BEFORE YOU BEGIN: It has come to my attention that WordPress inserts advertisements on their blogs that use the free subscription option. I want to make it clear that I have no control over what ads popup nor do I necessarily endorse what they are advertising. I can only invite you to scroll down past each one and enjoy the blog’s content.
Read Exclusive Interviews written for Drumhead, Modern Drummer and Off Beat: Troy Luccketta – Steve Goold – Daniel Glass – Garrett Goodwin – Steve Smith – Dan Needham – Kelly Keagy – Scott Pellegrom – Brandon Scott – Mike “Woody” Emerson – Ben Barter – Rich Redmond – Sean Fuller – Jason Hartless – Robert Sweet – Keio Stroud – Tommy Taylor – Frankie Banali – Bobby Z – Danny Seraphine – Dino Sex– David Abbruzzese – Marisa Testa (Next Up Robert Perkins)
I have been doing interviews here at Off Beat for several years now and they have garnered thousands of readers. In all that time I have not interviewed a single woman. Shame on me. Therefore it seems appropriate that I start off our new gender-equal blog with a very talented up-and-coming young woman who personifies the modern musician. Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, businesswoman and philanthropist are the terms used to describe our next interviewee Marisa Testa. I first became aware of Marisa after my friend Rich Redmond mentioned her in a five second video on his Instagram. In it Rich mentioned that she had just got the gig as Corey Feldman’s touring drummer. I was aware of the controversy surrounding Corey’s music so I thought it would be interesting to interview a member of his band, of course his drummer. What I got out of the interview was so much more than I expected. I was incredibly impressed with someone who was enormously talented, wise beyond her years and a great role-model for not only young drummers, but young girls looking to take on the world.
MA: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today Marisa. You are the first woman to be featured on Off Beat and you will not be the last. Our first question is the obvious one that we start every interview off with…what brought you to the drums?
MT: I come from a very musical family. I have a lot of relatives who are musicians. Two of my cousins are drummers, my dad is a guitarist, my great-grandparents on my Dad’s side were opera singers at Carnegie Hall, and my brother is a Broadway actor so he sings. My mom was also the AOR Promotion Coordinator at Atlantic Records, and VP of Promotion at Mayhem Records before I was born. I’ve always been around music. What specifically brought me to the drums, believe it or not, was the video game Rock Band. My parents got me that for Christmas and I became absolutely obsessed with it. I went from the Easy setting to Expert and beat all of the levels in a couple of weeks. I ended up playing it to the point that I broke the pads on it. My family and I were like “I think maybe it’s time for a step up.” I got an electronic kit and I played on that until I got a regular drum set.
MA: That’s a great story because I’ve always wondered how many kids decided to pick up real instruments after playing games like Guitar Hero. On one hand it can make learning an instrument seem easy but on the other hand it can make kids like yourself, want to play the real thing.
MT: I’ve heard a lot about guitarists switching over from Guitar Hero but not many coming from the drums. It’s interesting because with the drums you are playing the actual beats with every single hit. You are using four pads but other than that it’s the same. I’m excited to see if any other professional drummers will credit that game as their starting point.
MA: How did you transition over to real drums? When did you realize it was something you wanted to pursue?
MT: I had the electronic drum set and it also became an obsession right away. I was playing for hours and hours a day. But an electronic kit can only do so much. It did not have the real look and feel and after a while it started to break from how hard I was hitting them. I wanted badly to play a real drum set. After a year or two I transitioned over from the electronic to an acoustic. It’s been history ever since.
MA: Could you tell us a little about those first kits?
MT: I’m not sure about the model of the electronic kit but it was an Alesis. I want to say like a DM-5 electronic kit. It didn’t quite have the hi-hat mechanism on sync. That presented a challenge. After that I got a no-name acoustic drum kit. A cheap one. My cousin gave me some of his old cracked cymbals. I played on those for a while. The kit had come with a set of cymbals but they were so janky when you hit them they sounded like pie pans and felt like you were hitting tin foil. So that’s how I started out. I had a lot of support from my family when I was going through that whole transitional stage.
MA: What age were you when all of this was going on?
MT: I want to say that I was ten or eleven years-old.
MA: Did you start to take any lessons around that time or were you involved in any music programs at school?
MT: At first I was self-taught, using my ear. Eventually I started taking lessons on and off but I never really stuck with them. In school I wasn’t a part of any band class. I was quite a choir geek, and still am. I sang from third grade all the way up through my first year at college. I was never really involved in serious drum lessons of that nature for the most part growing up. I just played what I felt, by ear. I did go to the School of Rock for a while from age twelve to sixteen, and would also take lessons there on and off.
MA: Can you tell us about the School of Rock for those who may be unfamiliar with it?
MT: Sure. School of Rock is an after school program where you take lessons for a variety of instruments. You can sign up for a show that you perform in at the end of the season and you cover whatever band or genre they are focusing on for that season. You learn the music you are cast on and then you come in and rehearse with other kids. All of the bands perform in a 2-hour show. It was a great opportunity because the School of Rock I went to put on an even bigger show than usual afterwards. We played in a really big room in New York City for what they called the “Best of Season” show. Eventually it turned into a competition but that was when I was leaving the school. I learned so much from so many people. It was especially great for me because I got to play all different instruments, not just the drums. I got to sing, play guitar, bass and keyboards. It was an open environment where I could flourish as a young musician.
MA: Do you remember the songs that you played in the performance?
MT: My first show was a Black Sabbath show. I played “Heaven and Hell,” “Electric Funeral” and “Iron Man.” Those were the three songs that I learned for that season. I remember freaking out the night before. It’s interesting to look back on my learning abilities then and my abilities now and put it into perspective. I played three songs my first show which I worked on for two months. The last gig I did I had to learn twenty songs in four days.
MA: Fast forward to high school. After graduation you went on to attend the Musician’s Institute. Obviously you were becoming serious about pursuing a career in music. Tell us about that.
MT: Before I attended MI I went to a small college on the east coast in New York. It was a private college and I went there for a year to study Music Therapy. That is still a field that I am very passionate about. The director of that program passed away and the program started to lapse. It didn’t deliver on the promise of what it was supposed to be providing.
MA: Can you elaborate on Music Therapy and why you are passionate about it?
MT: “Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program”. In plain terms, Music Therapy is using music as a basis to help others accomplish a goal. For example, in a child with autism’s case, you could use music as a way to engage their communication and social skills. Hospice care is another use where a music therapist could come in to help someone come to terms with and find peace through music at the end of their life. There are people that work with premature infants, where music has been shown to help quicken their development. There are so many amazing uses for Music Therapy and music in general that people don’t even think about. I’ve noticed that more people have started to go into that field and I think there should be a lot more music therapists out there. I’m still passionate about it. With me performing and recording and writing music I feel more fulfilled when I can help people in my own way.
MA: What followed your time at that private college?
MT: After I went to that school for a year I was not sure where in my musical journey I wanted to be. Long story short, my family took a trip out to California to visit some family friends. I had only heard about Musicians Institute from people in passing. One of my favorite bands Avenged Sevenfold’s guitarist Synyster Gates went there. It was something I briefly considered in my college search, so I thought let’s just go look at it. I took a visit there one afternoon and I immediately fell in love with it. While I was there they were like “Hey do you want to audition?” I was like “Ummmm, ohhhh OK.” I went over to the local Guitar Center to buy a pair of sticks because I didn’t even bring any on the trip, and I came back later that afternoon. They heard me play for five minutes and then they interrupted me to say that I had been accepted. They told me that they would show me what the next steps were. It wasn’t really something that I had seriously thought about when I walked through the doors there. I had no plans to move across the country to pursue a music career but it all just worked out that way. Where one door closes another opens. I feel that I was very lucky. On top of that they offered me the Evans Drum Scholarship. I was so blessed from the beginning to have so much support from everyone at Musicians Institute.
