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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.

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ATMA ANUR’S 2012 IGNITION

Merry Christmas, best wishes, waves of joy, peaceful moments, and endless inspiration for 2012 from the Phosphorous Heads Blog! 

Our gift for you on this second day of Christmas is a first read of Atma Anur’s interview for Metal Hammer Hungary and Soundquest magazine by Gyorgy Danev. Enjoy and let us know how you like it!  

1. When did you start playing the drums?

A A: I had a special event in school called “Show and Tell Day” when I was in the 4th grade in NYC. I was 10 and had just moved to the US from London. One of the kids brought in a snare drum, for marching, and I just took it over and played on it all day (bothering everyone… lol). When I got home that evening I announced to my mother that “I can play the drums”.

Funny, but she then told me that I had been playing since I was about 2 years old. Then I kind of remembered what she was telling me, and we realized that once I had seen Ringo Starr and the Beatles on TV in England at about 3 years old… I had been playing the drums on whatever I could hit!

I kept asking for a drumset for the next year or so, finally my parents got me a Stewart set from Levitt and Elrod on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It had a 20 kick, a 14 snare and a 13 rack tom. I got a 16 floor tom about a year later! It also had a hihat stand and a cymbal stand attached to the bass drum… I had no cymbals though!

2. Who were your major influences?

 A A: Well, after those first Ringo memories came the days of trying to understand what the drums really did in music. That was a deep revelation, as I remember. I mean what sound is what when you listen to a song… like the snare, the bass drum and so on. I think the hihat was the most fascinating.

The very first record I ever bought (my mom bought it) was Curtis Mayfield’s SuperFly… However, the first guys I listened to really were Bill Bruford, Billy Cobham, Carl Palmer and Charlie Watts. Many wonderful drummers came next in those early days, around 14 to 16… like Lenny White, Alphonse Mouzon, Narada Michael Walden and many others. In my teens I really loved listening to Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant and Gong… mostly all European Prog/Rock.

After I began studying seriously and went to music schools, my deepest and most lasting influences took root I think. They would be Tony Williams, Terry Bozzio, Billy Cobham, and Jack Dejohnette. I guess that when I ”just play” I have those sounds in my head.

After the years of formation as a drummer I went back and studied many great legends like Jon Bonham, Ian Paice, Ginger Baker and Mitch Michell. Also Zigaboo Modelist of the Meters, and the drummers of the James Brown Band. Then I got back into my roots by studying many Reggae artists and their drummers. Reggae, then called ”blue beat” was playing in my house from birth; I gravitated towards rock first but never forgot my ”swingin” roots! 

I also love Vinnie Colauta, Steve Smith, Dennis Chambers and, of course, Steve Jordan and Steve Gadd (who I saw live in NYC many, many times in the 70’s).

3. You are a well-educated drummer, as you were studying both at the Manhattan School of Music and the world famous Berklee College of Music. Did you enjoy those times?

A A: Well, absolutely. Study is still a very big part of who I am. I have to credit my mother for putting the ”studier” in me. She had many degrees in many unrelated subjects (besides working two jobs her whole life). I learned how to concentrate from her. Music is about concentration, and drumming even more so.

Being in a good music school is very important I think. Studying history and technique are just part of being a true and good musician. Of course, music is a language of international and multi/cross-cultural communication… so one must study the language, and how to best use it, to share what one has to share. The ability to communicate “the human condition” with music is the whole point for any musician. This communication is part of our human cultural foundation and history.

Understanding how to study and how to copy or re-create what one hears are huge parts of being a sideman. As a sideman drummer you need to learn and chart other people’s drum parts, and perform them with passion and excitement… This is a wonderful challenge.

4. How was the Berklee from inside?

A A: After being involved with the classes in the first semester of school I realized that what I wanted was to just learn how to play the drums. I then spent insane numbers of hours in the practice rooms and on the pad. I went to class (of course) but that was not my focus.

One wonderful part of being at Berklee in the 70’s was the other students. When I was there, Steve Vai, Tain Watts, Smitty Smith, Stu Hamm, Lorn Leber, Tim Landers and so many others were there as well. Tommy Campbell and Rodney Smith were two of my biggest influences and inspirations while I was in school… both amazing drummers and musicians.

