For the past four years, Anton Fig has been hard at work conceiving and creating his first solo effort, Figments. Thanks to a bank loan (so he could record a good portion of it at home with Pro Tools) and his consistent work on The Late Show With David Letterman, Fig’s been able to complete the album. But it’s been a challenge fitting in work on the album along with his various session commitments and the weekly grind of the show.
With the help of such friends as Blondie Chaplin, Ace Frehley, Sebastian Bach, Chris Spedding, Chris Botti, Paul Shaffer, Tony Cedras, Richie Havens, Ivan Neville, Randy Brecker, and far too many others to mention, Fig has turned out a multi-layered, textured, and colorful CD. (It’s now available on his Web site, www.antonfig.com.) If you think you know what Anton is about from seeing him play on TV, well, this record is going to totally blow your mind.
For Fig, it’s a dream realized, as was his coming to the United States from his native Cape Town, South Africa at just seventeen years of age. Growing up in South Africa had its musical pros and cons. There weren’t concerts and there certainly weren’t any videos. (South Africa didn’t have commercial television until 1976.) But the young drummer did have records at his disposal. The emergence of a rather unique approach was the result of these “limited” circumstances.
Anton didn’t have any teachers in his area that he could study with, so a lot of his early development was on his own. He did have very supportive parents, who built a playroom for him so his bands could rehearse at their house. Fig’s parents also facilitated his move to the United States, where he attended the New England Conservatory of Music.
Thrust into a completely different culture, Fig recalls it as “a bizarre time in my life. The first thing I realized was that I didn’t understand the humor at all. I’d watch a TV sitcom and wouldn’t get it. I’d hear people laughing on the laugh track, but I wouldn’t know why. At that point I went into full survival mode, immersing myself in the University and studying and practicing nonstop.”
After graduation Anton saved a little money from gigging in Boston and then moved to New York, where he knew he wouldn’t get work immediately. For about a year, the drummer lived in a loft with a sax player he knew from Boston. He sat in everywhere he could and began to get hired for some weddings and bar mitzvahs. Anton’s first regular gig was with a signed band called Topaz, and while that group didn’t go anywhere, one of the members introduced him to rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon, with whom he began to work.
It was from there that the snowball effect began: Gordon’s producer was also producing Joan Armatrading, so he hired Anton. At that session he met Marcus Miller, as well as early Letterman show bandmembers Paul Shaffer, Hiram Bullock, and Will Lee. Fig then played on Paul Butterfield’s last record along with Shaffer, and then an Ace Frehley record with Lee. Shortly after that, Shaffer and Lee went to a Robert Gordon gig and saw Anton play live.
After forever asking Shaffer for the opportunity to sub on the Letterman show with no luck (“I came to the conclusion he was never going to call me”), Fig finally got his chance when the show’s original drummer, Steve Jordan, got extremely busy. It wasn’t long after this that Jordan exited the position and Fig got the job.
For fifteen years, Anton has entertained TV viewers by playing a huge amount of music with the band and with a myriad of guest artists. He’s also had the opportunity to perform at some of the largest events in music, including the annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremonies and the recent Concert For New York.
While Fig loves being on the popular show and has no plans of leaving, he’s had something gnawing at him’to make his own record. And now with Figments, listeners are going to be surprised at the depth of this fine musician.
MD: With all the music you play, why was a solo record necessary for you as a drummer!
Anton: First of all, I think of myself not as a drummer, but as a musician. I’m not a prolific songwriter, but I like to sit down and mess around on keyboards or guitar and write. Over the years I’ve collected a bunch of songs and wanted to record them and be involved in the whole process of making a record, from the genesis of it to its completion. As a drummer, I’ve done so many sessions where I walk in and play on the basic track and go away. I wanted to do something of my own from start to finish.
MD: I know this isn’t a drum record, per se, but are there any particular tracks that had a drum focus?
Anton: Playing the drums on the record was a completely secondary experience. It was about supporting the songs. That said, there’s a song called “Home” that’s in 6/8 and then goes into 4/4, and I changed the backbeat on the 6/8 part so it’s not so common. It has the effect of the snare coming in where you don’t expect it.
There’s another song, “January/February/March,” that is a very typical South African/Cape Town groove. It’s not difficult to play, but it’s a matter of getting all the right elements in place. I tried to stay true to how that music sounded when I was growing up in South Africa.
One of the first songs I wrote is this big, heavy metal, half-time tune called “No Where You Go.” I got Sebastian Bach and Ace Frehley to perform on it, which was fun. I don’t know if any of these could be called stellar drum performances, but I think the drums serve the song on these tracks.
MD: During the making of your record you were executing your job as Letterman’s drummer. After fifteen years, how do you keep it fresh?
Anton: First of all, it’s one of the best jobs in the world. I get to play with a lot of great people, I have national television exposure, I get to play every day, I get a regular paycheck, it takes very few hours out of my day, and it doesn’t preclude me from doing a lot of outside work. About the only thing I can’t do is go out on the road for extended periods of time.
MD: So what’s next in the adventures of Anton Fig?
Anton: Well, after spending so much time on my record, I’m back to focusing on my playing. I’m really enjoying revisiting the drums again, and in some ways I feel as though I’m reacquainting myself with the instrument. It’s funny how good it makes you feel. Drumming is the lifeblood of everything for me.