Mike Moore

SPD-SX, V-Drums, and Roland Keys On Tour with Kid Cudi

Mike Moore

Baltimore native Mike Moore is a highly versatile musician, equally proficient at both drums and keyboards. He grew up playing in church with his father, the gospel artist James Moore, and got his big break by winning on the final season of Diddy’s competition show Making the Band. This exposure led to touring spots with a number of popular artists, including Ciara, Ledisi, and Theophilus London. For the last four years, his main gig has been playing both drums and keys on the road for rap and hip-hop artist Kid Cudi.

As a drummer, Mike has fully embraced the benefits of electronic percussion, creating a setup that seamlessly blends Roland’s SPD-SX Sampling Pad and V-Drums pads along with traditional acoustic drums. He also keeps a Fantom-G7 synth by his drum rig for playing keyboard parts and sequences. Not long ago, we had the opportunity to talk with Mike about his hybrid setup and how it benefits the modern artists he works with.

How did the hybrid drum kit you’re currently using evolve?

It started after getting hired by Kid Cudi. He wanted to do something different. He didn’t want the drum kit to look like an average drum kit. On the first tour, we decided to [use] electronic kicks and snares. We started out with a V-Drums kick and snare, timpani, a gong drum, two floor toms, and one cymbal. That was the kit.

So he didn’t like the look of an acoustic kit?

Yeah. He didn’t like the look at first. He didn’t know that he could play his own sounds [via the SPD-SX]. [Laughs.] When we [started using sounds from his records], it was like a game changer for him.

At first, what sounds were you triggering from the V-Drums kick and snare pads?

I was triggering the sounds from the SPD-SX. At that point, I wasn’t sampling sounds; I was using the stock sounds. I was doing stock kick drums, stock snares, and just tweaking them and adding some filters and stuff.

From that setup, it evolved. [Cudi] started listening to the things he liked. We added more live acoustic tom drums, so I could be more tribal. I told him, “You know, there’s a way we can sample your snares on your record, and we can sample the kicks and whatever effects.” And he was like, “Are you serious?” After that, I added more pads, and added an extra SPD-SX. I had two SPDs at that point.

So you have two SPD-SXs, a kick trigger, a snare trigger, and two tom triggers in your current setup with Kid Cudi?
Mike Moore

Yeah. In addition to a Moog keyboard and the Fantom-G7.

How did you get the sounds from his record to the SPD-SX?

A good friend of mine is a drum tech; he works for Mary J. Blige. He told me about the SPD-SX Wave Manager. He showed it to me and I was blown away. I would go to the Pro Tools guy, and I’d say, “I need that snare for ‘Up Up & Away.’” So he’d get the snare off the session. We’d go about three or four songs at a time, and he’d put them on a thumb drive in WAV format.

On my computer, I downloaded SPD-SX Wave Manager. It’s just so user-friendly. You just dump it in SPD-SX Wave Manager, and you’re right there. It was like heaven after that. It made it easy, because I’m using a [rented] SPD-SX most places; I’m not using my own gear. At sound check, I’d just pull out my laptop, load up, and I’m good.

Do keep everything backed up on your laptop when you’re on the road?

Yeah. And I have four thumb drives with all the same sounds.

How would you categorize the show style-wise? What’s happening musically?

Kid Cudi’s show is like taking a trip through weirdo-land. It starts off real tribal, super electronic, but vibe-y. Real cool vibes, it feels really good. It’s heavy 808, [and] a lot of the snares are deep and detuned. We go from tribal to straight party mode. Straight EDM—by the end of the show, we’re there. [Sings heavy dance beat.] It’s a trip. His show is one of the best shows out, because you get to experience different feels. It’s real high energy, extremely fun.

Are there any advantages to being mostly electronic when it comes to set up and sound check and things like that?
Mike Moore

Absolutely. We added a live kick drum to the newest setup, but before, when I was using just the [electronic] kick, it was kind of amazing. Whoever’s doing the front-of-house sound, they typically save the sounds on a card. So we’d go to cities, and literally my guy would say, “Give me your kick.” And I’d hit it like four times, and he’d say, “Okay. We’re cool.” You don’t have to go through the hassle of tuning, you never have to worry about your levels because it’s the same. Sound-wise, they have the settings saved. They just want to hear how it will sound in different rooms. So the switch was like the best ever. [Laughs.]

What other artists are you currently playing with?

I play keys with Ledisi, an R&B/neo-soul artist. I [also] do programming for her live show, as far as Pro Tools and keyboard arrangements for the band. I’m also with an artist named Theophilus London; he’s like neo-soul/rap/rock/EDM…I can’t think of all the categories to put him in. I’ve been with him going about two years. I’ve also done past work with Ciara; I played with keys with her. I have a weird range of artists, because some of them I play keys with, and some of them I play drums with.

Are you using electronics with those other artists?

Yes. With Theophilus, I’m using more acoustic drums, but I’m still using a keyboard and the SPD-SX. But with his new stuff coming up, it’s way more electronic, so I’ll be doing a completely different rig. This is going to be next level; this is going to top the Cudi kit.

Do you find that more EDM elements are coming into the styles you play?

Yes. It’s amazing how it’s going down. The change in music is so EDM-oriented. Even artists that had no EDM background, they have remixes. The Kid Cudi song “Pursuit of Happiness,” it was a big record. They did an EDM remix that was at the end of the movie Project X. That’s how we close out our show. When I started with him—I’ve been with him four years now—we never did any EDM. Now that’s the end of the show.

In the EDM genre, what kinds of sounds are you playing mostly?

I’m doing the 909 kicks, some 808 kicks, and I tweak the low frequencies so they fit the song. Hand claps, 909 snare, 808 snare, and I have a couple of sounds that we sampled from [Cudi’s] stuff. But it’s funny; even with sampling his sounds, I still use stock Roland EDM sounds, and it fits perfect. It’s amazing.

When you tweak sounds in the SPD-SX, what parameters are you changing?

I adjust the reverb with the claps, and the filters with the kick drums and snares. A lot of reverb stuff.

Just getting the right space around the sound?

Absolutely. And the sensitivity—that’s a big thing with the kick drum. The snare and kick have two totally different sensitivities. So I’ve got to go in and really figure it out.

Do have to change your playing style when going between acoustic and electronic drums?

It’s definitely a difference in the way that you approach your playing. On the EDM version of “Pursuit of Happiness,” the whole time I’m playing a constant four on the kick on the SPD, and I’m playing claps two and four. Then I add fills with my right hand on the acoustic toms, never stopping that pattern. You have to think like a DJ. You’re like a human [sequencer]. Because if you ever stop that groove to do whatever, you’re going to kill the momentum. You’ve got to reprogram your mind to sound cool, but still keep the intensity and the vibe there.

Combining that consistent dance feel with a human groove is a real art.

A friend told that if you can make them dance and they still think you’re a cool drummer, you’re pretty awesome. [Laughs.] You never know people to be like, “I went to this concert and we were dancing, but then the drummer was soloing and we were still dancing with his solo.” You never hear that. I’m trying to break that. I want to keep you dancing. [Laughs.]

Is there any other Roland gear that you’re thinking of adding to your rig?

I’m looking into going into the SYSTEM-1. I’m just looking forward to the future things that Roland keeps putting out. They keep on making things that make it easy for the job. The equipment is always very user-friendly, and the sounds are awesome.