Kendrick Scott Interview – by Travis Marc – 2013.
Dedicated, focused and inspirational… These are just some of the words that I’d use to describe drumming sensation, Kendrick Scott. While in London doing a few shows at the famous Ronnie Scotts venue recently, Kendrick was kind enough to give up some of his time to conduct this interview with us. Here’s what he had to say…
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us Kendrick. You’re known as both a composer and a drummer, can you tell us how your interest in music/drumming initially began?
My interest in music came from my parents and being around gospel music and the baptist church when I was a young kid. I always felt that the drums chose me and that it was my calling. At six years old I developed my own drum kit, I had an old plastic jack o lantern as my snare drum, used shoe boxes for toms and records as cymbals, I also used the cardboard part off my clothes hangers as drumsticks. Then one day my parents found it and asked me what I was doing and really nurtured me from there. They got me a drum pad at eight years old and eventually I progressed to a drum kit. They learnt to sleep through my practicing and I give them all the praise in the world because they really deserve it. My brother also played organ and piano in the church so music was always around, so that’s pretty much how it all got started.
In 1998 you were awarded a scholarship to the world famous Berklee collage. Can you tell us about your experience at Berklee?
My time at Berklee was very interesting because although I was always practicing during my high school career, I hadn’t really ever taken any time to just play and Berklee was great because I got to start playing and I had the opportunity to play with so many different people from so many different types of backgrounds that it really inspired me to be more open minded. It taught me the concept of truly listening, and to vibe off of other people. It was a really important part of my journey and I had a really good time doing the course. I met and made so many good friends doing it and still even play with some of them to this day. It’s also quite funny to see how all the people who attended the course are saturated all over the world, so I often run into people that were doing the course with me in some of the strangest places. That whole experience will always be regarded as a very important time of my life.
Generally speaking how do you feel about music education now days?
It’s a hard question because in order to teach somebody how to play creative music, you ideally have to try and teach them how to be individuals, which is probably one of the hardest things for someone to do. I think when it comes to trying to teach someone music that I’m personally, more of a tools based teacher. I like to give students the tools (like rudiments for example) and encourage them to do something with them. I can’t really fault anyone for teaching a student about somebody else, for example if I sat you down and told you to study Philly Joe Jones you might think that I’m trying to get you to sound like Philly, but all I’m really trying to do is expand your drumming vocabulary. It all comes down to what you do with the tools that you’ve been given and therefore teachers need to try and cultivate the creativity of their students and hope that their individuality comes out. For me this comes when you throw away the things you don’t like and decide to keep the things that you do, but when you try and put these types of ideas into a classroom, it’s a very hard thing to do. I have a high respect for people who teach music because trying to bring out those different personalities/individualitys can’t be easy. I think that there are some great teachers out there trying to do it though. I went to the same high school as guys like Eric Harland, Chris Dave and Jeremiah Williams and I know that our teacher taught us enough about what tools we needed and how we could use them for ourselves, rather than who we should’ve tried to be.
Who or what influences or inspires you?
I always try and separate this topic into a few different sections. One – the guys who have passed on but in my mind will never stop influencing me, for example guys like Tony Williams, Art Blakey and Elvin Jones. It doesn’t matter what point I am at in my life because whenever I listen to these kinds of players I find it very inspiring. Two – the living legends, for example Roy Haynes. In my opinion Roy is one of the greatest, it’s quite scary to see him play cause anytime that you think you can take a day off from trying to learn your craft and then see Roy perform, you realise that you can’t because he just plays his heart out and he’s like 87 already. Or someone like Jack Dejohnette and he just wows me. Jimmy Cobb, Al Foster, Billy Hart, Lenny White, I admire all these guys as innovators on their instruments, they’re real drumming gods. Three – I draw a lot of inspiration from a lot of the guys that I grew up with in Houston, guys like Eric Harland, Chris Dave, Jeremiah Williams, Mark Simmons, Eric Porter, Gary Mays. These guys all sparked my interest in doing what I’m doing now, without them I probably wouldn’t be here.
Then there’s also my peers, Marcus Gilmore, Justin Brown, Mark Guiliana and Jonathan Blake, the list could go on for ever. So many of these guys have influenced me more than they’ll ever even know. I try to be real in tune with my surroundings and one of the beauties of living in New York is that new music is just constantly happening, it’s great.
You mentioned Roy and how when you see him that you realise that you really can’t even take a day off from playing, so let’s talk a bit about practice and practice routines. Do you have a routine and if so what are you currently working on?
