“Don't die with the music still in you.”
Our guest today is one of the world’s most influential musicians, Kenny Aronoff.
Kenny has played on more than 60 Grammy-nominated or awarded recordings, totalling sales of more than 300 million units. In addition, more than 1,300 of the tracks Kenny has contributed to have been certified as Gold, Platinum, or Diamond by the RIAA.
He’s been named one of the greatest drummers of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, and the list of artists he’s worked with on the road or in the studio is a who’s who of the music scene, including:
John Mellencamp, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Sting, The Smashing Pumpkins, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Bob Seger, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Dave Grohl, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Beyonce, Santana, Celine Dion, Lenny Kravitz, and many others.
Kenny’s winning approach to drumming and to life has given him the ability to stay successful for four decades in one of the most difficult industries in the world. If that resume wasn’t enough, he’s also author of the book Sex, Drums, Rock 'n' Roll and an inspirational speaker.
In this episode, we’ll go through:
- How Kenny made it to the top of the music biz
- The craziest moments from his life on the road
- The secrets of music composition, and
- The mindset it takes to stay at the highest level.
Before we begin, the right bit of inspiration can completely change the trajectory of someone’s life, so if there’s a friend or loved one who needs to hear this episode or could use some help to Win the Day, share it with them right now.
Let’s WIN THE DAY with Kenny Aronoff!
Kenny, great to see you, my friend!
Great intro, dude. I mean, goodnight, everybody. You spelled it out!
That’s what we do!
You’ve got an incredible resume. To kick it off, what is it about music more broadly that just captures the emotion and can instantly transport people back to a certain memory, moment, or feeling from their lives?
Well, everybody has a soundtrack to their life. The songs you heard when you were a kid, the songs you heard when you were in school and all that stuff. So, that's one thing for sure.
But people are feeling creatures. I mean, that's not an argument that people are feeling creatures. And that's one part I look at. That's one of our most important experiences in this lifetime we have is to experience all kinds of experiences – but from a feeling place.
There's plenty of things that get in the way of that, but you can't deny when everybody goes into that thing where they're struggling because the feeling is telling them what they should do or what we should do or what we want to do and the brain is getting in the way. And so, we're feeling creatures. So, music is one of those things that definitely accentuates that and brings that out.
It's one of those things even if you are in a dark place, you then seek out some of that dark music – like you might put on Johnny Cash ‘Hurt’ or some of those things that make you feel like you’re dancing with the devil.
Just as when you're in a good place, you want to have something to heighten the enjoyment of that.
Well, what you just said is very, very smart.
And if you do recognize what you just said, then you can be almost like the person helping you, where you say, "You know what? Maybe we shouldn't listen to that dark music while I’m in this headspace. And maybe we should listen to Beethoven or whatever," but something that is joyful.
It's up to you to make that decision because I mean, yeah, if you want to feel pain, there's music that can make you feel pain. Like, Trent Reznor can bring you right down the rabbit hole if you want to go there.
There's a lot of research-backed work that says if you're overcoming trauma or want to get over some type of negative event that you've been through, replaying that event with positive music can actually make a big difference as well. So, the power of music I feel like they're just scratching the surface.
And speaking of music out of all the songs that you've played on, was there one that you still hear today where whenever it comes on, you just like, "God, it was just cool that I was part of that experience?"
‘Jack & Diane’. Biggest number one.
It's similar for John Mellencamp. I mean, in my book I described how I had to come up with that part on the spot and I was in fear of losing my job. I basically saved the song and it saved my career.
That song wasn't even going to be on the record. And then, I came up with the drum program, this epic drum solo. I didn't even know. Once we came up with it, I was just glad it made it on the record!
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Kenny Aronoff does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more. ????
Then back in those days, they would test. They would play all the songs on a record on radio, and people would say, "Oh, I like this, I like that." ‘Jack & Diane’ tested very high. And they released it as a second single, it went to number one. And I mean, it's still being played on the radio 40 years later and also like on Pandora, Spotify, and iTunes.
It's one of the two probably biggest drum solos on pop radio. The other one is Phil Collins' ‘In the Air Tonight.’ And so, when I hear that, I'm grateful.
Such iconic and timeless tracks.
How complex are the drums compared to other instruments and roles in the band?
