Hey folks, this Month’s installment of Big in Japan features a truly uniquely eclectic drummer from New Jersey in the US.
I met Adam many years ago during a charity event for a magazine I used to work for. From the first moment I met him, I could tell there was a strong determination and drive in him that set him apart from many other drummers in the Nagoya music scene. In the relatively short span of 7 years he has managed to make a name for himself in the scene by always trying new things, being open minded to new ideas, and most of all by just being a plain awesome drummer with a true passion for music. He has played in some quite well-known gigs in Nagoya, such as:
Fishtank TV, DuckFace, the acclaimed Musical Dreamcatcher, slide-blues Guitarist Kishida Kunio, Champagne Soaked Cookies, and most recently the Xandra Corpora Band. He embodies a true passion for his profession and for music in general, and is more often than not the first name that comes up when a drummer is needed for bands or session gigs.
So Adam, what makes you so awesome? 😀
Adam: I’d say I’m not awesome, hahahah. If I had to choose one thing though, I’d give credit to family and friends.
JD: Humble and talented, that’s a great combination!
Ok, Let’s start by getting to know you a bit. What’s your musical background?
Adam: I took Piano for a year at 7 years old, but that had very little influence. It did, however, open the floodgates, so to speak, for my further passion for Music. In 3rd grade, I played the Recorder (like everyone else that age, hahaha). Then, also in 3rd grade, my brother was in the Jazz Band. I went to his Winter concert and when I heard the drums live… I was fixated, man. I became hooked. I entered the School Band to learn more about Music. After that, in 4th grade, you can choose your instrument – Of course, I wanted to choose drums. There was actually a written test about Music and Music Theory. I missed the cutoff by 1 point to become a drummer. My Parents went to the teacher, and asked since it was only one point, if I could still enter the Band. She agreed. Being somewhat of a perfectionist, however, I didn’t feel I deserved it. I was very critical of myself. Eventually, I chose the Trombone to get a spot in the Jazz Band. I ended up playing it for 7 years in the Concert Band, Marching Band, Jazz Band, and the School Musical.
JD: Wow! How did you make the transition from Trombone to Drums?
Adam: In 5th grade, a friend played drums. He taught me how to hold the drumsticks and how to make them buzz. I discovered around that time that my dad also had a pair of drumsticks lying around. So I played around with them. I drove my parents crazy practicing drums on everything from tables to trash cans.
I got so enamoured with drums that I always paid attention to all sorts of drummers, whether that was in the bands at school, at concerts, or on TV, etc. Then, at 13, I had a great band Teacher. It was Gerry Polci, the former drummer of The Four Seasons (Oh, What a Night!)
JD: That’s amazing!
Adam: Yeah, it was really cool! I took Snare Drum lessons for 3 months (all while still playing Trombone). Then at my Bar Mitzvah, the DJ gave me a sort of Toy E-Drum set. I think my parents quickly regretted it though, hahahah. I played on it every day!
I ended up continuing with Band in High School, but by my 2nd year, I didn’t want to continue playing Trombone in Marching Band. I wanted to play the drums, but there were too many Snare Drummers already, so I quit the Marching Band. Eventually I did become the Pit Drummer my Senior Year though.
Around the time I quit the Marching Band, some friends wanted to start a band, and my dad helped me to take drum lessons and also bought me my first real drum kit. It was amazing! I was 16 years old at the time. My drum set teacher was John Leister, a local teacher, who has played in various Orchestras and even played with Metallica on their S/M Tour in NYC. Since I took Trombone lessons with him for 3 Summers in intensive Summer Programs, we already had a good student/teacher relationship. I studied drums with him for 1 year.
After that, I was referred to Joe Bergamini, a well-known international drummer, session musician, and educator. He worked me hard, man! He taught me how to use technique effectively and smoothly, and that really helped my playing. He also introduced me to new Music in the Jazz, Funk, Pop, Rock, and RnB Genres. It was all eye opening!
JD: I can imagine! How did you come to Japan then?
Adam: Well, I had studied Japanese since High School, and when I went to The University of Pittsburgh, I had the chance to spend one year in Japan as an exchange Student at Nanzan University, and jumped on the opportunity. I never really thought I would become a professional musician, and I didn’t have as many opportunities to practice drums while in Japan, but I did join a Jazz Circle once a week. I was also really into break dancing during that time. I spent many nights hanging out with the dancers in front of buildings in Fushimi and Sakae. (Note: In Japan, many young people practice dancing in front of the mirrored windows of buildings at night)
I had to go back to the States when my year abroad came to an end, however. I continued drum lessons again when I returned for my last year at College. At that time, however, I played more than I practiced, and I danced more than I played.
Later on, I realised that all the dancing had solidified my overall rhythm. It’s important to understand what it feels like to move, or how to make others move while you’re playing. So while I didn’t practice as much, I did receive a lot of musical education during that year, and that helped me tremendously in the end.
JD: That’s quite a journey, man! As much as we want it to, University doesn’t last forever though, so what did you do after Graduation?
Adam: Well, I went back to Jersey and worked for about 2 years. During that time, a friend was looking for a drummer. We started a band called Providence Road. We played a few gigs in NYC and Jersey, and recorded a few songs that were unfortunately never released. I did miss Japan, however, and came back in June 2008.
