Nick Mason aka Living Dead Drummer out of Los Angeles California. I sit down with this amazing drummer to see what he's working on. Hoping to work with him coming up real soon. Enjoy the chat, there will be more to come soon. I was introduced to Nick by his manager, and instantly knew there was something here.
Interview: Mark Schierholz Photo credit: Jonas Yip and Mark Matcho
Mark: Thanks for chatting with us tonight. Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is a "Living Dead Drummer"?
Nick: Well, obviously, drummer. It's in the name, right. I am a freelance session musician in Los Angeles. I've been living here for the last 10 years. Prior to that, I was in New York State. I grew up in Western New York, in Buffalo, specifically. I lived in New York City very briefly for a little while. I've been out here the last 10 years, kind of made that jump a decade ago to continue the music career in the direction that it was going. And LA is kind of the place you got to be for it. So, I made that leap, and, obviously, it's been working out okay, because I am still here. That's the short version of it, anyway.
Mark: What projects are you currently working on?
Nick: Quite a few, actually. There's never a shortage. I just got back from doing some festivals with a band that I've been a part of for about three years, called V2A. They're actually based out of England. They are from overseas, they're from Europe. We just played Wasteland Weekend, which is a five-day Mad Max themed festival, kind of like Burning Man, but all post-apocalyptic themed. It's this band's fourth year in a row playing it. It's my third year playing it with them. We did some other stuff in LA prior to that. We've shot some video footage, just some new photo shoots and stuff like that. And then, we'll probably be on the road again sometime early 2020. We did a fair amount of touring last year. Because they're from overseas, when I work with them, either they are flying here to the States, or I am flying over to Europe and jumping into a bus with them. So, I just wrapped that up. I had a new record come out about three days ago with a band called the Rhythm Coffin, another group I've been with about three years. The Rhythm Coffin is kind of The B-52's meets the Ramones with a Scooby-Doo twist. Because the music is all very up-tempo rock 'n' roll, ala Ramones. We have The B-52's kind of dynamic with a male singer and two female singers. And then, everything's Halloween and kind of horror themed. And not like horror in the sense of really scary. Fun horror, spooky horror, werewolves and zombies, and all of our lyrical content is about monsters and vampires, and stuff like that, and like I said, werewolves and zombies and stuff. Our new record just came out. It's called Monster on My Back. It's all original music except for one song. The band always closes every show by playing the Monster Mash. We actually licensed the song this time and recorded two covers of the Monster Mash. One is just the band the way we play it normal. The other version of it, which is the opening track on the new record, features guest vocals by Davey Suicide and Calico Cooper of Beasto Blanco. They were cool enough to come in and do some guest vocals on it. So, that's out. Let me think, there's so much going on. Last year, at the NAMM Show in January, I did a panel discussion, and I've been asked back to do another panel this year, similar topic. So, I had a meeting this morning about that, trying to get that all underway. I'm trying to think what else is going on. I'm halfway through directing a show for School of Rock, which is a franchise music school. I do show direction and drum lessons at their Burbank location. Next week, I'm going to be in the studio tracking drums for a metal band that is kind of half based in Southern California and half based in South Carolina. The sing and guitar player lives in South Carolina, and he just flies out here. The bass player lives in Orange County. Doing drum tracking on their new record next week. I have an in-store appearance coming up this weekend with the Rhythm Coffin to promote our record. We're gonna perform and do some autograph signing, and stuff like that, at a Halloween store that popped up. Then, next week, we're playing at a film festival. I don't know, my calendar is all over the place at the moment right now. I got to wake up every day and look at my calendar, and go, "Okay, where am I supposed to be today."
Mark: What age did you stare playing drums? And what got you into it?
Nick: Those things are actually not parallel with one another. So, what got me into it was my family. My mom's side of the family is all drummers. My mom played, her brother, their father, a bunch of my cousins. My aunt and uncle, their kids, my first cousins. I have second and third cousins that all play. Everybody played drums in the family. No one picked up any other instrument, only drums. And even if you weren't a drummer, you married a drummer. You know what I mean? Two of my cousins didn't play drums, but they married drummers. That was just in the household. My uncle gave me a snare drum when I was two years old. So, I always had drums in the house. My dad, his side of the family, they do guitar. My father's a guitar player. He owns a really nice prominent guitar repair business in Western New York. So, I grew up kind of in a guitar shop. When I was nine, I decided I wanted to learn how to play an instrument for real. I had instruments in the house, but I didn't know how to play them. I decided I actually wanted to learn when I was nine, but I was going through my rebellious teen phase a few years too early, and said, "I'm not gonna be a drummer like everybody else in the family. I'm gonna play saxophone." And I started taking lessons on alto sax. I liked it just fine, and I got pretty good at it in that year that I played. But, when you're nine years old, an alto sax weighs more than you do, and trying to carry that back and forth to school everyday was a pain in the ass. So, the following year, when I was 10, I decided screw this saxophone thing. I don't wat to lug this thing back and forth, but I still want to play music. So, I'm gonna cave, I'm gonna do it just like everybody else in the family. I'm gonna play drums because it was way easier to throw a pair of drumsticks in my backpack to go to school versus lug this giant huge horn around. So, I started drums then. I started taking drum lessons when I was 10, and then it just stuck, and I continue to this day. I've been playing, getting close to 30 years at this point.
