Matt Zebroski is the Drummer of the Alex Skolnick Trio, MD caught up with him recently for an interview.
MD: What inspired you to start playing drums at 12?
MZ: I started out playing clarinet but honestly didn’t have the patience at the time to improve. I wanted to play something that I could make music with right away. Drums were perfect for this and playing them came very naturally to me.
MD: What was your main motivation for enrolling at the New School for Jazz & Contemporary Music in NYC? Tell us about that experience and how it impacted your musical journey.
MZ: Coming from a small town outside of Pittsburgh, I never really had the cultural benefits that a big city has to offer. I didn’t have any musical mentors and could only focus on chops and technical abilities on drums. I wanted to move to the best place in the world for live music and Jazz. I wanted to be completely immersed in the best music with the best players in the world. I figured that would give me the best chance of success if I wanted to be a professional musician. The New School was exactly that at the time. Glasper was there, Mike Moreno, Skolnick, the Strickland brothers. It was unbelievably intimidating but all I did was study, go to shows, play sessions, and practice. That first year in New York I improved as a drummer and as a musician more than any other time in my life.
MD: Who was your favorite instructor at the school? What was one thing that they taught you that you could share with our readers? Some pearl of wisdom that drummers starting out can benefit from.
MZ: Billy Hart by far. He taught me that it doesn’t matter what you look like or where you’re from, you can learn how to be a great Jazz drummer. If you respect and learn the culture, seriously study the second line, and learn how to play the right things at the right time.. you have a chance. He would let me sit right next to him in the drum booth in studios where he made records. To this day I still do a lot of the same things in the studio that I learned from him. I could talk for hours about all the things he taught me. I am forever in his debt for how much I learned from him about music and how to speak the musical language. He even talked me down after my first big heartbreak with a girl 🙂
MD: You met Alex Skolnick at the New School for Jazz & Contemporary Music right? Tell us about that meeting and why you two click so well together?
MZ: Yes.. It was interesting because when we first met at school we could play our instruments really well but couldn’t really swing. Both of us really helped each other get better in that regard. We met in the same music theory class and became friends pretty quickly. We started just playing duo in practice rooms all the time. One day he came in after he had a dream about a Scorpions song being done as a bossa and BAM…. the trio was formed shortly after and the rest is history. Musically we hit it off so well because we hear things the same way. Improvising together comes so naturally… We have a fun kind of telepathy. He is a great listener and is incredibly creative. That’s a great combination.
MD: Alex and you formed the Alex Skolnick Trio in 2001, since then you have put out 5 studio albums and toured around the globe. Looking back, what are your fondest memories from the AST? Favorite album. Favorite track. Favorite show?
MZ: Wow.. there are so many moments. Back in the day, hanging out all night at SXSW and getting kicked out of IHOP at 6am.. Plenty of other times that I really shouldn’t mention in this interview.. Chicago.. Indy.. Slippery Rock. One time we were making a music video in a field in Mississippi and the land owner came after us with a huge gun threatening to shoot us.. (PACK UP…TURN AROUND…AND GET OUT!). We got out. Through the years we have really had a blast on the road. Nate Alex and I are great friends and always find something to get into although we are getting a little older now and have calmed down a bit. Favorite album is a tough question.. they are all great for different reasons and represent a specific time in my life. I guess if I had to pick I would pick Last Day In Paradise. Favorite track is an impossible question… There are too many songs I love to play. Favorite shows would have to be the Olympia in Paris and some of the Van Dyke shows in Schenectady NY. The fans are great there.
MD: You have a new AST album coming out in 2022 right?
MZ: Yeah we have a bunch of exciting original material being worked on. Some of which have lyrics where Alex sings! Since we started doing Deep Purple’s Lazy, it became clear that Alex has a great voice and we gotta take advantage of that in some of the writing.
MD: You also are a founding member of the Flail, a jazz quintet, tell us about that band.
MZ: That is a great project that was born at the New School. Brian Marsella, Reid Taylor, Dan Blankenship, and Stefan Moutot. All great players. We wrote most of our own music and did a bunch of shows in Europe and the US East Coast for years. We had regular shows at Smalls in NYC and I’m pretty sure you can still listen to them on their website. I’ve parted ways with the band but we had some amazing experiences together and are still good friends.
MD: You have also recorded and performed with artists like Lew Soloff, Bonnie Tyler, Jim Steinman, cellist Dave Eggar, metal band Ikillya, Broadway star Rob Evan, Philippe Quint, Matt Herskowitz, and others, not asking you to single anyone out here but what record did you track for that you are most proud of?
MZ: I’m probably most proud of a track I did for Dave Eggar’s record “Kingston Morning” named “We Travel”. I wrote the song and Gil Goldstein played a beautiful piano solo.. he’s amazing. The record was nominated for a Grammy.
MD: Tell us about the tour you went on with violinist Daisy Jopling, in support of her album, “Awakening”.
MZ: It was a 7 week 28 city tour of theaters all over China. It was one of the craziest experiences of my life. We had a completely Chinese crew and tour manager so I really got immersed in the country and the culture. That’s a long story…
MD: What advice would you give new drummers starting out?
MZ: The first thing you need to focus on is learning good habits and sticking to them. Learn good technique and good posture from the beginning and don’t cut corners. If you notice yourself slipping on any basic techniques. Stop and fix it. When you are learning a groove, never ever ever speed it up as it becomes easier for you. Stop… and start at a faster tempo. If you speed up practicing you are teaching yourself how to rush. Nobody likes playing with a drummer with bad time. Personal habits are super important too. Chances are, there are going to be a ton of guys out there just as good or better than you. Do yourself a favor and NEVER show up late. Be early. Be friendly. Just be cool and easy to work with. If you do all that, people will hire you more often than a guy that’s a better drummer if he is a drag to work with or he tends to be late. You will be surprised how simple things like this will help your career down the line.
Follow Matt on his Social Media: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mzebroski Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/iamzebar YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/mdzebar