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.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Darren King - Mute Math

I am new to Mute Math.  I only discovered them this year when a good friend of mine posted this video on his Facebook wall.  I was, as you will be, completely blown away.  Not only a fine slice of energetic guitar/piano pop, but one of the most exciting live performances in 4 minutes you are ever likely to see.
Amazed at their performance I immediately contacted their label in LA and managed to get an interview with Darren King, the heartbeat of the band.  A unique drummer and fine performer, Darren captured my drummers heart with his on-stage emotion...

Drumazine: Hello Darren!  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.

Darren King: Hello, I'm Darren. I grew up in the very small town of Marshfield, MO. I had a lot of time to myself as a kid and spent a large portion of it either drawing Ninja Turtles or drumming on things.  My first drum kit was comprised of basketballs aired down to make different pitches.  My drum hero is Gene Krupa.

Dzn: Mutemath are a band who I only recently discovered, although you have been carving out your career for some time…  How hard is it to “break” a band in the world today?

DK: From the time I was 14 I wanted to be not just in a band but specifically in a band with Paul (our lead singer).  It took a long time for that to happen.  At this point I am very happy to get to be playing shows and creating music with Paul and Roy, and now Todd.  

Dzn: What do you think is the most important thing to concentrate on for any young bands serious about “making it” reading this?

DK: I like Carl Sandburg's quote, "I was either going to be a writer or a bum." I am very blessed to have linked up with someone like Paul who is fearless and ambitious. Our personalities work well together and we work very hard.  We endure lots of arduous and frustrating circumstances to get to the fun stuff.  And it is still really fun.  

Dzn: Onto drumming: Are you an expert at many different types of music?

DK: I try to be.  I love music.  I collect records.  I think that for every single style of music there is someone doing something wonderful. 

Dzn: When you first started learning drums, did your teacher have good advice about practice and different types of music?

DK: I didn't take many lessons.  I did get one lesson with Chester Thompson about ten years ago. 
He was great, really calm and cool until he hit the drums.  My great awakening was discovering the sampler and the ability to chop stuff up. That experience started an insatiable hunger for drum breaks and samples. I learned a lot by dissecting beats in my sampler.  I recommend it. 

Dzn: How did you find inspiration as a young drummer without taking many lessons?

DK: I learned a lot from watching a drummer at my church in Springfield, Missouri named Dave Sharon.  He was great.  I played drums in school as well.  My best friend in school, Jonathon Altman, was a drummer too.  He was the one who told be about Buddy Rich.  It made it so fun to be a drummer to have a friend to share it with growing up. 

Dzn: Do you teach drums?

DK: I've taught a little, it was tougher than I expected to start from scratch with young kids.  I hope to more someday.  I enjoy it.  I love kids.   

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

DK: Just getting into the band.  I am a few years younger than Paul and tried really hard to impress so he would invite me into his band.  That's what got me started recording instrumental songs.  I auditioned for Paul's previous band and just didn't make the cut.  Two years later, when they lost their drummer (who was amazing) I tried again and barely made it in. 

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

DK: Yes.  I feel a page has turned.  I turn 30 soon.  I feel like I am really learning what attitudes are helpful when creating music and which ones stifle and intimidate creativity.   I think the next record will be a very important one for us. 

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

DK: Plenty, and often the good and bad times are so close together.  I remember once I finally got in a band with Paul I wrecked his van.  The trailer full of gear separated from the van and flipped over 3 times.  The van didn't flip but did a 180 and ended up in the grass.  Nobody was hurt but I felt like a failure.  It took me a long time to get over that.
We've had plenty of arguments and disappointments.  I have a deep respect for Roy and Paul, as friends, as musicians, and as husbands and fathers. 

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

DK: I went through a phase where I experienced intense fatigue during the recording of armistice. 
I don't know if it was mono or some kind of crazy allergy, or what, but nothing came easily to me during that time.  Sleep was never fulfilling. I just felt weary constantly.  It didn't last.  
I think the biggest obstacles are all fears. Fear of failure and embarrassment.  

Dzn: How did you combat this problem?

DK: The fatigue problem didn't change despite my best efforts.  It sort of just left on its own. 
The fear stuff, I feel like I'm beating it as I'm getting older.  I'm learning that I must make music that I love no matter what anyone else might think or say about it.  As I get older I feel I have less time to talk myself out of doing that thing that  is scary but exciting, I think of this mainly in regards to song creation.  

