Josh Freese: my top 3 playing tips
Rock’s go-to drummer gives you the skinny. Josh Freese will make you a better player – and person. Drummer Josh Freese knows how to get the gig. His resume boasts working with artists as varied as Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle, Devo, The Vandals, Sting, Paul Westerberg, Guns N’ Roses, Slash, Stevie Nicks, The Indigo Girls…you get the idea: he’s the go-to guy. How he got there is a bit of a mystery, however. “I’m not a big fan of saying to people, ‘You have to play like this’ or ‘You can’t play that,'” “because a lot of the time, those things that you’re taught in music class or wherever don’t translate to the real world.”
With that in mind, the in-demand drummer (who is about to release a most wonderful solo album called Since 1972) if he had 3 real-life playing tips he would care to impart on all the budding Josh Freeses out there. Here’s what he had to say:
1. Listen carefully
“Listen well and listen to as much as you can,” Freese says. “By that I mean, if you’re not into jazz, don’t listen to it. I’m not into jazz, so I can’t say I’ve spent a lot of time checking it out. I’m more of a rock and pop guy, so that’s the stuff I listen to.
“But the thing is, I’ve always made sure to analyze why a song works. Structure, dynamics, melody, and then, of course, the playing — all of these things coalesce to make a tune successful or not.
“Listen to the greats. Listen to the not-so-greats. Check out everything you can. Ask yourself, ‘Can I play that part?’ and then try to play it. Or ask yourself, ‘Could I have played that part better?’ and then see if you can. You can give yourself an incredible musical education in the privacy of your own bedroom if you just open up your ears and your mind.
“The main thing is, don’t get stuck in a rut. Even if you have one band that’s your favorite in the whole world, don’t listen to only that band. There’s a lot of greatness out there, and it’s all educational.”
2. Get out there and play already
“You can only stay in your basement or your bedroom for so long,” says Freese. “After a while, you have to face the big bad world, and the great thing you’ll discover is…there’s tons of people to play with, and you can learn from pretty much all of them.
“Make yourself available. Jam with bands. Go up to them in clubs and ask if they want to play. The worst thing they can say is, ‘No, beat it.’ But a lot of the time they’ll say, ‘Sure, let’s get together.’
“Playing along to CDs is fine, but nothing gets your game together faster than jamming with real live musicians. And don’t be afraid if they’re better than you. Remember: they weren’t always awesome. Somebody played with them at one time and made them improve.
“Getting out there and playing with musicians will change you in ways you won’t believe. Something magical happens when you’re in a room with accomplished musicians – before you know it, you’ll be doing things you never thought you could do. “And who knows? You might teach them a thing or two.”
3. Don’t be a Fool
“This is very important,” says Freese. “Whether you’re going for a job interview in a corporate office or you’re trying to meet a girl or you’re meeting Sting for the first time hoping he’ll ask you to tour with him, people have to get a good vibe from you and know they want to be around you.
“Playing in a band or recording an album, a lot of the time the success of the music comes down to the personalities involved, and if you have an attitude problem, nobody’s going to want to play with you. It’ll show in the music, and you’ll be seeing the wrong end of the door quick.
“The music community might seem like this vast global thing, but the truth is, it’s a very small world, and word travels fast: ‘Hey, this guy’s an idiot, you don’t want to deal with him,’ or ‘Hey, this guy’s real cool, you should check him out.’
“It doesn’t matter if you’re the hottest player in town if you’re a fool, people are only going to deal with you for so long. So be a good person. What you give out is what you get back. That’s not just music that’s life.”