Thursday, July 28, 2016

Volume 43 - Eric Downs



Once again it is my pleasure to introduce to some and present to others, another great talent making his way in the music world. This kat is skilled in the drumming arts and uses his versatile approach to Pop, HipHop and Electronic music to carve his own niche in the L.A. music scene. Also possessing a great professional attitude, which is another reason he gets hired. If he's not on a gig, he's creating drum vids and creating something he calls Downs Duets a very interesting take on the "drum video" scene. Well versed in the ways recording and programming, Eric will never be out of work. Thx to a mutual friend, Devin Beaman (Vol. 40) he sent me a video link and said I needed to connect with Eric. So I did. The next thing I knew he was the 43rd interview on TC and I'm so glad he agreed. Here he is in his own words, Eric Downs...Talkin' Chop.

Name or Stage Name: Eric Downs

Where are you from? Hershey, Pennsylvania

How long have you been playing? 14 years

What is or are your main genre of playing? 
Pretty much anything with "pop" in the genre name. I particularly like electronic or urban/hip hop influenced pop.

How did you get where you are now? 
I got my first drumset at 15 (after 4 straight years of nagging my dad to let me put one in the house). I spent hours and hours in the basement playing to my favorite CDs and recording myself on a tape recorded I found. I went to college in Pittsburgh, PA, and there, I met my first and only drum teacher, Greg Humphries, who exposed me to jazz and latin music, but most importantly, taught me the vocabulary of rhythm and how to apply it and teach myself (very similar to Benny Greb's Language of Drumming). I played in the jazz big band and small combos on campus, then slowly moved into the local Pittsburgh music scene playing everything including progressive rock, jazz, singer/songwriter, and even Caribbean steel pan music. I moved to LA from Pittsburgh in 2012 with a band who broke up shortly thereafter. After getting a taste of the vibe, though, I knew I wanted to stay here for a long time. There's so much creativity, everyone knows someone (which is critical to landing work), and everyone also seems to be hustling. Since then, I've been honing my playing, recording, production, and engineering chops, which have led me to touring opportunities, production and scoring credits, and commercial and film music placements. At this point, I simply strive to get better at all of those things every day.

What are your goals, short & long term? 
Recently, I've been "leveling up" (as I like to put it) with the artists I play with and the production projects I've been involved with. Simply enough, I'd like to continue that trajectory, hopefully finding that a gig that plays big and pays big.

Long term, I'd like to find a way to create a lasting impact on the world. I know that's vague, and that's all I've got at the moment, but that's what I want to do, haha. 

Artists you would like to play for? 
Phantogram. Phantogram. Phantogram.

What is you're obsession with Phantogram, lol? 
They just encapsulate everything I like in music. Great singer, great songwriting, hip hop production style, pop sensibility. Love it. For that matter, I'd also love to play for Kimbra for all the same reasons. She's incredible. A true artist.

List some of your accomplishments: 
I recently recorded and released my own Loop & Sample pack entitled "BeatDowns." I created this because I felt like I had a voice to offer that I haven't heard covered a lot and I wanted to create something that demonstrated my playing, my sound choices, and my recording/engineering/production chops. It contains 70 unique grooves, one shots, and hi hat loops that are great for giving a song a more real, live feel. 

What kind of projects do you have going on right now? 
I currently tour with 4 LA-based artists: Satchmode, Allison Weiss, Olivver the Kid, and AJ Lehrman. During the day, I mix/produce music for a production studio called Bridge Compositions and record drums for people out of my studio in Downtown LA. On the back burner, I've been working on an album of cinematic drum scores geared for film. 

So, how do find it being a musician in the L.A. scene? 
I think the LA musician scene is more of a spectrum. There are those who are cutting their teeth and building their reputation by gigging out and doing session work, and then there are those who stay in and work on their craft in the studio, then find a connect who pushes them up the ladder. Neither is better than the other. In Pittsburgh, I was definitely the former, but when I moved to LA, I started transitioning to the latter. I think because there is such a large pop scene that is cultured here along with all of the people who can make it happen, it's much more acceptable to stay inside and labor over your craft until it reaches perfection, when you can pass it along to one of those people who can build a machine around it (as opposed to a scene like New York, where there are a ton of clubs and artists and a musician can play multiple gigs in one night).

What would be some of the things you learned in how to be successful? 
You can't rely on your talent alone to get you work. It's a safe assumption that everyone in the scene can play. It's an afterthought. What will you get you work will be the things outside of your playing. Are you cool/easy/fun to hang out with? Are you easy to tour with? Do you show up on time? Did you practice? Are you prepared? How much do you know about music theory? Recording? DAWs? Production? Playing with an artist/band requires a lot more than simply playing your instrument. Creating a comfortable, supportive vibe with your fellow musicians requires humility, trust, listening, and the ability to take criticism. Furthermore, in this majorly content driven world we live in, the ability to record audio, record and edit a video for Instagram/YouTube or even simply how to adjust a mic's placement or tune a drum will make you way more valuable than those paradiddles that you can almost play clean at 108bpm. 