Dzn: A question from a reader, James Maynard - "Could you ask Darren what inspired him to combine jumping on pianos with banging drums?"

DK: Ha!  One night while playing at Stubbs in Austin I fell off of my drum seat.  It was during a break down so in an attempt to make it look intentional I took the floor tom over to the Rhodes and played it over there.  After that it just became a part of the show. 

Dzn: 2 questions from a reader, Chris Young -  "How much Gaffa tape does Darren use to hold his cans on?  And what's with his really loose snare skin?!"

DK: I usually wrap the gaffe tape around my head at least 3 or 4 times each show.  
I usually go for a deeper "thud" snare sound I suppose.  Lately I've been tuning it a little tighter.  

Dzn: Do you play any other instruments (or sing)?  

DK: Yes.  I play acoustic guitar at home.  I try everything.  No formal training or understanding of what I'm actually doing.  I have Paul and Roy for that.

Dzn: Do you write music (songs for the band or lyrics etc...)? 

DK: Yes.  OddSoul (here is a link to an amazing music video experience) is the first album where I have contributed substantial lyrics.  I have always written the music with Paul though.  We recorded Odd Soul ourselves at Paul's house. 

Dzn: How important do you think it is to have a good and diverse understanding of other instruments as a drummer?

DK: I think it only makes you better.  I just like trying new things. 

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

DK: I play a 68 Rodgers kit.  This cymbal company called "Dream" gave me some cymbals and I really love them but they are all cracked.  I use a Tama 'Iron Cobra" kick pedal which I break every 14 shows on average.  

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?

DK: I use Logic to record everything.  We use logic live as well and run SMPTE tracks to the video rig to cue the live background videos and keep them in sync with us.  

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

DK: I am going to make as much stuff (music, videos, concerts) as I can.  We have some new destinations in store for us this year, some exciting shows up ahead.  

Dzn: Is there anything else you can tell us about - website/links/releases/merch/tour etc etc etc...? 

DK: I was honoured to play drums on my wife's new record.  She goes by the name "Sucré": Beautiful music.  Mute Math are going to set up the studio again starting this June! 

Dzn: Do you have any other advice for young drummers reading?

DK: Become a student of the greats.  Aspire to be a great entertainer and not just a great drummer. Record yourself and listen to it.  Judge your music the same way you would the music of others.    

Dzn: Finally, Drumazine! would like to say a huge THANK YOU to Darren King for his time - Now go buy some Mutemath, sit back and enjoy; or, even better than that, go and watch their ridiculously good live show... (That is not a suggestion; it's an order!)

DK: Yeah!!!  Thanks.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Drummer On The Round Rock...

Today see's the start of an interview onslaught!  Upcoming are interviews with 4 completely different drummers in attitude, style and personality from across the world... well, mostly America.

We start by getting to know a drummer that most of you (no disrespect intended) have probably never heard of:  Ed Francis is a drummer from Round Rock, Texas.  He is more than a drummer actually.  A lot more.  He is an educator.  He is an inspiration.  He is an animal on the kit.  And he is a really really nice guy to boot!
A man completely after my own heart, Ed seems to thrive on the education, inspiration and encouragement of young people.  His thoughts are clear and concise, aiming to be the best at what he does through an explicit student-led teaching methodology.  This provides Ed's students with a fun, encouraging, safe and happy learning environment and is conducive to them learning quickly but thoroughly from someone who, in my limited time talking to him, seems to be "a total legend"!  I sincerely hope one day to visit Round Rock and meet with Ed, as I am sure he and I share extremely similar attitudes and a passion for our job.

I did manage to gain some valuable insight into Ed's life and career via email however, and here is what he had to say:

DZN: Hey Ed!  Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview.  

Ed Francis: I  live in Round Rock, Texas And our city is actually named for a large round rock located in the middle of a creek.  I had always wanted to play my drums on “The Round Rock.” As far as I knew no one had ever done it before - and that made it all the more appealing. Many years went by and I just seemed to be too busy teaching, planning shows, competing in “Drum Off” competitions, giving drum clinics, practising in my band, helping to raise my 5 boys (okay, you get the picture…) - so realizing my dream of making some wonderful music on our city’s namesake had pretty much remained a dream. That is, until one day when we found a moment.