MA: Do you remember what you played during that audition at MI that impressed them?
MT: They just had me in a room warming up. I think I was going to play a song by Sevendust. They didn’t even let me get to that point. Apparently they were so impressed with me warming up they offered me the opening. I was so surprised that I had been accepted that way.
MA: Wow that is amazing. You must of had one impressive warmup routine.
MT: Yeah I was in shock. I was like “You don’t need me to play anything?” and they said “Nope.”
MA: What was the curriculum like and what were the disciplines you were studying in the school?
MT: One of the great things about Musicians Institute is that they teach you anything and everything you need to know in order to be an independent, working musician. When you first start you are taking mostly drum classes. You learn drum technique, drum reading, drum performance while reading charts, drum maintenance, you take private drum lessons, live performance workshops where you get critiqued on your stage presence while playing with strangers who you’ve never rehearsed with before. That goes on for a four quarters, while you also take music theory and harmony and all of that. And then they work you into learning keyboards, how to record/produce using a DAW like protools, how to write your own music, and how to record drums. You also take business classes so you could walk into a corporate setting or just look at a contract and know what it is you are looking at or talking about. Within your last few quarters, you also are learning how to market yourself by building your own website, making your own business cards, and producing your own drum videos. That was something that I didn’t realize when I first walked through the door. I didn’t know that I was going to get a full crash course in how to do everything myself as opposed to just learning about different styles of drumming or just learning music theory. It was an amazing opportunity and I still hope to go back at some point and take other electives that they offer too.
MA: It sounds like they have a trade school approach where they are making well-rounded individuals who are multi-talented and self-sufficient.
MT: Exactly. The idea is that they want you to walk out of there with a good head on your shoulders. They want you to be able to protect yourself. They want you to walk into an audition and play and be able to walk into a job and deliver and perform. It’s not just about being a good musician, it’s about being a smart business woman or man. It’s about knowing how to brand yourself professionally.
MA: I understand that while you were doing all of this studying you were interning at Warner Brothers Records simultaneously. Can you tell us how you managed that?
MT: Yes. That was a great opportunity. How could I pass that opportunity up? At that point I was taking business classes and hearing different stories and scenarios in those classes so to be able to witness those applications first hand was something that taught me more than I was learning in a book. I got to work in these offices and see these computers firsthand where these professionals were conducting the business sides for these well-known artists tours, merchandise, radio airplay, etc. It was an amazing learning experience. Albeit I did not sleep much during this time. I was taking classes in the morning, doing the internship seven hours a day, and rehearsing with a band five to six days a week; All-the-while I was moving into a new apartment. It was a lot of work but it was one of the most beneficial points in my life. I learned a lot that summer.
MA: You mentioned that you were playing in a band. Was that outside of school?
MT: Yes, that was outside of MI. It was an electronic band that I was in at the time. We were setting up to go on a six week tour. So for that tour we were rehearsing for most of the week and it was about 15 miles south of MI. And then I had school and that internship going on before that tour started. The band was called “Lost in Los Angeles.” It was a 100% electronic band so I was playing to tracks with clicks while using trigger pads and samples. It was a totally different approach to drumming and performing for me. Up to that point I had been playing mostly rock and metal. That was a real turning point for me and my career. The challenge for me was keeping my excitement in check live so I could play in time with the click. It was a challenge for me to get my playing ready for live performances and to play something tastefully that works over a pre-recorded track. All of the people in that band were a lot older than me and had a lot more experience than me so I learned from them and was able to rise to the challenge. The guitarist was a Nashville guy that had moved to LA. The bass player had played with a lot of Brazilian jazz and pop bands. They taught me so much.
MA: Taking a step back, tell us about the bands you had been involved in up to that point.
MT: Before moving out to LA I was in a grunge band called “Color Blind.” That was my first experience writing songs and collaborating with other people. After I got to LA I was in a couple smaller bands playing shows in different genres but nothing steady. I also had an opportunity to play a 10 show holiday residency at the LA Zoo with former American Idol contestant and alternative pop artist, Jesaiah. After the electronic band and the LA Zoo residency was when I got the Corey Feldman gig.
MA: [interrupts] We’ll talk about that a little later…You had mentioned when you were at MI you were taught about promoting yourself. I am assuming that you developed your own branding and website after you graduated.
MT: Yes. I learned some things at Musicians Institute about Photoshop and web design. The singer of the electronic band that I was in was also a website designer and he helped me with developing my branding and my own logo. He helped me with how I wanted everything to look.
MA: What caught my attention on your website were the attention grabbing videos that you posted of you performing along to some songs. They look and sound great. How were they produced?
MT: When I first started out my brother recorded videos of me playing at live shows or at home. I shot some videos of me performing at School of Rock. That was before I moved out to LA. The great thing about MI is that they have certified studios that have professional engineers that can help you with recording yourself on audio or video. I started utilizing that capability to my advantage. I wish that I had done more videos but I would try to do them whenever I could. Whenever a spot was open you would just go in, usually at night, and you would play through a song a couple times, get it sent to you and then you would edit it yourself and post it to your liking. I tried to shoot different kinds of videos in different genres. I did a hard rock one, a grunge style one, a pop rock one and a hip-hop one too. It’s good as a musician to show as many niches that you can get into and play as possible.
MA: It says in your bio that you are quote: “A hybrid of Dave Grohl and John Bonham.” Who came up with that and how does it feel to be compared to those two?
MT: That’s something that I heard as I was growing as a drummer and still hear often. I can’t credit one specific person or another as I heard it or something close to it from numerous people. Of course it’s an honor for me, for my name, to be said in the same sentence as those two. Dave Grohl is a big influence of mine not only drumming wise, but also as a song writer and as a performer. I also love how he approaches drumming. He bashes the crap out of them. That’s something that I normally do and have always done. I even have a tattoo on my arm with some of his lyrics. It’s from “Best of You.” (Were you born to resist or be abused? I swear I’ll never give in. I refuse.) And then John Bonham, in my book, one of the most iconic drummers of all time. He bashed the crap out of them too and had the deepest pocket I’ve ever heard next to Morgan Rose from Sevendust. So it really is an honor for me to be associated with those two names.
MA: Talking about influences you are under the mentorship of our boy Richard (Redmond – coauthor of my book). Tell us about how that came about.
MT: Rich is an amazing human being. He is so successful and giving. I first met Rich at his drum camp in Los Angeles. I was lucky enough to be a part of that. I learned so much through that experience. I think I gained the most valuable real world information in that weekend. He crammed tons of clinics and Q&As in those three days- like how to be a professional and how to be effective at gigs and auditions. I still carry all of those lessons with me. Our relationship has continued. If I need to ask him a question he is always there. I actually met up with him last week for lunch to catch up. He’s one of my greatest connections. I’ve been so lucky since moving out to LA to have met so many well-known people in the business that are so supportive of up-and-comings. It’s interesting. In other areas of music there tends to be this unhealthy sense of competition. One of the things I love about the drum community is that everyone helps one another whether you are a beginner or an advanced player.
MA: The drum community is different from other communities. There is a sense of sharing and lifting each other up that you don’t see with other instruments. Drummers are there for one another regardless of age or stage. Drum hangs are the best.
MT: Something else that is cool about the drum industry is that drummers don’t mind giving away their little secrets. Take Rich for example, he brings in other top name drummers to his camp that he himself was mentored by to show you all kinds of licks to help improve your drumming. Because of his camp I was able to keep in touch with Kenny Aronoff who has become another mentor of mine. Everyone has no problem sharing what they know with other drummers. It makes us all better.
