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Chris Sutherland

Interview by Sean Mitchell // October 02 2007
Chris Sutherland

There are so many players that have more chops than me and can play the craziest stuff. I don't do that. But what excites me is nailing a session fast and perfectly, making the producer and artist freak out about how great their pop tune sounds and how fast it came together or when you get onstage in front of 20,000 people for the first time in your career. You know how to handle it and you don't cave in.

Once in awhile every musician experiences some sort of envy in one form or another. It is of course one of the most natural of the seven deadly sins. On any given night, in any given town, in any given music store (are you catching the randomness here?) you will often find a gathering of drummers attending a drum clinic.

Of course like always the clinician for the evening is some inhuman groove monster who can play so fast and so polished that every skin basher in the room is inevitably sitting mouth open, contemplating why they still bother playing drums after watching the likes of Chops McGee. Either that or your inspired to become the next Mike Mangini or Virgil Donati. But even the best and brightest know that empty virtuosity will only put food on the table for so long. In the meantime and in between time a drummer's gotta eat and we are after all still classified as a: musician (myü-‘zi-shən) - a composer, conductor, or performer of music.

That’s the key here, folks. We are musicians who hit things melodically in time for a living. So suffice it to say that while many clinics are often inspiring and entertaining, many don’t raise the bar when it comes to spreading the gospel to the masses and explain what it is that keeps a drummer busy playing “paid” gigs.

After all a: clinic (‘kli-nik) - a group meeting devoted to the analysis and solution of concrete problems or to the acquiring of specific skills or knowledge, is designed to educate. Enter one talented kid from the Canadian prairies who one day picks up a pair of drumsticks, plays Van Halen in the Kawai Kids Combo (sorry Suds I just had to put that in there), goes on to study at PIT, gets the Mama Mia gig in Toronto and ends up rocking many stages across the world with many talented musicians. Well that is the very abbreviated version anyway. For those of you who still sit at home and wonder where the heck the top and bottom of a groove are and how to get into this elusive pocket, there is now hope.

The Working Drummers Bootcamp is the incredibly genius creation of Kim Mitchell drummer Chris Sutherland. Chris brings to the drumming community a master class that finally explains what it is you need to know to get out there and gig on any level and answers those questions you were too afraid to ask for fear of looking like an idiot. Chris handles himself with great confidence as an educator and is able to create an atmosphere that encourages participants to do just that—participate! Needless to say there are no dummies in The Working Drummers Bootcamp, only drummers who can finally assertively take that risk and ask the questions that are going to lead them toward the answers they seek.


What exactly is The Working Drummers Boot Camp?

It's a really intense info packed Master Class/Drum Clinic geared towards drummers who want to make a living on the instrument. There are a lot of drummers out there like myself, Randy Cooke, Rich Redmond, Gary Craig, and many more that play all styles and are very busy freelancing. We've all carved out an area of work doing everything. It keeps the phone ringing and the rent paid. The Bootcamp is basically as much info as possible on how to do what we do and what skills you need to do it.

How did the WDBC go from thought to thing?

I've been thinking about this for years. I've seen so many drum clinics about how to play and hardly ever anything being mentioned about how to make a living playing drums. I just finally found enough time in my schedule to start to put together all these ideas.

Who can benefit from WDBC?

It's aimed at many different levels of players. From up-and-coming drummers who are curious about the types of gigs I do and how to get there, to drummers who are already working and want to get an advantage and an edge on the competition.

What would you say gave you the edge in higher the profile auditions that you landed?

Well, truthfully this is something I cover in the bootcamp. I have never really auditioned for any gig that I have done. It's more about working your way up the ladder and making connections. Let's start in Winnipeg in 1995 and I'll give you the chain of events. 

