By Charlie Weinmann
Photo by Jordon Wilson
Detroit, Michigan has been the creation place for some of the most iconic records of our time. It’s also home to Adam Schreiber, a 27-year-old drummer/percussionist/composer who works tirelessly to hone-in rhythms that are a little different than what Motown was putting out in its heyday. Schreiber studies world rhythms, such as calypso, African and Polynesian. He works as a producer and session drummer, and specializes in analog recording using microphones from the ‘40s and recording to tape with no intention of ‘fixing it later.’ Adam is unique in his methods and his desire to bring attention to rhythms that are rooted in our past is inspiring and exciting. During this conversation, Adam spoke about where he’s come from, how he thinks about his practice and of his own compositions.
How long have you lived in Detroit?
I grew up about 20 minutes south of Detroit, so I’ve lived in the Detroit area for basically my whole life. Actually, just recently, I moved into the city. Being in the suburb versus being in the city is night and day. But I definitely am liking the change, and feeling more a part of things, and more in tune with things. Detroit has its hand-full of stereotypes—I’d like to do my part in sharing the good things that come from here.
And it’s such a relevant city for music history!
Yeah, the Motown museum and United Sound Recordings—there are so many cool studios. It’s really tied in with the movement that’s happening now, and highlights the fact that we owe so much to black culture, and that people use elements of it every single day without realizing it.
It’s cool to see so much progress, and seeing the identity of the city get back to a better reputation.
How did you get into music?
I’ve been playing drums for about 15 years now. I’ve been playing out since I was 12 years old. I got started playing with my siblings; my oldest sister plays trumpet and my brother plays guitar and bass. Every band I’ve been in to this day, I’ve always been in the rhythm section.
Today I do producing and engineering…I’m studying a lot of world music. Growing up listening to broader outlets, like Harry Bellefonte, people who brought standards, or songs that people used to sing in their communities for years and years. That kind of ignited something for me. I’ve been more identity focused and trying to make it so that I’m not just replicating or doing any disrespect to the style that I respect so much.
How would you describe the way in which you’ve studied world music? Have you had teachers or has it been an independent pursuit?
Primarily independent. Every time I’ve tried lessons, it’s felt like re-wiring my brain, and it just didn’t feel right. It felt like what everyone else was doing. I’ve always felt like I want to put something out there that isn’t there.
In all the bands with my siblings, that’s always been the motto: “put out what you’d like to see.” Sometimes that’s challenging because you don’t have much to compare it to. But yeah, with traditional lessons, I’ve always felt out of tune with practicing rudiments and such. I’ve always been focused more on expressiveness and seeing how nice I can make just sixteenth notes feel, and practicing variations. And I’m very focused on tone. I’m very tone-conscious, which is what led me to producing. It’s a lot of trial and error, emphasizing imperfections.
Could you elaborate on the types of things you’d practice to get comfortable with these types of rhythms? Like playing behind and ahead of the beat?
Yeah, I’ve noticed that in a lot of Trinidad rhythms and African music…I guess that’s the common denominator: whatever the meter is, the tempo, it’s not that you’re playing anything that complex, it’s all tonality, expression and where you place it. If you want something to feel happy or chaotic, then you’re playing ahead of the meter. Sometimes in Haitian rhythms, for funeral songs, sad stuff, or ritual stuff, it’s ahead of the meter, but to me it feels like a releasing…it’s chaotic but it feels like you’re moving on. For me, the motion of it all comes from the placement of the meter.
Sometimes when I’m practicing around someone, I’ll ask them to clap quarter notes at different points around the meter. I arrange a lot of drum and bass songs, and deciding where the bass needs to be, behind or ahead, basically to make a clean arrangement, too. It’s not always just for extreme emotion, it could be for a certain texture.
How did you start playing drums? What kind of music did you learn how to play with at first?
I played mainly rock, actually. I was probably the heaviest hitting drummer in my area, I was always going through drumheads and sticks, like crazy! Oddly enough that couldn’t be more different than I am now.
