Gary Foster – Exclusive OnlineDrummer.com InterviewNate Brown
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Gary Foster of The Sunstreak before a show in Toledo, Ohio. Aside from being a terrific drummer and an excellent person, Gary also has a lot of important insights to share about the industry. If you’re looking to be a professional, touring drummer, Gary gives a view of life on the road. Step into his shoes.
Nate: What is life like on the road?
Gary: Life on the road is like a choose-your-own-adventure book. Like you never know what’s gonna happen that day. It could be dull and boring, and all of a sudden it’s just something happens and it’s just crazy; it’s just full of surprises. That would be like on the road.
Nate: And unexpected, everything is…
Gary: Absolutely unexpected. You never know if it’s gonna be an awesome day or you’re gonna break down and get stranded in some crazy place you’ve never been and maybe not have enough money to repair the vehicle or break a piece of gear and have to find a way around it.
Nate: You visit the local music shop, often?
Gary: Yeah, yeah, lots of ‘em. I think I’ve been into most of the Guitar Centers in America; probably been in almost every single one of ‘em.
Nate: Now, what life is actually like on the road, how does that compare to what you thought it would be like, even though you started when you were 15?
Gary: Well, I thought it was gonna be like just fun all the time, which it is, and just partying, and there’s so many things that go beyond that. It’s actually a lot of hard work. You’re expected to perform at your best every single night. And then on top of that, you have to travel, and you never know if it’s gonna be … you know, if it’s an 8-hour drive, it usually takes up about 15 hours between stops and this and that. You’ve never on time. So there’s that, and you don’t get a lot of sleep. You don’t get to eat a lot. I work out a lot when I’m at home, and you don’t get to do a lot of the stuff that you’re used to that you try to fit into your daily life; you never know if you’re gonna do it.
Nate: When you’re on the road, you talked about eating and staying fit. What do you do to help you stay fit and eat right?
Gary: Well, on days off I run. Like I’ll route out a map, like Google maps, and I’ll run that. Every time we hit a rest stop for gas and stuff, we all do like push-ups and sit-ups.
Gary: Yeah, we like do it every time we stop to just stay fit, because on some of these longer drives where you’re sitting, there might not be time to really warm up before a show. You really have to try and stay as lean as you can, ‘cause you can really hurt yourself.
Nate: You do that in parking lots?
Gary: Oh, yeah.
Nate: Everybody’s looking at you like, “What the heck?” (laughing)
Guest: Everyone. Yep; yeah, exactly. Whatever. I have no shame (laughing).
Nate: When you’re a drummer, a lot of the time the main attention is on the singer. How do you deal with possibly more attention being on the singer? Does it bother, or is there a way you think about it?
Gary: Oh, no, not at all. I mean, I look at it as we’re a unit. What I mean, the singer’s always the person that you stare at because he’s singing. I try and be flashy — I just kinda get in my own little world with that, but it doesn’t bother me at all. I never worried about that.
Nate: Now, let’s switch to before the gigs. You make it to the show. How do you warm up for a gig? Do you do anything?
Gary: Yeah, I usually hang out, check in with everybody; I usually set up my drums right away and make sure that I didn’t miss anything from the night before, ‘cause sometimes stuff gets left behind. Then after that, we try and get a bite to eat and then stretch out, depending on how much time we have. If there’s a lot of time, I’ll try and lay down for an hour and just get my ears to calm down, ‘cause that’s the other thing. Being in a lot of clubs every night, your hearing really can get damaged. So I try and keep ‘em cool.
Nate: You’re the first one to mention anything about that, that’s good.
Gary: Oh, it’s vital. I had tinnitus, and I got that from just years of being on the road from playing the cymbals and the side fillers every night. It’s so important to take care of that. Otherwise, you just have ringing in your ears all the time. It sucks.
Nate: Even in here, it’s kinda loud.
Gary: Yeah. And everything like the louder it gets, just sounds like one sound to me; I just can’t make it out.
Nate: Do you use in-ear monitors when you —
Gary: Yeah. Yeah, I use in-ear monitors, which definitely helps tremendously.
Nate: What do you have coming through the feed? Do you have a special mix that you like?
Gary: Actually, what I do is we have live synth that’s like sequence. And so I’ll have like a click run through my ear, and then the other one is just to block out the sound so I can follow, ‘cause a lot of times I won’t have that in my monitor at all.
Nate: So you just have one ear going?
Gary: Yeah, I just have one ear.
Nate: No drum mix or anything?
Gary: No. No, I don’t even like… honestly, like it’s so drilled into my head, these songs, that I don’t even pay attention. Like I just do my own thing, and it just works out. It’s cool. That way, at least I always know where I am; if I stand up or jump off something and try and do something different, I know right where I’m at, at least.
Nate: How do you come up with the drum parts?
