TAMA :You come from a musical family, as the son of two professional funk drummers, right?
Adam : Yup, two Berklee graduates.
TAMA : When did you first start playing, and how what role did your parents play in your development?
Adam : Every role. My mom was playing gigs while she was pregnant with me. While she was pretty well pregnant, actually, she was still playing. She and my dad had a duo… my father would play keyboards and sing, and my mother played drums. And yeah, I guess the first the ten years of my life revolved around drums and baseball (laughs). My dad is also a songwriter and a producer, and both my parents play piano. So it wasn’t just drums, it was music. It was music all day… Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, John Coltrane… all day, every day.
TAMA : Did you have any formal lessons or training while you were growing up?
Adam : They set with me up with a few people here and there, but I was mainly taught through watching and asking questions. They weren’t that formal with me, because they didn’t want to turn me off to it and make it seem more academic than it should be. They wanted to make sure it was still fun for me. So it was never like, “you must practice,” or any of that kind of stuff. I wanted to practice and I wanted to play. Their whole thing was just allowing me to go at my own rate and just enjoy it.
TAMA : You began sitting in with your parents’ band at an early age. What was that like?
Adam : Well, they used to work seven nights a week. And I used to hate it, because I wanted to hang out with them, you know? So the only way I could hang out with them was by going to their gigs, and so I would just watch them play all the time and would just beg and beg to play. But before I was allowed to play drums, I had to play percussion with the band. So I had to learn how to play congas, cowbell, and all the parts of the songs. Eventually, when I was six or seven years old, my mom would let me start sitting in on the drums. It was professional, though… it was on the gig. It wasn’t like a small coffee shop, where I was allowed to mess up. I had to play the songs right on stage the first time. And if not, my mother would be playing percussion, and she’d turn around and she’d either hit the cymbal where I was supposed to hit it, or she would shoot me a look like, you know, this is serious business. So it wasn’t just all fun and games on stage. So from that point, I realized that this is something very serious, and you got to treat it with the utmost respect. And as fun as it was, it’s a job, and you gotta be professional.
TAMA : Can you describe your experience at Berklee College of Music and what you gained from it?
Adam : I wasn’t going to go to music school; I really wanted to go to art school, because for some reason, late in high school, I got really into drawing and stuff like that. My mother said just check out Boston, that Berklee has a 5-week summer program… and I was 16 at the time, and had never been away from home. She said just go check it out and see if you like Boston, and if you still don’t wanna go, you can go wherever you want. So I went to Berklee, and when I went to the 5-week program, I met my core group of musicians that I’ve been playing with since. Eric Krasno, who’s the guitar player from Soulive was there… Adam Smirnoff, who’s playing guitar with Robert Randolph right now was there… Erick Coomes, who’s the bass player for Snoop Dogg and DJ Quik… and every rapper you could imagine… 50 Cent was there. The list goes on and on, of just people that I met, that we instantly bonded, and we all had the same influences of being seriously into funk and seriously into hip-hop. It was nice to be around people like that and when I met them, and we started playing, I said, “You know what? Let’s all meet back here in like 2 years (laughs).”
And we all did. So that’s what made me want to go to Berklee. And we all went there, and the vibe for me was amazing from the first day we all showed up. It wasn’t like going away to college for most people where they don’t anybody. I went there and had my core group, and it was time to start playing and getting down to business. So Berklee was about playing for me, it was about getting a chance to hang with some people like Kenwood Dinard, who’s an amazing visionary and drum philosopher, and Jamie Hedad, who’s the percussionist for Paul Simon… and many other people. Jamie went to school with my father and mother, he remembers both of them. So he brought me in, and just tried to take me to the next level. A lot of the teachers there were really cool and supportive, and it was just a great experience. And the gospel choir was another life-changing experience also… being the drummer in the gospel choir with Dennis Montgomery as the choir leader. Cause all funk music, all American soul music, comes from the church. And I’m not even a religious person, but if you’re a drummer and you don’t check out gospel music, you’re missing something huge, especially if you’re trying to play groove-based music. So that was really major.
