The scene in the dressing room area of the Late Night With David Letterman show is one of comic commotion. Zippo, the rollerskating chimp, has just bitten one of the guests—on the air in front of something like three million viewers. Now, he’s being scolded backstage by his owner/trainer, who keeps calling him a “very, very naughty boy.” Everyone in the room is courteous enough to keep from cracking up. It is, after all, a funny sight indeed. Zippo hides his head in shame, until he spots the bunch of bananas that was supposed to be his reward if he performed admirably while in front of the cameras. Suddenly, Zippo zips away, and with a quick lunge, grabs a banana. He takes off to the other side of the room, where he peels it and devours it in one large gulp.
All this is too much. Everyone in the room is now in stitches, including Paul Simon, Letterman’s special guest that evening (no, he wasn’t the one zapped by Zippo), and his South African backup band. Later, when I tell Anton Fig, the drummer in David Letterman’s superb studio band, what transpired while he was playing, he sort of shrugs it all off. “All sorts of odd things occur around here. It’s a crazy place to work, “he says with a smile. “But it’s a great place to work, too.”
Fig is the reason why I happen to be backstage. An interview had been set up for after the show. Thus, I was invited to see beforehand just what his job entailed. Fig enjoys his work, and why not? After taking Steve Jordan’s place behind the drumset on the widely popular late-night talk show, Fig is in the enviable position of gaining nightly national exposure on the tube and getting a chance to play with, as he says, “artists I only dreamed about playing with. Tonight it was Paul Simon. Tomorrow night it will be someone else.”
Fig, of course, didn’t just stumble upon the Letterman gig. He’s been in New York since 1976 doing studio work, jamming in the clubs around town, making contacts, and refining his rich, crisp drum style. “If you work hard at something, things happen, “he says. “Doors start opening. Luck has something to do with it, but not as much as you’d think—not as much as hard work and being good at what you do.”
Anton Fig has a most interesting past, as I found out, although, at times, it’s difficult for him to talk about it. He’s played with artists like Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper, and Kiss. He’s a well-educated, highly respected drummer among his peers, and he’s ambitious. Fig exudes a certain confidence that is at once noticeable. It seems as if Anton Fig knows what he wants out of drumming and is always working in some way to achieve it, even as we speak.
RS: Let’s begin with the David Letterman show. How exactly did you get the job?
AF: When Steve Jordan would take a day or two off, various drummers would sub for him. Well, I’d known the bandleader, Paul Shaffer, for years. We played on records together, and I would run into him around town. Whenever I saw him, I would always ask him to give me a chance to play on the show. He’d always say, “Don’t worry, your chance will come.” So one day, he called me up and asked if I could sub for Steve for an entire week. I went down and rehearsed with the band. Paul said Steve would be out for not one, but two weeks. I did both weeks. Then, when Steve left the show for good, which was in March, I believe, Paul offered me the job, and I took it.
RS: Was it something that you especially wanted to do?
AF: Oh yes. It’s great to play with people who make you rise above you level and keep you on your toes all the time. For four days a week, I’m playing with musicians like Will Lee and Paul Shaffer. You can’t ever slack off, because they’ll hear it right away. Also, I get to play with such great guests. Playing with Paul Simon was a lot of fun tonight. In the past, it’s been people like Lou Reed, Steve Winwood, Tony Bennett, Rita Marley, and many, many others. I would never have gotten that opportunity anywhere else that I can think of. Also, the visibility is great. My face is on national television every night.
RS: Are there any disadvantages to all this?
AF: Well, yes. For one thing, I can’t go out on the road. I can play a few outside gigs, which might cause me to miss a couple of shows. Paul is really good like that. But I’m not able to go out on a nine-month tour with some artist. Also, if I’m doing a record in town, I might be in the midst of record ing, and then I’ll have to stop to come here and do the show. Some artists don’t like that, and I can’t blame them. But I have the whole day off, usually. I have to be at the show at 4:00 P.M., and then from 7:00 P.M., which is usually when things wind up, I have all night free. Also, I have Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off each week, and a full week off every six or seven weeks, which is really good.
