Phosphorous Heads

Lit by Atma Anur

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GROOVE PORTAL INTERVIEW WITH ATMA ANUR

Atma Anur At WorkHi Atma, welcome to Groove Portal. First of all, tell us how did you start playing drums?

I am told that as a baby, once I could walk, I stood in front of the TV and danced wildly to the Beatles, and pointed to Ringo as he played. I have two older siblings that played music in the house all the time, mostly Blue Beat (now called Reggae) and Soul. My dad bought me a red toy snare drum when I was about 2 and I walked around the house playing that quite a lot. We had a “Show and Tell” day at my grammar school in NYC when I was about 10 or so and one kid brought in a real marching snare drum. I played that thing for just about the whole day, and when I got home I announced to my mom that “I can play the drums”. I asked for a drum set for the next whole year… finally got one as a birthday gift (a paper drum kit!). Once I figured out that it was not a “real” kit I went back to the asking phase… lol, a few months later we went to a local music shop and got a Stewart 3-piece drum kit (20″ kick, 14″ snare, 12″ tom with 1 cymbal attached to the kick drum)… it was glorious. I started playing in a band with some school friends and also at my church in NYC. My first teacher was the well-known author William V. Kessler… I think that was good luck.

Billy CobhamWho are the drummers that most inspire your style now, and who were the first?

I get inspiration from many musicians, not only drummers. I love Sax, Guitar and Violin especially. But Piano players and Percussionists also inspire my playing. Honestly, I am more interested in music than I am in drumming in particular. As I said, the first drummer that I noticed was Ringo Starr, after him there have been a great many drummers that I credit with helping to shape my playing over the years. Some of the first real influences were Ian Paice, Bill Bruford, Phil Collins, Bill Ward. Also the drummers for James Brown, the drummers for Bob Marley… Carl Palmer from ELP as well. As I got older I started listening to an even wider variety of styles and got into The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Yes and Tony Williams’ Life Time. Soon after came my interest in Jazz, I got into players like Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Jack DeJonette and Buddy Rich. Narada Michael Walden, Billy Cobham, Terry Bozzio, Steve Smith and Vinnie Colaiuta are still big influences up to today.

Atma Anur, photo credits: Michal Kubicki, June 28th, 2013What are your current projects?

Things are constantly changing for me as far as projects go. Personally I have gone back to my foundational roots and am playing the rudiments slowly with a metronome and working on placing them on the full kit. I periodically re-work my technique, that is an important thing to do I think. I began playing matched grip and quickly moved to traditional grip. I played traditional for about 7 years then moved back to matched while I was studying at Berklee. There are 5 new CDs that were recorded over the past few years that are scheduled to come out this year. Wojciech Hoffmann’s Behind the Windows (Poland), Roy Marchbank’s The Grand Design (U.K.), Timo Somers’ Tri-Head (Netherlands), and two other projects still being mixed. I am currently tracking three other CDs right now for some European artists including Neo-Classical guitarist Jani J. Szentkiralyi (Hungary) and Folk artist If Wen (U.K.). I am constantly recording with all kinds of musicians doing all kinds of music. I am touring and teaching as well.

Uk poster for Nov 16 2012Tell us something about your experience with Jason Becker and Cacophony.

I met Jason Becker through my relationship with Mike Varney and Shrapnel Records. Mike actually hooked me up with Marty Friedman first and we spoke about putting this new project together. Then we met with Jason and a bass player and began working through some music. I knew Peter Marrino from our time together in his band Le Mans, we have worked on quite a few projects together over the years. Playing with Marty and Jason was a great pleasure, they are both easy to work with and very creative, excellent musicians. Mike Varney has a talent for finding the best. I found Jason to be one of the most naturally gifted guitar players I’ve met through Mike, he just incorporated any new idea into his playing with ease and excitement. Both he and Marty share my love of odd meters and odd subdivisions… so it worked out well. Tracking those two CDs was the usual Varney experience of those days… everything had to be done very quickly and done perfectly… right now! So that was how that went. The version of Cacophony that I was in did a few live shows in California and also at the 1988/89? NAMM show… great fun.

Atma's setup for the Jason Becker Fest 2011What kind of warm-up do you do before a show?

That really depends on what kind of show I am playing. Physically speaking I like doing push-ups, stretching and playing doubles and paradiddles on a pillow. Depending on how familiar I am with the material, I will listen to the rehearsal tapes while warming up… possibly to the “original” recordings and look over my charts as well just before doing the show. Getting into the right frame of mind is important for me as well. I want to feel relaxed and in control of my mind and body as much as possible. Checking the vibe of the room/venue helps, and being by myself in silence just before I go on stage also helps with that.

