by Mike Haid
From Britain to Bombay, Pete Lockett is recognized as an international ambassador of world percussion. Lockett’s mastery of North and South Indian styles has earned him accolades and respect from the Indian masters of rhythm, and he’s collaborated with many of the most respected percussionists and drumset players on the planet. His extensive catalog of music, videos, and instructional materials on incorporating Indian rhythms into drumset has opened new doors for drummers of all cultures to rethink their approach to the kit. As an in-demand multi-percussionist, Lockett travels the world extensively, performing clinics, concerts, and master classes, as well as recording and collaborating with artists of every genre and culture. Modern Drummer recently caught up with Lockett to get inside his methods and concepts.
MD: On an international level, do you see a growing interest in Indian rhythms, specifically in terms of applying them to the drumset? Is there a region or culture that seems most interested?
Pete: I’m seeing extensive interest all over the world. China is the latest to come online with a big surge in interest. They’re super excited by the possibilities. I’ve had a lot of my videos translated into Chinese and have my own Youku channel there, [which is like] the Youtube of China.
There’s interest in the West, but I wish there were more. I honestly think drummers and percussionists are missing out on an ocean of rhythmic knowledge developed over centuries. I think they see the Indian ideas and shy away from those because they think they’d have to spend a decade trying to learn it all. Fact is, you can just dip into it and take ideas and develop things from that.
I compare it to a supermarket. Who do you know who goes into a supermarket and wants to buy every single item? Nobody! Instead, they buy the things they need. Looking at a vast resource like Indian rhythm can have the same feel. Just dip in and pick a few things up. Develop them and then stop back again. Then, articulate that onto the drums.
My book Indian rhythms for the Drumset is a great way to start. I focus on two main things; there’s the system that can be for everyone, and then there’s the application for the drumset. The book contains the South Indian syllables/building blocks and the rhythmic structures, and then the applications for anybody to use. It covers the history, the drums, the idiomatic setting, and then the extrapolations on the drumset. I believe the book will last a long time and isn’t a trend that won’t be of interest in five years.
MD: Are you primarily playing the same percussion setup with most of your collaborations?
Pete: I use different setups. There are a few main instruments, though. Tabla, cajon, bongos, doumbek, and kanjira feature strongly. My new hybrid Mapex kit is a bit like a regular drumset but with no kick drum played with the foot. Instead, I have a 2×12 Thunderkick, which goes where the small tom would be and is played with sticks. Then I have a 16″ floor tom, an 8″ or 10″ tom tuned real high, and a 14″ floor tom on the left of the hi-hat. And then a 14″ Versatus or a 13″ Cherry Bomb snare. Loads of cymbals and effects.
This setup gives me more scope to play in a similar way and with a similar approach that I have on percussion. I can get to a more lyrical place and simply because of the layout, avoid too much cliché. Because it’s all laid out so differently, it forces you to rediscover even the simplest beats. I wouldn’t call it a drumset, though, it’s more like drumset-inspired percussion. I’m very lucky to have the continued support of Remo, Mapex, Zildjian, and Vic Firth in creating all these different setups.
MD: Talk a little about your DrumJam app—what it offers and what its primary function is.
Pete: This is a whole new avenue for me. As far as I’m concerned, this is the future for artists delivering their product. In ten years or less books and DVDs will be as uncommon as cassettes are nowadays. I’m surprised at how slowly some of the great musicians of our time have been at getting involved in this side of the business. Once you’ve created an app, it can be open for any future developments and expansions you want.
DrumJam is basically a multi-percussion app for iPad, iPhone, and Android where you can layer lots of different percussion parts played on different instruments. You can change the instruments and parts and vari-speed it across a massive range of tempos. You can then record this within the app as wav or audio files and upload to Soundcloud, Facebook, email, or wherever.
It really has multiple purposes. It has loads of instruments on it, from Indian tabla and ghatam to bongos, drumset, shakers, congas, etc. It will be great for singer-songwriters, drummers, or percussionists live, producers and songwriters in the studio, and drummers wanting to learn how to structure layered percussion, and also for the education market. It’s all real audio recordings of me as well—no MIDI b.s.! I’ve been very lucky to develop it in partnership with one of the great app designers of the moment, Jesse Chappell of Sonosaurus Ltd. He was the mastermind behind the ThumbJam. It was top-ten in the first week of release in Japan and U.S.
MD: After playing many percussion/drummer duets with a number of world-class drummers, can you see an advancement in drummers incorporating Indian rhythms into their drumset playing? And if so, who are some of the drummers that are embracing the concept and taking it to new levels?
Pete: There are drummers that have taken elements of it on board, like Steve Smith, Russ Miller, Benny Greb, Dan Weiss, and Bernhard Schimpelsberger. They’ve learned the systems to different levels. Dan and Bernhard have gone very deep into the systems and have studied with Indian masters.
It’s intriguing to see the different ways these players use the material. When you hear it stripped of the syllables and Indian instrumentation, it sounds like very modern contemporary rhythm. That’s why it amazes me that more people haven’t studied it.
I think in years to come it will put the West behind the East technically. When you combine the work ethic of India and China with the intensity of the Indian rhythmic system, I think we’ll see some astounding players emerge. The great Trilok Gurtu was a glimpse into that world—an intense, fiery, virtuosic, creative, and developed intelligence on the instrument. Give it ten years or so, and we’ll be playing catch-up!
MD: Have these collaborations with world-class percussionists and drummers taken your playing to a higher level?
Pete: Working with any artists that have a vision takes you to a higher level of awareness. They don’t need to be virtuosic or technically brilliant. They just need to know where the doorway into the music is. I certainly don’t feel I understand music or creativity better by developing more technique. Sometimes the opposite is true. It can hide the true path. A free mind without preconception on any level is the ideal.
MD: What do you see as your greatest challenges regarding your level of performance at this point in your career?
Pete: The challenge is how to continue to be creative. How to see things afresh and approach every day as if it was your first and last. Develop technically, but use that as a tool to articulate and express rather than shout loud. Allow yourself to be inspired by others’ great performances rather than to be scared and resentful. Bless every day you have another musical moment.
I don’t feel I have to remain virtuosic on my instrument to be able to create a meaningful performance. As with the earlier question, it’s about vision and working out ways to express that vision. Often, the route taken trying to express that vision is the art itself, with the vision never being quite attained. We have to accept that and also realize that we are not best positioned to judge it ourselves.
MD: What would you consider the advantages of incorporating Indian rhythms into a drummer’s technique on drumset?
Pete: Indian music and rhythm from the North and South has been developed over centuries and has put in place detailed systems of rhythmic calculation, structures to develop themes and improvise on them, systems to syncopate and create rhythmic illusions that are incredibly deep and thorough. The drumset is a very modern instrument. The parameters are changing all the time and on a regular basis. Educational methods and playing styles are changing by the year, let alone by the decade. Having a solid age-old system like this to refer to would have many benefits in this environment.
MD: Do you have specific goals that you’d still like to achieve in your career, now that you’ve traveled the world and become a highly acclaimed master of world percussion?
Pete: I feel blessed to have had these opportunities and experiences. To be able to have music in my life on a daily basis is rewarding enough in itself. I take a bit of a zen view on it all, trying to live in the moment and not be overly concerned with the past or future. Speaking humbly, I don’t know any master that would consider themselves a master. I’m merely a long-term student.