Of Mice & Men have had a very firm, constant residency in my heart over the past six years. It feels like twice that long since I sat at the shitty Windows XP computers in my old school and waited for ‘Second and Sebring’ to buffer. But it was a worthwhile wait as the song’s hyper sense of melody blended with its keen awareness of heavier sounds resonated profoundly with me. This band was one of the first heavy artists I felt passionate about; not just simply enjoyed. See I enjoyed ‘Duality’ by Slipknot and I sure did enjoy ‘Suicide Season’ by Bring Me The Horizon but that self-titled Of Mice & Men’s album made me feel impassioned and inspired about heavy music. It would sit on repeat on my phone for days as I etched the lyrics into my brain forever.
When ‘The Flood’ came out it was a repeat of events. I was enthralled and captivated by what this band had done and even by the way they had matured. It was a refined record that served to cement this band not only as prolific in the scene but one that was a staple of my musical identity. One thing that really drew me into loving this band was the groove. I often found myself remembering the groove and rhythm to their songs as much as the hooks and melodies. They were simple but they made the song move. Like actually move! They helped to pace each section out in a way that put the songs leagues above what their peers were doing. As such, it was a lot of Tino Arteaga’s drumming that made me fall in love with this band as much as it was their lyrics and overall aesthetic.
It was serendipity that resulted in my interview with Tino Arteaga one quiet Saturday afternoon. The band was driving between shows on their stint as a support act for Slipknot and had less than fuck all reception which put a big delay on the times. This left our original interviewer unable to do the rescheduled times so I leapt at the chance to chat with someone I have looked up to over the years because duh! Due to the last minute nature of the chat, I hadn’t heard their new record, ‘Cold World’ (I have since and it’s dope), so I decided to get into a discussion about his history as a musician and his relationship with drumming.
Sitting on my veranda in the cool mid-afternoon I sat and listened as Tino talks about his early upbringings in a family that encouraged him to learn and explore music. “I always had a song in my head,” he begins, “and I was always whistling a tune so [my parents] knew I was somewhat musical. I started off playing the violin at age four and learnt piano shortly after that then guitar and bass and saxophone and flute,” the list went on and on. Noticeably there was a lack of any reference to anything remotely percussive. It wasn’t until the ripe age of thirteen that Tino picked up the sticks and began to make noise behind the kit. “[Drums] looked fun! I thought all you did was hold sticks and whack things so long as you do it in time. It sounded awesome!” But as we all know, there’s a lot more to it than just bashing away furiosuly, something that Tino picked up quickly with his pre-existing knowledge of musical concepts. “It’s a pretty impressive thing to hold a beat and carry a rhythm and you know your way around the kit and I thought that would be another thing I could add to my repertoire.”
Little did he know that it would end up taking over his entire existence and allow him to travel the globe with his best friends. “That part blows my mind because it was the one instrument I wasn’t going to take seriously,” he admits unabashedly. As someone who grew up playing in music competitions and learning everything the right way, he found himself drawn towards the allure of punk and metal music where the members were “just rocking out”. This admiration for the antithesis of what he had always known bled directly into his drumming and the way he would approach that instrument for the rest of his life.
What may surprise some upon listening to a lot of the early grooves and rhythms coming out of Tino is that he never had a “proper” drum lesson before. “For me as a musician,” he says the word with a worthy sense of pride, “it was always: ‘Oh that [instrument] looks cool, I’m gonna learn how to play that.’ Drums were no different.”
Music theory was something that the drummer was living and breathing as he performed in and out of competitions and as he blazed his way from one instrument to the next. It gave him a “solid foundation” from which his drumming could burst and bloom into what it has become today. “Being able to read music and know rhythms and all that other complicated stuff [meant] I had a jump start when I began to play drums.” Tino asserts that his early teaching still finds their uses today. “Growing up it was all about music theory and I feel like that I’ve played for a really long time I can look back and fully use that. I still go back to basics and use theory and after a long time of not using that, it’s refreshing to go back and use music in that way.”
