The Conscious, Unconscious and Your Instincts: Part II

Having an awareness of one’s environment and one’s own existence, sensations, and thoughts.

The aspect of the mind of which we are not directly aware.

A natural or innate impulse, inclination, or tendency.

So… I’m out of art school, engaged to my future wife, and we’re living in my van in the school parking lot. I’m waiting tables, again. The year is 1984 and it’s time to get back to the drum set, so I hook up with a husband/wife duo who are fellow classmates of mine at CalArts. The trio was called “SEPTEMBER” MUSIC FOR ALL SEASONS and this is my first kit gig in five years. We did mostly six night runs, three month residencies, in some of the divey-ist bars I’d ever been in. I got paid $70 a night for four and a half hours, 9pm to 1:30 am, with 15 minute breaks on the “45’s.” This was standard for the times. We also did a lot of weddings, bar mitzvahs, luncheons, private parties, etc.

The great thing was that we covered every style imaginable and we never said “no” to someone who had a song request. I went the academic road but ultimately my heart, and career, would be in the commercial drum set arena.

Was there a plan? Sort of. Did I know how to implement it? No.
I knew that I had to meet like-minded musicians who wanted to be in bands and make records. My education did not disseminate that information, which is WHY I went to art school: to acquire knowledge outside of my “comfort zone.” Friends of mine back home were already establishing themselves as accomplished studio and touring musicians. It was frustrating but something inside kept guiding me down this path.

SEPTEMBER was a great outlet to make a meager amount of cash but ultimately, it was not going to get me in a major recording band. After two years of clubs and top 40 music, I made the leap of faith to get a day job, again, and only go on auditions for “original band looking for a committed drummer.” Fortunately, I had the support from my wife; her trust in my decision was unwavering (although many discussions ensued when we would get behind on the bills) and a major reason why I eventually succeeded in my quest.

It took about a year or so of going on EVERY audition imaginable until I finally connected with a situation that seemed to be legitimate. It wasn’t immediate (the bass player from that band hooked up with Sheryl Crow and introduced me, inadvertently, to E of my future band EELS) but the friends I met on that gig would end up still being my friends and connections to this day. We all started in “dumps and dives” and we listened/followed that annoying but important intuitive itch inside that somehow guided us to our destiny.

Everybody who has gone through “the struggle,” no matter what profession or career, will relate a similar type of journey and story. Those that persevere have this nagging gene in their DNA. It’s deep inside there in the conscious and unconscious psyche. Find it, listen to it, follow it.

Concentrate on the “fun” and “play” aspect of music making. That’s why we got into it. Always check yourself and make sure, if you’re bored or frustrated, that you take a break and come back to the positive place.


Challenge the things that are ingrained and throw them off (kind of similar to the “muscle confusion” concept of P90X or INSANITY workout theories).

Try a basic four piece kit completely reconfigured.

GROOVING WITH WHAT I GOT (make your own kit)
Remember when you didn’t have a drum set. Go back to that “place & time” and construct a homemade bangy thing. Boxes, cans, utensils, books, car parts, toys etc.

Use a drawer from a desk (I do this in hotels when I’m out on the road).

When you learn a new exercise or groove, turn it around. Change the hand positions and mix up the parts while retaining the same beat. Excerpt is from CHARLES DOWD “A FUNKY PRIMER” section 3C, exercise #1 (doing different permutations).

Video: NEW PERMUTATION #1 AS IS Play it as written (the actual stickings and exercise).

Video: NEW PERMUTATION #2 Play the right hand on the snare and the left hand on the hi-hat.

Video: NEW PERMUTATION #3 Bass drum plays the snare drum part. Bass drum part is played on the snare drum. Switch/reverse hands.

Video: NEW PERMUTATION #4 Play the bass drum on the hi-hat part, left hand plays the bass drum part, right hand plays the snare part. Switch hands.

The purpose of all this crazy confusion, or “out of the box” thinking, is to tap into that unexpected stream of creativity when you’re playing your regular normal musical patterns and grooves. To come up with new ideas takes practice… and a trust in the unknown, and sometimes the uncomfortable. Do your lessons as your instructor dictates, then GO DEEPER and find new ways to interpret the material. There is always another way to do things. Put your spin on it. The artists that rise to the top are the ones who stand out and who are unique. That takes exploration and to go beyond the “basics.”

The more chances you take, the more chances you make.
Especially when you’re alone, experimenting and practicing, go for it!
Within the conscious and unconscious mind there is a world of possibilities, treasures, and discoveries. In our quest for knowledge, and to assist in our artistic endeavors, we must nurture/seek this valuable asset and learn how to tap into its wealth of resources.
It’s a never ending journey… and one that will constantly surprise you.

The Conscious, Unconscious and Your Instincts, Part I