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Thomas Lang

Interview by Sean Mitchell // May 22 2015
Thomas Lang

When I first saw a drummer play on television at about age four and drums were in my radar ...  I saw this drummer playing on TV he seemed like he was the boss 'cause he was the only one in the band sitting down— I thought that was very cool— and everyone else had to stand up. He was kind of like the boss sitting in the office and he counted off the songs and everybody else had to look at him, so he seemed very much in charge and I liked that.


What inspired you to put the Thomas Lang Bootcamp together, Thomas?

It really grew out of a way to kill time on the road, to be honest.

I started to teach private lessons when I was touring in around 2005/2006 when social media first came up. I was in MySpace — remember MySpace? — so I’d put “I am in Stockholm right now” or “ We’ll be playing in Amsterdam tomorrow.” People would read that on MySpace and then write me back and say, “Hey, I read you are in Amsterdam. Do you have time either before or after soundcheck to give me a lesson?” When that first started happening— I hate sitting around on the road and not doing anything — so I said, “Sure, I’ve got six hours in the morning so come to my hotel. We’ll get a meeting room downstairs and a couple of pads and we’ll start working on something. I’ve got something to do and you get a lesson, so everyone’s happy.”

After awhile, word got out that I was doing these lessons out on the road, before shows or between shows on days off, and people started bringing their buddies or saying that they were studying with other guys that would also like to come. I ended up with smaller groups and then larger groups and it got to a point where it became very chaotic and I had to organize it and plan it a little bit. Then I turned this into events that were a little more organized and multi-day events. I started using “off days” on the road to host camps in the most bizarre places on the planet— places that I couldn’t travel to, to teach without being on the road with somebody already. If I happened to be in Oslo and I had three days before the show in Bergen, I could do a camp in Oslo or in Bergen. So, that’s how the whole thing started and it developed into quite sort of a beast over the years. (laughs)

As you developed the program, I would imagine that there are a lot of ways that you learned and ways that you developed your skills. Do you input that into the boot camp itself and teach the people the tricks that you’ve learned over the years? To not fast track, but practice smart? 

You can use that word, fast track, absolutely. I really try to teach them every trick I know and every shortcut I know—  if there are any, and there are some, not many but some— and give them every possible piece of advice and all the great information that I received from my teachers and that I’ve gathered and collected over the years.

Growing up, Thomas, was the drums your first love? I know you’re multi-instrumental, so that’s the reason I ask. Was it drums that was "love at first bite" or was there any other instrument before that?

No, that was it. There was an instrument before that— the flute! (laughs) Like everybody in pre-school played flute. That was my first introduction to music. Very uncool, very unhip.

When I first saw a drummer play on television at about age four and drums were in my radar ...  I saw this drummer playing on TV he seemed like he was the boss 'cause he was the only one in the band sitting down— I thought that was very cool— and everyone else had to stand up. He was kind of like the boss sitting in the office and he counted off the songs and everybody else had to look at him, so he seemed very much in charge and I liked that.

Then because of that, drums were in my radar and I saw a drummer perform live a couple of days after that. I walked up to the bass drum as a four year old ... it was probably a 24-inch bass drum ... so I held onto the hoop and the guy was going nuts as I was holding onto the bass drum, so that really touched me and I was forever infected with the drum virus from that moment on. Since that moment, drums were it for me.

I bugged my mom to get me drum lessons and a drum set and she agreed if I learned a “real instrument” too, so I had to start playing piano at the same time. I played piano and drums for many years until I started studying music at the Conservatory and Music Academy in Vienna and then picked up bass and a few other instruments too along the way. I have always been playing more than one instrument from day one. Drums were always my first and biggest love, and I’ve never practiced as much on any other instrument.

I know you are a producer as well. How important do you think it is for drummers to take the opportunity to do any kind of “behind the glass” work and look at the piecing together of a piece of music, not being involved in it as an artist?

