Todd Sucherman of STYX - Exclusive Interview

First off, thank you, Todd, for agreeing to be interviewed on behalf of the members and frequent visitors from around the world to onlinedrummer.com. 

TS:  My pleasure. Thanks for having me!

Here’s an obvious starter: how and why did you pick up a pair of sticks?  And when was it that you came to the conclusion that drumming would be your career path?

TS:  My father was a drummer, so there was always a set of drums around the house.  I'm the youngest in a family of musicians, so it was just sort of a natural thing.  I’ve been in love with the drums since I was an infant.  It's all I've ever wanted to do.  My brothers were obviously older than I, and we had a band.  I've been playing professionally since I was 6.  That's when the career path started, I suppose.

You have a new DVD out at the moment. It’s five hours and twelve minutes long, and it’s called Methods and Mechanics For Useful Musical Drumming.  How did the idea to do make this DVD come about?

TS:  Well, a few people had been harassing me to do one!  Victor Salazar from the Drum Pad in Chicago (now the new Ludwig artist guy) was really suggesting that I connect with Altitude Digital here in Austin and, ultimately, we did the project together.  I've been doing more clinics over the last few years, and I wanted to pass along useful information to help musicians and aspiring musicians.  You know, a "dig me" vanity project helps no one.  It was a goal to have a mix of technique and application songs---actual real music, as well as career navigational ideas.  I wanted a unique presentation, and I wanted it to be visually stunning, which I think we accomplished.  We filmed in HD 16X9, and had 5 terabytes of HD film to edit!

The opening credits of your DVD are set with a stunning backdrop. To me, it really gives a wonderful introduction into your DVD. It looks like the whole location aspect for the DVD was carefully thought out – or are you going to tell me that it was recorded in your living room?

TS:  I wish I could say that was my property, but it's not.  It belongs to a friend who has 400 private acres just outside of Austin.

The first disc in Methods and Mechanics For Useful Musical Drumming includes the solos section, which has a lot of insight into your playing. And then there is the playing to tracks from Styx and Taylor Mills’ stunning debut album, Lullagoodbye. Was it difficult to pick the songs to use from all of the artists you have played with?

TS:  It wasn't difficult, really. Each tune had something to offer, both musically and drumistically, I think. I wanted to start out with "Tears of Joy" by Jerry Goodman (Mahavishnu Orchestra), because I thought the beauty and majestic nature of the song would be a great opening, both visually and musically.  I explain a bit about that track later in disc 2, during the section on odd times, which made sense in editing as "Tears of Joy" is in 13/8.  But each track hopefully highlights different concepts. I try to explain to the best of my ability what I'm thinking about while playing. Trying to shape the drum part and shape the track---using hills and valleys with dynamics--and being sensitive and aware of the lyrical content and reacting emotionally with it.  I try to explain about how each fill should have a shape and a purpose.  Every note you play is a choice. Man, I'm digressing--I'll do that.

I love the comment you made on the DVD when you are giving the tour of your drum room about, “Most people play golf. I like to collect snare drums.” How did the collection start?  And what criteria does a snare drum have to have to be part of the Todd Sucherman collection?

TS:  Well, I suppose I was just trying to justify my collection.  I'd have a thousand drums if I could, but reality and economics come into play at some point!  The drums I collect or have commissioned just do something to me on an emotional level, both looks-wise and sound-wise.  It's hard to explain, really.  Every drum in my collection is a winner--no dogs allowed.

You really go deep into the DNA of drumming by emphasizing the importance of rudiments and applying them to a solo snare, and then to the drumset. You also credit Jojo Mayer during your master class for his DVD on hand technique. You take rudiments very seriously. How important is it for new drummers to understand the basic rudiments and holding on to a pair of sticks?

TS:  Well, you can have a successful career in music by just playing great time and making good musical choices with limited technique.  But if you are interested in expanding your vocabulary, you must work on the tools to do so.  I think of rudiments (various stickings and hybrid rudiments) as words.  You use words to create sentences and paragraphs.  You use them to tell a story and, ultimately, say something on the instrument. Along with some of the more complex hybrid rudiments and compound stickings, you need a certain facility or technique to pull them off in a musical fashion.  So I do my best to explain technique, or the technique I've developed so far.  I could only do so much on the topic after Jojo did over three hours of technique alone on his DVD, so I had to give credit where credit is due.

The DVD also contains an insight to you on the road, including how you warm up before a gig, and the quick tips that are located on both of the DVD’s.  I’ve not seen that done before, but I’m glad you included it. Were they a selection of quick tips, or could you have continued with them?

