We caught up with Stephen Taylor, Drummer of the band Lovers and Liars a while back and here’s what one of the most humble drummers around today had to say on his journey as a drummer and future plans in this week’s International Drummer interview. Stephen is also well known for his blog http://www.drummeretc.blogspot.com/ where he posts lessons and regularly interacts with drummers from around the globe. Here’s the interview :
ID: Hey Stephen. Thanks for doing this interview. How’ve you been? What’s keeping you busy of late?
Stephen: I’m honoured that you guys even wanted to have me do one! I’ve been fantastic. On the music side of things, I’ve been quite busy. I have my band, Lovers and Liars that I play with. I’ve also had a couple of other road dates with different groups as well as some in town dates and recording sessions.
The online You Tube lessons have really been consuming a lot of my time. The amount of email questions I’m getting these days is surprising. I’m trying to post them all to my blog so that other drummers can maybe learn from the answers as well. I’ve also been working on the quality of the lessons…adding metronomes to the exercises, getting better at mixing the audio, adding a better looking intro, and working on my delivery of the material. I’m always worried that someone won’t understand a lesson that I put up, so I’m working on being as clear and concise as possible when I explain things.
I also released a method book last month called “Functioning in Time”. You can get it here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/functioning-in-time/16365369
It’s available as a hard copy or as a digital download. That book actually came from doing the online lessons…I wanted something I could teach out of at times, something that would give drummers sheet music to follow.
ID: When did you first start playing the drums? What made you choose the drums?
Stephen: I started playing in middle school band in the 8th grade. I started later than everyone else (I was home schooled until the 8th grade), and so they actually put me in the 6th grade band because I was way behind the other 8th grade drummers. Talk about a blow to the ego! I didn’t start private drum lessons until the age of 14, that’s when I got my first drum set.
I actually wanted to play the saxophone when I went into band (SO glad I didn’t!). I tested horribly on that and all of the other wind instruments, so he handed me a pair of drum sticks. Had no clue at that time that drumming would play such a huge part of my life.
ID: Were there any other instruments you played before moving over to the drums?
Stephen: I took about a years worth of piano lessons when I was a kid. I wound up not wanting to practice and making my parents miserable with my complaining, so they agreed that after a year I could quit. I later regretted quitting. The piano is one of my favourite instruments. There are so many harmonic possibilities. I had to learn vibraphones, marimba, and a ton of other keyboard related instruments in college, so continuing with my piano lessons really would have made college a lot easier.
ID: Who were your early influences as far as music was concerned? Who were your major inspirations?
Stephen: Hmmm…good question. My parents were Christian ministers, so a lot of my early musical influences were old hymns and popular praise and worship songs. I later got into DC Talk, Carmen, and such. Once I hit middle school, I discovered grunge and punk rock music…and never looked back! I have SO many bands that influenced me from then…Rancid, Weezer, MxPx, Lagwagon, Nirvana (HUGE fan)…lol, this list could get really long! Those were some of my favs. As far as inspiration goes, I really think I liked the energy behind rock…you could just lose yourself in the songs. Still my favourite part to this day. Sometimes we get so caught up in the technical side of things, we forget why we started playing in the first place.
ID: Same question with respect to drumming, who are your major drumming influences?
Stephen: Now this is really a list that could go on and on. I’ll try to not get long winded…All of the drummers that played at church when I was a kid. They were huge in giving me a love for the instrument, and I honestly don’t think they ever knew they were inspiring some kid from South Mississippi.
I got into a ton of popular music when I played in New Orleans. I’m a huge fan of Steve Gadd and Steve Jordan. Danny Seraphine from the band Chicago is great as well. I also have a love for New Orleans drumming…Stanton Moore, Johnny Vidakovich, Russell Batiste, Herlin Riley, Zigaboo Modeliste, Raymond Webber. These are the cats that are still carrying on the New Orleans drumming tradition.