I think it is very important to be in somebody else’s shoes and observe it from a different perspective every once in awhile because as a drummer, which is one particular role and one particular perspective from behind the drum set, you have a little bit of tunnel vision. You have a very distinct and very great “eye” for your area of expertise, but sometimes you forget to listen to the whole big picture; or you don’t see the forest for all the trees. You’re in your world of time and subdivision and micro-timing and bass and drum and rhythm section but you sometimes tend to forget what it’s all about— that it’s really about the confetti and pyro at that point and not about your cool double flamadiddle. (laughs)

So it’s important that you sit back behind the glass and listen and see the whole thing and get involved with as many angles as possible in the music industry in general. It’s good to know about everything; it’s good to know about recording, engineering, arranging, producing and writing, and video editing and everything else, as well, so you really know what your part is in this whole big machinery.

I think it helps in many ways, one of which is it takes some of that seriousness and pressure off you. If you know that you’re one of the many wheels that are turning here, and really if you’re not performing at your super duper best every night, it’s still going to work. It helped me at least to ease into a more relaxed way of working because I know that there are so many more parts that are working and wheels that are turning and that I don’t have to control everything all the time. It’s okay if each guy does his part and I can just enjoy it and listen to what they are each doing and appreciate every person’s work and just do my little piece of work; it’s all going to work and gel and function. It definitely gives you a whole picture of a song, an arrangement, an album or a production.

You are involved in so many things, but when you actually do get a chance to sit back and listen as an observer, what art do you appreciate as an audience member?

All art I can enjoy and appreciate, music as much as other things. I come from a very artistic family. My brother’s, in fact, an art teacher and does art movies and is very, very artistic. So is my sister with graphic design and stuff. I appreciate fine art. I appreciate painting and sculpting. Anything that is artistic, whether it’s movies or graphic design or electronic art or performance theatre, I love it all.

Music as a passive listener of an audience, I can appreciate all of them equally. Music maybe I have the most appreciation for because I know the most about it and I can really appreciate nuance and detail and personalities and quality of performance. There’s a different element of skill in fine art or in electronic art or performance art. You can be just shocking and controversial and I can appreciate that. I find weird, provocative, very bizarre performances quite cool and artistic and entertaining and interesting. But I wouldn’t necessarily find weird , bizarre, music as entertaining for myself. I’m more critical and I know what I want more in the world of music. I can still appreciate great performances, great talent or arrangements of songs. I like everything; I’m a fan of art.

What do you wish you were better at?

The list is long. The first thing that comes to mind is cooking. I cook and I try and I work hard on it. I try new recipes— it’s very time consuming. My wife’s a killer cook! Everything she does she slaughters. It’s amazing! We appreciate food very much. We’re foodies and we eat out a lot at beautiful restaurants. I just wish I could cook like that.

Who were some of your early influences, drumming-wise? Who was it that caught your ear and you said, “Oh man, I just love listening to that drummer”?

Okay, I’ll give you three: Ian Paice, Stewart Copeland and Vinnie Colaiuta. Also very much so, Billy Cobham, Tony Williams, Ringo, Buddy. Those were my real big childhood influences and the order would probably be Ringo, Buddy ('cause those were the first two that I really discovered because my first teacher gave me records and I really kind of dug deep into that), then it would probably be Ian Paice and Stewart Copeland and Billy Cobham in around the same time. Then I moved into learning more via Billy Cobham and Mahavishnu Orchestra and all the records he played on in the '70s. I discovered fusion music: Lenny White, Weather Report, and Vinnie and Frank Zappa, and all that kind of stuff. So then I was in the world of fusion and jazz— you know, Vinnie Colaiuta and Tony Williams and all the other great drummers of the '70s.

All the great rock drummers, everybody from John Bonham, Phil Rudd and all those guys, up to all the fusion guys: Alphonse Mouzon (I thought he was so cool), Lenny White, Billy Cobham, Peter Erskine, Omar Hakim. All the great jazz drummers— Max Roach, Jack DeJohnette— I ate it all up. I stole from everybody.

I think that’s important. As a drummer, you do have to appreciate everyone. In talking to Peter Erskine at one time, he said, “No, you don’t have to master jazz, but there might be something in jazz that you love.”

Oh, for sure. I studied jazz and I took jazz very seriously. I still do take it very seriously. A lot of people don’t know that I’ve played a lot of jazz and I’ve played with a lot of great jazz players and with big bands. Jazz is totally my bag. It’s not necessarily the most favourite genre of music or scene to work in, for me personally, but I really appreciate it and love it very much. I agree completely; there is something to be found and to be learned in any style of music.

