A drum, a beat and a hit record

OPRF alum scores No. 1 hit performing on Kanye West's new album

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A late night call might usually have some bad news on the other end. Not so for Matt Teitelman. His late night call came with a job offer — helping to lay percussion tracks on Kanye West's new release Yeezus.   

Released in June, the studio album—the sixth for West—debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts in the United States and United Kingdom. It's the first No. 1 album for Teitelman as well. In fact, Yeezus is his first major big label release.  

"We spent half the night getting the right beat sample, deciding on the right snare drum, base drum, even the tambourine. It was a very detailed process," said Teitelman, 27.  

A 2004 Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate, Teitelman also worked on Alicia Keys' Girl on Fire album and title track. The Oak Park native splits his time between studio session work and performing as a drummer and percussionist in several bands on Hoboken, N.J., where he currently lives. Along with being a session player, Teitelman is also a drum tech and assistant engineer. As a drum tech, he does such things as assembling and refurbishing drum sets used on recordings.

A trained drummer himself—beginning with the first drum set his parents got him—Teitelman didn't do any drumming on Kanye's album. A lot of studio work is done electronically now, Teitelman said. But that can also speed up the work process, he noted. After working all night on Yeezus with his collaborator and fellow drummer Dylan Wissing, the album was released just a week later.

"It was literally one week after that the CD's were on the shelf, which is the fastest turnaround I've seen," Teitelman said of the Gospel-inspired release.

But such speed is still rare, he added. He worked on Girl on Fire in May 2012 and the CD didn't hit stores until that November.

Teitelman works at Wissing's Triple Colossal Studios and is contracted by record companies for album projects. The work isn't as steady as people might think, he says. He got the 10 p.m. call from a producer at Def Jam Records to come in and "help out" on the album. That help lasted till 4 in the morning, Teitelman said, recalling the work it took to get the gospel sound producers wanted.

Teitelman is pretty much an "independent contractor" right now, but he says he really enjoys session work. He didn't work directly with Kanye or Keys, instead taking notes and direction from the producers.

Every sample done in the studio gets sent to the producer and other label executives, each signing off on the work. And sometimes, they don't.

"You can work on the track and it goes up the chain, but then you might get the call that they're not going to use it all," Teitelman said.

Session players still get paid for the work, Teitelman said, but they miss out on residuals from album sales and, probably most important, their album performance doesn't get heard by the public.

Session work is also always new, where you're learning and doing different things, Teitelman said. His background, though, is in jazz, and one of his bands, The Cobra Brothers, is a blues group.

As a kid, Teitelman wanted to play drums, but his parents thought that might be "a phase" and signed him up for piano lessons. But Teitelman persisted and his parents eventually bought him his first drum set.

He describes his family as musical. His dad, Andrew, works for the city of Chicago but also plays in a local band, The Replays. His sister Joan is a wedding planner but is also a member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. His mother, Nancy Lynn, is a fundraiser for the Chicago Public Library and is not a performer.   

Teitelman graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University and has performed in the U.S. and overseas. His inspiration to play drums came from his Oak Park teacher Don Skoog, who still teaches in the area.

"He drove me to practice and work at it," Teitelman said.

 At OPRF, Teitelman performed in the school's marching band. His favorite drummers are jazz artists Roy Haynes and Grady Tate, who also sings. Tate in particular, he says, has a style that's influenced him.

"A lot of drummers treat the instrument almost as if it's some kind of extreme sport and are into the exercise of it, playing louder, faster and stronger," Teitelman said. "But sometimes people miss that subtle touch. I try to embody that somewhat."

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Katie McGuire  

Posted: August 4th, 2013 9:35 PM

Correction- his teacher Don Skoog.


Posted: July 31st, 2013 1:56 PM

Great Story! Fantastic

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