RS: You didn’t mention anything about rehearsals. How much rehearsing goes on?
AF: Very little, actually. Every couple of months, we might get together as a band for one night and maybe learn ten new songs. But it’s nothing very structured or regimented.
RS: Then when do you learn the material you’re going to play on the show each night?
AF: Well, the band will usually show up a half hour or 20 minutes before we go on the air, learn the song, rehearse it a bit with the featured guest, and be ready to go.
RS: Things are that tight?
AF: Yes, they are. We’ll do that and then run through the theme song to get a balance on it. Then we’ll take a five- or ten-minute break, come back, and do the show.
RS: It seems as if it’s a pretty pressurized situation.
AF: In a way, it is. I mean, you have to be able to pick up the music rather quickly. Instead of being just David Letterman’s band, you have to become the artist’s band for that song and that moment, if you know what I mean. You’ve got to cop the nuances and style of the music, and you’ve got to play it like you really know it. Often, you’re playing someone’s single, which he or she knows very well. That person expects to hear certain things. So you really have to get inside that particular song. In 20 minutes, we have to make that song sound like we’ve played it all our lives. Fortunately, however, like tonight, Paul gave me a tape of the song we’ll be playing tomorrow. That helps. I’ll go home and listen to it, which will make it that much easier for me tomorrow.
RS: It still sounds stressful to me.
AF: I find it more challenging than stressful, actually. It keeps me very sharp. When I first started doing the show, it was slightly stressful. But now I’m more comfortable with it. Usually, I can just show up and do it, like the other musicians do.
RS: In addition to doing the David Letterman show, it seems that you’ve been quite busy in the recording studio as well.
AF: Yes. I did the Rolling Stones’ Dirty Work. I did Dylan’s record Knocked Out Loaded. I did Cyndi Lauper’s two albums, and I did Patty Smyth’s new one. Plus, I do jingles in the daytime whenever I can. And I’m doing a bit of songwriting, too.
RS: Is songwriting something new for you?
AF: In a way, it is. I’m co-writing material with some people. I was in a band called Spider. I don’t know if anyone remembers it. Anyway, I’m writing with the singer from the band, Amanda Blue. We’re writing songs for her new project. But I’ve also met a lot of very good co-writers along the way. I think that, if you set yourself to work in a particular area such as songwriting, you’ll find that you sort of work your way into one project and then onto another.
RS: What prompted you to begin writing?
AF: It’s something I started to do out of necessity, actually. I wanted some songs just in case I did my own project somewhere down the line. Songwriting is like anything else. The more you do it, the better you get at it.
RS: What instrument do you compose on?
AF: The keyboards. But I also fool around with guitar and bass—enough to suit my songwriting needs at the moment.
RS: Explain, if you will, the procedure by which you take song ideas and turn them into songs.
AF: The ideas often come out of things I hear and really like. It could be a chord change or a piece of a song that I heard that day on the radio or in the studio. Of course, you don’t want to rip off anyone’s ideas or songs. But you hear something that’s nice, and you use that as a starting point. Generally, I find that I’ll be writing in a style of music that I’ve been most recently involved in.
RS: And you’re exposed to a variety of music styles, I’m sure—the things you play and hear on the Letterman show, the songs and styles you hear in the recording studio, on the radio, and in clubs.
AF: Yeah, like tonight there was African music on the show. Tomorrow night, it will be country & western, I believe. And so it goes.
RS: You’re fortunate that you’re in such a position. You’re bombarded with all sorts of musical ideas.
AF: You’re right; it is great.
RS: You mentioned Spider before. What happened to the group?
AF: Every band has a hard-luck story. I thought the first Spider record we did [Spider, 1980] was fantastic. “Better Be Good To Me” was one of the songs we did. But through mismanagement and a basic misunderstanding with the record company, the band really didn’t go anywhere. It was just one of those things. The band just fizzled out around 1983 or so. All the band members, however, still keep in touch.