TS:  Thanks.  These are some of the ideas that I wanted to present as unique content.  There's over an hour of "Bonus Features," including the "Day on the Road" segment, which shows the backstage scene and warm-up routine.  Then, it's show time after that.  So I thought that would be a good insight with an "on the job" application.  The Quick Tips could've continued, but I knew we were well into a double disc scenario, so I didn't want to go too nuts.  I was particularly proud of how the "Thoughts" sections came out. They featured more esoteric ideas, in regard to approaching music, practice, dealing with others, traveling, and a few other ideas that escape me at the moment.



Your drum set varies through the songs you play on the DVD. I love the sound of the Stanbridge wooden hooped snare you use on a couple of tracks and during your solos.  Do you like to experiment with different sounds and cymbals?  Do you have a rigid drum set on the road?

TS:  I do like to experiment, especially in a recording studio environment.  I tried to keep it simple on the DVD with the basic large set and the small 4 piece jazz kit.  The cymbals I use live on the road with STYX differ from the ones I use in the DVD and in drum clinics.  I use very large, and often thicker, cymbals with the band, but use thinner models in other applications.  But, on the road, my rig never changes much at all.  I have all the tools I need to get the job done.



You’ve played with such varied artists as Taylor Mills, Brian Wilson, Scott Bennett, The Falling Wallendas, Spinal Tap, Peter Cetera, Eric Marienthal and, of course, Styx. Is there anyone you’d like to have a collaboration with?

TS:  I'm just happy to be working, my friend!  I'd be happy to play with any open-minded, creative musician.

I see that you played on Brian Wilson's latest record,"That Lucky Old Sun," which received 4 stars from MOJO and Rolling Stone.

TS:  It was a thrill and an honor to do that record.  It's a long story, but they happened to catch me at home on a short break, and they said, "Can you come to LA tomorrow to do the record?"  I was on a plane the next morning listening to the demos, and we recorded the rhythm section and all my tracks in one day.  It was quite an experience!  Brian is a dynamo in the studio.  There's a DVD coming out in January that is basically the making of the record.  I've seen about 30 minutes of the material and it seems to be the best documentation of what it's like to be in the studio with him.  We also went back to Capitol Studio A (where the record was done), and filmed "That Lucky Old Sun" live from beginning to end, which is also on the DVD.  It really is a charming record that includes, in my opinion, some of the best stuff he's done in years. I've made appearances on a few of his records, but there's something special about this one.  Brian is such a sweet soul---and it's an honor to have recorded and toured with someone who has changed the face of 20th Century music.

Here’s a question from Relbac, one of the members of the onlinedrummer.com community: “Todd, it was an awesome experience to see you at PASIC 2008. Could you give us some little details on the difference between thumbs upstroke and thumbs down stroke, or grip I should say?

TS:  Hmmm.  Not sure what you mean, really.  I suppose if you're playing time on the ride cymbal, physically it makes sense to have your thumb on top of the stick (palm facing the wall and not down). You just have to work with physics and the physiology of the human body.  I think you may have seen me explaining this to a guy who played palms facing the floor (while I was at PASIC.)  There are different strokes, and different things work for different players---but at some point you have to make sure that you're not setting limitations on yourself by the way you hold the sticks, or hit the drums.

Finally, I think your DVD is excellent, and I’m really glad I watched it. I’ve learned more about the art of drumming from it. How would you sum up your DVD?  And will there be a second Todd Sucherman DVD?

TS:  Thanks again, Martin!  Well, I've never worked so hard on anything in my life, so I'm not going to jump into another project just yet.  But, eventually I hope to somewhere down the road.  I'm going to turn 40 next year, and I've been playing for 38 years, professionally for 34 years.  I felt I had something to say and contribute, and that now was the time.  The emails and messages I've received from drummers all over the world has been overwhelming and rewarding.  It's good to know I'm helping other musicians achieve goals, and, ultimately, helping them down the path to becoming employable.  I hope it continues to inspire creativity in other musicians’ playing and thinking.



1. What is the most played album on your iPod?

TS:  Well, it would be "Shuffle Mode," which surprises me everyday.  I love that feature.

(Martin - My iPod has been on shuffle since Todd told me this.)

2. What is your proudest achievement in music?
TS:  I might have a few answers.  One would be maintaining a busy career, without having to "hustle."  Two would be my longevity in STYX--going on 13 years. It's a pleasure to play in a band that plays and sings so amazingly.  Three would be producing the Taylor Mills,Lullagoodbye record.  Four would be appearing on a track with Paul McCartney on Brian Wilson's, "Gettin' In Over My Head" CD. Six would be my DVD, "Methods and Mechanics."  And, lastly, it was a highlight to be on stage behind the drums at Carnegie Hall, along with Brian Wilson, Sting, Billy Joel, and James Taylor.

