A Gretsch Abroad — Exclusive Interview with P!nk Drummer Mark Schulman, Part 2
Enjoy part two of this special interview with drummer Mark Schulman. Mark discusses what he likes about Gretsch drums, his best and worst concert experiences, his work as a motivational speaker, and …
THE AWARENESS TO LISTEN
LUCAS: The point of being so connected with the musicians, as a drummer you have to feel like, well, this guy’s doing this and so I need to be playing this in order to compliment that, or he’s slowing down so I have to very gradually bring the tempo back up in a way that nobody notices…
MARK: Do you play?
LUCAS: Yeah, I play drums. I mean, I used to play a lot but I …
MARK: You’re speaking from experience.
MARK: Which is wonderful.
LUCAS: Because you’re at the center, somehow …
MARK: Everything is built upon us …
LUCAS: They’re all listening. I was never a good drummer, technically, never, never. I’m just kind of a groove drummer, average job …
MARK: But that’s what I do, dude (chuckles). I’m a good drummer, I may be at a high level but, essentially, I’m creating a foundation of rhythm and support and groove because if I start playing a bunch of chops they might start thinking about calling in another drummer. Nobody’s job is secure if you’re not taking responsibility for what you’re doing.
LUCAS: Which is to listen …
MARK: …and to respond in real time. When I do my corporate speaking gigs I take the audience through a clapping exercise together. I do that with the reason of exemplifying what it’s like to respond in real-time to what I call actively listening, where you’re really almost forced, in a way, to be completely present and responding in real-time. Imagine what it would be like if everybody was actively responding in real-time in business and communications relationships. Magnificent! So, that’s the idea. When you’re on a world-class stage, that’s my responsibility–to be completely present and completely actively listening. If I’m not, then I have no damn business being there.
LUCAS: Yeah. But that’s really what separates the professionals from the amateurs, their ability to listen.
MARK: …and their awareness to listen. It’s not even a skill set because a lot of people could play the Pink show; it’s not complex or challenging to do, but to do it with complete presence, complete mindfulness, so to speak, that’s a different story. That’s why I’m there and that’s why all of the other 120 people on that tour are there, because everybody is required to have that state of mind and presence in their job or they will eventually get fired. I’ve seen people either get fired or quit or somehow fade away. You know, the personnel that are on this Pink tour right now, this team is the best of the best. Not only at what they do but energetically, philosophically, emotionally. It’s critical and it’s top-down because it starts from her. She is a magnificent person and she really pays attention. She’s a great leader and she’s a high integrity woman. My definition of integrity is you do what you say you’re going to do just because you said you were going to do it. You keep your agreements and you look out for each other. You look for the highest of all concerns as opposed to being focused on and concerned about only your own well-being. It’s amazing to have a boss that really honors that and thinks that.
LUCAS: You are all very connected …
MARK: We’re all very connected, that’s what’s cool. And if people aren’t connected, they eventually leave or get fired or float away, you know, the ether pulls them away somehow.
LUCAS: So interesting.
MARK: They’re hanging out in the ether somewhere (laughs). So, all the stuff we’ve been talking about, that’s the great stuff.
WHY I PLAY GRETSCH DRUMS
LUCAS: Why do you play Gretsch drums?
MARK: Back in the 90’s I was doing a lot of touring, but also a lot of session work on the side. I would often be on the road but would frequently get called in to do a session. I usually didn’t have my drums with me so I would tell the producers “Bring me whatever kit you want, I will play,” and I’d say 90 percent of the time they would bring in Gretsch drums. They were usually vintage Gretsch drums from the 70s and 80s. I thought “Well, these are amazing drums” and I always wanted them, ever since I was a kid. I saw Charlie Watts on the cover of Get Yer Ya-Yas Out with the big Gretsch logo. I had played Slingerland drums as a kid so I had experience playing one of the other great American drum brands. I was dissatisfied with my other drum company and I said, you know what, I’m gonna approach Gretsch. In 2002, I signed with Gretsch and it’s the best decision I ever made. I’ve another story …
LUCAS: Keep going, man.
