FF What was your first memory of playing the drums?
NB We were staying at my aunt and uncle's house in Pennsylvania, and my cousin, who I think is 7 or 8 years older than me was a drummer, and had a drumset, and, I always remembered everytime going over there, I'd always want to get on that thing and beat it and I thought that was so cool, so, he taught me my first drum beat there.
FF How old were you at the time?
NB I was 10, or 11.
FF So, you were automatically drawn to the drums?
NB Yeah, once I saw him play, I was like, "That's really cool." And I just wanted to learn how to do that.
FF Whenever you were visiting there, you would get on the drums?
FF So, what did you do in the meantime? Because, a lot of kids ask me, "How do I get my first drumset?", or, "How do I get started playing on a drumset?", and I actually recommend, you know, if you have a friend who has drums, use their drums. So, what was the next step?
NB What I did, I think my cousin kind of encouraged me... I got one of those Remo drumpads, for Christmas, along with a pair of drumsticks...
FF Still 10 years old?
NB Yeah, I just kinda started doing that, and then I decided I want to get in the school band, so, the summer after that Christmas, I guess it was, we found a guy, and I started taking lessons. During the summer, the guy kinda operated like, you'd go an hour a day for 5 days, that's how he did it during the summer, because he did different kind of scheduling then I guess... and it was like a crash course in drumming, so you'd kind of know what you were doing when you go join the concert band, or whatever. So I did that, and I had my drumpad and drumsticks... pretty much my only drumset experience I had was when I was at the place taking lessons.
FF But, you were motivated to sit there with a pad? At that age?
NB Yeah, yeah, I was kind of trying... I can't remember exactly what I was doing on it, you know? But, I was kinda fascinated by it, and that was the only thing I had, and I think I'd maybe get a couple of Tupperwares or something, and have different targets to hit. So then, we ended up getting a hand-me-down drumset, from... my dad's a pastor, so, the church he works at, they had this really old, crappy... it was actually a Ludwig, like an old Ludwig, silver sparkle, totally faded... the hardware was total shit...
FF Which people would give their right arm for these days...
NB Exactly. So... it didn't have bottom heads, and I got that and put it together, I had some crazy rig, I think I had a wood thing for a cymbal stand, I made my own cymbal stand out of wood... and then I had a drumset, and my parents were always cool about letting me play. I had to stop at, like, 8 every night, but, I had my own kit to bang around.
FF This is one of the things I tell kids is that, if you're lazy about it, and you're not driven to it, then maybe it's not for you. And I know that may sound harsh, but everybody I've spoken to so far was driven to it. Including myself. So, I mean, I'm just fascinated that you went straight to the pad at that age... you know, a kid of 10 or 11 is going to want a drumset or else, maybe, forget about it. So, that's cool. So, your goal at this point was to get into the concert band, at the school, and you're 11 now?
NB I think by the time I got my drumkit, it was into the first year that I was in concert band.
FF And, what were you playing in concert band?
NB Mostly snare drum and bass drum.
FF So, you were a rudiment guy?
NB Yeah... yeah, and it was really basic, you know? It was actually kinda funny, because, I would come up with a beat, just playing on the pad (starts playing a rhythm on his legs), and I thought that was a cool beat that I had come up with... and then, I think one of the first songs I had to learn on snare drum was... that was the snare drum beat. And I didn't understand the whole, 'leading with your right hand thing', because I was kind of doing it backwards.
FF You're righty.
NB Yeah. Well, actually, I write with my left hand, but I drum right-handed.
FF Do you ever play beats with your left hand leading?
NB I can't. I don't have the coordination for that. (laughs)
FF I'm still working on that. You know that book, Stick Control? (George Stone) I've been working out of that book, and that's got some real... to bring your left hand up to your right hand.
NB That'd be good, man.
FF Oh, it's a bitch.
NB My left hand feels like a lame duck.
FF Oh God, I hate how spazzy my left hand feels sometimes.
FF So, I started getting into Stevie Ray Vaughn's drummer (Chris Layton), and a lot of blues drummers and stuff, and they're all shuffling with their left hand. And I'm like, "I wanna do that." (laughs) So, I'm really working at that. Ok, so, concert band at age 11, 12, whatever. Playing snare drum. And then, were you listening to music for pleasure at that point?
NB Yeah. The first tape I ever owned... I didn't even really own it, I had a friend make me a tape of it was, I think, Jimi Hendrix Smash Hits. I had heard Purple Haze on the radio when we were on a road trip with my family, and I was like, "Who IS that?", and I was totally blown away... just by that opening guitar lick. So, my friend made a tape of the CD for me, and I listened to that until it stopped working, basically.
