Cannons of the Canyons
A quick walk around the first floor of Taylor Hawkins' Topanga Canyon home reveals one constant sight at every turn: drums. Tucked behind the grandpiano in the corner of his den are some large chrome-covered Ludwig tubs, all stacked with a little road experience behind them. Tilt your head up from the entryway of the front door, and you'll see more Tama boxes than you have fingers. Hang a quick right from the entry into his newly built studio, and yes, another Tama kit lies within inches, with mics set up all around it. There's no question that the thunderous backbone of the Foo Fighters lives, eats, sleeps, and breathes drums.
The shaggy blonde-locked Hawkins grew up in Laguna Beach, an hour south of his current home and got his start with the Foos via his credentials with Alanis Morissette. Hawkins met with band leader (and ex-Nirvana drummer) Dave Grohl, who, after jamming a few songs with Taylor, asked him to join.
Before I met Hawkins, I bumped into someone of significant importance to his home set up, master studio builder and one of Hawkins' best friends, Michael Aloi. Aloi accepted and executed the challange of making sure Taylor would be able to slam his Tama Starclassics in a fairly live enviorment-even at 2:00 am. Construction and design required a fair degree of blood and sweat, the result being one seemingly complicated sandwich of materials.
"We built walls inside the original walls," Aloi explains "it's actually got a layer of soundboard in the back side of the wall where it was built in the ground then tilted up. Inside the wall, between the stude, there's Johns Manville Series 1000 compressed fiberglass, and we have R-19 insulation back in there as well. Then we have a layer of soundboard, and then sheetrock."
Hawkins and Aloi had the design down within a month, and after a couple more months of construction, Hawkins' space (which he playfully dubbed "Pussy Whipped studios") was set in gear, complete with a 32-channel mackie console, a Studer 2" reel to reel tape machine (re-christened "Stoner" with marker and masking tape), and enough outboard gear to keep operation running smooth and clean.
The sudio is even designed with style subdued blood red walls and ceilings, lepoard-print carpet, Rickenbacker guitars and basses hanging from the walls (one was a gift from Grohl), and a grand portrait of Queen's Freddie Mercury that oversees all the operations in the control room.
Hawkins explains his reason behind having a convenient in-home studio setup: "Right now I've got this place down Where we can do some amazing demos. And if we rented a couple of pieces of gear, we can even do some record tracking."
Hawkins admits that he's still getting a feel for his new workshop. "We're learning the room," he says. "We've got a snake in the hallway so as soon as we've got our patchbay all hooked up, we can take advantage of the high ceilings in my living room, and track there. The sound in the tracking room can be changed very quickly. Right now it's very dead we're talking carpenters drums - but if you take half of those baffels off the walls, it gets pretty loud."
And as far as recieving any complaints from the neighbors from any noise that happens to leak out of his house? "The people accross the street are all cool. And the guys behind my house work on my Studer. So long as it's not early in the morning, it's cool."
For a man who's known to crush his drums, Hawkins has been using his new studio to hone in on a new dynamic, soft. "When you hit the drums too loud all the time you have limited range. So I'm learning to hit softer, but still have it sound hard on tape. Charlie Watts (of the Rolling Stones) didn't hit the drums all that hard, but he had an amazing drum sound. If you push the tape, you'll get distortion."
Hawkins has moved into a region of Los Angeles that puts him in good company with some noteable drummers. "A lot of drummers live here out in the Valley," he says. Elton John's drummer, Nigel Olsson lives right down the street. Zoro lives close by - I took a lesson from him once, he's a nice guy. Stephen Perkins From Janes Addiction and Porno for Pyros lives out here in the Valley. There are alot of old school guys out here too, because drummers were the guys who didnt get paid all that much, so they all bought little houses in the Valley."
And to Hawkins thats all his house might be- a little place in the Valley. Yet theres enought talent and skill being coaxed nd cajoled in his modest single family dwelling to re-lable his pad as the discrete gold mine of drumming.