The teaching style at Berklee is a very specific and practically oriented method. It is geared toward being able to play in almost any musical situation, and actually intellectually understand what you are playing, not only “feeling it”. Song form and style, reading, counting and traditional chord changes are a big focus. For drummers it’s things like rudiments and four-way coordination. Let’s say that these are all basic music language tools that all musicians use whether they realise it or not.

5. Although you’re a native Englishman, you started your career as a jazz drummer in the NYC area. How did you get there?

A A: Well, my family moved from London to NYC when I was 9; they are from Barbados, but we (the kids) were born in England, and I did all kinds of playing while I lived there. In the earliest days it was progressive rock and fusion. I moved back to NYC after I left Berklee and that is when the jazz on the streets and at the jazz lofts began. This is around 19 and 20 years old. At that time I was very very into Tony Williams and Jack Dejohnette, and wanted to play “free” as much as possible.

At that time (’79/ ’80), I was not at all interested in playing rock or even anything that concerned grooves with a back beat (without improvisation). And of course the idea of 4/4 made no sense to me at all… lol I had discovered that any number could be a time signature and was obsessed. I spent a great deal of time trying to sound like Elvin Jones as well, I had a trio that would play John Coltrane tunes on the streets of NYC for at least 6 hours per day… every day! We made money, and learned how to bop! Quite cool!

During this time I developed the material for my book along with Steven Schwab, the Theory of Poly Rhythmic Harmony. This study of time, rate and grouping has remained with me to this day. The book has not been published.

6. Most people know your name because of your session works for Shrapnel records. How did you get in touch with Mike Varney?

A A: I was doing a lot of playing in Marin County, that is just over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I was in around 7 bands at one time in those days, and many of those bands would play the Marin Club scene.

The first person I met that was connected to Mike Varney was Josh Ramos. To make it short, he told Mike about me, and Mike came to see me in some band at Uncle Charlie’s in like 1984? Not sure. Anyway, we talked about me joining his Metal band called Lemans. They were on Columbia Records and he was managing the band. The lead singer and songwriter was Peter Marrino, and the late Derrick Friggo was the guitarist… What an amazing talent!!

Soon after all that, Mike asked me if I might be interested in recording with a new artist named Tony Macalpine… I had not heard of him, but I was very excited. The rest of the story is history… lol.

Mike and I had a great relationship over the years, and made some great records together. I feel very honoured to know him.

7. Almost all of those ’80s neoclassical metal records were made at the Prairie Sun Recording Studio in Cotati, CA. In my opinion Steve Fontano and Mark “Mooka” Rennick have mixed great drum sounds there. What do you think?

A A: Oh yes, both Mooka and Steve are awesome people and excellent at what they do. I feel that I learned so much from Steve Fontano, especially.

Those were great days of hard work and creativity, and Prairie Sun is a wonderful place with a great vibe. Super for focusing on making music! I spent many many weeks of my life there, working on music. It’s a matter of fact that my then wife went into labour with our first child while I was getting ready to track the Bernd Steidl CD! Of course we had to race back to San Francisco for the birth (she was with me at Prairie Sun), but within a week I was back there and the CD got tracked.

I think Steve Fontano is a tone master, and we had very intense times working together. The whole crew at Prairie Sun is simply awesome!

8. In the mid ’80s Cacophony was born. What did you think when you first heard Jason Becker and Marty Friedman playing together?

A A: I liked what I heard a lot, and had a great time working out those songs and the parts.

Atma Anur, Peter Marrino, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman

 Both of those guys are excellent musicians and very open and creative people. The big thing was how much fun I had working with those guys. I had already worked with Pete Marrino, so that was also cool. I got Swain Noro to play bass live. We were in a killer funk/ trash band called Trick Whitey, a bit of a Bay Area legend.

I was so impressed with how easy it was to be creative with Marty and Jason, both just heard music and played it, especially Jason, this is what I love! For sure Jason is a deeply gifted and unique musician.

9. After 2 records Cacophony broke up. Why was this band so short-lived?

A A: Oh, I have no idea. For me it was just one of the zillions of things I was doing at the time. I think I’ve rarely ever actually been “in a band”, so to speak. I may have learned this from growing up in NYC in the 70’s. We all just played. With whoever, whenever and whatever. I love it, and I am still very much that kind of musician. It’s the music that I am interested in most. Cacophony was a great band with awesome music, and we had a very nice time together. I would do it again anytime!

