Alexander Z.: At what age did you first start drumming and what were you drumming to/in/on/around. What got you started?
I've always been interested in music. I grew up watching MTV (thanks to my big sister babysitting me). The first drumming memory I have is watching the drumline during football games. I really liked the quads, it just looked so fun I guess. My dad was a high school principal so I would attend all the games with him. During the basketball season the pep band had a rhythm section with a guitar, bass, and drumset. I also had a cousin that played drums and guitar. I tried playing guitar when I was really young, but that didn't turn out so well. So, at about 10 years old my parents bought a snare for me on Christmas and at age 12 I got a drumset. These were my first "official" experiences playing drums.
From that point to drumming in bands in Owensboro, what transpired? What was your drumming focus, what were your goals?
I started playing in bands because I had friends who played guitar and bass. We all just wanted to play songs we liked and make music. I don't think any of us really knew what we were doing, but it was a good experience. I got into the school music programs in the 6th grade and after a year on sax I switched to drums. My middle school band program had a concert band, marching band, and jazz band, being around it and part of it was a great experience. I got to march tri-toms for 2 years in middle school and also played drumset in the jazz band. Drumset was always a goal of mine, but I read a feature on DCI and marching percussion that was in Modern Drummer in 1997 and I became really interested in marching and rudimental percussion. I continued on with the school music programs in high school, I marched 1 year on bass and the rest on tenors. Through all those years I also continued to play in bands around my hometown. My last few years in Owensboro I just freelanced with a few bands when they needed someone. I liked it because they were older (more skilled) players and it paid!
You were a member of the UK Drumline. With such a huge concentration of Cavaliers staff and members were you at all influenced by those who were associated with UK bands?
I was a member of the University of Kentucky drumline for the 2003 season. The guy that taught my high school line, Jed Manire, had gone to UK and had also marched Cavaliers. So my introduction to rudimental drumming was along the lines of the style of the early 90's Cavaliers. I also studied privately with a few former Cavalier members and instructors; Jim Bailey, Ellis Hampton, and Pat McGowan. I will say that their approach to marching percussion has always appealed to me. Though I never marched with the Cavaliers, I still respect what they have done and brought to the activity. UK used to have a huge connection with the Cavaliers, but when I was there they were only handful of guys that had marched there.
What inspired you to attend PIT? Why not a major in percussion at some other university?
After I realized my main passion for drumming was on the drumkit I just looked at the places where I could really make it happen. Besides having a great faculty, PIT is located in Los Angeles. That gives you many opportunities that you wouldn't have at some traditional universities. Of course there are other schools out there that are known for producing great drumset guys like North Texas, L.A. Music Academy, and Berkley. But hey, who wouldn't want to move to Hollywood!
At PIT, what was an average day, what were the courses, what did they cover?
The PIT courses are geared towards what you're going to need to make it as a working drummer in the "real world". All the faculty have years of experience making it in this business, so they can give you a good heads up on what you'll need to know. Some of the courses would be:
RSW (Rhythm Section Workshop) - This class probably helped me the most. In this class you play down charts in various styles with a bass and guitar player. The bass and guitar were teachers from the school, so they could give you good feedback about what they felt playing with you. You also have classes that deal with reading, music theory, sight reading, and ear training. Playing Techniques was probably one of my favorite classes. The teacher was Rob Carson, a rudimental legend. I also studied with Rob privately outside of school. Rob was one of the greatest teachers I've ever had and he completely changed the way I think about drumming, but I could go on forever about that. You also have classes designed around specific styles like rock drumming and jazz drumming. There are also tons of electives you could take. My private teacher at PIT was Andy Megna. Andy was a great drummer and he knew everything I couldn't play, so we always had stuff to work on. PIT gives you all the tools to make yourself a better drummer and further your career in this industry. But just showing up alone won't do it, you have to really want it and put in the extra effort. When the teachers see you really want it, I think they'll go out of their way to help you. This is pretty much the same in any school though.
Moving to California at age 19 from Owensboro, were there any major differences, any memorable good/bad experiences?
