Monday, 15 August 2011

Ya'el Musician Interview (2011)

UK Drummer.

All images by Matt Connors.

Originally from New York City, Yael currently resides in LA, and has recently completed ‘The Love Project’: a music documentary directed by Yael with Alain Vasquez. The Love Project, in which the songs were written, produced, recorded and completed between 2005 and 2010, really is a labour of love. Described as a ‘mission to simply create and find the Sound of Art: Working with different styles from around the globe and hand picking the right musicians for her project.’ The Love Project is only part of Yael’s story, and UK Drummer caught up with the exceptionally hard working drummer to find out more.

How old were you when you started to play the drums, and why did you start?
I started playing probably at the age of six on some toy drum kit that didn’t last very long but when I turned 13 I got my first real “Ludwig blue sparkle” kit with one cymbal that “sparked” me all over again.

What was your first kit and what do you play on now?

“Sterling Beat” was that initial toy kit. Two toms with fake paper heads when I was six. I purchased a Ludwig 5 piece for a while (I saved up my allowance a year thanks to John Henry Bonham) then went on to Sonor and Yamaha DBL kick kits. I finally got my DW’s…And I will never leave them, ha! I have a few kits via Drum Workshop and everything is totally customized to the player. I’ve been endorsed with them since 2000.

Would you say you’re driven, and what made you persevere as a musician?
I’m now probably the most ‘driven’ I have ever been. I simply have no reserve or worry about wanting to play drums… I’m just a bit more selective of who I make music with! Drumming is nearly a necessity at this point so I can breathe. Seriously.
Did you always know you’d be a musician, or was this a path that fell into place?
It’s definitely something I gravitated toward. But I enjoy all that I learned in the path of ‘growing into a musician’ which at this point lead me to editing, writing, marketing, and art forms I organically morphed into with the journey.

Did you find any difficulties breaking into the industry as a female drummer in a predominantly male environment? Would you say any of your experiences were pre-determined by your sex?
The Obvious package of ‘all girl band’ is/was one gig pre-determined by my sex. But otherwise not really. People take you more seriously after they see you actually playing and what you bring to the table. I have had countless amounts of encounters telling me they ‘didn’t expect that’ after a performance or a recording session… but that’s all pre meditated thinking. People are more ‘programmed’ than we realize.

Has being a female drummer driven you further, or has this never been an issue within the industry?
There are gigs I have passed on for sure or that have probably passed on me because I’m a girl. That bit sucks but chemistry is everything as Dr. Seuss once said, ‘Those who matter don’t mind. And those who mind don’t matter.’

You have a diverse and varied catalogue of work, is this a conscious choice to keep the mind cogs turning and to have a varied discography?
This has realistically stemmed partially from staying’ alive in the ‘music industry’ post 2000. And partially because most people tend to play with far less passion playing the same ten songs for over a year on a tour. Of course exceptions exist: Foo Fighters, Rage Against the Machine or Stevie Wonder, and the list continues. But most musicians that work together for long periods of time either have such a unique lethal combo that even the same song sounds a bit different every night. They are all very much alive in it. That’s the ultimate band situation. I have always had a pretty massive palette for music, only two kinds in my book really. Good or bad. People that connect well with each other personally tend to kick a whole lotta ass in the rooms and on the stages. That’s my conscious awareness. If it doesn’t move me/us as the performers, how on earth will it move an audience?

Starting out was there a specific genre of music that you were drawn to? How did this expand into your musical tastes today?
I started out listening to stuff at home, mostly Motown, Jackson5, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Police and so on. After Led Zeppelin came Ozzy Ozbourne with Randy, Pantera, Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax, King Diamond, Motörhead and heavier bands. The energy was something I was really drawn to as a young buck, the triplets 6/8 grooves and the fast feet. But over time Nirvana popped up with Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and so many more, hence… back to Bonham as my centre.
From the heavy band I was in I went right into an R&B Hip Hop world (a few times now) that really switched gears on my playing. My folks had the ‘Rose’ (a Janis Joplin 8track) and Stevie Wonder in the car forever. Good music was everywhere in Jamaica Queens and Forest Hills where I grew up. I think seeds just got planted and when rock bands started playing festivals combined with non-traditional or funkier artists, which truly opened up my mind, it watered those same seeds that were planted in my early teens.