Maybe it had something to do with Jason getting the Roth gig and Marty going to Megadeath… I don’t know. They were touring with Kenny Stravopolis on drums in Japan for a bit, I think, and they did some recording with Deen Castronovo as well.

I’m pretty sure that by that time I was busy with Richie Kotzen, and had moved to LA.

10. How do you remember the recording of Jason’s “Perpetual Burn” album?

 A A: Wow, I don’t have such very clear memories of most of my sessions. I think it’s because at the moment of creative work, I am just really focused on being in the moment.

I can say that the whole process for me was only a few days. Maybe a week long. It was just me, Jason and Mike Varney. Super creative and a lot of fun. Fontano was engineering and Jason and I had a good work relationship going from our earlier rehearsals.

I was just telling a friend that I actually have a cassette with those original drum tracks as a rough mix… Coolness!

11. Which of your recordings are you the most proud of?

 A A: I am happy and feel blessed to work with so many great and creative artists. They are all special to me for one reason or another.

I have probably recorded hundreds of CDs, only 128 of them have been released, for various reasons. Many of those cds are on independent lables.

12. Most challenging session ever?

A A: Well I have had some very crazy and difficult sessions over the years. I can remember two in particular that were very difficult for me.

The first was a session for singer Linda Rondstad. She had a movie sound track to do and there was a wonderful classic Spanish score performed by a band and an orchestra.

I had the opportunity to play some tracks for that sound track album. The difficult part was that in those days the whole editing was done by hand, so things really needed to be more or less perfect at the time you record them. I had to follow a conductor and play to a chart with no music playing along with me for some of those tracks. They asked me to do a few styles of playing, like a ”jazz” groove and a light ”latin” groove and so on. The thing that made that very hard was following a conductor while being dynamic and creative… with tape rolling! I was quite nervous.

The second one I remember was the Electric Joy album by Richie Kotzen. That is such a beautiful record, with wonderful songs and killer guitar playing.

The story is that I got a call from Mike Varney to come to Prairie Sun for some recording with Richie Kotzen. We had already done the Fever Dream CD and done a bunch of live shows and so on.

To make a long story short, when I got to the studio I was told that the whole CD was ”finished” and they ”just needed the drums to make it right”. Well the CD was in fact finished mixed and so on… with all the over dubs and everything. The only thing was that it was not done to a click and had a lot of time and mood changes. I had to figure out how to follow what had been played, but sound like the drums are the foundation of the songs (no digital editing then also). And as it was with all of Mike’s recordings… we had almost no time to do it! That session may have been just a few days… And that’s from first hearing the songs to being done and packing up my drums!!

I have to say that the CD came out killer (Electric Joy), and we had a wonderful time doing some pretty difficult but creative work. Mooka Rennick and Dino Alden worked on the engineering for that one, I think.

13. Did you have any session you would forget?

A A: Well I have a bad memory about many things. I guess I have forgotten lots of stuff over the years. If you mean do I want to forget a session… no.

I am very grateful to God for all the work and opportunities to be creative and challenged in life and in music. What God has for me will always be the right thing at the right time. I just want what God wants for me.

14. I’m sure you have your own drumming method. Could you share the core of this with us?

A A: To play well, with passion and to serve the music that I am playing at the time… whatever it may be.  I am also very dedicated to learning about the various traditions in modern drumming, and to draw from them to be creative in my playing. I am a student of music.

I spent a lot of time working on the Gary Chaffe linear drumming method, also working with the 40 international drum rudiments. I am a student of the Billy Gladstone method and the Sanford Moeller method.

I try to combine the emotional feel of Reggae with the intensity and power of Metal and the improvisational spirit of Jazz in everything I play… that is my most basic concept.

I also believe in copying the masters, and still do. Lastly, let’s say that I also love to practise.

15. What do you think, has the drum education evolved during the last couple of decades?

A A: Oh, for sure not. Education is education and the information has been around long enough. The Internet has made more easy access to information, but it has not changed human nature at all. Let’s say that entropy and not evolution is what I personally believe humanity is dealing with.

For the musician things remain the same as they have always been… practice practice practice!