3.  Who would you most like to have a one-on-one drum off with?
TS:  Well, I got to play with Vinnie Colaiuta over at my house when I lived in LA.  I'm not sure anything could top that.

4.  Which other drummers do you chill out with?
TS:  There's not a lot of hang time, usually.  You see people on the road or at drum festivals, NAMM, whatever.  But some drummers that I consider friends are Vinnie, Steve Smith, Mike Mangini, Gavin Harrison, Johnny Rabb, John Favicchia, Derek Roddy, Bryan Hitt, Deen Castronovo, Rick Allen, Jason Bonham, and I'm sure I'm missing a few.

5.  You’re having a dinner party at your house with your wife, Taylor. You can invite two more people, alive or dead. Who would they be?
TS:  Hmmm.  There'd be so many.  I'm thinking deceased here.  My dear friend Ben Farquhar, and perhaps Keith Moon.  Although, I'm sure lots of things would be broken in the china/crystal hutch if he came over.

6.  Have you ever had a fan ask a strange request from you?
TS:  Yes.

7.  What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
TS:  Stumble over to the coffee maker.

8.  What type of car do you drive?
TS:   Lincoln Aviator/Mercedes BenzSL 320

9.  What else do you get up to when you’re not drumming or collecting drums?

TS:  Snuggling on the couch with my beautiful wife and a nice bottle of wine.

10.What would you best like to be remembered for?

TS:  I'd just be happy to be remembered!

Todd, thanks for giving us some of your time. It was great chatting with you.

TS: My pleasure.

This DVD is a must have for any drummer, of any ability, to have in their collection.  The resource of information held within “Methods and Mechanics For Useful Musical Drumming” is inspirational, and I challenge anyone to watch this DVD and say at the end of viewing it that they’ve not learned anything from it.  “Methods and Mechanics...” gives a comprehensive view of life on the road with one of the world’s top drummers. The insight into his interpretation of learning, gigging, ability, and humor is well worth studying.  Todd Sucherman’s playing and teaching style makes it very easy to understand and learn from.  And summing up this DVD in one line is very easy...It is all killer and no filler.

Todd's gear -

New Pearl Masterworks kit  (Head size first)

8x7, 8x8, 10x8, 12x8 Toms. (8 through 12 are 8 ply)

14x14, 16x16 Floor Toms.

2- 22x18 bass drums. 20x14 Gong Drum. (14 through 22 are 10 plies)

14x5.5snare drum. (20 plies)

African Bubinga finish with African Bubinga on the inside of all shells.   The bearing edges are the Reference round cut.

24K Gold Hardware.

All Pearl hardware with Power Shifter Eliminator pedals.

Remo Heads

Clear Ambassadors top and bottom of all Toms.
Coated Ambassador and Hazy Snare side Ambassador on Snare Drum.
Clear Powerstroke 3s on Bass Drums.

Autograph Series Todd Sucherman SD 330 W stick from ProMark.

Sabian cymbals (left to right--mostly Brilliant Finish)

19" AAX Extreme China
17" Vault Crash
14" AA Regular Hi Hats
6" AA Splash
8" AAX Splash
19" Vault Crash
10" AA Splash
22" Chester Thompson Precision Ride
18" AAX Dark Crash
13" AAX Stage Hats
22" AAX Extreme China
9" Proto Type Bell
20" AA Medium Thin Crash
10" Chopper and 9" Alu Bell

For a lady that has gone unnoticed for a while and has sung solid supportive roles for the likes of Brian Wilson and Billy Joel, Taylor Mills’ stunning debut, Lullagoodbye, is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  I have to say that, without meeting Todd, I wouldn't have heard Taylor's album, and that would've been a tragedy.  Taylor's album is a really, really good piece of magic, conjured up with the help of Todd Sucherman and Scott Bennett.  The music on Lullagoodbyeis gracefully beautiful. It's certainly a really poetic album. I would recommend it to music lovers of a more delicate rock style and easy going nature.  The rhythm of Todd's drumming is different than what he produces for Styx, and it's just what the Doctor ordered for this album.  I have an inkling that this will not be a one off album.  It's been said that Mills has “the voice of an angel,” and that is most certainly true.

For more on Todd Sucherman, visit
www.Toddsucherman.com

For clips and ordering "Methods and Mechanics" DVD, visit
www.Altitudedigital.com

For schedule with STYX, visit
www.Styxworld.com

For clips and ordering Taylor Mills, Lullagoodbye,
www.Taylormillsmusic.com