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INTERVIEW: Drummer Kye Smith on making Punks on Speed and becoming a viral video sensation

Laura  Barnes
INTERVIEW: Drummer Kye Smith on making Punks on Speed and becoming a viral video sensation

Type ‘Kye Smith’ into YouTube’s search bar and you’ll soon understand why the drumming world is very excited about this Australian musician.

Smith became a YouTube sensation in 2013 after posting a video of himself performing the entire back catalogue of Nirvana in just five minutes.

Over the last four years, the drummer has created video performances for the likes of Blink-182, The Beatles and Foo Fighters, with the latter being shared on social media by Dave Grohl himself.

For some of his videos, we are talking big viewing numbers. The Blink-182 video has currently racked up over 1.5 million views, and Smith’s 5-minute drum chronology of The Beatles has gained over 2 million views since the video was uploaded a year ago.
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The popularity of his Beatles video extended further than just YouTube; it led to Smith traveling to the US to perform the chronology live at Madison Square Garden during a New York Knicks halftime show in 2016 – proof that, although it’s not an easy feat, viral videos can help create career-defining moments for today’s musicians.

2017 sees the drummer team up with Michael Ferfoglia (a member of Smith’s band Local Resident Failure) to create an album for Universal Publishing Production Music (UPPM), the world’s leading production music company.

Punks on Speed was mastered in London’s iconic Metropolis Studios. It features 12 tracks composed by Smith and Fergolia, showcasing heavy guitar-laden hooks and a smorgasbord of energetic drumming skills.

MI Pro editor Laura Barnes caught up with the YouTube star to talk about making the new album, the benefits of creating video content, what gear he’s using and more…

Tell us a bit about Punks on Speed.

Craig Beck (Head of Production at UPPM) got in touch and asked if I would be interested in putting an album together for Universal so of course I jumped at the chance! He was open to me working with anyone I liked on the release so I immediately asked Michael if he was interested. I had played in a punk band (Local Resident Failure) with Michael for years and he also mixes all of my drum videos for my YouTube channel so we have a long history of working together so it was an easy decision to recruit him for the project.

What was the writing process like?

Michael and I had played in a band together for years, however neither of us were the principle song writer for that band so I was really interested to see what would come out once we got together and started writing. We both live locally to Newcastle (Australia) so he would drop over to my drum studio and we would basically just have a jam for a few hours and see what came out. I would have a bit of a vibe in mind for each track so I would set the tempo and Michael would throw out some riff ideas and each track would build from there.

Because we had such a long history of working together the process felt very organic. Sometimes we would start with a riff or a drum beat and just jam it out and the song would flow out really easily. We recorded every writing session live with myself on drums and Michael playing rhythm guitar so we would run through a song a few times and see what came out each time.

From there, I took the sessions home and spent some time thinking more about the structure of each song and pulling bits and pieces from different takes and editing them together to make a rough base of each song. Once the structure was set I went back and re-tracked the drum parts and added some fills and other ideas that came to mind since the writing sessions and sent the drum tracks to Michael who recorded the rhythm guitar parts as well as adding lead guitar and bass, which gave us a complete demo of each song.

I think for the most part we were really happy with how the demos sounded so the songs didn’t change much when we actually went into the studio to track it all properly.

Did you create the album with the idea in mind that it would be used for production purposes?

While neither of us had ever written music specifically for production use, I also work at a video production company as a video editor, so I use production music all the time. So I kind of went in with a bit of an editor’s mindset while we were writing and tried to make sure that the songs both work as standalone instrumental tracks but also work in the production music world.

You’ve made a name for yourself through YouTube videos. How important do you think viral videos are to young musicians and their careers these days?

I don’t think it’s crucial but it does help! I think a young band can definitely still go out and make a name for themselves the traditional way of regularly touring and getting radio airplay, but the internet and online video has given these artists a new opportunity to have their music immediately distributed worldwide into the palm of people’s hands. I think it has changed the playing field.

Anyone in any position can stumble across a viral video while they are scrolling through Facebook or YouTube, which means that it doesn’t have to follow the traditional chain of having to know the right people to get your music in the right hands.

Speaking from personal experience I would never have dreamed to have had the opportunity to do some of the things that have happened in the last couple of years and it’s all because certain people have stumbled across my videos on YouTube and Facebook. It’s definitely an interesting time to be a musician!

Do you think it’s harder for musicians to get noticed now that anyone can upload a video to YouTube and get their face out there?

I don’t think it’s necessarily harder for musicians to get noticed, as the traditional methods of getting noticed are still mostly available. But online video has allowed for another method of getting noticed.

I think it’s something like 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, so it can definitely be difficult to try and stand out in the sea of online content. But, at the same time the audience is right there waiting for content, so you just have to think outside the box to get your work to stand out.

What drum gear do you use?

At the moment I am playing a DW Collectors Series kit, which I bought second hand off one of my favourite drummers (Gordy Forman of Frenzal Rhomb). I wasn’t in the market to buy a new kit at the time but it had so much history and had been played on by so many of my favourite drummers over the years so I knew I had to buy it when the opportunity came up!

I play Zildjian Cymbals. At the moment I am running 19” and 20“ A Custom crashes, a 21” K Custom Hybrid ride and 14” Quick Beat Hats. I use Remo drum heads (Emperors on top and Diplomats on the bottom) and Vic Firth sticks (5B and 2B with nylon tips depending on the style I am playing).

I also record my drum videos using Samson Microphones and am currently running their 7 Piece Drum Mic Kit.

What other projects do you have going on at the moment?

I am working on a bunch of new ‘5 Minute Drum Chronologies’ for my YouTube channel as well as some new video concepts including some collaborative videos with some of my favourite musicians. It’s crazy to have the opportunity to collaborate with musicians that I have grown up listening to so I am really excited to work on more of these types of videos. I am also doing some session work for a bunch of bands/artists that need a drummer. I have been tracking these sessions remotely where musicians send me their demos and I track the drums in my studio and send them the drum tracks online, it has been really a really fun process!

What do you have planned for the rest of the year?

Just planning to work on and release as many videos as I can, hopefully do some more session work, and see what else comes up!

Punks on Speed is available on UPPM’s Bruton label. It is available to download now form various sources including Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer, Amazon Music and directly from UPPM.

Check out some of Kye Smith’s popular YouTube videos below:

Tags: drums , youtube , drummer , Interviews , UPPM , Kye Smith , viral videos , Punks on Speed

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