Let’s say that the idea of apprenticeship is dying, and that is a basic component of being educated and able to potentially bring something new to the “creative table”. Too many musicians seem to think that they have something valid to say without any study of history and what came before them. There is way too much attention on ”being an individual” and too much fear of copying (while on the other hand there are also many musicians that can ONLY copy!).

Copying is the most effective and realistic way of learning, and not re-inventing the wheel (and then taking credit for it… lol). Traditional learning is about listening and copying – how to speak, etc… and after this we make attempts to speak for ourselves!

16. As far as gear stuff, which type of kits do you prefer?

A A: The good ones. All the companies make good kits at the top of their line. I deeply like DW drums for many many reasons. I’ve played them for about 25 years.

17. Which do you like more, brass or maple snares?

A A: Well, in general I like wood drums all round. These days I have been playing 2 DW Collector’s series edge snares, both 13, not 14. I have played mostly all wood snares for most of the almost 40 years that I’ve been playing. I did play a copper shell snare for a couple of years in the 80s. I have never liked steel or all brass myself. I have also played snares made of other kinds of wood than maple that I have loved. 

18. Could you please introduce your current kit setup for us (with all the dimensions)?

A A: Well the current setup is quite different than the setup I used just 3 weeks ago! Right now I’m on the road playing a kind of commercial, Hendrix type of vibe with Florian Hofer.

I am using a DW Collector’s series 5-piece kit. It has a 22 kick, 10, 12 racks and a 14 floor on legs. Many times I use 2 floors (14 and 16). I also add an 8-rack tom for more prog/rock recordings. Let’s say that a 6-piece kit is the most normal for me.

 For the past 5 years I have been using the 13 edge snares exclusively. I just really like the feel and the sound of those drums. Just before that I was in love with my 13 Craviatto snares. It’s been quite a long time since I have used 14 snares on a regular basis, but I did do quite a few songs on 14s during some recording sessions. 

For cymbals, I have been with Sabian for almost 25 years, and I always use lots of cymbals.  Let’s say that cymbal colours are a real part of the sound I have in my head.

I have a few ride cymbals that are 20 or 21, and they range from loud and bright, to bark and funky sounding. So it depends on what I am playing. For example, on this tour I am using a 21-vault ride; it has a vintage and jazzy sound. But at the Jason Becker Festival a few weeks ago, I used a very loud 20 Evolution ride, with a large bell. A very different ride cymbal.

As for crashes I always have 1 ozone 16 in my setup. Then the rest depend on the gig. For sure there will be a splash or 2. I have a 10 octagon splash that I use also.

Then come to hihats… Always 13s and usually 2 of them. 1 as a fixed open hat, for the double bass pattern playing. Almost all of the crashes are HHX Evolution series cymbals. I like that they are darker and shorter than some other series of cymbals.

So the most basic cymbal setup for me is ride, 2 crashes, 1 splash, 2 hihats and 1 china cymbal. But I am usually using 3 crashes and 2 chinas… (I like smaller chinas; I also use the Sabian Max-stax china. I also place splash cymbals inside my china cymbals to get a dryer, funkier sound.)

19. How was the Jason Becker Not Dead Yet festival a few days ago?

A A: For me it was a deeply spiritual time. The group of musicians were exceptionally talented and wonderful people. All of us joining together in support of Jason was a beautiful thing.

I think that we were really trying to give back just a little of what Jason gave to all of us, and to the world. 

There were 2 keyboard players, 14 guitarists and 3 bass players… and then me. We had 2 days to put together 45 songs, and a few of those songs were finally cut due to time. I had received the songs quite a while before the show and had time to make charts and try to learn the recorded drum parts. Of course playing along with a recording is much different than playing a song live!

The Players at the Jason Becker “Not Dead Yet” European Festival, November 13th, 2011

Timo Somers – Guitar

Barend Courbois – Bass

Atma Anur – Drums

Marcel Coenen – Guitar

Joop Walters – Guitar

Erik Van Ittersum- Keys

Andy James – Guitar

Daniele Gottardo – Guitar

Martin Miller – Guitar

 Franck Hermanny – Bass

Federico Solazo – Keys

Stephan Forte – Guitar

Marco Sfogli – Guitar

Mattias IA Eklund – Guitar

Michael Lee Firkins – Guitar

Stu Hamm – Bass

Kiko Loureiro – Guitar

Hedras Ramos – Guitar

Guthrie Govan – Guitar

Organizers – Kris Claerhout, Laurie Monk, Ron Coolen

Day 1 was a wonderful day of meeting, playing and serious work… It was 14 hours long. Day 2 was a 9-hour day of just music, at the end of this day I was completely exhausted! Day 3 was the day of the show and we had to finish a few songs of rehearsal at the venue in the earlier part of the day. Then, of course, we played the 6-hour show, that day was at least 14 hours long as well.

