Interview with Matt Halpern - Periphery and Bandhappy.com
Matt Halpern – Periphery and Bandhappy.com
Matt Halpern is from Washington DC, home of his current band, Periphery, who have just released their second album and toured as Dream Theater’s support last year. He also runs Bandhappy.com, which allows people to have lessons online, and in person, with their favourite musicians, even while they are on tour. I caught up with Matt over the Meinl Drum Festival weekend in June, where he told me about life on the road with Periphery, touring with Dream Theater and branching out in the current climes of the music industry.
Tell me your drumming story so far
I started at a very young age, maybe three or four. I was tapping all the time on pots and pans so my parents saw that I had an aptitude for it and they put things in front of me to see what I would do. I had these kiddy drum sets and I would play on those until they would break and eventually they realised they needed to get me a real drum set. By the time I was five or six I had my first real drum set and I started taking lessons, just very basic stuff. I learnt how to read and about the basic rudiments and then was told to play a lot of songs. I practised how to learn to memorise music and it got me into liking music through drumming.
Because I was so used to playing with songs and learning different styles of music, I found other musicians that were older than me to play with. Because I''d started young I was more advanced than the kids who were my age so I was playing with kids that were older than me, writing music, recording music and then one band led to another and another. By the time I hit middle school and high school I was doing a lot of different drum competitions with drum solos; I''ve done the Guitar Center and so forth, then throughout high school I began teaching students that were a lot younger than me to get the feel for it.
I was 16 years old and needed to pay my gas bill for driving my new car so I started teaching. I used a lot of the stuff I''d used when I was coming up and when I hit college and went to university I paid a lot of my bills through gigging locally in the Baltimore/Maryland area. There were a lot of different bars I would play in the DC area; I''d play a few times a week with guys that were way better than me at their instruments and they taught me how to play in different settings, whether it''s a tiny bar or a big venue. I learnt how to play appropriately in different venues and for different styles of music and I was always into pushing myself and trying to get better. I''d grown up in an area where there were a lot of good drummers around so I was always into drum solos and being on top of all the new cool tricks to do.
After playing in certain bands I travelled around and did some session work and got hired by groups. In 2005 I left a touring band that I was with to join some friends to play and write a bit, then I joined a band called Animals As Leaders. Animals As Leaders is a really popular instrumental group now in the progressive and fusion world but that didn''t last very long because at the time I was a big fan of the band Periphery and it just so happened that timing wise Animals As Leaders was taking a little break. Periphery lost their drummer and needed someone to fill in so because I was friendly with them they asked me. I''ve been working with them ever since and we''ve been touring for a little over three years. We''re about to release our second album and it''s pretty crazy for me. I''m drumming a lot, teaching a lot and working on my various projects, which are Band Happy and Periphery.
The first album with Periphery was all done on V Drums. What was that like compared to acoustic drums?
It was different! We did it that way because we didn''t want to take out any money from our record label to record. We didn''t want to be in debt to them when our album came out. We have a very interesting relationship with them as far as our deal goes.
We figured, ''let''s just do it ourselves''. Our guitar player at the time had a TD20 kit that he had just sold to one of our best friends. Our best friend had a studio in his basement so we decided we''d just do it there.
Instead of programming the drums, which I guess I could have done, we wired the TD20 with the Toontrack Superior Drummer 2.0 sounds and I played through the songs. I knew them all already from being a fan of the band and then the cool part was I got a chance to listen, go back and change things because you can send it all back into Superior and mess around. It was fun.
For all of us on that album we just wanted to get it out, which sounds terrible, but we needed to get an album out. We''d just got a new singer, who is still with us today, but we hadn''t had time to write with him so it was a rush to get it out and go on tour. We did it and it was a good experience; I learned a little bit about electronic drums and how to program and so forth but it''s definitely not the same as the real thing.
Tell me about supporting Dream Theater. That must have been insane!
That was great. I remember the first day when we got there we played in Helsinki in Finland and it was a hockey arena. I''d never played something that big so when I walked out into the arena, it was amazing.
The guys in the band are great. They''re true musicians in the sense that as great as they are, as accomplished as they are, they still practice every day and rehearse. They still write together. Because they''re a new unit with Mike Mangini in the band it''s interesting to see how they work together live; it''s very playful and like a bunch of kids working together. It was great to learn from them from a performance, practice and passion standpoint; having integrity for your instrument and the music you write. We learned a lot about them and the business but just being on the tour was incredible! It was playing in front of thousands of people every night in big venues with big sound systems and big stages. We really felt comfortable there and we''d love to do it again.
What tips have you got for touring?