I was playing in Streetheart and getting to know a lot of classic rock guys in Canada. I met Paul Delong at the NAMM show in LA and the Streetheart gig gave me a name. He introduced me to Rick Gratton. We stayed in touch and a couple of years later I moved to Toronto. Rick called me to sub on a bar band cover gig. The Keyboard player on that gig was Gary Breit, who at the time played with Kim Mitchell. I did well on the subbing gig and Gary started passing my name around town. I also knew Randy Cooke who was playing with Kim Mitchell and Sass Jordan at the time. Randy was leaving the Sass gig and recommended me. I learned the show, did a rehearsal and started on the gig for the summer. If you suck, you don't survive and don't get called back. Later that year Randy needed to sub out of Kim Mitchell's gig and Gary and Randy sent Kim to the Orbit Room in Toronto to see me play a gig. He asked if I wanted to sub the gigs and I said yes. Those gigs went awesome and when Kim decided to change drummers later that year, I got the call. As for Mamma Mia, Kim's former soundman Bob Shindle was the front house tech for Mamma Mia. When they decided to make a drumming change, he threw my name in the mix. I knew a couple of guys in the pit and they called me in. It's always a chain of doing the best possible job on every gig and meeting as many people as you can. When you do get the call don't suck and be really pro!

How does an up and coming drummer prepare for that next step, even say to try out for a Blue Man Group musician or first call for Mama Mia?

Well, first of all, if I hadn't studied hard early in my carreer I wouldn't have been able to cut the reading part of those situations. Beyond that it's all an evolution of the stuff we just talked about to get there. The Blue Man thing was an actual audition, maybe the only one of my life. It was high pressure but after several rounds of hard work I was the last guy sent home out of 200 plus players. The guy they hired ended up bailing out on them and by the end I was positive it wasn't something I wanted anyway.

How much do politics play a part in audition circles?

Well it may have had something to do with The Blue Man choices. They were trying to Union bust in Toronto at the time and I was coming off a Mamma Mia which is a union show. I'm sure they factored that in when they went with a non-union guy, or maybe I just sucked (laughs). But it really is all about who you know. Networking is key; playing well is a given at that level.

You are back with Kim Mitchell after a recent split with Doc Walker. How goes the "Ain't Life Amazing" tour and what have been some of the highlights?

It's been great. We played some huge shows this summer. Canada Day in Vancouver was huge. Opening for Def Leppard was incredible. Meeting some of my childhood rock heroes. We had a lot of fun. The western tour was more fun than you could possibly have in this business.

When last you and I had some hang time, you were incredibly pumped about this Kim Mitchell lineup being reunited. How amazing is it to have a guy like Pete Fredette as one half of the rhythm section?

If you're lucky there will be a few moments in your career that rise above the rest. This lineup was meant to play together. We all realized it right away when we got back together. We all hear the groove in the same place and everyone in the band has incredible time. The pocket is effortless in the band. Peter is one of the most talented players ever. He makes it easy and his ears are always open to taking things in other directions and stretching out a bit. It makes it really fun.

WDBC will see you in role that you have not been in for sometime—that of educator/clinician. How do you feel about steeping back into that field after having been a session, studio, and live performer for so many years?

Well at one point in my life I was very burnt out on teaching. The WDBC is something different though. It's information that I use everyday. It's going to be energizing to unlock so many things for people that are so helpful everyday. There are so many players that have more chops than me and can play the craziest stuff. I don't do that. But what excites me is nailing a session fast and perfectly, making the producer and artist freak out about how great their pop tune sounds and how fast it came together or when you get onstage in front of 20,000 people for the first time in your career, you know how to handle it and you don't cave in. That's exciting to me. I can't wait to get out and share this stuff with everyone.

How are things on the Squeek front, and where would you like to see that side project headed in the next few months?

Well for the three members of Squeek, it has become way more than a side project. We are working on about 20 new songs, have USA label interest and are really trying to make it a priority. The hard thing is that we all have to make a living so that interupts the flow sometimes. Our ultimate goal would be for Squeek to take over all our other projects and become the main thing.

Since our last interview in October of 2006, you have pretty much conquered everything you had set out to. What does the next 12 months hold for you?

The WDBC for sure. It's really taking off and become a fulltime job. The possibilities are endless. We are considering doing it as a full band as well with Squeek, guitar and bass camps and then all playing together at the end with a mini concert. Finishing and releasing a new Squeek CD, hopefully with label help in the USA. Then really trying to do more sessions in Nashville and getting that going strong. On top off all that, just working lots, Kim Mitchell gigs and some other exciting things on the horizon. It's going to be a great year!

Visit Chris online: http://www.chrissutherlandmusic.com/

Photos Meladee Shea Gammelseter: http://www.emshaephotography.com/


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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.

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