RS: What happened next for you? Did you start doing session work?
AF: Well, I’d been doing session work all along. Years ago, I did Ace Frehley’s solo record, and I kind of carried on playing with him. I also had a good relationship with Paul Butterfield and played quite a lot with him. When he does gigs in New York, I’ll play with him; I’ve also played on his records. And now I play with Robert Gordon and Chris Spedding. I’ve been on and off with Robert, actually, since 1978. We play about once a month in New York, usually at the Lone Star. But we’ll also play other clubs in the area, like the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. We have a great live band.
RS: Since you played on Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual, and Mick Jagger’s She’s The Boss, it seems that your reputation has grown significantly. And, of course, now with your link to the David Letterman show, you’re getting even more exposure. Do you consider any of these turning points in your career?
AF: I don’t think that, in this business, there’s one sort of magical thing that happens. There are some things which happen that are better than others. But they all require many prior steps, if you know what I mean. A few things, however, do stick out in my mind as being important. Perhaps the year I met and started playing with Ace Frehley was one. That was 1978, around the same time I got on Joan Armatrading’s Me, Myself, I record. That got my name around. Ace’s record [Ace Frehley] did the same. Very few people know this, but I played drums on two Kiss records when Peter Criss broke his arm. I never put on the makeup or went on tour with the group, but I played on Dynasty and Unmasked. From there, it was Spider. Then came Cyndi’s record [She’s So Unusual]. Even though the style of drums I had to play was strange for me—it was like I was a rhythm machine—it was a lot of fun. And when your name is on a number-one record, well, let’s face it, it carries a lot of weight.
RS: How did you get to do Mick Jagger’s She’s The Boss?
AF: Nile Rodgers got me the gig. Jagger was brutal. He practically went through every drummer in New York. So to get on the record was really quite an honor for me.
RS: You say Jagger was brutal. What was he like to work for?
AF: He’s very picky. It’s not like you get to the studio, drink a bottle of Jack Daniels, and jam. It was more like drink Evian water and really watch what you’re doing. Until he trusts you, he wants to know everything you’re doing. Once he trusts you though, he’ll loosen up and let you go. But until you get to that point, he’ll be very particular about everything. But it was great. I mean, I played with Jagger, Bernard Edwards, and Nile Rogers.
Around that time, I was also asked to do a recording session with Ron Wood, who was doing some things in New York. Once, the phone rang and the person on the other end asked for Ronnie. I asked who was calling, and he said, “Robert.” So I got Ronnie, and the next thing I knew, Dylan was there. He played with us. Then two weeks later, his office called me up and said that Dylan wanted the same band that played with Ronnie to play on his album. That’s how one thing leads to another. More and more exposure helps your career very much. I know that I’ve been playing the same way for years, probably since I was six years old. Of course, I have a lot more experience. But when I get going, I feel like I’m the same as I was when I was six years old. But now that my name is getting around, people think that I suddenly got much better on the drums.
RS: How do you perceive yourself when it comes to drumming? Do you see yourself as a session drummer?
AF: No, I’m not a session drummer. I’m a drummer who happens to do sessions. I’m a rock drummer who has a degree in classical music, too. I’ve played on a lot of different albums, and I’ve played on a lot of different jingles. But I don’t feel like a session drummer. It’s a strange thing.
RS: You might not be a session drummer, but you certainly have the versatility of a session drummer and the experience in the recording studio that a session drummer has.
AF: Yeah, I do. I think the music dictates how and what you’re supposed to play. You play your own style, but you do so to accommodate whatever it is you’re playing. No one is comfortable playing someone else’s style. You have to play your own style all the time, so that what you play sounds like you. But on the other hand, it must fit in the music. That’s very important. I like to feel that people hire me to play on their records because of the way I play my drums, not for my ability to sound like other drummers, because I don’t think I can do that. Besides, it’s not what I want to do. I believe that, if people genuinely trust you and your abilities behind the drumset, they’ll give you the keys to their song and allow you to be free. If someone is constantly down on you, breathing down your neck, it bottles you up. There’s no doubt about that. You can’t really ever let yourself go and show what you can do best.
