About The Torch: A monthly series, The Torch aims to help musicians of all ages and talent levels learn more about their respective instruments. Each issue features band members from around the world discussing their craft. They provide our readers with advice and insight towards their person experiences, as well as talking about the tool of their livelihood. Whether you’re an aspiring musician, beginner, fan, or expert, there’s something here for everyone. I truly believe it takes one generation to inspire another. With each issue, I hope we can motivate more and more readers to become the forces they admire.
Written & Produced by Meryl DeWitt | Edited by Rachel Rosell | Photos by Sarah Mankoff Photography, Lauren Marie Photography, Janet Strazzeri
The casual music fan might not realize it, but the drummer is the most important part to a live show. Without them, the band would be utterly lost! It's true, the beat a drummer keeps is the backbone of music. They also happen to be some of the most kind hearted folks you'll find in the industry. Today we feature talks with Zavien of LindaMar, Izzy Scott of Shadows of Eyekahna, Stigmata Dolls, and Attraction to Tragedy, and Austin Balthaser of Ashes of Our Sins!
Meryl DeWitt: How old were you when you got your first drum set? What was your first set?
Izzy Scott: I was 7, I got it for Christmas from my Grandmother and it was one of those tiny, tiny, first act drum sets. But my first real kit was a five piece Percussion Plus kit with a crash and hi-hat.
Zavien Albornoz: When I was 8, I was given a Sound Percussion drum set. It was black and had 4 pieces.
Austin Balthaser: I was 15. I had been begging my mother to get me a kit for at least a few months because an uncle of mine used to play, and it inspired me to become a drummer myself. The kit was made from Gammon Percussion and it sounded terrible, but it got me started.
Meryl: For anyone wanting to learn, what would you suggest as a starter drum kit?
Austin: Anything cheap. Being a drummer isn't for everybody. It requires skills and talent you don't know you have until you work on them. Same as a guitarist, bassist, singer, etc... So I wouldn't recommend blowing a lot of money on a top of the line kit and later find out it’s not your cup o' tea.
Izzy: The Pearl Vision or Export series kits are perfect for starting drummers because they're affordable and sound great, too. I don't even have a Pearl drum set right now and I kick myself for it every day but I'm working on it.
Zavien: I definitely suggest the Sound Percussion drum set haha.
Meryl: Through trial and error in your career, is there any of your mistakes you'd warn young drummers to be cautious of?
Izzy: Learn how to hold sticks correctly, don’t keep broken cymbals on your kit cause you'll slice your hands open, learn your foot techniques properly and practice fundamentals before you try learning songs. Basics first, always.
Zavien: One thing I have learned over time was to learn things slowly. I would always rush into new techniques and rudiments, and it took forever to get them clean.
Austin: Learn the right ways first, and don't try to learn too fast. The bad habits you pick up while you're learning are a lot easier to combat while you're new to drums, rather than correcting them years down the line. This all comes down to stick control, timing, how you structure fills/beats, the whole 9 yards. Spend the money and start off with a tutor, or do enough research online and make sure you start off on the right note.
Meryl: What's the biggest stage nightmare you've ever had?
Zavien: The biggest stage nightmare I’ve had happened twice actually, haha... It was when I forgot my parts to a song my old bands covered.
Austin: By far the first gig I played with my past bar band. I was using a Tama 9 piece drum kit with a rack system. During the first song, the whole rack fell backwards away from my kit along with my cymbals and the 3 drums that were connected to it. There were about 50 people there... An airplane could have crashed into the building and I would have felt better, haha!
Izzy: Me and Shadows Of Eyekahna were playing in a small club near my house and the drum riser was a little cramped for all my stuff, and we're on our last song, which is our cover of TNT by ACDC, and anyone who can play that song knows hi-hat is like the main cymbal for the beats in that song, and before the first verse even starts my hi-hat just fucking fell off the riser and a guy watching from the bar had to run up and put it back in place for me. It was funny, but I shit myself when it fell, man.
Meryl: What is your current equipment setup for playing live?
Austin: Currently, I run a Pearl Vision VLX 4 piece, (this was a 5 piece but my Hi-tom was stolen) with Evans EC2 coated heads, and an E-Mad 2 ply bass head. I just bought Pearl Demon-Drive pedals and I love them. As for cymbals, I am all Sabian, except for the Zildjian ZilBel, I love that thing.
Izzy: We just played two shows towards the end of October, one in a church basement, one a parade. I used the Pearl Icon rack for both, using two beams on both sides, and it’s the most stable rack I've ever played on and the quickest to get set up. It just had an assortment of cymbal stands in it, but they all get the job done, and the clamps are so strong, they keep everything balanced. My snare stand is a pearl one and is the sturdiest snare stand I’ve played, and I use the Eliminator Pearl pedals. An LP Rock Rider Cowbell, then for cymbals I use all Sabians. Three Crashes (HHX-plosion 18" Crash:AAX-plosion 19" Fast Crash/AA 18" Medium Thin Crash), one set of Hi-Hats (XS20 14" Medium Hats), two Splashes (XS20 10" Splash/AAX 8" Splash), my massive ride (AA 21" Rock Ride), a China (XS20 18" China), and an O-Zone Crash (B8Pro 16" O-Zone crash) with a 6" Concert Bell on top of it.
