drummer John ZoxGreetings, Modern Drummers! I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you about my band, ZOX, my experience as its drummer for the past six years, and our new, third album, Line In The Sand. Allow me to give you some background—.

ZOX (yes, my last name, stolen from me at gunpoint) began as a college act playing cover songs to drunken co-eds in the campus bar, strictly on the weekends. But we quickly realized we aspired to do more musically, and had both the determination and songwriting skills to do so. I grew up studying percussion and playing in both the school orchestra and multiple bands; our violinist and bassist had similar backgrounds, although with more of a classical and jazz bent, respectively. Upon graduation from the college bar circuit (and surprisingly, school), we made it a priority to tour as much as possible and develop a fan base beyond our hometown of Providence, RI. We then toured for five years, logging more than a thousand shows on the festival, club, and college circuits in the US and Europe, and sold upwards of 35K records; eventually we signed to indie label SideOneDummy Records, and acquired management and a top-tier booking agent.

What blows me away about our story isn’t the against-all-odds stats that I never imagined we’d achieve, but rather the fact that I as a self-described drummer hobbyist have found myself playing drums professionally. I was always very honest with myself, and am fully aware of the fact that I’m no drum prodigy. But my revelation about great drumming, and what helped me flourish as ZOX’s drummer, is that it’s not always all about chops – it’s about playing what is appropriate for a song, and doing so in a unique way.

If you listen to any of the tracks off a ZOX album, especially the new one, and focus on the drums, you’ll hear that I’ve always tried to do something original but suitable for any given section of a song. I realized early on that the drumming I love to listen to is appealing if it’s pushing the percussive envelope, sounding different from what I’d expect to hear (read: have heard recycled over and over again). Cases in point on tracks from Line In The Sand: On “Another Attack” I use a cymbal on a tom as the “snare” sound; on “When The Rain Comes Down Again” I use a tom as a “hi-hat” sound, and on “Lucky Sometimes” I twist the traditional hi-hat accent of a 6/8 feel.

It’s a real challenge to make sure every track is different from the last, but it’s what sets apart the drummers I admire from the ones I just gloss over. You hear Jason McGerr (Deathcab For Cutie) and Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello) embracing this stylistic aesthetic in magical, musical ways. Keeping it simple, special, and solid has always been of utmost importance to me, converting technicality into style. I really think even the most technical drummers need to keep this in mind. I’ve always taken solace in this realization, and it helps me psychologically during the writing process. Steady and different. Don’t get in the way of the other instruments–rather, make your voice heard by complementing what they are doing with an original percussive approach.

To me, listening to the bands that have broken barriers, it’s always originality and style that has propelled their music and inspired listeners. And as a non-technical drummer myself, I absolutely have to remember this as I write drum parts in order for my input to have a visceral, meaningful impact for listeners. Line In The Sand came out on January 22; check it out and see what I’m talking about. I hope I succeeded. Keep a-rockin!