But the question remains to the young and aspiring timekeepers and beat makers out there of whether or not they exhaust their time and efforts into studying these musical concepts before they try to become the next Buddy Rich. On whether he recommends it, Tino’s his answer is a short and concise, “not necessarily”. Expanding upon that, he talks about how one’s passion for the instrument is what matters above all else. “I think if you want to do music and play an instrument, whether it’s drums or whatever, you should pick it up and try it and see how it goes. I think instruction and guidance at the beginning is also very important; it’s no different to math or any other subject you learn in class. There’s a certain set of skills you need to know in order to progress and I think that that’s really important.” Tino laying down some truth here!
“But at the same time I’ll tell anyone, ‘Hey, here’s my pair of sticks. I would love for you to play if you want’ and they’re like ‘Really?’ And I’m like, “Of course!’ I think if you’re passionate about the musical instrument than that’s really what matters. Once you understand it a bit more you can see the value of that musical knowledge but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary.” So don’t stress out if you want to groove like a madman but have no clue what notes are in the F Dorian scale.
As an aspiring songwriter and musician myself, a question I’ve longed to ask of a drummer is what they think the three pillars of groove making should be. As we can all agree, drums have the ability to make or break a song. The rhythm construction is a crucial part of in development of a track will inevitably decide whther it’s a hit or a miss.
“Well let’s see, the first thing is that you need to think about what is gonna make the song groove. Don’t think what should the drums be doing and listen to the other instruments and do something that compliments those others instruments. It shouldn’t be, ‘Oh the drums should be crazy here!’ and all this other stuff when it really shouldn’t be because everything else is already crazy. On our earlier records, I don’t think we really knew a lot about how to play with other instruments and that’s what you really need to know. I think you should be listening to the other instruments and that the drums you are adding to it are not taking away from the main melody or focus or lyric
. This leads into the second one which is that the job of drums is to lay the foundation to the rhythm. It’s not a lead or a melodic instrument.”
He’s a bit trumped for a third one as he ponders into his own subconscious thinking. I offer up my own discussion point, mentioning the choice of what drums to use in order to determine a song’s scope. He jumps at the mention of gear excitedly. “Oh yeah! The third thing I would say, and this is the really important part: make sure your gear is good. I know in a lot of recordings that you can’t pick which drums you want to use and that it’s usually whatever is laying around. The quality of the gear is something we really wanted to focus on with ‘Cold World’ and I really feel like we found a great combination between drums and cymbals. It made it so easy to have a great sounding kit that maintained quality and stayed in tune. In the past, I always felt like there were problems with that so I will say that when you’re going in to do a professional recording that you get the best gear you possibly can because that is going to be a lifelong reflection of that song. You want it to sound the best you can and with this record we were really excited that t sounds like that.”
That pursuit of quality tone is something the band really strived for more so than ever on this record. And it’s one you can hear has paid off immensely. The powerful and resonating percussion on lead singles ‘Pain’ and ‘Real’ are testaments to not only Tino’s drumming but the genius of David Bendeth, their producer. There’s an odd but great sense of space and warmth to the songs despite ‘Pain’s beautiful dissonance and ‘Real’s huge anthemic and sonically deep scope. At first, when I heard these tracks I was under the assumption that they had actually moved away from Bendeth in favour of someone who works with a far grittier sound. But Tino was quick to assure me they were still very much in love with the man and his production.
“We recorded this album with [Bendeth] but for this record, we had a much clearer vision of how we wanted it to be sonically. We also had the time to spend that we needed to in order to try out different things to get that sound. There’s a lot more rawness to it,” he says the word liberally. “Kind of like the 90’s grunge era where it sounds like five dudes in a room playing at the same time even though it was all recorded separately. So it has to have that space to it to feel that way. There’s not a lot of records out there like that anymore and we miss that about rock music. A lot of things nowadays sound overproduced and so we’re doing what we can in keeping it real…” he laughs loudly at his own pun.
“I guess a good way to put this is that it’s really all analogue. We went through the motions to ensure that at all the base layers were the raw sounds that were being recorded. We spent so much time dialing in the kick and dialing in different snares for every song. That’s another thing we wanted to do with ‘Pain’ and ‘Real’ being socially polarized. We wanted them to feel like their own individual pieces of art with their own sound and Bendeth really helps with that. It does sound different but that’s kind of how with each record we understand what we want more and more.”
