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Nick Mason “The Living Dead Drummer” Interview

26 October 2019 No Comment

Just in time for Halloween we caught up with one of the best (and craziest) drummers working consistently and professionally out there in the music world.  Anyone who has seen Nick Mason play knows he has the talent and skills to make it to the pinnacle of his craft and it’s only a matter of time before he’s playing stadiums. Here’s Nick Mason “The Living Dead Drummer”.

So where does the name “Living Dead Drummer” come from?

It started as a side comment at a show I was doing. A few years back I was asked to perform for the Coffin Case companies 20th anniversary party. They always used to do a metal themed fashion show one night at the NAMM convention. This being their 20th year, they wanted to amp things up a bit. We came up with the concept of having myself and another drummer flank the sides of the runway and do the whole Drummer/DJ thing to the music that the models would walk with. They had us dressed like corpses, it was really awesome. It was backstage that I was first referred to as a “Living Dead Drummer.” Kind of the nick-name for what we were doing that night. I loved it, and just ran with it! A fair amount of the gigs I do require me to be more goth, and/or have some kind of war paint on, so it just works.
Have you always been a drummer or do you know how to play other instruments as well?
I started with Alto Sax believe it or not. But I was 9, and being rebellious against my family. Everyone on my Mother’s side was and is drummers. My dad’s side was the Guitar side. It was after a year of hauling a giant Saxophone to school everyday that I decided drumsticks would be much easier to toss in my backpack. As of right now, I would say I have general knowledge of most other instruments. I eventually took lessons on many of them, not in-depth, but just so I would know a bit about them. I have played bass at a gig once before, but just once so far, and I sing backup when needed.

How did you get started drumming, how old were you and what was your first inspiration to start?
I got my first Snare when I was 2. My Uncle gave it to me as a Christmas present. Everyone on my mom’s side of the family, mother included, are all drummers. Uncle’s, Cousins, Grand Parents, Nieces, Nephews, all of them. And if you weren’t a drummer, chances are you married one. So the family connection is what first got me involved.

You are currently senior drum instructor and show director for School Of Rock. How did you land that gig and what’s it like working at SoR?
School of Rock is great! I’ve been teaching there for around 5 years I believe. I had always taught drum lessons, mostly in small music stores, and occasionally at some music schools similar to SOR, I was at a point where I wanted to expand my teaching practice a bit between tours and so I just cold called the location closest to me. It really was a case of right place right time as they were going through an ownership change. With that change came some staff changes as well and their previous Drum guy was stepping out. I worked one day as a substitute teacher there and not hat day was informed they wanted me to be “the guy.” I worked my way up the ranks in a short amount of time ranging a large roster of students and I think within a year started directing shows for them. They have a really fantastic program that puts the students on stage and gives them real world experience with what it’s like to be a working musician. I’ve been able to blend it really well with my own more “old school” teaching methods, and turn our some incredible drummers over the years. Many whom have gone on to great success!

What type of drummer do you consider yourself to be? 
I’m a typical rock guy. 2 & 4, nothing tricky. I like to groove, but also keep it flashy on the visual end. Rock a solid backbeat while twirling sticks around my head, hahaha.

Do you play nylon or wood tip sticks? And why, what size and what brand?
Nick Mason 2I play wood tip. Nylon is great, but I prefer the sound of wood on my Ride cymbal. I tend to use really thick Rides, so there’s already enough attack on them naturally. I don’t need to over do it with the added brightness of a Nylon tip. For about 99% of my work I use Regal Tip’s 5BX model. It’s slightly thinner than a standard 5B coming in at .590″ in diameter, where as an average 5B is .600.” The length is also a tad longer than the norm. Most sticks measure 16″ in length while my 5BX is 16.25.” You wouldn’t think that extra quarter inch makes a difference but to me it really does. Anything less and I feel like I’m playing with something stubby, and any longer feel off balance. 16.25″ is perfect.

Do you play in a drum cage or single setup and how many pieces?
That fluctuates all the time. I tailor my setup to the needs of the job. How many drums I use, what Snare or cymbals I pick, even things like using stands verses using a drum rack all depends on the need of the gig. I’ll say this, “most” of the time I use a basic 4 piece kit. One up, one down, Kick, Snare, Hats, two Crashes, and a Ride. But I’ll add more drums and cymbals as needed always.

How do you get the perfect sound you want from your drum heads?
Well Aquarian Drumheads made that easy! I’ve always tried to tune to where the shell naturally wants to sit, but I also have an idea in my head of what I want it to sound like. It can be difficult to marry those two together. The best method I’ve found is starting with the largest drum first, like a Floor Tom. Take the time to dial that one in really well, then all of the other drums will fall right into line based ofd that one drum., Aquarian heads gave me the perfect sound on that troublesome Floor Tom without any kind of fuss. It was almost too easy.

