Scott PellegromInterview by Sean Mitchell // September 12 2012
My eyes, ears, mind and heart are always open to new ideas. I am a sponge and will soak up everything I can from a player, but I also have a wild imagination. I study the sounds of the city life as much as I do nature.
I had the great honor of playing alongside Scott Pellegrom at the 2012 Victoria Drum Festival. He is by far the most cutting edge personality in the drumming industry today. While his incredible humility has made him one of the busiest drummers on the planet, it is his prowess on the lakes and rivers where trout dwell that keeps our friend Scott grounded.
Scott one thing you mentioned at the 2012 Victoria Drum Fest really stuck with me: you said that you grew up learning to appreciate the responsibility and challenge of being self employed. This brings up an interesting question, for me. I see many drummers like you who are more and more independent contractors and independent artists themselves. What advice can you offer someone who is looking to follow a career path similar to yours? What are some good tips for being a self employed musician?
That’s a very good question, and I think I could do an entire interview based off of this question alone—so I am only going to give the Cliffsnotes on this topic. Every person is different and every music scene is different so you need to learn to adapt to the environment you’re in, but there are definitely certain concepts that could apply to everyone.
First of all you are the business and the product, so you need to find a unique way to promote yourself and represent yourself. I believe that you need to be a good person, easy to work with, willing to put in extra hours and always, always be reliable. You must do your homework on every gig and also be the person who’s going to help load in and load out on the gig. There are so many great drummers out there who want your job so make it that the band leader has to have you and wants to work with you.
The reason I decided to be independent is for the sole reason that I am in control. I book the gigs, lessons, licensing deals, and if I am starving it’s my own fault. If you set yourself up as an artist, people will hire you for who you are, and if you get that big gig, you already have a career to come home to when you’re not on the road.
Drummers, be your own boss! Gigs and private lessons tend to be the staple for many drummers out there to make ends meet so here are a few tips on how to get started.
Gigs: A good portion of the paying gigs out there are cover gigs. It may not be what you dreamt of, but it gets you working, making money doing what you love. Cover gigs allow you to not only study the great drummers of our time but the great songs of our time.
Doing cover gigs has really helped me in my own writing. Learning a list of 60 cover songs, you are able to train your ears, learn new genres, develop structure in your playing, work on your time and feel—really it’s endless. Above all it gets you closer to your dream of becoming a professional drummer.
Private lessons: This is a great way to test where you are at as a player and also refine the foundations of your technique and knowledge of drumming. If there’s a young drummer in your neighborhood who is getting started on the drums, then offer them lessons, even for free at first. I started by giving lessons in the homes of the students, after doing a good job and word got out; I soon gained more students and was offered a teaching position at the local drum shop. I will strongly advise that no matter what level of player you are, always have a mentor.
Remember you need to budget and keep your expenses low. If you are able to keep a day job and do so until you have a nice stack of cash in the bank, and your calendar is filled up with gigs.
Let’s switch topics for a second. I think it’s very cool that you are as passionate about fishing as you are about drumming. When did you first pick up a rod and reel and, pardon the pun, how did you get hooked?
Drumming and fishing is like eating and sleeping for me. I have been doing it my entire life. There are pictures of me in diapers playing drums and catching fish. My family really enjoys music and the outdoors, so it was natural for me to fall in love with fishing since I grew up on a farm and was able to fish and explore the woods every day. I just can’t get enough of fishing; I love everything about it, and it’s where I get all of my ideas, musically.
What is your “catch” of preference?
I will fish in a mud puddle or in an ocean. I will go for any type of fish out there, but my true love is trout fishing. Trout are sneaky and temperamental, and they live in some of the most beautiful water ways on earth. So if I don’t catch anything, the view and sound alone is very rewarding.
Where did you grow up, and how did you find drumming?
I grew up in West Michigan. The first 13 years of my life was spent on a farm with everything from horses, cows and chickens, to exotic birds and monkeys. My mother claims that when I was still in the womb I was extremely responsive to music. She guessed I would be a soccer player or a drummer—actually the first article of clothing given to me when I was born was a shirt made by my grandmother Pellegrom that had a snare drum on it. I was labelled at birth. I can’t remember my first time playing drums or anything like that but I remember the journey. I argued with my drums as they were my best friend. I would fall asleep at them and keep playing! Drums are my personality; I don’t know who I would be without them.
You are a very unique player, to say the least. What musicians turned the light on for you in your formative years? And who did you study with?
The list of music I heard growing up went from classical, opera, big band, metal, punk, rap, and electronic pop to pop music. I have so many influences that I could be here all day writing to all of you. The biggest influence of all was and still is Derico Watson. He was my teacher for many years, and I still consider him my mentor. That guy is not only a phenomenal player but a wholesome guy. He always kept me in check and always let me know who is out there killing it. He taught me to shed, to hustle and to get on the scene and learn by experience. He truly changed my life as a drummer and as a person.