A good analogy would be the drummer is like the engine in a car. No engine, no car. I don't care how pretty everything else is around it. No engine, no car.
And depending on what kind of engine you have in a car. Buddy Rich, of course, he's a drummer, but he said, "You show me a great band, and I'll show you a great drummer. You show me a bad drummer, and I'll show you a crap band."
It's true. And the drummer defines time and feel or groove and everybody has to follow the drummer. I listen as a drummer. I listen and learn and I lead, but I'm not the boss.
Your big focus was on drums, not drugs. Obviously, you enjoyed your time in the rock 'n roll lifestyle.
How common was it to see people never reach the heights they could have because they couldn't escape the clutches of the vices like drugs, sex, gambling or alcohol?
Well, I mean we have the iconic age 27, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain … all died at 27.
I think, when you're young and these people, in some cases, probably thought they were young and invincible.
Recently, I lost a good friend, and I've seen this where people take something to work, take something to sleep, and then there's that fine line where – especially with drugs now – when you get things like fentanyl that can slow your heart down to nothing.
And you just don't think it's going to happen to you.
As a freshman in college, I saw somebody shooting heroin. They asked me to tie them off. I passed out. They got high, I passed out, and this guy who's high is waking me up. It terrified me. I never went into that direction.
As a freshman in college, I saw somebody shooting heroin. They asked me to tie them off. I passed out. They got high, I passed out.
The thing that I think ultimately has kept me in check and I don't have the addictive DNA, like I'm not literally an alcoholic. If I drink, I can drink and then I stop. It's not like I wake up, start drinking. Or addicted to anything like a heroin or something.
The thing that has kept me in check is that my career is always number one over everything. It's always been – over relationships, over everything. It's just the way I'm wired. There's no brakes on this rocket ship. It just goes until the gas runs out.
And I had plenty of hangovers. So, hungover and playing in front of 20,000 people is not fun. So, that mean that you're like, "I quit that thing." I literally would stop drinking for a week or two.
You would be letting a lot of people down, especially if there’s 20,000 in the crowd!
We were selling out arenas. Just us, no opening act. We were one of the biggest things in America.
We're in Philly, and I went out and I'm drinking sake and beer and everything's fine until I got to my room and I'm spinning and I'm puking. And the next day, we had to drive to Hershey, Pennsylvania and play in a big arena.
Of course, that and Rolling Stone magazine is with us and they're doing a cover story on John [Mellencamp]. And the drums I had it gives me the tempos, thank God for that. And we're playing a sold out show with a hangover. Horrible.
Who's putting on these infamous parties that I hear so much about?
Well, I'm going to give you one example.
In the Mellencamp, we had a hospitality room. And we weren't Motley Crew. We weren't like Van Halen. But we did have a hospitality room, and this would be like an example, it'd be like 20,000 people singing our songs.
I remember one time, it was on the Scarecrow Tour. Humongous stage. Security leans in and says, "What's wrong, boss? What's wrong?" I said, "Oh, man, you see the girl on the third row with the striped shirt? Give her an aftershow pass." He goes, "You got it."
Everybody's up dancing. They're singing, and he gets behind her, going, "Is this the one?" I went, "Yeah, that's the one," and I'm playing, ‘Ain't that America’ and she says yes to the aftershow pass.
We were all very polite. No put down for anybody, but we weren't like some other bands.
And then, if we spent the night, we would say, "Come back to a hotel. Meet us in the bar." And then, whatever happens, happens. But that, we put that on.
Actually, that's how I met my second wife. She got pulled up on stage at Madison Square Garden. John Mellencamp would bring somebody up on stage to dance in the encore under the boardwalk, and they basically go, "Yay” or “Nay.” It was a yay for her!
And it was funny because I didn't even meet her that night. She came back another show because she got offstage and the photographer said, "Hey, I got pictures." He was trying to hit on her. "I got pictures of you on stage with Mellencamp."
And so, she reached out to him and they didn't come out but he says, "Well, I'm going to the next concert in Jersey," this was a New York night, "they're going to Jersey."
You probably can find out from the tour manager who the other photographers were and get, "Blah, blah, blah." It was a whole line, so he could probably... anyway, soon as she walked there, she was dressed like amazing, really hot.
