Hello to all the readers of Modern Drummer! This is Derek Kerswill. I currently play drums full-time in the bands Unearth and Tangents, and also do a lot of independent studio work.
My love for drums started the very first time I saw Animal on The Muppet Show. I kid you not—I have always given him full credit for being my earliest influence. Throw in the fact that my dad listened to a ton of Led Zeppelin, and there it is: a kid destined to play drums.
I’m completely self-taught. The first year I had a drumset, my parents couldn’t afford cymbals, so I played a whole year on just shells. The following year I got a paper route and started buying gear little by little.
In junior high I got my first gig in the band’s jazz ensemble. I couldn’t read charts, but my memory for music is ridiculous, so the instructor had enough faith in me to give me recorded versions of songs to learn by memory, and that started some of the most monumental and formative years of my drumming life. I would like to add that although I have many inspirations in terms of drummers and musicians, the single greatest inspiration of my career to date was my jazz band instructor, Mr. Alex Dymek, of Memorial Middle School in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. I was a closed-minded twelve-year-old who only wanted to play Led Zeppelin songs, and he challenged me and opened my eyes to many different approaches to the kit and really stressed the importance of groove, feel, and timing.
I played in an incredible number of local bands in the New England area before landing my first real gig with a band called Long Distance Runner, which featured producer Matt Squire and former Overcast guitarist Pete Cortese. From playing in that band, I met one of my great friends, Brian Fair, singer of Shadows Fall, and in 2001 they asked me to join the band. I played with them for the majority of 2001, doing a stint in Japan (during which we played the last Pantera show ever at Yokohama Arena’s Beastfeast metal festival) and a host of U.S. dates, also writing and doing pre-production for a good portion of The Art Of Balance. I had not “officially” joined the band yet, and they informed me that if I wanted to step down, they had found someone else who wanted to join full-time. I had a really good corporate job at HP and a wife at home, and I just wasn’t ready to jump into everything full-time. I bowed out, and in came Jason Bittner.
About six months later, I formed a new band called Seemless with Pete Cortese, who I’d been writing songs with. I also received a call from Adam D. of Killswitch Engage, informing me that Unearth was looking for some help writing their new record, The Oncoming Storm. I was working on both projects simultaneously, but Seemless was my baby and I needed to see it through. We got signed to Equal Vision Records in 2005, released two records, and disbanded in 2009.
I had lost my job at HP due to outsourcing, so my wife said to take the next chance that came along and we would make it work out. We toured the second Seemless record for a year, but the band just never really caught on and we just continued a downward spiral of morale-killing tours and huge money losses. We were on a tour in May of 2007 when we all realized we needed to just go home and figure out the future. I was sitting in the van on a twenty-three-hour drive, wondering what the hell I as going to do, when my phone rang. It was Ken Susi of Unearth, asking me if I could fill in permanently with Unearth until I figured out what I wanted to do. I accepted the offer and was playing with them one week later! My first Unearth show was in Madrid, Spain, supporting Pearl Jam and the Used, playing to more than 20,000 people. The following day we were at Download Festival in Donnington, playing to about 15,000. I was completely overwhelmed.
I spent a year filling in with Unearth before officially joining the band in 2008 while writing songs for what would become our record The March. During that time I did a record with Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed and Kirk Windstein of Down in a project called Kingdom of Sorrow, and I received my first Billboard-charting record. I did some tours with KOS, until things became so busy with Unearth that I had to take a hiatus from the KOS camp.
I am currently on tour with Unearth for the last tour of the March cycle, and I’m proud to announce the release of my new project, Tangents’ One Little Light Year, which drops on October 26 via Restricted Releases/Sony.
Tangents is the project I’m doing with my great friend, singer/songwriter Dave Witham. Dave played in a band called Of The Hour, which I managed for a while before they disbanded in 2007. The two of us kept in contact, and I always secretly hoped we’d write and record some songs together at some point—just never thought it would turn into what it is now. We spent the better part of a year writing, recording, and producing One Little Light Year completely on our own. The rest is history!
I can’t thank enough the people who follow my work for the kind words I receive on a daily basis, the support that I get from friends and family, and most importantly my wife, for dealing with my absence and never complaining about it. Thank you all so much, and just wait until you hear what’s coming in the next months…whoa, Nelly!