Great technical drummers have always been around. But so have drummers who have exhibited a flair for the dramatic.
The former group is led by greats like Buddy Rich, Carl Palmer, and Neil Peart while the latter group has featured such artists as Tommy Lee, Lionel Hampton, Travis Barker, and Steve Moore, the internet sensation commonly known as the “Mad Drummer.”
While neither group is mutually exclusive, it’s not often that you come across a cross-over drummer who excels at both. I recently caught up with, perhaps, the best two-way drummer around—Thomas Lang. Lang has gained internet fame from his legendary drum solos and sticking exhibitions. But I learned that there’s more than meets the eye to Thomas. I found him to be one of the most well-grounded and innovative musicians around. He’s also not afraid to challenge himself, which, considering his talent and career achievements, is respectable. He’s also an outstanding multi-instrumentalist, composer, and record producer as well as being a founding member of the Los Angeles based progressive/avant garde metal trio, stOrk.
Thomas began drumming at the age of five and was classically trained at the Vienna Conservatory of Music. After leaving the conservatory in 1985, he began working professionally and he never looked back. He has performed with many acts including John Wetton, Robert Fripp, Glenn Hughes, Peter Gabriel, Asia, Nik Kershaw, Tina Turner, Robbie Williams, Kelly Clarkson, Sugababes, Geri Halliwell, Emma Bunton, Victoria Beckham, Ronan Keating, The Commodores, George Michael, and Bonnie Tyler, to name a few. In addition to performing with these artists Thomas has recently written tracks for and performed on stOrk’s self-titled album. By all means Thomas is one of those drummers that you listen to with your eyes and it’s well worth a trip to You Tube to see what I’m talking about. For now, here’s what Thomas had to say….
Q: We have to start with style. Your style combines showmanship (ala Tommy Lee) along with technique and mastery of your instrument (ala Buddy Rich). Talk about that.
A: Yes, I’ve tried to merge the two, no doubt. I’ve always been a fan of total control over an instrument and I’ve never been simply blinded by the showy aspect of it. But, I became aware early on that it is called “show business” for a reason. You have to play to the audience and entertain a little bit while you’re doing all this technical stuff. In watching very technical drummers I was bored after a while. And I even thought this of my own playing as well. I thought about attracting the attention of a non-drummer, you know? So, I started throwing in bits and pieces here and there, but I always only thought to do it in the right situation. I wanted to recapture the audience while doing some technical stuff and that was easier to sell with some stick twirling, if you know what I mean. I looked at amazing footage of the old jazz drummers like Lionel Hampton and Buddy Rich and I thought it was really cool that even back then these drummers were doing highly technical stuff, yet they were entertaining too. They played complex patterns and rhythms and they sold it to the audience with a tongue and cheek approach. It was technical fireworks and fun to look at. But remember, this only works in certain settings and not, for example, in a jazz setting.
Q: As for the showmanship side of your playing, was that there from the beginning or did you grow into it?
A: It’s something I grew into by accident, to be honest. I never really practiced stick twirling or tossing or any of that fancy stuff at all. It just happened because of boredom during long rehearsals or long tours. Whenever I sat with sticks in my hand—out of sheer boredom—I spun them and I found funny little things to do with them. After 10 years or more of that, a kind of showy aspect of my drumming kind of manifested itself. It’s one of those things that really just happened. But I always did concentrate on the technical aspect of my playing from day one so I had to incorporate the showy stuff into that model. But I did find that people tended to react more to the showy stuff than when I played a cool fill (laughs). When I lived in London and I did work with the big pop bands the very fancy productions with dancers and pyros and the showy stuff really worked there. It gave me something to do.
Q: Having said that, are there certain shows where you are not showy?
A: Believe it or not, I would say that 95% of the gigs I do I’m not showy at all. You have to be careful when you do it. For example, in some of my instructional DVDs I added 20 minutes of stick spinning because there was room for that. And that really came about because I had some time left to add material, and as I was talking to a producer one day and I was spinning my sticks and he said to me how about adding some of that stuff? (Laughs) That caused so much talk and it gave me a lot of attention but I also caught some flack for it. Again, I can’t stress it enough—you have to be careful when to do it and some people have misunderstood the purpose of it. But I’ve had people walk up to me and ask why on a given night I did not do any showy stuff and I’ll respond by saying that it was just not the right situation for it.
Q: So what advice do you have for young drummers on being showy?
A: I’ll start with this. If you want to work the showmanship into your playing it has to be “in time.” I recommend going back to really traditional type of stuff like Lionel Hampton who really was the first to use complex and complicated twirls while he was playing the drums. I would also look at traditional marching culture for ideas, too. Most of the stuff I do is taken from or inspired by old marching moves. I would look at Scottish pipe drumming and particularly Jim Kilpatrick, for example. He’s amazing. I would also look at Sonny Emory whose now playing with Earth, Wind & Fire. Also look at my videos. The biggest rule is that the playing never suffers.
Coming soon: Part II: Thomas Talks Technique…
Learn more about Thomas Lang and his revolutionary drum camp by visiting www.thoma
Originally posted 2011-11-15 05:42:12.