Behind the Beat Profile: Todd Elrod
Todd’s Current Band: Mike Pinto Band
(Formerly of Bargain Music, 3rd Alley, The Politicians, Spoken Gun and Lifted Roots)
Todd’s Playing Career: 2002-present
Todd’s Drum Kit: DW (Drum Workshop)
22-inch Bass Drum
14×5.5-inch DW Edge Snare
10-inch rack tom
12-inch rack tom
14-inch floor tom
Todd’s Sticks: SilverFox Drum Sticks
Todd’s Cymbals: TRX Cymbals
The Heartbeat of Reggae with Todd Elrod…
At each live music event fans attend, these talented performers are featured. Often times, this particular feature is hidden beyond the frontline presence of lead singers, six-string guitar slayers, energetic bass players jumping about the stage and bouncing keyboardists alongside crowd motivating horn players. Beyond those musical layers and past the huge stacks of amplifiers, enter into a drummer’s paradise. Simply put, it is the golden throne for a drummer.
In reggae music, each beat comes with an accompanying heartbeat by the fans in attendance. As the great Bob Marley sang in the infamous song “One Drop”: So, feel this drumbeat, as it beats within…” These particular musicians might not receive all the glory and fame of a lyricist or a frontman, but every single song is a canvas for the drummer’s art. The passion of a live performance runs through their veins and comes out through all four limbs and often times with vocal outbursts due to overflowing excitement. After all, who wouldn’t be excited to have the best seat in the house, each and every night?
However, the love of live music goes beyond having a good seat to the show, it is the act of putting on the show that is the essence of being a great musician. To devote your life to living on the road, playing a different venue each night, and travelling up to 10 hours to play music for your fans is a true calling one must have. Along that road, there are often times plenty of bumps, misfortunes and delays to reaching the summit, but the determination to make it fuels each van and tour bus these drummers step into.
All of these natural stories unfold every 24 hours for a drummer. Life on the road has its rewards, but for someone who loves music, it’s the oasis that only they can see. It’s not always utopia, but it is close. The hard work and labor that goes into reaching the national touring act stage doesn’t come easy.
For Todd Elrod, drummer of the Mike Pinto Band, and former drummer for Bargain Music, 3rd Alley, Spoken Gun, Lifted Roots and Long Beach, California’s punk rock band, The Politicians, his determination to be a drummer came at a very young age.
”Well, it’s funny, my whole family played. I come from a very musical family…half Irish, and half Indian. I have a lot of music in my family, and it is actually a very funny story how I ended up playing drums. When I was in fifth grade, I signed up for the school band. Most of my friends were either in chorus or band, so I went with the band! Then, the bandleader told me I wasn’t good enough to play drums… they put me on saxophone! (laughs)”
As we know Todd Elrod’s story to this date as a nationally touring drummer, clearly that was not the end of the story. Although, Todd on saxophone would be a funny story, he continued on with his little drummer boy tale, and his growth at an early stage was all thanks to his mother!
”My mom bought me this snare drum, and one day I just brought it to band class, sat right in the drum section and the teacher didn’t even ask. Three months later, the band director says, “Aren’t you supposed to be with the saxophones?” I just played it off and just continued on! (laughs) I went all the way through middle school playing drums, high school, and then I went to college at Musicians Institute in Hollywood…I went all the way through college with it. But, I owe it all to that band director from fifth grade! (laughs)”
Thanks to Todd’s mother giving him his first snare drum and a semi-observant bandleader in middle school, Todd Elrod has transformed from a potentially good saxophone player in a school band to making people dance for a living by pounding out beats, night after night. Maybe the family genes of consistent musicianship ran through his veins, but the various influences as a young boy shaped his musical palette as a teenager. Even during times of personal study, creating his craft and forming his style, Todd wanted to perform like he was playing in front of thousands on stage. Even back to his first songs and early days on the drum kit, the emotions poured through his sticks, just like the many inspirations he looked up to.
