Jeremy Colson interview – by Travis Marc – 2014.
If I could only two words to describe drummer Jeremy Colson (who currently plays for guitar extraordinaire Steve Vai), those words would be ‘dedicated’ and ‘inspiring’. In the time I spent speaking with Jeremy I discovered that his musical journey hasn’t always been a bed of roses but that his constant dedication and self belief has made for a much more interesting career. Considering that Jeremy currently has one of the coolest/biggest gigs in the world he comes across as extremely humble and appreciative and it’s easy to see that the regardless of the level of gigs he’s currently doing that he is first and foremost just a guy who really loves music and drumming. Here’s what Jeremy had to say…
Hey Jeremy, can you tell us a bit about how long you’ve been playing and what initially interested you in the drums?
I started playing when I was about ten years old. I was really into heavy metal and as a kid my absolute hero was Ozzy Osbourne, which was pretty funny because most of the other kids were into superman and the usual things like that. Anyway, as I got older I started really getting into bands like Metallica and Megadeath and that whole ‘thrash metal’ scene. When I was about fifteen I discovered (and became really obsessed with) Rush, I also discovered drummers like Mike Portnoy and some other guys and I pretty much steered towards the progressive side of things from there.
Are you a self taught player or did you have tuition. Also what would you say your thoughts are in regards to the current state of drum education?
For me I’d have to say that it was really a combination of the two, with the bigger part of it with me being self taught. I think anyone who really wants to progress on their instrument and they’re passionate about playing, that they’ll constantly be working on things and playing, (even if it is just by themselves) and that was pretty much the case with me. I did take a few lessons with a buddy of mine who taught me some really important techniques which proved to be extremely beneficial because I’m quite a hard hitter so I think he really saved me from a few potential playing issues. He also helped me with some reading ideas because I’m not really a great reader but obviously playing with Steve Vai there’s been quite a lot of intricate stuff that my friend was kind enough to chart out for me which made it easier to understand when the parts were viewable on paper. I think that the state of teaching now is kinda what it is you know, because I think everyone eventually finds their way or discovers what type of drummer he or she wants to be.
Who or what would you say inspires or influences you?
Lately, I’ve kind of gone back to the progressive metal that originally influenced me as a teenager. At one point I got completely out of progressive rock and felt I needed to find my own voice, so I stripped down to a smaller kit and got really into different genres of punk and metal but yeah, lately I find that I am going back to the bands that originally sparked my interest in drumming and music as a whole, bands like Metallica, Rush, Dream Theatre etc. My favourite band is Sevendust and I’d say that Morgan Rose is probably my favourite drummer too. I haven’t seen anyone who plays with that much passion, energy and craziness so I find him very inspiring. I’m into a lot of guys who have cool showmanship or are just really solid drummers. They’re all very inspiring.
You’re currently playing with the legendary guitarist Steve Vai, let’s talk a bit about how that gig came up?
When I was about eighteen years old I met this guy named Mike Barney who owned a record label called ‘Shrapnel Records’. Shrapnel Records put out a lot of guitar based instrumental music. When I was about twenty, Mike hooked me up with a gig in a band called Dahli’s Dilemma, he also got me some gigs with Michael Shenker and eventually Marty Friedman. It just so happened that the first record I did with Marty Friedman came out on Steve Vai’s label so without even knowing it there was a bit of cross pollination happening there. When Steve was looking for a drummer, Marty actually recommended me for the gig but it wasn’t until about a year later that I actually auditioned for him. I was the first guy to do the audition for Steve (Billy Sheenan was also there) and the next day Steve called me and offered me the gig. I’ve been playing with him ever since.
How would you say performing with Steve has pushed your playing?
The difference between Steve and so many other players is that he is as a guitarist like Terry Bozzio is as a drummer. He’s an originator of his sound. Sure there might be players out there who are perhaps more technically advanced or whatever, but when you hear Steve playing you know it’s him and that’s just one of the things that make him great. The guitar playing is really just a small part of who he is as a musician though, I mean he understands music theory and can composition, he can write entire drum parts (he actually transcribed all of Vinnie’s stuff for Frank Zappa at one point). He’s a genius. Also, Steve’s knowledge of music is insane so it’s always been a challenge to play with him and I’m always pushing myself forward when around him, which is great because it’s allowed me to get better as a player. He taught me how to really learn a song, especially if the song is really technical, he showed me how to dissect them piece by piece and build them up etc. It’s a real honour to go play these songs with him and try and make them musical every time I do, it’s all really exciting.