MA: Rich’s Drummer’s Weekends are very popular. The ones that takes place in Nashville sell out in no time. Guys like Liberty DeVitto and Troy Luccketta and Jim Riley come every year. I do all the printed materials and the roster keeps growing. Those guys enjoy it just as much as the campers do.
MT: Absolutely. I think the LA camp was a little different. He geared it more toward clinics most of the time. At the end we performed a big show where we played a couple songs each. I can’t say enough good things about it. If anyone ever has the chance to go it is worth every penny. It’s another highlight since I’ve moved to LA.
MA: Speaking of highlights. Let’s talk about what has to be the most hi-profile gig you have had, the Corey Feldman gig.
MT: Yes. It was definitely my first real professional job. I had been in contact with his MD (music director) at the time. We talked back and forth about me auditioning but at the time I was tied up with that electronic band and the Zoo residency so my schedule just didn’t work out. They got another drummer who apparently bailed out a week before their first show. They contacted me again and asked if I could please come and audition. They needed someone ideally in the next three days. I had wrapped up my commitment with the electronic band so I said sure. I auditioned and Corey texted me back an hour later saying the band loved what I had done and I had the job. They also wanted to know if I could learn twenty songs in four days. Every part of my being was sweating. That was an incredible challenge but somehow I managed to pull it off. That one show was great and the rest is history. They asked if I would join them to play the tour.
MA: Corey’s tour was controversial. It got a lot of critical reviews. People either loved it or hated it. How did it feel being a part of that?
MT: Well, like everything else it was a great opportunity. Up to that point I had never been involved in such a controversial thing. I think it got its controversy from their appearance on the TODAY show. When people came out to see the show, they were under the impression that it was going to be a shit show or surprisingly entertaining. From what I understand he had hired models to do the first TV appearance, but real musicians to do the tour so there was a big difference in the quality of music. We all worked very hard to give Corey’s fans the best show possible. We appreciated the opportunity and he appreciated our talents.
MA: I can tell. I saw a video of you online not just playing drums but also singing Alanis Morissette’s “Uninvited.” [Watch Here]
MT: Yes. Corey wanted each of us to stand out in what he called the “Angel Spotlight.” I wanted to do something else besides drums because I do drum but I also do other things such as singing. I decided to sing and play at the same time.
MA: That was really cool. Much more engaging than a cliché drum solo. How was it playing drums in that Angel outfit?
MT: It was definitely interesting and a bit difficult in the beginning. The dress and stockings made it tricky especially for a drummer sitting down. The halo kept falling off when I would head bang and the wings were held on by a backpack-like strap that would irritate my skin. After a while I got used to it and was just like “OK, let’s do this.” It’s like any other costume. Slipknot went on stage in their masks and jumpsuits and KISS went on stage in those crazy outfits. It just takes getting used to. Eventually I didn’t pay it any mind I just got up and did my job.
MA: While researching you for this interview I saw that Corey made some videos online in which you are playing the bongos. Are you still involved with him?
MT: Some days we would move into a mini acoustic set. I played shakers and bongos as well as sang. I think he has the project on hold so as of now I am not. You never know what may happen in the future. I currently have a few of my own projects going on that I am really excited about. It’s good to move forward.
MA: Can you tell us about those projects?
MT: Sure. I am in talks with a few local acts to play shows locally in LA. I’m also collaborating with some new people in hopes to get some of the music we write licensed to TV shows or commercials. This year I want to get some of my own solo music finished and recorded. That is very important to me. I’m working on some collaborations with fellow MI grad and colleague, guitarist Jimena Fosado. She also has a solo album coming out and she asked me to lay down some drum tracks on that so I am super excited. I received a phone call from female rock artist, Kaitlin Gold’s management saying they would like me to join her on her cross-country tour in April. That is currently in the works and is super exciting. I’ve also been auditioning for different pop artists. They have all been pretty recent so I haven’t heard back from them yet. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
MA: I noticed when you were on tour with Corey you were playing TAMA drums. Do you still play TAMA or do you play another brand? What gear are you using now?
MT: I use a lot of different gear at the moment. I’m at a point in my career that I’m enjoying playing and experimenting with different products. I’m not endorsed by anyone at the moment. I have a friend of mine named Tim Guilfoyle who I met while on tour that owns his own custom drum company called Queen City Drums. They are based out of Cincinnati, Ohio. He was so kind he built me my own custom snare drum and brought me to his shop so I could be involved in every step of the process from beginning to end. Tim showed me all the steps of what it takes to produce a snare drum. I really appreciate the workmanship that goes into building drums. It’s an art all in itself. One other thing I want to mention is that I always want to take the opportunity to give back to people that don’t have as many opportunities. For my birthday, Tim made 10 snare drums that are similar to mine. Every one that is sold he is giving a portion of that fund to charity for kids. I also spoke to him about donating a couple of the drums to schools in need. I was very lucky growing up to have been in a school district that offered top notch music programs. It’s so unfortunate that that opportunity seems to be dwindling away with budget problems.
MA: So what’s the scene like out on the west coast where you are living?
MT: I grew up in New York so this is a different world out here. There are so many opportunities that you don’t see on the east coast. For permanent gigs, New York is more into pit orchestras and Broadway while LA has opportunities everywhere. Studio musicians are in high demand. Auditions for professional gigs are everywhere too. You can even get work playing on movie soundtracks. There are also a lot of fill-in opportunities to get your feet wet.
MA: So as a drummer, what are your goals for the future?
MT: My goals? I love recording. I love writing. I love touring. I love performing on stage and sharing my love of music with other people. If an audience can watch me play in a group and forget about whatever stresses are going on in their life and just have a good time, then I’ve done my job. I want to grow as a performer. My dream gig would be to play for someone like Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Demi Lovato, or Lady Gaga. They all have a strong women-empowerment message. They are not afraid to talk about real issues that people of all colors and creeds go through on a daily basis.
MA: That sounds like women-empowerment is an important trait for you. Do you think there is a growing movement of strong women in music or is it still lacking?
MT: There is a 100% need for more strong women in every area of music. It is improving, but we have a long way to go. Since I was young I can remember being in a group of guys and I was either the only girl, or there was maybe one more besides me. I was talking to someone recently about this; You either have women who are flaunting their sexuality to bring in a more male demographic or you have women that go against that grain and have a more mixed demographic. I hope to see more of the latter who let their talents speak for themselves. My hope is to be a contributor to that movement.
Perhaps the biggest thrill of my drumming and writing career was interviewing the legendary Steve Smith. I was writing a piece for Drumhead magazine on the book that Steve wrote with Daniel Glass titled “The Roots of Rock Drumming.” Imagine Skyping with a man you had worshipped while growing up from the privacy of both of your homes. Steve could not have been nicer and more accommodating. Prior to the interview I showed Steve a handful of Vital Information cassettes proving how much of a fan I was. He laughed at the fact I still listened to cassettes. I also asked him how he felt about “Don’t Stop Believin’” being used in movies and TV shows. He smiled and simply said “royalties.”
For the next hour or so I conducted the interview and Steve discussed his thoughts on how he related to the drummers in his book. He said, “I grew up playing mainly jazz and big band music. Then I played fusion. When I was asked to join Journey it seemed like a big detour because I had never played with professional rock musicians, or even a singer for that matter…One thing about being a jazz drummer is that you are highly trained and you possess musical versatility. That means your technique is more advanced than what you would typically use in rock. Then it simply becomes a matter of concept. How do you use those jazz skills within the framework of rock music? That’s how you define a versatile drummer. They can bridge that gap.”
