A great man (I think it was Mr Miyagi from The Karate Kid) once said:

"There is no such thing as a bad student. Only a bad teacher".

Wise words.

And some that really make sense to me, having been involved in drum and music

education professionally for the past 10 years. In that time I have been extremely

fortunate to have met some truly inspirational teachers and I would like to dedicate

this blog/magazine - (you could call it either a blogazine or a blagazine, depending

on if you think I know what I'm talking about!) - to those drummers who have really

made a difference in the world of drums and drum education.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Matt Nolan Custom Cymbals!

That's right!  I had the extreme pleasure of talking with Mr Matt Nolan, custom cymbal smith from UK.  Some would argue that what he does is art, both visually and sonically; Mr Nolan makes some beautiful and unique instruments and if you don't know about Matt Nolan and his work, please go take a look:  It is truly amazing.
Read on to find out more...

Photograph by Andy McCreeth

Drumazine: Hello and welcome to Mr Matt Nolan, cymbal smith from the UK!  Where exactly are you from?

Matt Nolan: I am based in the historic city of Bath, in south-west England.

Dzn: And how long have you been making cymbals for?

MN: I started tinkering with cymbals, on more of a hobby basis, around 6 years ago. In 2008, I dropped the "day job" and started making cymbals as my full-time occupation.

Dzn: And what promted you to start making cymbals?

MN: I started making cymbals (and gongs, and little metal sculptural things that were also musical instruments) mainly out of fascination with cymbals. Curiosity, I guess. It was during a period when I wasn't able to play drums with a band. I think my creativity had to come out somehow, so it found a different vent.

Dzn: Indeed!  Your cymbals designs are very unique.  Where do you come up with new ideas?

MN: New ideas for designs just tend to present themselves to me. Sometimes, I will sit and think and plan, searching for an idea. But, mainly it is as a result of following an instinct, or being inspired by something that wasn't quite expected that happened as I was going along.

Dzn:  So, would you say your cymbals have a signature sound or look?

MN: I think that, while my work is quite varied, it does have a certain Nolan-ness about it. Sonically, things tend to be complex, usually dark, often quite dry. I don't have reference cymbals like antique Zildjians or classic Paistes or anything. I tweak each cymbal until it just sounds right to me. Visually, my vernacular of colours, textures, shapes, etc. is recognisable to those who follow my work.

Dzn: So what materials do you use?

MN: I use a wide range of different Bronze alloys - B5, B7, B8, B10, B12, B15 and B20. Most frequently B8 and B15. I occasionally use Nickel-Silver, more usually for gongs, but sometimes for cymbals too. I use Stainless Steel and, less frequently, Titanium for more avant-garde / off-the-wall cymbals and gongs. I use an Aluminium Bronze alloy and Cupro-Nickel for my hand-hammered orchestral triangles. I choose metals based on their sonic characteristics.

Dzn: And how long does it usually take to take a design through to completion?

MN: If I'm going at full speed, producing cymbals that I have made many times before, then I can make about 2 per day. If I am designing something totally new, it may take a week.

Dzn: Do you make any other instruments or is it just cymbals?

MV: I make cymbals (drum kit and orchestral), gongs (tuned and indefinite pitch), tam-tams, sculptural gongs, triangles, tubular bells and bell plates. Occasionally, I make smaller things, like little strings of bell-like cymbals or custom tambourine jingles. But these things tend to be for fanatics - as they cost so much - all that fiddly small work takes some doing by hand.

Dzn: Do you have any particular favourites you have made so far?

MN: I made a set of cymbals for UK drummer, Anthony Sargeant. All B15 alloy besides the B8 hi-hat bottom. They all had a certain look and a family sound even though the ride was pretty dark and the crashes pretty bright for my work. The 22" ride was very popular (on my website and at a public drum show), but it was reserved for Anthony. So I made 2 clones of it. One went to Germany and the other was bought later by the Hollywood film soundtrack composer, Danny Elfman.

Dzn: What is your favourite music to listen to?

MN: I enjoy a lot of different styles of music - classical to modern orchestral, some jazz, a lot of rock, some pop, some electro, the list goes on. I guess the things that get me most are things where the musical innovation is high but without getting too "noodly" or soulless. A lot of Frank Zappa's work, King Crimson (mid-70s through 2000s), lots of stuff that Mike Patton has had a hand in (Mr Bungle, Faith No More, Tomahawk, Fantomas), current small group modern UK jazz such as The Neil Cowley Trio and Get The Blessing, sample manglers like Amon Tobin, visionaries like Bjork.

