Apr. 25 2006
Jeremy Colson

Jeremy Colson

Steve Vai

TAMA :When did you start working with Steve Vai, and how did that come about?

Jeremy : I started working with Steve a little over 3 years ago. I got a recommendation through a guy named Mike Varney, who owns a record label called Shrapnel. Before working with Steve, I did Marty Friedman's (from Megadeth) solo record, which came out on Vai's label. So I basically got the recommendation from Mike, and Steve called me up, mentioned that he was working on a new record, and that he was looking for a new drummer and would be auditioning people. I went down to LA, I was the first guy to audition, and he called me the next day and said the gig was mine if I wanted it, and I said absolutely.

TAMA : Soon after coming aboard, you headed into the studio to begin tracking material for what would be come Real Illusions: Reflections. What were those sessions like?

Jeremy : It was pretty crazy, because literally like two weeks after I got the gig with Vai, I was down there recording with him. Originally, the record was gonna be this double-album, with all these all these guest vocalists, and this whole concept thing. But then he found out that a lot of people he wanted to get weren't available at the time, and he just felt like he was having to compromise on a lot of things, so he decided to make part of the record, and do the stuff himself. So there were a lot of songs we tracked that didn't even go on Real Illusions, but some of them did... including the song Freak Show Excess, which is really technical, and some of the other songs, like Building the Church. After that, there was some downtime where we weren't doing any recording, because we did the G3 tour... G3 '03 in the U.S., G3 '04 in Europe, and then we did some solo tours in Australia and Asia. Around that period, I would go down to L.A. and cut a couple of tracks and do some more stuff. So basically, within a two year span, it was going down off and on and recording. So when the album finally did come out, it included songs that I'd recorded two years before, a year later, and even more recently. All these songs came together. It was really cool because it was a whole different range of me playing before I'd even toured with them, and then after I did a tour. So it was interesting to see, because I felt like I'd progressed a lot during the whole touring experience. It was a cool experience to do an album like that, since it was a whole chunk of my life, so I'm really proud of that record.

TAMA : How much time did you have to rehearse before heading out to tour with G3?

Jeremy : Before the first G3 tour, I think we only had about a week and a half of rehearsing. But it was pretty intense... we'd start around 12 noon and go until 6 or 7 at night. Steve is really particular about stuff, which is one of the things that makes the band so great. And the band in general, with Billy Sheehan and Tony MacAlpine, is just such a stellar lineup. The rehearsing was really intense, but a good experience in the sense of really having to break apart songs so we could get them as tight as possible. So, when we went out on tour, the band was so tight, and everybody just fed off each other.

TAMA : Steve has a large back catalog of material. How closely do you have to replicate the original drum parts, and how much room do you have to make them your own?

Jeremy : It depends. There are specific things that Steve does, that he may have picked up from Zappa, that involve groupings, like odd groupings of 5's and 7's and stuff like that. He would do a grouping of that on the guitar, and the drums would have to follow that. And if he did a grouping of 5, and I played 6, even if it sounded close, that wouldn't work... it had to be on. Those are the things that make Steve unique. He does the kind of things that when you hear it, you're not sure what it is, and you have to kind of dissect it. I had a friend who helped me write some stuff out. And there are certain sections, like in The Attitude Song, where in those specific fill parts, you have to follow the guitar and it has to be right on. Once it's recorded, you have to play it like that, or you're not being true to the song. But the main thing with the parts is to follow what he's doing. If I'm playing an older song, and there's a specific fill on there, it's more important that I'm doing it correctly mathematically speaking, as opposed to which drums I'm actually hitting. I can decide to hit the snare drum and the tom, whereas the other drummer played it on the floor tom, as long as I'm doing what's right rhythmically. So there is room for adding my own personality, but rhythmically it has to along with what he's doing.

TAMA : Before working with Steve Vai, you played with an impressive and diverse list of other bands and musicians. I'd like to just mention some of those, and have you elaborate on what that experience was like...You played on the debut album by the progressive rock band Dali's Dilemma, Manifesto for Futurism, and also have individual songwriting credits for several tracks. Can you tell us about that whole experience?

