Friday, October 16, 2009

Drummers of Next Big Nashville: Aaron Distler from Heypenny

I can't tell you how pumped I am from the response I've had with these interviews. By the end of this whole interview installment, I'm hoping to present a realistic and well rounded view of what it's like to be in a band at this point in time...indie, signed, or just part of a backing band for an artist.

First up is Aaron Distler from the Nashville based band Heypenny. If you're into robots, the 80's, Devo, or just good bands, Heypenny's got it. These guys are constantly not only trying to spit out great music..."Cop Car" is a must listen...

Heypenny - "CopCar" from Paper Beats Rock on Vimeo.

...but they're always trying to figure out how to involve the fans in what's going on...which is the key to any indie band having success these days...or kick up their live show...

Heypenny: "Mr. Miller" Road to Bonnaroo from Heypenny on Vimeo.

...I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!!!

How long Heypenny been around, how long have you been with them, and how did you get the gig?

Heypenny's been around for a couple of years. The debut album, Use These Spoons was more or less a "bedroom" recording by our singer and main songwriter, Ben Elkins. He recorded it around Chattanooga a few years ago in people's homes, churches, etc. It started out as one thing then became something entirely different. Thus, Heypenny was born. He ended up moving to Nashville, recruiting Kevin Bevil on guitar and DJ Murphy on bass and in the past couple of years, they've had more drummers than Spinal Tap. I've been with them for just over a year now. As far as getting the gig, Jeremy Ferguson over at Battletapes was doing a few demos with them and he'd heard they needed a drummer and they were headed over to the UK, so I jumped on it only to find that they'd already found someone. Fortunately for me though, drummer extraordinaire, Dan Burns was too wrapped up with his own project, The Biv, he couldn't commit to it full time, so I went back in and begged a second time around, which leads me to the present and I couldn't be happier.

What's your background with the drums?

I would say that I'm more or less self taught, with the exception of high school marching band where I had some pretty intensive workshops. I never really took any private lessons. I'd found that I (well, my Mom) was mostly paying someone money for me to listen to them "show me their chops" for 30 minutes. If credit were to be given, I would say that a jazz instructor I had in middle school really shaped my playing more than anything. His name is Mark Eifler. He introduced me to Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Louis Bellson--all those guys. He told me about records like Buddy Rich's Roar of '74 and said, "go home and learn this song!" Being in sixth grade and trying to pin down the drums on "Nutville" was crazy, but he was so encouraging and excited. He's the guy responsible for all those hours logged just playing in my basement and having a good time. That's how I learned to play the drums.

Traditional or Matched grip?


Favorite drummer?

Glenn Kotche, for sure! We have a mutual friend who gave me his contact info a few years ago. We'd been emailing each other back and forth for years now about my heading up to Chicago to take lessons. I would email him and then 3 months later, I'd get a response saying that he had a day or two available, but I could never make it up there. Then he would disappear for another year, out on the road touring with Wilco, by himself, or one of their many side projects.

I had the opportunity to finally meet him when Heypenny went to Bonnaroo. I had a friend working in the mobile studio and he told me I could come and sit in on the session. Unfortunately, there was lots of press and the writer from Mix Magazine definitely earns a spot over a lowly fanboy, so I was forced outside. Luckily enough though, Glenn was out there and we finally had a chance to meet. He actually remembered me, which was crazy. He introduced me to his wife and daughter and we talked a little bit about what's been going on with Heypenny. I love how he thinks outside of the box in his approach to the drums. I told him how I've added this crazy bike rim/ride cymbal kind of thing and a beer keg to my set up. People always look at me crazy when I say it, but they understand when they hear it. It's basically a Zildjian Swish Knocker upside down, with a bike rim and a UFIP splash cymbal on top of that, mounted to a boom stand. But yeah, he was one of the kindest people, so down to earth and it really meant a lot that he would take the time to chat. I think I'm still glowing a bit from that encounter.

Favorite band?

Awww man, that's so tough! I'd say right now, I'm really, really enjoying Dirty Projectors. But I listen to so much music. I'm like a musical cookie monster, devouring something and jumping onto something else within minutes. I love Phoenix's record and Bon Iver. He actually just released a side project called "Volcano Choir" and the song "Islands, IS" is amazing.

Do you have a consistent practice time outside of rehearsals?

I haven't practiced on my own in years. There was about a year and a half back when I lived in Evansville, IN where I didn't even play drums. It was really one of the darkest periods of my life, artistically speaking. Talk about depression! As for now, I just don't have the space or time, really. I get a couple of hours a week with Heypenny and between that and shows, it's usually good enough. Suffice to say, if I weren't so lazy when it comes to hauling my gear around/setting up/breaking down, or I could afford a 2nd kit, you'd better believe I'd be playing all the time.

Do you have any other projects that you're involved with at this time?