Obviously they are some differences between Owensboro (pop: 50,000 or so) and L.A. (pop: 7million). Where I lived was a block off Hollywood Blvd., so I was right in the mix of everything.....good and bad. Outside of music and drumming I got to meet and become friends with people from all over the world which really opened my eyes about other cultures. I also used to teach a kids Karate class at Harkem Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills. Because so many big name musicians live in L.A. I got to meet some of my musical and drumming idols and I also got to take a private lesson with one of the finest drummers around today, Virgil Donati. Times weren't always the easiest in Hollywood, but all in all I had a great time and it helped mold me as a person and drummer.
What lead to the gig with the Van Dells?
I already had a connection with the Van-Dells. When I was living in Owensboro the Van-Dells drummer at the time, David Parks, was living there. I started taking lessons with him because, frankly, he was the only professional drummer living in town. I actually played with the Van-Dells once when I was a senior in high school. They were doing a show that needed a percussionist and their normal guy couldn't do it, so, thanks to David, they called me. When David told me he left the group, I emailed them and they sent me the show tapes. After about 3 weeks of time to work on the show, they flew myself and my roommate (he was a guitar player and they needed one) to a cruise ship to do a week run with them. We played two shows on the cruise. After the first show they asked us if we wanted the gig full-time. We quickly packed our bags and moved from Hollywood to Nashville, TN. The Van-Dells was definitely an education, not only in playing, but also in the business side of the this whole deal. I got to play all over the US and many cruise ship tours which took me to many different countries and islands. I was with the Van-Dells for 1 year, March '04 through March '05.
You now endorse Mapex. Why Mapex?
I got involved with Mapex thanks to my friend Mike Hodges. Just to mention quickly, Mike's a great drummer and has toured with David Bowie and Adrian Belew, he's also a fellow former Van-Dells drummer. At the time Mike got an endorsement with Mapex I was talking with another company. I guess Mike told the guys at Mapex to check out my packet because a couple of days later I got an email from Joe Hibbs (A&R Mapex) asking about my current playing situation. I was 21 and really looking for a company I could grow with. The feeling between myself and Joe was, I've got a long way to go and so does Mapex, why not join forces to create mutual success in the future. Honestly, I couldn't be happier. The Mapex drums I'm playing are AMAZING! I'm playing a 5-piece Saturn kit in Black Cherry Sparkle. One thing I love about Mapex is their simplicity. So many drum companies now are all about the pseudo drum-science. I will admit I was guilty of buying into their hype. I've had great kits from other companies, but these Mapex drums are the best sounding drums I've ever played on. They have really hit one out of the park with these Saturn series drums. I'm sure the same is true with all their lines, but I've only really played on the Saturns. I also really like their hardware. It keeps the same principle of their drums, simplicity. The hardware is fully adjustable and durable and I don't have to adjust 9 different things just to tilt my cymbal a little more. Joe and all the guys/gals at Mapex have been great to deal with and I look forward to a long future with these people and their drums.
You're now with Rick Monroe, how has it been on the road?
Crazy!! Nah, it has been nothing but great times on the road with the Rick Monroe Band. We've changed the line-up a few times, but it's always been great players. Our current band line-up, Josh Carre-bass & Jason Ambrose - lead guitar, is great and a pleasure to play with every night. We've had a pretty busy road schedule and have toured Europe, which was my first time there. 2007 looks to be an even crazier year as more dates are rolling in for the US and we are heading back to Europe in May. Being out so much does have a few downsides. I can't really get the practice time I can at home, but playing every night obviously has it's benefits for my playing. Just keep checking out my site for schedule updates!
Drumming in various settings in various types and styles of music, what is your favorite? Is it possible for a drummer to be well versed in all genres... is that possible?