”As far as playing rock and roll on a drum kit, [one of the first songs] had to be like Metallica or Pantera. I got so frustrated, because I couldn’t do the double bass drum! That was maybe fifth grade. I wanted to play this really cool skate music, and later became really into punk. The first song…I honestly can’t remember, but I do remember as a kid I would always set my drums up to look like whatever I wanted to, or who I was trying to play like. I would mold my set out to be Dave Grohl or like Tre Cool from Green Day.”
Once a drummer, always a drummer. It’s awfully refreshing to hear the aspects of one’s youth growing up, emulating his idols at a certain point, then maturing into being on that level of playing live shows, festivals and tours just like Dave Grohl and Tre Cool. Yet through it all, Todd Elrod has that youthful spirit of just jamming on the drums, because that’s what he enjoys. Even to this day, that sentiment is ever present with Todd.
”Believe it or not, I still do that to this day! I still have drummers that I love in the reggae scene, and form my kit like them, because that’s what I do. One year on tour, you might see my drum kit a certain way, and that is probably a particular drummer I am watching at that time. You know, someone who I am inspired by!”
The Drum Set-Up…
Once the name Dave Grohl was mentioned, the topic of oversized drum sets with all the bells and whistles, and more traditional kits, much like Todd’s, came up. After all, it is what drummers do. Comparing different sets is like talking about hot rods and muscle cars for gear heads. One point that Todd made clear, goes along the lines of the driver makes the car purr, just like the drummer makes the drum set roar!
”I definitely find the difference, both visually and physically while playing. You’re right! I totally do play kind of a small set. My set up is always either going to be a five piece or a four piece, with just one rack tom. The only thing I change is one rack tom to two rack toms. When I am playing with that extra rack tom, I do feel like I have more inspiration to add in different fills. But, that is as big as I will ever want my touring drum kit to go. See, Chad Sexton (311’s drummer) and a lot of the bigger bands have their own guys set up their kit for them. Me, I am my own tech. So, I set up and take down my own kit. I think even if I did have my own drum tech, I would still only use a small set up. To me, I think it just looks cool. When I see a drummer playing on a smaller set, it looks absolutely rad when they’re playing. They just look badass! It’s the only way I can put it! (laughs) “
Looking badass is just part of the show, drummers still have to sound badass. There is no doubt that Todd Elrod is on that level. Small set or not, he has all the necessary tools at his disposal to pound out quality reggae beats. One thing that has not always been a constant within Todd’s set is the drum called a timbale, often times used as an auxiliary snare with plenty of island flavor for a reggae-rock show.
”And, the whole timbale thing… I just recently went back to using one. I toured with one for a long time and then dropped it for a bit. I started using it again once I began tuning my snare drum a little lower. For the longest time, I cranked my snare drum up as loud as it could go, and I could get that timbale sound straight from the snare. Now, I have two different sounds to play with. From what I said before, I often take what I like from my inspirations and use it towards what I am doing now. A lower snare drum sound is what I am more into, right now, which is the first time in my entire life! (laughs)”
The Style of Music…
Going from the high-pitched, cracking sounds of skate-punk and ska-reggae to the low tuned snare drum of rock ballads of the 80s and 90s is the sound currently. However, the formation of Todd Elrod’s reggae drumming style actually came from a singer, not a drummer. When Elrod performed with Lifted Roots at the age of 18, lead singer Gerald or “G-Money” was the source for Elrod’s roots-reggae style.
”G-Money taught me so much about reggae drumming. He said to put all my feeling and emotion on the hi-hat. Beyond that, he taught me how to put one or two hit fills on the toms. Then I asked him what about other types of fills and he said, “put them on the hi-hat!” (laughs) I also played with many different groups that derived from other Lifted Roots members, so playing with that group of people is what formed the kind of reggae drumming I play to this day. Actually, G-Money fronts San Diego based group Zig Zag Jones! Check them out, they are dope!”
