Tiger Army’s Mike Fasano: One of the Most Trusted “Go-To” Drum Gurus in L.A. – Part 1 of an Exclusive 2-Part Interview
Mike Fasano was born with two very good ears and something that can’t be learned from a self-help book: great musical instincts. Fasano, born and raised in Burbank, California and still residing there (although he prefers to call it the San Fernando Valley) lives in two musical worlds that require good ears and even better instincts.
Mike, a Gretsch Drums Artist since 2019, is the drummer for Tiger Army, a rockabilly, psychobilly, and multi-music-genre band based in L.A. The trio is led by another Gretsch artist, guitarist/singer/songwriter Nick 13, and also includes upright bass player, Djordje Stijepovic. The band, formed in 1996, has released six studio albums and four EPs and has evolved over the past 25 years to include a refreshing mix of genres and tempos into their song arsenal.
Before joining Tiger Army, Fasano was a founding member of a trio, Dad’s Porno Mag, and a member of another trio, The Trainwrecks. He has also recorded and toured with Gilby Clarke of Guns N’ Roses, Don Felder of The Eagles, and was, as Mike matter-of-factly said, the 7th, 9th, and 11th drummer for the hard rock band Warrant.
Fasano also runs a successful studio drum rental company, which he refers to as his “day gig.” For more than a decade, Fasano has been known as the guy who can dial in your drum sound for recording sessions and has been one of the top and most trusted “go-to” guys for drum rentals, advice, and technical support in the L.A. recording studio scene. In addition to providing drums (Mike has an extensive collection of more than 200 snare drums and 80 drum kits in his current inventory), Fasano is also there in the studio to tune drums and provide any input and advice if needed. It also helps that Mike is a well-above-average drummer in his own right and familiar with many music genres and styles
He has worked on countless records with producers, engineers, and bands looking to capture a certain sound, a certain vibe. His resume includes Green Day, Goo Goo Dolls, Blink-182, Fleetwood Mac, Guns N’ Roses, Nine Inch Nails, Garbage, and Weezer, just to name a few.
You can also add Tiger Army to that list. Mike became friends with the band and front man Nick 13 by providing drum tech support on the band’s first three studio albums. Fasano even played on Tiger Army’s third album, Ghost Tigers Rise, in 2004, and briefly toured with them on the 2004 Vans Warped Tour before joining the band as their full-time drummer in 2015. He’s played on the band’s last two studio albums, Dark Paradise in 2016, and Retrofuture in 2019, two of Tiger Army’s most transitional and critically-acclaimed albums.
Although the word passion is overused today, spend a few minutes with Mike Fasano, and you’ll see, feel, and hear the genuine passion this energetic musician has for drums, percussion, and music in general. He’s had a unique musical journey inside the studio as well as on the stage (plus he’s the only Gretsch artist who learned their craft as a teenager playing drums in a cruise ship band).
We recently caught up with Mike over the phone from his California home. In the first part of this exclusive two-part interview, we asked Mike about early influencers, those cruise ship days, the hundreds of drums he owns (including many Gretsch drums), Tiger Army, and, of course, what he loves about playing Gretsch drums.
Who influenced you to start playing drums?
I’m from an Italian family and growing up, we had a lot of old Italians that are, like, uncles, but they’re not officially uncles, and one of those was Uncle Pete Pontrelli. He played saxophone and had a little quartet. And I remember this one dinner dance, I was maybe eight or ten, and I was able to sit in a chair onstage on the curtain wings. And ten feet away from me was the drummer. And I would watch the drummer and watch the band and I was just fascinated. I didn’t understand what Uncle Pete was doing with the saxophone and with his fingers or the bass player or the piano player, but when I saw the drummer using his two feet and two arms, that was digestible and just sucked me in.
Did Uncle Pete ever let you play the drums?
Funny you should ask. When the band would take a break, Uncle Pete would pull out whatever money was in his pocket; four quarters or a dollar bill or something, and say, “Michael, you sit on his drum stool and watch our instruments.” And I was fascinated sitting on that drum stool. I remember putting my foot on the bass drum pedal, on the high-hat pedal and looking at the drums. And then the drummer came up and showed me how all the pedals worked and put a stick in my hand. From then on, I was into it and would go and watch my uncle’s quartet all the time.
Did you have a favorite drummer that influenced you growing up?
Definitely, one hundred percent, it was Stewart Copeland. I was obsessed. I was so inspired by his playing, and I play nothing like him at all! My first concert was The Police Picnic 1983 at the CNE Stadium in Toronto, Canada. It was called a picnic because it started in the afternoon and also included The Fixx, Peter Tosh, Blue Peter, King Sunny Ade, and even James Brown. I got to see them from the front row barricade rail and was so blown away and knew this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to play drums in a band. So, yes, it was Stewart Copeland. I was obsessed with him; just super inspired. Even to this day I’m super inspired by him.
Tell us about your time at “Princess Cruises University.”
Yeah, that’s what I call it because that’s where I really learned about other kinds of music. After high school, I auditioned and got a job as a drummer on a cruise ship and for a few years sailed the seven seas. Lucky for me, that’s where I met Rich Watson, who was a show band drummer and also a writer for Modern Drummer. So, here’s this lanky 19-year-old kid who wants to be the next Tommy Lee or Bobby Blotzer from Ratt, on a cruise ship and he realized how green I was. He took me under his wing and showed me how to play brushes and all different styles of music: bossa nova, samba, cha-cha, swing, even waltzes. He was so generous and really showed me the ropes. It was a wonderful experience. It was the best thing I ever did.
