Interview by Charlie Weinmann
Photographs by Eron Rauch
How long have you been working in Los Angeles now, and remind me where you moved here from?
I moved to L.A. in the summer of 2004, so over 15 years now. That’s crazy! I moved here from Reno, NV, which is where I grew up and went to school. My father was a tenured professor in the Music Department at the University of Nevada Reno, which is where I went to school and studied percussion and jazz. But I grew up on rock music, punk and hardcore. Reno had a pretty burgeoning all-ages punk scene, and that’s what I was into until my studies more or less took over.
What have you enjoyed most about living and working in L.A.?
I have always been attracted to the sheer amount of activity in Los Angeles. Once you become accustomed to the pace of it and the ease of access to it, it’s hard to go back. I’ve always had a pretty voracious musical appetite and been into a lot of disparate styles of playing. You can find it all here if you’re willing to look, and it’s usually happening on a fairly high level.
How would you describe your “school” of drumming? Who did you come up on, and who are some of the artists you admire now?
No surprises, really. All the greats. Elvin, Tony, etc. One of my greatest musical heroes is Charlie Haden, the jazz bassist. I had the good fortune of studying with him at Cal Arts for my masters degree, got to play with him and listen to music with him, hear all his stories. All the drummers affiliated with him are responsible for some of my favorite music. That would be Billy Higgins, Ed Blackwell, Paul Motian, and Jack DeJohnette. I studied with Joe LaBarbera. He played with Bill Evans. Joe has one of the greatest drum sounds you’ll ever hear. To be in the same room with that sound will really get you thinking about what you’re doing. He’s as real as it gets as far as playing time and soloing on standard tunes is concerned. Of the more modern players, I love Brian Blade. My wife plays in his band Mama Rosa. Just being around Brian is a lesson. I also love guys like Kenny Wollesen. Loose, groovy, exciting, able to go in just about any direction, but not too flashy or hyper-precise.
What does your drumming schedule look like nowadays?
Well, this is a little embarrassing to admit, but not that busy at the moment!! I have a two-year-old daughter and she’s not in pre-school yet. So one of us is usually at home with her, and lately that’s been me. But I am practicing regularly, transcribing, writing, thinking about what I want to do and taking the appropriate steps towards some goals, which is hard to do when you’re on the road all the time. I usually manage to get out and play a couple of times a week somewhere around town. I book a lot of my own gigs, put together bands of people I want to play with. So when I do get to play, I make it count, at least to me.
Congratulations on your new album, Fanatics. It’s a wonderful record that you made with Chris Speed and Jeff Parker. The music seems to embody a sense of ‘classic’ jazz while also experimenting with modern approaches of blending rhythm and melody, with drums, guitar, saxophone and clarinet. Could you talk a little bit about the making of the record? How did the pieces come together?
Fanatics is sort of a dream project, as I’ve been following and listening closely to both Jeff and Chris and their various projects for the past twenty years. They are easily two of my favorite musicians. The first time I played with both of them was on election night in 2012! It was a gig of Chris’s at the Blue Whale here in L.A. Later on, in 2015, I got a call from Jeff to play an improv gig that he was doing at a little club here in L.A., and Chris was on it. So we played trio for the first time then. It’s been a goal ever since to do a record. I wrote all the music, with the exception of “Dewey Square,” which we just did in one take at the very end of the last session because we had a little time left. It’s primarily a ‘blowing’ record in the classic sense, like you said. Everything was done live, no overdubs, and very little editing. We were also learning the music together on the spot, more or less. We did two separate sessions and I think we did one rehearsal before the second session, but other than that we were discovering and documenting the music at the same time right there in the studio. So yes, there is an experimental vibe to some of the pieces. Without a bass, everyone makes decisions they might not otherwise make, either to fill that sonic space or just to get acclimated to that space being empty. So Jeff is doing some looping with pedals, etc.
How would you say this album differs from your first album, Tropes, that came out in 2016?
Tropes is almost totally opposite from what I just described! Which is funny because it was made in the same studio with the same producer – Paul Bryan, who played bass as well – and the same players. That record is heavily edited and pieced together over many sessions in as many months. Also, for whatever reason, with Tropes I was hesitant to make my first record an out-and-out jazz record. At that time, I really just wanted to make cool, introspective instrumental music played by an electric rhythm section. That was the concept, in a nutshell. I wasn’t so concerned with ‘blowing.’ So it could be more of a produced, Frankensteined kind of thing. Also, compositionally speaking, the music on Tropes is a lot more “vertical.” When I was writing that music, I wanted to get deeper into harmony and chord changes. So I was practicing a lot of Bach Chorales on piano, trying to get some of the rules of voice-leading to sink in a little bit more. I was hardly thinking about the drums at all. That’s why the last track on that record, “Myopic,” is just me playing piano. Every song on that record started that way. On Fanatics I was purposely trying to write more “horizontally,” but there are still some pretty heavy chord changes on tunes like “Heliotrope.” I am proud Tropes and still want to explore that concept some more.
What are you looking forward to in the new year? Any exciting projects coming up for you?
I’m really looking forward to a few records coming out that I played on this year. Paul Bryan, the bassist and producer for both of my albums, has a record of all original music coming out in March 2020 that is really great. It reminds me of Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi stuff, very percussion heavy. Drummers will dig that album because in addition to me it’s the great L.A. percussionist Davey Chegwidden and the great Jay Bellerose all playing together! Also, I did a duo record with the trumpet player Dan Rosenboom that I really want people to hear, though we don’t have a release date set yet. I also played on a record in Denver with the guitar player Dave Devine, doing all Dave’s music, and I hope that comes out soon because the music is super cool and I remember feeling really great about it in the studio. Dave is one of the few musicians I know who is successfully blending improv with an ‘indie-rock’ sound. He has played with both Brian Blade’s Fellowship and Sun Kil Moon, if that gives you any sonic reference. Ideally, there will be live performances and at least some touring with all of these projects in addition to Fanatics!