Mark: You had drums in the house all the time. What was your first drum set?
Nick: Well, my first snare, the one my uncle gave me when I was two, was a Remo PTS snare, which, if you remember those, they were the pre-tuned systems where the lugs just kind of had the little hook thing that snapped on and you bought a head that already was tensioned to a hoop kind of deal. That was my first snare drum. My first actual drum set, I got it used at the local drum shop. We're lucky enough that we have a five-star drum shop in Buffalo. I got a Slingerland kit used from there. It was candy apple red, and it was kind of big 80s power rock sizes where it was like 12, 13, 16, and a 22 bass drum. I had that set for years, and years, and years, and now, one of my former students actually owns it. But that was my first. I have a very deep fondness for Slingerland drums because of that, and I actually just recently got a vintage Slingerland kit that I've been kind of restoring a little bit. And when I say vintage, I don't mean like 50s or 60s. I think it's like an early 80s Gretsch era, when Gretsch owned the name, kit. But it's in pretty rough shape, and I've been working to put it back together. It's pretty cool. It's really, really compact sizes. It's eight and 10 for mounted toms, 14 suspended floor, and a 20-inch bass drum. Which is perfect for throw and go coffee shop kind of gigs. I'm actually gonna use it this weekend when we do the in-store show. I'm gonna bring that one out 'cause it's tiny and I can stick it in a corner. It's awesome.
Mark: So, what do you play on now? Do you have something different for touring, something different at home, and session work?
Nick: Yeah. I'm a Yamaha guy. I'm very, very much in love with Yamaha drums. I've always, always loved them. A lot of my heroes all played them, a lot of my close friends all played them. So, I have a couple of Yamaha kits. For touring and general live use, I have one of their newer kits, one of the Live Customs, which is an oak shell. I have all the expansion sizes to it and everything that were offered, but I've never actually had the whole thing set up all at once, so I just pick and choose the configuration depending on the needs of the gig. But the sizes that I have are eight, 10, 12 for toms, 16, 18 for floors, and a 24-inch kick drum.
Nick: Yeah, it's big and thunderous, which is great. Surprisingly, the shells are really thick on them too, so you get a lot of articulation out of them with the right tuning and everything. They just blow everything out of the water, they're so good. And then, I have a separate kit that I use for recording. I have a late 80s Recording Custom. It's 22-inch kick, the toms are 10, 12, and then 14 and 16 floor toms. I use that kit on pretty much every recording session I've done for maybe the last seven or eight years with very few exceptions. Most of the time, that's the kit that I'm using in the studio just because it's absolutely perfect. You don't have to EQ it, you don't have to do anything to it. You just slap some heads on there, give them a little crank, and the drums are done. It's awesome. Producers and engineers, the first time you take that kit into the studio, as soon as you're done setting up, they want to sit down behind your kit, go through all your toms with their big wad of Moongel and a drum key and start muffling and taping shit up. And they always go through all the toms with a stick first, and they're like, "Oh, that's done. It doesn't need anything else." I'm like, "Yeah, 'cause it's a Recording Custom. It can do everything."
Mark: You have some new drums in the works correct?
Nick: I've been telling people about it, it should be a surprise. I shouldn't reveal too much about it. But it's on my mind because I was on the phone about it earlier today. Yamaha's doing a new kit for me right now. It's gonna be a kit specifically used with just the Rhythm Coffin. It's gonna be just for that particular band, as where my Live Customs will be for everybody I work with. And they're doing a cool custom paint job on it and stuff like that. I don't want to spoil the surprise, so I'll have to wait. People are gonna have to keep an eye on social media and stuff when the photos come out. I'll send you some photos of my kits too. My Live Custom is great, 'cause it's black shells, black hardware, black heads, and black cymbals too, and black sticks, everything. It's none more black. My Recording Custom is a cobalt blue, which is really nice.
Mark: I'm gonna need pictures. I won't be able to get out there.
Nick: I will definitely send you photos of that stuff.
Mark: So, what do you use for cymbals and hardware?