Gary: Well, it depends. Like we all write in the band, and like when I’m writing music I’ll start with the guitar and go from there and I’ll hear the pattern in my head. And I don’t know, it kinda just comes out. And I hear parts, and our guitar player, David, is our producer, too, and he’s got an amazing ear and he plays drums, too, so he has a lot of great ideas; so we’ll bounce ideas off each other. Like we spent about a month before we did the record. I would write all these parts, and then we would just sit in our studio going back and forth, and he would be like, “Well, try this” and mix and match and kinda was like a muse to me in how he may come up with that. But it’s cool. I don’t know, I listen to a lot of things to get ideas, and I love watching drummers play. I try and take that and try and make it kinda my own.
Nate: And I noticed a lot of songs, you guys worked with a synth. How did you get into that? Was that something you guys just always did from the start?
Gary: That was something that Dave brought into the band. I joined in October of 2005, and he joined in I think it was February of ’06. So before that like we had a little time together and never brought that in, and then as soon as he joined he’s like, “Let’s try this and build it up”, and it really makes a huge difference. I think it’s great; I think it’s a lot of fun to have that in there.
Nate: Well, for one thing, it requires you to have that click going during shows.
Gary: Yeah, yeah, which is great, too, because a lot of times with the bigger shows, your adrenaline gets really rushed and I don’t want to play on top of it and push it a little too fast, and then I get people turning around to me like, “Okay, I gotta sing this; I gotta keep up”.
Nate: So how did you meet? You said you went to Berkeley College of Music. How did you meet these guys that you’re with currently?
Gary: Well, when I graduated from high school, I went to Berkeley. The thing about Berkeley is they let a lot of people in, and then they immediately will weed the students out, like the strong ones from the weak ones and everything. And I mean, the second week I was there, half the people that I started school with were already gone. It was unbelievable; it was like scary.
Nate: It was good, too.
Gary: Oh, yeah, it was great. And I found like all these people, I had like a little bit of confidence going into school, like “Oh, I got into Berkeley, this is great”, and then there’s 100 guys there that can smoke me. So I would find all these guys and study them and make friends with them, and then we’d teach each other. So I felt I learned way more from the students than I actually did the programs there.
But after Berkeley I came home, and I was really kinda burnt out on that. I had originally aspired to be like a studio musician. And so I started playing around back in Rochester where I’m from and joined this punk band, and we ended up doing the Warped Tour in 2002 with the band that I’m with now; The Sunstreak, they used to be called One Year Nothing, and there was a couple of different guys in the band. So we had toured together and we had all gotten along really well, and we continued to hang out after the tour was over. And then I left the band that I was in before and they had just lost their drummer, and like it was very coincidental, and I ran into the singer. I ran into Tony. He’s like, “I got a new record, check it out” and I listened to it. I was like, “I love this.” He’s like, “Well, why don’t you come and jam with us?” and that was it.
Nate: Glad it works out that way, huh?
Gary: Yeah. I was so lucky. These guys just have their heads on real straight, and so it’s a pleasure to be able to do this with them.
Nate: What skills do you think are most important to be successful, even if it’s just in a cover band or whatever? Do you think it would be drumming skills like rudiments, timing, or they could be something like people skills?
Gary: Well, yeah, I think one of the main things about being in a touring band is having social skills and not being afraid to talk to anybody, because they’re strangers, you’re constantly meeting new people, and it’s just you want to make a really good impression with them, and talking to everybody is very important.
Being organized and being prepared is another one, like making sure you have all your ducks in a row, because it takes a lot. Even to do weekend shows, it takes a lot to make sure that you’ve got gas money and that you can eat and you have a place to stay or a place to sleep in a parking lot or whatever; I’ve slept everywhere, you know.
And then obviously playing, like I think playing is secondary now; it’s like second nature and a lot of the times I won’t have to warm up after we’ve been playing for long enough every day that it’s just work, you fly right into it. And that’s second nature. But definitely, I would say that.
Nate: When you’re playing live do you play exactly as you do on the record each time, or do you vary it with fills?
Gary: It depends. I usually every couple of weeks will like change something. Like there’s a few songs that have like very specific like I guess almost like single live solos that are just a few bars that aren’t very long; but sometimes like that just gets old, and I’ll try something different and that sounds cool. So the next night I’ll do that, or I’ll have ideas and the guys are used to me switching stuff up; but otherwise like —
Nate: In regards to family, is it difficult to keep in touch with family?
Gary: Well, I talk with my family all the time. I’m married, and my wife has been out on the road before; she knows all like the ins and outs of it.
Nate: A musician, too, or …
Gary: No, no, she’s not a musician. But we brought her out to do merchandise for us before, and like she did Warped Tour ’06 with us. And so she knows there’s a lot of fun, but she knows the grind and so she’s super-understanding. It always sucks to leave, but she knows that I’m coming back. We talk all the time; and Facebook with all my friends. The thing that’s been great is we’ve toured enough of the country that we have friends in all these different areas, too; so then we can meet back up, and it’s just you get to see people you haven’t seen in a little while and it’s great, it’s great.