[ there's no place like home ]
by Craig Young

It's the afternoon of May 4th, 2000, and I'm standing inside Irving Plaza listening to Pitchshifter's drummer, Jason Bowld, sound check, and I'm wishing I were anywhere but here at the moment because the sound of his stick hitting the head of the snare drum is so unbelievably powerful and loud that the band and everyone else but the most stout crew members have left the main hall to seek shelter from Bowld's thunderous thwack-thwack-thwack.

Jason Bowld is best known as the skinsman for the aforementioned techno punkers Pitchshifter. A ridiculously amazing drummer, his rhythm is the glue that holds the live sound of Pitchshifter together; maintaining a creative and strong presence in the midst of the loops, samples and other electronic devilry the band employs. Between albums and tours Bowld devotes a fair amount of time to teaching students hosting drum clinics to those who are interested in learning more about the fundamentals of his profession.

He also recently released Drum-ROM, a two CD interactive drumming tutorial aimed at providing an intuitive balance between comprehensive lessons and play-along intimacy. Oh yeah, he also designed and programmed the entire thing. A fresh technological approach to the subject matter, Bowld has expertly redesigned the teaching wheel here, and even those who don't drum will find Drum-ROM both engaging and informative. I recently spoke with Jason about his success with Drum-ROM.

[ jason bowld ]

Can you give me a brief background on your history as a drummer -- how long have you been playing, what was your inspiration, etc.

Jason Bowld: I started playing when I was 12-years-old and was basically heavily influenced by drummers like Dave Lombardo and Terry Bozzio. Nowadays, I'm influenced by a lot of electronic music like DJ Shadow, Massive Attack, Bad Company, etc.

My understanding is that you are self-taught (correct me if I'm wrong) and I'm curious if, with hindsight, you think that is a good approach to learning your craft and one you'd recommend.

Jason: Yes, I am self-taught. I had a couple a of lessons to learn how to hold the sticks properly, but apart from that my best education was watching other drummers live or on video, and also using my ears. I think it's cool to discover things yourself -- that's part of the fun in learning something -- but there is so much more to drums than people think, i.e. physical stuff, that I didn't realize then but do now. So I suppose I would be more advanced now if I would have learnt that stuff when I was younger.

What was the initial idea behind Drum-ROM, what are you hoping to accomplish with it, and are you pleased with the final product?

Jason: The idea behind Drum-ROM was basically a lack of cool tuition stuff out there. The play-along CDs are either really boring or really difficult and really don't relate to the youth of today, and tuition videos are usually half-an-hour of waffle/ego and half-an-hour of playing (if you're lucky).

Drum-ROM has two CDs. The first disc is an audio CD which has six songs with styles such as nu-metal, drum 'n' bass, hip-hop and so on. The same six songs are then repeated without drums to allow the drummer to play along. The second disc is a CD-ROM which basically cuts out the theory book and tuition video and enables the user to select from over 120 different beats and fills played on the first disc in the form of video clips. You also get the notation with each beat and the ability to see the it played slower. As well, there are eight video lessons which cover the techniques needed to learn the play along to the songs. Everything is interactive, so the user can do what they want when they want. My goal is that I want it to reach as many people as possible.

What can one expect to learn from watching Drum-ROM?

Jason: Lots of different groove styles as mentioned above. Cool techniques that range from simple stuff like stick grip and bass drum technique, to intermediate stuff like cymbal technique and ghosting, to advanced stuff like double-bass drumming.

You also host drum workshops. How do the concepts you teach there differ?

Jason: Well, I go a lot more in-depth at workshops. It's not just about "look at how fast I can go," it's about "look how fast you can go if you do this." I like people to go away with more knowledge than when they came.

I've watched you showcase and discuss Drum-ROM with various drum shops, all of whom have seemed very enthusiastic about it. Has the response from students and fans of yours been the same?

[ playing live with pitchshifter october 2002 - photo by craig young ]
photo by craig young
[ give a listen! ] "Stick Grip" MP3

Jason: The response has been fantastic, not only from drum shops and students, but also from other drummers. Joey Jordison from Slipknot has a Drum-ROM and has used it. Also, Jo-Jo Mayer and Jarrod from Taproot have credited it as a truly innovative tool. So it has received a lot of cred.

