Friends/faithful NDP readers, I hope this finds you well.
To preface, I feel it necessary to give a word of clarification for the lack of interviews, transcriptions, posts, etc. as of late. I have been in a recent state of a vast array of endeavors - from getting married in June, moving into a new house and starting a life with my wonderful wife, to touring all over the country with many great artists, and producing/engineering/playing on sessions at the studio space at my home and elsewhere. At times, the NDP had to take a backseat in order to make these other things work. Things will be back in full swing soon, as interviews from Noah Denney and Caleb Crosby are coming, as well as new performance transcriptions of Nashville’s finest drummers.
All that to say, the inspiration and subsequent realization of this project has been something I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams. The gentlemen that I’ve had the great fortune of interviewing for the NDP has led to what this idea was all about in the first place - the nurturing and encouragement of community. I am thankful to call all of the drummers in this project not only musical inspirations, but great friends and, in many ways, mentors. I have received a great deal of emails, messages, and comments that have often left me speechless about the impact this project has had beyond the initial concept of exposing the broad range of talent Nashville has to offer in the drumming world. One in particular comes to mind that was sent to my good friend and mentor Mr. Paul Mabury in response to his interview. I hope that the author won’t mind if I quote from his message:
“I read your interview on the Nashville Drummers Project and have been watching your session videos. I really appreciate all the information you shared. The videos are incredibly helpful and inspirational to me. I’ve been praying and thinking about moving to Nashville for about a year, and have been pretty unsure, but your interview and videos have really helped me to feel inspired and encouraged to pursue Nashville. Thanks a ton.”
Now that’s pretty cool.
To commemorate the first year of the NDP, here are some of the best nuggets of wisdom and insight from all the players featured this year. Enjoy!
“With groove, I just don’t feel like there’s protocol for that. I think a lot of drummers try to say that there’s protocol for it. I am not in the books anymore – I think because of the baggage of the classical thing when I moved to town, I tried the Garibaldi for a bit, to which I finally said, “You know what? No. I’m going to listen to music.” There’s no protocol, man. There are guys that play that don’t have the greatest time, but it just feels good. It’s just about ‘how do you uniquely make it feel good?’ What do you like to play? What kinds of grooves do you like? Do those. Don’t force yourself to do stuff you really don’t like to do. I know that seems a little stubborn, but I think in a musical situation, you’re not going to be inspired every day. Especially on certain sessions, you might not feel inspired by the music at all.”
“It’s a servant industry. You’re here to serve what the music is supposed to be - ‘What’s the best interpretation of this song when it’s just a chord chart or a scratch demo?’ How do you push that to the next level, to flourish and to where it’s fully what it’s supposed to be, or supposed to communicate? Some days that’s a lot more difficult than others, but more so it’s just about the work. I don’t really believe anymore in inspiration just coming down, descending off the clouds. It’s more about putting your head down and working and discovering inspiration, and not just waiting for it.”
“Do what is uniquely you, and if it takes you time to discover that, if it takes time playing music that makes you think, “Wait a second. I don’t want to do this,” then you may have to go through years of that, but it’s worth it just to do what you like to do. If someone somehow makes you believe that “you should be able to play a really great Mozambique groove, and do clave on your left foot,” that can sometimes do more harm than good. If you love playing rock drums, then just go for that a hundred percent. I think it’s a balance. Just play to records, that’s the biggest teacher. Literally, just put the books away. I know there’s a time for that, but just not all the time.”
“It’s all about making a first impression. People might write you off pretty quickly after hearing you just one time if they’re not really feeling it. I can’t imagine moving to Nashville when I was twenty-one, because I know I’m a completely different player now, even just four years later.”
“You work hard to get into these positions, but then you get to the show, and the bottom line is you’re just playing drums. Again, in that moment, it’s just about playing for the song, playing what’s appropriate, and playing what’s on the record.”
“As a player, I’m in control of what I sound like, so having your stuff together is so important. Not every session is going to be one of those sessions that you get to go in and edit drums or move things around… [W]hen the red light is on, you’d better be playing for real.”
“I spent a lot of time in the practice rooms, and then eventually started practicing with other players, playing with other human beings. I got over my fear, and got to the point where I could let them inspire me rather than intimidate me…You get to a town like this and you start to understand the importance of that. That’s the only way you’re going to become better. You can’t learn to lay back the pocket or sit on top of the beat by just sitting in your house with a metronome. I mean, you can, but you don’t really learn it until you’ve got a bass player that can lay it back a day and a half behind the beat, or you play with a guitar player that’s a mile ahead. It has to become more of a feeling than a scientific placement.”
