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Interview with Kaz Rodriguez

Interview with Kaz Rodriguez

Kaz Rodriguez is a name within the industry that is definitely worth looking out for. He recently featured on Music Radar's list of ''15 up-and-coming drummers you need to hear'' and drummers like Aaron Spears use his fusion play-along tracks as a part of his drum clinics. He also plays drums for Jessie Ware and has a lot of interesting plans in the pipeline for the near future. I had a lovely chat with Kaz about drumming, musicianship and useful tools for success within the industry.

What got you into drumming?

Ever since I was a baby I was always reacting to rhythm, even before I could talk, so rhythm itself made me want to become a drummer. My parents have told me that I've always tapped in time and I used to tap the tiles in the shower and realised that they had different pitches, so I started turning them into a drum kit. I also play tabla because we used to have a set of tablas in our house although we never really listened to Indian music.When I first started I couldn't really enjoy it, I just loved the sounds of it.

When I grew older I realised that drumsticks existed, so I got more into that. It was Michael Jackson and Prince that influenced me massively as a kid, cause my dad was playing their records and I used to tap along to them. I discovered posters and magazines about drums and the first kit I had was a Tama Superstar  kit. When I was about eight I saw a picture with Stewart Copeland using one and I remember thinking that one day I wanted to have a career like him and have the same drums.

I used to busk a lot when I was young. My school lent me a floor tom that I used as a bass drum and a snare that I attached a hihat clamp to. I used to to go to Central London by myself into the little markets and busk there although I was too young. I usually got about 20 pounds a day and saved up month after months until I eventually had enough money to go to Wembley Drum Centre to buy my very own Tama Superstar kit, the newer hybrid version that I was in love with. It was an amazing feeling. When I was about 16 I approach Tama and asked them if they could watch me play and give feedback on my playing and eventually I became a Tama artist, which was a dream come true for me. There was a certain energy from that Stewart Copeland poster. Like my girlfriend says, if you look at things and you are inspired by them that energy will be given to you.

When I was in high school I got a scholarship to go to a place called CYM (Centre for Young Musicians) at the Southbank on Saturdays. I was originally studying orchestral music there, mainly snare drum, hence I''m a quite rudimental player today. I was using really heavy “Ralph Hardimon” marching drum sticks, which first felt really hard and I couldn''t play properly. Those sticks really taught me a good lesson about control and I still use them today when I warm up sometimes. I did all the Trinity and Rockschool books and that's when I first got into backing tracks. It was fun to play along to the CDs, because it felt like playing along to an actual band. Except from that I'm self taught and I''ve never been told what right and what's wrong and I think that's a very strong point in my way of playing. I think whatever you feel comfortable with is the right thing to do.

Fusion play-along tracks

When I was growing up I used to listen to backing tracks but most of the time I thought they were quite cheesy. I used to watch Modern Drummer DVD's and have all of them up to 2006. The tracks the drummers use on those DVD's are awesome and I used to say to myself that I need one of those tracks. About five years ago I was touring with Cirque de Soleil touring for a year. I was playing with all these fantastic musicians and started to understand how sounds work and how notes fit together. I didn't know how to compose at the time and I couldn''t play piano, but when I came back from the show I had a downfall with work, so I bought a 25 note keyboard and basically learnt how to write music. I knew how rhythms worked, which was a great advantaged and I just applied melodies to that, cause I could hear which notes worked together. It's all about using your ears and slowly I gained confidence in my writing. The first track I composed was “Seven to the power of six”, which surprisingly has done really well.

All of my tracks have a hidden exercise in them, where I emphasis certain beats that works with certain rudiments. The emphasis with odd time signatures makes people want to move a bit more. I originally posted small snippets of the tracks to get feedback on Facebook and Instagram and that's what gave me the confidence to finally release the tracks in iTunes. There's no drums to most of the tracks and the reason for that is so people can do their own thing. I've seen on Youtube lots of different covers and everybody's doing it differently. Tony Royster plays them completely different from Aaron Spears and it's amazing to see how every musician brings there own voice to them and that's the beauty of the tracks. I have somehow managed to find a system where I make music that attracts the drummer's ear, whether it's where I put the hits or what sounds I used that motivates the drummer to play along to them. The percussion need to support what you're going to play. I'm chuffed by how well received my tracks have been, people love playing along to them and shedding over them. I have plans on giving out a book along with some more play along tracks, which I'll start sketching  out when I'm on the road. People know me for my odd time signatures, but still today I can't explain how to deal with them, I just feel it, I never count. I think growing up with these tabla rhythms has really helped.

