We caught up with Dave Elitch during a recording session at Clear Track Studios in Tampa, FL, where he shared some thoughts on drummer personality, breaking boundaries, and the importance of being yourself as an artist.
SABIAN: Drummers are a unique breed. Think of an accountant–probably the most hinged personality. Drummers typically fall on the opposite end of that spectrum. How would you define the qualities of a drummer?
You have to be someone who’s not willing to conform to normal standards. I can really only talk about this from my own perspective, and maybe my close friends. Everybody I hang out with is like, “Yeah, if you tell me to do this. I’m going to do that.” Meaning from an authoritative standpoint. I’ve never been good at following orders. Drummers definitely walk their own path. You have to have a lot of confidence, and you have to be able to just sit in a room by yourself, for hours on end, and work on things, and make everything right. Then when you get on stage you have to be able to hold the whole band together, and make everything sound good, and hold everyone up on top of you. Then you get off stage and maybe someone will go, “Hey thanks for doing that,” you know. And maybe not. You have to be cool with that. It’s like you’re herding cats, making sure everyone is firing on all cylinders together as a unit. Really, it’s about you, but not as much as it is about the greater good of making the whole show, or the whole band happen together. That’s what it’s all about.
SABIAN: What’s unique about the way you approach drumming? And life?
I’ve tried to be as diverse as possible with my career, with bands or gigs that I take because I’ve always listened to a huge variety of music. People have tried to pin me down as ‘this thing or that thing’ for years, and it never really works. One year I was nominated for Best Alternative Drummer by Modern Drummer, and the year before that I was nominated for Best Metal Drummer. At the same time, I was playing for Miley, which is pop, and Antemasque, which is like punk/garage rock/lo-fi … stuff. Fast forward to right now and what I’m recording today with Brain is like trip-hoppy, 90s space hip hop. It’s not that I get bored, but I have to have a really wide variety of things I’m doing because I need something new. It feels like, “Ok, I’ve done ‘this thing, now what’s next?. What else can I do that’s new and exciting?”
SABIAN: What’s holding drummers back now? And how did you overcome your own personal boundaries, and get out of your own way?
Maybe they’re not listening to a wide array of music, and they’re stuck in this narrow channel of a certain style, so they’re not being exposed to different sounds, ideas or players? Everything feels stale and rehashed to death to me right now. For me, when I get exposed to new things, a lot of times I’m like, “Ugh, that was weird.” You hear a song and you’re like, “I hate this,” and then an hour later you’re like, “I kind of want to listen to that again.” And that’s the kind of experience that makes you grow. It changes your palette. And then, hopefully, you go through that process over and over again. I’m always trying to expose myself to new levels of experience – whether that’s visual art or music or food or traveling….you can pull from more than just the instrument!
And maybe that’s another point. Every instrumentalist sort of does this, but drummers have a real tendency to just get stuck in “Drumland”. There’s so much other stuff out there that can come back and influence you in a beautiful way. If you want to work on your phrasing, listen to a horn player, because they have to breathe to play. We don’t have to do that. That inherently affects the pauses and the phrasing. Who was Miles Davis’ biggest influence? Frank Sinatra. Listen to Frank Sinatra and put on Kind of Blue [by Miles Davis] and you’re like, “Holy shit it’s the exact same thing.” Drummers think they can only be influenced by drummers. No. Widen your scope. There’s so much stuff out there.
SABIAN: Something you teach drummers is how to “get out of their own way.” If you could talk to all drummers out there, how would you suggest they break through their own boundaries?
The most important thing when you’re playing music is being yourself. Doing your own thing. I don’t hear that from a lot of people these days. If I want to listen to Tony Williams, I’m not going to listen to some random person on Instagram or YouTube with a yellow Gretsch kit with Black Dots trying to sound like Tony Williams. Same thing with John Bonham, or Vinnie Colaiuta, or anyone else that people try to copy. It’s futile. But what you can do, is be yourself. And no one else has done that before, so you can’t fuck it up. That’s what I would like to see. Everyone doing their own thing, and bringing that into the world and making this whole thing more interesting. There are so many people on social media now who are just riding other people’s coattails. Everyone sounds like a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy, and it’s brutally boring. And it’s not inspiring. So take chances and keep asking yourself, “Who am I?” and “What do I have to say?” and however that manifests, channel that potential power and put it out into the world. Be you and do your thing.
Really what it comes down to is owning everything you’re doing. If I go for something technically demanding and I just biff it and face plant, I’m like “Well, I really screwed that up.” I’d much rather do that than kind of squeak by or phone something in. I’d rather biff it hard and own it–or nail it hard and own it. Be everything, all the way, one-hundred percent, regardless of how it comes out. When I’m playing a gig, I’m definitely a bit more conservative because I’m playing with other people. But if I’m playing by myself, or doing a clinic or something, I’ll go all out and take risks and see what happens. I screw up all the time because I’m not playing with anyone. Who cares? If you’re playing a big tour and you screw up, the whole show falls on top of you. It’s a big deal. But yeah, I’ll take risks and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
I want to see people going, “I’m chasing this very specific aesthetic, and I am fully committed to it. I’m putting all of my worth and weight behind this, and I fully mean it.” And if it doesn’t work they’re like “Wow, that really didn’t work, time to try something else” And if it does, they can say “Yeah, that’s right. I did that.”
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