FF Did you play along with it?
NB No. At that point, Mitch Mitchell was so over my head, I couldn't even fathom what he was doing. It was kinda right after I picked up the drums, so, that beat in Purple Haze, I was still doing the 2 & 4, the 2 & 4 with the snare, and the 1 & the 3 with the kick, I was still doing that kind of stuff, so, all that stuff he was doing was way over my head, but I definitely was trying to absorb it.
FF The old masters. What year were you getting into Hendrix? Ish?
NB Probably would have been... '93?
FF Very cool. You can do a lot worse than Mitch Mitchell. Ok, so then, what was your first wanting to get into a band situation? Am I leaving out a big chunk or anything?
NB Um... No. I was in jazz band too. The jazz band traveled for probably a couple months after the school year started, so, I tried out for that, and... got in, but, you know... 7th grade jazz band, it isn't any amazing feat to get into that. But I had to get there before school. 6:30, it was like an extra period before school. I did that, and I was, you know... I was still taking lessons once a week, so that was kinda helping me out with the basics. And then, I got to a certain point, my first teacher was moving, and he referred me to another guy, who was really into Latin drumming, and tried to really impose that on me, and it was just too over my head. And, first thing he said to me, when I got there was, "You're holding your sticks wrong." I was kind of doing this (shows matched grip) I guess I was doing thumbs-up, and he was like, "No, that's wrong, you're playing wrong." And he made me kind of (rotates thumbs down) made me learn to do it like that, so, I stayed with him for a little bit, but I kind of got sick of it. I wasn't really enjoying what I was being taught.
FF That can be discouraging.
NB So, then, after that, I started just teaching myself, playing with CDs and... I think one of the first band drummers I got into was Chad Smith, on Blood Sugar Sex Magic, that was the first drummer I was really drawn to, and kind of tried to emulate. I got into Bonham in high school, mid high school... The Chad thing was still 8th grade, 9th grade. I never really considered it an option, being in a band, because I don't think my parents ever necessarily encouraged that to be an option. It was more like, "You have to go to college, and get a normal job.", but, I had buddies that I'd just play with, we had, I think, in middle school, I had a friend that bought a Fender Strat, and I had a friend that played the bass, and we were absolutely awful...
FF What did you play? What kind of songs?
NB We tried writing our own songs, but, I think we were pretty bad. (laughs) We'd just meet at my house, and nothing ever really came of it, we just sort of jammed together. And, I was also involved in, uh... I don't like to broadcast this, but, I was the drummer for the youth group, too, and we'd meet once a week, and...
FF What do you mean you don't like to broadcast it?
NB I dunno, I'm not ashamed of it, but I just don't really talk about it.
FF The funny thing is, there's like, a million different ways that guys came up. So anyway, you're playing with this guy with the Strat, and a bass player, and then, did you start getting better than those guys? How did you make the progression into better bands?
NB I dunno, I was kind of getting older, and I went to high school, and the HS worship team was a bigger deal, they wanted me to be in it my freshman year, and they were all seniors.
FF What's the worship team?
NB You just play praise songs, it's more contemporary.
FF Gospel songs.
NB Yeah, it's like a youth group meeting, not like, traditional gospel tunes.
FF There's some amazing musicianship in the Gospel scene.
NB Yeah, totally. So, I did that, and I was a freshman, playing with a lot of older guys, and I just stayed in that. One of the guys who was a year older than me, his name was Kenny Harris, he's actually in a band called the Films, and I think they're based out of here (New York), they just got signed to Warner Brothers, I think they're about to put out their first record, and he was in this band called Tinker's Punishment... now it's the Films. But, I played with him all throughout high school. He and I got along well. Actually, at one point, he asked me to come play for them, but I was already in Rose Hill Drive by that time.
FF So, you were in the worship team. where does Rose Hill Drive come in?
NB I think Jake and Daniel came to... I don't really know why... They came to one of those youth group things.
FF They were checkin' yer ass out.
NB (laughs) Yeah. this was my first impression meeting them... Jake came, and, at the end, when the youth group meeting was over, we just kind of jammed with Jake, and he was playing keys at the time, and me and Kenny and Jake and, I guess our bass player were jamming together and I thought Jake was like, amazing at the keyboard, but, that was the first time I met them. Then, shortly after that, one of my good buddies was drumming for them, he was kind of my drummer buddy I'd grown up with, and he started playing with them for a couple of years, so, I knew who they were, but they had never, you know, asked me to drum or anything. Then, at one point, I think Jake decided it wasn't working out with that guy, so, they asked me to come play with them.
FF Was it an audition, or they just said, "Come on?"