Our crew had passes. Before the concert, they put backstage passes on hot girls. And I go back to the dressing room and I'm, "Oh, my god, that's the girl from Madison Square Garden." And that's how we became friends. It was a slow build to eventually getting married.
One of my favorite themes from your book is how you’ve never made it because you’re always trying to make it – and you alluded to that a little bit earlier today.
Can you explain a little bit about that mentality of, "You never make it, you're always trying to make it," and how that was such a big part of your success?
This is my line:
I'll never be as great as I want to be, but I'm willing to spend my entire life trying to be as great as I can be. I'll never be as good as I want to be. I accept that because my goals are way out there, but I'm willing to spend the rest of my life trying to be as good as I can be.
And that's like a running back in football. These kinds of monsters, the most massive, incredible athletes, but they don't score touchdowns every time they get the ball. They spend their entire career – play by play, game by game, season by season – trying to get in the end zone.
They're trying... sometimes they get 10 yards. Sometimes they get two. Sometimes they get minus. Sometimes they fumble. Sometimes they break their leg. They're always focused on the end zone, and that I call the human condition. You accept that life is about adapt or die. You can be as prepared as you want.
I'll never be as great as I want to be, but I'm willing to spend my entire life trying to be as great as I can be.
If you're talking about football, think about Tom Brady, seven Super Bowl rings. This guy is mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually so prepared before he even steps on the field.
But when he gets on that line and that ball is hiked, I call it adapt or die. You don't know what the hell's coming at you. They're trying to fool you on the other side of that line. They're designed to fool you. Sometimes he might get sacked, sometimes he might throw an interception. Sometimes he might fumble. That's his worst nightmare.
But Brady is exactly what I'm talking about. You can see him angry, but you see him immediately readjust and go, "What's my North Star here? Score a touchdown, getting the end zone. So, what did I just learn, and how can I be the best person I can be?" And it's just trying to be the best that you can be.
Once you accept that, then you're not boggled and weighed down and frozen in a place of like, "Oh my, God, I messed up." This is where you pivot from being a child to an adult where you actually realize, "Oh my, God."
Are we allowed to swear on this podcast!?
Shit’s going to happen, man. Shit’s going to happen.
Once you accept that and realize that, this is when you really learn something, it's when you feel it. It's not just in your head, it's in your heart too. When you feel the power and know your North Star, you can get out of that dark place very quickly. That’s when you focus on what you need to do to win.
And once you experience how powerful that is, then you move from being the child to the adult. It’s a very, very hard transition that people will have because if you don't make that transition, you're frozen in life. You're absolutely frozen in that place.
That's where that line came up from, “I'll never be as good as I wanted to be. I'm going to spend the rest of my life trying to be as good as I can be.”
Because I get it now. I really do get it.
In order to be great, like Tom Brady, it's about ‘we.’ Now it's not the individual. It's like, "Wow, the power of team." And I actually asked an NFL player this year and I said, "Is it really true? Is Tom Brady really that cool?" He went, "Oh, yeah. He walks on the field. He embraces everybody. He makes friends with everybody."
That's a winning attitude, and he's a team player.
I'm using him as an example because you hear people go, "Oh, man. You should give other people a chance." What kind of statement is that? "Give other people a chance." You're looking at a historical thing here. Did people get upset because Einstein created too many genius formulas? No, you want to get the greatest.
Did Michelangelo paint a little too many great things? That's a loser mentality. He should be as good as he should be, and you should be as good as you should be.
For people who disagree, I can't even relate to that. Just get out of my way. That's the most stupid, ignorant thing you could ever say. I want to see Tom Brady come back and win another Super Bowl. I'm studying this guy to see why he does what he does.
Tom Brady also texted his players every single day to remind them that they were going to win the Super Bowl.
Little things like that. Planting that seed is why leaders like Brady and Elon Musk are so successful at bringing the right people to them because they have that mission.
Let them be as great as they can be. Exactly. These guys are team players. It's not about me, it's about we. And ironically, I came up with that then on my own, but I saw it was on the LA Rams football team.
And I heard recently that Tom Brady, at a golf tournament in the summer, was out in the parking lot doing wind sprints. Somebody said, "What are you doing, man? You got to go in."
