Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I am Ironman: The Life and Grind of Dave Witte

Dave Witte’s fleet feet have powered just about every significant fast band of the last 15 years, but now he wants to put his mettle to the pedal at Hawaii’s Ironman triathlon.
With one triathlon under his belt already, the tattooed triathlete dreams of descending on King Kamehameha’s old stomping grounds for one of the most grueling running/biking/swimming endurance tests on the planet.
And for a chaser? Maybe celebrating from atop Mt. Midoriyama in Japan.
“That would be great. Some of that stuff is really hard,” said Witte, a fan of G4’s Ninja Warrior and Unbeatable Banzuke.
But until he gets his chance to party with Makoto Nagano, he’s content to keep the beat for Municipal Waste and about a bazillion other outings, each equally awesome.
While sitting at home waiting for a new bass drum to arrive – look for it on Muncipal Waste’s upcoming tour with a reunited At the Gates – Witte graciously took time to reminisce over a career that has seen him pound the skins for some of the defining metal bands of the last decade. Turns out the guy has trouble sitting still, which goes a long way to explaining his restless feet.
“At one point I was in six different things, and I said, ‘I must be crazy,’” the part time catering worker said. “I get fidgety. I like to keep busy. I love working. Hard work is something I appreciate.”
The career of one of metal’s most prolific drummers was almost derailed before he blasted out his first beat.
At 10 Witte contracted Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a central nervous system disorder that can cause paralysis. During his lengthy rehabilitation, Witte’s uncle, a blues drummer, handed him a set of drum stick and a 20 year career was born.
“It was the perfect gift at the time,” Witte said.
After two years beating on wooden blocks, the self taught drummer graduated to a “shit kicker” kit where he pounded along with AC/DC albums until he found a new instructor – Dave Lombardo.
“I heard Reign in Blood and that was it,” Witte said. “My mom wanted to kill me. I was in my room playing Reign in Blood over and over. … When I heard that double bass solo [in ‘Angel of Death’] I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Turns out, the guy’s pretty fricken good at it. From his first foray with Human Remains up through his upcoming powerviolence band with Anodyne/Versoma/Tombs’ Mike Hill, Witte has consistently pushed himself and his skills. Not simply content to play fast, musical polygamist Witte’s playing, from the restraint of his tenure with Anodyne through blastbeatery with Discordance Axis, has always emphasized the whole song rather than individual BPM glory.
“The guy has cultivated a level of musicianship that is near impossible to match,” experimental musician and Phantomsmasher bandmate James Plotkin – no technical slouch himself – said. “Technical precision and creativity are in absolute abundance, but one of his strongest attributes is his incredible attitude and personality. In my opinion there are very few people out there that deserve to be in a band with Dave, or even in the same room with him for that matter.”
Witte’s drumming nurtured with a steady diet of Phil Rudd, Nicko McBrain, Neil Peart, Pete Sandoval and New Jersey death thrashers Ripping Corpse’s Brandon Thomas, who played big brother to Witte’s first serious band, Human Remains. And it was that underappreciated-in-its-time collective of Jersey tape traders, soured on the cookie cutter direction of death, who crafted one of the enduring trademarks of Witte’s career: a determination to be original regardless of the cost.
“That was the first band that played more than one show. That was the first band that traveled out of town, the first band I recorded with,” Witte said. “We knew we didn’t want to sound like everybody else. We were like, ‘Man, all the shit sounds the same.’”
It’s the non-metal influences – Rudd, Peart and others—that challenged the burgeoning talent to stretch his musical repertoire.
“I stepped over the metal line and discovered some other things. The drumming was good but it wasn’t metal. … I never wanted to be sloppy.”
And sloppy he ain’t. But while his tight fills and greyhound speed have made his fame, Witte doesn’t always get the proper credit for just how musical his playing can be.
“Everybody wants to do as many notes as possible, but I got over that pretty quick. I approached it as the whole song,” he said.
While his favorite album in his prodigious back catalogue is the jaw dropping Tokyo on crack grindfest The Inalienable Dreamless, Witte claims his favorite personal performance is actually a one off outing on Andoyne’s Red Was Her Favorite Color EP.
“That was my favorite drumming. It was so barren and stripped down. I learned it the day before and recorded it the next,” he said. “It’s one of my favorites.”
His detour through noise rock bliss also score Witte his first – and to date – only guitar solo credit on the song “Persuasion.”
“I played guitar like I just ran my fingers all over the thing. That was my guitar solo. I don’t have the desire to play guitar. I’m comfortable with drums.”
In fact, the professional musician’s girlfriend is his home’s reigning Guitar Hero champ.
“It was like seeing a fish out of water,” said Escape Artist Records’ Scott Kinkade, how also had a cameo on “Persuasion.” “… It was a very nervous experience that went very quickly. It was a euphoric state that to this day, I wonder if it really happened.”
Witte and Hill have reunited for the power violence band King Generator, whose new 12” is do out this summer.
Though he would be hard pressed to name all of his musical collaborators over the past 20 years, don’t think you can talk Witte into playing on your band’s 7-inch over a lunch break. The reason there’s a distinctive lack of suck on his C.V. is because he’s selective. When you juggle five or six bands at once, you can’t leap into new projects willy nilly, ya know.
And he’s already got a fairly impressive list of musical sidekicks on his wish list, including Louisville’s Patterson brothers, the musical masterminds behind The National Acrobat and a host of others, and New Jersey hip hop explorer Dalek.
“I send him a text message now and then. ‘I’m your drummer this year right?’ He tells me I’m first on the list,” he said.
He’ll have to pencil those in between the Waste, an upcoming Burnt by the Sun Album (finally!), Alec Empire, his math rock band (“to keep my chops up”) and the inevitable solo project.
“I have an electric kit and real kit I want to combine and make songs. … I want to do a lot of improve stuff. I’ll do some fast stuff again, sure. I’m not signing up to win the race for the fastest. I’m over that now. I did that in the ’90s. There’s more to drumming to me.”
But don’t take that to mean the man has sworn off blast beats. He’s sure he’ll get the itch to rattle a snare again before he hangs up his sticks.
“I’m pretty fortunate. That’s what I love. That’s what I was born to do. I can always find something to keep my going,” he said. “My whole life I was always in a few bands at once because I wanted to do everything at once.”


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Jessica, a Austin Runner AND triathlete said...

i thought i was the only drumming triathlete, lol.

great story, thanks!