“I think as drummers, we watch all these Drummerworld videos of guys just playing these crazy “drum-nastic” things, and you feel like you have to live up to that, because they’re at [one] level, and you still feel like you’re way down here [at another]. But then you walk into a situation, you’re playing the song, and you realize, “I don’t need to play here. I’m going to let this part over here take care of it. I’m going to let the guitarist do his thing,” or, “We’re about to have a sweet organ fill the space and create the mood,” or whatever. You learn where not to be, and that’s how you fit in the song. The only way I can think to really put that into words that makes sense is if you’re on a baseball team, you learn really quick that if you’re playing left field, you stay out of center field. You cover your area. That’s what makes the whole machine work… I think that’s more valuable than any crazy 64th note lick that I can do coming out of the bridge or something… Everybody can do at least one or two fast licks, and you can place it just right and everybody will be like, “That’s cool.” But that’s one moment in the song. You’re learning to see something much bigger.”
“Be where you can have a very positive impact on other people’s lives. That’s more important than how much money you can make, how many records you’re on, how big the tour is that you’re on. If you’re not involved with people and wanting to make a difference in their life, to me it’s not going to mean quite as much.”
“With a lot of younger players, they might listen to a record and think, “Oh, I could have done that, there’s nothing complicated going on.” But they don’t realize how many decisions were made to get there. Whether it’s the musical ideas, the arrangement changes that were made, the different tones from swapping out drums, changing the tuning, dampening the heads, changing out a cymbal, whatever - for a long time I never even thought about that stuff, but it’s changed the way I listen to records now.”
“I’ve tried to strike a balance between having an identity as a player, knowing my strengths, and then at the same time trying to expand on that… Everyone has had different experiences, and everyone’s drawing from different places… I feel like there’s a tendency in the drumming community to value things in a very one-dimensional way, especially if it’s something really “technical” and difficult to play. It’s really unfortunate, because there are players out there that aren’t really that confident when they should be, because they have strengths that aren’t really as celebrated.”
“You can’t really craft out a path to follow. Just try and be a part of as much stuff as you can…If someone asks me to play, particularly if it’s in town and I’m available, then I try to do it. I don’t want to get to a point where I say, “Oh, there’s no money in that” or “They’re only paying me fifty bucks” or something. As cheesy as this sounds, if you love music, let that passion help make some of those decisions.”
“Always have a good attitude and be respectful to the artists who are hiring you. One thing I think I bring to the table is that I bring light to situations, in that I like to have a good time, kind of goof around and not be too serious, but if I need to be serious, I’ll put my game face on. Giving the artist what they want and taking direction well is crucial.”
“Being prepared and taking interest is super important, in being able to believe in the music you’re playing… I just want to know all about the artist, to study them and know their tendencies and instincts… Don’t slack off on learning songs and whatnot. I really do my best to come in prepared and have a good attitude, and it’s worked out a lot.”
“The Nashville drumming community is just a big brotherhood. It’s really nice to be here in this community, because a lot of times you can get in situations where it feels like a competition and it makes you feel insecure. But here in Nashville, so many friends of mine are really supportive. We’ll all try and come out to each other’s shows, or listen to records we’ve played on and get feedback from each other. ”
“For me, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that the music is something that’s beyond me. It’s real easy to get caught up in learning the songs and the details of everything. All of that is important and I’m not discrediting that at all, but once you finally get onstage and play the show, especially if you’ve done the homework where you’re no longer worrying about what’s coming up next and it’s internalized, that feeling is pretty awesome to me. At that point it’s no longer about me, but it’s more about how the music is affecting others, hopefully in a positive way! It takes a lot of work to get to that point, but all that work pays off when other people are benefited or blessed by whatever you’re doing, whether that’s playing on stage or playing on a record someone’s listening to in their car. That’s something I enjoy every time I get to do it. Anytime I see anyone out in the audience bobbing their head, I’m like, “Okay – we’re successful!” You know you’re doing something right!”
“Make sure that when you are working on your craft and getting it up to par, make sure you’re practicing being yourself and don’t try to be someone else. If someone calls me for a gig, it’s because they want how I play on that gig. Practicing being yourself will help create a unique sound, and that’s very important in this circuit. The other thing is that in this town, it’s about networking just as much as the playing, if not more so – knowing people and being in the loop. For the drummer, that means getting out and playing as much as possible, but also going out to shows, meeting people – basically taking any chance you get to make connections with people. Not that you have to be schmoozing with people, but making friendships and just building strong relationships. In this town, even if it’s your dentist, everybody knows somebody that does something in music, if they don’t already do it themselves.”
“There’s no formula. It’s all about the feel - making the song feel good, pushing when it needs to, holding back when it needs to. Every instrument has its part and spot in a song, and drums are the same… There’s always a role for the drums, but it’s always up to drummer or the producer to decide how the song should feel. The drummer has a lot of power. I feel like if the drums are where they’re supposed to be, it’s a lot easier for everything else to fall into place. To me, it’s all about feel, man. If you can trust your heart and your internal groove, whatever song or record you’re doing will turn out great. I think it’s a matter of playing out a lot, playing live and studio sessions. The more you do it, the more you get a feel for what songs need and what they don’t need, and the more you get a feel for your internal sense of groove and learn to trust it.”
