Thursday, May 5, 2016

Volume 28 - Chris Toeller

Volume 28 - Chris Toeller

Hey, What's up my TC peeps?!
I got another great drummer for you and he is definitely worth the read. Versatile and confident, this kat bring it to the party and serve it up on a platter if you wish. I always dig it when players have a good sense of their role as a drummer and a musician and in this case, a band member or session man. Whatever the occasion, Chris is your man! I came across this young man through a BOTB contest we were in. His band Disciples of Babylon played on a separate night and I wanted to check them out. Unfortunately. I missed their set but I caught the last song. I was digging what I heard and I hit Chris up about an interview and now we're here, giving you guys the goods on Talkin' Chop.

Name or Stage Name: 
Chris Toeller (pronounced like ‘Teller’)

Where are you from?
Originally, I’m from a town called Prairie View, which is located in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. It’s about 30 - 60 minutes outside of the city, depending on traffic. 

How long have you been playing?
I’ve been playing for about 13 or 14 years.

What is or are your main genre of playing?
I find myself playing a mixture of mostly pop, rock, and r&b. I grew up playing to pop/punk and rock music and later got into more r&b and gospel drumming. But, I enjoy playing almost any kind of music. Every genre of music has it’s own challenges for drummers, which keeps it interesting. 

How did you get where you are now?
Well, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now had it not been for the enormous amount of encouragement and support I’ve received from my parents, mentors, and friends. I owe so much thanks to these people, and they could never fathom the amount of gratitude I have for them. The music industry can become very “Me-Centric” at times, and it is hard to avoid that kind of mentality. But it’s not because of me or anything I did to get WHERE I am. It’s because I’ve been surrounded by people who care about me and my personal growth as a musician and a human being that I am WHO I am. 

What are your goals, short & long term?
One of my shorter term goals is to begin teaching regularly. I’m really hoping to find a music school that is looking for an instructor to teach classes and/or lessons. Preferably in the LA area. My longer term goals are to continue improving on my instrument, to be able to play great music all the time while touring the world, and to be able to live comfortably just doing that. 

Artists you would like to play for?
That’s a difficult question because there are so many. But, one that’s really coming to my mind right now is this group from the UK called Rudimental. They’re not super well known yet, but they’re getting there. It’s really cool Drum n’ Bass music. I think it would be awesome to translate all of the electronic drumming to a real or hybrid drum kit for live shows. Some other artists/bands include Muse, Alt-J, Kimbra, Arctic Monkeys, Foo-Fighters, etc. I could go on for days. 

List some of your accomplishments:
Getting out of bed before 10. Being able to afford rent in Los Angeles. But seriously, I’m not sure if I would call some of these accomplishments, but rather opportunities I’ve had. I’ve had the opportunity to study with many great musicians here in LA at the Los Angeles College of Music including Ralph Humphrey, Joe Porcaro, Tony Inzalaco, Michael Packer, Gary Ferguson, Dave Beyer, and Aaron Serfaty. I’ve also had the opportunity to play with many great musicians here in LA - players who have worked with Beyonce, Billy Joel, Selena Gomez, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Bruce Springsteen, etc. One of my favorites - Earlier this year, I had the unique opportunity to play with Bian Liunian, composer for the 2008 Beijing Olympics Closing Ceremony, at the NAMM Museum in Carlsbad, CA. 

Your currently in a band called Disciples of Babylon, What kind of band is this?
To quote the website - “Disciples of Babylon is an international rock band based in Hollywood, CA.” Our sound can be compared that of Muse, Foo Fighters, Queen, The Who, Stone Temple Pilots, U2 & Led Zeppelin, etc. That being said, we definitely have a more contemporary sound and production happening, which is cool. Most of all, we’re all really focused on empowering and inspiring our audience. There’s enough negative energy out there bombarding listeners as it is, so we want to counteract that and hope to shift things into another direction. 

*Check out their debut EP "Welcome to Babylon" 
Available at all fine online stores.