Speaking of performing, you’ve got a few projects on the go with Paul Gilbert coming up soon. Let’s talk a little bit about the stuff you have on your agenda.

Yeah, I’ve been playing with Paul for a couple of years now and we’re making a new album in June and then tour after that. I love playing with Paul. Speaking of guitarists, I’m also on the road with Tony MacAlpine a lot this year. We’re doing Japan, Korea, China, India, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore— it’s going to be a huge tour!

Speaking of Japan, one of my projects, which is based in Japan, is called Sparks 7 with a fantastic guitar player named Isao Fujita from Japan. We just put a new record out at the end of last year. It’s called Spark 7, and that’s very interesting. Actually, Tony MacAlpine's also guesting on this great album with Philip Bynoe on bass from Steve Vai’s band and Kiyomi Ohtaka and myself and Isao Fujita.  

Another guitar player I work with is Conrad Schrenk. He’s from Vienna, and I’ve been working with him for many, many years in different projects and configurations and constellations of bands and band members. We had a band together called Save the Robots for many years, and we put out some records as that, and now we put out a record last year called Yumaflex so we’re busy again working on a new album and also touring, playing short tours here and there. We’ve got a lot of stuff in Asia, doing jazz festivals. So I work with a lot of different guitar players. I like guitar players, as you can tell.

Thomas, you have a record label and production company called MUSO Entertainment. You’re releasing some of these through [your label] obviously?

Yes, absolutely. We’ve been focusing on guitar players. Last year we put out Giacomo Castellano's record. He’s a fantastic guitar player from Italy. Marco Iacobini, we put out an all-star record. On that album we have also Stu Hamm; drummer-wise, we have Keith Carlock, Joel Taylor, Mike Terrana , Phil Maturano, myself. Dave Weckl’s on it. So it’s a real all-star band— great bass players: Tony Levin, Stu Hamm, Bill Burman— really great, great players. We focus on real skilled musicians and great musicianship with the label, hence the name MUSO. It’s really targeted for music fans and musos. It’s a boutique label, but we do the best we can to put out good music and release a few albums a year including, of course, stuff that I write and produce, my projects, but also bands we sign and the artists we work with from all over the world.

You’ve got a Big Drum Boot Camp. Now the Big Drum Bonanza is different than the boot camp. But you’ve got a big one coming up soon. Rich Redmond’s on there. Let’s talk about the Big Drum Bonanza, what it is and how it got put together.

Well, the Big Drum Bonanza is my annual drum camp on steroids in Los Angeles. Bonanza, as I’m sure you all know, means “gold mine,” so it’s really a gold mine for any drummer, drum student or drum fan out there.

It’s an LA-based event. It always happens in Los Angeles; every year it happens on Independence Day, that weekend. It’s a very crazy hoo-ha event. It’s at a very beautiful hotel called Palm Garden Hotel in LA. It’s beautiful— there are pools and gyms and free Wi-Fi and breakfast, of course. You can bring your boyfriend or girlfriend; they stay for free so it’s good times.

We have private lessons with some of the best drummers in the world, master classes with the best drummers on the planet and also group lessons. We have performances, clinics. We do a drum workshop, factory tour. We stream multiple live shows from Drum Channel with performances of these guys with bands, clinics—everything. It’s really nuts and you’re spending every day all day with these fantastic teachers. Just to give you an idea, in the recent years, we always have six or seven teachers every year and five to eight events, so you spend at least one full day or two days with each one of these teachers. We’ve had Virgil Donati multiple times, Chris Coleman multiple times, Jeff Hamilton (an amazing jazz guy), George Kollias, Derek Roddy, Kenny Aronoff, Stanton Moore.

Now this summer we have Rich Redmond from Jason Aldean; Matt Garstka, who’s with Animals as Leaders; Gregg Bissonette, who was of course with Ringo Starr and David Lee Roth; myself; also GergÅ‘ Borlai, who’s a Hungarian drummer— unbelievable player. He plays with Tribal Tech.

It’s going to be an amazing event. I invite the drummers that I really like and that I know are real cutting-edge, super high-end 21st Century drumming and can not only play like nobody else but also teach.

Any skill level can show up?

Anybody can show up, absolutely. 

Where do we find the information?

Go to www.bigdrumbonanza.com






Photo credit: Francesco Desmaele



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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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