I don’t have a routine necessary but my personal practice regime has to involve at least three things when it does happen. I have to include the technical stuff, which for me is working through sometime like the Will Coxon book or going through some rudiments and trying to figure out how I can get the best sound out of the drums by using different stick heights and accents etc. Then there’s the conceptual part of it all which for me is just about sitting down and trying to figure out what I like and don’t like about certain things I’m doing. By doing this I’m building on how I personally want to write music and be a band leader or shape the band etc. Lastly, I try to work on imaginary stuff. I sit down with the snare drum and try to get as many different sounds out of it as I can, I think of the drum kit as an orchestra and try to use each individual part of it as a different section. I basically try to explore as much as I can to a point where I feel that I can play a song on just one of those provided instruments. I think with these three practice ideas that as long as I can get to them it’ll be a good practice for me. Someone once told me that if you sound good in the practice room that you’re not practicing, so I sit down and think about what I wanna try and try address those issues and for me, that’s the best practice. So even if you’ve only got 15 minutes but you try address whatever it is you might be afraid of behind those drums, you’re going to come out the other side a better player because you’re expanding your mind and coming up with new things all the time.
Do you ever feel that you get stuck in practice ruts and if so what do you do to get out of these ruts?
For me to break through those walls or ruts I have to try and get out of my own head space and listen to some music that I’m really inspired by. If you can do that and the music you’re listening to really inspired you, you’ll start to hear a bit of a different sound. For me playing drums and creating music is all about hearing different vibrations, so if I can hear a different sound or vibration that sparks something new that I want to try, then that’s a good thing. That’s why having peers and influences is a really good thing because if I’m stuck in a rut and decide that you wanna check out something new, for example some Gospel drumming, I’ll spend some time just checking out someone like Aaron Spears for the day. Whatever mood I’m in I’ll explore that idea, and hopefully it’ll spark something new. I’m really spoilt, I get to travel quite a bit and that itself can become very inspiring. I think a lot about what being a musician is, is about trying to change you’re environment and explore new things etc.
Let’s talk about your record company World Culture music. How did the project come about and what’s currently going on with the label?
It’s quite interesting because I had finished my album and three of my other friends had albums that they’d just completed too, and we were all trying to get signed at the time, so we decided that instead of continuing to search for record companies to sign us that we’d just put all the records out under the same record company name and see what happened. It really turned out to be a blessing for us to have our music together, so as a whole it’s been a great experience. Recently I did my own album entitled ‘Conviction’ and I licensed it to Concord (Universal), so there’s not much happening with World Culture at the moment, but Mike Moreno is also putting out music through it but we haven’t done much with it besides that as we’re all gigging and working musicians. Don’t get me wrong the elements are still there, it’s just hard to keep on it because of time. Right now I’m kind of trying take all my artistic creativity and use it to make music rather than focusing on a label, but licensing to Concord has been a real blessing because they take care of the marketing and distribution etc but the master recordings all belong to me so it’s been a real win win type situation.
Tell us a bit about your album Conviction?
For me it’s really a record about who you are verses who you want to be. I think it’s a notion that a lot of musicians, especially drummers have to often deal with. We idolise our heroes and spend hours trying to learn their licks etc, but need to realise that we can’t be our idols and have to find our own voice. It’s really a big hit to ones ego. So the record is called ‘Conviction’ from that idea, and what I’m trying to portray from it is just to say that I’m going to be cool with what I’ve got to give and embrace it. Inside of this, there are a lot of convictions that I tried to elaborate on and bring out and capture. Each of the songs has a subtitle of a different conviction, passion, truth, love etc. I wanted to address things that are eternal and the fact that I think music is a very healing thing, so I think even if we’re only talking about things that we want to talk about, it should come from an eternal place and give the impression that there is an eternal vibration that we’re transporting through people. I wanted the record to allow people the opportunity to meditate their own ideas and convictions through the album.
Groove or Chops?
That’s simple for me. Groove… I’m more about silence verses sound. I think once you put the masters of those things together, silence verses sound, they’re all groove makers and I think that once you’ve mastered that, you don’t need to have that many chops. I think that a good groove is more internal than any amount of chops.
That’s a really hard question but here’s a great piece of advice. I met this opera singer recently and she said something that really got me thinking. She said ‘truth to the medium’. So whatever you’re playing, be sure that you’re doing it justice, the music is smarter than we are, so if we listen to the music really closely it can tell us what it needs. Things are constantly unfolding in front and around us so if we don’t address them in the moment then the beauty of what needs to happen will never happen. Gain the tools and knowledge that you need. Learn from the masters, and use all of that knowledge when you’re in the moment, and only in the moment. If you’re thinking about what you’re going to play, rather don’t play it. That’s a really hard thing to do because it brings a real authenticity to the music. For me personally, I write a prayer on my drumsticks and I find that it acts like an agent to take me out of whatever I’m feeling and allows me to be in the moment. I think it’s good to spend some time and figure out why you play music, because that’s the basis of what you do. So once you solidify why it is that you do what you do, your vision will become so clear that you’ll never have any doubt in what you do. As drummers we have to be more than just drummers, we have to be conductors and composers too, not just in the form of one song but in the forms of sections and sets of music and whole bodies of work. So get your perspective and the rest will fall into place…
For more information on Kendrick please visit www.kendrickscott.com