On top of providing drumming lessons, which is the root of Drum-ROM, you also designed and programmed the CD-ROM yourself, as well as wrote and played the music on the accompanying CD. Was the "packaging" of Drum-ROM a difficult process? Did you find yourself losing focus as a result of having to manage all the different aspects of the project? Would you have done anything differently?

Jason: I think I would have probably changed the packaging a little, but at the end of the day I am very pleased with how it's turned out. It's the first of its kind, so there's nothing else to compare it to anyway, which is a good thing, because that would have distracted me while trying to create it.

I was very impressed with the quality and complexity of the songs you wrote and recorded to include with it. In writing them, was your focus more on providing music to accompany the drum tracks or on creating song compositions as a whole?

Jason: My focus was on writing compositions as a whole. Ultimately, I want to teach drummers to play in a band environment and to groove, not to cram as many drum-fills as possible into a song. There is one song called "Subliminal" which is a tad self-indulgent, though.

As a drummer, what do you look for in the music you listen to (besides the drums, obviously), and how do you incorporate that into your own playing?

Jason: I think "feel" is the most important thing for me nowadays, especially when everything is so ProTools'd up and mechanized. We're in danger in losing our best quality -- the fact that we're human -- and all those little mistakes and time discrepancies we make which are cool.

What do you feel is the core responsibility of a drummer, and what are the fundamental concepts every drummer needs to know? Are there any drumming secrets that you've sworn an oath to never reveal?

Jason: The core responsibility of a drummer is to drive the band. The drummer is the skeleton and time keeper of the band. If a building has a weak frame work it will collapse, as will a band if it has a weak drummer. As for secrets, I don't believe in being precious about things. I'd sooner give knowledge away to make way for new knowledge in my head. Good artists set fire to their work when they are happy with it.

Who has been inspirational and influential to you as a musician?

Jason: I think DJ Shadow has, because he's a drummer as well as an excellent composer.

In Pitchshifter you play along to looped beats. Do you find that difficult, both in terms of it being a distraction factor as well as being able to compliment both the pre-programmed beats along with what the other band members are playing?

[ ozzfest 2000 - photo by craig young ]
photo by craig young

Jason: I don't find it difficult. I just feel very insular in the band. I'm in my own little world with the click track and my in-ear monitor. But it's a nice challenge to keep everything as tight as fuck while still being aggressive.

What's your opinion on the use of drum machines, looped beats, etc.?

Jason: I think they are a cool tool that drummers can learn a lot from. They are here to stay, so drummers might as well work with them rather than against them. Also, sampling your own beats, re-programming them and then re-structuring them can be quite fun. It's almost like re-learning your beats.

You obviously are a skilled musician even when you're not seated on a drum stool. Have you ever entertained thoughts about fronting your own band and/or playing a different instrument?

Jason: Even though I play guitar as well, I think my best foot will always go forward with the drums. One day I will front my own band, though. I am currently writing tunes at the moment with someone, but that's all I am saying. I don't like talking stuff up until there's something to talk up.

Do you plan on releasing a series of these interactive tutorials and, if so, what can we expect with future versions?

Jason: I have ideas for another Drum-ROM but they do take an awful lot of time. I might put out some simple play-along CDs at a really cheap price soon, though.

What are the top three myths about drummers? Why are there so many bad drummer jokes, and do you have a favorite?

Jason: 1: Drummers are always muscle-bound monsters. In reality they are usually skinny or fat. 2: Drummers are dumb. Drummers have more to do than anyone else in a band -- operating DA38s, Midi equipment, setting up, "driving" the band, as well as writing complex CD-ROMS! 3: Drummers are rude. Because drummers are sat at the back they get no recognition, therefore they have no ego. Drummers are the most friendly bunch of people you'd ever wish to meet because they are grounded by the amount of work they have to do for the rest of the band!

Could you describe your drum set up?

Jason: I use Pearl BRX drums which consist of 22-inch bass drum, 16-inch floor tom, 12-inch rack, and 14- and 12-inch snare drums. I also use Sabian cymbals and Vic Firth sticks.

On the web:

[ drum-rom ]
[ give a listen! ] "Plasma" MP3

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