Dzn: Do you play drums yourself?

MN: Yes. I have played drums since I was 12 or 13. Currently, I play regularly in what could loosely be described as a boogie-woogie piano trio called "Fungus Licks" you can probably find some stuff of ours on youtube (ranging from the embarassingly fluffed to the quite good) Description: http://static.ak.fbcdn.net/images/blank.gifand much less frequently in a (fairly heavy) rock covers band and even less frequently in a few different duos and trios making improvised nightmare soundtrack music with not a drum kit but a huge rack of my own gongs and some cymbals.

Dzn: And do you have a favourite drummer?

MN: If I had to pick one, it would have to be Bill Bruford. Always hugely entertaining. Clive Deamer would come a close second.

Dzn: You make a very traditional acoustic instrument; How important do you think new technology is in modern day drumming?

MN: I do make a very traditional instrument, in a very traditional way, though often with what you might call "modern" materials. As for electronic technology, I think it has a strong part to play. I'm all for anything which gives you a broader palette of expression and creativity. As it happens, cymbal sample packs of my cymbals, specially recorded for Yamaha DTX electronic drums will be available soon. Electronic drums have their place. I used to own a set of Rolands myself.

I had the great pleasure recently of jointly making a new percussion instrument for Bjork that really combined the old with the new. Together with Bjorgvin Tomasson, Icelands premier pipe-organ maker, I made the world's first "Gameleste" - a MIDI-acoustic Gamelan Celeste. This is a keyboard instrument rather like a small upright piano, but instead of having strings, it has bronze bars - a bit like glockenspiel bars, but made to have a Gamelan sound. Gamelan is the traditional (mostly metal percussion) orchestra of Indonesia.

Bjork uses the Gameleste on her new album, Biophilia, and also live on the tour in support of it. It sits there and plays itself, electro-mechanically, via a MIDI interface. This means it can play a lot more than a person with 8 fingers and 2 thumbs can. In the song "Virus", the Gameleste part is based on generative patterns - self-multiplying music. It is astonishing stuff, made possible through the creative use of computer algorithms.

Dzn:  And, (for shameless self-promotion purposes), please can you tell Drumazine! readers how to find out more about you and your amazing work? 

MN: My work is available by custom order or off-the-shelf from my website: 

Outside the UK, you can also find things in a number of drum shops in France, Germany, Switzerland, Canada and the USA, most notably the Memphis Drum Shop and their, www.mycymbal.comwith its fantastic demonstration videos.

Other stuff to check - you can follow me on twitter and facebook and also on YouTube

Dzn:  Well, thanks so much for the insight into your amazing work!  Keep it up and good luck from Drumazine!

MN: Cheers!
Photograph (and potrait above) by Andy McCreeth

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Oh my god!  What a start to the new year...
I have had the immense pleasure of speaking with Brian Viglione, the drummer of Dresden Dolls as well as collaborator with Nine Inch Nails and many many more fantastic bands and artists.
Brian is also an active educator of music and recent projects include humanitarian work with HELO Magazine, reaching out to underprivileged and oppressed young people from some of the worlds poorest countries.
In this insightful and inspiring interview you can find out more about the amazing work that Brian has been doing...

Oak Custom with Paul Leim Snare:

Drumazine: Hello Brian!  Welcome to Drumazine!  For those people reading who might not already know you, please can you tell us a bit about yourself and your career as a drummer.

Brian Viglione: Thank you for having me, Rich.  I decided at about 9 years old that I would like to be a drummer. Music became the catalyst that got me out of my small New Hampshire hometown and gave me purpose, release, and fulfilment in life.  I love all kinds of music and have sought out other musicians with an equally wide ranging taste and love of performance.  I have played gigs in bedrooms to 5 people and in packed arenas to thousands of people; it's all great to me.  I just need to play.  Otherwise I go insane.

Dzn: You have been an extremely busy session musician, constantly touring and recording with countless bands and artists, but you also teach drums and I also heard that you are doing workshops via Skype for young musicians in Afghanistan!  Can you tell us more about these Skype workshops and where the idea came from?