Let’s talk a bit about your style. You have described yourself as a percussionist in a drummer’s body. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Everything! My eyes, ears, mind and heart are always open to new ideas. I am a sponge and will soak up everything I can from a player, but I also have a wild imagination. I study the sounds of the city life as much as I do nature. I listen to how people talk and phrase their words to how the blinker in my car lines up with the blinkers of other cars for independence ideas. I feel that life is one big music lesson, and if we look at it as a language and how we learned to speak and mimic that development, we can always learn and tap into the power of music.
What do you think makes you such a unique player?
Wow! I never really considered myself as a unique player, I just love what I do and try to share my life experiences through drumming and tell a story. If anything would be considered unique it would be that I am a rhythmist; my goal is to make music with whatever objects are around. I didn’t want to be limited to a drum kit or any particular instrument. I started playing by banging on pots and pans. Taking that concept to the kit gave me unlimited options.
Tell me about the projects you are currently involved in.
I work in almost every genre and play anything from clubs and theatres to weddings and street corners. I just love to play! Right now my big focus is my group SP3. We are in the studio writing and preparing two different EPs. One will be an instrumental and the other lyric based. Kevin Kozel is the guitarist and Ryan Wilson is on keys. These guys are perfect for this project, and they are so much fun to play with. Kevin and I work together all the time on other gigs and projects. We also fish together, and that’s how we write and brainstorm.
Other than SP3 I work with maybe 12 different groups right now, and I am fulltime at Red Wall North Studios as a session drummer. I’m also getting a fair amount of work writing and producing artists, which is very new to me and very exciting. I actually never thought it was something I was able to do; I’ve always been an educator or a supporting artist. So, drummers, my advice is to write all you can ’cause in the business that’s a good way to keep money coming in and getting more work.
I wanted to ask about your setup. In fact it is very small and compact. Being that you typically utilize your drums more like a percussion setup in your clinics, why not have a bigger set up?
To be honest about 90 percent of the time I use kick, snare, hats and a ride on almost every gig. I am a minimalist, and I think that allows my technique to be a like a Swiss army knife, making a lot happen with very little. To me, it’s the true test of a drummer. I am going to be playing a larger setup for most of 2013 to try something different, so I am starting to work on new concepts. I am actually very excited, and the kit I will be working on is a Drum Craft acrylic kit with a 24” bass, 10 and 12 mounted toms and 14,16,18 floor toms—much larger than usual.
You have been using Drum Craft drums for awhile now. I hadn’t really heard a set until I saw you play. Can you tell me a bit about the lines you use?
I use the series 8, 7, and 6. I love everything about them, from the design, sound, dependability and durability. Most importantly though I really love the people involved with Drum Craft. I have a great relationship with everyone involved and have spent a lot of time traveling with the engineers, reps, A&R, marketing and sales all over the world. Drum Craft is family to me, and I really enjoy spending my time with the minds behind the gear. They love what they do and are as excited about crafting drums as I am about playing them.
Your hardware looked amazing and looked like it was very strong. Is it true what they say about German engineering?
Absolutely true! Wait until you see what they are coming out with. The team behind Drum Craft is incredible, and they are doing things that will change the game in hardware.
Tell me about your new studio opening in the New Year. How is that going, and what can we expect from the new studio? Lessons, recording, DVDs?
I have a new drum partner and colleague who is actually an old student of mine, Kevin DePree. We are starting an online lesson program and finishing a book together and have a lot of big plans in the works. The new teaching facility is attached to Red Wall North Studios, and the resources we have are almost limitless. I am very excited to watch the development of the program. I’ve been writing the outline and slowly working on my own DVD, but I put the project on the back burner for now since right now I have my hands full.
Do you do much teaching, and what are the most important lessons (drumming or not) you try to get across to your students?
I do a lot of teaching and to me the most important thing is having fun. Music isn’t a sport or a competition—although it’s treated as such these days. I want a student to dig into their own brain and see what they come up with. I teach drums as one would teach a language. I get to playing and risk taking right away. I love mistakes and embrace them.
Tell me about the one-handed rolls. You must get thousands of questions about your technique. How have you developed the dynamics and power?
With any technique you need a full range of expression, and to understand what individual techniques are used for, like tools in a tool box. I practice everything I do in slow motion and I practice them every day, so it’s constantly becoming a part of my rhythmic DNA. I use the freehand technique, push pull/open close, Moeller, valve techniques and the paint brush stroke. All of them are so much fun to use and they get you thinking about the design of the stroke, and you become more of an engineer than anything.
You sound like a busy guy, what do you have coming up in the next couple of months?
Practice, practice, practice! I have a lot of ideas and I really want to take my playing to the next level so I have a lot of work to do. Other than that, I am really focused on launching my new project SP3 and the teaching studios. There’s so much to do and so little time. My clinic tour schedule for next year is almost booked up to November 2013, so I am getting ready now to prepare for next year.
About the Author
Sean has 15 years experience behind the kit, studying under greats like Mitch Dorge and participating in master classes with Dom Famularo and Zoro. It was these life-changing exchanges that prompted the Canadian-born drummer to create a global drumming community, The Black Page, that was easily accessible to drummers of all backgrounds and levels of expertise. In addition to his work with BP, Sean is one-half of the world soul group The Mitchells.
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