Where No Drummer Has Gone Before
“Technique has nothing to do with music. It’s a tool, like a hammer: You can build a shed or you can build the Sistine Chapel.”
If The Rock is the undisputed champion of wrestling, then Thomas Lang is the king of clinics. If you haven’t seen him, rest assured he’s hot on the circuit and will be performing at a venue near you shortly.
Ever since the Austrian-born London resident burst onto the North American scene a few years ago at the Modern Drummer Festival Weekend, Thomas Lang’s rise to the top has been nothing short of meteoric. He’s currently finishing leg two of a world clinic tour, promoting a best-selling Hudson double-DVD, Creative Control – possibly one of the most meticulous instructional videos ever – and he’s about to unleash two solo CDs. A signature series of Meinl cymbals bear his name, as does a unique practice kit by Remo.
Comparisons to The Rock are not as wacky as they seem. Thomas is a good-looking, charismatic dude who’s in great shape; he’s an effective public speaker who gives organized, motivational clinics; and, not least, he delivers knockout chops. After witnessing him play drums, either in clinic or on his DVD Creative Control, there is no question in drummers’ minds that Thomas Lang can execute any pattern that comes to mind – with his hands, feet, or any combination thereof. He can also groove as deep as it takes. This is important to Thomas because, as he will explain, his massive technical prowess exists for one reason’to serve the music. Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard that one before, but in this instance he’s dead serious. Lang’s powerful groove keeps him working with the cr’me de la cr’me of British and continental European pop stars.
Which brings us to the crux: If the industry decided to henceforth ban clinics, Thomas Lang wouldn’t be fazed in the least. If his grand drumming tours encompassing China, New Zealand, Australia, Europe, Canada, the US, and South America were to evaporate, Lang’s day job would remain as it was before: producing his own and others’ music, drumming on sessions, and touring the arenas of the world. Clinics, for Thomas, are icing.
It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy playing for gatherings of drummers; it’s that his identity doesn’t hinge on it. In fact, as Thomas admits in this interview, the sort of mega chops he trots out for drummers are those he developed as a hobby – his words. Sure, he undertook formal studies at an Austrian conservatory and with private teachers to hone his craft. But then he went further than most would consider necessary, alone into the nether regions of technique. He discovered that if he was utterly merciless in his focus and practice routine, he could make his feet do anything his hands do. Anything.
Lang’s toil has given birth to frightening speed, ambidexterity, and a repertoire of unique rhythmic patterns and timbres that he can employ in a diverse array of musical styles. For a clear example of such, look no further than the sparkling multiple hi-hat work he demonstrates at the top of his DVD.
Speaking about birth and hobbies, of late Thomas has a couple of new voices competing for his leisure time. He and his wife Elizabeth have recently become the proud parents of twins. For his first Modern Drummer cover, we started at the Lang crib, located in London.
MD: Don’t take this the wrong way, but a guy with your incredible facility might have gone for triplets instead of twins!
Thomas: [laughs] I thought doubles were enough – good doubles! Both boys are healthy, even though they were a month early. They are healthy, happy, and growing – and they’re champions at pooping.
This current road trip [world clinic tour] is the first extensive one I’ve had since the birth. We all have to adjust to the new situation. The children will have to live their lives with us and adjust, just as we do. We’re not intending to live babies’ lives from now on: They will travel with us and have the same experiences we do.
MD: I would think you’re currently the hottest clinician out there.
Thomas: It’s the first time I’ve been told that! We’re doing a massive promotional tour as a result of tight-knit collaborations between various sponsors and Hudson Music to promote the DVD, and I’m flattered. I know that it appears I’m hot property on the clinic market. I personally don’t want to look at it that way. It’s a very small part of what I do, and it’s not the most important part to me of ‘my job.”
MD: You made it clear in our last interview that you didn’t want to be construed as a “clinic star.”
Thomas: My work is in the music industry and not the clinic circuit. It’s flattering and it strokes my ego as a drummer, and I have a great time talking to all these drummers. But from a musical point of view, I can’t take it that seriously.
MD: It strikes me as curious that, given you’ve got such a tightly planned, strict methodology, you didn’t plan out this new portion of your life as well.
Thomas: No, I didn’t develop any of this to end up on the clinic circuit; it was a very personal approach that just became very public. It was a necessity to create a concept and method of practice that enabled me to develop efficiently and save a lot of time. Hopefully the method and concepts I’ve developed over the years will help someone else as well. So far, the reaction has been great. I get a lot of correspondence through my Web site [www.thomaslangdrummer.com], and people approach me at clinics saying that I’ve helped them. So I’m pleased.
MD: With the rigors of your schedule, do you still find time to practice? Or is practice simply playing?
Thomas: There’s absolutely no time. Between clinics, I’m touring with artists, recording, and producing artists. I try and spend as much time as I can on the road practicing and developing new ideas, even if it’s just mental preparation. But I do miss having time to practice. Thank God, though, I’ve found a way to make it happen for me on the road with the new Remo practice kit’shameless product plug here – but it not only helps me stay in shape in hotel rooms, it enables me to come up with new ideas and practice concepts for myself.
MD: In my opinion, the coolest feature of the Remo Thomas Lang practice kit is the music stand that can be used as a reflector so you can see yourself while practicing.
Thomas: Absolutely. I grew up with that kind of constant self-observation, and I believe it’s important to bring that into a practice routine on the drums. It really helps to observe what you do in a mirror. It’s an essential part of drumming: If it looks tight or tense, it’s going to sound tight or tense.
T. Bruce Wittet