And Brady said, "I'm practicing for the Super Bowl."
He's going like, "Super Bowl? It's June!"
Brady – mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually – is always thinking of the Super Bowl, 24/7. As soon as the game's over, the season's over, he's already thinking. That's a winning attitude, and he's a team player.
Like you said, Elon Musk, these guys hire the best to be with them. And this is a very huge distinction. In order to be the drummer I became or I'm still trying to be, oh my, God, it was all about me practicing eight hours a day.
But in order to be really successful and stay successful, you pivot from, "It's not about me. How do I serve the artist that I'm working with, the band? How do I become the greatest drummer I can possibly be for that guy's music, that band? How do I serve the musicians, the producer, the engineer, the record label, serve you, serve me, serve everybody? What can I do?”
And the North star is this, to get the song on the radio, to be a number one hit single. It's not about me. It’s to get the song on the radio, to be number one. That might mean I don't play at all.
But it was a huge switch. In my book I talked about when I had that traumatic like, "You're fired," when I just gotten in the band. That was what I learned. That was the takeaway. I went, "Oh my, God. It's not about what beat I play, it's what can I do to get that guy's song on the record and get on the radio and then be a number one hit."
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Kenny Aronoff does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more. 🚀
Billy Corgan from The Smashing Pumpkins mentioned your reliability that you can only build up through years and years of doing the right thing, always being available, and being a team player to move the whole ship forward, in the best interests of everyone. That speaks a lot to your character.
How do you handle creative differences between band members, record labels, and other stakeholders?
Once again, you have to serve the room. I probably get hired as much from my ability to connect and communicate with people. Once you can connect and communicate with people on a personal level, from a feeling level, now you can collaborate.
And there's all kinds of wackadoodles in the music business. Everybody except me, I'm perfect. No, I'm joking!
But the point is, it's the ability to step back and look at it from almost like a producer standpoint and being able to deal with all those personalities. Few times if you see me take my headphones off and put them on the drums and I come walking into a studio, that means I'm going to lay some law down. Very nicely, but that means they've gone too far.
I can take a lot. But there's a certain point where I'm going to say, "Hey, man." Now at this point, I'm not going to be able to see anybody because you're crossing the line, and I'll say something.
And that puts your energy off?
Yeah. I mean, one example, I was doing a Tony Iommi record, the guitar player from Black Sabbath, with Billy Corgan. And Billy walks in. We had just finished a world tour with The Smashing Pumpkins, they were the biggest alternative band in the world, on the Adore album.
And I was replacing a good friend of mine who's one of the greatest drummers out there, Jimmy Chamberlin, one of the founding members of The Smashing Pumpkins. Anyway, I did a tour and we're doing two songs on the Tony Iommi album. And they stayed in the control room, and I was out in the big drum room to get big sounds.
And it was a song, I didn't even hear the vocals until the song, the album came out. We were composing the song on the spot, and Billy suddenly pushes down the TalkBack button. He's yelling at me, "No, the chorus, the chorus!"
And that's when, headphones off, I walked in the control room. And I gave $20 to the assistant engineer, and I said, "Hey, listen, when those guys talk, hold down that button so I know what they're talking about," and walked back in there.
And every time they discuss something, that guy holds the button so I knew. I mean, there was no lyrics. There was nothing, so I didn't know what was in Billy's head. That was my point. But don't yell at me if I don't know what we're talking about! That's what the message is.
You mentioned radio hits earlier. How difficult is it to predict and even manufacture a radio hit?
Totally unpredictable because there's so many variables. You may think there's a hit, but you don't know where people are at out there. Their tastes are changing, and you're at the mercy of the record label.
It takes money to get the record played on the radio. Takes money to promote. It takes money for a publicist. It takes money to put a band on tour. Think about it. Planes, buses, vehicles, semis, crews. There's so many variables. It's a team. It's an effort to get a song to even be heard.
And then, once it's heard and everybody's done everything they can possibly do, now it's up to what people want to hear.
But there are some obvious ones. I'll give you a number one hit single that I thought it wasn't even going to make to record: ‘I'll Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)’ by Meatloaf, from Bat Out of Hell II. The album has sold 40 million copies.