Though he may speak like a seasoned guru of all things drumming and music, Tino’s humble enough to admit he’s still learning and developing which in and of itself is a skill to have. “I added some more drums recently,” he tells me in reference to his kit. Another rack tom to be exact . The reason? “Mostly just to challenge myself. Putting more drums in front of me is the challenge. I’m really viewing drums as a musical instrument now whereas before it was something I was just bashing away at and having a good time. Now I really think of it as a proper musical instrument.”
There’s something to be said about the way we view as drums as a musical instrument. As Tino said before it’s not a melodic instrument but there is something musical and beautiful to discover about drums that go beyond things such as rhythm and groove. This is something that for him became an integral part of the way he viewed drums and was a big factor when he recently switched drum suppliers.
“When I switched companies I really talked about that [musical aspect] a lot with Drum Workshop and Zildjian players as well as people at those companies. The amount of knowledge that they have is so unparalleled to anything or anyone and the gear they make is so great too that I’m using this same kit on tour. I used their brass snare drum a lot on the record along with their copper snare drum as a part of their metal snare drum campaign over the past few months. We really got to try out some of their best gear and they made it on the record.”
This is all well and good for the professional drummer with so many contacts in so many avenues of the industry but what about the humble citizen drummer? “What I really love is that its gear that is available for anyone to purchase. It’s actually so sick that you can have that same awesome snare as the record because [their products] are all so consistent and they are just so calculated with everything they do. There’s so much put into the development of the product.” Well shit, there you have it!
There may be one piece of gear though that is out of reach of the average drummer but that’s for good reason. You see, this piece of gear is a relic from a time so long before it redefines the word “vintage”. I’ll let Tino explain this one…
“I was lucky enough to get my hands on a fifteen-hundred-year-old Romanian river oak snare drum from DW from their timeless line. It’s the oldest thing that I own! The wood that it’s made out was taken from the bottom of a river in Romania that was carbon dated to have been down there for over fifteen hundred years. They pulled it out and made drum sets out of it!” we both laugh in amazement at the very idea!
“It’s gnarly! It’s really crazy to even think about!” he continues. “That’s the kind of stuff DW does, though. That is my most prized drum I own and it sounds just so killer. I even got to be there when it came into the factory right at the time I signed with them. I was like ‘Oh my God! I need that!’ Everyone was just yelling: ‘Gather around! Smell the wood!’ It was an experience for sure. Hands down my favourite drum!” Yet sadly it’ll never see the touring circuit. “I would not take that on tour, though. That stays at the studio at home under lock and key!” Fair enough, Tino. Fair enough.
Tino is a passionate and vibrant person yet there’s something about snares that tips him over the edge, something enigmatic between him and the drum. I feel his love for them, though. A bad snare can really kill an entire record and make everything else feel just as cheap and weak, but a good one can make everything feel bright and angelically beautiful. For myself ,I’ve always loved a snare that just booms and fills the air and Tino couldn’t agree more…
“So for me personally, I like them to crank! Just CRRR! CRRR!” he makes the noise with so much intensity it actually clips the audio on the phone. “You know what I mean?” I just manage to hear him say as I pull the phone back onto my ear when the coast is clear. Yeah, Tino. After that demonstration, I definitely know what you mean!
“I like them really tight with a really full crack! And sometimes when songs get recorded they don’t call for that kind of snare tone.” There’s a hint of sadness and longing in his voice that ever so slightly breaks my heart. “So for this record, we were able to have a crank snare and other ones that had a lower or a more thick and deep sound. But I mean, if I had to choose one tuning of a snare drum then I want it cranking! Just high ringing snares like Chad Sexton from 311 or Adrian Young from No Doubt. That kind of crank snare is one of my favourites. It doesn’t always work for every situation,” he reiterates, “and Bendeth would always remind me of that. He would yell, ‘Why are we using that snare for this!? We need something thicker!’ And I would always end up agreeing. That to me is why having quality gear is being able to switch between the different snares to find that right tone that’s going to compliment the song,” he concludes, rounding it off with a linkage back his earlier advice.
