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Interview by Sean Mitchell // April 24 2013

The purpose of my life is to impact as many people as I can in a positive way with the unique gifts that I have.

Earlier this month, The Black Page hosted a clinic tour with the one and only Zoro. We can't thank our sponsors enough for thier support in helping us put on an incredible clinic with The Minister of Groove. Huge thanks to DW, Sabian, Evans and Vic Firth.

Check out Sean’s interview with The Big Z as we ride the ferry from Victoria, B.C., to Vancouver in true rock-star fashion. As always the interview has been transcribed below.


Zoro, you’ve been changing the face of your clinics as of late. Last night we saw some Frank Sinatra. 

Sure, I mean, like anything else, over time things evolve. You get different ideas or get inspired by different songs. I love a variety of different music—always have—so yesterday, just the audience in Victoria, they were a pretty fired-up audience and they seemed to be digging everything, and I thought, you know, I’m going to throw [Sinatra] in there. I have this theory that if the music’s great, people will like it no matter whether they’ve heard it or not. You hear something from the 20s, 40s or the 70s (there are kids of today that have never heard that music) and you’ll be inspired because the music’s great. That’s why people still like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, The Beatles; when something’s great, it’s great for all time. So hopefully my clinics, as well as my teachings and my life, have evolved over time.  

You and I both know there are a lot of second-hand record shops out in Victoria. And one of your purchases that I found interesting was a 1920s record. What draws you to different genres such as this? 

There’s something really genuine about the music, something really pure. It’s from a different time period—that’s almost 100 years now! So, there’s something about the recording sound, the warmth of it, and the music’s associated with a period of time when people were passionate and there was a swinging nature to the music, a low to it, a vibe to it. I just like things that are historical and things that kind of move me emotionally. So I gravitate to records that have that. And sometimes I just love the cover art; I love the pictures of the album covers from the 50s or 60s and you open up the gatefold and it’s just cool and there’s a booklet with it. It just gets you into the whole experience of it. 

You were talking last night at the clinic about how you got your start, and it sort of stuck with me. You said that in your house there were seven kids and in each bedroom there was a different style of music. How did that impact your musical career—and even your choice of instrument, the drums? 

The drums just simply because that rhythmic nature was already in my DNA. I don’t think it was anything that my family did; I just think it was more like a God-given thing, a God-given draw towards rhythm—and that was always there. But yes, I wouldn’t be the musician I am today and have the eclectic tastes that I do if it weren’t for my mother, who loved music, and my stepbrothers and sisters. Everybody in my family liked music. Although they weren’t necessarily musicians, they were big music lovers. So, my sister listened to the psychedelic rock music of the 60s; other people listened to soul music; my mother listened to Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, mariachi music from Mexico where she was from. The house was always filled with music. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but we always had records, and everybody spent what little money they had on 45s. There was just a passion for music in my house and all that stuff directly influenced me and gave me a diverse, wide range of tastes … I just like good music, and there’s all kinds all over the world. 

You furthered your studies at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Take me though your time in Boston. 

I was there for one year (two semesters) back in 1981, and it was definitely a life-changing experience for me. You learn just as much in a setting like that from the students as you do the teachers. You’re mingling with all of these people that are passionate about music as well, and some of them know music you don’t know. They’ll turn you onto albums or ways of playing … just being in an atmosphere were everybody was zealous about the pursuit of music automatically changes you because it’s the synergy of all those people. And so, that was definitely a huge turning point in my life, in my learning and my education and fuelled that desire to learn more. 

One of your biggest gigs, of course, is the Lenny Kravitz gig. Lenny, for you, is beyond someone you work with; he’s one of your best friends. How did you two meet? 

I met Lenny in 1981 on the lawn of Beverly Hills High School. I was not a student there—I just graduated recently, myself, but I was only [just starting] and didn’t feel like I was qualified to go hang out at the UCLA campus, or something. I didn’t know anybody when I moved back to L.A. and I just decided to go to the high school and meet some guys my age. I hung out on the lawn with my practice pad and ghetto blaster playing some Earth Wind and Fire music figuring that musicians are going to know that I’m new here, so maybe I’ll attract some people to come talk to me. And that’s exactly what happened. Lenny came up and talked to me; he befriended me and started taking me all around L.A. and telling people about me. It was the beginning of an awesome friendship. 

Lenny, to me, is a very unique artist. What have you learned from Lenny Kravitz? 

From Lenny, I learned a lot of things. Lenny and I have a lot of things in common; we’re both extremely passionate. I learned from Lenny the authenticity of the music. When he does something, he goes for the authentic nature of whatever vibe he’s going for, like an actor would study for a role. 

I also learned that he has a real spirit of excellence in everything he does. He never half-steps anything. He’s a do-or-die, all-or-nothing kind of guy, so I learned work ethic from him. Lenny is also the kind of guy who sings to the beat of a different drummer; he does his own thing, regardless of what people think. So, you know, anytime you’re around somebody like that it gives you a get-out-of-jail-free card, a licence to be yourself.

He had many record deal offers before he became Lenny Kravitz and he turned those all down because he felt that that wasn’t the right music—the right image—he wanted to portray. Most people would’ve jumped at any of them, but he held out. So, just believing in yourself and in your own vision, in your own song. 

I’ve always felt that The South is very musical and offers its own vibe. Now that you live in the southern states, what’s your take as a new Nashville cat? 

What you realize about that area is that it’s steeped in rich tradition. Memphis and Nashville—these go back musically, historically, for a long, long time. You’ve got the old school country thing, you’ve got the gospel, you’ve got the blues roots, and they kind of met up in their own unique way in that region and so, you just get this hybrid, just an eclectic mix. Some of the best records in the world were cut in those places. I enjoy just being in that area. 

