Hello, Phosphorous Heads readers! I am re-posting below Atma Anur’s interview for MuseXezine, published on September 1st, 2011.
Daniel Roque: Atma, you play pop, rock, jazz, blues, metal, thrash, and play them all well. What fuels your versatility and creativity?
Atma Anur: Firstly, I must say that I simply love music and I love to play. So I don’t see any difference between any particular style, or genre of music. I always want to play well personally, and play something that is beautiful and appropriate for the song and the situation at hand.
Most of the music that I have played is based on the blues (most modern music that is not orchestral), so my approach begins with time/ groove/ feeling. I spent a lot of time listening to many kinds of music, many different drummers, and copying the things I heard and liked. Not so much anymore, but I used to pick a certain drummer and just study him for months at a time… only him! I would work on one song at a time as well, to try to get the various nuances together. I think that helped me a lot as a younger musician. As a professional sideman I find myself having to copy drummers in order to play the gig correctly… but I don’t like it so much anymore, to be honest.
D.R.: You attended City-As-School High School for Performing Arts. What was that like? By the way, did you know where you were headed while in high school?
A.A.: Life in NYC in the 70s was truly amazing – I can say that, of course, only in hindsight.
The City-As-School was a ‘school without walls’, where the students met each morning in the main building and then went out into the ‘real world’ work places of NYC for life experience classes… truly awesome. I did a lot of music then, and also studied dance and acting. I think I began discovering who I might be at about that time. The whole experience made me ask a lot of questions about life in general… and of course music. Let’s say that I only knew then, that I wanted to be in the arts as a life style for my future.
D.R.: You also attended the Manhattan School of Music and Boston’s Berklee College of Music. How do you think your education in music has helped you as a musician, engineer and as a producer?
A.A.: Well, an education helps anyone in any field they choose to be involved with. To actually be a musician, one must study, there is no way around that fact. I started playing when I was 11 and studying when I was 13, I am 50 now and still studying. Self knowledge and introspection combined with constant study and clarification of thought is the key to a productive life as any kind of artist. My experience as a sideman is what really led me to engineering and producing. It seems like a natural progression that anyone who spends a lot of time being recorded would want to understand that process, and even begin to create in those ways as well.
D.R.: While attending school did you do much jamming or studio work?
A.A.: I did very little recording during my school years. Before Berklee I recorded a demo at Columbia Records… in the CBS recording studio. What an experience, I guess I was 16. Then, while at Berklee, we recorded some demos for classes… not really very much recording though. Jamming was a super huge part of my life from age 11 up to about 2 years ago. Then jamming kind of disappeared. For about 30 years I said yes to just about every, and any musical situation that would come my way… really any! I just love to play music, and always welcome a chance to use my creativity. That attitude also greatly contributed to my having so many wonderful opportunities and experience.
D.R.: At age 19 you played with the Coasters (Yakity Yak, Poison Ivy, etc…) What was that like?
A.A.: That was amazing, really. My first big gig, playing with real seasoned professionals, and getting paid for it. We were in Miami Beach at some resort hotels, playing review shows twice an evening, 6 nights a week… So cool. Loads of chart reading, and a great development of true musicianship, how to play with dynamics, play behind a singer, vamp and be interesting, or, solo in time… on command… amazing stuff.
DR: A lot of people do not know or understand the hard work that goes into being a good musician. When I listen to your records it is clear to me that I am hearing the product of hard work. I would like to know if you set some goals for yourself as a student in a performing arts high school, and beyond, and if you were hell bent on accomplishing those goals?
AA: Well-put question. For sure I was determined to become better. Being at Berklee was an insane experience for the 17-year-old Atma. I met amazing young musicians from around the world, and found that I really had no clue about drumming. I practiced 10 hours a day for 2 of those years… quite crazy. Then I just started to look for unusual things to study in music, like psycho-acoustics, and poly-tonality, and poly-rhythm. It actually took quite a few years for me to come ‘down to earth’ and just get back into playing grooves! Once I remembered my first love… grooving, I began studying the great ‘Groovers’ like Mitch Mitchell, Charley Watts, James Gadson, Bernard Purdy, Tony Thomson and so many others. At this point in my career I am still practicing quite hard, and working on further refining my skills, and making my own voice. This seems to be a life long journey.