Another thing that makes Tino such an interesting drummer is his use of two separate kick drums in replacement of a single kick with a double pedal attachment. When we begin talking about it, I feel the sense this is something else he feels strongly about.
“First and foremost, I did not know that you were allowed to put two kick drums there and not use them both! Like, what? Then why is that one there? Why would it be there! Why would someone put two kicks there and use a double kick pedal! It makes sense for staging and imagery but for me, if there are two kick drums then I’m gonna kick them both because that’s the point!” The exclamation points don’t do the accents and ever so subtle passive aggressiveness justice. He makes a valid point, though. In the case of bands using it for showmanship, it seems like a waste of space in the van and stage. It’s also a missed opportunity in Tino’s eyes to explore the kit in a whole new way.
“I feel like with a double kick pedal you’re used to feeling the kick drums one way and with the single kicks on each leg, I feel like I get a more direct response. And I like that I can distinguish my left leg is kicking something just as equally as my right leg is. With a pedal, it’s a totally different feel. Just to be clear, I’m not against them,” he clarifies quickly. “At first I was kind of scared of them because I made a split second decision before one of our tours to get another kick drum and another pedal! I only had like a couple days of rehearsal before we were on the road. I was anxious but then I tried it and it felt so much better! It felt way more natural that every limb is hitting its own drum and I just love that!” The one leg to every kick drum isn’t just a playing thing; it’s a tone thing as he points out. “For all the double kick parts and the more technical kick patterns on the record, I love the individual kicks because you can be more consistent with your tone. It’s going to be sick to see how people react to the awesome Solomon Mics we used for the low frequencies. They’re like sub-kicks! We were just getting annihilating kick drum sounds because we had two huge bass drums kicking at the same time and it just worked. You wouldn’t get that from a double pedal because each time you kick that pedal is bouncing around on that drum. But when you are on the single drums there’s a bit more directness to it.”
The other side to drumming, aside from tone and gear, goes back to what we discussed before – the concept of rhythm and groove. The process of creating the rhythm to this type of heavy music is vital and crucial and for Tino, it’s a process he doesn’t have to do alone. With the help of Aaron Pauley on bass, the duo concocts some sweet magic in Tino’s home setup. The pair live down the road from each other which not only secures a bond of friendship but also one of musical synergy.
“We’re very rhythmically similar,” as Tino puts it. “We use the same sort of patterns that are our go too’s and we’re really spot on with that. It’s funny as that [rhythmic cohesiveness] was the first thing that Bendeth noticed as opposed to on ‘Restoring Force’. I think that’s because we wrote most of these songs in a room with each other. All of the band together at the one time. Aaron and I really got to lock in on some of the double bass parts. There is some crazy tasty bass stuff on this record that I’m like: ‘Yeaahh!’ because it works really well with the drums too. I think that that is really important to have that. People often don’t give enough credit to the bass player because they think it’s not as cool as guitar, but Aaron is a phenomenal bass player and it’s great to be able to create those sick rhythms with him. Even he comes up with stuff that challenges me and then we get in sync with that and move forward and create more rhythms.”
“So please,” Tino pleads, “listen to the bass on this record just as much as it all, there’s a lot of stuff we put in there on purpose!”
At this stage, we’re hitting the forty minute mark. We bid our farewells as I let Tino go rest up for the next show they’re due to play and all I can think of is how proud I am of this band. To come from the early beginnings of a MySpace built fan base into a rock band sharing stages and posters with names like Slipknot and Marilyn Manson just blows my mind. But when I really think about it, it can’t help but all makes sense.
If my chat with Tino taught me anything, it’s that Of Mice & Men is filled with a group of best friends who all care so goddamn much about their art and their music that they will stop at nothing to achieve their dreams. Add on top of that a talented drummer who’s immense love for the kit extends down to the wood it’s made from and you’ve got yourself a winner.
Read our review of ‘Cold World’ here.