When it was over I was disappointed to end the conversation. When I completed the draft I sent it to Steve to identify any issues or errors. There were none. He gave me his approval in an email and that was a thrill in itself. One of the coolest benefits of writing for drum magazines or this blog is that you get to interview all kinds of drummers, many of them your heroes. I have yet for one to disappoint. Steve Smith was a Bucket List interview for sure and one I won’t forget. You can read the interview here. For more on Steve visit his website.
In recognition of Black History Month, here are some of the most influential African-American players who shaped the sound of jazz drumming: Baby Dodds, “Zutty” Singleton, Chick Webb, Papa Jo Jones, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Sonny Payne, Elvin Jones and Tony Williams. (others not pictured Big Sid Catlett, Kenny Clarke and Art Taylor)
Here are some videos (solos) featuring these amazing players:
- Baby Dodds: https://youtu.be/R6N-A3owHDk
- “Zutty” Singleton: https://youtu.be/KC7CX-ppfSk
- Chick Webb: https://youtu.be/VhSMV_Qkn_E
- Papa Jo Jones: https://youtu.be/W3QFNNk3tgI
- Max Roach: https://youtu.be/F_voXNIsobs
- Art Blakey: https://youtu.be/fQt2QMtDDiI
- Sonny Payne: https://youtu.be/izHspsSHXyg
- Elvin Jones: https://youtu.be/EZ0CzsiSlhg
- Tony Williams: https://youtu.be/RsCjeHWXiGY
The other day I was watching a video of Thomas Pridgen tearing it up on Drumeo when I began to think about how hard he hit the drums. Despite his punishing style Pridgen flowed seamlessly around the kit at the speed of sound as if it was nothing. This got me thinking. When we watch a drum video it’s so easy to forget that there is physical contact taking place between the stick and the drum. There is a strike and a rebound that takes place every time the drummer connects with the drumhead. There is, for lack of a better term, a “slam” that takes place. This puts a tremendous amount of stress on the drummer’s hands and wrist. If you think about it, continuous impact with the drums is an unnatural act. Hitting anything over-and-over has to lead to some kind of reaction. It’s Newton’s Third Law that says for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This reaction can be damaging. Sometimes it’s minimal. Sometimes it’s more. Sometimes it can cause traumatic injury. Repetitive trauma such as this can lead to painful repercussions. This is why warming up, using proper grip and technique is so important. It’s not just the big names who are hitting hard. We suffer from the same physical challenges that the “Thomas Pridgens” of the world do. Just not at a thousand miles an hour.
This past weekend the drumming world lost a giant when Ndugu Chancler passed away. Chancler was a Grammy-nominated artist who worked with some of the biggest names in the recording business to include Frank Sinatra, Lionel Richie, Kenny Rogers, Herbie Hancock and George Benson. I will remember Chancler’s brilliant drumming on the Michael Jackson hit “Billie Jean.” Not up to then, or since, has such a simple beat given a song such feeling. In straight 4/4 time Chancler drives the song in perfect synchronicity with the bass line. The rhythm section’s accompaniment is followed by a repetitive synth line with deep reverb added for effect. Jackson’s vocal rides perfectly atop all of the instruments. Throughout the song the drums become hypnotic: Bom-Bap- Bom-Bap-Bom-Bap-Bom-Bap…
The co-producer Quincy Jones is said to have told audio engineer Bruce Swedien to create a drum sound like no other one before. According to Swedien he constructed a drum platform and inserted a bass drum cover and a flat piece of wood between the snare and the hi-hat. In an interview he proclaimed that “There aren’t many pieces of music where you can hear the first three or four notes of the drums, and immediately tell what the piece of music is. That is the case with “Billie Jean”—and that I attribute to the song’s sonic personality.”
After Chancler recorded the song in the studio Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffett took over and performed the song live as Michael Jackson’s steady touring drummer. Although he added a little flavor Moffett never strayed from the original version recorded on the album Thriller. With the untimely death of Michael Jackson the only version of the song that remains is the studio version. Following his own death, “Billy Jean” will remain as an example of Chancler’s work and a testament to the sonic contribution he made on this unforgettable song.
If you’re in Pittsburgh you don’t want to miss this opportunity to see some intense music that will challenge your perception of time signatures like no other. Try 15/8. I’ll be interviewing my friend Eric Hood, the drummer from Hepcat Dilemma later this year. For now, allow his band to mathematically blow your mind.
I’ve posted about this subject before (Read Here) when I was selected to audition for the Mellon Jazz Festival in my hometown of Pittsburgh. One of the mentors was hometown hero Jeff “Tain” Watts. Although I had never heard him play I knew that Watts was the drummer for Brandon Marsalis. What I did not know was how much of a major force Watts was on the jazz drumming community and how much of an impact he had on the music. I just thought he was some popular drummer from Pittsburgh.
In fact it was a tragedy as I had the privilege of receiving lessons from the man who gave me a great deal of wisdom during the afternoon of the auditions. He listened intently as I soloed and gave me pointers on how to make it musical instead of just playing a bunch of unrelated fills. He looked on as I played one of the prepared pieces and helped me to read the chart more smoothly. He took the time to make me feel less nervous about the audition. I did my best and made it to the second round before I was eliminated. I will never forget how Watts told me to never stop practicing. I can recall that exact moment.
Years later I was reminded of Watts when he was mentioned on The Modern Drummer Podcast with Mike and Mike. It rejuvenated my interest in the one they call “Tain.” I went to Watt’s website which is a little difficult to navigate but has some nice biographical information. When I researched Watts I found that he held the distinction of being the only musician to appear on every Grammy Award-winning jazz record by both Wynton and Branford Marsalis. Everywhere I looked Watts is credited with revolutionizing jazz music and being one of the most consequential sidemen of the last 30 years.
The lesson here, learn a little about the mentors that come into your life and you may come to appreciate them for who they really are. I had no idea. Of course Watts is a fellow Steelers fan and is sitting beside a Terrible Towel on the cover of Branford Marsalis’s Braggtown album. Forget all that drumming stuff. That’s what makes him cool to me.
This Christmas Santa brought me a copy of Steve Jordan’s DVD “The Groove Is Here.” I’ve already watched it a few times and I’ll definitely watch it many more. William F. Miller, Editorial Director of Modern Drummer Magazine describes it as follows:
This is the first instructional program by drummer’s drummer and Grammy Award winner Steve Jordan, who offers a fascinating look into how and why he plays. Long awaited by drummers around the world, this DVD includes live performances by Bob Cranshaw, Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar, and Bernie “Dr. Woo” Worrell. It also features commentary from Jackson Browne, Leroy Clouden, Levon Helm, Keith Richards and the late Timothy White, Billboard editor-in-chief. One of the funkiest drummers of all time? Steve Jordan shows he’s all that and more on this excellent DVD, a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the legendary groove-maker.
Steve Jordan has become one of my favorite drummers in recent years. His command of the groove and authority over the pocket is second to none (Watch here). His resume is also extraordinary from his early days as the drummer on Saturday Night Live and the David Letterman Show to his more recent work as the touring drummer with John Mayer. This DVD is mostly made up of performances of Jordan playing with friends and viewers can get a real sense of how to play effective shuffles and backbeats.
Here is a sample of one of the solos on the DVD. As one of the commenters smartly says “What’s so interesting about Steve is that you can hear him playing some of the tightest, most controlled and technical grooves/licks, and then turn around and play the loosest, almost sloppy pocket without falling apart. Takes a hell of an ear and talent to do that.”
By watching how to lay down a solid groove and play with the pocket aspiring drummers are left with priceless knowledge that they can then pursue on their own. My recommendation, Get it!