RS: Before, when you were talking with members of Paul Simon’s backup band, you mentioned that you were from Capetown, South Africa.
AF: Yeah, that’s right. But it’s a difficult thing to talk about. I’m not so sure I want to.
RS: Why is that?
AF: It’s one thing being a black person from South Africa. It’s another being white, especially today. My great grandparents came from Russia. They came to South Africa, much the same way that other Russian immigrants came to, say, Long Island. So I guess I’m European. But I was born in South Africa. Besides hearing all the fantastic African drumming around me, which I’m quite sure influenced my style, the country has extremely negative aspects. I left as soon as I was able to. I left in 1970, before America and other countries were hip to what was happening down there.
You saw out there on stage tonight that I played with Paul Simon’s South African backup band. They’re black, and yet there are no ill feelings or bad vibes whatsoever. The music transcends politics. But I’m an American citizen now, anyway. I have an American passport. I left my South African roots behind back in 1970. The best thing I can do is to conduct myself like a decent human being. You see, I was in the studio once, and this guy was very friendly to me until he asked me where I was from. When I told him I was from South Africa, he got really weird. But then again, once when I was playing with Willie Weeks and he asked me where I was from, I told him and it surprised him. But it didn’t stop us from becoming really good friends.
RS: Well, it’s obvious you’re Americanized. If anything, you’re a New Yorker now.
AF: Yes, more than American, I feel like I’m a New Yorker. The one thing that I can be thankful for is that I heard a lot of African music when I was a child in South Africa. I also listened to what a lot of other kids in the States and England were listening to at the time—the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Cream. I don’t want to leave anyone with the idea that the only thing I heard was African music. I even listened to a lot of jazz. But it was the African music that was all around me. I couldn’t help but be influenced by it. That was a real plus in my background. Surely my drum playing would be very different had I grown up somewhere else.
RS: Can you be specific and point out a few examples of where one can hear those African influences in your drumming?
AF: I don’t know if I can actually pinpoint places. What I can say is there is a lot of that 12/8 sort of polyrhythms and cutting across the time. There are certain kinds of fills and rhythms that I play that can be traced to my African influences, I’m sure. It would take some time to dissect it, but it’s there. When I hear music from Africa, I feel as if I can really understand it and get inside of it.
RS: What made you decide to become a drummer in the first place?
AF: I never decided to become a drummer. It’s almost as if the drums chose me. As a kid, I’d always play on wastepaper baskets turned upside down and things like that. I guess I must have been doing it a lot, because when I was five, a friend of my folks bought me a toy set of drums. Then, when I was six, my grandfather bought me a bass drum and a snare, and every birthday from then on, he would add a drum to the set. I was doing gigs by the time I was nine years old. So I’ve always been playing, it seems. I never made, however, a conscious decision to pick up the drums and start playing.
RS: When did you start your formal training in music?
AF: When I came to America.
RS: What prompted your move here? Was it purely to study?
AF: Well, I didn’t see that much future in South Africa, either as a country or a musical place for me. I figured that America was the place to go if I really wanted to play a lot. So I went to Boston and studied under Vic Firth at the New England Conservatory. I also did a jazz program while I was up there. But I never studied the drumset. It was always timpani or mallets—the formal stuff.
RS: Was it your intention to go into classical music?
AF: Actually, when I applied to the New England Conservatory, I applied to the jazz program. But for some reason, they accepted me into the classical program. I’ve never been able to find out why or how that happened. I was just happy that they accepted me. So when I got there, I did both programs—jazz and classical— at the same time.
When I finished, they said to me, “You’ve got the credits for two degrees, but you’ve only paid for one. Either pay for the second or choose just one.” So I figured the classical degree was more valuable than a jazz degree. I got my degree in classical music, and I got it with honors. But when I entered the program, I knew that I was going to school to become a better drummer—a better rock drummer, to be more precise. I wasn’t trying to land a gig in some orchestra or even in a jazz band. I knew there was more to music than what I’d done in the past. That’s why I went to school. I wanted to get more influences in my music.