It was a barrier breaking time for music. The Red Hot Chili Peppers on the same stage as Bad Brains and Motörhead? With Primus? Really?! Alice with Fishbone, Soundgarden, Arrested Development. It was really good. Fish himself inspired me to switch those gears way more smoothly, and staying connected with good people over the years helps a lot. Music has to move you; it should have a flavour to it. It should always evolve. Dave Grohl is a perfect example of that. He can switch from band to band in the public eye very smoothly and still lead the way for others to find their voice in his work. When it’s him you know it’s him. That is one compliment I love hearing the most. There’s nothing like hearing when you play on a record… I automatically hear that it is you.

Which drummers influenced your style growing up, and have you collaborated with any of them now?
Growing up I listened to a ton of players. Everyone from Billy Cobham to John Bonham. I was blown away by Mikkey Dee (chops) and Tommy Lee (stage presence) and Bozzio in missing persons day was the epitome of the combo of chops n’ stage presence… the list is HUGE. I love a lot of drummers! I am influenced by so many and have been fortunate enough to collaborate with a few of them. Terry Bozzio on several occasions, his Art of Drumming show on Drum Channel and his collaboration on ‘The Love Project’ tracks on my dvd/cd was very surreal for me. Also, Roy Mayorga who has been a very close ‘brother from another mother’ and I got to do a track together called ‘Yaela Yorga’ on that same record after all these years. Roy actually plays guitar dulcimer on the track. I love Ray’s (Luzier) work and we got to jam on a DC show with another great buddy and talented Kirkee B (aka Curt Bisquera) but just recently I got to record and collaborate with Fish Fisher (Fishbone, Nikka Costa, Justin Timberlake, etc.) I have subbed for Fish on numerous gigs for well over a decade now. Being on a track he’s producing with him and I together on drums is a blessing. I am grateful for all those opportunities and I see more in the near future.

What is the process in which you decide to work with certain musicians? Are there any musicians you want to work with at the moment?
It kinda just comes up with my project. There was a lot of trade-offs and barter deals. “I will play on your record and you jam on this track with us while I film you? Deal?!” These days most musicians hit you up on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook. It’s a strange time in an even stranger world than anyone probably anticipated. Luckily I still get my phone calls and there’s never enough time to work with everyone I would love to collaborate with.

What were your influences growing up, musical or otherwise, and do they hold relevance to your work today?
Bonham is my forever. He will be the Rock no matter what style I play because that pocket and that groove is what works for me. When you listen to him you hear a soul with a body, not a body with a soul. He’s always my centre when it comes to drums. As for other influences, I like being the observer. Anyone with a little extra kick in their step and passion for existing resonates well for me. I do what I love and sometimes that means ramen noodles but most days I am okay with that. Other times it means “more food on the plate” metaphorically speaking. It’s all about perspective and making the moments count for something.

Were you professionally or self-taught? Do you think there’s a strong difference between the two when an experienced drummer, self-taught or otherwise, brings their talent to the forefront?
I am a self-taught player but I did take music classes in high school and junior high school which were great. At first (because I was a ‘little girl’) I was told a flat NO by the music teacher. They were very willing to give me a flute or a violin! However he was very intrigued by my interest after a while because I was little, but I was determined. He made me learn an entire rudiment book, buy a drum pad and learn it over summer to prove that I wanted to be a drummer in the class. This was bloody 6th grade, and so had a lot of gumption.

Honestly these days whenever I can I catch a Mike Johnston lesson online or buy some of his podcasts and just study them. It’s just a better drumming day with guys like Mike. He made the connection work for me, as taught people always sounded ‘taught’ and I know cats that play the hell out of rudiments but can’t groove if James Brown came back from the dead and hired them. Mike has taught this drummer how to read a bit for real, and actually I can now write my parts out. Even though I’m probably the only one that can read it! It’s a great tool for session work to have this knowledge under your belt too, thanks MJ Family; you’re some of the coolest drummers I’ve met.

