Depending on when and how you happened upon his work, you either know Shane Hochstetler as the drummer behind some of Milwaukee’s most notable bands (Call Me Lightning, Managra, Hero Of A Hundred Fights, and currently Bad Grades) or you know him as the studio guru that records the vast majority of Milwaukee’s most notable bands at Howl Street Recordings.
Last month, Hochstetler moved Howl Street to its third location. Now in a standalone site in West Allis, this drummer/engineer wants to merge his recording acumen and his affinity for drummers into a new visual venture. Every other week, Hochstetler will release a new installment of his “Howl Street Drummer Series,” in which a different percussionist will play whatever he or she wants to for between three and five minutes. In association with the first installment, Milwaukee Record spoke to Hochstetler about the new studio and why he decided to start the drummer series.
Milwaukee Record: So you moved here last month, which is already a difficult enough ordeal. Now you’re adding a video series. Why was it important to do that right now? You were shooting one within your first week, right?
Shane Hochstetler: For two reasons. It’s been a passion project I’ve been wanting to start for a while. I knew I would be moving at some point, so I didn’t really know when to start it. When I kind of had it planned, I got the word I could move out of the old space. Also, it was the perfect first session. It wasn’t a band session, but it was the first thing to record, which for me as a drummer is super fun to record. I started with my friend Brian [Morrison] from Protestant because I’ve probably recorded him the most out of any drummer.
MR: So it’s a new space, a new video element, and you have this security blanket-sort of drummer where you know what you’re getting.
SH: Oh, definitely. He’s one of my favorite drummers. Plus, I knew that if it all went to shit, I’d just have fun hanging out with him anyway. He was happy to do it and we could experiment. And I guess it was the cheesy sentimental stuff. I’ve recorded him a ton, he’s a really close friend of mine, and I thought it would be a really cool thing for me to have him be the first one.
MR: And the series itself is a drummer just playing for a few minutes and doing whatever they want to do in any way?
SH: Yeah, basically. I tell every drummer to do their thing for three to five minutes. I could watch drummers play all fucking day, but most other people could watch for a few minutes before they’d get bored. Also, three to five minutes when you’re playing drums by yourself is kind of a long time. I tell them “Just play drums like no one’s watching you play drums. Just do your thing.” Brian didn’t have anything written, he just came in and did what came to mind. Whatever you want to do is what you do. My whole thing is to focus on the drummer without anyone else around them.
MR: For a position in a band that’s usually pushed to the back, why do you think it’s important the drummer is brought to the forefront of the viewer’s mind for this series?
SH: I don’t know if it’s because I’m a drummer, but a lot of people who listen to music, it might be a subliminal thing, but drums are extremely important to a band. I feel like a band is only as good as its drummer. How a band plays their song is almost always reliant on how the drummer plays. Drums and bass are kind of a thankless job, but I think even that people don’t play music end up watching the drummer. Especially with drums, you could have one drum set and five different drummers all playing the same beat and it would sound wildly different. In a rock band, it’s the only fucking human-powered instrument. It’s 100 percent physical.
MR: There’s one destination, but infinite ways to get there.
SH: Most people think of it as just a drum set, but there’s anywhere from, like, five to 10 instruments that make it up and dictate how that drummer plays and how they feel on the drums. A lot of that stuff is really subliminal in the mix of the band, but that’s something I really want to showcase in the series. I’ve been really fortunate to record a lot of bands, and it kind of floods my mind thinking of all the drummers I’ve recorded and how many them are extremely unique.
None of this is meant to dismiss bass players and guitar players or singers, but I feel like the singers and drummers…if those members get swapped out, sometimes it becomes a completely different kind of band.
MR: Another thing this is also going to do is let the viewer inside your studio. People are left to imagine what it’s like, but you’re giving a glimpse into a brand new place. It’s a larger spot, but what else are you excited about?
SH: Everything. It’s a standalone building that’s just a dedicated recording studio. There’s nobody fucking living above me. I have no neighbors. It’s its own thing and there’s a lot more space. I always wanted to get myself into an actual building.
MR: And now you can hit the ground running with this video series. Who are you planning to get in here for that?
SH: The second drummer that’s coming in is Jon Gleisner from Northless. Noel [Chandek] from Population Control and Painted Caves and Sahan [Jayasuriya] are coming in. Mike Mattner, who played in the band 1956 and now is in Indonesian Junk. I just want to keep it to a month or two looking out.
MR: Are you hoping to open it up to national acts as well, whether people you’ve toured with in the past or people you’ve recorded?
SH: I mean, just in Milwaukee alone, there are so many drummers that are amazing. I have a handful of friends in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Madison have contacted me to say they want to get in. Beyond that, I’m hoping to do some when a band comes through, if the drummer wants to pop in to knock one out, I’d love it to grow to that. But if it doesn’t, whatever. Either way, I’m just going to have fun doing it.