May. 15 2007
Jeff Bowders

Jeff Bowders

Paul Gilbert

TAMA :When did you start playing drums, and what drew you to the instrument?

Jeff : When I was 11. I saw Rikki Rocket of Poison play drums on MTV and I was like, "He looks like he's having a lot of fun. "I always loved music; my whole family listened to music. My dad was a huge Led Zeppelin fan and my mom was a huge Bee Gees fan [laughs], so there was always music being played. And we would all gather around and watch Solid Gold together as a family so it was quite a bonding experience. So yeah, I was an MTV child and grew up watching Rikki Rocket and Tommy Lee play drums and I thought they looked so cool.

TAMA : Did you have formal training?

Jeff : I did. I signed up for the school band and after about a year I realized I wasn't learning enough. I told my mom that I needed private lessons and she signed me up with a local drum teacher. I took lessons from junior high all the way through college. And I actually went to Musicians Institute later and studied from some amazing teachers there.

TAMA : What kind of techniques did you work on to develop your skills?

Jeff : Well, each teacher had something different to offer. And that's actually one of the most attractive things to me about musical education is that music is so personable to everyone and each person has a specific voice and way that they approach the instrument with different concepts. So it was just really interesting to me to kind of pick the brains of as many people as possible so that I could see what they were best at, because no one is amazing at everything. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.

For instance, I took lessons from Graham Lear who used to play with Santana. He was a great Latin drummer so he had really good insights into that style of music. And there was a great teacher in town named Larry Londin who really encouraged me to write my own lessons out, where as typically a teacher would just have you go through a book. He would instead give me a concept and have me write my own music using that idea. So that was really creative from both the student and the teacher standpoint because it forced me to create my own voice instead of just regurgitating what thousands of other drummers have gone through in a similar book. It was sort of the catalyst for me to start writing my own work. It just really helped me get more into education and also to find my own voice.

TAMA : You lived in Nashville for a while. What was the music scene like, and what do you feel you gained from your experience there?

Jeff : When I was living in Hollywood, and I had just finished MI, one of my friends who moved to Nashville told me to come out there. He's like "There's tons of gigs here, I'll totally hook you up!" I thought about it and I wasn't really committed to anything here so I figured I'd try it out. But when I moved to Nashville, my friend was pretty much nonexistent because he was on tour. So I found myself in this dumpy apartment all alone not knowing anybody. So like the second week I was there, I opened up the Yellow Pages and literally just started cold calling different artist development agencies and management companies and going, "Um…Hi, I'm from L.A. I like to play drums." (laughs) I had no idea how to approach it but the amazing thing is that I actually started to get some work from it. I started to do a lot of demo work because Nashville is the publishing capital of the world. There are a lot of songwriters that need to record demo work in order to go further, and it was good for them because it could lead to bigger stuff.

The interesting thing about Nashville is that there are really only two big music genres. One is obviously country music, and then the other is contemporary Christian. Another thing about Nashville and the music industry in general is that it's really easy to get type-cast. I started playing with an amazing gospel artist named Rebecca St. James. I played on and off with her for a couple of years which allowed me to play with all sorts of artists within that genre and it was great. But after a while, it just wasn't that inspiring to me creatively. And I like things challenging and different; it allows you to express yourself more. So whenever I was on tour and going through L.A., I would visit MI and see my old teachers, and if I had time I'd teach a master class. And they would say, "If you ever move back here, we'd love for you to teach if you can."

TAMA : What made you decide move back to LA?

Jeff : Well, I am such a huge fan of education and I had so many different teachers growing up. I'd go to every drum clinic, get the new drumming instructional videos and I'd pick up every new instructional book. I was a total drum nerd! I just loved that you could inspire someone through drums and see them achieve things that they didn't even know they could and to reach their full potential. Since I really wanted to get into the educational side of drumming, I decided to move back to LA to teach and combine it with my performing career. I already had some contacts from living here previously, so I started playing with a bunch of different people, one of them being Paul Gilbert.

TAMA : So how did you meet Paul?

