Hailed as a drummer’s drummer by the upper echelon of the industrial rock underground, Galen Waling brings ReGen up to speed on life behind the drum kit.
An InterView with Galen Waling
By: Ilker Yücel
One of the principle components of underground electronic and industrial music is percussion. Whether a band or artist aims for pure aggressive power or infectious danceable energy, the beat continues to march on. As such, the scene is rife with talented individuals who leave an indelible mark on the music they perform as well as the skins they beat. And yet, as important as drummers might seem to be, they are rarely seen in the age of the drum machine and the programmed beat, leaving a small but sizeable community of percussionists to stand out and display their talents. Enter one such talent: Galen Waling.
In a few short years, Waling has become one of the industrial and machine rock scene’s most reliable and sought-after drummers. From the raucous iPunk energy of Left Spine Down to the groovy hip-hop clamor of SMP to the scathing assault of Stiff Valentine, his resume reads like a veritable who’s who of the underground community. He’s worked with high profile producers like Dave “Rave” Ogilvie and Greg Reely, has toured and performed with 16volt, Unit:187 and Stayte, and through it all, Waling has demonstrated a remarkably diverse ability coupled with a virtuosic command of rhythm and percussive arrangement. ReGen speaks with the man on his latest musical endeavors, as well as reminiscing on some of his background and how he has come to his current stature, letting readers in on the musical essence behind one of the scene’s rising stars.
You’ve been involved in a number of high profile acts in the last several years – Left Spine Down, Stiff Valentine, Unit:187 and most recently The Break Up. Could you give us a little rundown of your background, your musical upbringing? How did you come to be involved in the various bands you’ve been working with?
Waling: I started in elementary school band and kept with it through middle and high school: symphonic band, jazz band, pep band, private lessons, garage bands, you name it. After high school, I decided to look in our local paper, The Stranger, to see if anyone needed a drummer. I got a gig for a group called Syztem7, which lasted about a year until my friend Westin liked what I did and ended up bailing on Syztem7 and playing for Desillusion for about four years. During that time, I started playing with the idea of doing several bands; this led to me playing for Seattle bands Uglyhead and SMP. After SMP took me on the Blood Trails tour, LC from Stiff Valentine asked if I’d like to be in Stiff Valentine, and I accepted. After my first show with them in Vancouver, which kAINE (D3L4Y) and Jeremy (Inkel) had attended, I was asked to join LSD as well! Then the effect kept snowballing, and I got offers from Unit:187, 16volt, etc.
So with the majority of the bands you’ve played in being in the vein of electronic/industrial, which is based as much in percussion as it is in programming, and having a foundation in actual musical education, how do you find that combining the organic live sound with synthetic programming has benefited you as a drummer and as a musician? In what ways do you feel that it has been a detriment?
Waling: Well, when it comes down to the basics, music is always going to be music. My background has only helped me in this situation, because electronic, EBM, industrial all have a musicality to them that can always be accented and played on the drums accordingly and correctly.
The most recent album release featuring you is the latest from Left Spine Down, Caution, correct?
Waling: Yes, and I recently finished tracking the new SMP album as well. All my drums are buried under sampled drums on the new Stiff Valentine remix record, too.
As a drummer, how do you find yourself contributing in a musical context overall, not just in terms of percussion, but in terms of contributing to structure, melody, etc.? In other words, how do you as a drummer keep from simply being the time keeper?
Waling: To answer this one, I must ask if you are familiar with the term ‘musicality’ in a music theory sense. It all comes back to music still being music no matter what style it is. There will always be parts that you can accent in a particular way or put a fill over to help bring that part of the song out more. And a lot of the times these days, especially with how much technology that is out there, all the programmers aren’t drummers, so the demo beats you get sent are just mush, and we drummers get to make that look pretty!
What is your own process like when it comes to writing drum parts, both on your own and as it pertains to bringing out the demos, making them look pretty?