How did the band form?
The band started with Eric Knight (Vocals) and his desire to form a rock band whose goal is global domination. Eric had been patiently waiting to meet the right musicians to collaborate with, until he saw Ramon Blanco (Guitar) playing a guitar solo in his Facebook News Feed, or Youtube or something. At that moment Eric knew Ramon was the guy. To make a long story shorter, Ramon jumped on board and brought in Gui Bodi on Bass. Eric, Ramon, and Gui all studied at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA which is how they were able to more easily connect with one another. I, on the other hand, had met Ramon while playing as a hired gun for teen pop artist, Dyllan Murray. Later on, Ramon asked me to come in and meet/play with the band, and the rest is history.

Are you one of the songwriters in the band?
Yes. Our songwriting process in the band is very collaborative. Each of us contribute ideas and help arrange the music. 

Chris @The Whiskey A GoGo

As Indie bands, you have to hustle to make things happen... do you perform any other roles in the band, other than drummer?
Aside from just drumming in the band, I help with social media promotion. Every member has to pull their own weight with social media, otherwise we won’t be reaching our entire potential audience. I also do a lot of audio production/recording/mixing, so I am usually in charge of anything having to do with recording or mixing. For example, I have been the one to mix all of the audio used for our live video clips. 

Do you play any other instruments? 
I do play a little guitar, bass, and keyboards. Usually only for recording or production purposes though. 

What are your touring experiences, if any?
I’ve done a few national tours with some artists I’ve played for in the past. Nothing extensive, however. They were usually only week long trips because it’s hard most people to take that much off from the usual daily grind. I’m really looking forward to doing an international tour in the future. 

Describe your current set up & gear - heads and sticks...ect?
I play a 3 - Piece Gretsch USA Custom Caribbean Blue finish. Sizes are 12x10, 14x14, and 22x18 virgin. I absolutely love these drums because they just have such an open sound. Other musicians and sound guys love them too when I use them at gigs that don’t provide a house kit. Right now, I’m using some Remo Pinstripes on them for a super punchy tone with lots of attack. I currently use a 6.5” deep Ludwig Black Beauty snare with a standard Remo Coated Ambassador. For my cymbals, I’m using quite a variety of brands at the moment. I’m using some 14” Paiste Rude Hats from the 80’s that my dad gave me, an 18” Meinl Byzance traditional thin crash, an 18” Sabian Vault crash, and my 21” Zildjian Sweet Ride brilliant finish. I’m really hoping to swap out most of my cymbals for some Zildjian K Darks in the near future. Definitely before we record our next record with the Disciples. I use a DW 9000 Double Pedal when playing with the Disciples of Babylon. Most of the time I just play the single pedal with the slave taken off, otherwise. For sticks I use Vic Firth 5A’s. They are the perfect sticks. For most of my hardware, I use Yamaha because it’s straightforward, lightweight, and durable. In my opinion, they make the best stands out there. 

Do you have multiple kits and snares?
No, I’ve been refraining from buying anything additional for storage space reasons. I used to have a second little cocktail kit that I got rid of because of space. 

Which wood shells do you prefer?
For the most part, I prefer maple shells. Birch is a little to warm for my taste, I think. Beyond that, I don’t have much knowledge of other woods. There’s a lot of options out there now, with all the combinations and number of ply. Too much for me to keep track of. 

Do you have a “Dream Kit”?
Not in particular. I love the drums I have now, and am super thankful for them. I guess if I could add a 16x16 Floor Tom to my current Gretsch kit, that would be pretty rad though. 

How do you describe your drumming style?
I suppose some words I would use are precise and dynamic. But obviously, some of that depends on the gig or genre of music I’m playing. I’ve always had a tendency to want to play as rhythmically accurate as possible, unlike some drummers who can play a groove with the subdivisions not quite on the grid, but with tons of swag. That’s a skill that I’m working to develop at the moment. 

Why the drums?
I chose to play the drums because of the physical motion and exertion involved. Your body is always moving with the music. I feel that I can really express myself the most behind the drums. 

If you weren’t playing drums, what would you be doing?
I would probably be playing keyboards and synth stuff. There are so many sonic possibilities now with keyboards.

How has drumming impacted or changed your life?
Drumming has always been there as something for me to work and improve on. A source of endless goals. It’s kind of like a treadmill, in a way. There’s always something new to work on or develop. Without drums or music, I think life would have a lot less purpose or meaning to me, and a lot of other people. I think that rhythms in themselves have some healing and stress relieving capabilities, too. So by playing drums regularly, drummers can stay healthy and happy. 

