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Jost Nickel

Interview by Sean Mitchell // February 09 2016
Jost Nickel

Not all of the students really practise the stuff that I give them. Some just don’t because they have too many rehearsals and whatever. I don’t blame them; I don’t feel offended by that. I know this is good and you can use it, but if you don’t that’s your decision.

Jost, you’ve been travelling a lot lately. You travelled to a place not many people would probably think of going – Iran.

Yes, actually there’s somebody in Iran who used to live in Germany and he came back because he wants to live in his own country. He was homesick. He decided to have a drum school there.

I know of some drummers from Germany who have been there so I asked them how it was. Everybody said it was fantastic; they had the best time.

What did you get the sense of ... in regards to the styles of music that they would be?

When I decided to go there, I just went there; I didn’t really look for any information about the music styles. I just thought I’ll go there and talk to the people and meet the people. Most of the time it was just nice.

Of course, there’s many problems in this country with the government and all of that – we know all about that – but the people I met were the nicest people, really. The hotel was great; the food was great.

I did a three-day master class there and 80 drummers attended, which is a lot. And I played a little concert. Everybody I met was really interested in me getting a different impression from the country than you would have when you only read the news.

I would always go back. As an American we can’t even go there – we’re not allowed. I don’t know about Canadians.

Of all the countries you’ve travelled to, Jost, what are some of the countries you enjoy the most?

That’s really hard to say. I would probably say the countries that you know of the least are the most interesting because you meet interesting people and you see how they live. Basically, I think most people just want to lead a decent life; they want to work in a job that they enjoy working in, they want to make enough money to be able to afford a decent living. I think that’s common of many people.

Of course, when you think about Iran, there's many people who are too heavily into religion and they are not interested in what I am interested in – they’re not interested in music and all of that – so I didn’t get to meet these people.

When I travel somewhere it’s always related to music, so I always meet interesting people because they are interested in music. One guy I met in Iran, for example, told me that he’s playing in an underground band and in their lyrics they criticize the system so they don’t play at gigs. They only play at private parties because there’s the death penalty for that. It is such a different way of how they use music to express themselves because they are living in such a rigid system. I was like, “Wow, that’s dedication right there.”

So music is used as a way of expressing and a way of criticizing what they feel. They only play at private parties where they are sure that nobody from the government would be there because that would be too dangerous.

Wow! Instead of complaining about not making enough money, they could die!

Right. When it comes to drumming I think it is the same everywhere. People are interested in improving as drummers and I just show them what worked for me; it’s my point of view.

I think if you had four different drummers and they would talk about the same topic, they would all have different angles.

I tell students that you may have two teachers with different ways but that just shows you that there are different ways of looking at things and you have to find out for yourself what works best for you.

That leads me to my next question. You’ve had some pretty substantial students – Anika Niles was one of your students, as was Benny Greb. What is the message you would like your students to walk away with in regards to music or anything?

I look at it like I’m only offering my view points and I tell them this is what works for me, and they do with it whatever they want.

Not all of the students really practise the stuff that I give them. Some just don’t because they have too many rehearsals and whatever. I don’t blame them; I don’t feel offended by that. I know this is good and you can use it, but if you don’t that’s your decision.

Anika, for example, she was practising a lot and she was really sounding good with everything I gave her. Maybe I struck a nerve in her. Some people can’t really relate to how I approach playing and teaching, and some can. She really could.

So I’m not about “I want you to do this.” I offer something and you can do it or not – it’s your decision.

How did you get bit by the "drum bug"?

I was about 10 years old and a friend of mine had a little trap kit. I was sitting in his room and he said, “I want to play something for you on this drum kit.” I remember thinking to myself, This is not going to be any good. It was so good; it was so beautiful. I was just like, “Wow, I want to do this too!”

I went home to my mother and told her I wanted to play drums. She was like, “Yeah, okay.” The next day I told her again and again and again. Then she was testing my will. She told me, “Well okay, a drum kit is really expensive. If you empty this dishwasher you’ll get fifty cents.” I did that for a few weeks – months, I don’t remember exactly. Finally [my grandmother] said, “Why don’t you just buy him a drum kit? Everything is getting more expensive so you should do it now.” So my mother told me then that she was going to get me a drum kit.

I was so excited about it and I enjoyed playing so much and it has never left me. I practised a lot back then and my brother (who became a professional guitar player) asked me, “Aren’t you afraid that if you practise this much someday you won’t want to play?’” I’m like, “No,” and it stayed like that. It still is the thing – apart from being with my family and that kind of stuff – that’s most interesting to me. Sometimes it makes me feel a little strange because I spend so much time on the kit working on stuff and only a few people can really appreciate that. To really be able to appreciate what somebody is doing you have to know, to a certain point, what they are doing, If you’re only listening to a drummer and you don’t have any idea what playing drums is about, you probably look for the wrong things. But this is just what I love doing. It has nothing to do with spending time to get certain gigs; it’s just my passion.

Who were some of your earliest influences?

My teacher got me into Steve Gadd. There's a transcription book by a guy from Denmark, his name’s Hans Fagt, and wrote this book and it’s just Steve Gadd's solos and grooves. My teacher gave me the book and to that point I had never listened to Steve Gadd. I enjoyed playing from the book so much and I was curious what does it really sound like, so my teacher gave me some records with him. That was probably the first guy.