Recently I accomplished the impossible when I managed to reconnect with my first drum instructor. I took lessons at a place called DRUMS in Crafton, a borough just outside of Pittsburgh, PA. It’s where I bought my first pair of sticks and where my parents bought my first drum kit. Three decades later it is gone but the memories remain. Feeling a bit nostalgic, I wanted to reach out to my teacher to show him how much of an influence he had on me after all these years. It was quite a feat finding someone that I hadn’t interacted with in over thirty years. However…
- My friend’s sister married a guy who used to work at the drum store where I used to take lessons. He remembered the employee’s names including the teachers that worked there. I was able to give him a first name and he provided the last.
- I went on Facebook and posted his name in an effort to see if anyone was familiar with it.
- My cousin did a name search and came up with a familiar band who he saw perform at a local venue.
- The band’s Facebook page had the name that we were searching for.
- I messaged the band and a member gave me the contact information for the drummer.
- I texted him and after a few days he texted back. We are now in touch.
- His name is Matt Kweder and he was the first drum instructor I ever had.
Now what are the chances that my friend’s sister, would marry a guy, who worked at the store, where my teacher taught, who played in a band, that my cousin saw, that led me to him? Wow. What a small world indeed. Matt did not disappoint and was just as gracious as I remember him. He was up for contributing anything to the blog so I took a few minutes to ask him a few questions.
MA: Matt, when I started taking lessons I recall how you immediately set me up. I had to purchase a heavy pair of sticks, almost marching size, and a copy of “Developing Dexterity for Snare Drum” by Mitchell Peters. We focused on the basic rudiments and reading. What were your immediate goals when I started?
MK: My immediate goal with any student is to form a great foundation. You most certainly don’t start building a house on the first floor. The first good wind that comes along is going to knock it over. Good knowledge of basic rudiments and quarter notes, eighth notes and sixteenth note patterns are the fundamentals of learning any instrument.
You probably thought the sticks were heavy back in those days because you were young but most of the time I start students off with a pair of 5B’s. By the way it’s been well over 30 years when I taught you. I also kept some records and I do believe you were Tuesdays at 5:30. I was a young man back then in my twenties, just married and raising a family. Now yesterday I turned 60! How fast the years go by.
MA: What made you select “Developing Dexterity for Snare Drum” as teaching material?
MK: Actually my go to starting book was “Fundamental Studies for Snare Drum” by Garwood Whaley. I used that book for developing dexterity as a supplement to try to get students to think that both hands were the same. Most people have a predominant strong hand when they play the drums. I always want students to try to get their left hemisphere of their brain to think the same as their right hemisphere. As far as rudiments, I always used a worksheet.
MA: OK, last question. What do you think of, looking back at me as a student (if you can look back that far)?
MK: I remember you as being a very energetic young man, very curious to learn, and always prepared for your lessons.
MA note: There were times that I struggled and Matt always found a way to work with me through it. I still use some of his teaching techniques today.
Check out Matt’s CDs at cdbaby under “Matthew Kweder”
Check out his band’s Facebook page at: @smokinsectionpgh
The Rear View Mirror. Looking back with David Abbruzzese
By Michael Aubrecht
In 1991 I remember a college friend tipping me off to a new album titled Ten by a band out of Seattle named Pearl Jam. I remember how odd that band name sounded but I checked it out and was impressed. The song “Why Go,” not one of their hits, stood out to me. Another song titled “Even Flow” also stood out. I listened to the CD a few times before returning it to my friend and I moved on.
A few months later I’m sitting in the bar I frequented having a beer when the song “Even Flow” came across the jukebox speakers. This version however was live and far more intense than what was on the album. The recording featured some amazing drumming that immediately caught my attention. Unlike the original recording this drummer was playing slick hi-hat accents throughout the piece along with some hard-driving fills. I thought I even heard a splash cymbal in there. The whole band came alive and the performance was very memorable. As a drummer I wondered what had happened between the first cut and this new take. I later learned that the difference was in the drummers. It wasn’t a drummer improving on what he had recorded in the studio. It was a whole new drummer expanding the drum parts and propelling the band forward.
Once again, I appreciated the performance but moved on. Fast forward a month or so in 1992…I’m watching one of my favorite shows, MTV Unplugged where bands like Nirvana and Arrested Development put on performances that were magic. This night Pearl Jam was playing. What immediately struck me was the drum kit sitting in the shadows on the left of the stage. Previous drummers, due to the acoustic setting, used brushes, hotrods, bongos or some stripped down form of percussion. This drummer had a full set-up. Once the music began I noticed that he appeared to be jamming, yet he did not overpower the other musicians around him. It was a master class in control and dynamics.
From then on I sought out the drummer, one David Abbruzzese, who quickly became a favorite. In fact, Dave’s playing influenced my own and I strived to perform with the same skill and intensity that he did. I requested that my band cover Pearl Jam and we decided on “Alive.” I continued to be inspired by Dave’s playing throughout the band’s next two albums (Vs. and Vitalogy) and was very disappointed when his relationship with the band ended. To be honest, that was when I stopped listening to Pearl Jam. As far as I knew Dave had dropped off the face of the earth following the break-up.
Fast forward once again to 2017…Who do I discover on Facebook but one David Abbruzzese. I immediately sent him a friend request and was incredibly thrilled when he accepted. I was a bit star-struck when we communicated online and elated when he agreed to do an interview for the blog. It’s a great pleasure when you get to interview someone who had such an influence on your past. I still smile when I hear that live version of “Even Flow” as it was my first introduction to the man. It still remains one of my favorite songs.
Dave still inspires me to this day and I’m not the only one. One visit to Dave’s Facebook page shows thousands of followers who routinely post hundreds of comments. Honestly, I have no idea how he keeps up with it. His attempt to do so is a testament to the personal attention he gives his fans. From admiring drummers to Pearl Jam devotees Dave does his best to reply to them all. That effort has furthered his fan’s affections for him. It has also furthered my admiration of him. Busy with his own projects as a drummer and producer Dave took some time out of his schedule to share his story from then to now. (*Dave’s interview was conducted over a period of months via Facebook Messenger.)
MA: Let’s start with the obvious question for our readers: What brought you to the drums?
DA: I have no idea. Drums and drumming have captivated me in many ways throughout my life. In my early years it was what came natural. My mother bought me a 45 rpm record player. It ran on batteries and when you closed the lid it would play. Two of the songs that I remember being fixated on were the Beatle’s “Day Tripper” and “Birthday.” Maybe it was because it was the easiest instrument to make at home, I dunno, but I was soon banging away on everything that made any sort of percussive sounds. My first set up was a few Encyclopedia Britannica volumes of varying thicknesses nailed to a bookshelf. Drums soon became my escape, my teacher, my master and my slave. I was lucky enough to grow up in the northeast. The tonight show was alive with the likes of Buddy Rich, and it was there that I first saw how the human body could manifest the sounds. I was blessed with a mind for visualization and I remember that I developed a very keen knack for being able to see myself playing the drum parts to every bit of music that I heard. My folks had a wide range of tastes for music. Grand Funk Railroad, Sam & Dave, Sly and the Family Stone, Carole King, The Carpenters. And then my older brother Frank turned me on to Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Traffic, Genesis, Kiss…. I was hooked on music. So blessed to have grown up during the R&B, British Invasion, Rock & Roll, Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Fusion years of music. Before the mid-80’s drum machine era.
MA: Who are the drummers who influenced you growing up?