BV: I was invited to participate in TheCentral Asian Modern Music Festival in Kabul by my friend Yula Beeri, and festival organizer, Daniel Gerstle of HELO Magazine as they knew I do a lot of work with young musicians whenever I am home from tour.  I had booked a ticket to fly to Kabul, but due to the overwhelming amount of attacks that took place in Kabul in September, I was forced to reconsider my travels and instead conduct my workshop via Skype, and it went beautifully.
I was able to speak to about fifteen wonderful people there for two hours, answering questions ranging from technique, to working with Nine Inch Nails and ways to grow a band like DresdenDolls from DIY to working with a major record label.  But I was mostly intrigued to hear their stories about what it is like trying to forge your way as a rock band in their region of the world.  

Dzn: Why Afghanistan?

BV: The festival originated in Kabul, thanks to a group of fearlessly motivated individuals seeking a way to broaden the reach of music in Afghanistan.  As many people know, the culture and religious views are often extremely restrictive when it comes to personal expression and there are many young people there working to widen the boundaries of human rights and artistic work being done.  It's incredibly courageous work, considering the possible consequences.  My approach to this is to not take on a political stance, as my experience or understanding could never compare to theirs, but rather to offer whatever words or example that would help to inspire them in their work.  Freedom of expression is something I believe in for all people, so I'm happy to share whatever I can if it's a source of empowerment for people.  

Dzn: And are there any plans to extend these workshops to young musicians in other countries?

BV: I would love to at some point.  Skype has proven to be a valuable tool to reach people.  For the second clinic I just did, people in Brazil, New York, Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey joined in, so I want to find the way to get the best audio and video signals so more people can join without losing signal.

Dzn: Most people will know you for being the drummer in The Dresden Dolls, but I understand you are very busy performing and recording with many other bands.  Can you tell us more about your current projects?

BV: I've been dividing my time between two projects that I love.  The first is Gentlemen& Assassins with Sxip Shirey (NYC) playing his wild collection of toys, winds, percussion, vocals, and stringed instruments through tripped-out effects, and Elyas Khan (Berlin) roughhousing his guitar and bass and singing.  The three of us all come at it with this similar unhinged, punk-rock street performance type of energy and share a love of punk, funk, and hop-hop that melts its way into the sound.  We ended our show with a cover of "Big Takeover" byBad Brains on the last tour, and just have a total blast together.  Our first album is due out in January and will be available for download online and on tour in May in Europe.

I also play in a great band called Botanica, which is currently involved in a new production of The Master and Margarita, being presented in Germany at Theater Dortmund this Spring 2012.  We, as the band, will play on a platform above a four-sided revolving stage, providing the musical accompaniment for the show.  It will be the third show I've done with Botanica and the theatre and it's always a good time.  Botanica is great to tour with as well and puts on a hell of a show, which usually ends with Paul balanced on one leg, hollering into his megaphone,
belting out the last chorus of the song.  John Andrews the guitarist and Jason Binnick the bassist are great musicians and really spur me on to play my best.

Dzn: What would you consider to be your first “success” in music?

BV: Seventh grade, 1992.  Me and my best friend who played guitar, Casey Donovan, were invited to play a with this recital that our music teacher had set up at the high school auditorium, as part this "Music in the 20th Century" program.  Our music teacher let us play two songs for the crowd from the "80s" and "90s".  We did "I Remember You" by Skid Row, and "Enter Sandman, by Metallica.  Casey's older brother let us use his half-stack rig and we jammed our asses off.  The auditorium was packed solid with kids and parents, but the coolest moment was when this kid, Rob Pariseau, who was a senior and a metal fan, came up to the front of the stage and started head banging and threw the horns at us to cheer us on.   For us as 13 year old kids, that was the best.

Dzn: Would you describe this as a “defining moment” in your career?

BV: Absolutely.  Playing in front of 300 people with your best friend and having a kid rush the stage and rock the fuck out was a dream-come-true.  It was the first time I had ever played live in front of a crowd, so I was nervous at first, but once we started playing and I saw the kids digging it and cheering us on, it just spurred me on and once you get that kind of adrenaline rush, it's completely addictive.  It's the best feeling in the world to play music and see people become completely energized by it.

Dzn: You’ve talked about success; have there been any failures, defeats or bad times you can tell us about?

