Initially posted as a reddit comment.
Something that I learned recently (from a bass lesson video) is that when the bass/other instruments are doing something complex, then the drums should be simple. When the bass/other breaks down to something simpler, then the drums can step up their complexity.
I've heard iLL.Gates and others talk about something similar: Basically, there should be one major point of focus in the track at a given time. So don't go nuts with the drums while the leads are doing their thing well.
As for actually creating interesting rhythms, you can try:
- Poly-rhythms: try a cownbell/woodblock/other percussion on every 3rd or 5th 16th note. Reset after 1 or 2 or 4 bars for repetition.
- Use random snippets of interesting audio (people talking, anything dynamic) and loop them, and put them over a basic beat, and draw rhythms out of that.
- Use a midi controller, and then partially quantise. Even if you're shit, this will help to add a human touch (especially to the velocity), and can result in interesting mistakes, when you're off enough that the quantiser pulls a note in the wrong direction (try 32nd, 70-90% quantising). You can manually tweak the beats afterwards.
- BREAKBEAT, MOTHERFUCKER. Add some off-beat kicks and snares, and the odd triplet roll on the hats, and swing parts or all of the beat. Skip kicks on the 1 and 3 sometimes. If you do this, then your 4-to-the-floor sections will be WAY more interesting, and more punchy, because they're offering rhythmic relief.
- Randomly move notes off the beat a little bit. Make it wonky. See what happens. You can always change them again later.