When I hit college, I really got into jazz. My biggest influences in that area are Tony Williams (a rhythmic master), Elvin Jones (the way he viewed the drum set as one instrument and not a combination of different drums was revolutionary to my thinking. His energy was also amazing!), and Art Blakey (He taught me to swing). Any of the drummers from the Count Basie Big Band are great to listen to. My modern jazz favs are the drummer for a band called The Bad Plus, Dave King. Ari Hoenig, Jeff “Tain” Watts, and Bill Stewart are regular favs as well.
And finally to rock. Dave Grohl..hands down favourite rock drummer. His parts are so perfect for every song. I also love Darren King (I had the privilege of giving him lessons while I lived in New Orleans) of the band Mute Math. Great style and energy.
This list could actually be endless, lol, so I’ll just stop there!
ID: What did you learn from your idols and incorporate them in your playing?
Stephen: Instead of trying to take particular “licks” that a drummer plays and learn them myself, I struggle to view their playing in a wider sense. For instance, maybe I love the energy of a certain drummer while they’re playing. I’ll take that and try to figure out how to use that energy in whatever situation I’m playing in. Elvin Jones was a total rock star on the drums…he just happened to play jazz music.
I’ll take something that I hear one of them play and pick it apart. So I’ll learn it how they played it, and then I’ll build my own exercises out of it. This is what I call turning an “idea” into a “concept”. So instead of one fill idea giving you only one fill to use, you take that idea and start to move it around the kit, play it in triple time, make a groove out of it, etc. So this way, you’re taking a Tony Williams lick and making it your own. I steal a lot of stuff from other drummers, but I try to eventually make it my own through practice.
ID: You’re quite a popular guy with the online drum lessons. When did you start posting online lessons? What made you do this?
Stephen: I actually started blogging about drums a long time before the lessons. I was burned out from some of the gigs I had been playing and wanted a way to re-invigorate myself on the drums. I found that the way to do that was by going back to why I first started playing; that sheer love of the instrument. So I started writing about my experiences so that other drummers could avoid the mistakes I have made. I then bought a different house and made a small studio setup, got a camera, and joined the You Tube crowd. I honestly think that I have something to offer in the area of lessons. I’ve taken lessons since the age of 14. I’ve put a ton of work into this instrument and have found different ways to work on exercises that help to simplify them. I thought I would just do a few of them, but I honestly enjoy teaching…they’re fun for me. I love talking to drummers from Japan, Iceland, Europe, and India all before I have my morning coffee! I answer every comment, message, and email (or at least I do my best to not get behind). It’s begun to consume a lot of my time and I’m trying to figure out the best way to structure it in the future so that I can maintain and improve the quality of the lessons, but still have some kind of life, lol! I’ve got a few options I’m throwing around. The one thing that’s for sure…I won’t be stopping them any time soon. So if any of your readers have questions or lesson requests, they can send them to Stephen@LoversandLiars.com or firstname.lastname@example.org . I’d be more than happy to talk with them!
On top of just drum lessons, I’ve used my pull from the different social sites (Twitter, Blogger, Facebook, and YouTube) to run a few campaigns for charitable causes. The first one was for Conspiracy of Hope. We were raising money for My Refuge House and International Justice Missions. These organizations help to get children out of the international sex slave trade. We raised almost $4,000 on that one.
The next one was actually for someone online that watches my lessons. He has two very sick daughters and they had simply hit a rough spot. We ran a small funding campaign on IndieGoGo and managed to raise over $10,000 for an addition to their new house! I was blown away by the response! I still can’t believe it. He’s coming to Nashville in a couple of weeks so I’ll finally be able to meet he and his wife in person.
Helping to raise over $14,000 over the past year for good causes is probably one of the highlights of my life. You never know where drumming will take you!
ID: There a lot of really good lessons there. How do you go about choosing a topic for a video lesson?
Stephen: A lot of them are requests. A lot of them are things that I’ve worked on in the past. I’m beginning to build up quite a catalogue now though, so I’ve started to look back and fill in a lot of the holes that I’ve missed in the past lessons. I just did one on how to open the hi-hat during a groove. It’s a very simple lesson, but it’s something that I’ve had repeated questions on, so I needed to cover it. I really want to put together enough lessons so that if someone needs to learn a rudiment or a specific style, they can come to my lessons and click on the one that applies.
