drummer Marco Minnemann: Beyond Chops

by Mike Haid

A new breed of drummer has emerged over the past decade. This elite group of international super-drummers has changed the face of drumming and raised the bar on speed, ambidextrous technique, soloing, stick tricks, multi-pedal coordination, and independence to levels that seem unimaginable to most drummers. Rising to the top of this short list is German super-talent Marco Minnemann. Combining the rhythmic compositional depth of Frank Zappa and the technical drumming skills of Zappa’s amazing drummers rolled into one bionic rhythm machine, Minnemann is light-years ahead of the pack in terms of interdependence among his limbs. In fact, one could argue that he has been instrumental in developing the advanced concept of complex interdependence.

I first sensed this phenomenon approaching several years ago when I was introduced to Minnemann’s Illegal Aliens project. It was not only his insane drumming that floored me, but also his songwriting and production skills. There was artistic maturity in his work on many levels that stood out from the other adventurous musical projects of the time that featured over-the-top drumming. No question, Minnemann was special. As fate would have it, here we are, ten years later, and this now-veteran drumming master continues his quest to challenge himself and the drumming world to achieve bold, new musical creations that reach far beyond mere technical acrobatics.

Minnemann has been a prolific songwriter and producer for many years, covering a spectrum of diverse musical styles between his early years with his band, Illegal Aliens, and his six eclectic solo recordings. Along with his diverse pop material, hardcore metal, techno-electronica, modern pop/punk creations, and sophisticated fusion, Marco has created an interesting concept he calls “speech to music,” orchestrating spoken word dialog to music. His challenging instructional books (Extreme Interdependence, Ultimate Play-Along, and the latest, Maximum Minnemann), a recent thirty-six–song double CD set, Contraire De La Chanson (Marco plays all the instruments and sings), and DVDs Extreme Drumming and the brand new Marco Show, lay testament to his tireless pursuit of developing some of the most innovative, musical, and highly advanced drumming techniques of our time.

It’s completely appropriate that Minnemann should appear on the cover of a theme issue about coordination and independence. The drummer’s advanced interdependence concepts have allowed him the freedom to play any combination of patterns in any time signature with any limb, simultaneously playing separate note groupings with all four limbs (usually with his feet constantly shifting across multiple foot pedals). Yes, it’s Marco’s metric madness!

Marco has also developed technically amazing, visually exciting soloing skills with this advanced technique. But his real magic is that he makes even the most complicated rhythms sound and feel as smooth and relaxed as his emotionally driven, rock-solid, basic grooves.

Last year, Marco toured with Zappa alumni Terry Bozzio and Chad Wackerman on a percussive tour de force known as The BMW Tour. His performances on that tour solidified his place atop the list of modern-day drumming geniuses.

Most recently, following in the footsteps of fellow international super-drummers Virgil Donati (Australia) and Thomas Lang (Austria), Marco has relocated from across the pond to Southern California–as if there wasn’t enough superstar drumming talents residing in the Los Angeles area. (Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl, and Simon Phillips all live there, to name a few.)

Drummer Marco Minnemann at the kitWhat’s the attraction for these superheroes to congregate in sunny Southern California? And how can so many phenomenal players survive in such close proximity to one another? In Marco’s case, his relocation into the jungle of heavyweights shouldn’t be a difficult one.

So, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to “The Marco Show!”

MD: When and why did you begin your pursuit of interdependence?

Marco: I never intended to write any books or try to influence a new generation of drummers with this concept. The concept of interdependence evolved directly from the fact that I wanted to learn how to play some of the drum patterns that I was programming for my original compositions back in 1996. When I started this I found that it was very difficult to break these patterns down and play–for instance, double stroke–roll patterns on my left side against triple-stroke combinations on my right.

I remember this began in between tours, while I was in Spain. I had two weeks off and decided I would start working on all of the various combinations that I could imagine against one another. I began with two elements, hands against feet, then right side against left side, and finally right foot/left hand against left foot/right hand combinations. These were the first exercises I learned, based on all 16th-note right/left groupings that are possible in 4/4–LLLL, RRRR, LRLR, RLRL, and so on. This was quite a challenge, but it was fun.

All of that became the first chapter of this new technique. So while writing down all of these ideas, I practiced until I felt comfortable with them. Then I began the next chapter of adding triplet combinations and playing them against the 16th-note groupings. These combinations led to very interesting modulations in the rhythm. I started to feel my independence on the drums really grow.

MD: How long has it taken you to really feel comfortable with the majority of your interdependence techniques?

Marco: It’s taken years to get comfortable with this technique. At the time the first book came out, I sounded like a complete beginner. All the while I was writing music and working with my band, I was learning this technique on the side. I really sounded bad at first. I remember doing a session with the band H-BlockX, and during the breaks I started practicing a paradiddle on the right side and a ratamacue on the left. One of the guys came into the room to see who was playing. When he saw me, he was shocked. He said, “What’s wrong with you? That sounds horrible.” [laughs]

For the first couple of years, I sounded really stiff. I started playing double-stroke combinations against single-stroke combinations, and once I felt comfortable with that I added paradiddle combinations against different paradiddle combinations. I found that there were endless combinations that I could work on. I was very patient with myself because I really wanted to achieve this goal. When I began to get it, the feeling was amazing.

I feel that when you have a special talent, you should take it as far as you can. Nothing in the world can buy that or replace it. The energy that I put into learning these difficult concepts comes back to me when I finally learn them. Then that gives me the motivation to move ahead to the next challenge.

MD: Do you feel that most drummers come to your clinics really wanting to learn anything, or are they mostly there to see a superhero flash his superpowers? Does it become more of a spectacle than an educational event?

Marco: One thing that has been disappointing over the past few years is that many drummers seem to get the wrong idea about what I’m trying to achieve with my educational books, clinics, and DVDs. I’m very thankful for my success in developing these tools, but it seems to have created an atmosphere of competition that was not intended. I’ve heard many drummers take these concepts and develop them in a very non-musical way. This technique was developed to be fun and challenging, not designed for us to challenge each other like some type of athletic competition. That’s not what I’m about, and that’s not what my concepts are about.