DA: One of, if not the most often asked question of me from other drummers and interviewers alike is, “What drummers influenced you? Who inspired you? …Who did you idolize? …Who is your favorite, etc.” I have never liked that kind of questioning. I know that my answer could be easily spat out and we would continue with the Q&A. Bonham. That worked. Peart. Also fully acceptable. Fact is, there are so many drummers…so much music that influenced me. The soundtrack to my childhood that made me feel an unspeakable amount of emotion…made me identify these mysterious sensations within myself in such a universal way. I learned how to understand this beautiful language on my own through those countless other drummers and all that incredible music of my childhood. Back then we really had the chance to take it all in. Music was a very personal friend to me. It was food for so many of us. Before too long, I had things that I wanted to say out loud. My language of choice? Music. My chosen voice? Drumming.
I saw Triumph on their Allied Forces and their Never Surrender tours. Gil Moore. He defined the rock band drummer with his dynamic and musical approach to songs. I was at about mid court, stage left, second level at Triumph’s Never Surrender tour. It was at the newly opened (now torn down) Reunion Arena in Dallas, TX. Gil Moore was crushing it on a very large, drum set that had a mirror ball finish. Wow! At the end of the show, he and the band broke it down to a single bass drum stomping with the beat. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. Gil told the crowd that he wanted to see some hands in the air. Up they went! There was smoke and light that illuminated the scene of 12,000 people clapping and throwing their fist in the air to the beat. I literally said to myself, this is what I am going to do.
Next? Alex Van Halen. Bobby Chuinard (Billy Squire). Dave Holland (Judas Priest). Clive Burr (Iron Maiden). Niko McBain (Pat Travers). What a time to be a young drummer! I never missed Ted Nugent with drummer Cliff Davies during the loin cloth Cat Scratch Fever, Stranglehold, Derek St. Holmes days. Cliff was a real hero of mine. They all were crushing it. To every other drummer, I say thank you, too. We all influence one another in some way and I am proud to be a member of the coolest musical fraternity that exists: Drummers.
MA: Did you formally study the instrument through school band or private lessons?
DA: Yes and no. I went to school but my head was in the clouds for sure. I had already become aquatinted with the Mel Bay beginning snare method book, so school was basically just something that I had to do. My heroes were my father and every drummer I could possibly absorb. I just wanted to play music. I wanted to be an inspiration, as I was inspired. I wanted to provide others with the soundtrack of their life, as the soundtrack of my own was so important to me.
I was an awful student. Between the ages of 7-11 my family had moved from Connecticut to North Carolina to Texas. I think the timing of these moves allowed me to slip through the cracks of academia. I never ‘got it.’ I didn’t know how to learn with the book method. I knew how to daydream. I knew how to play baseball. My brothers, Frank and Alan, are both incredibly gifted at sports. Dad coached us. Mom cheered us on and patched us up. I think my drumming style comes directly from the blend of my love of powerful music and the healthy competitive nature instilled in me through sports. Somehow along the way, I did manage to learn to read music and I spent a few years playing stand-up bass in the school orchestra and drums and percussion in the school band. Playing tri-toms in the varsity Big Blue North Mesquite High School marching band was the first experience with the direct power of making a large crowd move. I quit school right after my freshman marching season ended, and joined a band.
MA: When did you decide that you wanted to pursue music full-time?
DA: Seeing Triumph on their Allied Forces Tour. They played Reunion Arena in Dallas, TX. Gil Moore had the entire crowd pumping their fists to his kick drum. After I experienced that, it was never a choice that I made. It was just the way life was. It was always about the music. Always.
MA: When you took over the drummer’s seat in Pearl Jam you put your own spin on the songs. How did you go about making them your own?
DA: I was co-hosting a radio station when I made that call to Eddie and Jeff that would be the deciding factor for me. I asked them what they wanted sonically and scientifically…a mirror image of what had been put together on the Ten record, or what? Jeff said to not worry about it, just come up and we will jam and see how it feels. So, I stopped forcing myself to learn Dave Krusen’s parts and just approached them as I would have if they were my own. I would try to stay true to the notion of what the songs were on the Ten record, but the guys were quick to allow me to do my thing. When we rerecorded the song “Evenflow” and it became the version that was released as the single, I knew that the band approved.
I mean the guys were looking for their new drummer, not a temporary stand in. Back then, Stone had a very strong sense of the musical direction and brought a prolific amount of ideas into the fold. He and I worked a lot together. We would spend a lot of time working on music together before the rest of the band would arrive. His guitar style was uncompromisingly original and very rhythmic. Almost percussive at times. After the initial week of getting to know what I brought to their style, it became clear to me that I was going to have a more stylistic influence upon the music. The songs we were creating as well as the approach I took to playing the songs off the Ten album straddled a fine line and I knew that ghosting notes on the snare and punctuating the rhythms with percussive elements such as splash and Chinese cymbals were going to allow for a more flamboyant style of drummer to fit in without ruining the melodic sensibilities of the Pearl Jam sound. As the band started growing on tour, this new style became apparent.
MA: You played some huge festival shows. Did this affect your playing in any way?
DA: Yes. Tremendously. We went from small clubs in Europe for the first European tour in ‘91 to suddenly exploding. Next trip back to Europe. Playing a few festivals. We had played good size venues with the Chili Peppers and Smashing Pumpkins, but none of that prepared me for the energy of 65,000 people and more! It was the most unforgettable achievement. I enjoyed the big shows very much. The band was firing on all cylinders back then and I was still young enough to allow the pain to motivate me.
MA: What are some of the most memorable festival experiences that you played at?
DA: Every time we were a part of a festival production, there was an air of magic to it. Lollapalooza 1992. Wow. What can I say? It was beautiful. Travelling around the country playing music and getting to enjoy the experience of such amazing bands, all in the zone. Every band pushed each other to produce epic performances. Pearl Jam signed on to do the tour before everything ‘broke’. We had an early afternoon slot. The second band to perform for roughly 35 minutes. It was the decision of the band to give everything that we had, every time we hit the stage. There were no lights other than daylight. The entire performance had to rely solely on our energy and performance intensity. I was always proud of the fact that we set the bar pretty damn high for the other bands. It was also really amazing that the entire audience was there for us when we took the stage.
The drummers on that tour were so generous. No ego trips. Bill Rieflin was with Ministry (now REM), Chad Smith, Matt Cameron…it was a bro hang every day. We all had permission to join one another and jam along. There was one gig where, during the Chili Pepper’s set, Chad blew out his kick pedal so I grabbed a stick and laid under his floor toms and played the bass drum part. Every couple of shows, I would slide under Bill and play with Ministry. While Bill would go stand next to their singer Al, and wait for him to notice. My favorite memories were with the crew members. Amazing professionals. The true heroes of a big rock and roll circus. The biggest festival for us was the Pink Pop Festival in 1992. Sharing the stage with David Byrne, Lou Reed, Soundgarden… It was the first time the success and power of the band really couldn’t be denied. Not even by us.
MA: How did you play with such intensity and energy night after night?
DA: It was just how it was. It is the way I feel about what I am doing. The experience warranted nothing less than all I had to give to it. I never gave less than I had because I believed in the band, the music, the reasons, all of it.
MA: Most drummers on MTV Unplugged used hotrods, brushes or bongos. You used a full-on kit yet didn’t over power the other musicians, how did you accomplish that?
DA: Dynamics, I think it’s called! The kit was set up differently. I played a great DW kit and I had Jimmy Shoaf set them up with Remo coated Emperor tops and Ambassador bottoms tuned a bit deeper than our standard tuning. I must confess to the fact that we had just arrived home from Europe. I hadn’t slept in 30 hours and I had a wicked sinus infection and head cold. The band began our unplugged set sometime after midnight. Add to that we didn’t have a real sound check. The monitors and audience were in the round and I was playing with only a very minimum of monitor sound. There were long stretches of that show that I played with no audible reference to what the other guys were playing at all. I think my style of playing was the result of me just enjoying an easy night of good music with confidence in myself and in my friends to do a good job. Also, it was the timing. We never relaxed and played our music. From the very start of joining the band, we had to prove it every time…bring it every night. We knew if we were going to be successful, it was up to us. The band hadn’t even signed a record deal yet! That’s still what eats at me about the band not standing up respectfully at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for how hard we worked and what we achieved before I was fired.