ID: You’ve covered a lot of different drumming concepts in the lessons, how has that helped your playing?
Stephen: Honestly, learning how to break down complicated concepts into small 8-10 minute video lessons has really made me re-think how I explain and work on things. I’ve become a better player just by going back through a lot of the info that I teach on. It’s imperative for a drummer to be well versed in different world rhythms and popular styles. I always make a drummer do what I call “Cross pollinate”. When bees fly from flower to flower, they pick up pollen on their legs, thereby pollinating the flower just by landing on it. Cross pollination happens when a bee flies from one type of flower to a completely different breed. Pollen from the different flower is deposited onto the new flower. In drumming, we sometimes get caught up only listening to one style of music. I have students that will only listen to new metal music. Yes, there are a lot of great drummers in that genre…but if you only allow yourself to listen to that style, you’re missing out on a world of rhythmic possibilities! Take what you learn in jazz and try to make it translate to metal or rock music.
ID: How has the reception been so far? You must be getting a lot of fan mails I guess.
Stephen: I don’t know about fan mail, but I do get a TON of emails, comments, and the likes. A lot of questions…everything from stick size, to songs people should learn, to motivation…any question you can think up to send me, I’ll answer! I’ve seen a pretty significant spike in traffic as of late, which is encouraging. You always want to make sure you’re doing things for the right reason and that what you’re doing is actually helping people.
ID: Now getting to your drums setup, give us an insight of your setup.
Stephen: I play a Yamaha Recording Custom kit; have for over 10 years now. I’m not a big gear head; I don’t have 15 drum-sets sitting in my basement. I have one primary kit with a large floor tom that can be used as a kick drum for a small jazz setting if needed.
Here’s my normal setup…
Yamaha Maple Custom Snare or Yamaha Recording Custom
10-13” rack tom, depending on the gig
15” Floor tom
20” Kick Drum
I use Remo Coated Ambassadors for my heads. Clear on the bottom head.
I’ve obtained a couple of endorsements this past year. I now play Silverfox drumsticks as well as endorse Grover Pro Percussion. I also endorse Soultone Cymbals. A great company that will grow in the future I think. 24” Vintage Old School Patina Finish Ride Cymbal, 18” Vintage Old School Crash Ride, 19” Extreme Crash, and 13” Vintage Hi Hats.
Iron Cobra for the kick pedal.
This is my standard setup for a Lovers and Liars gig.
ID: How do you go about tuning your kit? Any common mistakes one must avoid while tuning their kit?
It depends on the gig actually. For a jazz gig I’ll tune them higher with coated heads. For a rock gig, more mid range and punchy with either coated or pinstripe. Tuning is a very individual thing. Drums aren’t like other instruments. With a piano, a middle C will always be a middle C…it’s the same pitch. With drums, we don’t tune to specific pitches. It’s really particular to each drummer.
I actually did a lesson on this topic…it’s about 15 minutes long…rather than type everything that I said, I’ll put the link here…
ID: What does your warm up routine consist of?
Stephen: Before a show I’ll usually run through a series of single and doubles just to center my mind and warm my hands up before hitting the first note. Before I practice I will sometimes got through the rudimental ritual by Alan Dawson or just play along to some of my favourite music.
ID: Any particular patterns or exercises you’d like to share with us?
Stephen: Look up the Rudimental Ritual by Alan Dawson. It’s one of my staples.
ID: You endorse Silverfox drumsticks, Grover Pro percussion and SoulTone cymbals. What do you like about each of them?
Stephen: Silverfox is a great group of guys. I got the opportunity to sit down with them for lunch during the Summer NAMM show a couple of weeks ago. Their customer service has been fantastic, and their sticks are epic. I’m still on my first brick of sticks and it’s been MONTHS.
I love that SoulTone is a smaller company. They’re making some really interesting lines.
ID: As a drummer, how do you find a balance between technique and musicality of a groove? What’s your approach when it comes to taking things around the kit?
