How Do I Play The Drums?
Chris Pedersen . . . Camper Van Beethoven

FF     How did you get started?

CP     Well, that's going way back. i would say John Phllip Sousa marches were beng played in my house when i was probably 4 or 5, so, as far back as i can remember i was into the sturm und drang of that whole thing, the marching rhythms. Shortly after that my parents bought some 45's of the Beatles, i wanna hold your hand, that sort of thing, and at age 5 and 6 we'd have little dances in our house on occasion to those 45's, so that would have been 66-ish? And i was in NY at the time, actually in a little naval base in St Albans Queens. My dad was in the Navy and that was hugely influential... the whole Beatle stuff. Again i was into the rockin part of it, you know, from a very early age. So i always liked drums. i think the other thing i can remember sort of a seminal memory of mine about drums in particular is my dad used to buy Tiujuana Brass records which i really loved, and i saw on the back of one of the records there was this photograph from behnd the drummer facing out to the audience, so it showed the whole drumset which i was fascinated with, and i would look at the drumkit and say, "wow, look at that", and it showed the perspective of drummer looking out at the audience, and that sort of lodged in my head too like, "that would be cool, i wanna be up there" So the earliest memories i have is that i always wanted to play drums. But i didn't actually start playing... i think my dad bought me some sticks when i was about eight, and i hit pillows and stuff like that to records, and i think by the time we moved to oakland california is when i started taking lessons at about ten. That's when i got sorta semi-serious about it; learned how to read and learned some rudiments and all that.

FF     So the lessons were not any kind of chore for you. you looked forward to them?

CP     Oh absolutely. and the funny thing is, i practiced of my own volition. i asked my parents about this recently... "did you ever have to tell me to go practice?" and they said, "no, absolutely not, you would just go" So that's just one of those things that for whatever reason, just part of the gene that i was born with, just something i always did. And of course i had other interests, but the drums were something i just always knew i was gonna do... i didn't know i was gonna make a living, i didn't know i was gonna struggle thru it at times or any of that. i just DID it. thats my earliest memory is really just knowing that i always wanted to play.

FF     So you had the drive towards it, and when you were ten you started taking the lessons. How long did it take before you got your own drum set? When you took the lessons was it on a pad?

CP     Absolutely. My parents were very very sort of conservative about that whole thing. i think i was on a little rubber pad for about six months. And then a rented snare drum for another six months or so. i think the first christmas or birthday i got a hi hat and i was thrilled, i was like, "whoa man, a hi hat WITH a snare " (laughs) And it was probably a year later before i got this whole kit. i think it was a Revelle you know probably one of those Japanese made brands. ironically just last night, that gig that we played in LA at that Hotel Cafe place... the set that was on the stage was a Revelle.

FF     Far out. Full circle.

CP     The cat there is going "Hey do you wanna use that stagekit instead of your own?" and i looked at it and as tempted as i was it was too small, i couldn't get the beefiness out of the kick so... you know... But it brought me back. it was a silver sparkle kit... i was just completely thrilled to have it. i think i was about 12

FF     Ok, after the hi hat then came the kit...

CP     Probably a year later. i was very committed by that time. i was definitely practicing and i was ready for the kit.

FF     Were you working on your foot at all or just your hands?

CP     When i'd go to lessons they'd have a little drumset there, so i was actually playng at my lesson, but then i couldn't play when i got home. So you know i was chomping at the bit by the time that drumset arrived at the house. And you know, i give my parents credit, they made sure i was really committed before they committed. And once they did, i never had any grief about practice time or any of that kind of stuff... they never complained about noise or anything.

FF     Very supportive. Cool.

CP     Yeah. Plus, my younger brother took guitar lessons at exactly the same time, so we grew up playing together. Which is also very helpful, because drums are very much an ensamble instrument, so you need to grow up... at least part of your formatve years need to be understanding how it fits wth other instruments. So we sort of learned the ropes together.

FF     Did you also play to records at the time?

CP     Exactly. Yeah we'd put on headphones and play... we'd learn stuff together and just play like guitar drums sort of stuff. And eventually we got into teenage years... looked for bass players.

FF     So by the time you got the full drumset and you were slapping headphones on and playing to records, would you say that you sorta knew what you were doing by then? Enough to figure out a song pretty quick?

CP     Yeah. it seemed to come natural. i was very feel oriented ... i would respond to stuff that had, you know, like the old Rolling Stones stuff, and of course the Beatles. Some of the Ringo tracks as you probably know, were just the most basic sort of "feel" playing you can imagine... very very basic. and i responded to stuff like that first, and then... once sort of feeling like i could play along with that and master the bits, i moved quickly into more complicated stuff, and by the time i became a mid teenager i would get into really complicated stuff because it was more challenging.

FF     Any particular artists? After the Beatles and Stones?

CP     Oh jeez... My brother and i probably learned to play together almost singularly thru the Stones album Get Yer Ya Ya's Out, the live one. i think Madison Square Garden you know... starting with Sympathy For The Devil. And we moved thru... i moved thru a Deep Purple period, you know, Ian Paice, trying to keep up with him...