Also, a quick note… I started a hip-hop group at Berklee, and we ended up getting signed to Interscope within my second year at school. And we got a $100,000 advance, and moved to New York, and I got my first taste of a record deal, and what it’s like to make a real record, and all those things. And none of this would have happened if I hadn’t met these players.
TAMA : What was that group called?
Adam : That group was called Fatbag. And we were doing really well in Boston… we won like three Best Hip-Hop Band Awards in the Boston Music Awards… so that was a great experience. And this band Lettuce was created out of that. That was featuring Eric Krasno of Soulive and all those guys. So yeah, just a whole bunch of bands sprouted out of there, so the Boston experience was great.
TAMA : During your third year at Berklee, you joined the Average White Band, which led to performing alongside some of your heroes, including Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower of Power, and Chaka Chan. What did that gig require of you?
Adam : Those guys just bestowed so much knowledge on me about grooving. The two drummers that played on their records were Steve Ferrone and Robbie McIntosh, and those guys are, hands down, two of the greatest groovers of all time. And I got to learn everything was there to know about those guys from Average White Band and how they got to that point and what was their training and all that kind of stuff. And just to play in front of huge, African-American audiences for the first time… playing soul music to packed houses was an amazing experience in itself. You know, just catching the vibe… because Average White Band gets so much love from that community. So it really just provided me with a wealth of knowledge, and taught me how to play funk correctly, and be simple, and play for the song, and all that good stuff. They’re all just great guys, and I’m forever indebted to them.
TAMA : When did you start playing with John Scofield, and what has that been like?
Adam : Well, I had been doing Average White Band for three years, and we did a live DVD at the House of Blues in L.A. And things were kinda just moving along, I’d been with them for a little while, so it was possibly time to move on. I did a couple of gigs in New York with my band Lettuce, and Soulive had just done their second record, and they got Scofield to be on it, which we were all excited about. And Eric Krasno invited Scofield down to the Wetlands to sit in with my band Lettuce. So Sco sat in, and called me the next day… and said, you know, let’s go. That whole night he kept cutting off the band, and making us do drum and guitar duets. So that’s when I realized that maybe he was checking me out. And because I didn’t turn it loose and play a bunch of licks… I just kept the groove and made it exciting, good-feeling music… I think he realized that’s what he wanted in his band. If I had gone on-stage when he was there, and tried to show Scofiled what I’m all about with chops… I would have never gotten the gig.
TAMA : You’ve developed impressive skills and worked with top artists in a wide variety of styles, from jazz and funk to hip-hop and drum n’ bass. How did you develop this range of expertise, and what advice do you have for drummers looking to expand their musical repertoire?
Adam : In my case, you know, your influences are what make you. For me, for playing groove-based music, it’s about really knowing a certain group of records, and knowing them very well. And without doing the homework, there’s no way… you can’t really create the stuff out of nowhere. From growing up with my parents’ record collection, really knowing the Earth, Wind & Fire records, really knowing Stevie Wonder records, really knowing Tower of Power, and then getting onto the fusion with the Brecker Brothers stuff. And just basically the funk upbringing that I had… the James Brown stuff, which is number 1, which is what I tell all my students… that if you know the James Brown stuff, if you really know and listen to it and you play along with those records, they’ll become a part of you… they’ll become a part of your essence. And that’s the best thing I could say for just getting the groove stuff together. I can’t stress that enough. Because all the permutations that come from that is what makes me. But without that starting point, without playing with those records, it’s not gonna happen.
TAMA : No matter what style of music you’re playing, the groove is undeniable and your drumming always feels and sounds so great. How do you go about composing your parts and choosing appropriate drum sounds?
