Tips Of The Trade: Lightning In A Bottle

tips of the trade

After two months straight on the road playing the same tunes night after night, my inspiration and enthusiasm begins to falter. At home, I can hole up in my practice room and hone in on any weakness I find or chase whatever muse presents itself. On the road, there is no time or place to spend hours practicing new things other than at sound checks. I will use anything to avoid the dead feeling in my hands at sound check, and rejuvenate the electric feeling that inspiration brings.

The challenge of staying sharp, inspired, and fresh as a tour progresses can be like trying to catch lightning in a bottle, but it can be done. It happened in yesterday’s hotel room in Daytona Beach, and in a Starbucks in Orlando today. I just needed to recognize the spark and let it ignite.

For example, I just received a call asking if I’m available to play with the legendary John Cale. I’m honored to get the call because I’m a huge fan of his and the drummers he’s used in the past. I can’t fit it in because Fitz & The Tantrums is busy but I used this call as the first step down the rabbit hole. Immediately after hanging up the phone, I Googled for interviews with John Cale, which led to great clips of my man Deantoni Parks playing drums, which in turn led to Jean-Michel Basquiat’s band, Gray, then to his paintings and interviews. Before I knew it I was so charged up, I couldn’t wait to play drums.

Last night, I downloaded one of my favorite movies, Ghost Dog, to watch on the bus. I’d forgotten how amazing the soundtrack by RZA is. The space he uses, the minimal instruments, and the sloppy drums just fired me up so much I couldn’t sleep. I just lay awake in my bunk visualizing myself sitting at the drums trying to play those drunken, unquantized beats that magically still make the listener’s head bob.

A couple of days ago I was looking at a magazine containing surfing photography from the ’60s. Lo and behold, a few pages later was an interview with Shuggie Otis, whom I consider an unrecognized and underappreciated artist on par with Sixto Rodriguez (see Searching For Sugarman). That led to me finding Shuggie playing on Jimmy Fallon and Rodriguez playing on Letterman.

Ask any drummer who has spent most of his/her time on the road how much they practice. The answer is usually, “Not much, but I do a lot of mental practice.” To some, this may seem like just geeking out on YouTube, watching movies, or passing time reading magazines. To me it provides the push I require to get out of the lull that being on the road puts me in, and into some much needed mental practice. When away from your normal practice room and routine, let yourself be inspired by all the sources at your disposal. You’ll find that your are still gaining ground and becoming the musician you hope to be.