Singled Out: Unpacking A DK The Drummer Track

WNXP’s new Singled Out series is where we treat your ears to a tour of how a piece of music is created. Our first-ever subject is “A Dagger,” a new track off of DK the Drummer’s forthcoming album, Lockers Volume One, that features muscular bars and a high-energy house music from his fellow Nashville-based artists Daisha McBride and Wyn Starks.

Here’s what DK the Drummer, whose real name is Darren King and who played in the proggy post-rock band Mutemath for a decade and a half, said about how he’s developed a way to combine the roles of drummer, DJ and front man in his performances since:

“The experiment I ran at first was to try to find some hybrid between what happens at a great event where the audience is the center of the event and they matter even more than the person on stage. They’re oftentimes cooler, look cooler, and are certainly working harder than the person on stage and they’re dancing together. And I like that communal, crowd-centric event.

“I feel like what was beautiful about the inception of DJ music and DJ events was that [DJs were] able to manipulate the turntables in real time, in order to follow the crowd’s energy, trying to be mindful of when they were needing a break, when they want to slow down. Now, there are a lot of sets where it’s a prerecorded, you know, there’s no spontaneity in it at all. If anything, the video guy at the back of the room is doing more stuff in real time.

“And that’s fine. But I want to try to merge what happens in an event where people dance with what happens whenever a musician is able to feel the force and follow along? To me, that’s the dream. I mean, that’s happened before. It happened in the ’30s with swing music. It happened in the ’70s. Maybe even up until the most recent few years is just how it’s always been: someone drumming and someone dancing. It’s not new, but it feels like there are certain shows that turn you into a spectator.

Certainly in Nashville, where the music is an industry to the extent that it is, people go and spectate and criticize, watch each other and compare it. And it’s arms folded, people watching. And that’s OK. I’ve gone to shows and stood still and had the time of my life. But my dream is to put together some kind of show where I’m able to play the drums and sing and perform.”

Here’s how DK the Drummer recounted the creation of “A Dagger” (check out his sound-rich, audio narration of the process at the top of the page):

“The story of it is strange. It was a branch, a diversion from a completely different track I had been working on. The real roots to it go back to a song that I got to work on for Kanye West called “Real Friends.” I sent him this other section to it and his camp told me that he loved it and wanted more tracks like that. So I did this track and I sent it to them. Never heard back from regarding that track, so I kept it for myself.

“I remember just sitting at my kitchen with my laptop chopping up this extra part. I happened upon this synth part and then I thought I wanted to try to make something that sounded like the Gap Band. I was thinking about a lot of the groups on Ed Banger Records, that wonderful French label that makes great dance music. I was thinking about Chemical Brothers and how much I love drumming over their records, and that’s where I got the vibe of the drums for for that tune. It was all programmed at first for a long time, no live drums at all.

“Then I invited Wyn [Starks] over and that had to be one of the first vocal sessions we did. If you’ve heard Wyn’s voice, he could sing the phone book to you; he could sing anything. His warm-ups just send chills down your spine. He sings so high, so loud, so pure and powerfully. Once I got Wyn on the tune, I was off to the races. I invited a couple of my former band mates over — Roy Mitchell-Cárdenas, who’s my favorite bass player, the tightest, most locked-in musician. He came and and just tracked some really synthy sounding bass over it. It became the section at the end when whenever it transitions to a different vibe.

“When Daisha [McBride] came over the studio and just laid on the couch with her phone, I sat there, I looped the track, drank some coffee, and then she said, “All right, I’m ready.” And she just went, and she was ready. It was so good. That was electrifying to to be next to her while she was doing what she does so well.

“I did it completely out of order of how I usually do. The very, very last thing I tracked for this tune was the drums. So I had the programing, had the synth. My buddy Todd Gummerman, my former band mate, came over and played my Prophet 600 synth. He just came and shredded on that, did that solo at the end. The fun part about that as a drummer was I got to play along to what was pretty much the finished tune by that point whenever I played over it. So I had all that energy and that felt right. That felt really good. And that’s that’s the story of how ‘A Dagger’ came about.”