However, a drummer’s style is often influenced by the bass player standing a few feet away, forming the ideal rhythm section for reggae music. Matt Brein has been playing bass with Todd Elrod for over eight years, first with Bargain Music, then 3rd Alley and now with the Mike Pinto Band. Essentially, Brein is Elrod’s right hand man to create the music they love.
”When I was younger I was a part of the whole Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords scene, playing that southern California surf/skate punk. My life had already been changed by Sublime, but after Brad died the Long Beach Dub Allstars changed my life again! So my focus came back to reggae and studying the music of Jamaica. Then a few years later bands like Slightly Stoopid and Pepper started surfacing who played “reggae/rock” that sounded like the type of music Sublime started. This was all around 2000/2001 and I thought that this “reggae/rock” scene from right here in southern California was about to BLOW UP!! Well it didn’t happen for another ten years after that. Now we have the scene we have today. And it’s not just California, super sick reggae bands are coming out of every state and country! It’s super cool to see the scene grow the way that it has, I feel blessed to have witnessed it, and I never use the word blessed (laughs)”
For this particular piece, we made every effort of getting behind the beat, including inside the drummer’s headphones. As a drummer, finding so many different inspirations to formulate your style is a chore all together. But, the music Elrod has on his playlist currently fits under one simple category: Island Style!
”I am super, super into island reggae, like The Green, J Boog, Katchafire, I could go on and on… But, all those Hawaiian and island guys, there are so many great musicians from the islands that are absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, not many of them are touring over here on the mainland, so I don’t get to see them that much, except for J Boog and The Green. Both of them have just been crushing it! While on tour with Mike Pinto Band, we actually had the day off in Denver, and caught Rebelution and The Green’s show. We went over to The Fillmore and were hanging out with them backstage, and they were super cool guys to talk to. Like I said, The Green is one of my new favorite bands, and to see them live for the first time, it was such a good show. Amazing live performance…Hats off to those dudes! For drummers and reggae groups that have influenced my drumming in the past are Santa Davis, Leroy Wallace or “Horsemouth”, Carlton Barrett, Field Marshal Goodman of Sublime, Steel Pulse, Abbysinians, the Wailing Souls and Israel Vibrations with the Roots Radics, and the list goes on and on…”
The Conditions of Touring…
That list reads like a hall of fame walk through reggae beat-masters. However, with a day off from tour falling on St. Patrick’s Day in Denver, Colorado with Rebelution and The Green playing at the preeminent venue in the city, hats off must be shown to the tour manager, as well. But digging deeper, one of the sides of being a national touring act that is often not publicized is the time between performances. Being a band means you are road warriors. Each trip is a battle of wit, weather and physical well-being. And, that is just within 24 hours between each venue.
”Recently, for us it has pretty grueling and brutal van rides. We have been through it all, rain, snow, sleet…everything! Just recently, we have been able to wear sandals again! (laughs) Waking up anywhere between 8 or 10 in the morning after going to bed at 3 or 4 am, getting back into the van and driving anywhere from five to eight hours on the road to the next city. Once we get there, we set up, do soundcheck, squeeze in dinner. Then we play for an hour, hour and a half, or a little longer. After that, we hang out with friends, drink a few beers after the show or whatever (laughs)… We try to get some sleep. Then, you wake up and it is the samething everyday! It is loading in, all the set up, the traveling, you know? Especially for drummers, taking care of your body is critical.”
Without being physically able to perform each night, one cannot be mentally able to play a show. Whether you are a singer or a drummer, each musician has to be prepared for a day in the life of a rock star, but their preparation is just as simple as our everyday routines. Their exercise is our exercise, except for one ritual that seems to be growing amongst the reggae-rock drummers alike.
”I try to squeeze in a little jogging, or for me, I like disc golf. I try to go out and play disc golf as much as I can, but on the road it is always hard to find a disc golf course. I Just try keeping my body up, trying to eat better and doing all of that. Unless you’re a front man or guitar player and jumping around the entire set… for drummers, you are basically jumping around the entire time, too. So, our bodies are getting it!”
