The Zildjian Drummer Love contest (sponsored by Zildjian, Converse, DRUM! and photographer Robert Downs) selected winners after viewing videos of 4500 contestants. Six finalists were selected in each region and regional winners were selected by an all-star judging team including Tommy Lee, Questlove, and Kenny Aronoff.
Viewing videos submitted for Zildjian’s Drummer Love contest sounds like a blast in theory, but after the 47th YouTube clip of a dude or dudette wailing away in the family rec room, they start to blend together.
Some contestants had chops but the sound quality wasn’t there. Maybe the groove was slammin’ but the camera and lighting were so off we didn’t know if the beats were human or machine.
Then there were those contestants that did everything right. Mason Amlee floored us with a fusion-y clave-filled solo filmed at Turtle Studios in White Rock, British Columbia. He spent a good chunk of change to record in the state-of-the-art facility, but winning a new set of Zildjians has made the financial outlay a little less painful.
What impressed us most was how fast the 19-year-old Vancouver native achieved the skill level demonstrated on the video, which was filmed last January. “I could play in the pocket if I was lucky,” he says of the time before the fall of 2010, when he started getting serious. “But I had no flash and nothing cool going on at all really.”
The modest Canadian chalks up his success to an extreme practice regimen: six-to-eight-hour days in three-week blocks, supplemented with extra shed time afterhours at school when it got too late to play at home. To give his muscle memory time to absorb all the new neuro inputs, he’d follow each practice block with a week off.
Amlee points out that what seems like a short learning curve is actually just an efficient use of time. “If you spread out eight hours a day then I really have been playing longer than since September ,” he explains, “because most people don’t practice that much.”
Since the contest was restricted to U.S. citizens, the Canadian drummer initially was ineligible. Fortunately, enrolling fulltime at the Musician’s Institute in Los Angeles took care of that minor obstacle. “What I’ve found is that MI turns you into a very practical drummer,” he says. “It’s not about going there and becoming Virgil [Donati] or becoming [Dave] Weckl; it’s more that they want to turn everyone into a Josh Freese, where you’re studio [oriented] and you’re all pocket.”
Every second outside of class has been spent writing material and practicing for Amlee’s new band, Checkpoint Charlie. “It’s just a total pop band,” he says somewhat sheepishly. “But that’s the kind of music that’s the most fun for me to play.”
Checkpoint Charlie is putting the finishing touches on a demo being produced by studio vets Mike Plotnikoff (Kelly Clarkson, Santana) and Igor Khoroshev (former Yes keyboardist). So far there has been serious interest from Warner Bros. “I really want to be a rock star,” he says. “That’s the childhood dream.”
Amlee is a realist, though, so he’s got a Plan B. “I know that my life is going to be playing drums whether I’m in a studio or teaching kids,” he says. “But obviously I’m aiming high.”
Name Mason Amlee
Hails From Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Influences Nathan Followill, Jeremy Colson, Benny Greb
Band Checkpoint Charlie
Drums DW Custom Collection
Snare Brady Jarra Block
Hardware DW 9000 Hardware
Cymbals Paiste, Zildjian