Todd Sucherman Interview
Learning From the Greatest
Styx drummer and Modern Drummer’s #1 rocker of 2009, Todd Sucherman talks about life on the road and some of the challenges he has overcome
How did you first get involved with Styx?
I was lucky to be doing a lot of session work in Chicago back in the early to mid 90s. The guy who handled my cartage for sessions and took care of my kits had recommended me to them. His name is Keith Marks and he’s been their production manager for years. When they were going to re-record the song “Lady” for the Greatest Hits package in ’95, John Panozzo (original Styx drummer) was in ill health and couldn’t do it so it was just a session. Then they called me on Keith’s recommendation and then they called me back for another session a year later. Then I was asked to do the 1996 reunion tour and now it’s been 14 years.
What do you enjoy most about the gig?
I enjoy the fact that these guys can really play and sing, and that the band has never sounded better. It’s great to take the stage with these guys and play this music that means so much to people–I can see it in their faces in the audience every night. This band will always have an audience and I feel thankful to have been happily employed all this time. It’s not a “boom-whack-boom-whack” kind of gig. It’s very active and challenging from the drum chair.
Have there been any major challenges that you’ve had to overcome with this gig or in your career in general?
Many. I challenge myself in my own playing whether learning new things for trying to perfect the set. Working in the studio with someone like Brian Wilson can be a challenge because he often wants things that are a bit unconventional from a drumming standpoint and even a musical standpoint at times. But he knows what he wants and when you’re hired you have to deliver. I learned that fast. Make the guy who hired you happy and that can go from the musical realm to the social realm. The only thing I’ve had to overcome was being away from home for so long, but if your thinking is straight, you know it’s the job.
You’ve spent a lot of time on the road over the years. Do you still enjoy touring and what do you do in your down time?
I do still enjoy it. It’s a job where people cheer and scream for me. Not bad. It physically feels good to play like that too. One of the perks is I get to see friends and family all over the country and the world very often. But getting home to my wife and my house is always a sanctuary. I might not want to see a drum for days when I get home. But I enjoy cooking, reading, movies, and being with my wife and a nice bottle of wine.
2009 was a great year for you – what does winning the Modern Drummer’s readers poll for #1 Educational DvD as well as #1 Rock Drummer mean to you?
It means I have to work even harder! But really, I was blown away and never even considered any of that a possibility. But I was really flattered and humbled and it really does make me want to work more and push myself to constantly improve. The DVD really was the catalyst for all of this and it’s tremendously gratifying.
What was your main goal in producing the dvd “Methods & Mechanics”?
I wanted to share information I’d gathered in my career that would be useful for a career in music. Information to help drummers be employable, so beyond the obvious technical things there’s also a lot of navigational techniques and tips as well. We set out to do something special and present it in a way that hadn’t been done before. We spared no expense in the entire visual or audio aspects and we wanted the content to be unique too. There are songs, solos, stories, lessons, and they move at a nice pace not to be laborious or boring to anyone. I’ve received many notes from drummers who say it’s the only DVD there wives can watch with them! That’s a fantastic compliment and I’m so proud of what we achieved.
Your clinics have been very well received also – what are the main lessons that you try to get across?
Well, it’s great to be able to play all the “drummy” stuff. I do enjoy it and I’ve worked hard to get my skills to a certain level. But ultimately it comes down to playing for the song and playing musically—and playing 2 and 4 pays the bills. Even with the complicated stuff, you have to say something on the drums. There has to be a musical context or else it means nothing. Also I stress certain notions about being on time, having the right gear for the job, getting the job done correctly by being prepared, and leaving everyone happy that you were on the gig. Those are great qualities to have and have served me well. And I stress that whether or not one wants to do this for a living or not—still do it. Be involved with music and art. Create.
Do you have any advice for drummers who would like to follow in your footsteps?
Play with fire and passion. You have to love this with all the fibers of your being. Play music and play for the music. And be patient with your practicing and be patient with your career. If you’re patient and you’re doing the right things, good things will float your way.
What should we expect from you in 2010?
I just finished 9 tracks on the new Brian Wilson record which is all Gershwin material. It was commissioned by the Gershwin estate. I haven’t heard any of it but doing the tracks live with the full band in the studio was fantastic—seemed like “the old days” for a moment. I’m doing a few shows with Lawrence Gowan in Canada and then heading out for another 100 shows or so with Styx. I hope to start on another DVD project at the end of this year hopefully coming out in 2011. There’s lot’s ahead for me to do! OK, I have to get busy……