What are you working on at the moment?
If I told ya, I’d have to… haha!
I’m working on a few demos and records including ‘Crush the Night’, featuring Jessy Greene (Foo Fighters, Pink, Fistful Of Mercy), Kii Arens (Flipp), Yariv Vaknin (The Love Project, The Matrix), Rami Jaffe (Foo Fighters, Wallflowers).
‘Circle 19’ a kick ass new project with Alain Vasquez (who I directed and edited my Love Project Journey DVD with), Carol Prince and some The Love Project family. ‘Patrick Ahern’, the singer/songwriter from Cork in Ireland who is a badass produced by Mikal Reid. Also, currently some new stuff with Fish in the studio and a new artist he is producing. Hopefully more soon with Roy.

I am playing at the Ford Amphitheatre in LA with David Maldonado’s project,‘A hundred years of Spanish Guitar, Cristina Hall, A Flamenco Dancer from Spain, poets and just lovely people in this production all around. Ole! We recently played the venue with special guest Frankie Banali (total sweetheart bad ass) I also performed and recorded a bit recently in Germany and Holland at Musikmesse and some one-offs with ‘Roxx Boxx’ which is Divinity Roxx’s solo stuff. She is wonderful, talented and currently on tour with Beyoncé but I think we are scheduled for SSMF in August. The last thing is in progress right now, always at the DrumAddict DrumHut headquarters working on something. You’ve gotta keep the lights on!

‘The Love Project DVD has kept me busy in the PR world and I would really love to get it broadcast on Palladia VH1 and across the pond. It’s gotten around so far but I think after five official selections to film festivals and the laurels it has received it needs bigger wings than I can give it on my own. People always ask for a live show and to come to their country as If we wouldn’t want to. The only problem is money, really. I can make a lot more happen with some financial backing. In the meantime my focus is back on playing because I don’t want to be a manager, especially not my own as it burns you out creatively.

What motivates your approach to song writing, and how do you start the process of writing drum tabs?
I have been on a funky kick lately. Just playing motivates me to write on a good day. The 4cd funk box set includes everything from Gil Scot Heron to Kool n’ the Gang, and then the other side/vibe is my “Two Steps from Hell” (Bergersen/Phoenix film scoring virtuosos) box set. I listen and create my own layer on what’s already there so when I play with musicians I’m always listening first. It’s best to give them what they already have first, brew and stew in that for a while and then slowly ease into your delivery and feel. Every single player sounds differently, even if they are playing the same exact thing. The tabs also start with a sharpie all over the drumheads.

What’s been your experience of the music industry, and do you find the industry has changed priorities digressing from artists to financial gain?
I play music with not much regard to any music industry. I haven’t yet managed any big financial gain in the ever changing industry. I always believed in whatever project I participated in or on. I also believed that the money would eventually come, sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. C’est la vie.

If you’re after money in this biz it’s best if you can license your songs to a film or TV show if you want to get ‘paid’ or be lucky enough to physically play on a show or film. I have my own issues with all of that and just working on it. I don’t think I really care to know so much about it because in my experiences you see one person getting screwed after another. It’s all perspective, I stay out of it. I will play for the band because I love the band and I hope that will always show first. Whether I show up in my jeep or a BMW.

Did you ever work a ‘regular’ job, dreaming of the future, and when did that change to what you’re doing at the moment?
Not really, I worked in jewellery for a while with some friends but it wasn’t for me. I started playing kinda big shows straight out of high school and got hooked early on. I went to audio engineering university and got my degree and worked on/ off at studios – but that’s about it. With the making of ‘The Love Project’ I started to slowly learn to edit on my own and as the years went by making the documentary I got faster and better at it. It’s a lot of fun work but it tests your patience in a big way. Rendering film is worlds slower than rendering audio. YOU gotta really love it, and since the movie is out and well, I guess ‘love it’ is exactly what we did! I hope you get a chance to see it. (The Love Project journey DW DVD)

Would you ever consider staring your own band? If so, who would be in your ideal band?
If I could choose anyone I wanted, one combo would be John Frusciante, Eddie Vedder, Rami Jaffe, myself and Flea.
What’s the best venue you’ve played at so far, and is there a venue you haven’t played at yet that you’d like to?
I always enjoy the 9:30 club in D.C. Also The Ford Amphitheatre is pretty nice. I love those outdoor moonlit gigs, there’s something’ about playing outside. One I wish to play someday is the Acropolis.