Drum setHow do you choose the placement of your drumkit?

You mean my set up? or where I am on the stage? As for my set up, I like things to be close to me. I don’t want to really reach for any part of my kit. I like my cymbals high and I like to sit low. These two things are for leverage. Although my cymbals may look “very high”, they are only high enough for me to extend my arm to where my elbow is just below my shoulder, my elbow is never straight. My thighs are parallel to the floor and I play a slight heel-up foot technique most of the time… not always though.

Atma AnurPlease recommend 5 albums that you consider essential for a drummer.

  • Inner Mounting Flame – The Mahavishnu Orchestra

  • A Love Supreme – John Coltrane

  • Sex Machine – James Brown

  • Are You Experienced – Jimi Hendrix

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles

Honestly it’s kind of impossible to talk about only 5 albums. I guess these are a good sampling of good musical drumming in a few styles, but in 5 albums I am leaving out a lot of music… really! A drummer should listen to as wide a variety of music as possible… all the time. One should also try playing things that one does not like, is not to one’s taste, as much as possible. This shows our weaknesses very quickly and gives one things to work on without having a teacher. Of course you should play what you like… and also what you are able to play. But don’t do this as much in terms of practice. I would say figuring out what kind of drummer you want to be will also help, if you want a professional career. Spend time reading music, practice with a metronome and also just improvise and have fun.  

Atma AnurWhat are the aspects of your drumming that you consider the most powerful?

This seems like an impossible question for me to answer… maybe ask the people that I work with what they think. I hope that I show dedication, enthusiasm, discipline and creativity. All of these, along with ability and humility. That would be my goal. I study all kinds of music and practice “styles” as much as possible. I come up with parts to the music that is in front of me and then play things based on what came to me first… It’s important to be consistent in your parts but also be able to spontaneously improvise within the context of the foundational ideas for the song you are playing. At my core I am an improviser, but I understand the need for recurrence in popular music.

Atma AnurWhich are the qualities that a good drummer must have, in your opinion?

A good drummer cares about what he is playing. The basic job of any drummer in any style is time keeping… but creativity and ability (as they pertain to the song) are also quite important. If one cares about being “good”, one will take the things one does seriously. More than that would be me saying too much about what someone else should or should not do. For example, I like to practice a lot, I like to improvise a lot, I transcribe other musicians and learn other drummer’s “stuff” as well. I think the 26 rudiments are very cool and useful and I play poly-rhythms, in many forms, as much as I can. These are my personal things… other musicians have their “things”… that’s good, and keeps the world as interesting as it is.

Atma Anur teaching a comboDo you teach?

Yes. I actually started teaching friends by around 15 years old and have continued in many forms since then. I teach privately, in schools around the world and on line through Skype. My focus as a music teacher is to point people in a direction that seems to fit what they want to do with their drumming and try to give them the tools to improve what they play… and want to play.

Do you give drum clinics?

Yes. My first clinic was in San Francisco in the early 80’s and I have continued ever since. I like sharing what I am working on. That’s why I post videos of me working on stuff. I figure that the final product will be on a CD or in a live show. I have been a clinician for DW, PDP, Pearl, P.I.T, Razor-Back and Sabian… also for schools and music shops.

Atma Anur, Barend Curbois and Timo SomerWhat format do you follow in your drum clinics?

I am really into explaining how I come up with my drum parts. I also talk about odd-meter grooves and how to understand them. I speak about how to write charts, read them and understand music notation using examples from my book. The book is a theoretical look at an approach to rhythm and poly-rhythm based on Mathematical probabilities. I have a lot to say about music on a conceptual level and may actually do more talking than other clinicians. Clinics are an opportunity for the listeners to learn something that they may not get from only listening to someone play music. This is the spotlight on the “how” and “why” of the clinician’s creative process. I play along with tracks from various CDs that I played on and may be working on at the time, and use those as a way to introduce my thoughts on drumming and music in general. I also talk about the gear that I use and my reasons for choosing them.

Atma AnurWhat are the questions that you receive most often from the crowd?

I get all kinds of questions really. Questions about speed (playing fast) could be one of the most frequent. I talk about practice, the metronome and relaxation. As I mentioned, I do refine my hand technique regularly, so I talk about that as well. I will show how my technique applies to playing music. I am also asked about groove and feeling quite a bit. I have quite a lot to say about those two topics.

Atma Anur What are your future plans?

