Ken Mary Interview by Travis Marc – 2015.
Todd Vinnie Vinciguerra told me to check out Ken Mary after I interviewed him earlier this year and I was blown away by the amount of big things that Ken had done. Not only has Ken worked as the drummer for legends such as Alice Cooper and The Beach Boys, but he also had his own band called ‘House Of Lords’ who were heavily involved with the one and only ‘God of Thunder’ mr Gene Simmons too. Ken currently runs Sonic Phish studios and was recently asked to host the forth coming movie ‘The Drumming Hall Of Fame. Oh, did I mention that he even backed John Stamos on a few episodes of the sitcom ‘Full House – Amazing – Read more about what Ken had to say below…
Hi Ken, thanks for taking the time to do this interview with us. Let’s start where we always start, and ask about how you originally got into drumming?
Hi Travis, thank you for asking me, and let me begin by saying you are doing a great job with UK Drummer!
That is an interesting question. I was always drawn to drums, even as a child. I was playing with pencils on my desk in school to the point where teachers would complain to my mother. When it came time to choose an instrument in 5th grade, there was no question or debate. It had to be drums, lol.
Were you self taught or did you attend lessons? Also, what is your general opinion on lessons?
I did have a great teacher named Dick Stensland up in Seattle, Washington where I grew up, who had a heavy jazz background. He was a very well rounded player and teacher, and he taught me rudimental drumming, jazz, fusion, latin and of course some rock as well. When my mother could not afford lessons he taught me for free because he felt I was pretty advanced for my age and could tell I loved playing. That is something I still think back on and appreciate.
I do think lessons are very important. They can open up a whole new world for you and expose you to playing and styles you may not necessarily be interested in. This pushes your horizons. If the teacher is skilled and a good communicator, lessons can be extremely helpful especially if you have a sort of natural aptitude that combines with the training.
Who were your early influences?
That’s actually kind of a funny question. In terms of drumming, my early influences where pretty wide ranging and included Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, Neil Peart, Steve Gadd, Lenny White, and Tommy Aldridge. When I was a kid the first concert I ever saw was Kiss, so when I worked with Gene I told him he owed me about a million dollars for all the posters, records, and other merchandise I bought. When I saw them play, I said, “I want to do THAT!” They were the reason I joined a rock band, anyway.
Somewhere along the line, you made the switch from drumming to audio engineering. Why was this?
There was a sort of perfect storm of reasons, but mainly because my body was having some serious problems with me playing the way I used to play. I always joke it was probably the equivalent of getting in a small car wreck every night for about 7 years. I look back at how hard I was hitting and it does take a toll. Add that to some of the serious car wrecks I was in when I was younger and my lower back was really giving me fits. I continued doing studio work, but I was really not wanting to tour and aggravate things further. At certain points it was difficult to walk after playing, which is a bad place to be in.
I had always had a very strong background in producing and engineering, and was blessed to be able to work with some of the greatest producers and engineers on the planet such as Andy Johns (Led Zeppelin), Michael Wagener (Ozzy Osbourne, Janet Jackson, Metallica), Garth Richardson (Rage Against the Machine, Chevelle), Howard Benson (P.O.D.), Terry Date (Limp Bizkit, White Zombie), Bill Kennedy (Nine Inch Nails, Megadeth), Mick Guzauski (Christina Aguilera, Maria Carery), Mac (Queen), and Desmond Child (Ricky Martin, Aerosmith). I learned a tremendous amount working with that caliber of people, and it was a natural progression for me to go onto the “other side of the glass” so to speak.
What action do you take to help relieve the pain caused by these injuries?
I found some things that helped me immensely, and may help other drummers that have back issues as well. (Quite honestly that is almost everyone I know that is a pro.) The Roc-n-Soc Motion throne pretty much allowed me to drum as much as I want again. If that thing did not exist I conceivably may still not be able to play except sporadically. The throne is weird to get used to because it moves around as you play, but your back never has the full pressure in one spot and once you get used to it, you don’t even notice it. It really saves my back. (BTW, I do not have an endorsement with that company. I simply love their product. I suggest using one even if you don’t have back problems as it will keep you from developing them.) That and physical therapy allows me to play without pain, and I play everyday now.
Obviously, you achieved so much as a drummer, (including performing and/or recording with established artists like Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Alice Cooper, Accept, House of Lords, TKO, Impelliterri, Jordan Rudess, Hall of Fame inductees the Beach Boys, Kip Winger, Bonfire, Fifth Angel and many others). What would you say was the highlight of your drumming career?
When you say “highlight”, I think of “the most fun.” I can tell you exactly when that was. On my first Alice Cooper world tour, our fifth show together was a sold out Joe Louis Arena in Detroit on Halloween night. The show was a 22,000 seater and was broadcast live on MTV in front of millions more. I was very young, and this was the biggest show I had ever played. Before touring with Alice the biggest place I played was about 3,000 people. I was so ready for this show, and I had an amazing time. Later on there were bigger shows, or perhaps shows that were more important from a career standpoint, but that was the most fun it was for me. I think in some way because working with Alice, you never had the worries that I would have later on with my own band. For instance, when it’s a band entity like a House of Lords, for instance, you have to be concerned about everything from how much you are paying for your bus, what the manager is doing with your money, how much the road crew is costing, where the album is on the charts, and the list goes on and on. You have to worry about the business end. With Alice, all I had to do was play and have fun. And I did! Lol.
