Jazz fosters self-discipline and flexibility. With preparation comes spontaneity. That mantra has served Josh Collazo well in what has been a vigorous and varied career — particularly in his role over the last several years in the quirky 11-member folk-rock ensemble Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros.
“Playing in swing jazz bands for so long has given me the tools I need to play with Edward Sharpe,” he muses. “This band can have a very loose feel onstage and my job is to keep the beat solid and make sure everybody knows where the 1 is. With rock drumming, I like to keep it meat-and-potatoes, but when it needs to go to another level, I try to help lift it there.”
Collazo’s drumming roots run deep, back to his teen years when he laid eyes, and hands, on his stepdad’s drum set. That “aha” moment set in motion a lifelong love affair, which led to private drum lessons and eventually music studies at Fullerton College. His first pro gig was at age 17 with the Eddie Reed Big Band, a staple of the ’90s SoCal swing dance scene, followed by opportunities in several Los Angeles-area jazz groups, including a decade-long stint with guitar master Jonathan Stout And His Campus Five, with whom he still plays when his schedule permits.
In the midst of all the jazz, Collazo diversified sporadically, playing blues and punk, as well as electronic rock with Written House, which reconnected him with an old friend, guitarist Christian Letts. At the time Letts was working on demos with Alex Ebert, the mastermind and founder of Edward Sharpe And the Magnetic Zeros — and the rest is, as they say, history.
The Zeros’ inaugural full-length release in 2009, Up From Below, showcased their overall multidimensional and multicultural texture and spawned the breakout anthemic single “Home” — featured in numerous hit TV shows, videos, and commercials. Because Collazo’s tenure in Edward Sharpe stretches back to the band’s modest beginnings, his identifiable influences have certainly added to the fabric of their vibe. Collazo calls it a “smorgasbord of sound.”
“I think we have an overall ’60s/early-’70s vibe to us, but it’s kind of a mix of everything — country, rock, ’60s psychedelic, African music, even a little bit of jazz — and I think that’s the reason why we’re kind of hard to classify. Everybody comes from a different musical background and brings that to the band. On our first album, every song is totally different, and the same goes for the new material. It’s cohesive in the sense that it sounds like an Edward Sharpe record, but we’ve definitely branched out, experimenting with new sounds and styles.”
Perhaps that evolution and growth have come from the collaborative recording process on their second outing, Here. Tracks like “That’s What’s Up” — with its ’50s feel, swung eighth-notes, and tom fills — and the gospel-tinged “I Don’t Wanna Pray,” for which Collazo literally played his chest to get a soft shuffle feel, showcase both his skills and his spontaneity.
“I feel like I’ve opened up and grown a lot since I’ve been in this band,” he reflects. “Before, it was mostly a traditional jazz thing, very conformed, more quarter-note bass drum, which was great for that style of music. But after joining Edward Sharpe, that’s when I grew into a more solid overall drummer. And I owe a lot to Alex. He has a very focused vision and has given me suggestions for beats and ideas for what the song needs. I definitely think my ears are a lot more open and hopefully I’ve become more of a chameleon, technique-wise.”
Adopting an intensive practice regimen has certainly helped his technique evolve. Whether he’s working through Jim Chapin’s drum bible, Advanced Techniques For The Modern Drummer or John Riley’s The Art Of Bop Drumming, Collazo says he rarely goes a few days without playing drums.
“I’ve been using Chapin’s book off and on for the last ten years. I always go back to that book to loosen me up. When it comes to technique, I’m always trying to enrich my jazz side, because I feel like I can always pull from that for my rock side. And I like to do exercises and warm up before we go onstage. I’ll do a bunch of paradiddles, variations, eighths, and all that ... it’s pretty surprising how much I use paradiddles in all my playing.”
The band’s other drummer, Orpheo McCord, handles all the electronics and percussion. And for the acoustic side, Collazo prefers loose heads and detuned drums. “I like them worn-in a bit and actually prefer a detuned-sounding tom for the Edward Sharpe stuff. It kind of gives it that timpani-like quality and bounce-back. I keep the bass drum pretty focused because of the amount of instruments we have onstage — it kind of cuts through it all. Lately, I’ve been cranking up the bottom head on the snare a bit more and tuning the top head the same as the bottom. It gives it a good overall snare crack that cuts through. I’ve been using the strainer a lot more on this album — tightening it up for a focused sound or loosening it and letting it rattle on certain songs.”
With an intensive tour schedule and international dates looming large on the horizon, he’ll have a drum tech for the first time. Collazo’s chops and opps have grown steadily and exponentially along with the band’s, and with the release of Here, he’s excited about the next phase of the ride.
“It’s been a fun journey and continues to be so every day. We came together as friends and acquaintances when the band first started and slowly friendships built, and now I feel we are a family. In the last year, there’s been a lot of trust and that trust has helped us get to that next level musically. We go out onstage, smile at each other, and do not worry about whether the songs are absolutely perfect. If we’re having fun, hopefully the audience will have fun, too. Personally, I feel this journey has made me a better musician and that’s what I’m most excited about.”
Josh Collazo’s grooves are elemental and instinctual. He doesn’t play parts. Instead, he sits down and allows his hands to take the lead. The results are very mellow and in-the-pocket, all the while the patterns shifting slightly from measure to measure. Here are all the various patterns occurring in “Fiya Wata” (preceded by the song’s opening fill). Collectively they form the basis of the song’s groove.
Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros
The Zeros’ genius lies in the selfless musicality of its ten-plus contributors, resulting on their sophmore release in a gorgeous blend of tender dust-bowl ballads, righteous gospel, and ’60s- and ’70s-influenced pop, rock, and soul. Drummer Josh Collazo covers a lot of rhythmic ground, and does so with taste and panache. The swing-influenced drummer displays masterful dynamic control and a knack for blending with additional percussion and instrumentation. Collazo’s warm, vintage tones perfectly support the twang-tinged vocals of Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos. “Man On Fire” starts with sparse kick drum before exploding into a buoyant, New Orleans-inspired snare march. “That’s What’s Up” follows suit, with minimalistic verses and choruses augmented by colorful flourishes on the toms and nifty brushwork on the snare. Collazo channels his inner Ringo on “Mayla,” building simple, patient fills amidst syncopated kick and snare verse/chorus beats. “Fiya Wata” features a tasty mid-song drum break — one of the few indulgent moments on a well-crafted record geared toward the gestalt.
Band Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros
Current Release Here
Birthplace Downey, California
Influences Ringo, John Bonham, Jim Keltner, Dave Grohl, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Big Sid Catlett, George Wettling, Zutty Singleton, and many more.
Web Site joshcollazo.com
Cymbals Paiste Dark Energy
Sticks Vic Firth 5A