MARK: …I went out on the road with Velvet Revolver, as substitute for Matt Sorum, and Matt is now a Gretsch guy as well having played some other drums, and when I got called to do this separate gig, I wanted to play a kit with a 26” bass drum. At the time the only kit that was available was a Catalina Club rock kit, a thousand dollar drum set, orange sparkle. Brought it on the road, and I was using Matt’s drum kit because I was subbing. We had no rehearsal, came out, threw the kit out, and after the first week Matt’s drum tech said “Man, I like these drums better than Matt’s, they hold their tuning better.” I was using a hand-hammered, brass Gretsch snare drum but I was also using this thousand dollar drum set and this guy’s telling me he liked it better than Matt Sorum’s state-of-the-art kit from another drum company.
LUCAS: When was this?
MARK: That was 2005. I did the Oz Fest tour with Velvet Revolver and Matt Sorum broke his hand, 6 weeks on the road, Slash and Duff, Dave and Scott Weiland (rest in peace!). I just happened to be off the road and I’ll never forget when I got the call from Matt. I just finished touring with Cher and I was going to take the summer off for the first time in my touring career. Like, “I’m off for the summer, it’s going to be amazing!” But then when Matt called, to hell with the summer vacation, I get to tour with Slash and Duff and Velvet Revolver, are you kidding me? Much better than summer vacation!
Lucas: Can you describe more specifically what it is about Gretsch drums that you like?
MARK: When I do my clinics and I play the drums I often ask “How do these drums sound?” I say “Don’t take my word for it – I play what I like.” I play Gretsch because I’m finally playing my favorite drums. I like the feel of the drums, I like the space, I like the way the hoops feel. You know, it’s like a relationship you have with your mate or with food! Food’s a great metaphor. I love Mexican food; my wife doesn’t love Mexican food. I can talk her into Mexican food all I want, but at the end of the day she likes French or Italian food. I can try to talk people into liking Gretsch, you’ll play it, and you’ll resonate with it. I endorse what I want to play and I’m authentic about it. A few years back we did a signature snare drum and it sold incredibly well but not because it’s my drum but because it’s a drum I wanted to play. That’s my most authentic and honest way I can put it. (Editor’s note: the Mark Schulman signature snare is the best-selling signature drum in Gretsch history!)
BEST AND WORST CONCERT EXPERIENCE
LUCAS: What’s your best concert experience?
MARK: One memorable experience was because of the sheer amount of people. I played with Simple Minds, I did a record and a tour with them, and we played the Glastonbury Festival.
LUCAS: In the 90’s?
MARK: In 1995. We played the Glastonbury Festival; there were a quarter of a million people. And I looked up while I was playing, and Peter Gabriel was standing on the side of the stage, and I thought “OK, this moment, right now, is a moment I’m always going to remember. I’m playing for so many people I can’t see the end of the audience, and Peter Gabriel standing on the side of the stage watching. Pinch me!”
MARK: So, that was very memorable. Also, one night I played with Pink for 100,000 people in Budapest and it was just insane. Every Pink concert is really insanely wonderful because she is so amazing, so top class. But on this particular night it was just sort of like the stars were aligned and I just felt euphoric. I don’t even remember what year it was. We were so connected with the audience. Every audience is a unique entity.
LUCAS: Yeah, it’s like an animal.
MARK: Yeah, like an animal. It’s like one big, large edifice, it’s one unit, and you know, some audiences have this incredible energy, some other audiences don’t…and sometimes you feel like they’re asleep.
LUCAS: But isn’t that geographical?
MARK: I think it has more to do with, believe it or not, the day of the week. If it’s a Sunday or a Tuesday, people don’t seem to be as energetic.
LUCAS: No one’s drinking …
MARK: But you know, Thursday, Friday, Saturday …
LUCAS: …they’re getting their buzz on.
MARK: They’re their getting buzz on, so … yeah, so it’s more a day-of-the-week issue.
LUCAS: So what’s your worst concert experience then?