Do you use a practice pad set up when you are on the road?
Not a full set up, but I do always have a pad on me. I like to warm up and stretch backstage for about 30 min before each show. I’ll run through different sticking patterns and rudiments until I feel nice and loose.

What bands are you playing with currently? What new releases do they have available and any upcoming shows?
This is always a loaded question because I bounce around so much. I just finished a few dates with V2A, they are an Industrial band based out of the UK. I’ve been with them for a few years now but don’t get to work with them as frequently because of the long distance. I’m more on reserve for the stuff in the states and tours. If they do a one-off gig here or there they take a guy from the UK. We did just become a feature in a comic book though! It’s kind of bad-ass seeing myself in comic form.
The group I work with most frequently is The Rhythm Coffin. A Monster-Rock’n Roll themed band from LA. We just released a new six song EP called Monster On My Back and it features a cover of The Monster Mash with guest vocals from Davey Suicide and Calico Cooper. That dropped October 1st. Being “Monster themed” you can imagine we work a lot in October, but we also gig at least once a month during the rest of the year. The music is kind of B52’s meets The Ramones. I’ve also got dates on the calendar with some local singer songwriters, and a Marilyn Manson tribute act called Deep Six. I’ve never been into the tribute band or cover band game before, not really my thing, but I have been enjoying this one a lot!

You list some interesting gigs you’ve done with people like Shania Twain, Corey Feldman, Nik West and Kevin Nealon. Please tell us what these performances were like. 
Nick Mason 3A lot of these were just one-offs, but all great experiences and lots of fun. Shania was the first time I got to play an arena. She had a section of her show that she wanted additional percussionists on, and rather than hire a bunch of guys to tour and just play one small part in the show, she hired local guys around the areas of the tour. Smart, and a lot of fun. Corey Feldman actually was a sub on one of my gigs. A band I was with had a lead singer not show up. We found out later he had been admitted to a hospital, but at the time we just did our sound check and then though, now what? Corey happened to be at the show and we chatted him up about filling in. Instead of doing the bands original material he came up and did some covers with us. Totally bailed the band out. Later I would go on to play drums for Daisy from Rock of Love. At the time I was working with her she was renting a room at Corey’s house, so anytime I had to do some band business I’d go over to his place. He was always nice and we got along great. Nik West I met at an afterparty when she was playing with Davey Stewart. We hit it off and about a week later she asked if I would play in one of her music video’s along with Orianthi. It’s called “My Relationship.” The drums on that song were actually recorded by my good friend Randy Cooke, who’s one of the guys who convinced me to move to LA in the first place over a decade ago. After the Nik West video Orianthi and I have done a few other gigs together too. And Kevin Nealon… He did a stand up special for Showtime and his producer was given my number when they decided they wanted New York style subway drummers to do the show intro. My experience plaining for Street Drum Corps landed me that gig, and I ended up bringing members of the band in on it with me. The show was great, really really funny! Kevin’s whole bit was trying to do all the things in the intro, like play drums with us, but really really badly. It was so hard to keep a straight “rock face” while he was filming with us, but the nicest guy. He hung with us all day, and it was a LONG day too. After everything was done he even personally paid for my parking and helped carry all the drum gear to my car!

You have worked with many TV shows as well. What are some of your favorite memories in that  arena?
TV stuff is always fun. Honestly one of my favorite memories was the time I did a foreign energy drink commercial, and didn’t even know it, hahaha!
So I got called for a video shot. Wasn’t provided much info other than to bring my drums to such and such location, I’d get paid “x” amount of dollars, and so on. I was under the impression this was for a music video. Turns out it was an energy drink commercial that stared some big foreign pop star, Mansour. I found out while I was in the makeup chair. It was like “Wait, what are we doing?!?”

What’s coming up next for you? And what are your goals for 2020?
Next I have to just make it though October, hahaha. I’m booked almost every night this month. When you have a name like “Living Dead Drummer” of course everyone wants you to perform at every even in town. I’m not complaining, but it is a lot. Some nights I’m even playing twice with different bands at different venues. I have to time everything just right in order to get from A to B and not be late. Things tend to calm down near the end of the year, and then in January I’ll once again be doing a panel discussion and seminar presentation at the NAMM show. I did one last year about how to obtain sponsorships and endorsements. It was a really successful, and NAMM asked the panel to come back this year and do something similar. The topic this time will be more about how to create mutually beneficial relationships in that area. I believe the panel will be myself, representatives from Graphtech Guitar Labs, Fender Music Education, and GHS Strings.
Outside of that my goals for 2020 are to spend more time on the road. I’m really at home on a tour bus, hahaha. I love being on the road and would prefer to spend most of my time there.

Anything else you would like to add?
Not really. I really appreciate the opportunity to chat, and can’t thank you enough for having me. Rock on!

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