Do you get the country artists knocking on your door? 

I do whatever people call me for. I never pigeonhole myself to any one thing. I’ve got of all kinds of different recording projects crossing all kinds of musical boundaries. I’ll play anything that anybody wants me to play. The only thing I’ll turn down is something that I would feel totally not qualified for—if I knew that I couldn’t do a great job. I’ll take a risk and I’ll take chances and stretch, but within the limitations of what I know I do well. I mean, I’m not going to take like a classical gig with the symphony if I’m not a classical snare player. There’s a difference between stretching your boundaries and just getting out of bounds entirely. But I still do a variety of things. They’re all groove-oriented. To me, it’s all groove. I’m open and I remain open. One minute I’m doing some old school country grooves the next minute it’s jazz fusion. It’s all music to me. 

You teach in Nashville at the University there and you teach privately. What do you try and impart on your students? 

First of all, there are people who teach and then there are teachers. I’m a teacher by nature and the teaching gift will come out in everything I do. It comes out with my children; it comes out with my wife, my friends. The goal of a teacher is always to uplift, encourage and inspire people. The subject matter is irrelevant […] a great teacher imparts confidence in you, gives you encouragement, and then fosters a desire in that person to want to know more, to want to be a better version of themselves. 

I’m always trying to impart things that I feel will help benefit their lives. And, I treat everybody differently in the sense that I don’t have any one form or curriculum. I go based on what I feel the individual needs and try to give them things that keep them inspired and things that give them a revelation and foundational things that they will build upon. I’ve learned a lot in my journey—a tremendous amount of information—so I love imparting all that stuff to them. But mostly, I like for life to have changed when they encounter me, something significant happened in their life when they met me. That’s my goal. 

What are some of the biggest things that you take away from your students? What do they teach you? 

For years there were things I could play but didn’t really understand, but I could hear them. Teaching allowed me to figure out what the heck they were, so I could explain to [students] what I’m doing. Teaching always allows you to get better. Everybody has their own unique approach to the instrument, and I’ve seen students do things and I’m like, oh wow, that’s cool. Or I’ll get a different idea of approaching something or by the way they play something … it could be a lick. 

Teaching always helps you reaffirm what you’re doing; you understand it on a higher level and explain it better. It’s helped me grow tremendously as a person and as a musician. Teaching’s a great thing and I enjoy it. I enjoy seeing someone accomplish something they didn’t think they could do. I find that all you have to do to get somebody better is to inspire them and light a fire under them of passion and that causes them to want to learn. The reason we all play an instrument is because somewhere along the line we’ve heard music that inspired us. And so, I try to turn them on to things that inspire them and that causes them to want to learn. 

In the same vein of teaching, what has fatherhood taught you so far? 

It’s been the greatest journey of my life. When my life is done, the most purposeful thing I’ll have accomplished is being a father. The biggest gig of all is that of fatherhood. I’ve done all kinds of gigs—big gigs and stages—if you asked me what my favourite gig is it’s being a father. It’s the deepest well you can draw from and it teaches you that life is really not about ourselves; life is about serving other people. 

That’s really the purpose of my life—to impact as many people as I can in a positive way with the unique gifts that I have (drumming, speaking, teaching, writing, mentoring). At the end of our life, what’s going to matter is not that we were talented; what’s going to matter is how many people benefited from our life, how many people’s lives were better because we were on the planet. Humility allows you to see that and see things in a more internal perspective rather than temporal. So, that’s kind of how I roll. 

Speaking of the big gig, your newest book is The Big Gig. It’s a part biographical part inspirational book in which you share you life experiences—a definite step aside for you from your technical writing. 

I always had a desire to write, even since I was a kid. I’d always liked the medium of the written word, always been inspired by the written word. That kind of prompted me to always desire at some point to write something. So, The Big Gig started as articles on how to succeed in show business, how to live out your dreams. It was framed in small, little vignettes and then I realized that I want to write a book to teach people what it actually takes to live out your dream. 

There’s a big difference today between a dream and a delusion. A dream has structure to it, has strategy, has legs, has a timeline to it. A delusion is just wishful, fanciful thinking … without a plan, without work. In the arts, you just have a lot of delusional people, so in The Big Gig I wanted to show what a dream looks like, what a delusion looks like, what a strategy looks like, what understanding looks like, what it is to network, what it is to market. So, that desire was to write a book to help release other people to their destiny. Because I’ve been fortunate to be living out my dreams—and I’ve got future dreams that hopefully I will live out. So, it’s no fun to do this and not be able to impart things to other people. It’s always been in my nature to want to help make a difference in people’s lives and the best way I can do that is in a book. 

So, it took me 15 years. There’s over 400 motivational quotes and there’s three hours of video that you watch from the book by scanning the QR codes from the book. At this point, it’s one of my greatest accomplishments—something that can multiply success into other people. 

So, what does the future bring in the land of Z? 

At this season of my life, I’m working on writing other books. I’ve got a book that I’ve been working on for over 10 years; it’s going to be coming out in the fall. It’s called Mastering the Half-time Shuffle. I’m doing a lot of motivational speaking around the world. I’m also doing speaking on fatherhood, helping fathers become better fathers. I want to work on writing a screenplay based on my life. And, you know, spending time raising my family. And so, everything I do in the future still combinations of drumming, speaking, teaching, writing, and mentoring, and they just keep morphing into more things. I just seem to follow intuitively what seems to be the next logical place to work. 



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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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