features

Tim Alexander: Primed for Blue Man Group

By Jared Cobb, Photography By Eric Kretz Published In DRUM! Magazine's September/October 2001 Issue

Tim Alexander shook the world of rhythm with his syncopated fury behind Les Claypool’s Primus. He helped warp the boundaries of rock and roll with his precision time and trippy licks. When he left Primus in 1996 the decision baffled his drumming fans and left widespread fear of Alexander’s talents slipping away. Those fears have since been subdued by Alexander’s persistent and consistent experimentation. He has yet to recapture the public’s eye like he did with Primus, and not all times have been good times, but he’s still here – digging, kicking, and keeping that rhythm alive.

Alexander has been juggling many different hats since 1996, including projects with Laundry and Attention Deficit. His latest adventure brings him to Las Vegas – the city of anything goes – as a member of the revolutionary Blue Man Group. It’s one of the top shows in Vegas, running twice daily every day of the week at the more-gold-than-Puffy’s-bathroom Luxor Hotel.

If you don’t know about the Blue Man Group, first let us tell you that those big rectangles with little metal knobs on your wall are doors, and they lead you to places outside of your own little Truman Show. Now take your grandmother’s girdle off your head and check this out. Blue Man Group is a theatrical percussive absinthe comprised of three wacky bald dudes in blue grease paint banging on an infinite stage of self-invented instruments and backed by a wall of quirky musicians. The original blue boys – Chris Wink, Matt Goldman, and Phil Stanton – launched their idea in the New York underground performance art scene and have since exploded into a worldwide phenomenon. Their once humble production is now a franchise with permanent bookings in Chicago, New York, Boston, and now Vegas. Their first instrumental CD, Audio (Virgin), was nominated for a Grammy.

Like hairdos, debts, and addictions, the Blue Man Group performance is bigger and more prominent in Las Vegas than anywhere in the world. And now they have Tim Alexander on the cast. “I joined Blue Man about a month ago,” tells Alexander. “I just checked out their website. They were looking for musicians, so I auditioned in California and then in Vegas. At the time, I needed to work and even though this is doing someone else’s music, I thought it would be cool to do. So here I am.

“There are three Blue Men and seven musicians. I’m one of the musicians,” he explains matter-of-factly. “There are two percussion players and two drum set players. I’m one of the guys that jumps around up at the top of the drum wall. We do these rhythms and we have to jump up and hit things.

“I was trained by one of the other drummers. We would watch footage to learn the show and he would train me on parts. We have monitors in the rehearsal room where I could play along with the show as it’s going on. I practiced that and eventually got to play in the show.

“I play structured rhythms that are layered on top of other rhythms that other drummers are playing. It’s definitely a figured out show. They sat and they figured out what everyone’s going to do. None of the parts are overly complicated, but they’re interesting. It’s stuff I’ve never done before, but it’s not like I’m creating stuff for the show. I’m just playing what they show me. You have to be a pretty good drummer to be a Blue Man. Most of them are drummers. And to play the drum set you have to be a really good drummer.

“Right now I’m playing standup percussion. Four floor toms, a snare, two Octabons, some metal ’crashers’ I think they’re called. And I play a part on a cymbal. I just hit it with a stick, so it’s pretty simple. That’s where I start. I guess over time I might learn other parts.

“The shows are set in their structure and there’s no improv going on. We follow the Blue Men and what they’re doing. It has to be pretty set because there’s a lot going on with lighting cues and stuff. It’s theater. This is my first time doing stuff like this and I like it. Rock shows can be a little bit boring, but this is a little different. There are a whole bunch of things happening.”

While most of us would kill for a Blue Man Group gig, you’re probably concurring with my sense that Alexander’s ability far exceeds a few floor toms and some neon grease paint. There’s no doubt that it does, but this is the music industry where one does what needs to be done. And it could be worse. “Oh yeah, it’s cool,” claims Alexander. “It’s different for me. I’ve been my own boss for a long time so it’s kind of weird working for an organization and playing other people’s music – especially other people’s drum parts. It’s definitely different, but it’s a great show.

“I don’t know what the hell’s going to happen now. I came down here because I needed to work and make some money. I’d much rather do that playing drums than sitting in an office. So I had to come down here and do this. All my friends are all back in California. I’m just here adjusting to the work and the city and learning a whole new town. Vegas is okay to a certain point. I think culturally it’s lacking, but it’s a late night city and lots of things are happening. It’s a challenge adjusting.”

Why not head back to Primus? The world awaits another album. “I talked to Les [Claypool]. He’s talking about doing a record someday. We don’t know when that’s going to happen though. I don’t think Primus even has a drummer right now. We’ll see what happens. It might happen. We just don’t know when.”

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