Nick: I use all Yamaha hardware. I use their top tier cymbal stands and stuff like that. Their pedals too, everything. Occasionally, I will use their hex rack, which is really nice. Their rack system is so easy, it's so lightweight and simple too. So, for certain gigs, especially bigger shows and stuff like that, with larger stages, I'll use the rack system just because it's really simple and easy to put up and take down, and you don't have this forest of cymbal stands you got to deal with. But for a small club gig or something like that, I'll just use cymbal stands. Cymbal wise, I use Paiste. For the more aggressive gigs, the heavy rock stuff, I use their Color Sound 900 Series cymbals. They're all black. My typical set up is, I have 14-inch Sound Edge hi-hats, two 19-inch heavy crashes, 22-inch Heavy Ride, and then 16 and 18 Chinas. And then, for anything that a big heavy black cymbal is inappropriate for, I use their 2002 series. I use the exact same sizes and configuration too. So, I'll use 14-inch Sound Edge hats, two 19-inch crashes, a 22-inch Power Ride, and 18-inch China. Exactly the same setup, just with the 2002s. And that's what I record with also for everybody across the board, is I use the 2002s in the studio.
Mark: And sticks?
Nick: Regal Tip 5BX. They introduced that stick in 2001, and I've been using that more or less exclusively since 2001. I've bounced around between different sticks when I was a kid, and different models, tried this from this guy, tried this size from that. And then when that stick came out, it was like a holy grail. As soon as I put my hands on it, I was like, this is what I've been after my whole life. And so, there's really not reason to go anywhere else or look at anything else. Even now, if I pick up a different pair of sticks, I really have a hard time and I really struggle with them. Even if it's the same specs, the same weight, the same length, the same diameter as my stick, but from another brand. I can't get away from the finish that they've put on their sticks. They have that thicker lacquer coating on them, which everybody else kind of got away from. That just is so unbelievably comfortably, 'cause my hands don't really sweat a lot when I play, my hands tend to stay very dry. So, once the circulation starts moving around in your hands, and that heat kind of transfers to the stick a little bit, man, those sticks are just, it's like wearing a glove. It's just so comfortable, so relaxed, so smooth. I'm not getting any blisters, I can have a really nice loose grip and not worry about a stick flying out of my hands ever. When I was in my early 20s, I actually used to work for Regal Tip. I got a job right out of college as their artist relations manager. I did that in my early 20s. I was probably 20, 21 years old when I got that job, and I did for about three years. I was probably way too young and not enough experience to handle a job like that, but I did learn a lot and have a great fondness for the Calatos that run that company. They've been great all these years, they've been fantastic.
Mark: Do you use anything for cymbal cleaner?
Nick: You know what? I used to. I used to buy Groove Juice for many, many years. I gotta be honest with you. I don't really clean my cymbals as often as I should anymore. I just kinda got lazy about it, to be perfectly honest. With the Paiste Color Sounds that I use, I asked them, because I didn't want to use a chemical on that finish and risk damaging it, so I wasn't sure how to even clean those. And they were like, "Just use a drop of dish soap and some warm water, and just lightly buff the cymbal and dry it, and you're good." So, I do that, and they shine right up, which is fantastic. And because the Color Sounds I'm using are black also, you can't really tell when they get dirty. You don't really see a lot of stick marks on them because they're black. With the 2002s, I tend to just take a dry, like an old cutup t-shirt and just kind of wipe them off a little bit. Sometimes I'll use a little bit of a spray polish, a generic spray polish kind of thing, just lightly on the rag, and just take some of the smudges and fingerprints off the edges. Other than that, I don't really go to town with polishing my cymbals the way I used to when I was younger.
Mark: I'm looking forward to coming out there one of these days. I'm glad to hear your gonna be at NAMM again, 'cause this will be my first year, finally get to go to NAMM.
Nick: I don't have my schedule quite for the convention yet, but I know that I will be doing a panel discussion/seminar. Last year it was on Saturday afternoon, so I'm going to take a stab in the dark and say it will probably also be Saturday afternoon this year. Last year, I performed for Gibson on Friday. But they don't start talking about people performing until much closer to the convention, usually in November. So, I don't know if I'll be performing or anything, but I will definitely be on hand doing some appearances at the booths for the companies that I endorse. Those are always a good place to try and find me, if you're trying to track me down. I'll be around and I'll be hanging out at Aquarian Drumheads, and I'll be hanging out at Regal Tip and Yamaha, and Paiste. I'll be doing a seminar, and I'll be sure to let you know all the details on that when I get them, 'cause it's still kind of in the preliminary stages. I have the formal request of, "We'd like to have you back," which is great. And then I had a meeting this morning going over a game plan for the seminar with my partner in it, Justin, who's kind of spearheading the whole thing. Yeah, once I have details on that, I'll be sure to put them out and send them to you. I don't know that I'll be performing yet, but it's still a little bit early.
Mark: Nice chatting with you and look forward to seeing you in action!
Nick: Very cool. Very, very cool, man. I'm excited for it.