Finding a New Musical Home
There are a thousand reasons why you could be thinking about uprooting yourself from your natural surroundings, your family, your friends, and your fellow musicians. It’s a good bet, though, that you’ve begun to feel you’ve reached the limit of how far your local environment will allow you flourish creatively.
“When I decided to move, I really had no other avenues to pursue,” says Michael Jerome Moore, whose credits include Richard Thompson and Better Than Ezra. “Everything in my hometown had kind of run its course.”
“You[decide to move because you want to better your life,” is how Kliph Scurlock puts it. Scurlock played with many artists based near his home in Lawrence, Kansas, including the Flaming Lips, before moving to Wales, where he now works with Gruff Rhys of the much-heralded group Super Furry Animals, as well as the up-and-coming singer Gwenno.
It requires a certain amount of courage to take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself, Am I doing everything I can every day to be the best possible musician I can be? If your honest answer is yes, then maybe it’s time to ask yourself the next, even harder question: Am I in the right creative environment to help me get where I want to go musically? If the answer to that question is no, then it could be time to take the first step in finding a new creative home to help you on your journey.
The Drummer in Us
Imagine yourself in a completely different environment, one where you’re not only trying to do what you do best, which is create music and play drums, but also establish a new lifestyle, social circle, and routine. We drummers can be a finicky bunch. We like things a certain way—the angle of our ride cymbal, the type of rug we set up on, the height of our throne, our stick and drumhead choices…. Basically, we like to be comfortable in our domain, whether that’s on stage, in a studio or rehearsal room, or at home. We look forward to enjoying a sense of familiarity as we’re playing.
These things are important to us, because once a comfort level is established, we become confident that the musical world we inhabit is ours to conquer. When we’re taken out of our natural environment, however, things can seem skewed, as if somehow every angle of our drumming world and life in general is off center. It can take some time to familiarize ourselves with our new domain to the point where we’re free enough to do our best.
To deal with all the changes involved in moving, we need to tap into our inner strength—which, whether we know it or not, we all have. After all, it takes courage to step on stage in a packed club or walk into a rehearsal room for the first time with a new project. It even takes a certain amount of inner strength to sit behind our kit at home and attempt some new pattern that we’ve been avoiding. We can use that strength when it’s time to address bigger-picture issues, like establishing a career in a completely new town.
We all lean on familiar patterns on the drumkit and in life, and yes, we should feel good about ourselves as we fine-tune our abilities. But it takes a ton of courage to step into the unknown, whether that means trying to add new things to our drumming toolbox or learning how to survive and prosper in a foreign environment.
“I didn’t have a plan,” says Lia Braswell, a Los Angeles native who worked with bands like Gothic Tropic and Le Butcherettes before relocating to New York City. “But my friends said, ‘Just try it for a while,’ and I’ve loved it ever since. I just took a chance, and I’m so happy that it’s worked out the way it has in a little over a year.” Since moving, Braswell has landed a much-coveted position as the drummer for A Place to Bury Strangers.
Devil’s in the Details
Overcoming practical obstacles, like limited finances, can be one of our biggest challenges. So you must determine as closely as possible how much it will cost to relocate to your new musical home. Is there an emergency fund that you can access to help you get where you want to go? If not, perhaps you should begin doing some extra gigs or odd jobs specifically to fill your “move fund.” Another thing you must consider is the relative cost of living in the city where you want to move in comparison with where you are now. Questions like these are vital to your decision-making process. Input from family and friends can be extremely helpful in these matters, so take advantage of the wisdom of anyone who has your best interests at heart.
What to Bring
Consider whether you need to take your entire setup with you, or just prized possessions such as your snare, cymbals, pedals, and throne. When Michael Jerome Moore was packing his little Honda for the drive from Dallas to his new headquarters in L.A., he made sure he had room for all of his gear, because he felt that he was going there to do the one job he knew he could do, and he didn’t want to compromise his ability to do that.
But you may feel differently, and you may be perfectly fine, at least at first, in taking a minimal amount of gear. At many of the gigs I’ve done in New York or L.A., and at festivals I’ve played in other towns, there’s either been a house kit or I’ve used the headliner or support artist’s kit, augmented by my essentials. Try to determine if you’ll be able to get by initially on provided gear.
If you’re thinking about settling in a city like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, you have to consider the inevitable parking dilemmas that go along with living in a bustling metropolis. Research a city’s transportation opportunities. Don’t let not having your own car to transport your eight-piece kit discourage you from actually playing. You’re going to need to be malleable in order to be the busy drummer you want to be. Bringing your dream kit to every gig is just not feasible most of the time; adapting to playing unfamiliar house kits or other drummers’ sets is usually the norm.
This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Of course we all like to play our own gear, but wrangling unfamiliar tones and setups are things that we have to deal with from time to time. And playing strange kits can be exciting and inspiring. While in Germany recently, I was playing at a festival where the house kit was specially made from indigenous wood by a local drum company, and it seemed to sing as I played it. Then, of course, there are times when you’re forced to play a rickety old house kit with heads that are older than you! You just have to make the best out of these situations. Remind yourself that you’re lucky to be able to be paid to play the drums, and play to the best of your ability. When you make that decision, usually good things happen.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
Ultimately the question we must answer is whether the pros of moving to a new location outweigh the cons of staying put. Moore decided it was time to leave Dallas when he became convinced that his friends’ connections and recommendations could result in his getting more work in L.A. “My buddy Jeff Liles had some connections with the group Blind Melon,” he recalls, “and I was able to jam and make good connections through that experience. Then my great friend and de facto manager, Donnie Graves, said that Richard Thompson from Fairport Convention was doing solo stuff, and I was recommended to play and hang out. That was over ten years ago, and I’ve been lucky enough to be his drummer and tour the world with him ever since.”