MA: Let’s get technical. You often used splash cymbals, which were not popular at the time, and set up your cymbals in a unique way. Why?
DA: Because that is the way my kit needed to be for me to do what I wanted. My cymbal setup changed throughout, partly due to the effects touring was taking on my body. Also due to the stylistic changes of the parts I was playing.
On the Ten tour I was using two 12 inch Chinas, three 19 inch AA crashes, 20 inch A Zildjian ride, Paiste 14 inch 2002 sound edge hats, two Sabian 8 inch AA splashes and a 21 inch AA crash. These were all atop my big fat late 70’s to early 80’s White finish ply Ludwigs. The sizes were 26, 15, 16, 18 with a 14 inch Pearl piccolo snare.
On our first tour in Europe I was using a back line kit from Yamaha. The sizes were 22,14,16,18. Then I hooked up with John Goode from DW in Frankfurt. He came out to one of our shows with a kit for me to check out. It was a satin pink, 20 inch kick with a 12, 14, 16 tom configuration. I had a gas. It was so tiny compared to my Ludwigs. After the show, the band’s sound engineer Brett Eliason came up to me and in no uncertain terms told me that that was the drum kit for me. Also that night I met Wayne Blanchard and Bill Zildjian from Sabian. I’ve gotta say, I was already a believer in the DW drums and Sabian cymbals sounds, but that night I met the guys from those companies and we became family. And I am honored to report we still are today.
When Vs. was made, I was setting my cymbals up for the parts I was writing. I chose more of a melodic setup. I varied my sizes and the tones became very important. The Vs. setup required cymbals ranging in sizes. I used 13 inch hi-hats AAX metal top/fusion bottom with rivets, 8 inch AAX, HH and AA splashes, 17 and 18 inch AAX stage crashes, 19 inch AA rock crash, AAX 20 inch china, 14 inch HH and AAX chinas, 20 inch AAX metal and AAX stage rides.
MA: You mentioned using a piccolo snare, also a rarity among rock drummers.
DA: I chose to make a Pearl free floating 14 inch piccolo snare as my main snare when we were touring medium sized clubs and small arenas. All too often the snare drum would just be an accident if it made it into the pa. I chose to make sure the guys in the band would hear my backbeat, and that the audience would hear my drags, and the subtle articulate ghost notes that I felt were vital to the movement of the groove. Once we moved into playing stadiums and large venues, festivals, etc. I could then find my voice in the music again. It was then that I then began using a 12 inch Brady snare. It provided me with a crushing crack with depth.
MA: I’ve always been curious. What did those rats on your bass drum mean?
DA: Those were Rat stickers from Rat Sound, the sound company that Pearl Jam used back then. Karry Rat was our monitor engineer and Dave Rat was the system designer and sound engineer for The Red Hot Chili Peppers. They were both amazing people who were responsible for amazing sounds. It was my way of praising the ‘Rats.’
MA: What songs that you played with Pearl Jam personify your playing?
DA: In every way, I would have to say they all do in that they represent my opinions of what the songs needed me to do as a drummer, to achieve the best version of what my thoughts as a musician, performer, listener and band mate beckoned of me. There are some notable, moments of self-realized pride in the compositional choices that I made. “Immortality” from the Vitalogy record still resonates as one of the most soulful and melodically expressive drum compositions that I have ever heard. The song “Tremor Christ” was essentially a reactive drum composition. Stone Gossard intro riff inspired a reaction that Eddie Vedder’s vocal approach sat perfectly upon, in my humble opinion. I also have a great deal of pride and a sense of accomplishment in the songs that I had no time or desire to overthink. The rockers, “Spin the Black Circle,” “Go,” “Animal,” etc. Hell, even my re-approach to the songs from the Ten album were approached in such a manner: drive the songs, myself, the band, the crowd, etc. I love my job!
MA: There is a lot of speculation on why you left Pearl Jam. What was the real reason?
DA: I left because Stone told me that they were looking for another drummer! Ha! It’s funny because it’s true. Truth be told, I still don’t know for sure why I was fired. I’d never been in that situation before. Looking back at it, as I did for years, it had me miffed. Then one day I came across footage of the band Candlebox with the drummer Dave Krusen playing with them live and a theory formed in my head. All personality questions aside, what I witnessed was just another drummer. No spark. No fire. No rock or roll. That was what they (Pearl Jam) had wanted as their drummer? Then I looked at how, in comparison to his other work, Matt Cameron’s approach with regards to his drumming is very tame and lackluster when he is playing with PJ. It made me realize that perhaps they never intended to be a hard-driven, powerful rock band. I drove that band as a rock drummer drives a rock band. Like Matt Cameron drove Soundgarden. Mind you, I am still guessing, yet this is the only excuse that I have found that makes my firing make sense.
Other excuses I have heard such as my cymbals, political views, gun ownership, or that I enjoyed the success more readily, etc. are all laughable to me. Actually, most of the facts surrounding how that powerful version of that band was destroyed is laughable to me at this point. I still think I am a little angry at the chicken-shit way it was handled twenty plus years ago. At least Stone was man enough to show me some respect and didn’t allow it to be handled by lawyers. I will always be grateful for the day we spent together when he told me I was out of the band. It was a very emotional effort that took a lot of strength on his part. He knew that it was going to destroy a part of me that he valued. It was the beginning of one of the most challenging experiences of my life, having to let go of what could have been and witness what all of that hard work was allowed to become.
MA: How did being fired from Pearl Jam affect you as a musician?
DA: That experience began a very challenging period of my life. Being “fired” from a band. Then to be discredited and disrespected and all but written out of the band’s history. The reason for that is a grudge that formed around my participation in an authorized book that was being written as I was fired. I participated in it and it really pissed some people off. I had no idea how far the shadow of profitability extended from the band.
That said, I was able to find myself again producing the Green Romance Orchestra albums. The GRO band released an album and with no mention of a tour, and very limited details on how we planned on supporting it. We still managed to get assistance to release the album on Emperor Norton records via the great Steve Pross, in association with my label Free Association Records. Initially, the support and reviews were very pleasing, almost accurate. Then we noticed that the big players just didn’t seem to get it. Rolling Stone wrote a review that was so bizarre, I still don’t think the reviewer had the right album! The record shipped over 20,000 units and Tower records awarded us a prime spot in their listening stations during the Christmas holiday season. That was huge for us. Then the record was released and not one was put out on the shelves. Regardless, I was so damn proud to have rediscovered my love for music that l just let it go and took it as it happened.
That’s where I would spend the next few years, lost in substance miss-use and lack of sunlight induced haze…and working my ass off! Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way putting any blame on the Pearl Jam guys for what happened to that record. Although they have done remarkably well at keeping a grasp on their surroundings, the big machine still has ways of functioning to protect their interests.
MA: You’ve worked with some great artists such as Stevie Salas. Tell us about those projects.