That song, we recorded in LA right here, it was eight and a half minutes long. Radio likes three and a half minute songs. So, I went, "It's crazy. It'll never make it on the record." I get a call a year later to do another two and a half minutes for this intro.
And apparently, I'm like, I was laughing my ass off, going like, "All right. You're paying me. This is never coming out."
The song gets released. They whittled it down for a radio single at seven and a half minutes. That's already twice as long. Song was number one in 20 countries in the same week! And the record, it reignited his career. He became all sudden this huge guy again. I couldn't believe it. I just told everybody, "If you want advice from me, do the opposite!"
Another song was a duet with Don Henley and Patty Smyth from Scandal. When we're doing this record, it was just when the grunge thing came up, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam. And it's this pretty ballad called ‘Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough.’
She sings, he sings. I mean, it's beautiful, but I'm like, "God, it's wasting time. Nobody's going to play this shit. Nobody wants this. They're listening to the Pumpkins' ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’ or ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ or whatever. Dark Stuff.
But the song was like number one on every chart. It was huge. Once again, I was completely wrong.
Like, Guns N' Roses' ‘November Rain.’ That was another long track that ended up having a commercial appeal. So hard to predict.
Yeah. You can never get it 100% right. Too many variables.
From all the amazing performers, is there a commonality you noticed in terms of work ethic or what is it that sets them apart?
Well, work ethic is a keyword. Guys like Bon Jovi, massive work. He's the type of guy you get offstage and he's rethinking. Mellencamp, thinking nonstop. Billy Corgan.
And I'm one of those guys. When I was on tour with The Smashing Pumpkins, Billy would change the set 30 minutes before the show. He wanted the tension. You wanted people to be crapping their pants. Like, the guitar techs were freaking.
I go and have a meeting with Billy, and I'd write everything down. And he loved this. I'd write it down, so he could count on me. But I go tell everybody in the band what's going on.
When I was on tour with The Smashing Pumpkins, Billy would change the set 30 minutes before the show.
I saw the reviews and people were going like, "Well, Aronoff doesn't play like Jimmy Chamberlin." Course not. And Billy told me, "Do your own thing, man. Just be 100%." He was smart. I can't be somebody else. Nobody can be anybody else. And Jimmy's really distinctive style. So, the way I play is with a lot of authority, and I just laid it down.
And this was the thing, they go, "Oh, man, he's not Jimmy Chamberlin.” But you know what? By the end of the show, “Man, this guy is great at what he does." And Jimmy even told me that he says, "Man, you are smart. You just played like you." He said, "You're the only guy who got that right." And he validated that.
Billy Corgan, that guy, photographic memory, he could pull out a song that we hadn't done for two weeks, and he knew, memorized what I had played from his instruction two weeks prior. If I miss one cymbal crash, he'd go, "What are you doing, Kenny!?" I couldn't believe it.
We were flying every night. Russia one day, Germany the next. There was one day we woke up, we were in Dublin partying with U2 where I was hungover that night. Those boys can drink! And then, we flew to the Netherlands, played the Pinkpop Festival, huge and everybody was there to see The Pumpkins.
And then, people were like, "Oh, my God," I was the drummer now, and checking it out. And we did the entire Adore record which people are like, they wanted to hear more of the hits, but this Adore record was so different.
After we got done with the show, got on the plane and flew to Paris, three countries in one day. And I'm writing that night. It was just me trying to be as great as I can be.
Who stands out to you in terms of just sheer musical genius?
Well, one of them is Billy Corgan, Elton John, and Johnny Cash. I'm not trying to jump around. Ray Charles. How about Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.
I played with Jerry Lee Lewis on his last performance before he had a stroke. And I mean, these guys are geniuses. They reinvented music. I mean, Jerry in the 50s with his cousin Jimmy Swaggart.
Another genius I'll go to, Leonard Bernstein, one of the greatest composers and conductors ever. I mean, it's insanity and he can read everybody's... he knows technically what every... the oboe should double read the clarinet for single beat, the flutes, the French horns, the stringed instruments, the percussion. I mean, he knows everything about every instrument, and he could seize the piano and basically play the outline of an entire orchestral composition.
What about Beethoven and Mozart, those original composers?
These guys can hear things. They could hear complete scores in their head, write it down on paper without playing it, then play it. Every note they wrote and heard was exact.
