K-Bo sits down with Thomas Lang to talk about technique and approaching the song…
Q: As to your technical side, how have you approached playing drums?
A: My first teacher—when I was 4 years old—told me that in order to play music you have to be technically capable. In other words, you have to be able to not to have to think of how to play. I have always concentrated on technique and I had a very technical approach from day one. By contrast, it was only after I was playing professionally for 10 years did I start to mix in the showy stuff.
Q: If you listen to other players like Steve Smith and Neil Peart they have recently experimented with other styles and influences like Smith’s venture into African music and Peart’s “Burning For Buddy” project. Are there any new styles or genres that you haven’t yet explored but want to?
A: I’ve explored all styles but I haven’t gone deep enough into some of them. I played a lot of big band in the past and I’ve always had that big band passion and feel although I haven’t been doing that for years because getting a big band on the road is tough for budget reasons. But I’d like to get back to that style and scene—more big band and fusion stuff. I’ve always been interested in world music as well and anything that is different that we hear in the Western World like African rhythms, Middle Eastern rhythms and Asian rhythms. Here in L.A. I tend to work more on the heavy side and anything that I do that’s different from that is inspiring. But the most interesting to me right now would be to merge traditional world music rhythms with contemporary heavy music. So, I would like to take African music and Middle Eastern rhythms and work them into contemporary music.
Q: Let’s talk about your approach to a song. How much do you rely on rudiments?
A: A lot although I am trying to get away from that because it is so deeply ingrained in me. It’s like the alphabet of drumming with singles and doubles and things like that. It’s everywhere and I can break it all down. I always know what I’m going to play before I play it. Now, some people like that organization and the fact that its laid out in that respect. My playing is premeditated if you like. Other people play a different way—it’s very improvised and they even seem to surprise themselves when they play something. That’s cool. It creates a different energy and I like that. I’m trying to get away from being that rudimentary because I feel I need a change.
Q: Speaking of change, you just recently changed your grip too, right? Why did you make that change?
A: Yes. For a long time—for 37 or so years—I played traditional grip but in the last couple of years I’ve changed over to match grip. I did that because of maintenance. I’m a working musician who tours all over the world and traditional grip requires much more maintenance. Traditional grip is a harder grip and it’s unnatural in the first place. That style brings with it weird pains and calices. Besides, matched grip involves bigger muscle groups to control the stick and with the hand on top of the stick that makes it easier to create downward pressure on the stick to the drum whereas with a traditional grip your left hand comes from underneath the stick and you’re pulling the stick down so to speak. My decision was really work related. The physicals had a much greater affect when I used traditional grip. That’s why I changed and I found out that I can pretty much play anything match grip that I did with traditional grip. I was also able to set up my drums differently with match grip since I had a greater reach and that was inspiring after playing for a lot of years. I needed that. I also needed to be challenged to be able to play things that I had played for years as a traditional player with a matched grip. Traditional grip is charming but it’s limiting.
Check back soon for Part 3 of our exclusive interview with Thomas about timing and time signatures…
Missed Part 1? View it here…