Paulo Baldi – CAKE – Exclusive OnlineDrummer.com InterviewNate Brown
OLD: Why did you start drumming? What got you into it in the first place?
Paulo: Well, I think it was the Muppets that got me into it. Honesty, everybody probably included Animal as one of their influences growing up. But it wasn’t just Animal, it was the Saturday afternoon or after school Sesame Street stuff. They got so in-depth into music and had guest music stars. It got me tapping my fingers. I think I wanted a snare drum as early as second grade, but my parents said to wait until fifth grade.
OLD: Well, it worked out you know?
Paulo: Yeah, it totally worked out. I guess they believed it wasn’t just one of the things kids want their parents to buy and then drop it the very next weekend.
OLD: Have you started your tour yet?
Paulo: We are on tour. We don’t have consecutive dates. Say we’re on tour for the next three, four months or six months. What we do is go out every month for about 10 to 14 days and then go home.
It is cool to have some home time every month to breathe, even a little bit. It’s not too strenuous being out on the road for 10 to 14 days as far as I am concerned.
OLD: How long have you been doing it that way?
Paulo: I think this has been kind of an M.O. ever since I joined them in 2002. The band doesn’t like to be on the road longer than two weeks. I think the longest we ever did was three weeks, and I don’t remember people coming out feeling happy about that.
I’ve been out before for several months with other groups, and you have a different whole life situation.
There is no major label dictating to us what we have to do these days. Cake is independent on our own label, and so we call the shots. We don’t we have to pay back this $500,000 debt.
OLD: That’s something that technology, nowadays, allows a lot of bands to do, and Cake is doing very well.
Paulo: Yeah. The band’s been self-produced since the beginning, and they’ve hired producers towards the end of those albums. But as far as going into the studio and saying we only have one week studio time to make the record, that’s never been the case. So it’s done when it’s done, and we’re not going to let anybody tell us when the deadline is.
OLD: In 2002, you joined up with Cake. How did you meet the guys in the group?
Paulo: At the time, I was touring with Les Claypool of Primus, but it wasn’t that connection. It was a local San Francisco promoter. He is one of these guys who has worked his way up from just a flier guy. He was helping with starting bands, putting up fliers, booking the gigs for no percentage. And now, he has moved his way up to being a big time promoter. But at that time, he just drew my name from the hat.
Cake called around to their friends. First they started local, and my friend just drew my name from the hat, and they called. Then I sent the demo. It was basically that simple just knowing the right person at the right time and having the right ability for the band. But, I didn’t know any of the guys from the band, although I was a fan.
OLD: Did you go through an audition?
Paulo: Yes. I drove to Sacramento, auditioned, but I never really had a formal audition before. When it ended up being about six hours long, I figured it was for the rehearsal at that point, and I kind of felt like I got the gig.
OLD: It’s a good feeling, isn’t it?
Paulo: Yeah. It wasn’t like two songs and we’ll call you. It was actually pretty interesting because I must have over-studied, and I knew the song arrangements better than they did.
Paulo: Well, this is only because they had changed a lot of things to play live that they do out on the record, and I’ve learned the records, and they were kind of going, “Oh yeah, that’s the way to do that.” “Oh, I forgot we used to do that.”
So it was kind of eye opening to them. After six hours when they said, “Well, we’ll call you.” I kind of knew they were going to call.
OLD: As far as preparation goes for an audition, do you have any recommendations?
Paulo: Well, other than learning the music, it’s always good to be over prepared musically, but make sure you’re preparing the right stuff. I mean, it’s been a detriment to me to be only learning studio cuts. I could’ve asked them if there were any live tapes going around. I don’t want to rock the boat on the first gig and have everybody feel uncomfortable. You want to smoothly get into the situation, especially if you’re taking a position that the drummer had for a long time before you.
You want to make it as smooth to them as possible, but other than that, you have to be open-minded. You’ve got to be a nice guy; not going in with an attitude; not going with any sort of pretense of “I’m a bad-ass, and you should hire me simply because of that.” You should get to know them because it’s a family that you’re joining with. Families fight and families love each other, but you’ve got to enter the situation pretty cordial. Just be yourself.
Also, understand that they are uncomfortable and they are the ones that know exactly what they don’t want. They might not know what they want in a drummer but they’ll hear what they don’t want immediately.
OLD: Before a show, what do you do to get warmed up to get prepared for the gig?
Paulo: Don’t eat too close to show time. Give yourself an hour and a half or so to digest. Everybody’s bodies are different, but for me, I can feel sluggish to have a big old steak half an hour before the set. But I think having said that, sometimes you have no choice on tour. And if you don’t eat, you’ll pass out. On tour things don’t always go as planned and all of a sudden its 7:30 and you haven’t eaten and the show is at 8:00 and you’ve got to do something.
But as far as warming up, it’s all the basic rudiments. I can bug the band because I use the arm of a couch as a drum pad everywhere I go. I even find a couch backstage. It’s all the basic stuff, and that little half an hour of downtime of focus that just gets you in the mental stage.
OLD: During that time do you still feel a rush for the upcoming show? Any butterflies?