Jeremy : That was my first real experience of being in a band that was on a label. We were signed to Magna Carta. It was good for me, because I was younger, still a teenager, and it was really progressive. And at that time I was really into progressive stuff... Mike Portnoy and Rush and stuff like that. So it was cool to be in a band and construct drums parts where the crazier, the better, because that's what I liked. The crazier it was, the more I was into it. And I got to make all these really linear, crazy drum patterns, and help write some of the songs and lyrics, and that was just a great experience. We went into the studio to record that album, and it was very intense period, because it was my first big recording. Having the engineer and producer saying "you gotta do it like this," or "do it over again," was difficult in itself. And then on top of that, having 10-minute songs in odd-times with all these polyrhythms and time changes made it even more difficult. So it was my first time being thrown into the studio, and really forced me to push my limits, step up to the challenge, and see if I could cut it or not. And thankfully, I did... so it was a great experience.

TAMA : Moving along... in 2001, you had the opportunity to play at Ozzfest with Apartment 26. What was that like, and what did you learn from it?

Jeremy : That was a cool experience. Obviously, that was the biggest show I'd ever played, it was like 30,000 people. So it was great to do that. But it was also a difficult point in my life, because that was the first band I got into where I went on a tour bus and did the whole touring thing. I wanted to live like a rock star. And that could be for better or for worse. There was a little bit of excess that went on with that... but it was me being 21 and wanting to be a rock n' roller, playing in a rock band, hanging out with chicks and doing that whole thing. And it was great... but again, I was very green about life on the road. And in some ways, I didn't feel like I was being appreciated as a player. I was in a band with a bunch of young kids, and this lead singer was a famous musician's son, and I just didn't feel like I was being valued as a player. I worked really hard when I was younger to be more of a drummer's drummer, and I just felt like I wasn't being appreciated in that sense. So that experience was good because I got to play a lot of shows, but I felt like I wasn't using my talent as much as I could.

TAMA : You played on Marty Friedman's solo record Music for Speeding in 2003, and are currently working on his next album, correct?

Jeremy : Yeah, I just did some more tracks with him last month down in L.A. Marty is one of the people I enjoy working with the most. I just love working with him, it's just so cool because he's such a good guy. As far as music style goes, we're very similar. My drumming style is extremely different now from what it was in the Dali's Dilemma days, and I started to really develop my personality as a drummer by doing that Marty Friedman record. It gave me the chance to say, this is the kind of drummer that I want to be.

TAMA : What kind of drummer is that?

Jeremy : Someone that knows that groove is a super-strong, important thing. Just being really solid, hitting hard, being heavy, and having a really good groove is what's important to me now, as opposed to having all these chops. Having chops is great, and there are times when the music calls for that. But I think a lot of times when people think of instrumental guitar music, they think that the drummer can just play whatever he wants, and be kinda crazy, because in a lot of situations, that's the way it is. But I feel that if you're playing with a solo guitar player, because he's doing a lot of soloing, the foundation needs to be that much stronger. And I feel that it's my job to just be really solid and that's how I like to play. I get more out of just playing a really solid groove than I do trying to do a drum solo over everything.

TAMA : How does working with Marty differ from playing with Steve?

Jeremy : With Marty, I would say the stuff is probably a little more straight-forward. With Steve, there's a little more of an option to go out and be a little crazier. With Marty, it needs to be a little more straight ahead, which is great, because it makes you look at playing for the song. Which Steve does, as well... but with Steve, there's a lot more odd time, there's a lot more double bass. With Marty, it's like, cool it on the double bass, let's just go 4/4 straight ahead, but do crazy stuff with it in the sense that it's very in-your-face. With Steve, it's the chance to have a little more dynamics, a little more double bass, more odd time signatures. That's the good thing with Steve... I get a chance to express every specific way of my playing with his music.

TAMA : You have the ability to unleash some serious chops, but your playing is always grooving and rock solid. How did you develop your skills on the kit, and which drummers influenced you the most growing up?