Beethoven, well, the biggest piece, the Ninth Symphony with the big choir. He was deaf. He wrote that in higher composition deaf. But when he hit, he could see his finger, he could hear in his head all the notes.
Talent alone, as we know in any industry, it's not enough. Like, I used to work at a live music venue and I would see these exceptionally talented musicians playing to 10 people. It used to break my heart knowing that they had to take on some other job just to pay the bills.
This is a bit of a hard question, but when should someone throw in the towel on their dreams if they feel like it's just not going to make it for them?
What would it have taken for you to throw in the towel with your drumming career and go and do something that's completely separate because you felt like you couldn't make it?
I have a phrase I call, "Never Say Die."
Well, first of all, you can only throw in the towel. And everyone's got their own breaking point. Maybe if I chopped both my arms off, I might say, "Yeah, probably start something else!"
There's not one answer to that. It's an individual thing.
For some people, there's nothing else in life to do. This is what keeps them alive. I mean, I'm a speaker so I get in front of people, and I feel just as great speaking in front of people as I do playing the drums. And the cool thing is I do both when I speak.
I have a very nice teamwork, innovation, creativity, realize your purpose in life, the three C's, connect, communicate, collaborate, that type of stuff. I talked about that stuff and hopefully inspire people. That feels great. It's not just... not only do I speak but then now I'm an author. But I did something that, man, it's almost impossible to do.
For some people, there's nothing else in life to do. This is what keeps them alive.
I was doing it, but it actually worked. And that is, usually you're a drummer in a band and that's it, and you're a drummer only playing that style of music. I broke the mold of, "Oh, he's young. He only plays rock. He doesn't play country."
The guys who played on the Highwayman record, that's Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, The Highwaymen. These men wanted me to tour with them. It was the heaviest mofos in the world! They make rockers look like a joke.
And they're super intelligent. The type of stuff they did, these were real men. They'd seen the world. So, if they like you, they ain't doing you no favors because they like you. Are you kidding me!?
The Smashing Pumpkins won’t pick a country guy. And it's like in an audition, a drummer is going to be a very specific type of drummer, not just any rock drummer, a certain type of rock drummer, an alternative. I broke mold after mold after mold after mold.
You mentioned adaptability earlier. That adaptability is such a big thing that led you to all of those different opportunities.
Well, the key thing is you have to want to be adaptable. And I’m wired like that … maybe that's why I'm on my third wife. If I get married again, I'm going to remarry her! I told her, "If I go a fourth marriage, it's going to be the same woman again." Or not at all.
I get excited to do different things. You really can be wired that way. And so, instead of fighting it I just go with it. But I almost didn't have a choice. I was on tour with Bob Seger which also sells out massive venues, and he's got this ridiculous catalog of music.
And I heard that The Smashing Pumpkins, something had happened with Jimmy and they needed a drummer, and I had sent a resume into them for that. Two years later I got the call and we scheduled the tour.
Then, when I got the call, John Fogerty was disappointed but I was explaining to him I was seeking to play with The Pumpkins before I'd ever even played with John live. That came before and I looked at it, I was like I was a big fan, The Pumpkins. Love the music. It was different, and I wanted to be... this will come from a place in my heart. I really wanted to play something different, but I love John Fogerty – Creedence, are you kidding me!?
I've been playing with John Fogerty for like 28 years. But I mean, I've done the crazy stuff like fly from Hong Kong with Mellencamp, and then I fly to Japan, to Detroit, getting in the helicopter, fly to the Palace which is an hour and a half drive. That's why I have a helicopter from the airport, and I'm on stage five minutes before the band for sound check, sold out three nights at the Palace with Bob Seger in his home city. But I'm like, "Yeah, I'll do that."
Hell of a life, Kenny!
I'll fly from Frankfurt to Amsterdam, to Minneapolis, get off the plane, go to sound check with Sammy Hagar for a corporate event. That was maybe three years ago. Why not? Sleep on the plane. Practicing the music every night after the show on the bus.
When it comes to skill acquisition, if you were teaching someone how to play the drums but the goal was for them to be able to pick it up as quickly as possible, is there a way that you would teach them?
Or is there a way that you would impart any skill onto someone else that isn't traditionally taught?