What do you like to do in your down time?
Down time? What’s that?! I’ve been pretty into meditation these days. I get centred at the start and end of each day best I can. I also hike a lot. I attempt to run a bit and hang with anyone I can learn from whenever possible. I guess some sushi, some sake n’ some hang time with the ones I love. I visit the family any chance I get. I like downtime on the road because I get to explore new places in the world and the vibes of different people.

What advice would you give aspiring young drummers out there today?

Listen to as many artists as you can, surround yourself with positive peeps. Be the least critical you can of yourself and others that try to play music with you. Approach it all with integrity and remember to take your time because nobody likes a drummer in a rush. Find your own sound, find your own voice. You gotta dig a little deeper sometimes but don’t give up when you get frustrated or fail, or don’t get the gig. Every drummer you look up to did that first, at least once. Nobody nails ‘the black page’ the first time they played it.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Horrible Bosses Press Conference

Originally published for Screenjabber.

The premise behind Horrible Bosses is simple. What do you do when you have horrible boss? You can’t quit, so you obviously devise a plan to kill them. Indeed, simple. The brains behind this plan are three friends: Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charly Day) who all have very different, and very difficult, horrible bosses. Taking advice from ex con Jamie Foxx, the buddies create a plan to kill off their bosses for reasons three-fold and comically justified.

Starring Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Kevin Spacey, Jason Sudeikis, Charly Day, and directed by ‘Four Christmases’ and ‘King of Kong’ Seth Gordon, ‘Horrible Bosses’ is a dark comedy not afraid to push the boundaries of genre and typical casting style of the lead actors involved. Jennifer Aniston, who plays Dr Julia Harris D.D.S, the horrible nymphomaniac dentist boss to dental nurse Dale, explains her character at the London press conference for the movie that she “didn’t worry at all about going so far with the dialogue and the sexiness of the part, that was the fun of it, with how far it went, and the whole entire movie really went for it.” As for type casting, Aniston has stepped out of the rom com box and had fun with her character Julia. “I have never come across anyone like her, so I was pretty much just going into my own dark imagination and seeing what I could come up with. It’s not bad down there!” Admitting that Aniston was the first person he thought of when casting Julia, “I don’t know if that’s good or bad but that’s exactly who I thought of, she’s such a great comedian that I thought she’d bring a life to it that no one else could.”

Casting for the three disgruntled employees was not as easily determined from the outset, as Gordon continues, “the three main guys were not fully formed at first but we discovered an incredible chemistry with them, and I think Kevin [Spacey] was the perfect guy to create Mr Harken, the evil one.” Making a dark comedy on a subject many people can relate to has its drawbacks, albeit light-hearted drawbacks, as Spacey concurs that “it was an absolute treat to do, I think the hardest part for our three main protagonists is to not laugh all day long as it was a lot of fun.”

There’s an obvious chemistry between all the actors, which whilst at the conference tease each other and need little encouragement to joke around. When pressed on the most embarrassing scenes to shoot, in which when seeing the movie there are a few, Bateman concedes modestly that “when acting against Kevin Spacey you’re going to embarrass yourself, you’re running a tight second at best.” Whereas Spacey, ever the comic retorts he “was embarrassed to work with Jason at every time.” The ‘Horrible Bosses’ press conference allowed, for a brief moment, the chance for Screenjabber to see and for you to hear how a dark comedy came to fruition, with a group of people out to lighten the tone, to entertain, even if it’s briefly to distract you from your own horrible boss.