Colin Cunnigham – Exclusive OnlineDrummer.com InterviewNate Brown
OLD: Tell us a little about yourself. Why and when did you start drumming? When did you get your first kit? etc.
COLIN: Like many musicians, I was surrounded by music growing up. When I was a kid, my dad was in several different bands. One of the first I remember was a bluegrass band. He always had a drum kit in one room in our house, and I would go in there and beat on them as soon as I could walk. When I was 6, he got me a starter set, which for one reason or another I refused to play. That was until about a year later, when he set up his 1980’s Rogers Maple kit right next to mine. I still neglected my own drum set, but despite being vertically challenged (being 7 years old has its drawbacks when trying to reach foot pedals) I found myself playing in every spare minute and haven’t stopped since. I have to say thank you to my mom for putting up with me over the years haha.
OLD: What do you consider as the most important drumming skill to you (i.e. timing, improv, creating rhythms, groove, rudimental, etc)?
COLIN: Overall, it’s undoubtedly timing. Not only timing, though. It’s the ability to subconsciously subdivide. Everything else (fills, improve, groove, pocket, etc) is details. If you can train yourself to count the spaces in between beats at all different tempos, you’ll be a much more desired asset than if you’ve just got sick chops.
OLD: Do you have any good warm-up techniques to share?
COLIN: There are a couple I use, but one in particular for anyone who’s playing live. It’s something I learned from JoJo Mayer. Put both hands together and bring the base of your palms to your chest. Then, clap your fingers together without breaking the base of your palms. It looks goofy, but it really works. I usually start out with a set of 400, at about 120 bpm. Once you’ve mastered that, try accenting different patterns over what you’re playing. The object is to loosen and get blood flowing to your wrists and forearms without injuring yourself.
OLD: Can you give us any advice for playing live? Anything we should focus on or pay attention to?
COLIN: One of my students asked me this exact question the other day. Play with a metronome. So many young drummers have a hard time wrapping their heads around the importance of this. Even if you play music that routinely switches tempos. If you don’t believe me, watch a video of yourself live without a click. During Oh No Fiasco shows, I’m constantly experiencing rushes of adrenaline, among other things. The last thing I need to worry about is whether or not I’m exactly on tempo. It really just takes the guess work out of it.
OLD: Can you give us any advice as far as recording in the studio? What do we need to know?
COLIN: Be consistent, and play the song, not the drums. Really listen to the song, I mean like put yourself in the normal person’s shoes driving down the road listening to the song you’re about to record on the radio. Ask yourself ‘what would sound the best?’ When I am doing a session, all too often I’ll have to stop myself from doing what feels natural and change my part to what either myself or the producer think needs to be played.
OLD: What do you consider your most memorable moment as a drummer?
COLIN: Last summer, we played right before Sevendust at a festival in Michigan. I was informed by one of the guitar techs that Morgan Rose (who is one of my favorite rock drummers) was watching me sidestage for our entire set. Afterwards he came up to me and hugged me and told me he enjoyed watching me play, and then we talked for a little while about different drummers, techniques and so on and so forth. I felt like i was made of rubber right after that. It was unbelievably humbling. I wanted to say “I stole half of my chops from you!”
OLD: Do you have any other good drumming stories that you like to share?
COLIN: I was fortunate enough to be able to travel a few years back to Tanzania in Africa. There was a group of about 3 Tanzanian djembe players playing for the departing and arriving passengers outside the gate when we landed. I went up to them and motioned that I wanted to play with them, and, expecting larger tips, they happily obliged me. The men looked stunned that a foreigner was familiar with djembe, much less improvisation, and we wound up jamming for almost an hour in the visitor center of the Kilimanjaro airport. It was proof to me that music is a sort of language in and of itself.
OLD: With the upcoming release of your debut self-titled CD, what can we expect?
COLIN: Expect to be ready to dance. The energy that we as a band both live and on recording put off is how we feel, and we love to dance. If you ever get a chance to catch an Oh No show, you’ll see what I mean. If there’s one thing that I can almost always guarantee, it’s that you’ll have a good time seeing us in concert.
OLD: If you could only pass along one piece of advice (drumming related) to the next generation, what would it be?
COLIN: Be completely open minded about all things musical, and find what speaks to you. Don’t dismiss things just because they are foreign to you. For example, whenever I have a new student who has grown up playing metal, I immediately introduce them to hip hop (or at least something that is not metal). There’s so much music out there, and always something to learn.