I got a teaching Gig in Tsuyama and did that for 2 years. Some of my Students used to be professional musicians in Tokyo, and we started a band together. During that 1st year, my drumming hero (internationally renowned drummer) Akira Jimbo came to Tsuyama during his Japan Tour. The band I played in also included the owner of the bar that Akira played in, and because of my relationship with the bar owner, I got a special seat right next to the Hi-Hat!!! I was completely Starstruck seeing my hero, this amazing drummer, so close and personal. It was an amazing experience and motivated me to get back into practicing harder than ever before. That experience transformed me, and all the passion from my childhood came rushing back. I bought an electronic drum kit as a present to myself for my birthday that year, and the rest, as they say, is history. That was in March 2009. After that I completely immersed myself in Music – going to concerts, events, watching videos, reading about it, etc.
Around the same time, I was playing in 3 (all International/Japanese and non-Japanese together) bands at once. Then, during my 2nd contract in Okayama, my Boss was really into speech contests. Have you ever heard of Toastmasters?
JD: Sounds familiar.
Adam: I used to help her with her speeches, and one in particular had a big impact on me. She did it on following your dreams. That motivated me to pursue Music more professionally, and I’ve been working hard on that goal ever since.
JD: You’re in the wrong town for that though. Nagoya is not really known for its Music Scene.
Adam: Well, I wanted to go to a bigger city to pursue my dreams, but I simply wasn’t ready for Tokyo at that time. Nagoya felt just right for me, since I had previous experience here, and it felt more comfortable to live here at that time.
Also, it’s a much smaller, more intimate community here, so through mutual friends, I got introduced to Michael Wade (Band), which introduced me to the Music Scene in Nagoya.
JD: Goes to show that having good connections is really important in life. Speaking of influential people, what were some of your early musical influences?
Adam: Oh, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Smashing Pumpkins, Soul Asylum, Frank Zappa, Led Zeppelin, Pearl Jam, etc. Also various Jazz, Funk, Soul, and RnB Artists.
JD: In your opinion, what separates a great drummer from a good one?
Adam: A great drummer is one who can move you physically and emotionally. They take you to that next level of feeling (the) rhythm. I hope to be able to do this some day (editors note: You already do, Adam!) I think there’s a big difference between a player and someone who plays. It’s either part of your life – your essence, or just something you do.
JD: What’s different about the independent music scene in Japan compared to America’s?
Adam: In my experience, in Japan, it seems people don’t go out just to listen to music. If their friend or a specific band they like is playing, then they go to see them. That means, most people don’t go if they don’t know the performer already. In the United States, however, people tend to go out to listen to live music even if they don’t know who is performing.
On the flip side, most venues in Japan have a pay to play system. Which means, as long as you can pay, whether by selling tickets or paying out of pocket, anyone can play at a dedicated live venue regardless of skill. This is great for those wanting to gain experience, try out any sort of performance you want, and enjoy a dedicated sound system set up for live music. In the United States, however, there is a pay to play system for major venues, but a lot of shows happen in bar-style setups; which means, if you don’t “bring it” – the skill and especially the people, then you won’t be asked back. This makes it more difficult to get experience, but it puts pressure on the musicians to be good and play at a higher level, which is always a good thing.
JD: I see! That’s an interesting observation! If you could change one thing about your time in Japan; do something different and take another path, what would it be?
Adam: Mhmmm, that’s a tough one. I definitely would’ve studied more Kanji at first. (smiles)
JD: Hahahah, if I had a Penny for every-time I’ve heard that here…… 😀
What advice would you give to people thinking of coming to Japan to pursue their dreams?
Adam: Don’t come to Japan if you want to become a professional musician, hahahah.
Seriously though, if it’s for Music, go to Tokyo, not Nagoya, and of course study some Japanese before coming here. Having said that though…
If you have a dream outside of teaching… never give up! Always keep pushing yourself, and make that your priority.
Do whatever you can to make it happen! Stay nice to people… Nurture your professional and personal relationships.
Dont live to work, work to live. If you have a passion, and if you’re willing to do it for free, why not strive to do it all the time? You never know! It might eventually turn into your profession. Always follow your dreams!
JD: Ok, final question… you ready? (Nods). The recent movie “Whiplash” was really about you, wasn’t it?
Adam: Hahahaha. No comment! :p
I think it’s a great metaphor for the student/teacher relationship. I think it was also good for revitalising Jazz and putting the drummer in the spotlight, which doesn’t happen so often. As for the drums, I feel I connect more with the drummer in the movie “That Thing You Do”.
JD: Thank you very much for this insight into your interesting life. Always fun to meet and talk with you.
There you have it…. You can turn a passion for Music, and a different culture into a legitimate lifestyle – it just takes courage, some effort, and a healthy dose of determination.
Adam is currently playing with a Band called Xandra Corpora Band, and you can check them out at GC Live Jam Sessions every Monday in Nagoya [mappress mapid=”8″].
Also, you can catch Adam at the Hard Rock in Osaka on September 21st. Click HERE for his full schedule.