Obviously the touring schedule with Steve is pretty intense. Do you ever have time to practice, and if so what are you currently working on?
When I’m on tour we do six days of shows in a row and our show is roughly three hours long, with our an additional hour for sound check, so I’m generally behind my drums for roughly four hours a day, so I definitely get the opportunity to keep my chops up. When I’m home there’s always stuff I like to do/work on too, lately I’ve been working on a lot of intricate double bass type stuff. I took a Billy Idol gig a couple of years ago and now I’m with Steve and theres a lot of double bass type stuff I like to be able to do. So when I’m home I really try spend time on things that I don’t always get to do, whether it’s double bass stuff, ghost notes, shuffles or working on improvising. I’m kind of a creature of habit so one of the things I need to do when I’m not on tour is make sure I’m capable of keeping my chops up because as far as I’m concerned there’s nothing worse than feeling rusty behind my drums. I’m just always trying to get better you know.
What advice could you offer our readers on staying healthy while on tour?
Everybody kind of has their own little regimens that they do or like. For me one of the main things is trying to get a lot of rest and eating right. In the past I had a bit of an addiction problem and I really had to work hard to get through it, so it’s really important for me to stay sober. The one thing I try to do everyday when we’re on tour (and when I’m home) is go mountain biking, it became one of my big obsessions once I got sober so I like to do that as much as I can.
Besides the mountain biking what else do you do in your downtime?
My fiance and I recently bought a house and we are actually going to get married when I’m done with this tour, so that’s all new to me as I’ve never really had those types of responsibilities before. The most important thing for me is to try and live a simple life when I’m not on the road, so if I can mountain bike, drum, and be around my fiance and dogs then life is pretty good.
What advice could you offer up n comers in trying to break into the music industry?
I’d say figure out what you want to do and visualise what type of drummer/musician you want to be, then try your best to align yourself with those opportunities. Sometimes the universe has a way of just aligning things for you. The world is so full of people who are full of opinions and negativity that it’s so easy to fall astray, but if you really believe in yourself and are passionate about what you wanna do you’ll soon realise that there’s a place for everybody within this industry. I’m not a big networker kind of guy and I never have been, I just had my mind made up that this is what I’m going to do, I believed in myself, keep pushing forward and eventually it happened. You just need to believe and keep a positive attitude.
In turn what would you say has been the most useful piece of advice you have ever received in regards to your career?
For me, I think the best advice is this – ‘whatever you’re doing right now is your sole purpose’, I think that way you live in the moment and appreciate the things you’re doing when you’re doing them . If we play in a club and things are a little bit off, it doesn’t matter. Just stay positive, try not have a bad attitude and try get along with people. I’m really grateful that I was able to redeem myself in regards to the things that have happened with me in my past so it’s important to remember that the playing part of this job is really only a tiny part about what this business is all about. It’s important to be able to spend time with others and be easy to get along with.
If you could do it all again, would you change anything?
No, I feel that everything we go through in life are things that we go through because the experiences are meant for us to grow. If we don’t go through these experiences that make us who we are then you wouldn’t really be the people we are. Sure, there are things that I feel bad about that I’ve done in the past and I wish that maybe I hadn’t done them, but they all lead me to where I am now and I’m really grateful for everything that I have.
Any last thoughts of words of wisdom?
I think with life and playing and everything else the key is to never ever give up. Learn how to believe in yourself because if you’re trying to make a career out of music it can be very discouraging at times. I don’t have a very thick skin, I’m quite a sensitive guy and rejection and not knowing certain things in regards to this business is quite hard. That whole feeling of trying to find the little things that keep you inspired is also really important, but mainly just never ever give up.
Please note that we do not claim to hold any rights to any photographs used in this interview, thank you.