Waling: It’s a lot different when I get a demo from, say, Jeremy versus Jason Bazinet. Jeremy is a fantastic programmer, but since he doesn’t have any drum training, the drumbeats don’t really make much sense, so it’s my job to take that demo idea of his and bring it to life, so to speak. With Jason and him being a drummer, when I get a demo from him, I usually have to delve right into figuring it out, because he knows how the drums should line up musically with the rest of the music.
So naturally it would be different depending on the band/individuals.
You’ve done a rather extensive amount of touring in the last few years as you’ve worked in these different bands. What do you find to be the most difficult aspects of touring and maintaining your performance ability? Are there any particular exercises or rituals that work best for you?
Waling: Yes! I’m very ritualistic. An hour before we start, I take my daily vitamins for my joints and body, do basic stretches for my hands, arms, legs and neck. Then I go through my rudiments on a practice pad with the heaviest sticks I own. If the band is even lucky enough to get our own dressing room, we will blast some Depeche Mode to get pumped for the show. Then I do two consecutive shots of Jack Daniels and go on stage!
Uncle Jack! What would you say have been your most memorable experiences, both on the road and in the studio?
Waling: On the road, having Dave ‘Rave’ Ogilvie text me saying, and I quote, ‘I think I love you.’ In the studio, it’s been any time with Jason B. or LC because they are so laid back, fun and funny.
Working in different forms of electronic/industrial music and playing to different audiences, what are your thoughts on the current state of the scene with regards to the audience and their reception to the music? Especially in comparison to when you were in that audience when you were younger.
Waling: Oh man, I’m sure anyone could go on about that for days, but I’m going to keep it short and sweet and say that the scene is changing. It’s more digital now, and we just need to ride it out until it all settles back down in to something completely new and awesome.
Can you elaborate on that just a little? Yes, the scene is more digital, digital albums, remixes, recording technology, distribution, piracy, etc., but what are your thoughts on how that has had an effect on the scene with regards to the audience?
Waling: It sucks that younger folk aren’t coming out to shows because they can get their insta-fix online. But on the other hand, that person is still listening to the music. I think digital is still so new that everyone is still getting used to it. When people start getting bored of the insta-fix from online sources, we will start seeing more people back at shows. It’s human nature to need human interaction.
Aside from the bands you’re involved in, what do you find to be the signals of change or new developments, either in terms of the audience or other bands/artists coming out?
Waling: It’s all about DJ, dub, glitch, etc. right now. But those people usually only tour with themselves because it’s cheaper. Someone needs to do what they are doing at the stadium level and add a full band to it, make it sound huge!
What’s new on the horizon for you? You mentioned that you’d worked on the SMP album with Jason Bazinet. What about your other band associations? Any new releases that you’ll be featured on, or any upcoming tours?
Waling: Aside from recently joining The Break Up’s live lineup, unfortunately no. That’s why I’ve been trying to do some self-promotion, to hopefully get my name out there a bit more.
With the new SMP album soon to be released, and having worked with all of these musicians, what is the prospect for you to embark on your own project? Not necessarily a solo act, but something where you hold the reigns?
Waling: Ah, good question. That probably won’t happen. I’ll either get hired out to play some shows or just teach lessons and hopefully clinics.
You teach as well?
Waling: Yes, basic level. I’m currently taking lessons to become a better teacher and drummer.
In what ways is teaching a complement to the music you make? That’s from the perspective of yourself as a musician and in how your potential students affect your musical outlook.
Waling: It makes you work on things that are out of your comfort zone and also keeps you as a well-rounded musician. And just playing with students and friends, there are always new things to learn from other people, no matter the skill level.
Is there anything you’d like to add to close out?
Waling: Check out my website at www.galenwaling.com for news, tour, gear, bio, and booking info. Also, a big thank you to my sponsors, Saluda Cymbals CDX and DDrum. And as always, thank you, ReGen!