Jeff : Well, he was also MI alumni and he asked the drum department there if they had any recommendations for drummers for a record he was doing. They gave him my number and he called me. I recorded with him and about six months later he asked me to do his next tour, which was for the Spaceship One album. We went all over Southeast Asia and South America on tour. Then last year he asked me to record with him on his instrumental record. It's cool because he's never done an all instrumental record and everyone has always wanted him to, including me. I've been such a huge fan of his since I was like 15 when I saw him playing with Mr. Big. I thought he was so amazing. So it was an honor for me to be on his record and it was so much fun because not only is Paul a great guitar player, he's also a great drummer. It's really easy to work with someone that can articulate what they want from the drums. Because sometimes you work with guitar players that are like, "Yeah, so Jeff, for the drum part, can you play more purple here?" And I'm like, purple? I mean these abstract things that no one understands. But Paul's really good at saying, "Okay for this section I'd really like to emphasize this rhythm, could you voice it this way?" So it's a lot easier.

TAMA : What were some of the challenges playing with Paul?

Jeff : His rhythmic sense is amazing, so one of the challenges of the instrumental album was that most of the guitar parts had already been recorded. This meant I had to play drums to the guitar, which is completely backwards than the usual way an album is done. Usually drums are laid down first as the foundation and then everything else plays to it. Doing it this way, I had to make sure that everything I played completely lined up with what was already recorded. And some of his stuff is ridiculously fast, so there's really not a huge margin for error there. It's either on or off.

I also just want to make him feel comfortable enough in a live setting. My biggest concern playing live is that whoever I am playing with has enough faith in me so that they can play their best. Because if they have any doubt, if they think "Well on this part Jeff is kind of sketchy, I really have to watch him," then they won't play to the best of their ability. And that kind of defeats the whole purpose of hiring somebody [laughs]. I want everyone to know that I'm confident in my playing so they don't have to worry.

TAMA : What got you interested in Tama drums?

Jeff : Well it's interesting. One of my teachers had this Tama kit and it sounded unbelievable. I would always help him set up his drums for concerts and it was amazing that the Tama drums always stayed in tune. I mean even with a chipped head, they were still rockin'!

I just thought that it would be really awesome to work with this company. Especially growing up in the 80s, Tama was really known as a rock drum kit. And I'm a rock drummer; I'm not trying to be "jazz Jeff" or anything. To me, it's always smart for a musician to play an instrument that helps identify who they are. But when I first started playing gigs and travelling, I would be susceptible to whatever kits they had on tour. One time though, I played on this Tama kit at a festival in Sweden that was insane. It was funny because the heads were kind of beat up and I was thinking, "This is going to sound terrible". But the drums sounded phenomenal! And it was one of those times when the instrument actually inspires you to play better because it sounds so good. And so when Tama asked Paul to play for the NAMM show, I wanted to talk about setting up a deal as well. And so I came down to play the drums.

I tried out the new Bubinga was all body and tone. It was amazing! The Birch/Bubinga is the perfect blend between the attack of the birch and the body and tone of the Bubinga. And I was like, this is the kit. So it was really cool, it was such an honor for Tama to take me on.

TAMA : Can you outline your kit?

Jeff : I have an 8x10 tom, 9x12 tom, 12x14 and 14x16 floor toms, an 18x22 kick drum, and a 5 x10 piccolo snare. My two main snares are a 5x10 Birch/Bubinga and a 61/2x14 brass snare. I'm really happy with this kit. The brass snare sounds great, even outside it just cuts through everything.

TAMA : You're coming out with a new instructional book. What is it going to cover, and when it will be in stores?

Jeff : It's a book on drum fills, which is fun because there aren't a lot of books on that subject. I teach a class at M.I. that covers drum fills so I figured it was a logical extension of that. And almost all drum books only address rhythm and keeping time, which of course is important because that is what a drummer does. But I think it is important to address the fills as well so you have the ability and understanding of how it all works together. The book should be in stands by the end of this year or early next year.

TAMA : What else do you have planned for this year with Paul, as well as on your own?

Jeff : I have tours with Paul all through Europe for May and June, and South America through summer.
And I'm working on my own solo record called "Thingamajig" that should be out by the end of the year.