Is the music business your career?
At this point in life, I’m still working to find a way to make a decent living solely off of music. And I know I’m not alone in this. However, for me it is not entirely necessary that the music business be my only career. I just want to have a career as a musician, even if that means I have to supplement my income with other career endeavors simultaneously until music can support me financially. As long as drumming and music play a significant role in my life, I will be happy. So to answer the question: Yes, a full-time career in the music business is one of my goals, but for now I do what I have to do to make a living so I can continue to play music and develop myself as a musician. 

Are you involved in the local music scene in your hometown, other than just playing in your band?
Yes, I do a lot of freelance work as a drummer outside of the band. I’ve played as a hire on for many different artists out here in LA. I also do the occasional church gig, corporate/jobbing gig, cover gig, etc. whenever they come my way. When I have time, I will also go and visit some of the jams in town or see a friend’s band play at a club. 

Name 5 of your drumming influences? why?
One of my newest favorite drummers is Chris Dave because of his groove and the way he messes with the time. I also just appreciate the sounds he chooses for his kit. He uses really dark and trashy sounding cymbals with crashes for hi hats that make his grooves so fat sounding. I also really enjoy Vinnie Colaiuta’s playing. I know he overplays, but he is a master. If you want to hear some sick licks, Vinnie has them down. And he plays them super solid. When you hear Vinnie playing, you know it is him. This might be a little cliche, but Buddy Rich is one of my favorites. The energy that he brings to his music is unmatched. He had chops to blow most of today’s drummers out of the water too. And for my last couple drummer influences, I would say both Aaron Gillespie, who played for Underoath and more recently Paramore, and Dominic Howard of Muse have both had a lot of influence on my own playing over the years. Both are fantastic rock drummers that have greatly influenced my own playing style. There are many more drummers that I would like to mention, but I will limit myself to 5. 

Name an inspiring concert that made you want to go home and start shedding?
A good friend of mine and I used to be really into this band called Umphrey’s McGee. They’re fairly well known in the jam band scene. Every time we would go see one of their shows, I would always come home just blown away by the musicianship of the entire band. Their drummer, Kris Meyers, is a killin’ drummer that has not been given enough attention in the drumming community, in my opinion. I think he was one of the guys that showed me the power that playing with dynamics can have over the music. 

How much time do you practice?
When I was younger, I had a lot more time to practice because I wasn’t concerned with paying rent and making a living, etc. But nowadays, I try to get into the practice space at least once a week for a good 4 hours. Gigs and rehearsals help me maintain my chops, and my weekly practice time is specifically for me to work on stuff that I suck at. Occasionally, I’ll break out the practice pad at home when I have time. I recently purchased one of those practice pads that straps onto your leg so you can practice anywhere. It’s a game changer. If you don’t have one, get one. 

Chris Toeller Recording "Hello" by Adele

What types of things do you work on, in those sessions?
Lately, I’ve been working on developing my finger technique. For most of my drumming career I’ve played primarily with my wrists, which helps me get a bigger sound out of the drums. But for some things like playing fast notes on the ride cymbal or hi hats, the fingers work better. So I’ve been working on that to get as much control out of my fingers as possible. I also work on a variety of bass drum techniques to achieve more control with my feet as well. Right now I’m working on Ankle-toe strokes for doubles, triples, etc. on both my feet so I can increase my double pedal speed and control. I also work on heel down technique to increase the strength and endurance of my shin muscles. Aside from technique, I’m working on odd groupings stuff. For example, playing quintuplets with one hand while the other is playing 16th notes. Things like that are fun because you don’t really ever hear them on recordings. Probably for a good reason. But it’s cool to be able to do anyway. 

We see that you record videos of yourself, how has this helped you?
I haven’t recorded enough videos of myself playing, which is something I’m actually in the process of doing right now. I’m working on a set of drum cover videos to put up on my future website that is currently in the making. I also plan on doing some drum videos with some original music of mine. In the past when I’ve done videos or recordings, I’ve found it helpful and eye opening to hear how I play to a click. Whether I play on top of it or behind it or dead on. I’ve noticed that with time, the way I play to a click has evolved quite a bit. I think that videos, in particular, reveal some of the strange, unconscious things that we, as drummers, do when they play. Like weird faces, or straining movements. Usually resulting from underdeveloped or poor technique. We all have those obstacles, and videos of my playing have definitely helped me become aware of them so I can make the proper adjustments. 