This is my personal opinion... you can't be great at every style. I think it's important to study different styles as they bring different skills to the table. So many people think styles of music are just generic patterns. For example, if you ask me to play some Latin stuff, I'm going to play just your basic Latin beats (samba, bossa nova, etc..). If you want to be a great Latin player, you can't listen to rock music. You have to really throw yourself into the style, otherwise you're just imitating a style and it won't sound sincere or honest. I grew up listening to and got into drumming because of rock/pop music. Eventually I discovered fusion and progressive music. Those styles opened up a whole new world for me, just because there aren't any rules when it comes to fusion.
After moving to Nashville I became very acclimated to country music which has recently gone through many changes. The Nashville music scene has got some really great drummers floating around and some very cool albums are coming out. This is a really cool time around Nashville. Back to the question, you need to study other styles because you can learn something from all of them, but play the music you want to play and play it with all of your being. I know it sounds cheesy, but the world doesn't need anymore generic musicians.
In most mainstream drumming it seems very restrictive in that you can't try and fit too many notes into what you're playing. The focus being on the band as a complete package or the lyrics, not so much the drummer. How do work to get a good balance between what you're doing, what needs to be done (vs. play fun/odd metric stuff, fast and thick fills, etc), and the rest of the band?
To me, music is about extremes. I couldn't just listen to one kind of music the rest of my life nor could I play just one style of music. Even if all I played was my own music, it wouldn't be just all crazy "drummer" music. There would be songs that just had me laying down a solid groove with the bass and letting a lead voice solo over top that. With the Rick Monroe Band I'm playing modern country/ rock music. I get a great feeling laying down a groove with the band every night. It makes me feel good to see people out there dancing to my beat. Obviously with this music everything has to hit at the right times, but most importantly the feel of the song has to be spot on. Feel is not an easy thing to achieve as it's not very tangible. So to me, it's very challenging in that aspect. Of course after months of playing these tunes every night my feel and time approve greatly, which are probably the most useful tools a drummer can have. Some nights though when a club might be slow, I might throw in a little beat displacement or metric modulation just to make me think and keep the band on their toes. Noting like "Sweet Home Alabama" with the beat an 8th note behind.
*special note* I wouldn't suggest doing either of those if you want to keep your current gig, luckily Rick and the band know I'm just messing around! On the flip side, I enjoy making music that pushes my limits of technical ability and expands on different concepts. I've recently started recording and writing some music with a friend of mine named Aaron Sollman that you might call "rock/fusion", but with heavy loops and electronic influence. Sometimes it's fun just to make music as a challenge to yourself. But I wouldn't want to only play that stuff for the rest of my life anymore than I wouldn't want to play simple 2 and 4 grooves either.
For the guys/gals who are in their parents garage or basement or for the guys who are drumming in undiscovered bands, what can they do to get to the next level? What can they work on?
Well you have to look at growing either yourself or growing a band. I learned early on playing in bands that not everybody wants the same things you do. You might want to be the next Steve Gadd, but the bass player wants to study history and play as a hobby. Just staying focused I think is the most important part. Networking also helps a lot. There are guys that could play circles around me, but work less then I do and may not even make their living playing. Of course this can be said for many famous name drummers as well. I love drumming, this is what I do. I've made sacrifices to get where I'm at today that some people maybe wouldn't want to make, but that's different for each person. Please remember, I've got a long way to go. I'm in the trenches right now and will keep plowing ahead no matter what. For the few years I've made my living playing drums I've learned that you have to want this more than anything, you have to give it you're all, and you can't stop. I don't care about being famous or rich, I just want to keep playing drums and making good music. I will mention for undiscovered bands trying to make it, the internet has opened up tons of options. Now bands can get their name and music out to millions of people without having a deal with a major label. Myspace and the internet have already changed the music industry and will continue to do so I'm sure.
You're working with Impact as much as you can this season, from your first year to present, how has the line changed and improved?
Impact is a great group. I think James Powell (Impact Director) has really created a very unique ensemble for the performers. It's great to see an independent group that has all local members and is truly dedicated to education. Though I wasn't involved with Impact's first season James kept me very updated on their progress. From my first season of actual involvement to the current season everything has improved. The organizational side has gotten stronger and the talent level has gone up. Of course with any group there comes growing pains. One pain being that as the talent level goes up, some of the people might not be able to keep up, but this is just life I guess. If Impact continues this rate of progress over the next few years, the possibilities are endless. I'm very honored to be a part of the Impact staff alongside James and the other staff members. I just can't wait to get back in front of the line later this season.
