Photo by Bryan Kremkau

Photo by Bryan Kremkau

What do you call a beautiful woman on a drummer’s arm? 
 A tattoo.

Drummers always get a bum rap. Why is that? Ever seen a good band with a shitty drummer? No. Know why? BECAUSE THEY DON’T EXIST. 

Drummers rule! We hit stuff, get peoples’ butts shaking, and ultimately determine whether or not the band is going to perform well. You CANNOT have a solid band without a solid drummer, so this column is for the hitters. 

Prior to his performance at this year’s inaugural Apple Stomp, taking place at Irving Plaza in NYC on May 31st and June 1st, I got in touch with Pilfers drummer James Blanck to talk about his approach and inspirations behind drumming. J


G- How long have you been playing drums and when did you get started?

J- I started to pick it up around the age of 12 or so (lets just say over 20 years ha,) but I didn’t get serious about studying/practice ‘til 16 when I was in a drum corps for snare.

And then, I got extremely lucky to get private lessons with a renowned “drum guru” Chuck Brown (who had taught Terry Bozzio, David Garibaldi and Mike Shrieve.) I think at that point, I really started to develop.

G- How long have you been playing professionally and what was your first project?? Do you remember the moment that you really felt that drum performance was your calling?

J- While still in my “wood shedding” phase, I was also in a local Symphony Orchestra for classical percussion and I guess around 18 I started get a few paid church gigs for snare and tympani. Load in was at 7:30 am ha!

I also got a few referrals for weddings and events from some teachers/mentors who couldn’t do the gig etc., but I think I knew I wasn’t really headed in that direction musically. I also had a kind of prog-goth band with friends in my high school days that we thought was good, but didn’t really go that far.

It was when I moved back to NYC to take a few more music classes and started getting a bunch of gigs through referrals and teachers that I knew for sure I was going to put my whole life into this.

Well, I supposed I already had at that point.

G- Let’s talk gear for a second… What is your current rig looking like? What kind of drums and cymbals are you using primarily, what configurations, and what companies are backing you up at this time?

J- I still have my old TAMA shells – 10” 12” 16” toms (sometimes i just use a 10” rack,) 22” bass drum, and generally use a vintage Ludwig metal snare for the “pop.”

I use Sabian cymbals and DW hardware, but the last few tours I’ve done have had backline and its been primarily all DW shells/gear, which I’ve been very happy with. I have been in the market for a new kit and I guess I would definitely lean towards DW (sadly no endorsement there . . .)

G- How often do you find yourself practicing independent from your performances? Any warm up tips or advice you can offer for our readers?

J- I’m a little embarrassed to say that I don’t practice that much anymore, but that is after over 25 years of playing. I think the fact that I wood-shedded for 5 hours a day from around the ages of 17 to 22 really built a foundation for what I would need, chops-wise.

I do think I could have studied a bit more and developed some “higher level” stuff. But I suppose when I started playing a lot of gigs around NYC, I was mostly concentrating on the individual music I was playing and wasn’t as into crazy chops at that point – I was focused on developing my groove and musicality, and less on “drum studies” by then.  I do try and warm up with rudiments thoroughly with a metronome before each gig.

G- What is the worst drum-related injury you’ve sustained from playing? What happened and what was the injury?

J- I don’t remember any specifically bad injuries directly related to drumming. I think once when I hadn’t properly warmed up or stretched and was playing on a strange kick pedal. I got a severe charlie-horse in my right leg – and literally had to stand up while playing to stretch it without stopping (pretty sure it was noticeable . . .)

G- How does international performance compare with your performances stateside, both in terms of how you play and the audience reaction?

J- Well, I’ll say that touring overseas with Ari-Up (RIP) after she hadn’t played  in many years really did spoil me for how I think other countries “seem” to respect musicians a bit more. Playing in London, Tokyo and around Europe was such a blast that I’m not sure I could answer that question objectively.

Also, it seems even if they don’t know you overseas, if they like it, they really get into it, whereas here maybe it’s a little more of a popularity contest (um, don’t quote me on that, ha!) I’m not sure I perform any differently though.

G- What is the craziest or most memorable show that you have played to date? Where was it and what was it like?

J- Well, I have played a lot of exciting shows in larger venues but again I think the first show in London with Ari-UP really sticks out in my mind. It wasn’t that big of a club, but they really packed it in. There were a couple famous English rockers there including Neh Neh Cherry who got up and performed with us, and the place just went bananas.

The club tried to shut it down because they had the late night “dance club” to set up for, but the crowd kept rioting for more encores and the bouncers were all freaking out. When I got backstage and they were all still chanting, I think I turned to the guitar player at the time (Agent Jay from Slackers) and said something to the effect of “that was a proper gig.”

G- Lastly, what advice can you give some of the young, up and coming drummers everywhere who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional drummer?

J- The cliché of practice, practice, practice may be boring but its true – Drumming is something that can be self taught, but I think young players should learn as much about theory and technique as they can – you then can “let go” of that stuff a little once you’ve gotten a bit under your belt and then try and think of music more as a feeling or and Idea which, ultimately, I think helps develop true creativity.

Oh yeah, and get on the road and see how that is as soon as you can, because that’s where your gonna be livin’ half your life. Especially in this day and age, musicians don’t sell as many CDs as they used to, so now it’s so much more about live shows/touring. It can be grueling, so it’s good to develop the stamina for something like that ASAP and learn how you’re gonna “pace yourself” under those conditions (but it can be a hell of a lot of fun!)