Phosphorous Heads

Lit by Atma Anur

Category Archives: SAM INDIA

The SCORE Magazine Interviews Atma Anur _June_2015

Atma AnurTHE SCORE: Hi Atma, first off, let me say what a pleasure it is to have a chance to get a glimpse into your groovy world. To start, let us know what your formative years were like at New York, San Francisco. When did you start playing, how did you start, and what were some of your first experiences drumming?

Atma Anur: That’s quite a complex question actually.

I began playing drums officially at age 11, while we were living in NYC, but my mother had told me that I would stand in front of the TV watching Ringo Starr with the Beatles, and point to him while dancing and laughing. That was at about age 2, while we were still living in London.

At age 10 we had a “Show and Tell” day at my Grammar School and one kid brought a marching snare drum in to show to us all. Well, I spent the day walking around the school and wildly tapping away at this instrument (one that I had never even seen before). Once I got home that evening I announced to my parents that “I can play the drums!”

My High School years in NYC were quite wonderful in hindsight, any teenager thinks life is not so great while living it, wherever they may be. I first went to a Science and Mathematics School and was in the school Jazz band… but quite briefly. I later transferred to a “School without Walls” High School with a focus on music and art, something that was quite popular in some parts of the States back in the 70s.

I had my first more serious band finally in that first High School at about age 14/15. We played music by Deep Purple, Hendrix, Scorpions, Al Di Meola and quite a few other popular, but musically difficult, bands in those days.

I attended the Manhattan School of Music at age 16 in a pre-enrollment program where I studied Orchestral and Tuned Percussion… That was a great experience and really got me started in reading. From then on I regularly visited the Lincoln Center for The Performing Arts Music Library to read book, scores and listen to music LP-s of all kinds.

I had my first private drum teacher at about age 12/13. That was the legendary William Kessler, a renowned Author and Jazz Musician. I think I was very lucky to have found such a master at such a young age.

Atma AnurTS: How did your formal education in music help your career? What was studying at Berklee like those days? Did it help you become a better educator as well?

AA: I believe that if one is serious about a topic, one will naturally want to study that topic. Study, of course, comes in many possible forms, but I think that formal study in music is an important part of any professional musician’s life. Most of us improvisation-based musicians begin by playing and enjoying that process, where the orchestrally-oriented player usually begins by sitting with a one-on-one teacher. My belief is that both of these modes of learning will serve the individual the most if they occur simultaneously.

That is how things happened for me, and many of the other excellent professionals that I know and have played with. There is no question that actually learning the language of music, both as it relates to my own instrument and as it relates to communicating with other musicians, has helped my professional career immensely.

As a professional side man, it has been my job to help writers and instrumentalists realize the vision that they have for their music. Most of the time this needs to be done in a short and productive time frame, while being able to have fun and stay creative. My personal understanding of the role and tools of my instrument, and my ability to speak in correct musical terms with the other players has been a huge “selling point” to my being hired so much over the past 30 years.

Berklee was one of the most amazing and influential experiences of my life. I carry the tools and concepts that I learned there in the 70s with me to this very day. One of the most intense aspects of being there was the opportunity to see and play with other talented international musicians, and share ideas and mistakes… invaluable! Being around Steve Vai, Stu Hamm, Tain Watts, Smitty Smith and so many others gave me a deep perspective on what being a “good” musician could mean.

I use the ideas, theories, concepts and values that I have internalized from my days of formal study at schools, private study at “home” (which is on-going) and my personal professional experiences to help younger musicians as much as I have the opportunity to do so… and I love seeing what the future of music holds.

Atma AnurTS: You have played and lived across different continents and recorded on over 145 albums. What were some of the defining moments of your journey and who were they with?

AA: More of my time has been spent in the rehearsal room than on stage or in the studio. The experimentation and learning while playing is what defines me to me. As for what defines who I am to others, I would have to guess it is what people see and hear at shows and on records… which is not the bulk of my playing. I think that this is true of any musician who remains in the learning and growing mode.