One Vision Audition

Do you sing and play?
I have, in the past. I’d rather just play drums, though. The singing can be distracting, especially when dealing with having a microphone near the drum kit. 

Do you prefer studio sessions, local live gigs or touring?
I definitely prefer the studio session and touring to local gigs. Sometimes the local gigs can really feel like work. Being in the studio doesn’t seem to happen as much for drummers these days, so I always appreciate any time I get to spend recording drums in the studio. And touring gets me out of LA for a bit, which is nice. I love LA, don’t get me wrong. But it’s nice to escape every now and then. There also seems to be a different kind of appreciation for music in cities outside of LA. I think that because LA is already so saturated with music and musicians, people have become kind of numb to it.

Do you prefer being in a band (artist) or being a sideman?
I actually really enjoy both. But, being in a band gives me a little more creative freedom, and I get to hang out with my closest friends. So I think that wins. Being a sideman can be a steady paycheck, though too. And sometimes that wins. Either way, If I’m playing good music with good people, life is good and I have no complaints. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be playing as a sideman for artists who are great people and friends. 

Disciples of Babylon

Do you have a crazy or interesting gig you can share with us?
Recently, as I mentioned earlier, I played drums for Bian Liunian, who composed the 2008 Beijing Olympics Closing Ceremony. The music for the gig mostly consisted of Bian’s original compositions, which are genius and beautiful. But very different from what I typically play for all of my other gigs. It was similar to the kind of arrangements you would experience when playing in a musical production. I had to treat the drum set like an entire percussion section, instead of playing grooves or keeping time or playing fills, like I normally do. All of us were reading too, except Bian. There were lots of odd time bars thrown in there. Sections where there was no ‘pulse’ and we had to simply follow Bian’s movements. Bian is a master of an instrument called the Erhu, which is similar to a violin but only has 2 strings. And he shreds on it. I had no knowledge of this instrument or any experience with Chinese music prior to this, so for me it was very far out. It was like playing Chinese Progressive music. I mean that in a good way though. It was one of the most fulfilling performances I have had as a musician. 

What are your words of wisdom for your fellow drummers out there?
Sometimes when I get really busy with music, and I’m playing tons of gigs back to back, and learning tons of music for only a few gigs, I realize that I forget to appreciate what I’m doing while I’m doing it. Anytime your behind your kit, just take a second to appreciate the fact that you’re playing your instrument and be thankful for how good that feels. I’m so guilty of forgetting to do this, myself. Sometimes I dread going to rehearsals. Sometimes some gigs feel pointless, and I would rather stay home and read or something. But as soon as I get behind the drum set, I don’t feel that way anymore. Once you play a gig, that experience is over. So appreciate it while it’s happening. That’s what we live for. 

Last Words, Links, Hashtags and Thank You’s???
First of all, a Huge Thanks to you, DeHaven, for asking me to be featured on your blog, Talkin’ Chop. I had a lot of fun answering some of these questions! And to my fellow drummers and musicians, I’m always looking to connect with new people. So stay in touch! Maybe we’ll have an opportunity to play together in the future. You can connect with me at any of my social media links below:

Also links to my band, Disciples of Babylon:

Thanks again, DeHaven, and thanks to all of you who took the time to read about my story!

*Make sure you guys support Disciples of Babylon and go buy their EP. on iTunes "Welcome to Babylon"

Chris Toeller has already had an interesting journey. It is only going to get more exciting and successful.
There are some good lessons here: be versatile, professional and ready. Adaptability is a key factor in success. It doesn't matter the genre, just be ready for the moments that come and you will conquer....and make some $$$  lol!!!!
Feed you soul with Rock n' Roll!!!

Big Thx to Chris for sharing his Drum Life and introducing us to his band.
Download their EP, follow them on soc. med.
Let's support each other!

Hey, as always...if you or someone you know would like to be featured on Talkin' Chop. Please contact me:


#TalkinChop  #TalkinChopBlog  #DrummersSupportDrummers

I'm Out!

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