Cutting Steak: Abbas Muhammad (Rule Them All, Burn)

Photo: Angela Owens

Who are you?

I am Abbas Muhammad.

Where is your homebase?

I currently live in Philadelphia but home will always be Suffolk County, Long Island.

Who are you currently playing with?

I currently play in Rule Them All. Prior to Rule Them All, I played in Burn.

What originally sparked your interest in drumming?

Oddly enough, I think the moment that sparked my initial interest in playing drums was watching an Aaron Carter performance on Nickelodeon at some point during 1st or 2nd grade. I am not sure who his live drummer was at the time but I distinctly remember him playing this absolutely gorgeous DW drum kit with a black mirra finish. From that point on, I knew I wanted a drum set, which I ended up receiving during the fall of 2002.

Young Abbas

Did you ever take lessons?

I took lessons for approximately two years in middle school from a Long Island drummer named Adam Schoenfeld who played in a band called Wired. Though I haven’t heard from him in years, he was crucial in helping me develop my style by exposing me to latin and jazz fusion drumming as well as preparing me for local drum-offs. Later on, I received a few lessons from Billy Rymer (The Dillinger Escape Plan) and Durijah Lang (Glassjaw, Burn).

Who were some of your earliest influences?

Heavy metal was what initially got me excited on music in general so from the time I got my first drum kit up until the end of middle school, I remember just being obsessed with my double-kick pedal and trying to emulate Joey Jordison (Slipknot), Vinnie Paul (Pantera), and Neil Peart (Rush). However, right around the summer leading into my freshman year of high school, I discovered drummers such as Zach Hill (Hella, Death Grips) and Thomas Pridgen (The Mars Volta) and was blown away by the way they could play with just a single kick pedal. From that moment onward, I started using only a single kick pedal and haven’t looked back.

Who are some of your favorite drummers to watch live?

With respect to drummers in hardcore, Brian Rutter (King Nine) has impeccable feel and I definitely try to channel his sense of groove and overall style of playing when I write parts for my own bands. I have been watching Paul Klein (Manipulate, World Demise) for years now and am consistently floored by his playing. Shawn Costa (Fiddlehead, Have Heart) is an animal who I think doesn’t get enough credit. However, my absolute favorites to watch are easily Jon Gusman (Rule Them All, T.O.S.) and Taykwuan Jackson (Sworn Enemy). These two have been my friends since middle school and both have come such a long way and I could not be more proud of them as players and people. I can confidently say that I would not be the drummer I am without having Jon and Taykwuan to bounce ideas off of. 

Outside of hardcore, I have become a huge fan of Nate Smith. I went to see him play a free show at the New School back in 2017 and have made it a point to go out and see him play whenever his band Kinfolk is in my neck of the woods. I also try my best to go see David King (The Bad Plus) and Mark Guiliana whenever they roll into town.

Who are some of your favorite left-handed drummers?

My favorite drummer that plays an inverted lefty setup like I do is my friend Anthony Corallo (Sheer Terror). If you count drummers that play a righty setup open-handed, you can add Sammy Siegler (Youth of Today, Rival Schools, CIV) and Durijah Lang to that list.  

Did you ever mess around with playing right handed/open handed or have you always played a full-on left handed drum set?

When I first started playing drums, I was able to play both right and left-handed set ups but it quickly became apparent that I was far more comfortable playing an inverted lefty set up. When I took lessons with Adam, there would be times where I would play a righty set up just for fun but aside from that, I have pretty much always played on a left handed drum set. I think I could still play open handed righty if I devoted the time to fully reacquainting my right foot with the kick drum though.

Photo: Richie Tuffini

What was your recording process like recording the Burn record with Kurt Ballou?

In terms of writing drum parts for Do or Die, it was largely effortless because Gavin’s drum programming abilities may exceed his guitar playing skills, which made it easy for me to channel his ideas behind the kit. Recording Do or Die with Kurt was crazy mostly because on top of preparing to go into the studio with him, I was also in the middle of my final semester of college (I had skipped an entire week of school to record the album). I actually made a terrible first impression because I forgot to respond to one of his emails regarding buying new heads for recording, so Gavin and Tyler went out and sorted that out for me while I wrapped up one of my midterm assignments from the control room of God City (Sorry, Kurt).

However, I had the time of my life recording that album because not only did I have the insane opportunity to work with someone as consummate as Kurt, but I also had the luxury of taking as much time as I needed to make sure my parts sounded exactly as I had envisioned them. Recording Do or Die with Kurt was easily the most enjoyable experience I have ever had recording music.

