Thomas Lang , Drummer , Composer , Producer & an Educator. Thomas Lang’s recent collabration with Artist Works is a step towards future. Let’s hear what Thomas Lang has to say about “Thomas Lang School of Drums” in his exclusive talk with Indian Drummer. Have a good read.
ID : What was your main idea behind coming up with these online drums classes and online sessions?
Thomas: I have been recording various instructional DVDs as well as writing books since quite long now and a simple idea stuck my mind is once something is created it becomes a piece of information which exists in various physical forms but cannot be personalized and it was necessary to come up with something which is lot more interactive and created by me and students together. This way we could create a curriculum which is constantly growing and evolving with each question that I get and each difficulty that a student faces. So, it is on a video exchange technology which is not only interactive but gives me opportunity to take my private classes at my own leisure and help students across the World by scheduling according to time gaps, which is much beyond just skype chat. The value a student gets is an intense, private and personalized learning on subscription based online classroom.
ID: How does the students, industry react to this change in medium of learning? How successful you feel it is?
Thomas: It is very successful as it only involves a simple mechanism of webcam and a computer. The students can connect to me through this and even upload and download videos through my website which enables exchange of lot of information. So it’s a new medium but the concept is the same. Every member is pretty much enjoying it for its simplicity and benefits. I am enjoying having a student- teacher relationship which is much beyond just selling a product to an anonymous user. I can even take care of what sticks they use, techniques of foot and hand, evaluate and correct their problems and limitations.
ID: How do get into micro details of their problems and provide an environment exactly like actual classroom.
Thomas: I have made every section of the curriculum preloaded with loads of exercises available on videos of 15 minutes each. So, the student can go through them before the actual class and raise a video connect with me and ask specific queries by putting up a video where they have played the same exercise. So I can dig deep into it and point out for example your left hand looks sloppy. Can you send me another video with camera focusing on left hand? Once I get this video, I can asses it and then I correct my student by pointing at the better technique and record the same exercise by setting the camera on my left hand and exchange it for better clarity and proper way of doing the same exercise.
ID: You have so many commitments tours, classes, online sessions, so how do you manage your time?
Thomas: Well, obviously It is not easy I am travelling, recording, touring with people, having my classes, even drum camp but I find time for everything. There are times when I have busy recording or touring and I do not respond to videos of my students but in the worst case I take out at least one full day in a week to respond to all the videos. So maximum it is 3-4 days as a wait for a student and it is pretty acceptable. It takes much more than a day or a week to run all these things together but it is about passion and conviction that keeps me going.
ID: How do you typically approach any complex fill? Is it a planned pattern made for specific bars or a very ad hoc feel based composition?
Thomas: It depends on the music I play if I am playing officially for somebody and it is conventional music I would love to play a complex well thought pattern and if it a commercial music then it is ad hoc approach & go with the gut feeling. In commercial music fills are based on my experience, my musical taste and then I improvise. I always try to create some sort of vibe or energy to build up the song by bringing dynamics or cool it down so that it suit to the taste, persona and mood of the music. It is totally spontaneous and more of irrational way. If it is complex I change my approach then I pre-plan things more thoroughly and take drum fills more as a feature and think out of the box. I start by analyzing the full song and approach it in a more intellectual way by keeping the central idea behind the song intact and try to give certain parts of the song a signature fill which is a rational approach but that happens when music is complex and strictly composed.
ID: A common problem with drummers is lack of power and speed on the left foot? How can one improve that?
Thomas: Answer to this is pretty simple and that is do exactly what you do with your right foot or right hand. Rudimentary exercises are good to begin with but the trick is to concentrate on each limb separately. Right foot has been playing grooves and beats for so many years so it becomes stronger and more dynamic wherein left foot playing hi-hat which requires a different technique than playing bass drums. So matching the skills with your left foot requires long hours of dedicated practice on rudiments like paradiddle, Flam tabs plus syncopated patterns of left foot and right foot.
ID: Can you throw some light on drums related injuries? You even recovered from Carpal tunnel syndrome? So was it due to long practice hours?
Thomas: In my case, yes it was a professional injury as I am playing for many decades now. This gave me trigger finger on my right thump. I am sure there are genetic reasons too, but I have been very consciously noticing how my grip is and what my hands are doing each time. Still getting an injury after spending 40 years behind the drums becomes unavoidable because I am a powerful, loud player and even use very thick and heavy sticks. I was lucky that I could get rid of this problem by simple surgery. The injury happened gradually over years and it took me three years to recover fully from this. Now my right hand is back to 100% normal, I feel relaxed, use the grip I want to and play the very same.
Regarding Drum Injuries it is something every drummer should be seriously aware of and try to follow proper posture in each session on drums after a appropriate warm up. Lot of drummers try to gain speed or dynamics by coming up with their version of traditional grips or pedal techniques which is very unnatural to the muscle in action. This will (if not soon) add onto a big metamorphic impact on the very muscle and cost you much more than your innocent intention of playing fast or playing with better dynamics. The simple advice will be to keep a full size mirror in perpendicular to your drum kit and take care of maintain a proper posture, grip and pedal technique at every tempo, groove or full swing practice sessions.
ID: How should a drummer approach his career in drumming once he knows that he has enough interest and passion?
Thomas: It has less to do with talent and more to do with passion and then taking a call on what genre he likes and wants to pursue. If it is global commercial rock and pop music then I will suggest to go where this form of music is happens, created and produced for example U.S; Los Angeles, New York; London. Next step is not only to work on your skills and talent but also in parallel track which are the key people in the industry, understanding environment and having a structure to network with them. Next factor to take care is logistics and business angle to each project you take.