Jeremy : Well, when I was fifteen I discovered Neil Peart, and that completely changed my life. I just became obsessed with Rush. A few years later, I got into Mike Portnoy, and it's great because he's a friend of mine now, and I got to tour with them in Japan. It's so cool to become friends with one of your idols from when you were a kid. When I got older, I got a little more into more solid drummers, and I got really into punk rock and metal, and stuff like that... a whole different kind of aggressive, showmanship, solid approach. My favorite drummer now is Shannon Larkin, who plays with the band Godsmack. I love the way he plays... visually, he just goes crazy behind the drums. And that's something I've really tried to focus on, because I think a lot of drummers just kinda sit back there and don't do anything, and to me that's just boring. So I look at him as someone I really admire. Morgan Rose from Sevendust is the same kind of drummer. They both have great beats, they have great grooves, but they also have the showmanship thing that really puts the drummer up front, and I think that's a really cool thing.

TAMA : When did you first start playing the drums, and what did you work on to develop your technique?

Jeremy : I started playing when I was around 10. I would just put on albums and play along to them. I guess it kinda came easy for me. But I didn't ever really take it that seriously until I was fifteen, and like I said, I got into Rush. That was really the thing that got me exposed to odd time signatures. I think being around it and listening to that stuff so much, hearing time signatures like 7/4, 6/8, 5/4, things like that, really just made it natural for me. I think that's why playing odd time stuff is not as hard for me as it might be for some people who haven't been exposed to it as much. So that was something that I really focused on as far as practicing, was playing along to songs, learning Rush songs note for note. Also, playing along to a metronome helped me a lot.

TAMA : What is the setup that you're using with Steve Vai?

Jeremy : It's a Tama Starclassic Performer (birch shells) kit, with an 18x24 kick drum, 8x10 and 10x13 rack toms, and 15x15 and 16x16 floor toms. I use a maple or a brass snare drum, usually either a 5x14 or 6x14. For cymbals, I use 3 crash cymbals, a hi-hat, ride, and a china. For Steve's stuff, it's definitely not a big kit, because a lot of drummers he's had have used huge kits. But I'm more into the 4-piece kit; I just think the idea of a 4-piece kit is cool. To me, it's a lot more impressive to see someone shred on a smaller kit, and I think it makes you play differently. If I have all this stuff around me, I'll want to hit it, and then I'll end up overplaying, and I don't want to do that. What I want to be as a drummer is someone that can be technical when I need to, but do it in a way where the groove is still most important... and that means the kick and the snare are just the most important thing.

TAMA : And with this setup, you have enough voices there to complement the things that Steve is doing?

Jeremy : Yeah, definitely. The Tama kit in general is just great. I can always get what I'm hearing in my head out of my drums. One of the reasons I love Tama is that it allows me to portray what I want on the kit. The amount of drums and stuff that I have is the perfect setup for me to do what I have to do.

TAMA : Can you describe the sounds you look for from you drums?

Jeremy : I just like big, really wide-open sound. I like the drums to be really in-your-face. I love the snare to just be really, really open... I don't like putting tape on the snare drum, I don't like trying to control it. I like that almost "pingy" sound that you get. That's why I love playing Tama drums, especially the birch shells, because they have this control to them already. I don't have to put tape on them, they're just perfect, and really easy to tune. You get a very controlled, punchy sound, and that's one of the things I like about playing the birch kit.

TAMA : You are able to seamlessly tailor your playing to suit various styles of rock, from progressive to punk to hard rock. Do you have to alter your drumming or approach to fit into these different musical settings?

Jeremy : Well, I guess what I'm trying to do is develop a personality on the drums, so whether I'm playing a punk rock song or a technical song, I try to have the same approach to it all. That's kinda the way I look at myself, and people have called me progressive-punk. I like things to be organized, I like structure in a song, and I like to be really solid... but I also have a punk-rock attitude of just kinda saying, "this is how I do it, and you either like it or you don't, and I'm just gonna do it." And I think that comes across in any style of music that you play, where there is this attitude of owning what you're doing. You know, you visualize yourself, who you want to be as a player, and that's what I want to do... is taking two styles of music that would be completely opposite, progressive rock and punk rock, and saying, well, I like to bring both in. Because you can have a punk attitude when you play of just going for it, but at the same time I love stuff that can be technical, like off time, and I love stuff that has structure to it, that can not be simple to play... stuff you really have to sit down and analyze. But I think you can put both of those styles together, and that's what I'm trying to do as a player.