I am thinking about a teaching residency some place right now. I plan to continue recording and improving my skills as a musician and an engineer. I am looking forward to playing some live shows this year in support of a few of these new CDs coming this Spring and Summer. I am continuing my endeavour to master my instrument… that means spending time listening, reading, practicing and playing. I change how and what I do physically in order to keep me sharp and creative. I am always open to new situations as a drummer or teacher. I invite the readers to stay tuned to my web site www.atmaanur.com, and also contact me about studying on Skype.

ATMA ANUR recording session for Tri-Head February, 2012Can you give some advice to anyone studying music, and those who might want to become professional drummers?

I always say that one will know inside if they should do music professionally or just enjoy it as a hobby. I would not advise anyone to choose a life as a professional musician. If you feel that you MUST play music at all costs… then there you have it. Once one would choose this professional level of playing, my advice would be to learn and practice as a way of life. To establish a relationship with your spiritual side, and develop a humble and focused personality. The main thing is to follow your dreams and do not give up. But that’s just me.

Atma Anur - photo credits Izabela DoniecOver the past few years YouTube has become a great way for drummers to promote themselves; with cover videos, drum cam videos and tutorials. What you think about this?

Information is good in general. YouTube can be a way of getting information about topics of interest. In my day, let’s say… we drummers just listened to records with great musicians playing, and tried to copy what we heard. Music is sound… not so much sight. These days people seem to want to “see” music, and have less time for listening… quite strange. The visual aspect of advanced playing is a smaller part than the auditory aspect, but maybe the way we learn is changing. The traditional way to learn is to play what you hear… not what you see. The wonderful thing about not seeing what you hear is that it gives one the opportunity to discover one’s own way to get the sounds… The one aspect about YouTube that is not helpful is that anyone can post anything… so in terms of music, there is a lot of nonsense on there… with quite a lot of views I might add. Numbers of views confuse the issue of quality and relevance. In the past, more or less only the talented and meaningful players got the chance to record music and share it with the public in general. These days, due to the web and home recording/video production… everyone can (and does) make music/videos etc… I believe that art in general is for everyone, but that does not mean that all art is “good” or “meaningful”. Our culture seems to have a huge desire for fame so something like YouTube is perfect for these times. Too much information is just about the same as none at all, however.

Atma AnurDo you think YouTube could be a good way to receive information or not?

Yes. Real improvement comes from playing music with people that are better and more experienced than you are. Having a good personal private teacher is also very important. Videos can help, but you need to watch the right ones and know how to implement what you see and hear…. that can be difficult to figure out.

Thanks for this amazing interview Atma, we hope to see you soon in Italy!

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ATMA ANUR INTERVIEW FOR THE ROMANIAN DRUMMERS’ PROJECT “TOOFTAFF”[23.06.2013]

ToofTaff Romanian Drummers:

Can you tell us a little about your history, how did you start playing drums?

I first saw Ringo Starr on television when I was about 2 years old. My mother would tell me this story all the time. I would run to the TV screen pointing at him and bouncing up and down… going a bit wild. My dad bought me a little red plastic marching drum for around my neck along with a mini 45 of „the little drummer boy”… history in the making I guess.

I went to a music and arts high school in NYC, then went on to Manhattan School of Music and then Berklee Collge of Music for my later studies.

After college I moved to San Francisco where I began my actual professional career (I would be in as many as 7 bands at one time in those earlier days). I did do quite a bit of playing and recording during my time in NYC and Miami, Florida (1976 to 1980), but I consider the San Francisco days the true beginning.

My first recording in San Francisco was with Bill Summers (of Herbie Hancok’s Head Hunters fame). After that I went on to record many albums begining about 1984, a lot of the well known ones were for Mike Varney’s Shrapnel Records (Cacophony, Jason Becker, Greg Howe, Richie Kotzen, Tony MacAlpine, etc…)… but there were many other lables as well.

TRD: At what age did you get your first kit?

I begged my parents for a drum set at about age 10,

Holly Beckles Group (press photo - 1978)) — with Joel Newman, David Michael Weiss and Atma Anur

 I got a set from a local shop known as Woolworth’s back in those days. It was a paper drum kit… but I did not realize that it was not a real set at the time. About a week later I did come to understand what I was banging away on… So I went back to asking for almost a year more. I finally did get my first 3 piece Stewart kit… Kick, Snare, Rack Tom. It also had 1 cymbal… I was very excited!

TRD: Have you had any hard times with working with people, or situations that made drumming difficult?

The Jason Becker Fest Grand Finale - Nov 2011 Working with people is the same in every profession, compassion, understanding and patience are always needed in order to come together for the greatest good in any situation.

Making music is a creative endeavour, so one’s openness and willingness to give one’s self over to the music in the moment, will determine the final out come. Playing an instrument is difficult if one is not prepared. Having knowledge of the role that your instrument plays in various musical styles, while having the personal chops on one’s instrument, is of ultimate importance.