Adam : It’s being true to the idiom. Having a jazz touch is different from a funk touch. You know what I mean? The sound that you get out of the drums, the kind of drums you play… that’s almost as important as what you’re playing. So, when I played with Scofield, he had me on a tiny little jazz kit with an 18” kick, and I had to learn how to play it and learn how to get a touch out of it… and it’s a whole different thing.
The music will dictate what sounds are necessary for the music. And that comes from doing your homework… knowing what this kind of group or this kind of music is going to require, and you just hear the certain drum sounds in your head, before you even get to the situation. Like with Scofield, I knew I was gonna try different percussion elements. But with Average White Band, it was just straight. They wanted straight pocket… hi-hat, bass, and snare drum, and a crash on one occasionally (laughs). They wanted to keep it at that. And with Scofield, it was time to get colorful, it was a quartet that was improvisational-based, so there’s more room for colors, more room for different styles, for dub effects, and it was kinda open on that sort of vibe. I got really into emulating echoes for the Scofield thing. So it’s all about letting the style dictate, and knowing your homework… because knowing what’s happened before will allow you to choose what’s right for what’s happening now.
TAMA : In addition to your extensive drumming credits, you’ve also been heavily involved in producing and creating loops for other acts. How did you develop those skills, and how do you go about creating loops?
Adam : My mother always raised me with… she wouldn’t let me become a “drumhead.” Where a lot of my friends who came from drumming families, or musical families, they were kinda into what they’re into. My mom was very into making sure I knew who Quincy Jones was, and aspiring to be more of that sort of well-rounded musician, as opposed to just a drummer. And I’m not saying that drummers aren’t musicians, I’m just saying that her whole thing was, use the drums to get in a situation where you’ll be able to produce and write for other musicians that you’re working with. So that just allowed me to open up my mind and get more into producing, and I’ve been writing and taking piano lessons my whole life. I use a Korg Triton to sequence and sample on, which is sort of my sketch pad. And I bring everything to Pro Tools, and kinda do that Pro Tools thing, and loop stuff. I take bits of different shows, live gigs that I’ve done with different bands, and I’ll use these colors in my palette to paint new music. So I use pre-existing samples to kind of inspire new chords and new grooves and vibes. So it’s kind of like a cut and paste sort of thing, but then you add the coloring within it also, you add live instrumentation and things like that. But I love the whole sample-based approach, and I’ve been on that for awhile. Now I’m getting a lot of calls to do that kind of stuff.
TAMA : Tell us about the Adam Deitch project?
Adam : Well, I had just written so much stuff at this point, and it’s all loop-based stuff, it’s all hip-hop influenced, I’m very much into what’s going to happen in the year 3000 and 5000. I’m less concerned with the past right now, because I’ve done so much studying of the past, that I want to add something to what’s happening. So that’s the basis behind the Adam Deitch project. It’s a chance for me to take some of the stuff that I do at home and create, and bring it to the gig. And I call the guys that know the style of music I’m trying to do, and I just have them react to my loop stuff, without telling them too much to do. They’re very hip-hop, loop-based players. Borahm Lee just did a month tour with the Fugees, he was the only keyboard player, playing all the samples and all the keyboard parts… so he’s an amazing keyboard player. And the bass player Stu Brooks is the bass player for 50 Cent and G-Unit and those guys, so he understands that whole side of the game. And the Deitch project is a chance for me to just get out there, do some touring, and try to get live music onto some hip-hop events… some hip-hop, and maybe some raves, places where normally there are just deejays. That’s what I’m most concerned with… not necessarily playing the same clubs as other rock acts or other big R&B acts, that’s not my goal. My goal is to get into places where there are people that haven’t really seen live drums. They like to dance, but they don’t know too much about live instruments. I’m trying to infiltrate that market. DJ Crush and DJ Shadow and all these guys are out there, and they’re making great sounding records and they’re sample-based, and they’re instrumental hip-hop, but they’re sampling everything, and there’s no live instrumentation. And I’m trying to run with these guys’ concepts, except bring it to a live band, which I don’t think has been done yet. Combining live music with samples, and having the hip-hop controlled, not having it be about the solos, not having it be about the vocals or the rap, it’s about the music, but it’s stripped down and danceable. Typically, hip-hop events don’t have bands. There’s one band in hip-hop, and that’s The Roots… and that’s not right, there should be more. Because hip-hop is so big, why aren’t musicians taking on this challenge.
