Dallas' Bryan Fajardo May Be the World's Best Grindcore Drummer
Perfectionism, particularly in a musician, is most often viewed as a liability. Rather than focusing on the life-affirming qualities inherent in the struggle for perfection, many attribute negative personal characteristics -- difficult, hardheaded, intractable -- towards those with a desire for self-improvement. But there exists a rare breed that uses this inexhaustible drive for growth in a collaborative, positive way.
Drummer and Dallas resident Bryan Fajardo has spent almost 20 years on this single-minded path, learning from and teaching others on his journey towards true musical enlightenment. His expertise is in grindcore, a metal subgenre that melds the intensity of death metal, punk and thrash into a maelstrom of flurrying notes.
In a genre categorized by its reliance on a rigid, rapid-fire drumbeat called a blastbeat, Fajardo has managed to be one of only a handful of drummers to put his stamp on the genre, infusing fluidity and grace into the jackhammer-like rhythms. His playing has brought him to Europe, Japan and all over North America, along with a rare level of name recognition in a music style that tends to spotlight the group rather than the individual.
Drawn to extreme metal in the 4th grade by fellow student (and future Noisear bandmate) Thomas Romero, Fajardo picked up the drums and began to frequent local metal shows in his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. But his true musical epiphany didn't occur until a chance encounter a few years later.
"One day, my brother randomly saw [future Noisear bandmates Joe Tapia and Alex Lucero] walking down the street," Fajarado recalls. "He recognized them and said, 'Do you guys want to go see my brother's band play?' And my brother got them to follow him to go see us practice. That was a golden moment. Those guys were in their mid-20s and knew all the shit you needed to know about to get into grindcore."
Through Tapia and Lucero's combined influence, Fajardo soon became immersed in the genre and began the hard work of honing his craft. With Noisear, which he helped found in 1996, Fajardo undertook a constant schedule of touring and recording, carefully studying other like-minded drummers as inspiration towards his own musical growth. "It just pushes me harder as a drummer when I see someone else doing something I know I can't do," Fajardo says. "Not as competition; it's pure learning."
Noisear's fretboard-jumping riffs and manic song structures gave Fajardo the license to fully push his imagination with his instrument. And push he did. During the band's formative years, he established a staggering work ethic that remains intact to this day. "There's a point where your natural talent stops and you actually have to work for anything else you want to do," he stresses. "Learning how to practice [is key]. And I'm still learning how to practice."
Fajardo relocated from Albuquerque to Dallas in 2005 for family reasons, and a short time later he was contacted by prominent Dallas-based grinders Kill the Client to take over drum duties. This wouldn't be the last set of Dallas musicians he played with, eventually collaborating with several local acts while also recording and touring with bands spread across the U.S., a result owed both to the bustling nature of his new home city and his own inexhaustible desire to push himself.
Fajardo has only gotten busier with his music in the intervening years, traveling farther and wider for his bands. In 2006 he was contacted by Jon Chang, former vocalist of venerable grindcore band Discordance Axis, about playing with his new group, GridLink. With members living all over the U.S. and Japan, this wasn't an easy proposition. Coupled with a catalog of songs that exhibited Fajardo's fastest, most technical work to date (in a career riddled with displays of speed and finesse), GridLink was no cakewalk.
"GridLink was an extremely challenging band to create and play in," concedes Chang. "I think it challenged Bryan to hone his technique as a matter of necessity and forced him to invent in a very short period of time within extremely rigid constraints under a lot of stress."
But, despite the incredible music he was making with GridLink, what kept Fajardo engaged in the band was the musical and personal bond he forged with the band's guitarist, Takafumi Matsubara. "That's the main reason why I kept doing GridLink, the way he's so real with the music," Fajardo states. "He's oblivious to all the politics and bullshit of it. He just has his guitar, and the riffs he's writing are all from him."
Fajardo's appreciation for and connection with such a focused, single-minded musical craftsman as Matsubara reflects the drummer's disregard for the extraneous sideshows of being a musician: Endorsements, publicity campaigns, and internet tastemakers have no place in Fajardo's worldview.
"There are certain things out there that I think would be a huge distraction and not a part of what I want to do with music. It would be great to have endorsements and be able to have nice gear, but pushing someone else's product, marketing yourself, it's just the biggest turnoff," he explains. "I love my drums. That's it. That's what it all comes down to -- playing. It doesn't matter if it's five people or a huge venue: it's still me and my drums, just that relationship. I still look at it that way."
And, oddly enough, this focus on self-determination, this disinterest in putting himself ahead of his music, is what has brought Fajardo his success. Because he shuns the critics, naysayers and bullshitters, he's been able to realize a level of oneness with and control over his instrument that's extremely rare to achieve. Aggressive music and Zen-like concentration don't always go hand in hand, but Fajardo proves that the two can create a beautiful noise.