I have to ask – can you tell us what it was like working with Gene Simmons – oh, and the Beach Boys? What did you do for them?
Well, yes, of course I worked with Gene over some years, so I got to hang out with him for what I would consider was a fair amount of time. He was in the studio with us, attended some photo shoots and TV shows with us, and would do special things like fly in to Las Vegas overnight from NYC in his private jet to attend our album release party. I always liked Gene, and my experience with him was nothing but positive. As you know I was a huge Kiss fan growing up, so it was really an honor to work with him. He always gave us very good advice, and I believe he did a great deal to ensure the success of House of Lords. In some cases more than we even realized. For instance, I just found out recently he had gone on national television in Canada to help promote our first record. That was one of those things I was not even aware of at the time. Gene is a stand up guy, very honest, and I have a great deal of respect for him.
I worked with The Beach Boys recording drums for the song “Forever” and for two episodes of the #1 ABC hit sitcom Full House back in the 90’s. (I was in three episodes total as the drummer in Jesse and the Rippers, which was John Stamos’ fictional band on the show.) As you may know, John Stamos stills plays drums with The Beach Boys live occasionally, and for those episodes John was singing and I was playing drums.
Is your time taken up mainly by the studio now days? When you do still drum, what do you work on (and if not, do you ever miss it)?
I do play nearly everyday now, and am working on some videos and other products that have to do with drumming. One is pretty exciting actually. I was asked to host “The Drumming Hall of Fame”TM movie being produced by Emmy Award winning production house Square Pictures. I get to sit down and chat with drummers like Steve Gadd, Simon Phillips, Kenny Aronoff, and Steve Smith just to name a few. These are players that have really changed the art form, and it is an honor to sit with them and find out who they are as people, not just musicians. It’s also a great responsibility to ask the questions that hopefully other drummers would want to ask but maybe do not have this opportunity.
I am still working almost everyday in the studio as well, so I am having a great time doing both, actually!
Let’s talk a little bit about your studio – Sonic Phish Studios. (www.sonicphish.com) Tell us about who’s worked there and what the day to day operations involve?
Sure. We do a great variety of work in almost every genre, and we’ve worked with a huge number of acts including Megadeth, LaRue, House of Lords, Trik Turner, Grammy Award winner Daniel Winans, Debbie Sledge from Sister Sledge fame (We Are Family), Esterlyn, Silverline, Northern Light Orchestra (a Christmas project which includes numerous multi-platinum singers and musicians, too many to name), The Phunk Junkeez, Ember, and Ever Stays Red. There are tons more as well, but suffice it to say we stay busy, lol. To top it off we also work in film as well, doing foley, audio sweetening and mixing.
Day to day operations are really just focusing on the project at hand and keeping all the gear in good shape. Each artist has their own special needs, and often times we work in completely different markets simultaneously.
What would you say has been the best career advice you’ve ever received and who gave you this advice?
I think the best advice may have come from Gene Simmons. He said, “It is easier to attract bees with honey,” which simply means be nice to people ALL THE TIME. When I worked with him, he was already hugely successful and he would take the time to know people at the label, the field reps, the in-store reps, the radio promoters and program directors, all by name. Did he have to? No. But I believe this is one of the reasons Kiss is still hugely successful 40 years after their formation. It’s great advice, so if you’re reading this use it!!
What are your thoughts on the current state of the music industry and what do you feel can be done to potentially improve it?
Well, it’s a tough time for the industry. Music is now considered “free.” This is, to say the least, a big problem for young musicians that want to be able to make a living. An entire revenue stream is essentially gone. This mostly affects the new and upcoming artists, not the established artists as much. If they can figure out a way to monetize music again, and I’m not talking about streaming which helps no one but those services and the consumers, that would improve things greatly. I remember when we valued music, and when we spent our hard earned money for it we respected it more. Music is becoming disposable. You used to have fans that would follow a band for years and years. Now it’s for a song or two. How do you change that? I’m not really sure . . . people always say “just make great music” but let’s be honest. There is plenty of amazing music that never attracts the fans it deserves to because of the sheer number of artists and songs available to everyone now for free.
Any last thoughts or words of advice?
Even though the current state of the industry is difficult, I would still pursue your dreams if that’s what you are driven to do. You have to really love it, though. If you love music and can’t even think of doing anything else, then get in there and fight for it. Some people will win. It’s always been a numerically difficult industry, today more so than ever. But life is short and you better do what you love or you may regret it. I think it’s better to fail doing something you love, than to succeed doing something you hate. If you have skill and talent, then work hard, don’t quit, and win!!!
For more information on Ken please visit – www.sonicphish.com
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