Sleep is really important and you need to get whatever works for you. Some people need four hours of sleep and they''re fine. I''m more the type of person that needs less sleep to function but I think it''s important to get seven or eight hours of sleep on the road if you can. If you''re in a tour bus and you''re not driving then take advantage of that.
It''s important to eat healthily when you''re touring and if you have access to fruit and vegetables then go for those. Drink as much water as you can. I personally have nothing against drinking alcohol; I''ll have a beer here and there on tour or a whiskey, but for the most part I stay away from drinking alcohol on tour because it dehydrates you. Being a very active drummer I hit very hard; it''s like an aerobic workout so I need to be hydrated.
If you can find time to work out or even do push ups every day… running, jump ropes… something to keep your blood flowing because there''s so much down time when you''re travelling you can get very lethargic. So I would recommend those key things; sleep, eat well if you can, exercise if you can and get along and be nice to your band mates, crew and other people you''re with because that can make your life so much happier. It''s fun being around people you get along with. All those things combined keep me and my band healthy and happy on tour.
BandHappy.com...what was the concept behind it?
The simple concept is live music lessons for musicians all over the world. We''re the market place that handles the scheduling, communication, payment and then the actual facilitation of the lessons. We do the lessons either over our own custom video chat that''s built into the site or in person so as touring musicians travel from city to city they teach in the different cities they go to. If you''re a local music teacher and you want to expand your student base you can use the website for that.
It started initially with me out of necessity. When you''re in a touring band that''s just starting off you don''t necessarily make a lot of money and it was very hard to pay my bills. I''ve always taught so with the fan base that Periphery had I was able to reach out via our social media sites and promote that I was going to be giving out drum lessons on tour and I tried it out to see how it would work.
I had a really good response and not only was I able to supplement my income and make some money on tour but other artists started noticing what I was doing and they said, ''Hey, you’re giving lessons in all these cities you''re visiting. Are you making money doing this?'' and I said, ''Yeah, it''s how I make a living when I''m on tour'' and they wanted to do the same. I started booking lessons for other musicians in other bands who we were touring with so I sort of become a music lesson booking agent. I wasn''t trying to take a cut of anything but I had a plan in my mind for a site at some point that allowed fans to learn directly from their favourite bands and musicians and this was a great way for me to test the market. I really honed the process by teaching myself, by doing the on tour lessons and coming home and working with those same students via Skype. I did the same kind of things for these other musicians and figured out the best way to promote, to get paid, to deliver the lesson and run it smoothly but not like I was pitching sales all the time.
I was using Skype for the video chat, Paypal to get paid and Facebook to message people. With all those things it was very cumbersome so that''s where Bandhappy started initially because it was one site that has all these features. I give credit to the people that I first started testing out the teaching with because they listened to me based on my own experience and because of their willingness to teach and open themselves up to their fans it''s now created a full network and market place. When I go to places it''s amazing to see that Bandhappy is becoming what I wanted it to be, which is a centralised location for live education; a way to connect with a teacher live.
Something amazing that we''re doing this summer is the Vans Warped tour, which is a really big tour in the US. I believe they''re coming over to the UK soon. The Vans Warped tour and Bandhappy have teamed up and we have a big music lesson tent that is featured on the tour in every city and different artists from the tour are teaching there every day. It''s been sold out so far; we literally can''t take any more students.
It''s so apparent that it''s a great way for fans to connect with their favourite artist in a way that''s beneficial for everybody. The fans learn something, they have a great experience that they can tell their friends about and hold on to forever; we''ll even video tape it if they want to. The artists get to know their fans in a different way, which makes them have a different sort of care for when they perform a show or come to a different city. They also make some money and can have an extra fifty or hundred bucks a day; whatever it is, that''s huge when you''re on tour. We launched in January and it''s only been seven months but the goal is to keep pushing it, get more people educated in music and give them opportunities for that.
What should we expect from the new Periphery album?
My band Periphery spent November to the end of January finishing our second album and we''re releasing it July 3rd in the US. It''s called ‘Periphery 2 - This time it''s personal’ and for the band we''ve finally come together as a whole unit with the right band members. We''ve had some changes. I don''t want to say there were weak links because the people themselves that have left the band are great but as far as the whole unit… when you have certain things that don''t work it just doesn''t work. So we have a full unit, everyone''s contributing to the writing process and all parts of the band. We''re very excited to put out music that, unlike the first record, is all real; real drums, real amps. Nothing was done in a box in an apartment. It''s a collaborative effort and for me personally it''s my favourite thing that I''ve recorded as a drummer so far in my whole life. I usually hate everything that I play so it''s really cool to enjoy the stuff as if I weren''t playing it!
Interview by Gemma Hill
Photos courtesy of Meinl
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