BV: Yeah, Bad Times a' plenty.  In fact, most of my life from 1995 through 2006 was like some kind of fucked up nightmare, beginning with my friend committing suicide at my house, and ending with the premature disbanding of The Dresden Dolls.  Frustration, confusion, sadness, and that feeling of being pulled apart from inside, and also like you're doing everything you can to maintain your sanity, but factors beyond your control are just fucking things up and you just have to ride it out until something gives and life presents an opportunity for change.  Getting to play the drums was the thing that helped me through all of that, though.  It's been the only constant in my life.  

Dzn: So, would you describe the problems you have encountered as physical or psychological?

BV: Neither, the problems that have been the most difficult to work through and resolve have been interpersonal.  Physical or situational problems are generally the clearest to resolve when you take a step back to analyse them.  The psychological stresses that build up are usually a by-product of things getting out of balance in life, like physical fatigue, too much time away from home and friends, pressure to get things done, etc.   In my experience, there's nothing that's been as complex and exhausting than trying to navigate human relationships.  That's why I feel very fortunate that recently I've had a very satisfying time with the people I have been playing with.  I don't take a second of that for granted. 

Dzn: How have you combated this problem?

BV: I just try to do my job well, work hard, be a good listener and also ask for what I need, follow through, and have a good time.

Dzn: Onto equipment!  For all those gear-heads out there, what kit 
(drums/cymbals/anything else you would like to mention) do you play?

PHX with John Robinson Snare:
BV: I have the full list of everything I use here (http://www.brianviglione.com/gear/) on my website, but generally I've toured with a Yamaha Oak Custom, and recently bought a new Yamaha PHX kit that I am excited to bring on tour. It looks and sounds absolutely phenomenal - completely inspiring to play.   The Yamaha hardware holds up great and has toughed out a lot of touring with me, very reliable.
I use Zildjian cymbals; "15 Mastersound hi-hats, "19 Hybrid Crashes and Chinas, and a "22 inch K Ride.  All very musical and work beautifully for whatever style I need.
I use Vic Firth sticks and recently had some printed up with my signature and logo.  I also use the Corpsmaster CT-1 mallets and the white Jazz brushes.
Love working with the folks at each of these companies, too.  Great people.

Dzn: With the advent of new technology on what seems to be a daily basis, what modern technology do you incorporate into your practice, live work, recording and teaching?

BV: I still keep it pretty simple.  I don't use a whole lot of gadgets or fancy gear.  I use an iPod for practice, play an acoustic kit live and in the studio, and other than that I like to have students bring a camera or something to record on so they can take home something to reference.  Especially for beginners who are trying to get down stick control and rudiment exercises.
They can watch it back to make sure they've the correct grip and posture.  I used to do the same thing when I was taking vocal lessons, it helps a lot.

Dzn: So, you have many varied jobs using the drums as your specialist tool, but which of the following do you prefer and why:
a. Recording?
b. Live performance?
c. Teaching?

BV: Performing live for me is the best feeling in the world.  Recording is great as an artistic process, and teaching is wonderful to share what you love with someone and inspire them to learn more, but for me all of that comes together with getting to actually express everything you have and feel that kind of synergy with an audience.

Dzn: Finally, a question from a fan: Ev Vizor (UK): "You're a very dramatic and charismatic drummer and have been in some amazing bands...what would you say was the most memorable moment with the world/inferno friendship society?"

BV: Ha! Touring with World/Inferno is filled with memorable moments with entire audiences rushing the stage and kids diving off of balconies and crazy shit, but the one memory that I will never forget is when we played on the beach in Villamarina di Cesenatico, Italy in July 2009.  We finished a great show and right after the last beat of the last song, I kicked off my shoes, jumped off stage and bolted through the crowd and dove straight into the ocean and swam around looking up at the stars, still buzzing from the gig. It was just one of those perfect moments.

Dzn:  So, what does 2012 hold in store for you?

BV: I am touring all of January with The Dresden Dolls in Australia and New Zealand.  Then will be touring Europe with Botanica in March and April, also with Gentlemen & Assassins in May and early June on new albums from both bands.  Come out and see it!
People can get all the tour info on my website  http://www.brianviglione.com/,  my Facebook http://www.facebook.com/brianviglionemusic and subscribe to my Youtube channel for video updates http://www.youtube.com/brianviglione.

Amazing stuff!  Thanks so much for your time and the insight into your life!  All the best for 2012 and – HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Photo by: Jingersnaps Photography