The Performance & Live Show…
But, without a doubt, the big payoff is the live show. To be able to walk out onto the stage, look out to the crowd, take a seat behind your kit and pound out beats for all the fans’ pleasure is complete satisfaction. Within Mike Pinto Band’s set, there are a couple songs that take the show to another level, though. One might call it, a drummer’s ultimate level of euphoria!
”I think, both Mike and I are big fans of playing “Temptation” live. For some reason, we just really love that song live. Another song, that is actually a newer song, I am really into one called “Cool and the Deadly” off of our new EP (West Is Still Wild). That one is really fun to play!”
Thinking back to the biggest performance Todd Elrod played was a difficult task with the drummer’s thick portfolio, but a stroll down memory lane was in order. One of the more successful southern California live acts in the early 2000s was Bargain Music, led by vocalist Josh Fischel. During their time, they shared the stage with the flagship bands of reggae rock currently, Slightly Stoopid and Pepper. Although they no longer tour together, some of Todd’s fondest memories occurred onstage with Bargain Music, including his biggest performance to date.
”I would definitely have to say, one of the biggest shows was when Bargain Music played in … God, up in Pasadena, a horseracing track… I think it was Santa Anita, but I am not positive. There were over 10,000 people there! It was insane! It’s pretty cool to have the best seat in the house, looking out to everyone in the crowd. It’s a great feeling! Really, really cool! That’s about the best word I can describe for it!”
Joining The Mike Pinto Band…
Todd has aspired to feel that “really cool” sensation since he was a youth. Looking out to a sold out crowd has been on his mind since hitting his first snare drum, and molding his set to mimic his idols. But, the path that Todd Elrod has made his way down could only be considered a dream come true. From the moment he saw Mike Pinto perform live, albeit with another drummer, he still wanted to play in the band one day.
”I already knew Mike [Pinto] threw the reggae scene, while playing and going to shows. I had told my buddy Glen Plaff that, “I would love to play drums for Mike Pinto!” I had been to some of his shows in California and they were packed! Literally, there were people everywhere, singing along and going crazy! I was thinking, “Man, this guy has it going on!” Honestly, I was telling one of my really good friends, Ron Chavez, who is like my personal manager, “I want to play for Mike Pinto!” Maybe two months later, is when I got the call from Mike Pinto, saying my college buddy Glen Plaff, who he was touring with at the time, had to drop off tour and wasn’t going to be able to continue touring. Right then, he asked me if I wanted to do it, and my answer was pretty quick, you know? I told him, “I’d love to do it!”
The feelings shared were mutual. Todd didn’t hesitate to accept the gig. Almost four years later, Mike Pinto Band is still going strong. From behind the kit to riding in the van to shows, Elrod’s presence is consistent and on point.
Mike Pinto shared his thoughts on his humble drummer and quality friend, “Todd is a very talented drummer and a great overall person to have on tour with our band. He acts like a pro and there are no signs of an ego anywhere to be found. That’s as important to me as anything, the fact that he has earned a good reputation as a drummer, and has still stayed humble. It’s been great to watch Todd take his influences, such as Chuck Treece and Marshall Goodman, and develop his own style on the drums…then blend it with myself and Matt (Brein). All I can say is he’s a good friend, he deserves the credit for working his ass off, and I’m hyped to continue writing more music with him.”
That passion for playing an instrument is what this music scene embodies. Whether Todd Elrod is sitting in a studio, writing a new song with band mates, performing in front of 10,000 fans, elbow to elbow, at an old racetrack or a small nightclub in the middle of the country with 250 fans packed into the venue packed like sardines, the one constant will be the heartbeat of reggae pounded out by your favorite drummers. The crowd will be filled with passion, and the evening will sure to be electrifying. Even when the beat drops, fans will still go wild for those rugged reggae beats!