Playing Jazz on the streets of NYC in the 70s was a huge and pivotal experience for me. It took me from wanting to play consistently to simply playing consistently. Improvising in front of so many people for so many hours per day made me the type of musician that takes chances… simple.

Learning note-for-note music from bands like Return to Forever, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, John Coltrane and many others, gave me insight into what real chops are on my instrument… not to mention, Groove!

Meeting Mike Varney, President of Shrapnel Records, and having the opportunity to record so many great albums with such amazing musicians has had a deep effect on who I am as a musician. Being in world-class recording studios with great, creative producers like Steve Fontano and Richie Zito (to name just a couple) also helped to give me a better perspective on what and how to play well commercially while still being creative and true to myself.

Getting to play huge stages for audiences of up to 500,000 people has also changed who I am as a player and as a performer. Seeing the effect of what I am playing on such a large scale brings a lot of consistency and power to one’s professional creative process… truly learning what not to play, and why.

Watching how other very well-known, talented musicians interact and create together is also invaluable for any professional musician. The relationship between the people playing can make or break the music. That relationship also makes things move faster or slower… or not at all. Communication feeds creativity in most cases… and feeds the personal joy for what one is doing.

I can mention just a few names that come to mind who really stand out for me as people that inspired me as a player and as a person and were a joy to work with. Richie Kotzen, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, Tony MacAlpine, Neal Schon, T.M. Stevens, Guthrie Govan, Michael Lee Firkins, Arthur Rhames… and so many more amazing creative and talented people that have helped shape who I am as a musician and as a person to this day.

Atma AnurTS: What kind of music do you dig and play these days? Recent collaborations? 

AA: I really love playing and listening to Fusion and Modern Jazz more than other styles, but I have played more Rock, Reggae, Funk and Blues live over the years. Honestly, I love playing anything that sounds good, music is the whole point for me.

Since relocating to Europe I have played and recorded more Hard Rock, Prog Rock, Neo Classical, Metal and straight Pop than other styles. I, of course, play many other things in my personal time.

There have been many, and a wide variety of, collaborations since leaving the States 8 years ago, but at this moment I am recording CDs with Jani J. Szentkiralyi (Hunagary), If Wen (U.K.), Timo Somers (the Netherlands), The Vivaldi Metal Project (International) and a “secret” Tribute Project for Japanese release. At any given time I usually have 2 or 3 CDs being tracked if I’m not touring… I’m at 145 CDs now… and counting!

Atma Anur - photo credits Izabela DoniecTS: You have taught at SAM earlier during its very first semester. What memories of India do you carry and what are the things you are looking forward to doing this trip, musically and otherwise?

AA: Well that first trip to India was a true high point for me in so many ways. I made many new friends that I stay in contact with to this day, and was personally exposed to the Carnatic music system and Traditional South Indian Classical Music as a whole. Working with people like Ghatam Karthick, Ed DeGenaro, Ranjit Barot, Ashish Manchanda, Amit Trivedi and Nandini Srikar while there, and then meeting other great Indian musicians later on, like Shree Sundarkumar, Sunita Sarathy and others, was such a great experience and I really look forward to more creative expression with each of them… and all the new yet “un-met” musicians there.

I am extra, super excited about getting back to the food (which is one of my very favourite kinds) and the very warm people. The vibe is gloriously positive and inspiring.

Atma AnurTS: We know your energy is infectious! What can students at SAM expect from Atma Anur this Fall?

AA: For sure more of the same! It’s been five years since I was at SAM and I am really looking forward to meeting the new students, the older faculty and friends. I’m also really looking forward to doing some great shows and more recordings as well.

I have been working quite a bit on my book on Poly-Rhythms and sixteenth-note understanding, so I will draw from that in my drum instruction classes for sure as well.

I look forward to sharing this wonderful gift of music and the joy that it brings… my goal is to bless as I have been blessed… and beyond.


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. ( &

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.