For a lot of professional musicians, the only thing tougher than figuring out how to get famous, is figuring out what to do after you’ve been famous. After all, once you’ve toured the world four or five times, a desk job is going to be kind of hard to take. This is one drummer’s story of the dreaded Life After Rock, and how he was able to make it a pretty magical time.
As the drummer for the groundbreaking rock act The Pixies, David Lovering had all the fun he could handle from about 1986 to 1993, supplying clock-like timekeeping as the backdrop for the inventive insanity of band mates Black Francis (now Frank Black), Kim Deal, and Joey Santiago. They consistently set the pop world on its ear with albums like Doolittle, Bossanova, and Trompe le Monde, toured with U2, and had their share of creative spats in the process.
It sounds like it was a blast, but then the day came (as it must for all bands except the Rolling Stones and, reportedly, Hot Tuna) that The Pixies were no more. With an engineering degree on his wall, Lovering had always told himself he was prepared for civilian life. He was wrong.
“Anyone who says that they’re going to fall back: Beware, because you may not,” says Lovering, an ex-Bostonian who now calls Los Angeles home. “You can tell yourself you’re falling back, but I never did. With me it was a little weird, because I had plenty of opportunities in drums, but I also thought that I could never equal The Pixies. I did things with The Pixies that I had always dreamed of and could never do again.”
Lovering kept at the skins for a little while post-Pixies, lending his talents to bands like Cracker and Nitzer Ebb. But, gripped with the certainty that his career apex was already past, drums lost the hold they’d had on him for so many years. With the music scene behind him, Lovering soon found himself drawn into a new scene that would help stave off engineering for at least a little while longer.
“Eventually, I started hanging out with magicians,” he recalls. “There’s a lot of them out here [in LA]. My friend Grant Lee Phillips of Grant Lee Buffalo is into magic. We went to a convention together, and it bit me kind of good.”
With a year or so of magic experience under his hat from back in childhood, Lovering found that his sense of discovery had been rekindled. “I saw tricks that caught my eye, in an adult way,” he says. “Card tricks that were above and beyond. Being able to make you wonder and feel that sense of awe – I saw it was great fun to do that and get people excited.”
It wasn’t long before Lovering’s own act was in development, even though the odds of making a living as a magician made drumming look like investment banking in comparison. “There’s only ten magicians that actually make money off it,” he states. “Magicians are just like musicians – it’s very hard to make a living at it. But after a couple of years honing my act, I thought that I had a shot. It’s very entertaining, if not totally commercial.”
Shunning the David Copperfield approach of making humongous things disappear (like all of LA … wouldn’t that be cool?), Lovering combined magic with natural law to become a self-described “Scientific Phenomenalist.” “I’m the alternative Bill Nye, the Science Guy,” he explains. “I entertain with scientific experiments that cannot be explained. It’s like going to school in an adult way.”
Using his connections and intimate knowledge of the music world, Lovering has been able to establish a nice crossover niche for himself, bringing his twisted experiments to rock clubs as the opening act for bands. While many a club-goer may be wondering what a magician is doing on the stage where a rock group should be, Lovering instantly bridges the gap with his first trick, the bass drum-based “Vortex Cannon.” “I fill this huge bass drum with smoke,” he says, “then pound out these big smoke rings. The audience loves it.”
Other eerie and educational highlights of his 30-minute act include the “Luminescence” section (“I put 120 volts through a pickle”), the use of telekinetics to create onstage tremors that dislodge wooden slabs off a bottle, as well as a “mind melt” that shuts up hecklers by channeling the energy of a magnetic pulse into a stunning force. “I try to get into the weirder area where science and magic collide,” Lovering points out. “It’s cool to leave people questioning, or saying that it’s magic. But the bottom line is that they’re being entertained.
“I’m an entertainer now. I’m not a stand-up comic, magician, or science guy. I’m an entertainer. Before, I was always hidden behind a drum set and a group of people. Now I’m going out solo and taking command of the place. It was scary at first, but I’ve got it under my belt now.”
Not to say that his past life as a Pixie didn’t help in his new line of work. “All that previous experience gave me the confidence of being onstage, like public speaking,” says Lovering. “Also because of the background I have of being a musician, I get leeway. But it’s all confidence: learning how to be larger than life.”
A sure sign that Lovering is on the right track is the personal change he’s reaped from moving from behind the kit and into direct contact with his audience. “I have more tact in dealing with people,” he says. “I’ve found I’m concentrating on receiving, being a lot more open. I feel happier, and people feel happier.”
Still, that doesn’t mean Lovering’s gone mushy. “My goal was to make people run out of the room,” he reflects. “At birthday parties, I’ve had people scream and run. If you can invoke any emotion from audiences, that’s the best.”