RS: So you’re saying you went through all that training and studying so you could graduate and get into a rock band?
AF: Well, I just wanted to play, you know. I didn’t really know where it all would lead. When I was in Boston, I was only playing jazz after completion of my studies at the New England Conservatory. I didn’t play any rock at all.
RS: By choice?
AF: Yeah, I’d say so. At the time, I was very, very heavily into Miles Davis and Weather Report, as well as Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, and Jack DeJohnette. These were the drummers I was listening to all the time. I’d also listen to Miles Davis records constantly. And whenever Weather Report was in town, I’d go to the show. Boston is a very transient town, so when I got my degree, I decided I’d come down to New York. I was sitting in at jazz clubs. This was at the time everyone was talking about getting back to their roots. I figured my roots were in rock music. So I started playing rock and eventually formed the group Spider. I also started playing with Robert Gordon about then. The minute I started doing the rock stuff, a whole lot of doors started opening for me.
RS: Did you have any rock drummers that you especially admired and looked up to as a kid?
AF: I used to listen to Keith Moon, Mitch Mitchell, and John Bonham. These were the drummers that impressed me the most. Moon and Mitchell, I think, had a pretty big effect on my style and the way I viewed my drum playing. Bonham was great, too, but I only came around to appreciating him the way I ought to later on. I really liked Mitch Mitchell, because I always felt his style was a little jazzy. I liked Keith Moon, because he was so nuts behind his drumset. He didn’t deal with drums. What he dealt with was sound—pure sound. And he did whatever it took to achieve a particular sound or sounds.
RS: When you formed Spider and committed yourself to rock, did you ever look back and perhaps wish that it was jazz or even classical music you had pursued?
AF: No. I continued to listen to jazz, especially Miles, and I still bought every Weather Report record that came out. I felt, however, that I belonged in rock. I use the term “rock,” however, quite loosely—probably more loosely than most. I mean, Weather Report’s Mysterious Traveler had a lot of rock influences in it as far as I was concerned. And a lot of things that Miles was doing had a rock influence.
RS: Some people might give you an argument on that one.
AF: Yeah, I realize that. It’s just the way I looked at the situation and the sounds he was coming up with. But it’s only one person’s opinion, isn’t it?
RS: That’s right. Let’s talk a little bit about your equipment. Can you give me a rundown of what you’re presently using?
AF: Well, maybe I’ll start with cymbals. I’ve been using Zildjian cymbals for a very long time now. To me, they’re the best and certainly the most versatile cymbals you can get. I use a 13″ hi-hat with an Impulse on the bottom and a K on the top. I’m also using 18″ and 15″ A’s, a 22″ K ride, and a 22″ China. They’re all from the Platinum series, because I think they look really good on camera. I have, more or less, the same setup at home that I use for recording.
RS: And your drums?
AF: I use a Yamaha set. It’s the Custom Tour Series, I believe. They’re working out really well, I must say. I also have a Ludwig set, which I use when I play with Robert Gordon, as well as a Gretsch set. I think it would be best if I gave you the details for the Yamaha set, since I use that set the most and it’s the one most people see me playing. It has a regular 5 1/2″ snare. As for toms, I use a 10″, 13″, and 16″, along with a 22″ bass drum. I also use a DW pedal system. I’ve found that DW makes the best pedals I’ve seen. It’s a double pedal, and DW gave me this hi-hat with only two legs so that I can get from pedal to pedal.
RS: What are the differences, if any, that you’re faced with playing drums on a TV program as opposed to playing behind a band in a club?
