Peaceful greetings to Modern Drummer and its readers, my name is Rickie Mazzotta and in case you don’t know who I am, here is a little bit about myself: I am a current and founding member of the band mewithoutYou. I have been with them for fourteen years and playing drums for about twenty-two.
Given that I never had a teacher, I consider John Bonham, Jimmy Chamberlain, Dave Grohl, Abe Cunningham, Brendan Canty, and Sly Dunbar to be among my highest masters, gurus, whatever you want to call them. Most of my formative years were spent with these men, listening, watching, and closely observing. After I viewed Nirvana’s 1993 Live and Loud New Year’s Eve Special, I was fixated on being a drummer; luckily a blizzard infected the East Coast shortly after and I shoveled my way into purchasing a kit (it is funny how some things happen).
I am a proud endorsee of CC Drums (ten years strong) as well as Meinl cymbals. For better or worse, touring is my life and I love it! I am currently in muggy Tulsa, Oklahoma heading into week six of a run with Foxing and Field Mouse, supporting our new album Pale Horses.
We’ve been on the road for quite some time now, having played 750 plus shows in venues ranging from VFW halls in West Virginia to Earl’s Court in London. I have shared the stage with hundreds of musicians I admire and respect. This—playing live—is one of the only avenues of music I actually feel qualified to talk about. Gear specs and the technical aspects of the craft have never been of much interest to me. I thrive on a stage with my kit as my little kingdom, in a fantastical world, me as the ruler.
Any time I get to give advice about playing shows or touring I chomp at the bit to spew the wisdom that I have picked up over the last decade. “Playing out” is a learned process, sure, if you are competent and have a set-up, you can do it, but I definitely subscribe to the Murphy’s Law theory of drumming: what can go wrong will on a stage and the only way to combat that is being prepared and aware. This could be said for all musicians and most times the only way to learn, sadly, is the hard way. Being that we are the keepers of time, our job is paramount to the success of the show.
Here are some of the things I do and tell myself over and over in order to achieve “excellence” when playing a show. First, when you get to a venue, make nice with the sound and monitor engineers, they can alter your fate in ways you cannot even imagine. Even if they seem like El Diablo himself, try to break through; learn their names and be friendly and patient, good attitudes coupled with good sound will allow you to do your job with greater ease. Even though these men and women (usually clad in black) can seem like stonewalls, they are an important lubricant to the function of your playing. If you can get the stonewalls to crack the slightest smile, consider it a win!
Second, know your gear. There are a lot of parts to a drum set-up, each cymbal stand, kick pedal, and drum shell has features that over time can become loose and rattle away to the point of collapse and there is nothing worse than watching a rack tom fall forward during the middle of a critical show moment. It is distracting and unnecessary. Take the time to do an inspection, tightening springs and lugs as if they were on a car that you are getting ready to take on a long road trip. Get in the habit of having extra spare parts in a toolbox; there are never enough felts, washers, or rubbers for your floor tom. I don’t know where these things run off to but over time they disappear and having a surplus on hand will do miracles for you.
Be your own tech at all levels. Polish those things like they owe you something. It is a thankless job but I assure you, your beautiful drums will appreciate you that much more. It took me ten years or so to wise up to carrying a functioning tech box complete with all of the above items, a spiked rug, a back up kick pedal, and a whole set of back up heads. Also, you can never have too many drum keys. For whatever reason, these little tools dance around to the thump of your kick drum and enter a void, lost under stages and risers in the darkest parts of the club, never to be found again, certainly not by you. Would you believe me if I told you I started the tour with eight and now have one? I know, it’s a travesty.
Lastly, do whatever it is you need to do to get to the point that your chops are second nature. You want to be able to have fun playing music and for me a way to do that is to be overly prepared, from organization to knowing the music inside out. In mewithoutYou, I have the luxury of controlling our sets from night to night. I usually take an hour doodling the songs that we will play for that show imagining jammed transitions and tempos. Some guys do rudiments, some fuzz out to binaural beats with headphones on, and some sit quietly in their own head. Find your zone and get in it! Although I am incredibly focused when I am playing, it is at the point where I am so confident in my abilities and my gear, I can vibe out and go to other places mentally while I’m playing.
I am communicating with the audience while saying hello to dead relatives and wondering how my drum heroes would be playing these parts. There is a sense when “gigging” out that I am trying to make all my musical inspirations proud. That sentiment is always on my heart while performing and I dedicate every ounce of my energy night in and night out. My hope is to maybe inspire one or two people to go home and want to pick up some sticks and learn the craft.
At any rate, I hope that this reaches the people that it needs to reach. My father always said, “Brains are meant to be picked,” so thanks for entering mine momentarily. Have a good day always!
For more on mewithoutYou, visit their FB page at www.facebook.com/mewithoutyou.
Photo Credit: Carly Hoskins