FF     One of my favorites.

CP     He's sort of a jazz guy, and he can play rock, which was really great

FF     The lessons that you were taking, was it rudiments and things like that?

CP     Yeah, he would do rudiments, he would give me a couple of different pages of stuff to learn, so i learned to read, but i didn't really apply reading really in my life later as a musician... but i knew what the notes did. i knew what it looked like, and i knew the concepts of how to read music.

FF     Well certainly one of things that i've been told is that a really great way to learn to play the drums is to know how to read the notes, because then the world is your oyster.

CP     Yeah. Well, look. i think it's great to understand... much in the same way that when you're learning english or something you understand the rudiments of grammar, you know how to construct a sentence, and you know what is what. And then the other part of learning a language is just listening and then feeling it and then repeating what you hear. And that's very much what music is like to me. There's a component of it that's very technical and it really helps to have that background. And then there's this leap you need to make that's very "feel", that's very "gut" feel and you also need to make that leap. And both are really really important. And i've moved very much into the feel part, and i'm still that way... i'm still very much a feel player... i'm really not... in spite of what some people might think, i'm not really that technical. i went thru perods of being interested in the technical part of it but i'm much more interested in the gut feel. So again, the drummers like John Bonham or someone like that really play from the gut. And that's who i latched onto from early years. So i did plenty of headphone time with Led Zeppelin and eventually moved into stuff that was more... i guess... time sgnature difficult and stuff like that.

FF     i suppose they're calling it "math-rock" these days.

CP     (laughs) math rock yeah. What fascinated me was that first of all, people could just do it you know, and i was like, "Whoa how did they do that... how did they remember a 25 minute song?" So i took it upon myself to memorize it. i'd put on headphones and i'd struggle thru these old Genesis and Yes records trying to figure the shit out. And in the process of doing that, not only did i sort of improve my vocabulary of licks, but i also realized that there were sections of those songs that actually had these grooves you know, they fell back on the groove. which was cool because there IS a groove to 7/8 ... you CAN groove in 9 and those sorts of times. it IS possible. it's not neccessarily easy but it is possible.

FF     Certainly Phil Collins is a "groov-ey" drummer...

CP     (unintelligible) HUGE influence, huge. And his little finesse of the way he played the snare and the hi hat beats and stuff... i took huge pages from that.

FF     Yes you're known for your hi hat work. that's what people told me about you.

CP     Yeah, i would say Phil Collins would have been probably one of the first to make me really think about not only using hi hats for different types of beats, you know, like the beat integrated with the hi hat and snare but actually pressing down on the hi hat slightly more to get a tighter feel and letting up slightly more to get a looser feel. These "in between" energies you could put on your foot to get different sounds... i got way into that for awhile. And all that just became second nature later when i developed my own style i guess.

FF     Yeah and of course the difference between using the tip of the stick and the shaft of the stick...

CP     Exactly. All that stuff. And had i had more chance to see concerts early on, to be able to SEE how they did it... i think i got to see Brand X which was Collins sort of jazz combo? ((Christy Jones)) on bass and these other jazz guys... And again, i wasn't really all that into jazz as a music... i was just into like, "wow how did they do that?" And i got to see them from the front table in a small club in San Francisco called the Waldorf. i think i was about 19 or 18 ((unintelligible First year at UNi ?)) and just being able to sit and watch the guy play, i went home and next day got the drums out and i was trying to apply some of that.

FF     Very inspirational watching a good drummer play.

CP     Yeah.

FF     Let me ask you, was there an "ah-ha" moment, was there a moment when you said "This is really what i wanna do with my life?"

CP     Oh yeah. The funny thing is... this whole idea of being a touring musician and making money hadn't really occurred to me at all til probably late, um... late high school. ((before &&&&&)) i already had this plan, i was going to be an airline pilot and i was going to go to the university and i was going to get a physics degree... And i was probably gonna join the Navy and be a jet trainee... 'cause that's the only way you can really get jet training without paying a million dollars. And put in years in the Navy... i grew up on Navy bases with my dad... i actually despised the military but i was gonna use it as a tool to get to that point where i could become an airline pilot. i coulda got a pilots license when i was 15 years old ... i was very very focused on that and ... music was always just... on this path i had this little fantasy, well, what'll happen as i'm going along this path is that i'll go to some concert someday, Jethro Tull or something like that, and they'll lose their drummer and he'll ... have a heart attack on the seat and stuff, and then they'll ask the audience if there's anybody that knows the tunes... and then i'll go up onstage and i'll complete the set, and that'll be the beginning of my career right? Playing in front of 20,000 people a night (laughs) i sort of um... cultivated this fantasy a little bit too long i guess. So by the time i got to UNi and i became disillusioned with physics 15:11 first of all and i became disillusioned with some of the plan that i had when i was younger. Musc was always there and i started playing in multiple bands... everytime there was a gig i was the guy that would do the gig... that fantasy became stronger and stronger like: "Well shit maybe i should just try to do music you know. And fuck all ths other stuff off"

FF     i'm sure you got encouragement from the musicians you were playing with as you came along guys were probably saying "Man you're happening"

CP     At that point i didn't get much encouragement from my parents. Because that was obviously not a (searches for the word) sound career plan.

