Brendan Buckley Interview – by Travis Marc – 2011.
Brendan Buckley is easily one of the hardest working drummers I’ve ever met. He has worked with numerous big name artists including, Gloria Estefan, Julio Iglesias Jr, DMX and Lauren Hill and is currently the groove maker behind world Pop sensation Shakira. Here’s what Brendan had to say in a recent interview he did with us…
Hi Brendan, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. To start off could you please tell us a bit about how you got into drumming?
Well, I had a lot of hobbies growing up. I played sports, and I skateboarded a lot. I also played trumpet and piano in my middle school concert band. However, I remember always Iooking over my shoulder to watch the guys playing the snare and bass drums, and thinking that it looked way more fun than the trumpet. So, when I was fourteen years old, and I moved from middle school to high school, I joined the concert band as a drummer. The band director put me in the back of the room with a pair of sticks, and I started learning the xylophone, timpani, and snare drums. I think it helped that I could already read music due to my trumpet studies, so I basically just started practicing my drum rolls and rudiments. I also joined the jazz band in high school, and started to take drumset lessons, which led me to purchasing a used drumset from a neighbor. That’s basically how I got started.
What one gig/event was it that made you realise that you could be a pro drummer/musician for a living?
I’m not exactly sure. I’ve always enjoyed playing drums so much, and I kind of felt that this was what I wanted to do. I think that when you’re young and you join a band with your friends, you realise how much fun it all is. At a high school level, I started to excel and place well in various competitions. It felt gratifying to see how hard work and practice could pay off. After I graduated from high school, I went to the University of Miami to study music, where I quickly realised how much growth can be achieved if you practice seriously. Back in high school, my drum teacher was Tommy Igoe. It was great having a teacher that toured prefessionally, did drum clinics, played in Broadway shows. It helped because I saw the everyday process of what it would be like to be a “working drummer”. I would often go with him to his gigs in New York City and help him load his gear. I got to see the inner workings of what it was like to ride on tour buses, stay in hotels, pack up your gear, soundcheck, implement electronics, etc. Tommy played a crucial part by showing me what being a “freelance musician” was all about, and I tried to take that experience and his work ethic with me when I went to the University. Also, I never really gave myself many other options regarding my career. I didn’t have a back up plan, or a plan B just in case the drumming thing didn’t work out. My plan A and plan B were both one-in-the-same, and that was to play the drums.
Who or what are your influences?
When I started, I was really into heavy metal and punk rock. I loved Van Halen, The Cure, Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and I also liked a lot of the hardcore and speed metal bands from New York City and D.C. Then, when I went to the music conservatory, I did a 180-degree flip, and started getting into guys like Philly Joe Jones, Tony Williams, and Max Roach. I also dug into a lot of the fusion guys like Steve Gadd, Vinnie Colaiuta, Dennis Chambers, and Dave Weckl. Nowadays, the drummers I enjoy listening to are the behind-the-scenes type studio drummers. You know, the ones that other drummers really appreciate. Some of my current favorites are Shawn Pelton, Matt Chamberlain, Brian Blade, and Bill Stewart. They all have their own unique voice when it comes to the drums, and they seem to work quite a lot. I listen to certain drummers so much that I can pick out their playing before I even open up the album credits.
Let’s talk a bit about how your position within Shakira’s band came about?
I was living in Miami after attending the University, and I had become a studio drummer for a place owned by Gloria Estefan. I knew a few of the engineers there, and they’d call me up when they needed live drums. I had just finished a tour with Julio Iglesias Jr, and received a call from one of the engineers asking if I could play on a song for Shakira’s next record. I wound up playing on half the record. After the album came out, Shakira’s management asked me to do a couple of album-release gigs and an MTV unplugged show. At that point, I basically became part of her band. It’s very random, because I don’t remember a moment in which anyone ever asked me to be a member of her band. But if I look back at the calendar, I’ve been working with her for thirteen years straight. They keep me pretty busy, which is great. And for some reason, they keep calling me back, so it’s cool, and I’m grateful.
Do you still find time to practice, and if so what are you currently working on?
Yeah man, I love practicing. But with each year that goes by, I find it harder and harder to find the time to do it. Basically, there are two separate things – there’s “practicing” and there’s “warming up”. I religiously warm up before my gigs because it makes me feel comfortable and happier on the drumset. I don’t like feeling as though I’m not really warmed-up until the about fifth song of the show. I like to feel ready from the very first down beat. I think of it as though I am getting my body prepared the same way an athlete does before a big race. Practicing on tour, however, can be trickier because it’s really hard to find the extra time. I sneak in a few moments after soundchecks before they open up the doors to audience. Sometimes I just play along with records, and other times I work on specific grooves. Lately, I’ve been working on a lot on afro-cuban polyrhythmic stuff. There’s a lot of three-over-two type stuff, the kind of figures that you’d hear timbale or conga players do. You know, I’m just having fun transferring it to the drum kit. I also like to play really simple grooves, and ensuring that everything is as perfectly in time as possible. I think it’s important to practice. The day that you wake up and say to yourself that you’ve got nothing to work on anymore is the day that you’ve probably lost your inspiration for the drums.
What’s next for Brendan Buckley, where do you see yourself within the next five years?
I wish I could say. To be honest, I have a hard time planning the next two weeks. I’ve kind of made a career out of going with the flow, and letting life’s current just take me wherever. I truly enjoy touring and performing with different artists. I like being a freelance musician, and playing as many different styles of music as I can. I also really love the whole recording process, from writing to producing, etc. I enjoy working with my friends on various side projects. So I guess, if I could combine all of these things, that would be perfect. I’m really big on education too, but I don’t have much time at the moment to pursue teaching. I do the occasional drum clinic though. I guess anything that falls underneath the “musical umbrella” would be cool with me for the next five years. I have other hobbies awaiting too. I want to learn how to dance tango, speak French, etc. I think that sometimes, when you’re a musician, you don’t often get the time to do the simple things that other people get to do. So I’ve got a few things cooking on the back burner (laughs).
What is the most important piece of drumming advice you have ever received?
That’s a powerful question. Here’s a good one that someone once told me. “Always perform at your highest level because you never know who might be in the audience”. One of my high school band directors said that to me, and it’s something that I really took to heart. I do all sorts of gigs, from big arenas to tiny coffee shops. And I treat them all the exact same way. I warm up, I make sure my gear sounds right, and I perform as well as I can. I get many of my gigs from really unexpected places, and I think it’s because I always try to perform at my highest possible level. I guess it comes down to a “do your job well, or don’t do it at all” scenario, because each gig should be as important as the next one.