Are you doing music full time? 

Do you like the freedom of doing different projects or would you prefer to land that one really kool gig and then just do some stuff on the side? 
I want the kool gig with side projects. Maybe I'm materialistic, but who doesn't want to go fly to some foreign city, play for thousands of people, and make a few grand?

CHVRCHES "Bury It" (feat. Hayley Williams) drum cover

Do you play any other instruments? 
The computer, haha. That used to be more of a joke than it is now. Many of the gigs I have these days require knowledge of how to build and run an Ableton set, and teaching myself that has easily led to opportunities I wouldn't have gotten otherwise. I even get hired occasionally to build Ableton sets/rigs for other artists/bands since it's become that popular.

What are your touring experiences, if any? 
Several regional and national tours. One international tour. Got 3-5 more lined up for the rest of the year, regional, national, and one international (got my fingers crossed that the booking pulls through on that one!)

Describe your current set up & gear - heads and sticks...ect? 
I play a Tama Starclassic Performer B/B kit, Meinl cymbals, Evans drumheads, Vic Firth sticks, MOTU audio equipment, and a SPD-SX. I also have a shelf full of stuff like bandanas, tambourines, togo seed rattles, and other weird stuff that I'll put on my drums and cymbals to make them sound more unique. When possible/necessary, I like to try to create a unique sound for recordings as somewhat of a signature.

Do you consider yourself a "gear junkie"? 
No. A friend once told me "a bad performance through great gear is still a bad performance. A great performance through bad gear just give it vibe". When you listen to The Beatles or Stevie Wonder or J Dilla, nobody talks about the tape hiss or weird EQ or bad phase relationships. Most people don't even know what kind of gear was used to record that stuff. All they know is the songs are good and the music feels good. Gear will never make or break a good song.
On a personal note, when I started recording, I bought an intermediate audio interface from Craigslist and got a intermediate mic kit from a company nobody's ever heard of based in Illinois called KAM. Initially, when I compared my recordings to those made with more expensive equipment, I could hear the difference, for sure. But, having less-than-expensive equipment forced me to build my engineering chops and my production ear. When a mic has a weird EQ profile, you learn how to move it to get the best sound. When your pre-amps aren't super expensive, you learn how to use EQ and compression to shape and improve your audio. I've since upgraded a lot of my gear simply to save time in recording, but working with less-than-ideal recordings forces you to develop a very important side of your ear rather than relying on the price of a microphone to convince you that the sound is good. 

Do you have a “Dream Kit”? 
I think most of my peers would rattle off some sort of vintage Ludwig something-or-other, but for me, a Tama Star Bubinga would be awesome. To me, it's a lot easier to make a great, modern sounding kit sound old (using muffling and tuning) than to try to make an old kit sound new. Don't get me wrong; I LOVE the vibe and character of an old 1960s Gretsch Round Badge, but the spectrum of music I play is far too wide to be sonically limited to one era. Top that with a bunch of Meinl Dual Extra dry cymbals and I'm in heaven. Those things are exactly what I think a cymbal should sound like.

How do you describe your drumming style? 
Progressive Urban White Boy Pocket? My style is an amalgamation of everything I've been involved with. I play a lot of pop, so I don't chop a lot. I used to play progressive rock, so I'm used to listening for musical figures, melodies, and space to fill (or not fill!). D'Angelo is one of my top 3 favorite artists, so I love a Questlove pocket. I love the programming in trap music, and I've been working for a while to get that vocabulary into my hands. J Dilla is a god, so I'll give you strung loops all day and I try to find important lyrics or melodies to "cut" on, which I'd say is my favorite move in my playing (not playing, haha!).

LORDE "Royals" drum cover
(I dig this cover bcuz it shows how much better the track sounds with a live drummer, putting some feel into it.)

Why the drums? 
I remember way back, when I was like 3-5 years old, my mom used to take me to a babysitter when she went to work and the babysitter's son had a drum set in his room. I don't remember what kind it was, but I remember staring at it and just thinking about how amazingly cool it looked to be surrounded by all these shiny, colorful, noise-making things. From that point on, it was only a matter of time.

If you weren’t playing drums, what would you be doing? Public speaker. 

How has drumming impacted or changed your life? 
Man, its kept me sane and given my life purpose. Every day, I see frustrated people I know living mundane lives that are short of their potential, feeling caught in the rat race, unable to see a reason why they're on this planet. I may not be a famous drummer (or a famous anything for that matter), but when I go into the studio, I enter my sanctuary. Regardless of what's happening in the outside world, I'm in there with myself, exploring my own creativity and building confidence in my creative efficacy. If I never become rich and famous, I'll still feel great knowing that I've created music that will live on long after I'm gone.

Name 5 of your drumming influences? why? 
Daru Jones - unbeatable Detroit hip hop pocket. Chris Dave - stretching the limits of what we can nod our head to. Thomas Pridgen - brutally raw and ferocious. Eric Harland - textural sorcerer. Kiel Feher - the feel.
Dana Hawkins - phrasing, dexterity and vocabulary.