D.R.: How did you get hooked up with the Shrapnel Records label?
AA: I was doing a lot of playing in Marin County, California, in the mid 80’s. That’s an area just over the Golden Gate bridge near San Francisco, where I was living at the time. In those days I was playing in as many as 7 bands at one time… and having great fun doing it. I first met guitarist Josh Ramos (Hardline, The Storm, Cher) at Uncle Charlie’s in Corte Madera. A very cool rock club that had live music almost every night of the week. We got to be friends and he asked me if I would be interested in checking out his band Lemans. That is when I met Peter Marrino, and then the band’s manager at the time, Mike Varney. They were on Columbia Records at this time. Many things happened from there, and Mike and I became pretty good friends. He liked my playing and introduced me to the other things he was doing in his life at the time. One of those things was Shrapnel Records. He had in mind a new record with one of his new discoveries, Tony MacAlpine… the rest is history.
D.R.: Can you tell us a little bit about the Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music in India and the Krakow Jazz School in Krakow, Poland?
A.A.: They are both wonderful paces to learn music, and learn about yourself. There is so much to tell, I think it’s best if one goes to the websites. (http://www.jazz.krakow.pl/ & http://www.sam.org.in/)
I met the director of the Krakow Jazz School, Greg Motyka, in 2008, in Krakow, through well-known Polish drummer Artur Malik. Greg asked me to do some drum classes on polyrhythms that then turned into a more full-time connection to the School.
I met Prassana, the president of SAM, through guitar legend Ray Gomez. He was going to teach there and suggested that I check it out also. Being in India for any reason is an amazing experience for a Westerner, and being there to teach music and record was even better. India has an unbelievably rich history in music… I also learned so much from my time there. The rhythmic understanding in that country is deeply inspiring, and learning a little Konokol (South Indian Rhythmic singing) was also great.
D.R.: What drives a man such as yourself to achieve so much?
A.A.: Funny, but I don’t see much achievement myself. I think that any serious person just goes for what has been given to them to go for, and as you develop that process things become clearer and naturally lead to new goals. My mother is a great inspiration to me in general. She studied her whole life, and dedicated her days to helping people (she was a nurse) and to studying the Bible. I also read a lot when I was younger, and found that many great people in history did not ever stop studying and making new and greater goals for themselves… that’s what I want to do… when I grow up… lol
D.R.: Would you say that you have always had a good head on your shoulders as a musician?
AA: That is a very deep question. I don’t know what that means really, and I don’t know if I have ‘a good head on my shoulders’. It seems you think I do… that’s very kind of you. Life is just hard, I think, and being a musician is a crazy choice… or maybe it’s not a choice at all. Another way of looking at a possible answer is that I learned early on that I must study, practice, work hard and be clear… if I want any actual career in music, and any personal longevity.
DR: Would you say that your perspective on music has changed from your teen years to now?
A.A.: Very much so, just as anyone’s perspective develops with age. I can say that at this point in my life I am even more interested in beautiful things than I was in my youth. Any kind of music done with passion and beauty appeals to me now. And I am trying to refine my playing and musical ideology to be clear and always reflect beauty. Also technical things only really interest me as they relate to clarity, not chops for chops’ sake… which was for sure a goal of my youthful mind.
D.R.: Any parting thoughts or stories?
AA: Well, I’d like to say that moving from California to Europe has been a great thing for me musically and personally. I have done 22 CDs in 4 years and have gotten quite deeply into understanding recording and production. I am involved in many very interesting new projects with very talented artists. I am also finally working on my own CD… with the Atma Anur Group. Something that has been with me for many years, but I never had the time nor the opportunity to pursue… that will hopefully be out late this year or early next year…
God is good, and life is filled with possibilities…
embrace them and be grateful!
D.R.: Atma Anur, thank you very much for this interview and for educating the youth.