DZN:  We need to ask - how did you become known as “The Drummer on The Round Rock”?

EF:  My wife, Kim, and I thought it would be appropriate for me to celebrate my 20 year anniversary of teaching by realizing my dream. During November of 2010 Kim and I lugged one of my drum kits onto what I consider to be the coolest “drum-riser” ever created by nature! Surrounded by the beautiful and mirror-like water, and hearing the generous applause provided by the swaying trees, I lost myself while playing on my drums. It was a surreal experience to watch as drivers slowed down to catch a glimpse of what was making all of that bombastic noise on the Round Rock. I even think I saw the same woman drive by several times to check up on me - and she didn’t look too happy. But I was having a fun time, anyway.

DZN:  I’m glad you had a great time.  Perhaps that woman who kept driving by was in shock?
EF:  Or maybe she contacted the police!  It wasn’t long before we attracted a crowd and people began stopping to see this crazy drummer on their Round Rock. We also gathered the attention of our Round Rock Police Department who related that “…someone called reporting some suspicious-looking activity on the Round Rock.” Our police department was content to let this eccentric musician beat the heck out of the drums on the most famous natural landmark in Round Rock, Texas.

DZN: And so what's been happening with you more recently?

EF: Things have been pretty busy. I mean, outside of teaching I’ve had many opportunities to speak to kids at our local schools and share what music can mean in their lives.

DZN: And what it means in yours…?

EF: Absolutely.

DZN: I understand you were recently invited to the United States Air Force’s2012 World Wide Talent Competition. What did you share at this event, and what was it like?

EF: In many ways it was similar to what it feels like to revisit a place where you grew up. The familiar sights and sounds brought back many memories. It also reminded me of the heart and soul we all put into our performances. I usually feel relaxed about my playing and a bit anxious about speaking - but this time things were reversed.

DZN: What was different about this time?

Francis: It had been 20 years since I competed in the World Wide Talent Competition, and this time I was introduced as an authority in my field [drumming]. And playing in front of Mr. Thomas Edwards (the Director) - not to mention all of the talented performers - made it all the more intense. Things went well, and I really enjoyed answering all the questions.

DZN: Can you share some of those questions, and the answers you provided during the clinic?

EF: I’ll do my best to recall them…

Q: Who are your main influences/did you have any formal training at school [college level]?

EF: As a child I had many great teachers who invested themselves and poured their time and talent into building me up as a young musician. Some encouraged me with their intensity and belief in what I could one day become, even when I had difficulty believing it for myself. Others invited me to participate in groups which helped me to find my identity as a drummer and fine tune the rudimentary skills I continue to practice to this day. I could rattle-off a list of great drummers (and I do have a wonderful list), but some of the most influential people early in my drumming career are those who are not necessarily drummers. Several influences include bass players, singers and even…(gasp) guitarists!
The only “formal training” I received was in Jazz Band while in college and later with Ernie Durawa. Drum Master (Texas Tornados). Everything else learned was the result of playing in local bands, performing in the World Wide Talent Competition, participating in the Guitar Center’s “Drum Off‘s,” and listening to lots and lots of music.

Q: How do you form your solos, and what do you see as the most important role of a drummer?

EF: When considering the drum solo I think in terms of creating “brief snippets of coolness,” punctuated with well-thought transitions and presented with lots of raw emotion and energy. When I’m playing a solo I try to emulate what I imagine as the essence of what an super-energetic marching band might exude while exploding onto the field to give a great performance during a half-time show with a stadium that is filled to maximum capacity.
A good drummer listens - that’s our most important role. We listen to the song, members of the band and to ourselves. Listening enables us to better musically support the song and assist in bringing it to life. In many ways, our role is to do the opposite of what a drum solo is (unless the song calls for that particular approach - and we need to listen for that, too).
We are not the band - we are a part of the band.

Q: Have you ever had a time when you lost that desire to play - and if you did - how did you get it back?