Amazingly enough, the amount of playing was not physically too much for me (amazing at 51 years old!), it was the mental aspect of it all that was the real challenge. I have to add that the volume of the various guitarists was a factor adding to mental fatigue for me.  But I must say that the love, creativity and positive vibes of everyone involved also gave me the extra energy that I needed to stay in an inspired emotioinal place, and put out what was needed for each artist (each of whom are very different). These are such creative and talented people, it was amazing to play with each of them. Learning all the styles and vibes is truly what i love about playing drums… this was the perfect show for me, “The Guitar Player’s Drummer”.

We had a Skype connection set up with a stereo mic feed to Jason at his house in California, so he could see and hear the whole show live while we played… amazing!


So many amazing things happened it would be really hard to write about them all here. I can say that a DVD is being mixed and put together now, and that future benefit festivals are in the works. I hope to continue my relationship with the organisers, Kris Clarehout, Ron Coolen, Laurie Monk, Guglielmo Malussardi, and keep adding to the love!

20. After hundreds of sessions who else do you want to work with in the future?

A A: Everyone that wants to make really good music!!

ATMA’S ASYLUM IN PLAYLAND… THE INTERNET

 Atma Anur writes about his staggering recording experience starting in his teens until now. Read on to find out the story of his collaboration with Bert Elliot for the newly released “Asylum in Playland” CD (2011). Below you can listen to an “Atma Anur” signature re-make of the Billy Cobham classic, “Stratus, from the same album.  

 

Things have changed so much in the past 10 years. In general, and for me personally, in the way I interface with the music industry. I feel like those 10 years have progressed in a far more different and varied way than the 10 years that passed before them.

Most people, maybe musicians, might know me best as the Shrapnel Records’ ‘house drummer’ of the 80s and 90s, having recorded with many of Mike Varney’s most influential musicians (Tony MacAlpine, Jason Becker, and Greg Howe, to name a few). Some may know me as that guy that won the biggest drum audition of the mid 80s… then seemed to disappear from mass media as quickly as he appeared in it. Fewer people, other than the so-called ‘shredders’, know that Atma Anur has been playing drums, with virtually no break, for 40 years, 27 of those years as a professional drummer, with 128 released CDs to date, in just about every genre being released.

After attending the Berklee College of Music I ventured to California, where most of the afore mentioned CDs were recorded, along with hundreds more un-released recordings. After living and working in San Francisco and Los Angeles for 25 years, playing thousands of live shows, tours, recordings and teaching engagements… I made my move to Europe, where I am originally from.

I was asked to submit this blog post focusing on one of the 25 CDs I have recorded since leaving the US in the late 2000s, Bert Elliot’s “Asylum in Playland”. As has been the bulk of my recorded work, this is an instrumental fusion CD that includes beautiful original funky, bluesy music and a couple of originally interpreted remakes of two well known classics.

The story of this CD, and the story of my relationship to Bert is an example of what I mentioned at the beginning of this personal account… the vast changes that have introduced themselves to the business of making music in the past 10 years.

I first met Bert Elliot in 1979 in NYC. He is, and has been, a close friend of another wonderful musician and personal friend of mine, bass player Frank Di Ganci. Frank and I were in one of my first commercial metal bands, Alien, at a time when I was still attending Berklee in Boston, and becoming the ‘fusion head’ that I am today. Frank invited his ‘bluesy, Beck-influenced’ guitar playing friend to jam with us one night at Om Studios in mid-town Manhattan. That was a very cool evening… and I never saw or thought of Bert again.

Once I left California and arrived in Europe, my home town of London first, I found myself in the well-known situation of virtually starting over again. After having been in London for 6 months I was asked to do a month-long tour in Poland with another very old ‘euro-transplant’ friend of mine from San Francisco. This tour was my personal discovery moment of the artful city of Krakow, Poland, where I currently live. This move is what really gave rise to my awareness of the Internet in general, and the social network revolution to be specific.

