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Interviews Local Spotlight

Catching Up With Niko Albanese (Lawbringer, Ice Howl, Crowtein)

If you’ve ever talked to any of Indy’s musicians, chances are you’ve heard the name “Niko Albanese.” Well respected among his peers, the prolific and multi-talented musician has worked on many local projects either as a drummer, producer, or engineer: bands like Ice Howl, Archarus, and Crowtein to name just a few. If that’s not enough, he’s also been tracking drums for musicians across the globe and acting as a hired gun for several well-known country artists including Clayton Anderson and Levi Riggs.

Niko has definitely kept himself busy since Clayton last talked to him about his solo project last year, so we thought now would be the perfect time to catch up to discuss his upcoming shows with Lawbringer, making the transition from metal to country, his new drum sample library, and more.

Niko Albanese Drums - Indy Metal VaultIndy Metal Vault: Hey man, thanks for doing this interview. Since you’re a pretty accomplished drummer and multi-instrumentalist, I’d like to start off by getting a little background info on yourself. What got you into playing music, and at what age did you start? Was it something that your family encouraged? Did you have any formal training?

Niko Albanese: My pleasure! I love IMV. You have a talented staff of inspired writers that do a great deal for Indianapolis music. I started playing drums when I was 17 as my friends decided to start a band. We bonded through listening to bands like Gojira, Children of Bodom, and Rage Against The Machine, so my initial inspiration was of heavy origin. My family has always encouraged me to do anything I found inspiring, so they immediately signed me up for lessons which lasted around two years. A couple of years ago, I decided to learn under Dave Dwinell. He transformed my playing and mentors me through my journey trying to make it to stadiums.

IMV: In the past couple of years, you’ve been acting as a hired gun for bands, filling in on shows and tours. It’s got to be a bit exhausting planning your weekends and having to travel so often. What’s the experience been like for you?

Niko: It’s been a blast! Leaving my steady job at Melody Music Shop was difficult, but ended up being the best choice of my life. It opened up my schedule to play as much as I wanted, despite it taking a while to land steady gigs. If there’s one thing I’m thankful for, it’s the mass amount of failure and extra work I had to put in to be noticed. Living in Bloomington, Jacobs School of Music HQ, I’m up “against” some amazing drummers. It was difficult to stand out until I started pushing my own brand of “making everything rock,” which seemed to be in short supply. This, of course, lost me some gigs but got me closer to what I wanted to do. I now have the bittersweet pleasure of not having enough time to take every opportunity thrown my way. It gets pretty hectic playing so many genres, but I’ve developed a learning method that seems to work well.

Niko Albanese Drums - Indy Metal VaultIMV: You’ve also done some stints with a few country acts, but I’m guessing country is not your genre of choice. Personally, I’ve always thought that if you enjoy playing music, then it really doesn’t matter what kind it is. Other than the music, was there anything different about the experience? I imagine you got the opportunity to play at a few new venues and probably met a lot of interesting people. Are there any stories that you can share with us?

Niko: As I stated before, rock/metal was my first love. You’re right, you should always play and listen to what you enjoy. While I may not seek out the music on the radio, I honestly love playing the genre and respect the songwriting. I entered the country scene a couple years ago and have since played/traveled with almost every big artist in the state (Clayton Anderson, Jake Dodds, Levi Riggs, Reece Phillips..etc). They’re exactly the same kind of weirdos that members of metal bands tend to be. There have been a lot of firsts, including playing to thousands of people, touring, and getting to play Wildhorse Saloon in Nashville, somewhere I never thought I’d play. There are a ton of stories I shouldn’t share on here. Ask me in person haha! 🙂

IMV: Has the exposure to country changed how you write or play music for other projects? Can we expect to hear a few train beats or shuffles on any metal releases?

Niko: My time in Country Music has done more for me as a player than any other genre has. It’s taught me how to hit and tune a drum for rock-solid consistency, larger than life resonance, and has greatly expanded my understanding of songwriting. I plan on pushing myself as a drummer in this style, as it’s always the most fun, but I am working on some new stuff in the metal genre. I don’t know about adding any train beats to it though!

Lawbringer - Evansville - Indy Metal VaultIMV: Your band Lawbringer is doing a couple of reunion shows next month. What made you guys decide to get together, and why now? Are there any plans to record new music or do more shows? Will you be selling new merch at these shows?

Niko: Yes! Very exciting. Billy and his wife had a daughter, and Todd and I got a bit too busy to keep it going on our own so we called it quits. As for new music and merch, you’ll just have to come to these shows to find out! We’ll be playing PG’s in Evansville on 11/16 and State Street Pub in Indianapolis on 11/17. Our friends in Conjurer, Thorr-Axe, Archarus, and Rat King will be joining us. The Indianapolis show will be a benefit for our friend and former bassist of Thorr-Axe, Jake “Cheffery” Cullison, in his battle with Non-Hodgekins Lymphoma. It’s going to be a special weekend and I’m extremely excited to get all the boys back together to rock out!