As far as various avenues are concerned one can become a session drummer, studio drummer or even a touring live drummer too. There is a great possibility of becoming a teacher where in you specialize in one particular form of music. You can also work for a drum company; become a coach, a drum tech which helps to come up with better products. So there are three major categories as a career option. One to be a entertainer, another to be someone who passes on information to younger drummers and third is to be a creative to come up with something new as a product or a new technique or skills. This is just based on your gut feeling.
ID: There is always a point in a drummer’s life to choose between money and creative satisfaction? How to deal with this?
Thomas: Well this is true that one needs to pay the bills and have shelter but there is bigger thing to have support from parents, family or friends. If you were able to learn drums at first place and have your drum kit in your room with help of your parents so soon you should be able to hone the skills and make a profession out of it. After all this there is always a choice you have to make between creativity and finance. My opinion is to become a professional musician. The job description is to make money out of playing music and handling financials only by creating music. So if you are playing a gig which is only creatively associated with you then you are not professional musician but just a hobby player. This is something you need to work out for you and find gigs which pay off bills so that you can establish yourself and then make creative choices to play something you like to play.
ID: A lot of new things are coming onto the music scene, like electronic kits , gears and new softwares, making drummers replaceable . So how do you feel about it? Is it a threat? How is it going to change the music scene.
Thomas: I think technological progress is necessary and good. It can help us as musicians become more productive, and more creative to create with less expense. However, the downside is that it drives certain musicians to use machines more frequently than people. In today’s music scene historically it is the first time that more music is produced by non-musicians than musicians, which is a shocking development. 80% of music today is produced by non-musicians. Some kid with a garage band can whip a neat little tune sing on it and release it on the internet. The audience listening to it gets desensitized; they cannot discriminate between music made by a great musician and a twelve year old. It all sounds good due to technology, the quality is decent and it is just a matter of the idea that makes the difference the concept behind the song. Technology has in a way helped; n also in a way diminished and hindered a musician’s career.
In general A valuable and really good thing on many levels, because easy deploy, can play day or night, turn it down , don’t need to mute or soundproof your room , don’t need to commute to your rehearsal room easy for recording but u still require actual skill and coordination to play them. About the software that you mentioned, I use a lot of these softwares and plugins in the studio, it is never as good as a real musician but you only know that if you used a real musician. But the problem is most of the people who use these software don’t know any better, they don’t know the diff between a guitar plugin or a real guitar player, they don’t know playing creatively, they only know to create produce samples and loops they cannot actually produce anything themselves. It’s a sad development in a way and has a lot to do with education and government sponsored music programmes in schools with lack of knowledge on what art is, what it means, what music is , where it comes from, what the purpose of music is and so on. I blame a certain lack of education and a conscious effort to create something that is of artistic value and not only of commercial value.
ID: How is the feeling working with legendary drummers like Billy and Luis and coming up with this novel concept of online drum sessions?
Thomas: It is a pleasure. Billy Cobham was always a huge inspiration when I grew up playing the drums. My first drum clinic ever as a young child was with Billy Cobham, so it’s a true honor and a pleasure. Billy’s become a good and very friendly colleague of mine and we have become friend over the years. Same with Luis and he is my neighbour here in Los Angeles. We live very close to each other and we work together all the time on various projects in the studio for different artists. Luis has become a very close friend over the years; we have played many concerts before. I feel really good and in honorable company and it’s a real pleasure to be a part of this radically new and modern concept of teaching online with these two legends.
ID: So have you ever been to India ?
Thomas: Yes I have
ID: So how was the experience?
Thomas : It was great, although I was in Delhi in early 90’s and there was a cholera outbreak and we couldn’t leave the hotel. It wasn’t as (tourist)* stay would be and I was kind of hoping to come to India soon.
ID: Any plans or any preset projects for India?
Thomas : No, not for India right now. Unfortunately I wish I had a plan to go. I am going to South America, Japan, all over Europe in the fall; I am all over the place but unfortunately not planning to come to India. I hope I can make it India in near future.
ID: We as Indian Drummer are trying to setup and talk to sponsors for organizing a workshop. Would you be interested if everything works out?
Thomas: Absolutely yes!! I would love to come and play for workshops.
ID: Any current projects you are working on?
Thomas: I am currently working in the studio with Paul Gilbert recording his new album; he is a guitarist with Razor X and Mr Big. He played on my latest album. This and the next three months I am producing three different records, one is in collaboration with Oscar guitar player Conrad Shrink. Currently I am finishing the new Stork album with my band which will be coming out after the summer. I have also recorded acoustic album for my music label.
ID: Thomas you mentioned that you write, compose and record along with session drumming. So can we expect an album just by Thomas Lang?
Thomas: Actually I have done many before such things in past. In my solo release I play all the instruments, write all the songs & I do write songs for other ppl as well. I play keyboard on all songs unless I have keyboard player to play. I do all the production, recording for my album. I have been doing all this since 1990.
ID: Who is/are your favorite drummers?
Thomas: I have many favorite drummers. When I started out my two biggest inspirations were Buddy Rich & Ringo Star. Buddy Rich was a super technical guy & solo performer. Ringo Star was totally opposite Band member , team player . Buddy was super fast with traditional grip & Ringo played match grip. They Still Inspire me & my drumming is between these two style.
Thanks Thomas for your time, Cheers & Happy Drumming !
Thomas : My pleasure , Thank you guys.