Well, first of all, you go real basic. Everything in drumming is, to me is based on four things – no matter how complex. If I hand you a pair of sticks and I want you to play with me, first thing you should be thinking about is, "What beat am I going to play?" Because whatever beat you play, I have to adapt to that.
First, you know what you hit to find it's time. It's like a measurement. Now, you keep solid tempos. You repeat that measurement, and you're doing your job which is keeping solid time.
The third thing is feel. You make it feel like something, and everybody is wired different. We're totally different emotionally, so you want to bring that out. You want that to flow.
Now, that's a cake. It's like a cake without the icing. That's most of what you're eating. And that foundation, now you can be creative, the fourth ingredient. You can be creative with the icing and decorate, but don't mess up that foundation.
When you’re keeping perfect time, make it feel good, placing everything right in the right place, listening to everybody, few creative things. You got that symbol, then creative things to that foundation. If you disrupt that foundation, you blow it. Now, that's all creative stuff as long as you don't miss a beat and groove.
So, what I would do with you I'd say, "I want you to sit down, and I want you to play this with you on a hi-hat. So, I'm going to count. One, two, three, four." You're playing twice as many beats as one, two, three. And so, on average it's going to be one and two and three, subdividing between one and two, and two and three, and three and four, and four and one.
Now, when I say one and three, you play with your bass drum, and every bass drum has to land when you hit one and three here, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one. They align together, one, two, three, four, one. So, we do that. That's basic stuff. People can still do that.
Now when you say two and four and when you hit your other hand which would be to snare them, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one, two.
My day may actually be doing better than I think. It's just my head, which is a sack of chemicals.
Now, here's where it gets tricky. Now when you hit one and you say one and three, I want you to hit the bass drum, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. And then, put music on. Now when a feel comes in, you could be robotic like... trying to be stiff... or as you go deep and when you're feeling... when I'm feeling, it means like... putting all this subdivision in the air. Whatever your feel is and that is basic drumming right there.
Did that seem basic? It seems like real logical on paper, but where the challenge is, is that where your coordination is in your body. What happens is some people, it's just not natural to do any one of those things, you're going against what you naturally like to do and so you can unlearn all that and learn to do this.
I have a thing called RPS. The ‘Repetition’ of any skill. It's the ‘Preparation’ for success. You want to throw a football great? 1,000 times a day. I bet you in one week, you'll be able to throw a football better than the first throw.
I still have a routine I do 30 minutes before sound check, 30 minutes before the show, and sometimes 30 minutes in the morning. Because there's just certain skills that's why Tom Brady was doing wind sprints. We're not robots.
On your best day what's an affirmation that you would write on a flashcard that you could show yourself on your worst day?
Oh, it's my statement, "I'll never be as good as I want to be, but I'm willing to spend the rest of my life being as great as I can be."
And with that statement, I understand that, dude, just focus on the end zone. I don't believe in the words. I don't use these words anymore. I'm going to say it right now. I don't believe in mistakes or failures. I believe they're just events.
When you're having a day that's not the day you want, hang in there, man. Just be tough. Just say, "You know what? I'm human. My day may actually be doing better than I think. It's just my head, which is a sack of chemicals."
You know how you wake up down on some days? Why? Forget it. Who cares? You're down. Point is that we're never in the same place all the time.
So, shit happens, man. If you're down, so just get on with it. Just get through the day, do things and I'll help you along to get past the day, wake up the next day. Now if you're still down that day, then you're going to have to start looking deeper and maybe what you're eating, exercise, all that stuff.
Final question, what's one thing you do to Win the Day?
I try to remember to say that in the morning and at night, "Kenny, have gratitude to who you are. Appreciate yourself." I mean, "Respect yourself, appreciate yourself, and have compassion, man, and have empathy for yourself when you are in that.”
Because once you're feeling that this way, you can project it out to other people. And it starts from here. You know that whole thing, love yourself so you can love others? It's true.
What an absolute pleasure, my friend. Thanks for coming on Win the Day show.
Were we on for 10 minutes? Time flew!
We’ll have to get you back for round two!
When I come back I'm going to interview you! Get ready, dude because I come from that rock 'n roll world. Anyway, thank you for having me.
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