So, do you have a good group of contacts that can help you network and keep you as busy as possible? If not, begin building one. Take full advantage of the power of social media. Check out some of the top acts in the city where you’re thinking of relocating, and see if any of your friends are connected to them somehow. Spread the word that you’re considering moving there, and bend their ear a bit about potential opportunities. Are any of them immersed in the musical community, and if so can they help spread the word that you’re coming to town and are hungry for work?
“I spent years not only playing any gigs that were offered,” Moore says, “but just getting to know as many musicians and music industry people as possible.” Again, the more malleable you are as an artist, the easier it’ll be to play with different acts. If you’re a rock drummer, that’s great, but start learning and listening to other genres. Having a light touch and the dynamic control to be able to create lovely textures with just brushes on a snare will get you further than you think, and it could open the door to multiple opportunities down the road.
Again, treat your preparations for moving the same way you treat your drumming. Analyze the details and make adjustments, just like when you’re trying to learn a new playing concept. You’ve done that all these years, and you’ve seen success in your drumming as a result. It should serve as proof that you have the ability to achieve goals. Our life goals are no different. We can have the musical and creative lifestyle we’ve always dreamed of having.
First Steps are the Hardest
I’m not suggesting that the relocation process is going to be easy, but with hard work, in time you’ll see results. Kliph Scurlock spent months nailing down his Exceptional Talent visa and was granted foreign citizenship based on his accomplishments, among them having appeared on the cover of this very magazine.
What was it that Thomas Edison said? “Success is 90 percent perspiration, 10 percent inspiration.” Putting these initial steps in place will help turn your dream into reality. To quote another famous American, Franklin D. Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” And sometimes in a way these big decisions make themselves—if you’re honest enough with yourself to see it. “I realized that I was spending more time in Wales than at home,” Scurlock says. “And I [noticed that] I was feeling more at home there than in Kansas. That’s when I decided it was time to make the move.”
Focus on what’s best for you, and keep moving forward. Ultimately only you can decide where the greatest opportunities are to do the thing that we all like to do the best: survive on our earnings made from playing the drums.
Dallas-based drummer Jeff Ryan has worked with St. Vincent, Sarah Jaffe, and the War on Drugs. He releases ambient music under the moniker Myopic, has a duo project with Apples in Stereo drummer John M. Dufilho called JDJR, and recently recorded and toured with the bands Pleasant Grove, Baptist Generals, and Motorcade.
A Fresh Start
Packing some specific items can make adjusting to a new location a little easier. We asked our pros to share what they took with them—and to tell us when they knew they’d made the right choice to move.
“Besides my drums and recording gear, I brought everything I didn’t sell to pay for the visa and the flight over, which ended up being some records, CDs, books, clothes, memorabilia items, and some of my favorite dishes. I didn’t bring them to stave off homesickness per se, as when I get homesick, it’s for the people and places I miss, rather than stuff.
“I go back and forth between feeling like this is home and like it’s a place where I’m living. I mean, I do love it very much, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else at the moment. But there is a level of comfort and a sense of community I felt in Lawrence, Kansas, that I’m still not 100 percent at here yet. For example, a good friend of mine died a couple of days ago, and I know a bunch of friends in Lawrence have gone out to remember him and celebrate his life, whereas nobody here knew him. So I’ve been commiserating via email. It’s times like these that I most feel like somewhere else is home home, if that makes any sense.”
Michael Jerome Moore
“There’s always some sort of heart-shaped piece of glass, or pebble, or trinket-charm-thingy traveling with me so that my better half is traveling along with me too. I never leave home without them.
“Playing out and about town with fellow artists from my previous home state of Texas would eventually help me find some amazing musicians that I could learn from and be encouraged by. It took about four years to feel settled enough to call Los Angeles home, but home it became, and home it’s been for sixteen years now. I’d have to say that walking fifteen minutes down the road to Capitol Records from my neighborhood to record a few albums with the Blind Boys of Alabama, and all the awesome musicians I had the opportunity to record with on those records, helped me feel pretty dad-gum good about making the move at the time.”
“To ward off homesickness I took all the journals I’ve been writing for the past few years. “There were so many attributes to the move that happened at once! Lugging a suitcase of all my belongings any further? Ack!
“An anecdote: A day after arriving I met someone who was to become one of my best friends. It was also the day that we took a stroll through the East Village to get fancy, honey-flavored ice cream while talking about Patti Smith and her significance around the neighborhood—also how I’d just traveled six hours from the south of Portugal to the north to see Patti perform at Primavera Sound music festival. In a chance of fate, she—Patti Smith—entered the ice cream parlor to take a quick gaze at the flavors of the day. My friend Jamie and I rushed out to greet her with chocolate ice cream dripping from our chins and shaking hands. She was ravishing. I mentioned having seen her play in Porto a few weeks prior, and she asked, ‘Oh, how was it?’”