Less than three weeks before their tour of Japan, my friends in the band Versus The World hit me up out of the blue to play drums for them. I was finally returning to the country where my previous band played in 2006 on one of our first international tours. To put it in perspective: Then, I was 18 years old, halfway across the world and I was able to see downtown Tokyo before I saw Time Square. Now, I couldn’t be more excited to not only travel again, but finally get my first hired-gun job as a drummer for another band at the age of 27.
I had over 12 years of experience writing music in the Swellers, knowing the process of learning songs for our ‘90s cover band. As our real band was coming to an end, I began putting out industry feelers that I was interested in becoming a studio or session drummer. It was something hard to come by in my genre of music, which often doesn’t pay well, if at all. Fortunately, I had friends on the business side of all genres and walks of life in the music industry. However, the few bands that were in need of a drummer had a shortlist of some impressive hired guns and I missed the cut. I slept on floors and did the punk thing long enough—now I was ready to be a drummer and get a paycheck for my services.
After a few months of being disheartened after some drum-tech job offers fell through (drummers usually stick with the same tech for years), I got the text from my buddy Donald to fill in on their upcoming tour. I was used to being in a full-time touring band and almost turned it down because my new band Baggage had our first show coming up in Cleveland. When I asked my bandmates if I should take the offer, their overwhelming response was, “You honestly would pick one show in Cleveland over a tour of Japan?!” That was the reality check I needed. I’ve had to turn down a few offers in the past when I had a busy schedule, so now it was time I started taking chances and just saying, “Yes!”
I started my research on Versus The World’s music, most of which I was unfamiliar with after the release of their newest album. I had three weeks to learn the setlist and only three days to practice with the band in Santa Barbara, California before we flew to Japan. The music was mostly mid-paced pop punk with a few fast songs thrown in, which just so happened to be my specialty. I made sure to listen to the album at least twice a day for a few days. And then the dissection began; I opened a new document on my computer, listed all of the songs, broke each song into parts (intro, verse, chorus, etc.) and then made bullet points of how each part was played. Of course in my strange brain, I wrote it out in a very bizarre way that only I could understand—like including notes like, “ugga bugga tom part” and “Adam’s song beat thingy.”
I live in an apartment where playing drums is a definite no-go and storing them is just unreasonable, so I was air drumming along to the songs for weeks. Years back, I was able to learn songs for the band Polar Bear Club on Warped Tour with only a few days notice and without even jamming with the band before we played together, so I knew it was possible. Finally, my friend let me use his studio to practice on a full kit for a few hours one day and I was completely locked in. I put on my headphones and kept playing the songs until I got sick of them. It’s all muscle memory at a certain point, and when you don’t have to think about it anymore, you know you’re ready to go.
I woke up at four-thirty a.m. and my girlfriend drove me an hour to Detroit airport where I jumped on a plane at six a.m. to California. When I landed at LAX we drove two hours to Santa Barbara, where I loaded my stuff into the house and we started ripping through the songs for hours. The jam space (converted from a garage) was more of a sauna once you started playing with a few people in the room. We ran through most of the setlist twice and touched up little nuances that I missed or the band was used to with their other drummer. That’s another thing I had to remember—it wasn’t about me, it was about the songs. I was hired to replicate what someone else already wrote until I was told otherwise. That’s how it always should be.
The next two days, we ended up rehearsing with Versus The World’s full lineup for the tour and I couldn’t be happier with the guys’ reaction to my drumming. I did my homework and it paid off. We flew through the set and I was granted permission to spice some things up that were formerly a bit straight forward. We packed our things, settled on a setlist and I got to sit back as I watched the rest of the band work out logistics for our trip. For the first time, I wasn’t one of the people in charge, I was just an add-on. It would be a completely new experience getting to tour this way, and an even crazier one doing it in a foreign country.
So here I am, a guy without my old band, ready to jump into the world of session musicians. I spent years touring on a budget to know how to save money for the artists, stay out of people’s way and having the ability to easily get along with others. It seems like a match made in heaven. I could make money from doing what I love to fund my new band back home, or end up making this a full-time career and moving up the music food chain.
Okay, enough about practice—next week let’s talk about what it’s like to play shows in Japan.