Matt Garstka – The Most Forward-thinking Metal Drummer

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Matt Garstka is a progressive-metal drummer who never imagined he would be part of the band Animals As Leaders. Yes, he has been a drummer all his life. But it was always about jazz. And the idea of any other genre may not have crossed his mind until he graduated from Berklee. At the prestigious music college, the 24-year-old musician from Massachusetts worked as a session drummer. 

Matt Garstka knew that it was a long shot, and yet he kept going as inspired by his mentors from Los Angeles, where he spent most of his days. “…I had mentors who were realistic. That pushed me to play more. I aimed to be so good that people had no option but to hire me.” This is the kind of fire that lit his path every day, bringing out a drummer that we all look up to today.

matt garstka
matt garstka

Matt was a metal fan. But the genre has a formulaic drumming system that turned him off. He would only play metal in a forward-thinking band like Animals As Leaders – and that is where he found himself. To him, their metal fusion approach is the best way to enjoy what he likes the most. The band featured jazz influences and rich harmony and melodic sensibility that makes more sense to him than any other playing style.

Thanks to the reality of social media, where auditions are efficient and easy, Matt landed the AAL gig without a struggle. He got a tip from a friend advising him to join the open drum chair. He posted several videos of his playing and shared the link with AAL guitarist Tosin Abasi and also with Javier Reyes. The trio met at NAMM, which initiated him into the band. This was just a stage set up for his real music career.

The extreme-metal world has been plagued with un-dynamic playing for many years. Matt has set his mind on changing that, using everything in his power. Listen to The Joy of Motion, and you will hear the changes. He commends that The Animals did not even use lived drum on their first albums. “It took a lot of effort convincing them to let me work this way.” He adds. Also, he says that a demo with programmed beats is quite easy, but the actual recording is something else. 

On his debut, every beat is included by Misha Mansoor, a Periphery guitarist. And then, there is a breakthrough follow-up with Weightless, which was a combination of programming and recorded tunes by Navene Koperweis on a hand pan. According to him, these hits are easy to program, and that is why they are very famous. “You can add anything you want to improve your music.”

matt garstka performing 1
matt garstka performing

However, Matt refuses to use triggers, live or in the studio. He says this is because they don’t offer the dynamics on the bass drums. His interest is in orchestrations, like improving the bass tune with a snare – as seen on ‘Ka$cade’ (the intro is a snare drum and then bass drums).

Matt Garstka continues to inspire the world of drumming with his innovative and unique styles. He got his validation playing with AAL at Tama’s 40th Anniversary Party.

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