Jon Phillip has been at it for over a decade. His most prominent roles have been with alt-country heroes Limbeck and Drive-Thru Records alumni The Benjamins, but he has also been seen behind the kit with everyone from pop punk veteran Ben Weasel to ex-Replacement Tommy Stinson (he even managed to get some coverage in DRUM! a few years back). Lately he's been busy with his label, Good Land Records as well as playing with Milwaukee's Trapper Schoepp & the Shades. Jon and I chatted a few weeks back, where we talked about his drums and the stories behind them.
Sahan: Alright, I guess for starters, tell me about the kit (s) that you currently use.
Jon: I have two vintage Ludwig kits. One I use with Limbeck, which is currently in California. It's a 1967 in gold sparkle, 22/13/16. I bought it about eight years ago for $300 from Nick, the drummer of Trolley. I was flat broke at the time so my mother and grandmother bought it for me as a Christmas Gift. At the time I was playing this 99 Sonor Maple Kit. I stopped using it because I was looking for a different sound. I actually borrowed the Ludwig kit for a practice with my band at the time and fell in love within the first two minutes of playing it. I straight up talked Nick into selling it to me.
S: Haha that’s pretty impressive. I’ve had so many failed attempts at that.
JP: Isn't it weird when you find that one kit you're totally in love with? It takes me back to being 14 years old and playing in my first band all over again. I never want to stop playing it. Also I thought that having a great kit made me sound like a better drummer than I actually was.
S: Honestly, I firmly believe that playing on a kit that feels and sounds great makes you play better. What about the other one?
JP: The second one is also a three piece Ludwig, a 66 in Black Oyster Pearl, kind of like the one Ringo used. Same sizes as the other kit, 22/13/16. That kick drum is definitely up there as one of the best 22s I’ve ever played. It was used as a house kit at Smart Studios for quite some time until I bought it. Funny, I got it from this guy Don who used to play with Trolley as well. Where would I be without the two nice dudes that were in Trolley? Haha.
S: Haha that’s awesome. You owe it all to Trolley it seems.
JP: I actually still own Don $150 for the kit and I bought it from him three years ago. He moved to Illinois, but before he left he took me out to eat and told me that I didn’t need to pay the rest, just as long as I kept it in the family.
S: Wow that’s way nice of him.
JP: Yeah. I'm very fortunate and blessed for everyone I've met and who's helped me out along the way.
S: Absolutely. So from what I know, you pretty much only play Zildjian cymbals, right?
JP: Yes sir, since 2001. I even got offered a Sabian endorsement, but I turned it down. I tend to mainly use vintage ones for the most part, with the exception of my top hi hat, which is a newer K top hat. I cracked my original top one and had to replace it before a show in Vegas. I like the sound of the old and new hats together and have yet to cracked either one. If I ever crack the K hat, I’ll probably replace it with a vintage top hat again.
S: There's such a range with the older Zildjian As, but when you find the good ones, they're real good.
JP: So true! Some of it's trial and error, but I really like the ones I’ve currently got-14" hats, 2 20" crashes and a 22" ride. I’m constantly going back and forth between playing with one or two crashes. If I'm doing more rockin' stuff it's fun to have two crashes. I think I started using just a ride and crash because of Ringo. I figured if it’s good enough for him, then it’s good enough for me.
S: Right on. So youre obviously into vintage sounds, drums and cymbals at least. Do you use vintage Ludwig snare drums too?
JP: I’ve never owned a Ludwig snare, actually. Kinda strange.
S: Intresting. Supraphonic snares are amazing. I decided to get one after seeing this Ben Folds Five live dvd. The drum sound on there was damn near perfect.
JP: Oh definitely. Especially in that huge room with Darren hitting them. For sure.
One of my snares is a 14x5" brass Slingerland snare. I bought it off this dude on the street outside the Globe [currently Hotel Foster] on Father’s Day back in 2002.
S: Hahaha wow. That sounds about right.
JP: He wanted $40 for it. I only had $5 but he took it and bought a beer. It sounds pretty snappy because it's brass. I use the super wide 42 strand snares on it. Funny story, actually. The throwoff broke on it a few months ago. I took it to three different drum shops to get it fixed and no one could help me so I had to settle with going to Mr. Faust. I'm still afraid of him after all these years.
S: Hahaha. Ive been to Faust once. I understand what you mean exactly.
JP: Yeah, totally. So I brought it down there and he gave me a bunch of shit as usual. He yelled at me for not taking care of it or cleaning it properly, and he bitched about me having the extra wide snares on it, saying that I didn't need that many. Then he calmed down and said "You like that bubblegum sound, hey?" He fixed it in like 2 minutes and sent me on my way.