For the actual drums I’m using a PDP Concept Maple Kit, using a 12x9 Rack Tom, 14x14, and 16x14 Floor Toms, along with a 22x18 Kick, and my snare drums are a Pearl MCX Masters 14x6.5 and a Pearl 10x4, and last are my two Pearl Rocket Toms, which are 6x12 and 6x15 and, man, they just pop. They don’t even get mics on them at shows, because they're loud enough. As for heads, I use Evans Blue Hydraulics on the Rocket Toms, Evans Clear Hydraulics on top of the rack and floors with the Evans Reso 7 coated on the bottoms; snares have the Evans Clear Reverse Dot on top with Snare Side 300 on bottom. Kick has the Emad from Evans with the bigger muffle ring. Sticks are always Vater 3A Fatback with Wood Tips; most durable stick in the game. The logos wear off far before the stick even shows signs of breaking. Vater is the shit man.
Zavien: My current setup is a Mapex Saturn Series 4-piece with a pair of broken ass 14" Zildgian ZBT hats, 18" Sabian AA effects crash, 22" Sabian AAX Crash/Ride, 18" Meinl Classic series crash, and an 18" Sabian effects China.
Meryl: Is your studio setup any different? If so, what is it?
Austin: Yea, I use that Tama 9 piece to practice/record with. It's about 30 years old and looks beat up, but, sound wise, that kit can really pack a punch.
Izzy: Studio isn’t gonna be different when we get in there. All, if it is any different, it would be is different heads or cymbals. All depends on what sounds best when we get there.
Meryl: What's the best drum set/piece of equipment you've ever owned?
Zavien: The best drum set piece I have ever owned, to date, is my Sabian 22" Crash/Ride. It’s very versatile and I can do a lot with it! My Mapex Saturn series is something that I plan to use for a long while, haha! It sounds amazing!
Austin: My Pearl for the drum set, it puts up with a lot of shows. But by far my best singular piece of equipment is my 18" Sabian HHx Xplosion Crash, that cymbal gets the shit kicked out of it every show, and never ceases to sound extravagant.
Izzy: My Icon Rack and MCX Snare. Pearl is the best drum company out there, and I’m proud to say I use their equipment and never plan on using something else once I fully switch my kit over.
Meryl: What's the worst drum set/piece of equipment you've ever owned?
Izzy: I had a snare stand for 7 years, I just got rid of it; the thing was a literal twig, like, it was tiny as hell, man. My new Pearl Snare Stand gets shit done, and is stable and secure (custom cut to my liking by my drum teach Libor Hadrava).
Austin: Every single Zildjian I have bought and cracked within a few months. (Except the ZilBel, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while).
Meryl: What's your dream set piece to own one day? (Custom, collectors, etc.)
Izzy: I’d love to own an entire natural finish Pearl Reference Kit, or a Pearl Crystal Beat Kit with the DrumLites in them.
Austin: Oh, by far the DW Collectors Series, with the Pearl white Contrails finish. Definitely the most gorgeous kit I've seen.
Meryl: What's the most extreme way a piece of your kit has met its fate? (Ex: smashing on stage, getting stolen, being set on fire...)
Zavien: My Zildgian 14" Hi-hats have met its fate a long time ago! Although I still use it, it’s all smashed and half of it is broken, haha.
Austin: I was transporting my Pearl drum kit to a new practice space in the bed of a pickup, well long story short, I hit a pothole which launched my Hi Tom out of the truck and rolled it down the street. By the time I turned around (I shit you not), a tractor-trailer had pulled over, and out came this dude, and ran for my drum, grabbed it, and took back off in the semi. I was too far back to do anything, one of the most bizarre experiences of my life.
Izzy: I’ve had stands fall over and shit like that, but never anything really awful or extreme, honestly. I know it’s not very Rock N' Roll but I take very good care of my equipment for the most part. Nothing really goes down with my stuff.
Meryl: They say drummers are the most chivalrous & most likely to be marriage material in a band. What's your opinion on that?
Austin: The real girls know who the real musicians are. ;)
Izzy: That’s news to me, man, but I’ll take it. Never heard that before.
Zavien: It seems to be true, and I do see myself a bit of a gentleman, haha, but I do hope that one day I’ll still be in this band with a beautiful woman to love and to share my life with.
Meryl: Who's your personal drummer hero?
Zavien: My personal drummer heroes are Andrew McEnany from Structures, and Josh Slater from Aethere. Those two drummers are absolutely phenomenal and I look up to both of them!
Izzy: That’s a real tough one. I can tell you my favorite four drummers are Tommy Lee (Mötley Crüe), Arejay Hale (Halestorm), Joey Jordison (formerly Slipknot and Murderdolls), and Ray Luzier (Korn), but I think Arejay and Tommy have influenced me the most, so it’s a toss between those two.
Austin: This is a loaded question, I can't have just 1...
1) Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan
2) Shannon Larkin (Godsmack)
3) Zoltan Chaney (Slaughter)
Meryl: Finally, what is your favorite part of being a drummer?
Austin: That drumming is the best stress reliever. Whatever problems you had before playing, you don't even remember after a good session
Izzy: I get to hit shit for a living, man. Do you even understand how cool that is? I get to just sit down in front people, and bash a bunch of circles, and throw pieces of wood all day and night and make some money doing it. It’s awesome. It’s an amazing feeling that can never compare to anything else. Nothing against guitarists, singers, bassists, etc., but the guys in the back have the most fun. We have the best seat in the house and we move the house in the direction we want. It’s our world back there and no one can take it away.
Catch Izzy in Attraction to Tragedy live!
Catch Austin in Ashes of Our Sins live!