FF     Right.

CP     Admttedly they were right of course.

FF     That's where they hopped off the train. (laughter) Very supportive though when you were eagerly attacking your practice pad and your snare drum and your hi hat.

CP     Sure. As my dad even said he said "Ok it's an AV-ocation not a VO-cation. it's not secure enough" Which is... which is TRUE.

FF     You gotta love that old saying uh... You need something to "fall back on"

CP     Those were his words. Go ahead and keep doing music but develop something else.

FF     Right.

CP     So, to answer your question, the "ah-ha!" moment really was sort of halfway thru UNI where I just said, "you know, I'm young, and this is my time, I'm gonna give it a go. That's probably say, [age] 19 - 20 when I sorta made that decision, I AM gonna give it a go. And that's when I actually started seriously playing in groups that I thought might either, you know, make money or get somewhere, make recordings and do something and move a bit ahead. And it was during that time I met the guys that eventually led me into the Camper [Van Beethoven] family.

FF     When you were 19, 20.

CP     Yeah, the story goes, when my brother came to UNI, he was 2 years younger, his first room mate was Chris Molla. That was the connection, I knew Chris Molla already , and it was knowing Chris Molla, and just being part of a group of musicians from that same college that played talent shows, and various other things... um, he told me that there was actually two bands that could easily use a drummer. One was Box Of Laffs, and the other was Camper Van Beethoven. And I remember thinking I'd seen camper somewhere, and I was thinking it was a bit too hokey for me at that moment in time, and I thought that I would go check out Box Of Laffs. Box Of Laffs was a lot more progressive to me, they seemed to be... it was a bit more visceral music at the time, they seemed to be taking more chances musically, slightly more dissonant, and there was a bit more sort of funk rhythms and stuff that I was interested in doing at that time. So, I pursued the Boxof Laffs thing. David Lowery was the bass player in Box of Laffs, so, I sort of got in with that group thru the back door, so to speak. And then, when that sort of disintegrated, I think it was at least 6 or 8 months later, after playing with a couple of different cover bands, that sort of thing, for a little bit of money that David called me and asked me if I wanted to do this tour that was coming up.

FF     Right before that tour, what kind of gigs were you doing? Bars?

CP     I was doing this really awful, um... he was an original music guy out of Santa Cruz who fell in with the management of Neil Young, so he was friends, but more like on a cocaine-dealer-friends kinda level with the Neil Young management people. And he would do these ((?)) GIGS, and I got $50 per gig which in those days was pretty good, and I got about three gigs a week, and I could actually live on that, at the time. I ate mainly, uh... pizza, and stuff like that, so I wasn't swimming in money but, I was sorta making a living...

FF     I went thru a rice-and-beans phase, so, I getcha.

CP     Yeah, exactly. But during that time I got to play up at Neil Youngs ranch, twice actually, for private parties. Which was kind of a trip.

FF     With which band?

CP     This band that was called Bradley Ditto.

FF     Ditto?

CP     Because his real name was Bradley Bradley.

FF     Okay.

CP     But he sold himself as Bradley Ditto.

FF     Bradley Ditto.

CP     It's all true.

FF     Yup.

CP     Imagine having a last name, Bradley, and then your parents name you Bradley.

FF     It's insane.

CP     Bizarre, yes. But this is Santa Cruz.

FF     Not hardly as cool as James Jamerson.

CP     Yeah. I had a friend named Sam Ham. I'm thinking, "Why would you name your son Sam?"

FF     (Laughs)

CP     So, it was at that time, and it was really winding down, and this guy was a complete megalomaniac, really full of himself, and... I wanted out. (laughs) I think I was home for Christmas at the time that David called me, and I was ready, I was like, "Hey... I'm IN." Thanksgiving, it was late '85, our first gig was just before Christmas break, and it might have been with Butthole Surfers. I'm not positive about that.

FF     Santa Cruz.

CP     Yeah, we were all Santa Cruz based. You know, the funniest thing about that is, I actually fell back into music, you know? Because I was doing all these other odd jobs and stuff to go on. I had already graduated from UNI at the time, and my degree got me absolutely nowhere, and what actually got me somewhere was music. So that was really kind of a backwards story.

FF     It's a good story.

CP     Yeah, and of course, it keeps going on, and you know, that comes to a crash, and I did have to develop another career, and raising the kids and the whole thing... it keeps going on. Then I get back into music again and so... it's cool.

FF     It sounds like music has served you well.

CP     Yeah, I'm quite happy right now, because I don't have to endure some of the crap of the music industry part of it that I used to. As much, anyway.

to be continued...