When you're teaching a drumline what things do you try to emphasize to your students? What do you try to focus on to improve the players?
I really try to educate. I really want the students to understand what I'm trying to get across to them. I've been very fortunate to have good teachers so I try to be the same to my students. Just as I mentioned above about being in a band, not everyone in the drumline wants the same thing. Some kids in the line want to go on to music school and be the center snare at Blue Devils. Some kids are there because it's an easy grade. A mistake I made early on was treating all the kids like they were me when I was in high school. I was all about it and thought everyone else should be. Now I lay back a little more and just throw it out there to everyone for the taking, some will leave it and some will take it and want more. My instructors have always done a good job of teaching me how to teach. Educating the students is the most important thing. If I have a 2 week band camp, those no reason why we can't take 20 minutes every day and go over something new. Maybe it's a rudiment, drumset groove, or scale on the mallets. This way at the end of those 2 weeks not only do they know their show music and warm ups, but they also have learned some new ideas. Of course, thanks to my specialty area, drumset, I try to show the students how what their doing in marching band or indoor drumline applies across the board in music, not just on the field.
From drum set to rudimental/marching percussion are there many things that apply to both realms of drumming?
Drumming is drumming, rudimental or drum set. The rudiments are essential for developing your skills on the drumset. So many drummers now overlook the rudiments. Rudiments are very limited musically speaking, but they give you the tools to make music. Obviously people associate rudiments with technique, but technique has nothing to do with music. Before you can make music though, you have to have some tools to make it with, this is where technique and rudiments, chops, serve the music.
My experiences in marching percussion have greatly benefited me as a working drumset player. After going through years of drumline rehearsals where I was drumming 8 to 10 hours a day, a 2 hour show with a band is nothing. Studying the rudiments also taught me how to become a disciplined player when it comes to practicing and rehearsing. I think it goes without saying, but the fact you learn to read music as you study rudiments is worth its weight in gold when you talk about value to a drumset player.
Probably the biggest difference I would see from taking what you practice on a pad or drum with your rudiments and applying it to the drumset is the feel and sound. Where you're playing on the beat, meaning on top, in front, or behind the beat is not a major concern for rudimental players, but is essential for drumset players. Also the drumset requires a more "rounded" sound then a Kevlar-head snare or cranked set of tenors.
So what's next? What do you plan to be doing in the next few months? The next few years?
Well I'll be out here on the road until the first of March and then it's only home for a few days. As the next batch of dates roll in I'm sure it'll be more road time. We're heading back to Europe in May so that'll be a fun one I'm sure. As far as playing, I just want to continue pushing myself and developing my ability as a drummer and musician. I hope to get some time to where I can do some clinics and lessons as I really enjoy teaching. It's like the song says... You can't, you won't, and you don't stop...
Thanks to Zack for for taking the time to answer our questions. To get the latest schedule while on the road, to learn more, to schedule classes, or just to chat, you can contact Zack on Myspace:
Rick Monroe Band
Nashville-based drummer Zack Stewart was born on October 1st, 1984 in Owensboro, KY. After playing in local bands in and around his hometown for most of his teenage years Zack decided he wanted to advance his drumming skills. So, at the age of 19, he moved to Hollywood, CA to attend the Percussion Institute of Technology. At PIT Zack studied with many great teachers leading him to study privately with percussion greats Rob Carson, Virgil Donati, Andy Megna, Ellis Hampton, and Jim Bailey before relocating to Nashville. Zack toured with several bands including The Van-Dells "The Nations #1 Rock 'n Roll Review' before signing on to tour with the Rick Monroe Band full time. As his schedule allows Zack also works with Impact Audio Theater in Owensboro, Kentucky. Zack proudly endorses MAPEX drums.