Keith Carlock interview – by Travis Marc – 2010.
For a number of years Keith Carlock has been one of the most in demand drummers in the world. He has drummed for renowned artists such as Sting and Steely Dan and continuously manages to amaze audiences across the globe with his mesmerising clinic demonstrations. I recently had the privilege of interviewing Keith and this is what he has to say…
Hi Keith – Can you briefly explain how your drumming career began, also what was it that originally attracted you to the instrument?
I was attracted to the drums at a very early age, I guess you could say that I pretty much came out of my moms womb somehow knowing that drumming was what I wanted to do with my life. I was just drawn to it right away, I can’t quite explain why, I just knew it was my calling. I’m originally from Mississippi and so I grew up listening to a lot of RnB, Soul and Rock music, I was also turned onto a lot of Memphis soul music at a very early age. Anyway, I had a lot of great teachers once I got to High School and College and because I was coming from that Rock and Soul kind of background I decided that I wanted to learn more Jazz. I like to think that my playing has kind of a mixture of all of those things put together. After studying further in Texas I decided to move to New York City and basically one thing led to another, I’d get one gig and that would lead to the next, and so on. So I guess that’s how I’d say my career began.
You’ve worked with some really great artists. Which if any would you say were the most challenging to work with and why?
I look at all as a challenge, and I always try to learn from everyone, as I’m constantly trying to get better. Working with Steely Dan really made me think more about consistency and playing grooves, while working with Sting made me realise how to simplify things, which I really didn’t expect but it’s really what he wanted at the time. I also had to play with a lot more energy than I usually do because of Stings Police background. Working with James Taylor has been extremely eye opening, I’ve learnt how to play the drums slightly quieter than usual and really be aware of my surroundings for him. It’s all great though, and it’s all relevant – all these artists draw on a lot of the same influences that I relate to so it generally works out. Working with Wayne Krantz has also given me a great chance to work on a lot of the stuff that I like to talk about in my clinics, which is basically about how one idea can change to the next and how one groove can just keep flowing into another while so much is happening. I guess that it’s really about knowing what to do with whatever gig you’re doing and then ensuring that you make mature choices while supporting the artists you’re working with.
How do you manage to keep up a regular practice routine while on the road? Also what does your routine consist of?
I wouldn’t say it’s a regular routine that happens every day, but I do try and play on a practice pad before any shows. I also like to do a bit of stretching or even just run on the spot to get the blood flowing so that I don’t go onto the stage cold. As far as routine goes though, it’s really difficult to have one like I used to when I was younger because there’s just so much going on now days. When I do practice on the road, it usually involves trying to learn new parts for whatever work is coming up so a lot of the practise is just listening to the material and trying to mentally prepare and visualise what I want to do with it. I really do miss those days of just playing for hours and not having to worry about paying the bills etc, they were great, ha ha.
Last year you were voted the best all round drummer by Modern Drummer magazine. How did winning such an award make you feel?
I was very flattered and very surprised because I honestly never expected to win. I’ve always been a huge fan of Modern Drummer so it was a great honor to know that I’ve been accepted by my peers. I guess though, that on top of winning the award, it does add a little bit of pressure to things because certain people automatically want to know what is so good about my playing in comparison to theirs etc. I never look at drumming as a competition, it should never be looked at as a competition because we’re all in this together and I think the drumming community gets that. Winning was a huge honor though and I’m truly grateful.
What is your approach to drum clinics, do you generally have some sort of set routine worked out before hand or does it change depending on the crowd for the night?
It’s a bit of both I guess, I like to have a lot of playing going on because I personally get inspired by just watching people perform, so I kind of hope that the people attending the clinics will get inspired from watching me. On the more educational side, I’ll talk about technique and my set up and gear. I also like to have interaction with the audience, so depending on what they sometimes ask can depend on which direction the clinic is going to head. I like to talk about things that I feel are important and that have helped me along the way, such as different concepts and solo ideas, so I often open the clinic up with a solo piece and will sometimes talk about what I did during the solo, such as structure etc. My main aim is to try and motivate the members in the audience so that they leave wanting to be a better player.
Who or what are your drumming influences?
I’ll start with some drummers that come to mind – Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Jack Dejohnette from the modern jazz world, Steve Jordan, Stewart Copeland, Bernard Purdie, Richie Hayward, Jeff Porcaro, there are just so many great drummers. I always wanted to try and find my own voice in someway so I kind of had to stop listening to just drummers, I had to listen to singers or horn players and how they phrase, I’d try to think more about melody. I think it’s very important to find your own voice and make your own interpretation on all of the things you know and like. Make it your own though, don’t just copy. In my opinion that’s really what separates the great drummers from mediocrity.
Let’s talk a bit about your instructional DVD, can you tell us about how it all came together? How long it took to put all the material together etc?
Rob and Paul from Hudson Music approached me about doing it, and I think it took at least a year before we actually got it started. I was definitely interested I just wanted to put a bit of thought into what we would do. By this time Hudson had started doing the Master series DVDs, where they’d film the DVD in front of an audience, kind of like doing a clinic. I thought that perhaps I could do something similar and felt really comfortable doing this because the audience asked me some really great questions. It basically started from there, and then I brought in the Wayne Krantz trio in and we spoke a bit about the way we approach the music. I also brought in some tracks from my band Rudder and played to a few of those. There’s a lot of performance on the DVD which is great, we added an eBook so that viewers can have a look at some of the charts and notation of the things that I’m playing. It really goes into a lot of detail compared to a regular clinic though, because we landed up using around five hours of footage. It was a great experience, but scary at the same time.
What do you feel has been the most important piece of drumming advice that you have ever received and why?
I think I’d say the most important thing is that you have a certain amount of confidence, and don’t doubt yourself. You need to be at a point where you feel as though you have something to offer people. You should be able to take care of business, be able to play very simple groove type drumming that will allow you to get hired, and be able to adapt. Drumming is not always about crazy chops and things like that, although there is definitely a place for it, so don’t get me wrong. You should try and make mature choices about what you play, for the music you’re playing, if you can do that I think it’ll set you apart from a lot of guys. Also, you need to be someone who can get along with a lot of different people and different personalities. People have to like you and want to be around you, that’s how you get work.
What advice would you offer beginner musicians on how to stay motivated within such a competitive industry?
Just have fun man, it’s not suppose to be a competition. Play the way you want to play. I was always hungry to learn as much about the instrument and different genres as I could, but even if you decide that you only really wanna play one style of music, just put everything you have into it. Don’t forget to have fun and don’t let it turn into something that takes the fun away from you. Have a positive energy about you so that you are able to get through the hard times easily.
Keith plays Yamaha drums, Zildjian cymbals, DW hardware, Regal Tip sticks, Remo drumheads, Rhythm Tech and Metal Works percussion and Earthworks microphones. For further information please visit www.keithcarlock.com