I just finished recording an album with Brad Jones and Robin Eaton over at Alex the Great. It's for a girl named Sage. It was a lot of fun having the chance to work with those guys. I've been a fan of Brad's work for years now with all the Josh Rouse records and Robin's work with the Spinto Band! I can't rattle off enough superlatives for those guys. Not once was I intimidated, or felt overwhelmed. They knew exactly what they wanted, what I could accomplish and how to tell me in so many words. It was really pleasant and I hope I get another opportunity to work with them again.

Other than that, I still play with the band I moved here with, Duraluxe, though we don't really get to play out all that often.

Do you have any endorsements?

I recently was picked up a C & C Custom Drums endorsement, but even with the discount, I can't afford it. As soon as I sell some plasma or a kidney, I'll snatch it up. Granted, I went kind of crazy. I want a 14 x 26 kick, 16 x 18 kick, 8 x 12 rack and 16 x 16 floor, all in Keller Vintage Mahogany shells with wood hoops on all the drums. They're going to do a three fat stripes in white, silver and champagne sparkles.

Do you have a day job? What do you feel the advantages/disadvantages are in keeping a full time job while pursuing a career in music?

Yeah, I work at a modern furniture store on Belmont called Nouveau Classics. I basically assemble and deliver furniture to the stars/movers-and-shakers in town. The disadvantage is that you've gotta work to make money and more often than not, you're not making any money on the road. Plus, it's a job, so people depend on you being there.

Are you signed?

We're currently unsigned.

What do ya'll travel in?

We actually tour in DJ's Subaru Outback! We were using a van, but it caught on fire in the interstate in Indiana. That was pretty insane. So, yeah, we squeeze everything and the 4 of us into his little wagon. More often than not, we just borrow drums from whomever we're playing with. It was funny -- the last time we played with our friends in Stephanie's ID, they made a joke about how we're the only band they know who never has drums at their shows, but we always make sure to show up with our TV's. I haven't run into any problems yet, but worst case scenario is that I have to use a suitcase for a kick drum, but hey, that sounds fun to me!

Best part about being on tour?

The camaraderie. Traveling to new places and winning over new fans. It's the best, really.

Worst part about being on tour?

The car starts to smell bad after a while. Having to deal with asking off work and losing money. Worrying about pets. All that jazz.

What are ya'll doing to think outside of the box when it comes to attracting new fans?

Heypenny is crazy when it comes to thinking outside of the box. We're constantly brainstorming on ideas to either make a show super special, or earn the appreciation of new fans. We released our EP in the form of a coloring book, we had a huge release show where we brought in a ton of amazing local artists to paint giant 8 foot versions of the pages from the coloring book while all of our favorite bands played. We're gearing up for a coloring contest where we'll have people send in their best pictures from the coloring book, we'll post them and the winner will receive a pair of custom illustrated Toms--Heypenny style. We've also been really into making videos now. We just got a great response from our NBN Tutorial video

Heypenny: NBN Training Video from Heypenny on Vimeo.

which was teaching vocal parts to audience members for our upcoming set. We, of course, have something special planned. Here's a good example of what we do and how much work goes into our shows:

Heypenny: CopCar Release Show from Heypenny on Vimeo.

What sets your live show apart from others?

Man, you'll just have to watch the videos! We pour everything into our live shows. Costumes, TV's playing abstract videos that sync up to the changes in the songs, we've had a marching band drumline play with us. You name it, we'll probably do it at some point.

What's the biggest challenge you face as a band?

Time management. Coordinating schedules and figuring out time to do all the fun projects we want to do. That seems to be the most difficult thing, but we always make it work.

With the major labels struggling, do you feel it's more important for a band to focus on getting signed or focus on getting a significant buzz within a given group of people?

I think you just need to go out and play, do your thing and if you do it right, people will notice. Whether or not you are in the position, or even need a major label, things tend to fall into place. Furthermore, the days of just getting signed on a whim are long over. Labels can't afford to do developmental deals. They want all that ground work done ahead of time, so they don't have to pour as much money into you and can tap into what you already have.

Future plans?

Well, we just released our EP. We're getting ready to go back into the studio to re-track a few drum parts and then we're hoping to release our full length next year. We've got two videos that we're going to be working on. One for the single, "Ticket" and then another which will end up being more of a short film for the second single, "Star for All the Kidz."

How much does chance play a part in the success of your band and how much of the success comes from sheer blood, sweat, and tears?

That's a tough question, because we definitely put in tons of the latter, but chance definitely plays into it as well. It's such a small circle, really and it often comes down to who you know. I think it's a bit of both.

If you had a fifteen year old sitting in front of you and could tell him/her anything about the music business, being in a band, or drumming, what would it be?

Keep doing it. If you want it bad enough, you'll figure out a way to make it happen. You're going to work awful jobs, you'll watch your friends from high school and college become successful and make lots of money and chances are you'll be working a restaurant job, but you also get to go out and play music and hopefully win the hearts, ears and minds of others. Oh... and learn to play to a click!

Quote that you live by?

"The pause is as important as the note."


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