I used to struggle with stickings, cause I always wanted to land on the right, but when I started shedding together with other people, it opened up a whole new world to me, by changing up the stickings. I started to learn how to play left handed and that's the reason why my tracks are in relation to exercises as well. this shows versatility and I think that's important for any drummers to have.

Another big inspiration is Aaron Spears. I always used to watch him on Modern Drummer and I really wanted to get in touch with him. Eventually I emailed him “Seven to the power of six” as a present and I said to him “Thank you for being such a big inspiration to me and making me who I am today”. To my surprise he replied to me and told me that he checked me out on Youtube and that he loves my music and my drumming. That was so inspiring and motivating for me. I then met him at London Drum Show and he told me that he was going to close the show with my track, I thought I was about to pass out. That was the beginning of a great friendship and he is an amazing individual with a great spirit to be around. He has really helped me and recently I've created an exclusive track for him that he used in the Portrait sessions video for Vic Firth. The track has gone viral and he used it in his clinics along with “Seven to the power of six”. Aaron has very much lifted me in my career as a solo artist, composer and drummer.

Another guy I really have to pay respect for, who's been a big influence on me is Leo Taylor. Leo has greatly inspired me in the world of grooving, I had always followed this amazing musician and drummer throughout, and I am humbled to have met him and make a great friendship with him as well as playing his grooves live for Jessie Ware.

Demos for Roland

I was doing a Tama demonstration about two years ago when Jules Stewart, the project manager for Roland, happened to be there. He saw me play and saw something in me as a player. At the time I was looking for an endorsement cause I love using electronics, but I didn't know that Jules was working for them. It was an amazing coincidence and since then he's almost been like a big brother to me and has always looked out for me and my career. Roland has also picked me to be one of their demonstrators and I recently went to Japan to shoot an advert for their V-drums along with a very talented young Japanese girl. The idea behind the advert is to show that no matter what age, background or previous experience you can have fun with the drums, it's an all around experience. This young girl has an amazing gift and is a monster behind the kit and who knows where she''s going to be in ten years. It was great to just play along together, without clashing or competing. Starting to collaborate with Roland has definitely helped my career which I'm so grateful for.

Jessie Ware

Getting the Jessie gig meant a lot to me since I had been a fan for as long I had known about her. I had been doing a couple of unsuccessful auditions and my mood was very low at the time. I  got a call from Kojo Samuel, who's always looked after me, and he asked if I'm free to work with one of his artists, without telling me who I would be playing for. When I found out who it was for I was amazed and I wanted to work really hard for it. Jessie and the band are all amazing, she's like a big sister and looks out for us all and we're all like a big family. There's no stress when we're on stage and everybody's got that chemistry. This year we're doing a lot of touring all around the world, which I'm excited about. I actually miss the band when I don't see them and we always stay in touch if we're not on tour. So for us it's not just a work thing, which also gives us positivity when we play together. Every musician is an emotional character, so when you present your emotions and energies on stage you play that extra 150 percent.

One of the best memories from gigging is from a gig in LA and it was about to be my birthday. The band got introduced earlier than usually and I thought something was fishy. Jessie suddenly started singing Happy Birthday and the whole crowd sang along. A big birthday cake came out and I got this amazing feeling that I really felt loved by everybody and it was truly special for me. Those little things really count, you don't just feel like a session player, you are appreciated as a friend and musician. That's what Jessie does, she's made us all feel like we''re a part of her vision and she's very inspiring to me as an artist.

Approach to developing as a drummer and what makes a good drummer?

I practice a lot, but it''s very important to practice in the right way. You need discipline to develop yourself. Find something that you really want to work on and focus on that. I find playing with a click important but equally as important is playing without a click to build your internal clock.  I personally learn the most from playing along to tracks, then I can really lay into it. Sometimes playing along to emptiness doesn't really inspire you. I do also approach thing in two ways, technically and musically. A lot of people see me as a chop person, but I don't play any odd time signatures on the Jessie Ware gig. What makes a good drummer to me is to have a good ear. Rather not being a drummer, but being a musicians really helps. Whether that''s learning a different instrument or just having the ear to understand how to play with another person. Chris Coleman once said that you got to understand how the other instrumentalist feels when you play, so I try to put myself in there position.