I think listening to stuff in the studio is where I changed my style a lot…listening to a classic samba album or cumbia, listening to what the ingredients are and observing the simplicity that is so effective. I used to think that to achieve a big sound from a drum you had to hit it as hard as you could, but now that feels like taking all the life out of it! And you’re just hurting yourself [laughs]. Like a lot of people, my biggest inspiration growing up was John Bonham.
I’m going along with the idea of ‘resurfacing a style,’ and in a way where I’m recreating it, but not claiming it. It ties heavily into what’s going on right now in our culture, and I don’t want to disrespect that in any way. I want to spread the word of this music and share the names of these musicians who aren’t household names.
What does your day to day look like as a full-time drummer and producer?
Well, before the pandemic I started playing with this Australian calypso artist who I’m a huge fan of, C.W. Stoneking. About this time last year, he took me on my first international tour. But whenever I’m not drumming, I’m producing. I’m of the school that there’s really no fixing it in the mix, it’s all whatever you get. Tracking like there is no mastering. There’s no fixing out of time drum hits. It’s something that I found that allows me to be more of a translator.
As far as musicians I play with, I have a group that I cycle in and out. My brother plays bass primarily with me in a rhythm section. In the studio, anyone who comes in to work with me has to be open to a specific type of workflow, which to some may seem like a ton of over thinking…it’s a very personal thing. What I think sounds good, someone else may think it sounds too under polished.
What really turned me to my current style was a lot of Tom Waits’ work. One of the first bands I played in recorded an album at Prairie Sun Recording Studio where Tom basically had a residency, and we got to work with his production team. He has a very unique sonic footprint with anything he produces. He doesn’t really know what he’s talking about, but he knows what he wants, which I think is the most important thing of any kind of art.
Sometimes it’s hard trying to explain something to an engineer, like when I say I want the drums to sound big, everything ends up being over compressed with huge reverbs or whatever…we have the luxury now to just keep trying things. We can sit there all day and move a mic until we get the sound that we want, which is to me a huge part of it, more than tape, or big treated rooms, or anything like that.
On that first big record that I worked on at Prairie Sun Recording, I was really paranoid because I was more of a rock drummer, and I needed to get every hit because we were recording all analog to tape. There’s no editing. I used to be hyper sensitive, and hated hearing my drum takes back. I’ve always gravitated in-between playing ahead of the meter and behind the meter and I never really knew why…but there’s no wrong way with it, it’s kind of like your heartbeat, it’s whatever you feel, or whatever is in you. Because otherwise, I’ve spent lots of time being locked into a meter and to me, I just don’t feel much from it–that’s more of a muscle memory thing for me, rather than just releasing yourself into the music.
I understand you’re making a record!
I’ve been chipping away at it. I’ve been sidetracked by doing little bits of session work here and there. I’ve had lots of people ask me to record a version of a two-minute drum clip that I post. I normally keep it under 30 seconds [for Instagram posts] because I try to have a beginning and resolution. Or I’ll cut off when it gets to its most interesting point and I’ll continue it two days later to see if I can jump back into it. A lot of work I’m doing right now is re-creating those Instagram videos and professionally recording the concept.
I’ve wanted to do a jungle drum type record, because it’s something that I really enjoy, but that’s something I have to be careful with because there’s a lot of appropriation that goes along with it, and stereotyping. I’ve been considering how to label it. More than anything, it’s a genre at this point, but I don’t want to disrespect anyone. About two weeks ago I was really inspired to work on it. I was sitting outside watching insects. It sounds really weird but I was just thinking about, ‘what if I made some type of score that would fit to what this fly is doing right now?’ I do my best work when I have some type of concept.
I’ve been outsourcing to some of my favorite musicians to play on the record. The first single, “Diptera,” will feature Seth Ford Young on bass, Chloe Feoranzo on clarinet, Brandon James on guitar/bari and Christina Nielsen on trumpet. The record is going to be all over the place in terms of style but cohesive in terms of it being a drum feature. I’ve never put out a record of fully my own material, so this is a big experiment.