Interviews

What’s it like to drum in front of 500,000 people? Chatting experience and edification with Thomas Lang

Thomas Lang is a leader in the realms of percussion, having performed with countless world-class acts and pioneered many educational programs for sprouting drummers.

Very soon he’ll be performing at the first ever instalment of the Sydney Drum & Percussion Show alongside homegrown hero Virgil Donati. With the event imminent, we caught up with Lang for the latest.

(Happy is also giving away three double passes to the Sydney Drum and Percussion Show! Send a message to Happy Mag on Facebook to win – first in, best dressed!)

thomas lang sydney drum and percussion show

A household name to drummers around the world, Thomas Lang has spent his life inspiring innumerable young musicians to pick up the sticks.

HAPPY: You’ve toured with countless acts on a huge scale. Has any particular tour or show always stood out to you as a high point or unforgettable moment in your career?

THOMAS: There were many memorable moments working with incredible artists and musicians, but the one gig that always stands out for me was playing with Falco at the Donauinselfest in my hometown of Vienna in 1992. Falco and all of the band were Viennese and we played in front of 500,000 Viennese fans who knew every word to every song in the set. It was a wonderful evening shared with good friends and great fans.

HAPPY: How did you get started with drumming? Was there an idol or mentor in your life who sparked the interest?

THOMAS: At the age of four I saw a drummer on TV and was intrigued by the fact that he was the only one in the band sitting down, counting off the tune and somewhat conducting and driving the rest of the band. He had a huge drum set and started the song with a massive fill and he seemed to be the ‘boss’ in the band. A couple of days later I saw a band perform live and since drums were on my radar after watching the TV show, I walked up to the bandstand and held on to the bass drum hoop from the front as the band were playing.

The volume, power, low end, the physicality of drumming, the shiny chrome of the hardware and the sheer fun factor of drumming had a huge impact on me and I was hooked immediately. I asked for drum lessons that day and started playing just as I turned five. I had some great teachers after that who guided me until I started working professionally.

HAPPY: Why do you think a proper education in percussion has stood so strong? Rather than guitar playing and other practices which are seeing a rise in self-taught musicians.

THOMAS: Drummers are usually goal-oriented people and all about efficiency. A great teacher can save you years of practice time and help you reach your goals much quicker than if you were strictly self-taught. Drumming is extremely physical and a good teacher can help you tweak your motions and mechanics, correct your technique and give you practice advice and guidance that will help you save a lot of time over the years.

Historically, drumming was done mainly in percussion ensembles so it’s in the nature of the instrument to share the experience, play with and learn from other drummers. I think the interest and desire to learn and spend time with a teacher and other drummers is still a relic from those days. The drumming community is so much larger and tighter than in any other instrument category, and learning from one another and having a great teacher or mentor has always been part of the drumming experience.

HAPPY: At what point in your career did you find this love for education?

THOMAS: My passion for education is a result of having great teachers when I was growing up and learning. I realised how much time good advice and guidance was saving me and I learned to distinguish between good and not so good teachers fairly early on. At one point in my career I noticed that there was a strong demand for lessons from me and I started teaching because I enjoyed sharing and spending time with other drummers who were genuinely interested in the same thing that I was into.

I was working a lot with bands and artists at the time and got a lot of exposure in the drumming press but had little time to nerd out with fellow drummers. Teaching became a great way to balance my often not-so-challenging drumming work in my ‘day job’ as a session musician with my passion for drumming. After a few years of teaching and doing clinics I realised that in addition to the joy I got out of mentoring, there was a viable business aspect to teaching as well, and I started releasing series of instructional DVDs and books and began expanding my work in the world of education.

HAPPY: Are there any Australian drummers you’re really into at the moment?

THOMAS: Yes, Virgil Donati! I am totally into him at the moment because we’re embarking on the DW TV Show tour together in a couple of weeks and I am trying to get into his head in order to write for both of us. I am very familiar with his playing but right now I am really trying to analyse his current approach on a deeper level so I can create contrast to what he is doing with my playing.

I am always into Phil Rudd of course, and I like Pete Drummond and Darryn Farrugia, Grant Collins and many other Aussie drummers. Australia has a really incredible drumming scene, in many ways as a result of the pioneering work of Virgil.

HAPPY: Outside of Australia, do you think there are any younger/newer drummers who will be at the top of the game soon enough?

THOMAS: Yes, absolutely. I meet incredible young players all over the world when I travel. There is a whole new wave of incredible talent about to hit the spotlight. Many of today’s popular and cutting-edge players are from outside of the US: Virgil Donati, Jojo Mayer, Anika Nilles, Jost Nickel, Benny Greb, Tomas Haake. There is a huge drum scene in China with incredible talent and Europe is doing an incredible job in regards to drumming education, drum schools and mentoring. I think we will also see a LOT more incredible female drummers in the near future.

HAPPY: What can we expect from your spot with Virgil Donati at the Sydney Drum and Percussion Show?

THOMAS: You can expect serious, high-end, cutting edge contemporary drumming with both musical intention, and with complete disregard to ‘politically correct’ drumming in the common sense! We’re going to go all-out nuts! We are creating drum compositions that require discipline and organised interaction but we’ll also have sections of free-form improvisation where we can push and inspire each other for on-the-spot creation of a face-melting 21st century drumming shredfest! You can expect concepts, contrast, and chaos! You’ll find lots of inspiration in our performance and you’ll be able to celebrate the art of drumming with us and go on a really fun ride with us that will hopefully spark some ideas and inspire you to try them yourself.

HAPPY: Lastly, for anyone looking to get started on the drums, what’s a piece of advice you would give?

THOMAS: Get a drum set! And find a good local teacher who can guide and inspire you.

 

The Sydney Drum and Percussion Show will take place on May 27 and 28 in Rosehill Gardens Grand Pavillion. Grab all the details, and tickets, on their website.

Happy is giving away three double passes to the Sydney Drum and Percussion Show! Send a message to Happy Mag on Facebook to win – first in, best dressed!