Did that experience influence you and how you share your knowledge with younger musicians?
Definitely. Between what Rich taught me, and the Italian mother in me, if I can help somebody out in some way, I will, because it’s important to give back. I don’t mind sharing what I know about tuning or drumheads or anything. I don’t mind sharing what works for me. I was lucky growing up to be around a lot of cool, older mentors that saw that I was interested in drums and shared a lot of their knowledge with me. They were fascinating. So, when I see somebody who is interested, I go out of my way to help them, to tell them what I know.
What does Nick 13 think about that chapter in your early career?
He loves that I had that kind of experience on the cruise ship and learned how to play swing, Latin, rumba, cha-cha, and jazz. He thrives on that kind of experience and knew that would be an asset for his band and what he wanted to do with Tiger Army and how the band is evolving now. I’m forever grateful for his insight and his trust in me.
I hear you have more than 200 snare drums and over 80 drum kits available for rental through your studio drum rental service.
Yes, and that’s how I make a living when I’m not recording and touring with Tiger Army. I have all kinds of drums for my drum rental business, but that includes three or four of the most popular ones always requested, the ones I call the “usual suspects,” because when people call and they want a certain drum sound, I better have the drums to achieve that sound. When I started, I didn’t have any Gretsch drums. I had heard and read that a lot of guys used Gretsch drums in the studio, and when I got busier and people were asking me do you have this Gretsch kit or that Gretsch kit, I knew I had to buy some Gretsch drums.
I read that you have not one, but two 1958 Anniversary Sparkle Gretsch Round Badge drumkits.
I do and they’re really special. It was definitely a case of being in the right place at the right time. I realized with Nick 13’s sound and how the band was evolving and not necessarily as hard or aggressive as it was, and being more musical with the rumbas and the punk rock beat, and the bossa novas and the punk rock beat, and this combo stuff, that I thought, gosh, I’m missing this 50s round badge era sound of Gretsch.
I stumbled into Professional Drum Shop in Hollywood and there was a 9×13”/16×16”/14×20” 1958 Anniversary Sparkle kit for sale. And I asked Jerry Keyawa, who’s one of the owners and has worked there over 50 years and knows vintage drums, what’s wrong with it and he said there’s nothing wrong with it. I trust Jerry, so, I bought that kit. And what’s crazy is literally a month later, I walked into Pro Drum again and there’s another ’58 Anniversary Sparkle kit with a 22” kick drum, a 9×13”/16×16”/14×22”, and I said what’s up with this and what’s wrong with it? And it was another Anniversary Sparkle kit from the same guy that owned my first kit, so I bought that one too. And now I have two of these round badge 1958 Anniversary Sparkle kits with two kick drum size options. I’m so fortunate to have them to record with in Tiger Army, as well as providing them to somebody who wants to record with them. Those drums are so musical; they’re really fantastic for how old they are. And, for as small as the bass drums are, they are definitely NOT lacking in the punch and low end!
What are other Gretsch drums you have in your collection?
I have some 80s square badge kits. On Tiger Army’s Dark Paradise EP, I used my late-80s purple lacquer kit with my salmon pink lacquer 18” floor tom that I had from the same era. I knew I needed the drums to cut through the upright bass of Djordje Stijepovic and the Gretsch guitars of Nick 13. I pitched my tuning up with that kit and I had brighter cymbals to cut through. I was fighting for frequency; do you know what I mean?
And before Gretsch came back with the round badge, in 2006 or 2007, I bought the Charlie Watts Rock Legend Kit. They did a 8×12” rack, a 14×14” floor, a 16×16” floor, a 16×22” kick drum, and a 6.5×14” snare drum. And speaking of Charlie, may he rest in peace.
I also have a salmon pink kit, the natural maple lacquer from 2002 with the Gretsch-American red, white, and blue flag sticker labels inside the drums, a ’79 rosewood “Drop “G” stop sign badge kit that I want to use with Tiger Army, as well as an 80s burnt orange kit that I want to use on tour with Tiger Army, and a new 2020 Piano Black USA Custom Round badge kit that nobody’s seen because I got it and then Covid stopped everything, so I haven’t played any shows with it yet.
What do you look for when buying drums for your studio drum services business and playing with Tiger Army?
If I get something, I just want it to be as right as possible. Nothing’s ever perfect, except for these brand-new Gretsch USA Custom drums I have, which are just absolutely perfect because I ordered them to spec. I’m just trying to get the most right thing that sounds good and pure and works. I don’t have a problem spending money on something that’s right.
It’s no secret that Gretsch drums have been a popular recording drum for years. Why is that?
Being a guy who works in all the studios, you can do anything with Gretsch drums. Everything from a real heavy metal thing, to a country pop thing, to obviously a jazz thing. The tuning range of their drums are incredible. They can do anything. There really is something to them. There’s definitely a magic in their recipe.
Watch for part two of our exclusive interview with Mike Fasano. You’ll read the interesting story on how he became a Gretsch Drums artist, the challenges of overcoming the dark days of COVID-19, and why Gretsch drums are the right drums for him and the evolving musical sound of Tiger Army.
And enjoy these Tiger Army videos!
Mike Fasano’s ’58 Gretsch Anniversary Sparkle drum kit provides the perfect backbeat for the hypnotic drive of Tiger Army’s “Last Ride” music video from their Retrofuture album.
Classic rockabilly with a psychedelic 60s vibe. Tiger Army’s “Devil That You Don’t Know” music video, directed by Travis Shinn, is both a musical and visual treat. Another great song from their Retrofuture album!