NB Nah, he just came up to me on my way walking into school one day and I think I was a junior in high school at that point, and, at that time, I started taking guitar lessons a little bit too, because I wanted to get into the guitar, and I was kind of, you know... I'd gotten decent at the drums, and kinda hit a plateau, and I didn't really have a bunch of guys to play with, so, I started picking up guitar because I thought it would be cool to be able to write my own music and... So, I did that for about a year before this, and Jake just came up and said, "Hey, you wanna come play with us, like, tomorrow afternoon?", and I said "Yeah, sure", thinking that they wanted me to play guitar. Because, my buddy is the drummer, you know, why would they want me to come play the drums? So, I show up and Joe the drummer's not there, so, I was like, "Ok, I'm playing drums." The first thing we did was, they showed me one of their songs, and, I learned it, and that was the first thing we did. We might have jammed around a little bit, I can't remember, but... I guess I picked up the song a lot faster than my buddy had, and, was doing cooler stuff, maybe. So, they asked me if I wanted to be their drummer, and I was like, "Yeah, sure."
FF What year was that?
NB I was a junior, so... '98.
FF So, you guys have been playing together for awhile, then.
NB Yeah, so, then they had to break the news to my buddy, and... that was kinda ugly.
FF He had been with them for awhile.
NB A couple of years, yeah. Or a year, maybe.
FF It can happen, man.
NB Yeah, I had a falling out with him for a while, and the we kind of reconciled a few years later. So that was my first... that was how I got hooked up with those guys, and, after that, the more I played with them, the less I liked school, and, by the time I graduated, I had a decision to make. My parents really wanted me to go to college.
FF You were now in Rose Hill for awhile.
NB Yeah, and I was thinking there could be a balance between the two, you know? You could still go to college and be in a band, but... The college that I got into, I didn't get into CU, where I was from, but it was about an hour away. So, I decided to go to community college, to kinda keep my parents happy... I made it thru half a semester.
FF You know what's deadly about all this? When you're young, people will tell you that you gotta have something to fall back on, and, guess what? If you have something to fall back on... you will.
NB I never thought about that, yeah.
FF I had musician friends that made sure they had a little something to fall back on, and... that's what they're doing today.
NB It got to a point where, I was about halfway into the first semester, and I was just hating it, and I stopped going to class, really. And, when I did go to class, I'd just... get stoned as hell by myself (laughs), and go in and just sit there. It came to the point where I was, like, "This is bullshit, I'm not happy here", you know? And the band wasn't doing anything super spectacular at that point, we were getting ourselves gigs when we could, and we were practicing pretty much every night, or 5 nights a week, and so... Yeah, I dropped out, decided to just get a job, and my parents weren't happy at all. So, they kinda let me live at home for awhile, and I was kinda pushing things, and then they were like, "You gotta pay rent.", and I was like, "I'm not paying rent to live in my parents house.", so, I moved out, actually ended up moving in with Jake and Daniel and their dad, because he was totally cool... I lived there for probably about a year, and it was kinda like the hang out, party house, because there was no real parental supervision compared to other kids our age.
FF But, instead of getting in trouble, you guys were practicing 5 days a week... that's great.
NB Yeah, we kept doing that for awhile, I was working 40 hours a week at a bread store, and practicing every night, and trying to get gigs on the weekends. And fortunately, we got hooked up with Brian and a booking agent, and then it got to the point where I couldn't hold my job anymore, basically. I'd say, "Hey, I'm gonna be gone next week for three weeks."... Because we got a tour book at the last minute, so... Eventually I just had to quit. I wasn't making money very much, but we were kinda subsisting off the band on the road.
FF When I got into my first real band, The Del-Lords, the rule was like, no day jobs. We actually had a rule, no day jobs. The first thing I said was, "How am I gonna keep a roof over my head?", and they said, "We're going to pay your rent. Whatever that is, we're going to find a way pay it." So, we borrowed from family and friends, we were starving.
FF So, let me wrap this up. What would you recommend to a kid that came to you and said, "How can I get started playing the drums?", what would you say?
NB I don't know, I'd say, just get whatever you can, you know... if it's in your means to get a drumset, then by all means, get a drumset. I think the most important thing is to listen to music as much as you can, listen to drummers as much as you can. And a drumpad. Put headphones on and play along to the music with the sticks on the pad, something like that. That's how I absorbed the most was, just putting on headphones and sitting on the drumset and trying to do exactly what they were doing... And at first you can't, you know, you can do a really simplified version of that, but you're still playing with them, you know? You're still in their groove. So, if you just get a pair of drumsticks... You don't even need a pad, you know? Play on a pillow, play on the floor. All you need are drumsticks and music.
FF Cool. Have a great show.