Kenny Aronoff Interview
Learning from the greatest
Kenny Aronoff tells us about his journey from Stockbridge, MA to the world stage:
What inspired you to start playing the drums?
I grew up in a very small town of 3000 people, Stockbridge, MA. Every Memorial Day a marching band came through the town and I saw the drum line which got me really, really excited. That was my first memory of really being excited by the drums. I was maybe around eight years old at the time. I would ride my little bike around the drummers and I’d follow them all day long. Wherever they marched I would follow them. Another big event was when The Beatles came to America. I was about ten years old by then. As soon as I saw the movie A Hard Day’s Night, that was it for me, I started a band the following week!
What were your main goals as a kid learning his craft?
My main goal was just to have fun. I fantasized about being in The Beatles or a band like that and my goal was just to have fun. It wasn’t until maybe when I was 18, the summer before I went to start my studies at university that I got serious.
How did you approach your own development?
I did five years of classical training at university – one year at the University of Massachusetts and four years at Indiana University where I studied classical percussion. The summer before I went to do my first year at university I was practicing eight hours a day, seven days a week but it wasn’t all on drumset. I did three hours on mallets, two hours on timpani, two hours on snare drum and then an hour on drumset. I’d also play in a jazz trio five nights a week. I was completely devoted to music and then I went to university and it was a big challenge. I just worked as hard as I could and tried to be the best wherever I was. My theory for success is hard work fuelled by passion and constantly educating yourself will give you the opportunity to be as good as you can be in the environment you live in. I rose to the top everywhere I was. It took a while but I would always excel and become the best wherever I was.
What was the turning point in your career?
The big breakthrough was joining the John Mellencamp Band. Two years after I joined the band we were on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, we won a Grammy Award for best album of the year, we had two number one hit singles, and we had two singles in the top ten in the same week. We were the new hot band!
How do you prepare for a big performance?
I have a warm-up that I go through when I’m on tour, some exercise and some stretches. I’m about to do two very big shows with two bands that I don’t play with at all – these are famous bands and there will be no rehearsals, just a sound check. I have to spend hundreds of hours writing out very, very detailed charts. It’s a super band that I’ll be doing this show with, guys from Lynard Skynard, Santana, Toto, Boston and Steppenwolf and I have to play songs from all these different bands with no rehearsal. I have to be massively prepared and I have to do all of this while I’m on tour. The day before I will practice on the drumset but other than that I’m just listening to songs and reading massive amounts of notes!
How do you stay motivated and inspired?
It’s a genetic thing, it’s just in me. My feeling is that once you lose your passion and your inspiration then that’s when you are in trouble. That’s what makes you! It’s like a car, transportation that gets you somewhere. Hard work is the car, it’s transportation that gets you through life and passion is the gasoline that you put in the car. A car won’t go without gas and a human won’t move without passion.
Have you picked up any tools over the years that have really helped you perform better?
Physically and mentally for me the best I play is when I have good muscle tone, when I’m eating right, when I’m sleeping right and I stretch so I have good flexibility. I’m a health nut so I try to take care of myself.
Psychologically, It comes from time and experience. I believe that some psychological conditions are based on your chemistry. Everybody has a different chemical composition and your chemistry can affect your psychological condition. Some people have more dopamine and seratonin in them, some people have more adrenalin, some people are hyper, some people are mellow. All these conditions affect how you feel in a situation. Everybody has a different life experience and depending on the individual you can get into a situation that will trigger past experiences – it can make you very uncomfortable or very nervous and once you become nervous that will affect your chemistry which will affect you psychologically and it goes back around and around. One affects the other! It goes from your brain to your body to your brain, back and forth real fast.
What do you think makes a great musician?
Somebody who has technical ability on their instrument but who is a complete musician that doesn’t just think about their part and their instrument but they listen (the key word is listen) to everybody else and what they are doing. We add to that and try to be part of the team.
Do you have any good advice for young musicians who are trying to make it?
Well, it’s a very, very tough business right now and the best thing to do is just work as hard as you can, be as good as you can and try to get along with people – that’s all you can do. There is no formula for success. All you can do is work hard and be the best that you can be in the area you live.
Interview taken from The Psychology Of Drumming.