell something about your playing?
Hi all, BfoOt here - hey Dennis, thanks for the kind words – you’re a fine Dutchman. Now I’m gonna talk about ya like you’re not here… Dennis is the best drummer I’ve ever played with in more ways than words can describe. He should be seen as a role model for all drummers. Creatively, he always does what’s best for the song, and explores all possibilities – he’s tasteful with dynamics, fills, grooves, accents… technically, his tempo and flow are great, he knows how to tune drums, he really knows how to hit ‘em right… and most importantly, he has the best work ethics – he’s thoughtful, considerate, honest, he communicates with people, his word means something, he takes initiative and helps people, always gives his best, he respects and values the gift of making music, the music itself, the people he makes music with - he’s a real team player, great sense of humor, I could go on and on. The world’s better because of him. I’m *very* lucky, not just that I get to play with Dennis, but that I have his friendship.