EF: There was a period of time when I lost my hunger to drum. I thought to myself, “your only teaching kids how to play the drums.” All I could see was I wasn’t playing out there like the “famous drummers”; I felt like a failure and even considered doing something else for a living.  My thoughts were negative.
This negativity reminds me of what many of my adult students have told me they have experienced while growing up.  I hear this same story all the time: One of my students (who had just turned 70) told me that her teachers, friends and family all convinced her that she couldn’t be a drummer.  No one even gave her a shot at it!  She didn’t begin taking drum lessons until she was 69 years-old.  As a young lady, my student was unable to do what she loved [drumming] - for the first 69 years of her life - because she believed all the negativity; and she felt like a failure, even before picking up a pair of sticks.
She has told me, “when you speak to people you tell them my story so they will not wait to do what they love to do.  TELL THEM TO DO IT NOW.”
My student’s sad experience can be taken as cautionary.  I wish there was a happy ending to her story.  Unfortunately, due to her advanced age, multiple physical issues and pain, she has since stopped drumming.
As for myself, it wasn’t until I began pouring myself into my students, and investing a great deal of effort into our music program, that a renewed excitement made it’s way back into my life.  I even began learning new things on the drums for myself because it sounded exciting!
I was glad not to let a few negative thoughts destroy my lifetime of loving to play the drums.

Q: What helps you to keep that “spark” of enthusiasm?

EF: Watching others who are great at what they do helps me to maintain that “spark.” I have found inspiration in watching a saxophone player belt-out a mind-blowing solo at the Newport Jazz Festival, dancers fervently practicing their physical craft in gymnasiums, and even discovering inspiration while witnessing some of my own students as they find their own voice and passion on the drums.
Knowing that no matter how good I get - I can always get better helps, too. Watching an inspiring drum DVD, going out to experience live bands, reading an interesting article about some cool drummers (Makedrums.com), visiting and speaking with drummers who I admire; these all continue to assist me in maintaining my passion.

Q: How do you get your name out there/ what do you do to advertise yourself?

EF: Doing good and doing it for free is a good start! People love to talk [previously pointed out in 11 Ways to Achieve Your Personal Drumming Goals in 2012]. You may as well give them something great to talk about. Your qualifications will travel faster and more broadly on the wave of free gossip than on any form of paid advertisement.
The truth is we don’t spend money on advertising (unless you count our really cool t-shirts!). I was talking with my grandfather on the phone and telling him the great news about all the recent free press we’ve been receiving from our community. It dawned on me that I don’t pay to advertise in any newspapers or magazines as those same publications consistently contact us to do interviews. After hearing about this, my grandfather humorously pointed out, “you don’t need to ask for anything… all you need to do is say ‘thank you.’ And your pretty good at that.” To which I responded with a tongue-in-cheek “thank you.”

Q: What’s the most important thing you have learned since competing in the World Wide Talent Competition?

EF: The greatest gift we can give to ourselves is to remain teachable.
It’s when we think we know it all that we stop learning.
I see each of these attitudes in my own students. Those who falsely believe they have mastered something grow much more slowly than the one’s who honestly evaluate themselves and truly seek to understand how to get better. Remaining teachable is a key to a lifelong love of our passion. And our passion provides a springboard not only to a life of happiness for ourselves - but to a life rewarded by giving that same gift to others through our playing and/or teaching.
We get what we give.
I’d also like to add that I’ve recently been thinking a lot about what it means to try “being the best” Vs. “doing your best.” There’s a huge difference in these two mind-sets. One aims to beat others, while the other seeks to learn from others.

Amazing to talk to you Ed.  You have made me want to go and practice more and to be the best I can be!  Thanks for your time, and happy drumming!  And please keep in touch and let us know how things are on the Round Rock...

If you live in or near Round Rock, Texas and would like to learn the drums, I highly recommend you contact Ed directly.  You can find out more on his website here:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Break Time!

Sorry for the long delay in posting interviews.
I have been travelling and gigging and teaching all over the UK.
And now, the interviews have piled up!
I have lots of Editing to do, but once it's done I will be posting interviews from:

  • Ed Francis - Drum Teacher and mentor and The Drummer On The Round Rock
  • Colin Bailey - Jazz Legend and one of the fastest bass drums in the game
  • Darren King - Mutemaths rhythmical genius and performance wizard
  • David Garibaldi - Tower of Powers original funk monster

So, keep a look out for these amazing interviews which will be posted in the next few weeks.
Rich - Drumazine!