Name an inspiring concert that made you want to go home and start shedding? 
Tool. No one can create such musical melody on drums better than Danny Carey.

How much time do you practice? 
Between 2-5 hours a day.

What types of things do you work on, in those sessions? Everything that is important to me. Trying to develop a killer feel and pocket. Expression and variation within a groove. Some days its just speed and dexterity around the kit. My favorite exercise is to do rudiments on my floor tom and accent various phrases and figures on my ride cymbal with the kick. Rudiments on the floor tom forces your hands to be smooth, strong, and solid, and the cymbal accents expand your capability to phrase in and out of the barline while building coordination between your hands and feel.

Lately, I've been doing a bunch of collaboration videos on Instagram where find someone playing something that I think is cool and try to write, record, and film a drum part to it. Sometimes I'll just spend time doing that, working on composition, finding grooves that accent and support a part, creating or filling space, creating a feeling (whether it be excitement or chill groove), and just working on my pocket. 

You've got some kool drum videos on youtube. what do you learn from watching your videos? 
Thanks! Making those videos is easily one of the most valuable things I do with my free time, and I strongly recommend that every drummer does it. Not only will it give you an opportunity to analyze your playing, but it'll expose you and give you the opportunity to develop your tuning, recording, and production chops as well as your video production skills. Then, on top of that, you have a one-stop promo package that demonstrates all of those things for potential artists to look at if your name gets passed to them through a connect (and they do look for these!). 

Meghan Trainor "Me Too" drum cover

How do go about deciding what songs to choose for your drum videos? 
First and foremost, the song has to have a simple percussion part in it with lots of space. If it has big, crazy drums, it's just going to sound like two drummers playing at the same time, which, more often than not, would sound terrible. I typically lean toward pop songs because I like pop music so much and those are the kinds of gigs I'd like to see myself on. Also, they tend to get more hits, haha.

Have the videos helped in getting you gigs? 
Absolutely. I'd say the majority of the gigs I've gotten have come along with "Yeah, I saw some of your videos online." And not just performing/recording gigs! On occasion, I've been hired to record and mix other people's playing, and boy does that pay!

You recently launched a series on Instagram called Downs Duets. How did this come about and what is the focus of this project? 
Downs Duets came about when my very close friend and one of my favorite musicians of all time, Dave Yarkovsky, posted a video of a groove he was playing on a new Telecaster he bought. Dave is from Pittsburgh, and he and I have unfortunately had fewer opportunities to create music together than we wish, but we're totally on the same wavelength. We're 70% soul, 30% prog. When I saw the video, I thought to myself, man, I'd love to record drums to that. Then I decided to do so. It received great response and I realized that this could be a really fun way to compose music with people that I may never meet, whether they are famous or just live in other cities. Plus, if they like what I do, who knows what it could lead to? Since it started, I've done videos "with" John Mayer, the guitarist for Tori Kelly (who is apparently a big deal in the guitar world), and a bunch of other blazingly talented players from all over the country. It's been massively fun and very gratifying.

@eldowns x @johnmayer (Downs Duet)

Do you prefer studio sessions, local live gigs or touring? All of the above, although I particularly like touring. It's particularly gratifying to travel to different cities/countries to play for people who came because they like the music you're playing. 

You also work with electronics. Is it an important part of your arsenal? 
Absolutely. As I had mentioned earlier, using an SPD-SX, triggers, and pads are pretty much a requirement for most artists I play with. If you're not only willing to use these things, but have the ability and knowledge to integrate them with an Ableton live set, select/manipulate/adjust sounds, etc., your value can grow significantly.

Do you have a crazy or interesting gig you can share with us? 
I do, but I signed an NDA that said I wouldn't talk about it.

What are your words of wisdom for your fellow drummers out there? 
Basically what I mentioned earlier about the lessons I've learned. Don't stop at the drums. Learn how to produce music - aside from learning how to create/manipulate sounds, it'll teach you about what drum part a song needs rather than what you think the coolest thing would be. Learn how to edit a video. Learn how to use Photoshop. Put yourself on the internet - you never know who will see your video and offer you a gig. Get to rehearsal prepared and set up before anyone gets there, then nail it. Take criticism with grace. Go to the guitarist's 4th of July barbecue and meet all of his/her friends. If you're cool, they'll ask about you and give you more work. Repeat.

Last Words, Links, Hashtags and Thank You’s??? 
Thanks to DeHaven for your great support of the musician community. Shoutout to my homie and monster drummer, Devin Beaman for being a killer inspiration and solid friend.


Simply put, we'll be hearing about Eric Downs on some kool, high profile gig soon, I'm sure of it!

Eric, thx for taking the time to do this interview and share your drum life with us. I think there is some really good stuff in there for those of us out there hustling in this game, especially our up & coming young kats.

Remember you can catch with Eric on his Soc. Med sites:



Connect with him and network.

I'm always looking for new drummers to interview.
So if you're interested, contact me:
DeHaven - 

#DrummersSupportDrummers  #TalkinChop  #DrumLife


No comments:

Post a Comment