IMV: Lawbringer was your first band right? How did you guys get together? Just listening to the two albums you put out, I could tell that a lot of work went into this band. Your music was pretty technical and also ambitious. It’s certainly not something you could bang out in a garage or a basement in a week or two. What do you feel that your biggest accomplishment as a group was? 

Niko: I had been in many bands before Lawbringer, but I gained a quick interest in their music and was able to fill their drummer void quickly. The first album had their original drummer, Zach Hinkle, on it. I came in to finish out their Of Pure Energy and Light release run, and would go on to play on and record flesh-blood–stone. Todd Clark is an amazingly dedicated guitarist and songwriter. Up until that point, I hadn’t worked with anyone as put together like him. Todd has a stand out style that will never get old to me. He is the full package: absolutely crushing tone, consistent technique, and strong stage presence. On the other end of things, Billy has always had a monstrous tone and presence. When you listen to any of our records, you hear a constant low end complimented with an aggressive snarly mid-range. It has been a great experience to work with these two, and although I’ve “gone country,” I look forward to playing blast beats over Todd’s weird-ass riffs for as long as he’ll have me.

IMV: You’ve done production work for a lot of Indiana bands including Archarus and Ice Howl. Have you worked on anything recently that we may have heard of, or do you have anything coming up that you can tell us about?

Niko: My most recent full production was the new The Everyday Losers album. As for the future, I’m ecstatic to have been hired to record VOID KING’s upcoming album, which begins drum tracking on Saturday. The respect I have for every one of the Void King dudes is endless. They’ve created a massive sound and a strong following from pure hard work and passion. Seeing them travel to Europe last year was amazing. I can’t wait to hear what Derek’s drums are going to sound like, as he’s been a favorite of mine for quite some time. I’ve also had the pleasure of tracking a quick demo of Drude’s new material. Those three are incredible musicians as well. There are a couple of other exciting albums on the horizon, but unfortunately, I can’t go into detail yet! You’ll definitely hear about those soon.

Niko Albanese - Drum Sample Library - Indy Metal VaultIMV: You’ve also been tracking drums for bands around the world.  How did you get into that? What are a few projects that you’re proud to have worked on that we can check out?

Niko: Tracking drums has always been something I’ve greatly enjoyed, from the songwriting aspect to manipulating my drums to sound a certain way. Similar to one of my heroes: Brian May (Queen), I’m a firm believer in an instrument sounding exactly how you envision it to BEFORE entering the board. This process is extremely challenging and satisfying. I’ve learned so much about the instrument from this job. I take inspiration from drummers like Kenny Aronoff (Mellencamp…EVERYONE ELSE EVER), Aaron Sterling (John Mayer, Keith Urban..etc), and Rich Redmond (Jason Aldean, most of Nashville). When these guys aren’t on the road, they’re in studios or in their home studios recording drum tracks for people around the world. That’s what I want to do, and through hard work and incessant nagging, it’s slowly coming together. I’ve tracked drums for people in the States, Japan, Canada, England, and France. Some recent work includes Levi Riggs, Matt Gatewood, The Everyday Losers, Terminal XI, and some projects you’ll all soon hear about. Through all the years doing this, my most proud effort is still Lawbringer’s flesh-blood-stone.

IMV: Along those same lines, you’ve decided to release your own drum sample library for songwriters and studios to use. What can you tell us about it? How can people find it, and how much will it cost?

Niko: Yes! I have a large collection of drum stuff and figured it would be great to make samples of it. Of course, I aim to make a little cash, but I’m also pumped to use them in my mixes, as they sound great and sound like ME!!! It just released on Halloween and is $50. You get two whole kits, over 10 snares, and a bunch of cymbals. It is released in Slate Trigger (.tci), and Perfect Drums (.pdpi) formats with a custom Kontakt Library on the way. These drums are very dynamic and mold-able. I guarantee you will use these next to or in place of any of the programs you currently have. To purchase, email me at [email protected] and I’ll send immediately!

IMV: We interviewed you a while back about your solo project. I really dug the single “Sea of Trees” and was looking forward to hearing more. Are there any plans to revisit the project?

Niko: Yes, the album got lost in the craziness of my drumming aspirations. However, I have the entire album tracked into Pro Tools, so it’s a matter of finding time to track the rest of the instruments. I have a great bunch of musicians from around Indiana ready to help with that!

IMV: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is up to thirteen seasons, but there’s only one Crowtein album. Wtf?! When can we expect a follow-up from your Sunny-themed grind band?

Niko: Tucker just released a well-received Throne of Iron EP and has some other surprises coming up. Maybe we can throw that into the schedule! I definitely have some unreleased aggression and stupidity to offer up!

IMV: Thanks again for taking the time to chat. I’ll let you have the last word. Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?

Niko: ROCK ON. Hope to see everyone at the Lawbringer shows! If you’d like to hire me to play drums on your music, play live, teach, or are interested in my drum sample library, please send me a message at [email protected]

Thanks Bryan!

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