AF: The Letterman show feels to me like it’s a live gig. And of course, it is a live gig. What it might not have is the spontaneity of a club because of commercials and such. When I played the Live Aid concert with the Thompson Twins, that was probably the show in which I played in front of the most people. Besides the 100,000 or so in the crowd, there where 1.5 billion people watching along on television. I guess that was sort of a magnified version of the Letterman show. Each night, there are two hundred people in the crowd and another three million watching on television. I must say that I was a bit nervous for the Live Aid gig. The Letterman show doesn’t get my nerves going anymore; I’ve gotten used to the situation, as I mentioned before. The crowd isn’t as energized, because there are a lot less people sitting there watching you play. And I usually forget about all those people watching the show at home. To tell you the truth, I don’t think it really matters how big the audience is as long as they’re into the music. When you play with a hot band, you know that, every time you go out there in front of the cameras, it’s going to be good. There is definitely a certain sense of security you feel. Even though we’re often winging it, we know we’re going to pull it off.
RS: The Letterman show, it seems, is almost like a job where you punch in and punch out. Do you ever view it as just a job?
AF: I look at it and see that it requires responsibility. It’s great to play whenever you feel like it and whatever you feel like playing. And I certainly do that a lot in clubs and by jamming. At the same time, however, rent and food are expensive in New York. If you have a regular job—a regular gig—it means that you’re going to get a regular paycheck. I look at the show as an exercise in responsibility. I mean, I can play all night if I wish. I have plenty of time. I only work for something like three hours a day. But when I’m here for these three hours, there’s a certain thing that’s expected of me. I’m expected to be awake and sharp, and make it sound like the music is fresh every night.
RS: Do you have much of a rapport with David Letterman?
AF: He’s made a few jokes on the air about me. He called me Anton Zip for a while.
RS: Why did he call you that?
AF: I don’t quite know, to be quite honest. Maybe he thought that Anton Fig wasn’t quite weird enough. In the beginning, there was no rapport, but as he warmed up to me, we developed a rapport. He wants me to catch his cues and all that. So I feel very accepted by him, which is really nice. But except for the odd quip here and there, he communicates mostly with Paul Shaffer. Shaffer is a great bandleader. He’s the reason why the band sounds so good each night. Paul puts it all together. I give him a lot of credit.
RS: You were talking about studio work before. What is your routine when you are asked to do a session? How do you approach the task?
AF: An artist will often have a demo of the song we’re to record. I’ll listen to it a few times before going into the studio, and then I’ll make my own chart. If there are certain things that the drummer on the demo did before me, or if there is something that I hear on the drum machine that sticks out, I’ll ask the artist I’m working with what things he or she specifically wants included in the song. I’ll make my own little notes. If there is no chorus pattern, I’ll come up with my own. If there is one, I’ll know what it is, of course, and work from it. I’ll run down the song a few times and try to get it so the transitions from one section to another are kind of seamless. This is really important and something that I think every drummer ought to pay serious attention to.
I find that I don’t play a song many times. I think I do my best stuff in the first few takes. I really like recording that way. Chris Spedding uses pretty much the first take of whatever it is he’s recording. Dylan doesn’t do more than two takes; that’s it. The amazing thing about it is that the first take might be the first time everyone is playing the song. With Cyndi Lauper and Patty Smyth, it’s a matter of them putting down a guide for the song, and then I’ll go for a drum performance. I’ll work up my part, and the producer will go over it backwards and forwards, and most likely suggest ways to make it more effective. When there’s a whole band in the studio, we’ll usually play the song a few times. Usually, the engineer will tape what we do just in case there’s anything good that happens. I really believe, though, that the first and second takes are the ones. See, you can get the song right, have all the parts right, and not have any life or feeling in the song. With Paul Butterfield, just about every thing was a first take. But I realize that singles have to be really crafted. Often, just playing the song isn’t good enough. Singles, I’ve found, are very parts-oriented songs.
RS: Do you find time and room in your career to work with drum machines?
AF: Yeah, I have a Linn at home. I use it mostly for demos. I can’t really play the drums where I’m living. Sometimes in the studio, I’m asked to play with the machine. When the Linn first came out, I figured I might as well make a friend of it, rather than be scared of it. I learned how it worked, and I’m fine with it today. The Linn is great for certain kinds of music, while acoustic drums—real drums—are great for others. And then, in some cases, they work great together.