Paulo: I don’t really feel nervous anymore for concerts. I don’t know why. I’ve never really had a stage fright. I guess I was just fortunate, and I think it’s because I have this big security blanket in front of me called the drum kit.
TV performances I have had… Those are very nerve-racking because they’re all day. You load in at 8:00 AM, you do three sound checks, you do the camera blocking and then you play for three and a half minutes and there’s no second chances; you’re live. So that kind of situation is nerve-racking only because the build up is hours and hours and hours, and it’s just for one time.
OLD: Have you had any bad experiences that you want to share?
Paulo: Well I mean there are experiences. I don’t know if they’re all that bad. They’re funny. Just recently I dropped a stick on live French TV. There are like a million cameras everywhere but there was one camera on this trolling crane, and it was going up and down from the right cymbal up to above my forehead back down, and of course the camera was going on me, and I dropped the stick. At least it was in France (laughs).
I picked up the stick and the other stick within a beat.
OLD: That’s good to hear because someone who is as experienced and as good a drummer as you — it happens to everybody you know —
Paulo: And it happens you never know why– it always happens for different reasons. I mean I can make excuses, but I dropped my stick because the cowbell mount had loosened up and the cowbell had floated in front of the snare drum. It’s mounted on the kick drum. And so when I was reaching over to do a fill the cowbell was out of position, and I hit it. It just pulled out of my hand.
But, I’m playing on a lot of house drum kits when we’re out touring in Europe especially. So it’s not my gear and that can be difficult.
OLD: That’s a skill in itself. As a working drummer, to be able to switch between gear, that’s hard.
Paulo: Yeah. At first it was a frustration, and then when I realized that it’s just part of the gig, you can’t always get your own drums at every show. You open your mind and be like, okay well tonight I’m playing a DW cocktail kit, and it’s because it’s the only thing they have.
OLD: That didn’t happen did it?
Paulo: Everything has happened. I have a list of drum preferences, and then I have a list of drum notes like I actually do not want this type of drum or this type of hardware or this type of head and there are some shows where all of the things that I say I don’t want, show up.
I mean it’s just like “Look dude that’s all we have here in Fargo, North Dakota”.
I can expect those things when we’re doing world touring. I’m not expecting much from gear and if I get the Pearl kick drum and a Yamaha snare and Tama floor toms, that’s my kit. I just have to embrace it, and I just do my best and not be frustrated. So the skill in there is opening your mind and saying “oh well.”
OLD: Hopefully it sounds different in the mix than it does straight acoustically.
Paulo: Right. I mean how many times have you seen like one of your favorite drummers just walk up to a student snare drum and rip it up. And he’s not caring about the quality of the snare. You’re hearing the talent come out of that guy, and all of a sudden he transcends that instrument.
And he forgets the fact that it was a piece of crap. So that’s what I try to think of. They’re going to be hearing the music. 99% of the people at the concerts, they’re not going to be judging my gear.
OLD: When you’re done with a gig, what do you do to cool down? What goes on in your mind?
Paulo: Yeah. What I like to do is just towel off. I seem to be the only one in the band that actually breaks a sweat. The drummer usually is… So after, I change my shirt. The band likes to have a quick meeting, like a 10 minute pow wow about the show, like mistakes or even the positive things or, “Wow, did you see that crazy chick out there?”
There is plenty to talk about the audience. They’re just as entertaining as we think we are. I like to contemplate that for a second, because if I don’t think about it for those moments after the show, it’s gone.
You know, even when people say, “Here are pictures from New York last week.” The pictures of us, you know its not pictures of the audience which is actually what I remember about the show.
OLD: If you had one piece of advice that you could pass on to the next drumming generation, what do you think that would be?
Paulo: Versatility. I’m a hand drummer, congas and Arabic drums, and the Indian drums. And not only did that give me a lot of work when I left the Bay area, but it made me meet musicians that I wouldn’t normally meet and get to play with and hear their stories, their perspective on music. And you would be surprised how much that seeps into your playing as a pop drummer or as a metal drummer, or as a jazz drummer. It’s just really important to have diversity.
I’d say there’s a lot of great drummers out there that I can tell they’d never had instruction, they’ve never thought about warming up or paradiddles or any of this stuff. They’re great charismatic drummers, but that’s all they know and that one band that they played with and got famous with is really all they’re known for, which is awesome, but I kind of like to be a Jack of all trades.
I mean, later in life when your body changes and your hands change and your situation in life changes, you might need to move on to those other instruments to continue with your career. Who knows, I might lose my legs in an accident and I’ll be like, “Okay, well I’ll just play tabla and conga for the rest of my life.”
OLD: You’ve got a very positive outlook though, even though you lose your legs, you keep playing something else. (Laughs) Most people would be devastated. I like that though, very insightful.
Paulo: Thanks. Well there’s a lot of negativity in music and there’s a lot of competition in music. And it’s really easy to get discouraged, because the first couple of times nobody cared about your band. And some people quit at that point, but you know most successful bands, they all got turned down. Most successful musicians didn’t win their first audition and if they all quit the first or second time they were turned down, then we wouldn’t have Jimmy Hendrix and we wouldn’t have all these great players.
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