TAMA : Can you outline the kit that you typically use? Does it vary significantly from project to project?
Adam : It totally varies. I have a 22” Starclassic Maple bass drum, and also an 18”. I use both very often on different gigs. And on some gigs I’ll tune the toms way up… I still use my 10” rack and either a 14” or 16” floor tom, depending on the gig. But if it’s a certain kind of gig, I’ll tune my 10” tom to sound like a timbale, and slap it all night, and on other gigs, I’ll try to get as deep and round as possible.
TAMA : So you’re able to get all the different sounds you require from your Tama Starclassics?
Adam : Absolutely. And not only that, but Tama’s stuff is so sturdy and their hardware is sturdy… and that’s a major thing for me… it’s intelligently designed. And when you tune something a certain way, the way the lugs are designed, it stays where it’s supposed to be, doesn’t detune, so I don’t have to keep tuning the drums all night. I’m constantly changing the parameters my sound, and changing heads, so it’s really important that the drums can just stay where they’re at, and give me the big sound that I need.
TAMA : Who are some of your favorite drummers on the scene today?
Adam : There are three drummers that are modern that are really important, that I try to mention in every article I do… Mark Simmons, Charles Hanes, and Deantoni Parks. Deantoni is from Atlanta, he also went to Berklee with us, and he plays in a band called Kudu. And he was the first guy I saw playing live drum n’ bass, and playing manual echoes with his drums. Not pressing a button and getting an echo, but doing it with his hands… and freaking the audience out with these intense dynamic ups and downs that I’ve never seen do. And it really freaked me out, and helped me realize that there’s this whole other world of drumming out there… if you’re listening to electronic music and what deejays are doing, what all this new stuff is happening, drummers can now cop some of that stuff, and it’s the new thing. And I just always try to mention Deantoni as the guy that really opened up my eyes to that when I got to see him play, and I advise every drummer in the world to check him out.
TAMA : What other projects are you currently involved with, or do you have in the works?
Adam : Well, I’ve been in the studio doing some pop stuff with Justin Timberlake. I was called out there to play some drums, and ended up writing 3 or 4 different tracks for him, playing keyboards and all types of stuff. Which was a surprise to him and his manager, they didn’t know… so I had to let them know. So that’s going pretty well. I just played some drum stuff on the new Fugees record, which is coming out soon. I’m going to be on Redman’s new album, which is on Def Jam… I produced the first song on his record. I’m doing a whole bunch of underground hip-hop in New York, like just a ton of people that are really big on the underground scene, like Talib Kweli, MF Doom, Immortal Technic, OC. Pretty much the rappers are starting to come to me saying, we want that sound you get, which is the live music mixed with the samples, with the heavy drums… my sound is becoming recognizable, and people are coming to me now. So it’s getting really enjoyable to be in New York, and working with all these great emcees and street poets, as well as great jazz musicians like Scofield and stuff like that. It’s a wide variety of stuff, and I enjoy every bit of it. I’m also about to start touring with Meshell Ndegeocello. I’ve been rehearsing with her for her new band. She’s doing an all new, young band, that she’s got debuting some new material, she’s going to be singing again… it’s loop-based stuff, I’m playing with her loops, it’s kind of a funky, sort of electro/hip-hoppy kind of vibe, which is right up my alley. So I’m looking forward to touring with her this summer, and possibly doing a record. She’s an amazing artist and bass player, can’t say enough about her. There’s a lot of stuff going on right now.