RS: How do you approach miking your drums in the studio?
AF: It depends on the kind of song and the engineer I’m working with. Some people like small drum sounds. When I was working at the Power Station here in New York, I found that they would mike the drums close as well as far away. Basically, I’ll tune the drums, or I’ll work with Artie Smith. He’ll get a good sound for me. Smith is a superb drum technician. Without him, life for me as a drummer would be very difficult. He sets up my drums to my specifications. He’s just great. With him, I can come into a gig or session, and just play. He does Gadd and all the top drummers in New York. I’m happy to be part of his little drummers’ family, so to speak. He knows that I like to get the drums so they sound really good in my headphones. I have to hear them clearly and have it so that I’m comfortable when I play. The sound in those headphones is very important, as far as I’m concerned. This usually requires a little reverb on the drums, so when I hit them, the sound is very expansive. I like that.
RS: Do you do any warm-up exercises prior to playing?
AF: No, but I think that, if I were doing a gig that required an extra-special technique, then I might be inclined to warm up a bit. When I was on the road a lot, I used to warm up because I used to hit so hard right in the beginning of the set. The music called for such a thing most of the time, so I did it. Now I just sort of drum away. But with the Letterman show, the band plays for 20 minutes prior to the start of the show. And then we play for the live studio audience for about ten minutes before the cameras go on. So by the time everything is rolling, I’m totally warmed up and ready to go. And on recording dates, I usually have a few minutes to run through some things and just fool around a bit before we do a take. That’s usually sufficient. But generally, I’m not one of those drummers who needs time to get into the swing of things. I can pretty much sit down behind my kit and be ready to go.
RS: With all the experience you’ve had and all your formal training, do you consider yourself a serious student of the drums?
AF: No, not at all. That doesn’t mean, though, that I’m not interested in learning new things. My formal studying was done, remember, a few years ago, and I studied mostly timpani and mallets. However, I did study for a few months one summer with Alan Dawson. He showed me all the rudiments. And I did study Stick Control with Vic Firth. But I’m not one of those drummers who will amaze you with all kinds of complicated, technical things. I can’t fly around the kit, going backwards and forwards. I never thought of myself as having really good technique. I think of myself as a “feel” player more than anything else. I wish someone could take the time to show me more technical aspects of drumming. I wouldn’t mind that at all.
RS: Speaking of Vic Firth and sticks, don’t you use his sticks?
AF: Yeah, I use his Thunder Rocks. Usually, I go for something that is pretty thick and quite heavy at the end. That way, the stick goes down faster and comes up faster. I turn the stick over in my left hand I seem to get a better sound from hitting the rimshots with the stick that way. Most of my backbeats are rimshots. So the lefthand stick is always reversed for me, while the stick in my right hand is always held the regular way. Although, come to think of it, occasionally on the Letterman show, I’ll have to do a roll. Then, I’ll turn both sticks upside down.
RS: Since jazz is such a large part of your background, do you harbor any aspirations to play jazz-fusion sometime in the future? I get the feeling you would like nothing more than to do a tour or a record with a band such as Weather Report.
AF: Yeah, that would be great, wouldn’t it? But seriously, I don’t know about fusion, but I’d definitely be interested in rock-oriented jazz—the stuff you can hear on the Mysterious Traveler record. That would be very exciting to play; there’s no doubt about that.
RS: And what about forming a band of your own—a rock band? Do you have any plans for putting together another band in the future?
AF: Perhaps. At the moment, though, I’m doing the show and writing songs, working with Amanda Blue, who is a great singer and who has lots of potential, and of course, working on studio album projects. Basically, I’m doing what I’m doing and waiting to see where it will take me. Whether it will be a band I put together or an existing band I join up with and become simply a band member, I don’t really know. I’m not ruling out any possibilities. I’m still fairly young, but I’m aware that time is marching on. I’m certainly not sitting back and watching the days pass by. I’m trying to do everything I can to make myself a better player and get ahead in the music business just like everyone else.