1. What is your typical schedule on the road (or in the studio) like?
I am a bit spoiled these days on the road. Golf is a big part of our touring. Darius and I play most every show day. So, we usually have an early tee time and get back to the venue around 1 or 2PM. ( believe it or not- playing golf is a big part of my warm up process. It loosens up my hands and wrists really well. If I don't play golf, I warm up a little longer). Before sound check is when I get caught up on emails and phone calls. I don't work out enough but when I do it's in the afternoon. Sound check starts somewhere between 3:30 and 5. For us sound check is fairly brief, usually 3-4 songs just so the FOH gets what it needs. Then it's dinner time and getting ready for the show. I do about 20 minutes of warming up and it's show time. Wheels up to the next town around 1 AM.
2. What are some of the things you love about your job?
Man, I am playing drums for a living. All of it is great. I've been touring nationally for @ 17 years and I still try to keep that kids attitude about it. Of course, it's not all perfect all the time, but I try to never take any of it for granted. A career in music is promised to no one. I've said for years, the 90 min on stage are free, I get paid for the other 22 1/2 hours. Seriously, just playing for great audiences is something you can't beat. If that ever gets old, I'll stay home.
3. What are some of the drawbacks?
As a father and husband, the distance from family is the one true downside. That's the reason I moved to Nashville actually. Nashville artists typically tour Thursday thru Sunday and come home for the week( of course there are exceptions like west coast, Canada and abroad). So, I get a couple days a week at home. A busy year is 150 or so shows. Say 180 days total travel time. That leaves a ton of days for me to be home hanging with the family. It's not ideal but we make the best of it.
4. What made you want to play drums, and how did you get started?
I can't honestly say when I got the bug. I just remember always listening to music. Before I started middle school, I went in to meet the band director and she tried me out on a few instruments. She felt the drums was most natural for me. So I got my snare drum kit and my xylophone and off I went. It wasn't long before I begged for a 'real' drum set. My budget was small but we were able to get a very neglected and slightly abused Ludwig kit with an assortment of hardware. The best feature was a pretty new Speed King pedal. Up to that point I was really only doing rudiments on the snare so I just started playing along with records on the full kit and was hooked.
5. Whom did you study with and how did that affect you?
I have been so fortunate to study with so many great drummers and I have to say each one of them affected me in some way. My first teacher was Dan Fyffe. We focused mostly on the rudiments and very traditional studies. He definitely got me started on the right path. The next most influential teacher was Kevin Kaiser from the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. He kinda blew my mind. He opened me up to afro-cuban styles and a much more free style of jazz studies. Kevin might have had the largest impact on me to date. I was 15 and before him all of my studies were about preparing for competitions. All of his lessons were about stretching out, pushing yourself and making it feel great. He taught music, not just drums. When I studied with him I started to think seriously about doing this for a career. All of the teachers at Berklee College of Music were amazing. They each have their own approach and philosophy. I tried to study with as many as I could for one semester to open my approach. By far, the most influential 'teacher' for me was Kenny Aronoff. My teacher Kevin had gone to school with him. He put me in touch with Kenny. I only took a handful of physical lessons with him but one lesson with Kenny would keep me busy for months or years. We talked mostly and played little. He spoke of how to be the drummer in a band and how to play for the song. He shared his philosophies on feel. His lessons and mostly his example put me on the path to be the style of player I am.
6. What was your most difficult -or challenging- gig, and how did you handle that?
The hardest thing I experience is when you get called to do a gig last minute. More than once have I had to take the stage in front of 14k or so people and I've only had the songs for 1 or 2 days. No rehearsals, just get in there and go. I won't lie. It's not that fun but it is a great mental challenge more than a physical one. As for handling it, you just gotta go for it. No sleep, listening over and over and taking notes. I have my own short hand on drum charts but in these cases, I made them even shorter. Tempo, feel, intro, any obvious signature fills and ending. They worked out pretty well but the stress level is a little high.
7. How did you get your current gig?
I had done some touring for a few artists that had the same manager as Darius. When it came time to put together a band for his solo career they thought of me and gave me the call. A personal relationship with his managers was definitely huge for me. That relationship also played big roll in getting the band leader/musical director job shortly after we got started as well.
8. Are there certain shows that stick out in your mind above others?
Different shows for different reasons. There are always the occasional shows where stuff goes wrong. Usually a technical issue. Those always stick out in your mind. Then there are some venues that stick in your head as well. Like 'Red Rocks' in Colorado or 'The Gorge' in Washington state. They are such amazing venues you can't forget those.
9. What was the strangest thing that has happened (or that you have seen,) during a tour?
I've seen many strange things over the years but they are not really appropriate to print here...
10. What do you do to maintain your versatility as a drummer?
Listen, listen, listen. I try to listen to music as much as possible and as much of a variety as I can get. I listen to what my kids are listening to and am always asking all of my buddies what they are into.
11. What’s your current set-up, and what are you digging about it?
My set up changes based on the artist I am working for and what the gig needs. With Darius I am using a 12" rack and 16" floor but have added a 14" floor on the left side. That is one of my favorite configurations. It opens up for some great fill options. 16"x22" kick and a Black Beauty(seriously the best snare drum around). This year I went back to all flange hoops. I've been playing on die-cast hoops for years and they're great, but I just missed the feel of the flanged ones. It made the drums warmer sounding to me as well.
12. How important to you are the drums you play and how do you feel it affects your playing?
I don't have one particular sound that I go for. I try to acheive the sound that fits my artist the best. I will work with the FOH engineer to come up with what we think is the best sound. I'll change head type, drum size, whatever works. So, what I look for in drums is versatility. If I want to tune things loosely and get a real bottom end tone or if I want to bring em up and get a livelier tone with some ring, I need to know I can. The most important thing for me is that no matter how I tune them I want them to sound 'warm' to me. The new Keystones I am playing right now are doing everything I need. To me, they feel like drums should feel. It's hard for me to describe what that means. But they make me want to play more.
13. What drew you to Ludwig?
Ludwig is what I started on. When I think of what a drum should be, I think of Ludwig.
14. Can you describe how you tweak your drums to get your personal sound?
Like I said before. I strive to find different sounds for different situations. I don't want to get locked in to any one tonal approach. I hope that my feel is the constant from gig to gig.
15. Are there any upcoming projects that you are particularly excited about?
Darius has a new single and record coming out this year so that's always exciting. I love doing all the promotional TV stuff that comes with an album launch.
16. Who are you major drumming influences?
There are so many amazing players it's tough to narrow it down. If I had to, Phil Collins is definitely one of my favorites of all time. His feel is unbelievable. I've listened to a ton of Manu Katche. Jeff Porcaro has been a huge influence on my playing. And, of course, Kenny Aronoff.
17. What are your four favorite albums (drumming or otherwise)?
This is a hard question. Flaming Red by Patty Griffin is in there. Secret World Live by Peter Gabriel has to be one. Anything Zeppelin..is that cheating? I can't narrow it down to one of theirs. And I should put Black Crowes album Amorica.