As most modern creative people have done, I became involved in social networking with Myspace, Facebook, and the personal web site frenzy that is basic to daily life in the mid to late 2000s. In doing this, I also discovered the great many fans and ‘Atma appreciaters’ that have exsisted for many years, that I never had the pleasure of meeting personally. At the same time I also discovered what was for me a very new idea… home recording. Well, in my case it actually became ‘home mixing’.

After working with some of the best producers in the business in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles (while recording for various major record labels), I also entered the production game just after 2000, upon my return to San Francisco from Los Angeles, where I lived while working with Richie Kotzen who was on Geffen Records, and DH Peligro on Alternative Tentacles Records (to name a few of those I worked with while living in LA).

Some of my first production experience came working at Hyde Street Studios with some very talented Bay area vocal artists, me working with loads of vintage outboard equpment and mixing on Neve boards with flying faders. With the move to Europe, and the inevitable ‘progress’ in technology, I found myself working at smaller studios with DAW? /Daw based recording equipment. This was truly a revelation to me… I am a drummer after all, and I found a new and exciting possible interface for my creativity… the Internet!

The combination of computer-based recording in a high quality format, and the new social media awareness of the general public made what was in my day an exclusive ‘club’ with very specific rules of entry, into a wide open field of musical and creative possibilities. The Internet also openned up the ‘meeting’ waves to include a ‘San Francisco drummer’ to play music with a guitar player currently living in Indonesia! and so on… It is through my new-found ‘social network refferal service’ that I met, for the first time I thought, Bert Elliot.

Over the past few years I have become yet again a member of the next generation of sidemen… the ‘Internet side man’, to be exact. I am connecting with musicians from all over the world and collaborating with them to realize their musical dreams in much the same way I did for decades while living in California, only these days we almost never actually meet! Bert was a musician that contacted me on line through a social network site. We spoke, hit it off through the written word, and shared some music with each other. Soon the plan for his next CD came into the picture and we were off on the adventure that became “Asylum in Playland”.

Recording instrumental music has become quite natural for me, at least as a drummer. After working with Mike Varney for many years and being produced by Steve Fontano,  I learned how to get creative and exciting performances from myself… quickly and to the point. Working, playing, and recording with people like Greg Allman, Bill Sommers, Richie Kotzen, Carlos Guitarlos and so many other vocally oriented artists, really focused me as a musician on playing correctly in a ‘song’ context as opposed to a ‘compositional’ context (a distinction that I think is important to understand). Bert’s music really bridges the gap between the instrumental and the vocal orientation, and this is what attracted me to his writing first.

Bert Elliot is a soulful musican and has also turned into a good friend. His demos (which included awesome self-programmed drums) convinced me that this could be a great ‘old school’ style musical adventure. When he suggested doing a re-make of the Billy Cobham classic, “Stratus”… I was fully hooked.

Many people that know me, know that the Mahavishnu Orchestra is one of my very most favourite bands, and drummer/composer Billy Cobham has been a great influence on my playing since I first heard him in 1973. I feel honoured and have what I see as a great responsibility to respect Billy’s great contribution to modern drumming. I have been working on swinging and re-grouping 32nd notes and using that as a basis for cut time grooves for many years now, and this is the direction I went in for the solo section in our version of that awesome classic.

Pairing up with my old school mate and virtuoso musician Stu Hamm was another wonderful aspect of being a part of this new CD project. Stu and I have done some other recordings together, mostly durring his time living in the Bay area. This was the first situation where Stu and I just grooved together in support of melodies, rather than playing more complex parts as an instrumental ensemble… what we mostly did in the past. Stu and I will also be the rhythm section for the upcoming Jason Becker’s Not Dead Yet Festival in Amsterdam on November 13, 2011… an evening including many great guitar players from all around the world (Guthrie Govan, Mattias Eklundh, Kiko Loureiro and more).

18 of the 25 CDs that I have recorded so far while living in Europe have been initiated due to social networking, and file sharing. It entails me renting studio time, recording my drum tracks and preparing them in my home studio. Then sending the wav files off around the world to be included in CDs released around the world, by artists that I may never meet. I hope you get a chance to check out Bert Elliot’s “Asylum in Playland”, and I look forward to where our new technology takes music in the future.