In February, the drummer Eric Slick got a text from his friend, the Philadelphia-based sound engineer Jon Low.
“Hey, do you want to play on some songs?” Low asked the Dr. Dog drummer and singer-songwriter.
Slick agreed, and what followed was an intensely confidential remote recording process unlike anything the drummer had ever experienced: “I get the most private, secret disk image file that’s password protected with a song that’s also password protected,” he says. “I’ve never been involved in anything so top secret in my life.”
The mystery song was by Taylor Swift, who was remaking “You All Over Me,” a previously unreleased outtake from her 2008 album Fearless. The new version is part of Swift’s larger effort to re-record (and thus regain control over) of her previous albums.
But when Slick sat down to record his part in his Nashville home studio, he was unable to tell who he was playing drums for. “The song had vocals on it, but the vocals were muffled, so I had no idea what I was playing on,” he says. “The pitch was very low and kind of unrecognizable. To be honest with you, it sounded like Ween.”
Before the session, Slick had also heard from Aaron Dessner, who explained the vibe he and Low wanted for the track: “We’re just kind of going for old school Nashville,” Dessner had said. Slick, who grew up on progressive rock and free jazz, and first met Dessner at a Phillip Glass concert, admits that despite having recently moved to Nashville, his first reaction to this directive was, “I don’t really know what that means.”
Slick followed Dessner’s instruction to play along with the song’s drum machine track, but the process of coming up with a drum part without being able to hear the lyrics or melody was strange.
“I had to forge an emotional connection with a song that I knew nothing about,” he says. “I think drummers who are also songwriters tend to zero in on the vocals and the vocal rhythm and the cadence, and that’s what I’m usually playing along to, so I had to imagine what a vocal arc might sound like in the song and use my gut instincts of like, what do songs usually do? ‘Okay, here’s a crash there, because that’s what a song usually does.’”
Slick’s gentle roots drumming appears near the end of the song’s first chorus. “I’m always trying to come from a Jim Keltner or James Gadson mindset when I play on a pop song, because that’s the thing that I think I can bring to the table,” he says.
Asked if Slick’s appearance on “You All Over Me,” which also features Maren Morris, was a one-off, or if he worked on multiple Swift tracks, Slick explains that he’s signed a non-disclosure agreement and is “not allowed to say anything.”
He also admits that he more or less connected the dots when Low and Dessner approached him about working on a highly confidential project — the two, after all, had spent 2020 working on Swift’s albums, Folklore and Evermore. But Slick acknowledges he couldn’t be completely certain.
“It was one of those things where it was wishful thinking, but you never know,” says Slick. “I think there are a lot of people who are clamoring to work with Aaron and Jon, so it really could have been anything.” (When the song was released, Low sent Slick a joking text: “What if it was a Shawn Mendes song?”)
Slick remains thrilled, and a little amused, that a group of musicians who came of age in neo-classical New Music have wound up collaborating with a songwriter as popular as Swift. “[Aaron and I] are both coming form these very angular abstract worlds into playing very straightforward, very accessible pop music, which is cool,” he says. “The structures are not dissimilar, in a way.”
Would Slick like to see the Kronos Quartet appear on an upcoming Taylor Swift recording? “Oh,” he says, “that would be my fucking dream.”