Stephen: To me, technique should always be something we’re working on. Too many players and teachers get hung up on a student having perfect technique before moving on to the next thing. I mean, we don’t wait for a student to play a perfect paradiddle before he can move on to learning a flam! Technique should be something that grows with you. My first teacher really spent a lot of time on technique…which I appreciate now, but at the time I would have liked to spend a little more of the lesson on the drum set. As a disclaimer, my first real drum teacher was AMAZING. Very privileged I got to study under him.
Musicality, on the other hand, is what the whole thing is about. Technique is simply a means to an end. I’ve seen some phenomenal players with some of the worst technique you’ve ever seen (look at a lot of the early reggae drummers). So technique doesn’t have to be present for musicality to be there. Both should be practiced and worked on continually. The balance works itself out the more you work on it.
ID: You’re a part of the band Lovers and Liars, give us a brief history of how the band came about.
Stacy had just left another band and was really trying to find himself in the music again…so he began to write on the piano instead of the guitar. A few songs came out of it, which he was content to leave alone. Adam heard them though and told him he had to get them out to people and play them live…so that’s when Lovers and Liars were born. Jason came a bit later, and then I joined up with them almost two years ago.
ID: You released a dual EP called “before and After the Awakening” how was the reception to that?
Stephen: The reception was good. The songs got the attention of several radio stations as well as some movers and shakers in the industry, which ultimately led to our dealings with Universal Records. Always make it about the music and it will work out!
ID: You’ve shared the stage with bands like Shinedown, Seether, and Theory of a Deadman to name a few, how was it like sharing the stage which such bands?
Stephen: In one word…fun. Not a lot of musicians have the opportunity to play to larger crowds with bands like you mentioned. It’s been a blast so far, both big and small shows.
ID: Which is your best show to date? What are your most memorable moments on stage?
Stephen: Our best show to date would have to be a show we did in Little Rock, Arkansas. The energy, the crowd, the response…it was all just perfect. There’s nothing like being on stage and knowing it’s an epic show, one that you’ll remember.
As far as most memorable moments on stage…it would have to be the time I knocked my cymbal stand off of the drum riser and the cymbal cut the line to the main breaker on the right side of the stage…audio, lights…everything went out. There’s a video about it on my You Tube channel if anyone wants to hear the whole story, lol!
How I Melted My Cymbal:
ID: You guys have something really interesting going on in your music. It’s quite different from the other contemporary acts but at the same time it has a really good melody at the centre driving the entire song forward, how do you guys go about writing the songs?
Stephen: Up until this point, Stacy has been the sole songwriter. He’s a monster of a talent. And you’re right; the thing that drove me to the band was the different sound mixed will memorable lyrics and melodies. He’s hands down the most talented writer I’ve ever met…and I’ve met a lot of successful writers.
ID: As a drummer how do you go about writing your parts for the band? What’s the main challenge for you while writing your parts?
Stephen: When writing a part for a band like Lovers and Liars, the last thing I want the listener to focus on is the drums. I want to be a part of the song, not the song and then the drums. I strive to support the melodies, give room for the vocal lines, not distract from the beauty of the song as a whole. If that requires playing a simple rock beat so be it…if I hear something cooler going on in my head and it works with the song, that’s what I do. There are no set rules for writing parts, just go with your gut. Give the song what it needs…and most of the time it doesn’t need another drum fill, lol!
ID: Are there any upcoming shows you guys have got brewing up?
Stephen: We’ve had a lot of things going on in the band on a personal level…not in the sense that we’re not getting along; the individual players have just had a lot happening in their own lives they’ve needed to focus on. We haven’t been playing as many shows as we usually do this year, but we’ve got one coming up in Nashville.
ID: Any side projects you’re involved in?
Stephen: I do session and live work outside of the band. I’m focusing on the lessons this next year. And there are few possible side projects…but I’ll keep my mouth shut until they happen ;^)
ID: How do you prepare before entering the studio?