MARK: You know Pink nearly lost her life one night. That was a frightening, frightening gig. We do this thing we call the 360 Gyro where she has an apparatus strapped around her waist and it clicks in with two fasteners. Tied to these fasteners are these high-tension metal cables. They lift her up over the audience and she zooms across the audience and she flips and she turns. She goes up at 30 miles-an-hour and it brings her to the back of the audience, so she can connect with the back of the audience.
LUCAS: How far away is that?
MARK: Well it covers the four corners of the standing area of the audience. They have four points that are each laid out and it’s all computer-controlled. So, one night one of the clamps wasn’t fitting and instead of it lifting her off the stage, she got violently dragged across the satellite stage, over two light cans, and pulled six feet off of the stage. It was a fast jolt, she got yanked off. Then she fell onto the metal scaffolding on the side of the stage. And I think I stopped breathing.
LUCAS: Were you in the middle of a track?
MARK: Yeah, it was just in the beginning of the song and everybody just stopped. Like the audience was breathless and I saw her husband jump to the far side of the stage, the security people jumped out of the side of the stage, and then I heard the sweetest sound which was Pink cussing. She was cussing, she was angry, but that meant that she was alive. She then amazingly had her husband lift her onto the stage, and she’s all battered and bruised and she says to the audience: “You guys, I’m so sorry. I don’t think I can complete the last song. I’ll give everybody their money back.” And by that point the stretcher was on stage, with raging applause from the audience.
LUCAS: Everybody saw the accident?
MARK: Everybody saw it. It was profound how she recovered with so much grace and so much presence of mind about her fans. “I’ll give you your money back.” Who does that!? I mean, she’s a terrific act but that was probably the most frightening stage experience I’ve ever had.
MARK, THE SPEAKER
LUCAS: Tell me how much of your time, in the past, say, four or five years, was spent on the drumming business and how much was on the speaking? And is it something … would you like to increase the drumming or increase the speaking or do about the same as now?
MARK: Well, I’m a luckiest guy on the planet because I play with the greatest artist on the planet. So, if the greatest artist wants me to come and play, I’m available, and that always takes priority. When she doesn’t, I’ve been developing the speaking business a little, and over the last two years it has really taken off.
LUCAS: Well, you’re really good at it.
MARK: Thank you. I’ve worked very hard and I have the most amazing speaking management company, I’m with Ode Management now, and they’re just killing it.
LUCAS: Do you practice standing in front of a mirror?
MARK: I still stand in front of the mirror. I do it a lot less than I used to. I studied with a couple of amazing speaking coaches like Patricia Fripp, who happens to be Robert Fripp’s sister. She’s the greatest speaking coach on the planet. She’s also become a good friend. I’m an eternal student, so the more I learn the more I want to know. So, I’m always practicing and always upping my game, constantly evaluating and refining my content to make it appropriate for everyone. My speech is basically a rock show disguised as an email. I do corporate-relevant content.
LUCAS: But you bring the drum set?
MARK: I bring the drum set and I talk about what I know. I use my experiences as a performer, after analyzing Pink and Billy Idol and Cher and looking at the best. I use them as examples, and I tell the stories.
MARK: And it’s working out great and I’m writing my second book with Dr. Jim Samuels.
LUCAS: Is that what you’re doing now? You’re in the middle of writing a second book?
MARK: Just started writing the book and I’ll do that while I’m on the road. Dr. Jim and I, right now, have weekly sessions. I’m interviewing people, like I did for the first book.
LUCAS: So last question: What are your plans for 2018 and 2019?
MARK: 2018 Pink world tour. We’re doing 3 months in the States, 3 months in Australia.
LUCAS: When are you starting the world tour?
MARK: First show in the States is March 1st in Phoenix. Then we have about three weeks off. Then we go to New Zealand and Australia until the beginning of September. Then we have four months off. Then there is next year, and I have to admit, I haven’t seen the schedule yet. Then when I’m available I’ll do speaking gigs, music seminars, and writing the book. And most importantly, spending time with my sublime daughter and wife.
Learn more about Mark by visiting his website!
— Lucas O’Connor
(Gretsch Generation 5)
Mark Schulman feature photo by Jordan Todd Kaplan.