“Being able to work as a team and to communicate well with other people is so important. You may say something that you may not mean to come across a certain way, or somebody may say something to you, and it will just totally kill the vibe. [You have] to be able to be sensitive to other people. That’s been a huge thing that I’ve taken away from playing with so many different people is how to interact with them. You’re creating something that is so special to everybody, and you’re playing on something that somebody put a lot of work and time into, so you want to serve that as best you can.”
“Take every gig that you can get, but also be happy about what you’re playing. If you take a gig where you may not necessarily be into the music, don’t take that out on anybody else. Never say “no” unless it’s something you know is going to be negative for your career or something you may not enjoy. But also, just go for it, just do it. I know that’s easier said than done, but my mentality is don’t waste time.”
“Be fearless about what it is you do. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t be worried that somebody won’t hire you because you do something different, because the guys that I look up to are where they are because they’re different.”
“A painter paints on his or her own, and they get to share it with people afterwards. In music, we get to share the creating of the image. What people get to listen to is, and to me should be, community. That’s one of the things I love about this town is that we get to meet each other and communicate in music usually before we’ve even communicated verbally. That’s such a great way to get to know each other, and it starts to knock down walls that we can sometimes put up. For me, that’s the whole reason I’m doing what I’m doing. I love drumming, I love music, and I love listening to music, but it’s the fact that music and the drums take me to people. That’s where the beauty is. We get to create together. It’s an incredible privilege to be a part of that.”
“[We have] the opportunity…to contribute to something that is very dear to someone’s heart. A songwriter or performer comes in and they’re basically handing you their baby, their vision, something that is incredibly important to them. I love seeing the transition between that happening and the vulnerability to the reward, where they’re just so happy with the way the track’s sounding. It’s so in the moment, and we get to witness that as session musicians and people involved in this process. We get to be a part of that really special moment. I think that’s the most rewarding thing. As a producer, it’s even more so, because it’s more tiring since you’re on the whole journey. But it’s two-fold as a producer, because you are serving the artist’s vision, and so you get to see the pre-production happen, which is like putting the first splashes of paint on a blank canvas. Then you get to see this story evolve, you get to hand it to them at the end, and the whole time you’re just serving the vision that they have. Man, I love that. For me, it takes me out of myself and places me in, as much I can be, their hopes and their dreams for the project. That’s an incredible opportunity. I think that’s the thing where I gain the most satisfaction.”
“I would say to musicians, especially the guys who have just gotten married, to be careful what you decide to do. Establish boundaries that protect your wife and protect yourself, and make sure you don’t put it all on the line for success, at least not the things that matter, anyway. Work really hard and trust that good things will come within the boundaries you’ve established. The most important thing in my life is my family, then music. That’s where I’m at man, and I’m really grateful that I’m involved within those boundaries.”
“I know how many people come to Nashville and they have that goal – “I want to be the drummer for a huge country artist,” or at this point, “I want to be the drummer for an indie-acoustic artist,” or whatever’s hot at the time. I love that there are guys in town who have that drive, but I’m sad that a lot of them miss the mark when they don’t realize that all of that has to come naturally. It doesn’t have to be a forced thing where you go in and meet every drummer in town, get numbers, and pound the pavement in a business sense.”
“Being in a town like Nashville is a double-edged sword. It’s an amazing community and there are so many opportunities, but it is so packed with people that want that job or experience. Dig in – it’s not going to happen right away… Go to a town like Nashville, meet people, play every gig you can. Make sure that you’re well-rounded. Don’t be stuck in one mindset of wanting to be a “rock drummer” or in Nashville, a “country drummer.” Guess what? Most of those guys are not necessarily “country drummers.” They have talent, and have all these other contexts they can pull from that attributes to their gig.”
“Don’t come with an expectation that you’re going to be the next Chris McHugh or Jeremy Lutito. Be the next you and continue to do that until someone notices, because it might take four or five years of playing in a cover band gig, but everyone that has talent, the personality, and is a good hang gets gigs. It just might take a little while. Persistence is the word.”
Of course, these are just tiny snippets of a treasure trove of information - practical, technical, musical, spiritual, relational - that if you haven’t checked out by going through the full interviews, do yourself a favor and read ‘em.
Many, many thanks to all the people who have encouraged this project and kept up with it. It means so much that one little idea I had floating around in my head for years would have such significance in so many lives I would have never imagined, including my own.
And of course, a tremendous heartfelt thanks to the gentlemen who were gracious enough to allow time out of their schedules this year to let me interview them for the project. You fellas are an inspiration and all serious masters of groove.
In closing, thanks for a great first year for the Nashville Drummers Project, and to the future of it in 2012. Stay tuned!