Then I heavily got into the Police – Stewart Copeland – then of course, into all the drummers that Sting used. The first one was Omar Hakim on Blue Turtles – that’s so good. You listened to it like 30 years ago and it still is so good. The way Omar Hakim plays these grooves, it’s still pop music but it’s so interesting how he plays it.

I remember buying his next CD and being so disappointed that Omar Hakim wasn’t playing anymore. The next drummer was Manu Katche. I was like, “I don’t like that.” Then my teacher told me what was really good about it and I started liking what Manu Katche was playing. There were two CDs with Manu, then of course, Vinnie Colaiuta – amazing! Such prolific players to play with, prolific songwriters, such a musical person.

On a four-day master class, I met the percussion player who’s playing with Sting and he asked me, “Do you want to see our set list from our last gig?” I knew every song; mostly everybody knows every song. There are so many hits, it’s really impressive. Obviously he’s into very good drummers.

He started with the best and you gotta keep going, right?

I have the impression –I don’t know if it’s true – he never really appreciated what Stewart Copeland was doing.

No, I don’t think a lot of people appreciated – at the time – what Stewart Copeland was doing. I know there’s many videos of Sting giving him a dirty look; his tempo was really bad. I think it came from being in the band too. There was personal tension.

This one video Sting did when the Police were reunited for two years, Sting was asked by the interviewer, “What’s the main difference between playing with the Police as opposed to playing alone?” Sting’s like, “Well, the main difference is I can’t fire anybody." (laughs) That says a lot.

The Police without any of the musicians wouldn’t be the same. I think they made five CDs. Every one of them is really good and the drumming is outstanding.

I find Stewart interesting too because he’s such an anarchist when it comes to drumming. If he was told he couldn’t tune the toms too tight, he would tune the toms too tight. He said the snare he used on all his records is this old crappy $100 bargain bin snare. He said, “If you tell me I can’t do that, I’m going to do that and I’m going to make it sound good.” He’s amazing.

You have a new book, Jost, that the folks at home should know about – Jost Nickel’s Groove Book. Is this your first book, and where did this come from?

Yes, it’s my first book. The thing is I spent 10 weeks at Drummers Collective in New York and they were all about being conceptual about your playing. Since then I have always made up my own exercises. For years, I would always write down what I wanted to work on. I always felt like I wanted to write a drum book but I couldn’t decide what topic. Then all of a sudden I spontaneously decided I was going to write a book about groove.

I really enjoyed working out of Hans Fagt's Steve Gadd book. You can download this book. Look for Hans Fagt and if you give him your email address you can download it for free.

I had to really analyze my own playing and really think about how I come up with stuff. Then I found some systems to help the people to create their own grooves – they’re really simple. Some people just want to play what I wrote down – which is fine too – but then there’s chapters in the book where you can come up with your own linear grooves or your own ghost note patterns.

Of course, you can’t write a book that covers all styles. I had a lot more stuff but I decided I couldn’t do too much. There’s no shuffles in there, not any triplet grooves. So I’m planning on writing at least two more books – one will be about fills and I wanted to write a book about shuffles too 'cause I think you can write a whole book about shuffles, half-time shuffles, how to come up with ghost notes. Some people just don’t know how to come up with your own patterns. I think it’s not so difficult; you just need to know how.

So it’s published through Alfred Publishing. You can get this online through Amazon.

Jost, we share an affinity and brotherhood with the Aquarian Company. Aquarian's Chris [Brady] and I were discussing you. You have a very simple set-up with regard to the drumhead. Let’s talk a little bit about your set-up and what you came to the conclusion of with each drumhead and why you pick the lines that you do.

First of all, when I decided to try out Aquarian heads I was on tour and I thought, I won’t tell anybody; I’ll just put these heads on and wait for comments. I didn’t want the monitor guy and front of house to know I had changed anything. I got really positive comments on the sound so I thought that was good.

I wanted to play coated heads on the toms and the snare. Most drums, I prefer single ply heads; if the shell is thick I prefer double ply, but the drums I used had really thin shells. I like using texture coated, which is a single-ply coated head, on top and bottom of all drums except for the snare drum obviously. With bass drum heads, I like single ply heads as well, so I chose Force One clear.

Oh wow! The super kicks – everyone talks about that, but the Force One? I’ve heard some of your stuff and it sounds amazing.

Chris Brady, who’s the guy that works at Aquarian, wrote me a message that one of the other drummers who is using Aquarian – a guy named Mike Johnson – wanted to know what heads I used 'cause he like the sound. Back then, I didn’t know Mike, we had never met and I didn’t know of him. From that, we got to know each other. He was into the Super Kick head before and now he’s using Force One too.

So now your tom choices, I find it interesting as well, very simplistic. What are you using on your toms and your snares?

Texture coated.

Simple right – but old school, much like Roy [Burns]. The one thing I love about Roy and Chris and Aquarian is just the simplicity in their lines; the simplicity of the way they do business.

Yes, and the one thing I found really interesting about Aquarian heads is that they stay in tune longer than any other brand.

In the next few weeks, where can people come and see you?

February I am going on tour with a guitar player from San Francisco – his name’s Barry Finnerty; he’s a legend – he used to play with Miles Davis and Joe Cocker. He’s coming over and we’re going to tour in Germany.

You’re going to Memphis soon to the Memphis Drum Show. Are you doing a clinic there?

Actually I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to do there. I think I’m going to shoot a few videos for mycymbal.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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