S: I've heard so many…really crazy stories about the dude. Now I know one more, haha. What about the other snare?
JP: The other snare is a custom C&C, which I got through my endorsement. Its 14"x7" which is a cool size. It’s a 1 ply mahogany shell with a bright gold sparkle wrap. With a Trick throw off. I love those Trick throw offs so much!
S: Yeah those things are rad. What a great design. How’s it sound?
JP: It sounds great. Really low and warm. Moon gels usually are cut up on it. It makes it a little more birthday cake-y sounding
S: Haha. Birthday cake-y?
J: That's what Ed Rose told me it sounded like when he first heard how it sounded through the studio monitors for the last Limbeck record. Thought it was a suitable term
S: Haha. Ill take his word for it. So you primarily play vintage drums and cymbals. Are most of your reference points from the 60s and 70s?
JP: Actually the first time I ever heard drums as a reference point for tone is when I strated listening to Weezer's Pinkerton. Or I guess when I started noticing actual drum sounds was when I first started listening to how boomy Pinkerton was.
S: Yeah, those drums are super abrasive.
JP: I guess they got that sound from listening to a ton of the Flaming Lips records.
S: Interesting. My guess would have been In Utero, but it makes sense if you think about the drums on like....Transmissions from the Satellite Heart.
JP: Yeah. After I got over Pinkerton, I became obsessed with what drums and tone meant to a song. I would listen to the Zombies' Odessey and Oracle and The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds on repeat, just reassessing how drums should sound and be played in a song.
S: Is that where your taste for vintage drums comes from?
JP: Definetly, and obviously Ringo was responsible for a big part of that, too. Those Beatles records are so important to me in many ways. Those records made me experiment with dampening drums too. I’d drape pieces of t-shirts over the snare and toms. I guess Ringo would sometimes get that cool dead snare tone by setting his soft pack of Camels on the head.
Big Star also really changed my mind on how drums should sound too. I realized that drums recorded to tape are my favorite. It's too bad that tape has kinda fallen by the wayside. It gives you such a warm sound.
S: Absolutely. I especially love the drums on Radio City. They sound so huge, especially considering it was made at a time where it wasn’t super common to hear drum sounds like that on a record.
JP: Isn’t it unique? I'd so love to track a record to tape at Ardent Studios. That's a dream of mine.
S: You’re not alone in that dream, that’s for sure. What else?
JP: Superdrag. When they put out Head Trip in Every Key, that record they did with Jerry Finn, it blew my mind once I dissected how it sounded and how tight the rhythm section was. Hearing that record was when I realized how the kick drum should lock on with the bass.
S: Yeah! That record really showcases every member at their best i think.
JP: I couldn't agree more. Whenever I'm with a younger band that looks to me for advice I always throw that record on.
S: That sounds about right. Do you tend to use your own stuff when tracking, or do you like to try stuff that you wouldn't otherwise have access to?
JP: I like to try out stuff for sure. The snare that I used on the The Art of Disappointment was the one Dave Grohl used on Nevermind. I felt a bit nervous to be playing the thing, but then I sat back and realized that if Dave Grohl used it, he probably beat the shit of it.
S: Haha, you’re absolutely right. That sounds like fun, though.
JP: Actually that whole session for me was super nerve racking. Being in that studio, using that snare, recording with Nick Raskulinecz, being in LA making a record and learning how to play to a click track. I felt like the shittiest drummer on the planet. I think it broke me and made me the drummer that I am today. It was kind of like drum boot camp in a way.
S: Interesting. What else have you used on sessions?
JP: The other drums on The Art of Disappointment were from an 80s Tama set. On the Obsoletes record I used this really nice DW snare that Eric at Simple Studios had. On the last Limbeck record I used my C&C snare and cymbals and borrowed everything else from [Get Up Kids drummer] Ryan Pope. He had tons of stuff-70s Slingerland kits, a 50s Gretsch kick, a Zickos acrylic kit…and what are those funny looking drums that are from the 80s that swoop down and open wide at the bottom?
S: Haha, North drums?
JP: Yeah I did a fill in the first verse of “Big Drag” with those. It sounded so goofy.
S: Haha I can totally hear that fill in my head now. You’ve got some good stuff. Is there anything you'd like? A kit with different sizes maybe?
JP: I would love a C&C with a 24" kick but not deep at all, 13" rack tom, 16" & 19" floor toms. All 1 ply shells would be great too.
Jon Phillip will be playing with Trapper Schoepp & The Shades on November 25th at Milwaukee's Turner Hall Ballroom with .357 String Band & Those Poor Bastards, celebrating the release of their new album Run Engine Run. Check the video below. Thanks for reading!