It’s been over two years since you’ve uploaded any drum playing videos to youTube. What gives?

Life and shifting priorities, mostly. Recording drum covers is definitely a lot of fun but it is a huge investment in time and energy and as I have gotten older, I have come to realize that I am much more interested in playing music I have an emotional connection to rather than writing the coolest drum part out there. As of late, I have immersed myself in becoming a better guitar and bass player in addition to learning how to sing. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have any interest in recording more drum covers in the future so never say never.

In those videos I noticed you went all out, mic’d your drums, etc. Do you have experience with audio engineering?

I have absolutely no experience with audio engineering. That was all the handiwork of my friend Taykwuan Jackson. Thank you, Taykwuan.

Tell me about your current drum kit and set up.

I currently use a Mapex Meridian Birch kit with the kick drum swapped out for a PDP Mx Series since the lugs on the Mapex kick drum are currently stripped. I have a 10”, 12”, 16”, 22” set up with my 10” tom placed to the right of my snare drum. I also use a DW Collector Series nickel over brass 6.5x14 snare drum. For cymbals, I use Zildjian A Customs with a Sweet Ride and an EFX crash cymbal.

What is your favorite Jawbox album, and why?

Jawbox is one of my favorite bands of all time and I love all of their albums for different reasons but I have to go with For Your Own Special Sweetheart due to the initial impact that album had on me. For years, the Dillinger Escape Plan was one of my favorite bands and a big reason for that was because of both Chris Pennie’s playing and just how chaotic and off-kilter the band’s sound was. After a while, the novelty of DEP’s approach wore off for me and I had come across Jawbox after doing a deep dive on DC bands since I had been accepted to and attended college in DC for a year. From the first chord on "FF=66" onwards, not only was I taken aback but I realized that it was possible to be musically technical and tasteful at the same time.

Zach Barocas’ drumming on that album is completely inseparable from the songs and completely changed the way I approached playing drums. Even beyond that, the guitar interplay between J. and Bill combined with the sheer force of Kim’s bass parts lead me to change the things I listen for in music. Simply put, For Your Own Special Sweetheart is a bulletproof album and has had a lasting impact on the way I approach both drumming and music as a whole.

Are you very particular about the drumstick brand and type you use, or do you use whatever?

I got put on to the Pro-Mark Select Balance series (5B, Rebound specifically) a few years ago and haven’t turned back. In my opinion, the perfect drum sticks.

If you didn’t have to worry about money, what kind of drum set and cymbals would you use?

If I didn’t have to worry about money, I think I would want either a vintage Slingerland/Ludwig kit or a C&C Player Date. I am a big fan of Chris Metcalf (The Life and Times/Season to Risk) and have always loved the boominess of his combination Slingerland/Ludwig kit combined with the way he cranks his snare drum. I would also really want a Ludwig Black Beauty 6.5x14 snare drum. As far as cymbals go, I would get Meinl Byzance cymbals.

Recommend to the readers some albums that you think have incredible drumming on them.

Channels, Waiting for the Next End of the World
This band has J. from Jawbox and his wife Janet on bass and Darren Zentek on drums. I first became familiar with Darren’s playing through Kerosene 454 and have always admired his fluidity and inventiveness as a player. I wanted to include one of the many Kerosene 454 recordings but I’m going to go with this because this has been on repeat as of late and the bridge in “The Licensee” gives me goosebumps whenever I listen to it.

Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Inner Mounting Flame
This was my introduction to Billy Cobham in high school and this album speaks to just how ahead of his time he was. To think he was playing like this back in 1971 is still mind-boggling to me. If I was going to work on another drum cover in the future, I would really like to tackle “Vital Transformation."

Helmet, Meantime
This is an album that the more I listen to it, the more I think that John Stanier is a genius. Every kick drum and snare hit on this album is perfectly placed and John’s playing on this album is a perfect example of letting one’s style shine while serving the song.

Top five things that can make your day?

  1. Any chance I get to see my dog Baxter
  2. Having monitors and a competent sound engineer
  3. Receiving genuine kindness and warmth from others
  4. Eating pizza from Saverio’s in Massapequa
  5. Hanging with my boys in Rule Them All
Photo: Jorg Kandaziora

What do you have coming up in the near future?

Rule Them All is recording for our next release very soon and we have a bunch of awesome shows coming up. I have also been working on songs of my own that I hope to have out soon.


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Tagged: burn, cutting steak, rule them all