I love to share my knowledge and therefore I teach whenever I find the time. That's why I love doing drum clinics to get the message across about how I practice and develop as a player. A dream is to one day do a clinic at the London Drum Show. I think education is amazing, because every teacher has their own voice and their way of teaching.  I think as a teacher it's important to never say something is wrong or right if the student feels comfortable with it. Education gives you useful tools to unlock some areas you''ll need as a musician that you then can elaborate in your own way. I should however be something that's knowledgeable and not something you play by the book. A lot of people ask me what my style is because I don't sound like anything they've heard before. I think that comes down to the fact that don't play by the book, although I have studied a lot of books in the past. Through having worked for many different artists I've also come across lots of different styles, which has really educated me. Playing everything from hip hop, rockabilly and pop gigs to writing music with different bands has really expanded my knowledge.

Advice to young drummers today

Find an inspiration and follow that inspiration, which Youtube is a great tool for. Check out different drummers and find out what's new and just keep doing what you're doing. However always try to find your own unique sound, that's the purpose of getting known as an individual rather than sounding like someone else. If you for example want to be a pop drummer, just believe that day will come. Cultivate your technique and even though you have a gift remember to be humble to that gift. Be true to yourself and don't try to be someone else. A huge part of me that makes me play like I play today is my mother. She passed away many years ago and the last thing she told was “Do what you love, and continue to do what you love”. I've stuck by it and I've felt ever since that my career has grown and I've become a greater individual as a player. Every drummer, whether you're young or old, has a story to tell and that's what makes them the drummers they are today. In drum clinics in the future I will share my story, but I will also be interested in other people's stories. I know that everybody that goes on that stage has a story to tell. You're there as a listener to hear how that drummer has become the drummer he is today. Find your own story and keep searching for it. There will be a time when you feel ready and someone will find you, just like Aaron Spears believed in me.

It's important to strive for not just being a drummer, but to be an artist in your own right and have your own artistic reputation. It's about carrying on a legacy to a younger generation so they can aspire to be whatever they want to be as well. One day I want to feel like I've left something and past on knowledge about what I've done and what I've learnt. Being a session drummer gets your bills paid, but you can also get your bills paid by doing your own stuff.

Future plans

This year I'm going to do a collaboration with Anika Nilles - a phenomenal drummer, musician and incredible talent!  When I asked her if she wanted to do a video together she already knew about me, cause she had bought my album without me knowing. She has recently been on a Meinl tour where she has been using my tracks. What I admire about her is that she writes her own music, so we're kind of symmetrical but from different worlds at the same time. The video should come out this spring and I'm very excited about it so stay tuned for more information.

I'm also working on an originals project named INCA. The name comes from the Inca culture in South America, which is a free spirited tribal community. I thought it was a lovely name and it describes the free minded music for the project well. I was in love with the idea of my music being related to something since the music doesn't have a genre per se. People say fusion, but anything can be fusion. The project started 2013 and I'm still trying to finish the album since things have been on hold when I've been touring. I will continue it and I'm about to record a video performance of one of the tracks called Pandora as well, I’ve co written this with my partner Jessica Crabtree, a fantastic string arranger and violinist. It's a mixture of orchestration, time signatures and synths and a bit out there but in a very musical way. I'm singing on one of the songs, but the rest isi instrumental. One track is already out on my Youtube account as a previews of the album called ''Trippin''. I'm looking forward to writing some more for the project and also playing some of the material at future drum clinics. It's great to play your own material with a live band, it's not just coming out of a keyboard anymore. One of my future goals is to tour with my own music and play big festivals.

My future is all about giving more and doing more. You have to live in the moment, which I'm doing at the same time as I'm planning the future. People have showed so much love for my play along tracks and my drumming all over the world, so I'm really looking forward to doing more drum clinics and traveling more as a drummer.

If you want to check out Kaz's drumming you can follow his Youtube account on kazroddrums. You'll find his second play along album on iTunes under “Fusion Shed Tracks Vol.2”.

Interviewed by Vicky O'Neon

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