DA: I’ve worked with a lot of talented people. Eddie Kramer, Rodger Hodgson, Andy Johns, Waddy Wachtel, Carmine Rojas, Jeff Fielder, Perry Morgan and The HABMX band (Mike Dillon, Zac Baird J.J. Jungle, Jon Spiece). With Stevie, I played some of the most powerhouse drumming I ever have. I am very proud of all of the work I did with and for Stevie Salas. The “Alternative” record was written and recorded so quickly. We had a three piece and we just laid it down. We had Melvin Brannon on bass. He is a monster. Throughout the various projects with Stevie, I played with Rick the bass player. Stevie also introduced me to singer Bernard Fowler. I recorded a track with Darrel Jones on bass and Stevie on guitar for the Nickelbag record which was titled “12 Hits and a Bump.” I went on to co-produce and engineer and mix on Stevie’s next two albums. As the producer, I allowed him to make a different type of record in “The Sometimes Almost Never Was.” The follow up, “Be What It Is” was a return to what he does so well. I used the talents of Brian Tichy and Matt Sorum for a few of the tracks. Outside of working with Stevie, I have been blessed to play with a long list of bad asses! In no particular order, I’ll try to remember and make a list! Here goes; bzzzzzzz. I haven’t written that shit down, ever. I will say to each and every person that I have ever worked and or played with; I love you. Thank you.
MA: You are now involved in producing music. How does that differ from being the drummer?
DA: Great question! I’m working on the answer! Honestly, the difference of being a drummer and my production of records is quite simply that I am a drummer. I have produced records. I am not a record producer. I am a drummer. I have engineered and mixed records. I am not an audio engineer. I am a drummer. I play many instruments other than the drums, but I am a drummer. I owned an incredibly well equipped recording facility and spent years learning and developing recording techniques and processes. Still, I am a drummer. I am a drummer and an “opinionist” with a strong love of the musical process. Dig. I have a well formed respect for music and record producers, song writers, audio engineers, musicians, players, listeners. I can say with certainty that as a drummer I have had the pleasure of working with very skilled professionals and my understanding of how I relate to all these other things are solid enough to have valid theories, opinions and techniques that can and mostly do work.
Whether I am creating, producing, engineering or mixing, I just do whatever I can, whenever I can to assist in the wonderfully challenging process of making music. I am a drummer. I have to give credit for their patience with respect to my questions and their generosity with the answers; Brendan O’Brien, David Castell, John X, EveAnna Manley, and my audio hero and dear friend Joe Gastwirt. I almost forgot Mr. Eddie Kramer! I am naming only but a few of the amazing people who have taken the time to share their gifts and knowledge with me. There are so, so many more… Kevin Smith on the early Salas records… Wow. I can’t believe I almost forgot to mention him!
I was just asked, “If you HAD to answer what would you consider your biggest achievement in music?”
My instant response was, “Never giving up!” That’s what I live by.
Here are some videos featuring Dave:
Bonus Interview! Ask Abbruzzese:
Dave shared some of the recent questions he has received online:
Brent McGuire asks: Speaking of drum festivals, do you have any footage from your Modern Drummer festival appearance?
DA: I wish! All these years and I still haven’t seen any audio or video from that 1993 Modern Drummer Festival. I have wanted to see that since the night it happened. I don’t remember anything other than I threw my entire plan out the window and performed with Yael DrumAddict, The Love Project and Jimmy Shoaf’s support. I borrowed a skirt and did a shot of scotch with the Drummers of the Black Bottle and proceeded to wing it. Modern Drummer presented me with the award for winning the M.D. Reader’s Choice Award for ‘Up & Coming Drummer of 1993. During the first handful of moments of my clinic, a kid had the balls to ask me, in front of 2500+ people, if he could have a splash cymbal. I told him that if he came up and did the clinic with me, I’d give him all of my cymbals. The grin on Bill Zildjian’s face from the side of the stage while the amazing festival audience ended my clinic with a standing ovation is probably one of the highlights of my entire career. Magic times indeed. Thanks for inspiring the memory!
Matthew Richie asks: Given that you’re a huge part of the 90’s scene, I was wondering if you could give me your perspective on how the Seattle scene influenced the youth generation of that time? For example did you see a change in the way that youth generation behaved or a change in their opinions/beliefs after the scene grew in popularity?
DA: Interesting question. In looking back to that time in my life, I found it was hard for me to answer. I didn’t even consider things like that at that time. I was travelling so much, and had so much going on. For me, the focus was on myself and my health and surroundings. I can say that there was absolutely a strong shift from what was going on when I left Texas for Seattle in 1991…It seemed that the tables turned on the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ Suddenly they had voices and were saying things, both on and off stage that empowered the powerless. As our band got bigger there was a sense of hope and people genuinely felt represented by rock music again. Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane kissed me on the mouth and thanked me and then told me that we saved rock and roll. It was the power and spirit of the music. That’s where the youth were finding the strength to feel empowered in a positive way. It was okay to be okay. But, as always, it sounded better than it was…The 80’s and 90’s were a time where the important questions weren’t asked and if they were, they went unanswered. It was a time where people wanted so desperately to have an easy, effortless and successful life. Because they felt they deserved to have it. Success was made to appear to be only a decision away. But, please know that I wasn’t a member of the generation we were affecting and influencing. I was 23 at the time…just old enough to know that they were watching and listening…and that they were just as baffled as I was in the 1980’s.
Todd Michaels asks: Dave, you’re one of the greatest drummers as far as my generation, but you let us all in and interact with you. Why? I thinks that it’s really cool and hope that you never change.
DA: I have been to the mountain, and it was good. I didn’t build the mountain. I didn’t get there on my own. Once I reached base camp, I learned so much from so many people that came before me. I didn’t climb it alone. Along the way, there were those who fed me. Healed me. Taught me. Helped me. Inspired me to continue. Pushed me. Believed in me. Allowed me to stumble and grow. Forgave me. So many people that turned back and asked me to plant a flag for them. I made it and claimed my place. From that spot I was granted a viewpoint that very few see and even fewer are able to find the words to describe. I knew then that the best part of it all, the payoff for all the hard work, sacrifice and dedication was going to take place not up there, but back down where I came from. My success is defined by what my experiences allow me to bring into the light of other people. When I am able to make a real connection and share my experience, strength and hope…That’s what I find is most fulfilling.
Kristy Kuhn asks: You played on a Jimi Hendrix tribute record, at Electric Lady Studios in NYC. Eddie Kramer was at the console engineering and you got to play with Hendrix’s bass players, Noel Redding and Billy Cox. Also Jara Harris, Carmine Rojas, Duck Dunn, Dan Rothchild, Darryl Jones, Flea, Melvin Brannon, Gary Mukler, TM Stevens, Rick the Bass player….The list goes on and on…One of your best friends is Mastering Engineer Joe Gastwirt. You’ve also written music and recorded with Rodger Hodgson from Supertramp, Stevie Salas, Bernard Fowler, Neil Young, GRO. You have the respect of Neil Peart. You were mentored by engineer/producer David Castell. You were sought after by Axl Rose and invited to be a major factor in reinventing his band, and you chose to be a musician first and a rock star second. You’ve performed Dock of the Bay with Steve Cropper. You’ve got the respect of your peers. You’ve met your heroes. Was it worth it?
DH: I should be asleep, but I am going to attempt to verbalize my emotional reaction to this question. Here goes: In a word, yes. Interesting truth of the matter is that it is a constant state of mindfulness that is needed to pay attention and embrace the lessons that are available within each experience. When I allow myself to trust in both the good and bad times to provide equally valuable life experiences, every moment is truly valuable and absolutely ‘worth it.’ When I think of how many of my friends are no longer with us, I am so grateful for the powerful gift of the music that remains. I love you, Kristy Kuhn. Thank you for posting such a thought provoking question.
Dave uses: Drum Workshop, Sabian, Brady, Pro Mark, Azturk, Remo, Greenfield, Rhythm Tech, Woods, 2112 Percussion N.C., D’Addario