 TRD: What is your favourite groove or rudiment?

Well, I guess I can say that the Paradiddle is the

Atma Anur in Journey - 1986

most important and all round drum rudiment for me, I’m not sure that I have a favourite one though. The Paradiddle incorporates some of the most widely used hand motions for a drummer, and gives rise to many grooves and fills. It is quite a complex set of motions really, and can be used in just about every possible style to create time feels and interesting poly-rhythmic ideas.

An example would be to take the basic paraddile sticking RLRR LRLL (which is inherently a siteenth noe or an eighth note sticking) and play that pattern as triplets, quintuplets, sexteuplets and the like. Tap your foot marking the down beat of the subdivision you are playing, while playing the paraddidle pattern with your hands… just one simple idea amongst many.

TRD: Tell us about  what is your favourite song you play on drums, band you enjoy listening and drummer you like?

Atma Anur That could be a very long answer. I began playing along with record albums on the early 70’s (this was in fact my first teacher). I would play with The Beatles, Deep Purple, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Gong and so many more. This continued till about 1989 (but I added actual teachers to my learning experience).

I’m not sure about a favourite, or at least I can’t remember. But those days playing along were great and very important to my development as a musician. Nowadays I do play along with things that I have to learn, but now it is to learn parts for gigs or recordings. I also play along with things that I have recorded in the past… sort of a refresher as to what I may have been thinking at some point in time.

I like listening to any great musician and take inspiration from many people, not only drummers. I get inspired by guitarists, violinists and sax players… a lot!

My favourite drummers would be Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Terry Bozzio, Steve Gadd, Billy Cobham, Vinnie Colaiuta, Bill Bruford… and quite a few more. Let’s say people with very strong grooves, great chops and lots of personal style.

 TRD: What is your biggest dream ?

Atma Anur, Peter Marrino, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman

Atma Anur, Peter Marrino, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman

In terms of music my dreams have always been the same, and I have been realising these dreams for almost 30 years now. They are to be constantly involved in the process of creativity and making music. To be related to as many other musicians from every style and age group as is possible. And to be who God made me to be with all my focus and energy.  Being a musician, this is an on going way of life.

TDR: Tell us more about your gear. Do you have a particular part fo your kit that  you like the most? Due to a  particular sound or feel?

I have just very recently become a Pearl Drums Atma's Pearl Setupendorser.  I was with Pearl back in 1986 when I was in the rock band Journey. I then went with DW in 1991 and stayed with with them till 2012.

I was with Axis Pedals also from about 1989 to 2002 or so… then I rediscovered the DW 5002 pedal (later I moved on to the 9000 pedal). I think pedals and snare drums are my favourite parts of a drum kit (although I love drums in general). Right now I am having a great time with the new Pearl Demon Drive pedal… wow, what an incredible piece of technology!

I would say that this pedal incorporates the best of the DW 9000 and the Axis Long Board pedals. Atma Anur

My current set up is the Pearl Refference Series kit with 2 22×18 kick drums, 6 toms (4 racks and 2 floors) one of the rack toms is on the left side, just next to my snare drum. I play 13” snares. I have a beautiful 13×5 ½ TamoMaple (exotic wood) snare from the Pearl Masterworks Series, and 13×3 Brass piccolo snare mounted abouve the left side floor tom. There is a 20” Gong Bass Drum mounted over the right side floor toms as well.

I am currently with Sabian (have been for over 20 years now) and use a great many cymbals.

 TRD: Have you had any funny or scary moments on stage?

Not that I can think of. The scariest thing might be being unprepared… but then that’s where faith and the true love of making music comes the most into play. If you are there for the sake of the music… all is well, just let it flow.

TRD: What message would you like to send to our Tooftaff drummers?

I guess I can say that I have found music to be the

Atma Anur

most rewarding part of my life. I have seen how God’s hand has moved to guide me into many seemingly unusual situations through music and the talents he has blessed me with. I can say that trusting God and what one has been given, in general, is the way to live a full life… mostly free from fear and uncertainty.

As a drummer I feel that an open mind, the ability to focus and a respect for tradition will take you far. Confidence is also one of your greatest strengths… and that comes from the knowledge that God gave you whatever you may have and has placed you exactly where you are for a good purpose.

The dreams that one has are also for a reason and need to be respected… this will for sure take sacrifice… but well worth it all.

I will add that I am also offering on line drum lessons via Skype at my web site  www.atmaanur.com

There is also much more information about me and my musical history there… including many videos and songs from over the 30 plus years I have been a professional musician.