Stephen: Play to a click! It’s a must. The last thing you want to think about in the studio is the click. I make sure to know the song backwards and forwards if I have the charts beforehand. If I have to walk in and sight read them, I make sure my groove is together. I also make sure my gear is in proper working order…new heads, no cracked cymbals, etc.
ID: How’s the studio environment like?
Stephen: It can be stressful at times, but it can also be a lot of fun. I tell players all of the time…you practice all of the different things you do so that you can go into a session and give the person that you hired whatever they’re asking for. If they want a bossa nova type groove, you should be able to do it. A swing…it should be in your bag. You practice a lot of things that you’ll never play live simple so you’ll have the skills and coordination to pull off one little fill at just the right moment.
For some songs my band recorded earlier in the year, they had me do two takes on each song. One take was just playing the drums; the other take was just playing the cymbals. Talk about a challenge! I had done that before, but never for my own bands songs. But you just go with the flow. That’s what the others thought would work best, so I did what I could to make that happen. And they turned out good.
ID: What are the common mistakes you’ve seen drummers make in the studio?
Stephen: Overplaying, being to nervous, having bad sounding gear, and coming in with an agenda. Unless you’re someone on the level of Steve Gadd, you don’t have a right to have an attitude in the studio. You do what they ask you…be willing to try the things they want to a point. A lot of times it comes out sounding great!
ID: Any tips you’d like to give drummers before they hit the studio?
Stephen: Just relax…practice to a click…remember why you started playing…and enjoy it!
ID: Getting to live shows, do you still get nervous before gig?
Stephen: Not so much anymore…Unless it’s a really big show. I’m as comfortable playing in front of 10 people as I am 3,000. I actually get more nervous when I do drum clinics than anything!
ID: How do you prepare before a gig?
Stephen: Depends on what the gig is. If it’s a group that I’ve never played with, I’ll spend the time to run over the music or make charts. If it’s a session, I’ll make sure my gear is in order. I like to over prepare for a gig. I once learned 64 songs in 2 and a half days! But I knew it was my only shot to play with this group. I went in, nailed every song, and wound up playing 6 days a week with that band.
The best advice I’ve ever been given is this…Treat every gig like it’s the most important show in the world. Treat them all like you’re playing at Carnegie Hall. Whether you’re playing with a bar band, a high school marching band, a headlining country act, or you’re selling out stadiums…you should treat them all the same. The number of people you’re playing in front of shouldn’t affect your professionalism one bit.
ID: How is touring like? What’s the toughest part about it?
Stephen: Touring can be fun, especially if you go out with the right people. You get to see tons of new cities, meet a lot of really great people, play with some killer bands, and on top of that you get to play the drums for a living. Can’t beat that.
The toughest part is being away from family. I’m a big family guy. I have two little boys and a beautiful wife at home. I LOVE spending time with them. So when I’m out on the road, I really miss my time with them.
ID: What advice would you give to all the young and budding drummers out there?
Stephen: Work hard. Harder than you think you have to. I’m not the most talented drummer in the world, but I’ll out work you every time. Never get an attitude. Always stay humble. No gig is beneath you. You can learn something from every musician you play with, no matter what their age is or their playing experience. Learn to read music. Get a good teacher. Always strive to expand your musical borders.
And remember…you started playing the drums because you loved them. Don’t ever lose sight of that. I love my wife. I fall in love with her every time I see her. You have to be the same with your drumming…every time you sit down to play you should have that feeling of falling in love with them again.
ID: Have you set yourself any goals for the rest of this year?
Stephen: HA!!! Absolutely! I always have a running list of goals that I’m trying to get to. I want to practice more this year. I miss having that time on the drums. I practice, but not as much as I used to be able to.
I’m also focusing on the lessons this year. Where that will lead me I don’t know. I’m working on figuring out the best way I can keep making the lessons better…how I can keep the pace up I have. Should be some cool things happening in the next year.
Thanks a lot for doing this interview Stephen; this is your space, anything you’d like to tell your fans, students, family, etc. put it down here.
Stephen : The only thing I have to tell anyone is that I’m here. If you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to shoot me a comment, Tweet, or an email. I answer each and every one.
Band website: www.LoversandLiars.com