Steven Spence of Black Tide

Miami-based Black Tide has taken the metal world by storm with appearances at the Ozzfest, Mayhem, and Uproar festivals.

By Fernando Perdomo

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A Yamaha PSR-E313 propped on a Musser music stand is always within reach for Steven Spence. In the studio, he also composes on a
Motif and a Kawai acoustic grand.

Keyboard Roots of a Metal Drummer

Miami-based Black Tide has taken the metal world by storm with appearances at the Ozzfest, Mayhem, and Uproar festivals. With two albums on Interscope Records—2008’s Light From Above and the forthcoming Post Mortem due August 23—their music is as melodic as it is intense, and one can’t help but notice how mature Black Tide sounds for a group whose members’ average age is 20. A large part of this is owed to drummer Steven Spence, who has developed an unorthodox technique of playing drums and keyboards simultaneously—it’s quite the sight to see him drumming one-handed while coaxing neo-classical motifs from the Yamaha keyboard to the left of his kit.

What came first for you—drums or piano?

I started on guitar, but I always had a piano in the house, which I taught myself how to play by ear. My uncle, Martin Batista, played keys for the Wailers, so it’s in my blood to play keyboards. Though drums are now my main instrument, they came last.

How has drumming influenced your keyboard playing and vice versa?

Knowing the keyboard has helped me make my own music in [Apple] Logic, and I find myself applying rudiments of drumming to piano and guitar. I find that people can tell I’m a drummer by the way I write and play guitar and keys.

Where can we hear you playing keys on Black Tide’s records?

I played keys on “Into the Sky” from Post Mortem, and we did a version with me on piano as the main instrument, but it lost some vibe and we added more instrumentation. The piano is still there but it’s low in the mix. On the first record, I played piano on “Light from Above,” a song on which I play drums and keys simultaneously live. I play that part live with the drums out of necessity. I tried it in rehearsal, started substituting limbs for limbs, and it’s become a cool part of the show. I love stretching my limits.

What’s the story behind the piano improv on your YouTube page?

That was me warming up to cut “Light From Above” in the studio, and it was a spur-of-the-moment thing. My uncle is a classical player, but I don’t really consider myself at that level, so it’s totally my interpretation of classical.

Explain your keyboard rig.

Whatever the hell is around, I’ll play it! [Laughs.] For a while I was using a crappy little keyboard live that my tour manager bought on Craigslist for $30. It had light-up keys, which looked cool onstage. We ended up smashing it because at a sold-out show at Alexandra Palace [in London] opening for Bullet For My Valentine, I somehow triggered the demo song, and “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion started playing louder than anything else through the P.A. We smashed it into little pieces. Now I have a Yamaha PSR-E313, which sounds great.

*Steven Spence's piano improv.

*Video: Drumming and playing keys at the same time.