Meet Jamie Douglass, one arresting drummer who first came to our attention as the powerhouse beats man relentlessly propelling one especially epic Andy Clockwise concert into music mythos at the Roxy last September.
How did you get into drumming?
I got into drumming in fifth grade. I’d always been really curious about it, starting in fourth grade when I first started playing instruments. I played trumpet for a year in the fourth grade and I was always intrigued by the drums. It seemed like something I really wanted. I had been singing before that in a choir that did a lot of touring on the East Coast, went over to Europe and stuff like that, so I had quite a bit of musical training as a little kid but it wasn’t until fifth-grade when I started playing drums and it just immediately made sense, I just loved it. So it’s been something that I just go to ever since. It’s just been a really natural part of my life.
What music and bands first got to you in big way?
Well, when I first started playing drums, I was listening to a lot of pop radio, in the 80s, cause I’m old, so I would be copying a lot of stuff that I heard on the radio; I mean corny stuff but it was still so much fun to play. It would be early hip-hop or like Madonna or the Dirty Dancing soundtrack – that kind of late 80s pop–Funk thing that was going on: Lisa Lisa and the Jets, Gloria Estefan, so pop until I was in junior high and I actually finally got MTV and started watching the metal bands. So, pop, metal, hair bands, started copying them a little bit, like Motley Crue and skid Row and all that good stuff. Metallica’s “And Justice For All” was a pivotal moment when that came out. High school was all about classic rock, college was mostly jazz, classical, blues. Since I’ve been in LA, it’s expanded to a lot of indie rock and harder edged dirty guitar tones … but I love everything.
Can you tell me about your training and development?
My first couple of years it was just strictly learning on my own: listening, playing along with stuff. Starting in junior high I was taking drum lessons, doing concert band gigs. When I first got to ninth grade, the drummers were all seniors, so I learned from them for a year and then they all graduated and I pretty much got all the gigs after that. I was playing everything: jazz band, concert bands and my first rock bands were in high school. When I was in college, I went to Indiana University, and they have an amazing music school there. It wasn’t my major but I spent a lot of time there, playing in ensembles, taking theory classes.
My training has really just been playing my ass off in LA, playing with hundreds of bands, just listening a lot of the time & getting with the guys and sitting around and studying these folks. I’ve been lucky to play with some really, really world class, great people so that’s a learning experience. Being the worst one in the band is a good way to learn.
Tell me your LA Story.
I’ve been here since 2000 and I moved here about a year after graduating from College. Right after I got out of College I played this gig on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean, so I played a lot, practiced a lot, saved up some money and then when I got back I knew I wanted to move to a big city, I just wasn’t sure which one. That seemed like the best way to get involved with other creative people and I knew I wasn’t going to hang out in Indiana, that was just out of the question – there’s nothing wrong with it, but there’s also just not that much stuff to do. So I visited Chicago, New York, New Orleans and a few other cities but when I came here I really liked it. I knew a couple of people do and it just worked for me. I like the weather, the people, the scenery, the terrain and all the secret stuff – the hidden gems of the city. I just adore all that.
Your major was psychology, how did you apply that to your drumming?
The psychology I was studying was pretty geeky and kind of out in the weeds: neuroscience, memory and that kind of thing, cognition. You definitely learn about communication and about people’s motivations and the games people play so it’s definitely useful. I mean, do I have it all figured out? Obviously not, but there are certain general principles that are applicable in music. I’ll give you an example: the recency effect tells us that people tend to remember the most recent thing that they’ve heard, which is why you want to go out with a bang when you play. Things like that. It sounds obvious, but if you have a collection of these things they actually help a lot, just to make the music means something a little more. It’s not so much about how to play, per se.
What about in relating to the bands that you play for?
Actually yes, big time. Just getting along with people. I play for multiple bands and everybody has such a different concept of what they want, and different personalities, and different reasons for being in the game at all. So yeah, absolutely, you need to suss that out quickly so as not to step on toes. Or just do something inappropriate because people really respond too well to that. People get nervous quickly if their thing that they’ve loved their whole life starts to sound a little different, and they tend to blame the drummer. Blaming the drummer is very common, and I blame myself often. I’m kind of neurotic like that.
My all-time favorite drummer is Tony Williams who played in Miles Davis’ quintet in the 60s. He was just a kid at the time and he was already doing stuff that nobody had ever heard before. It was amazing. I like him too because he brings almost a Bonham-type attack to jazz. He’s got a tremendous amount of power, distilled dynamics and is very abstract which I like.
I love John Bonham, I love Bernard Purdie, I love Steve Gadd and Elvin Jones. There are just so many great drummers out there. There’s hundreds, really, that I’ve studied and admired over the years. Plus there’s some great people in town that I love: Stella Mozgowa, Matty Apples, Jerry Roe are some of my favorites.
How did you get hooked up with Andy Clockwise?
I met him at a barbecue, actually. My friend Dannielle Gaha is this awesome singer whom I recorded an EP with and we’d actually done a lot of gigs together. Andy had come to one of our shows and had seen me play before, but I didn’t really know him at the time. So, he sort of knew who I was when he needed a drummer, because Stella Mozgawa, who was his drummer at the time was in Australia and not available. He needed a sub. We wound up chatting and he asked me if I wanted to do a couple shows. I said yeah, and we clicked pretty quickly.
I subbed off and on for a couple years and would go see them when he was in town playing with Stella. I absorbed the show that way. Things that I never would’ve thought of myself, I was able to observe. He worked with different drummers, but over time, as Stella got more and more busy [in 2009 she joined LA Indie outfit Warpaint], I became his guy by default. Which is fine by me, because I love it. It’s a great time.
What is it like to work with Andy, given the fact that he puts so much focus on the drums?
Now that I have figured it out, it’s great. If you didn’t know what to do, it would probably be stressful, because it’s so intense and the guy is right on you. A lot of times the way that he builds energy is just by yelling, and its aggressive, and if you misinterpreted– you could easily take the wrong way. But once you know what to do, once you know the language, once you know the requisite energy level, because it requires full, full commitment the whole time – once you figured that out, it’s a blast. It’s so much fun. It’s incredibly tiring though, physically, it’s the most exhausting gig by far that I’ve ever had.
But you strike me as a drummer who loves that – you remind me of Animal.
You can’t play at 11 all the time. Tonight, for example, I couldn’t have possibly done the full on Clockwise treatment. I still try to bring some of that punch but my trick is to stay at a moderate level, because the minute you start to rise, its a problem if the bandleader likes it quiet. Generally speaking people will tolerate louder amps than louder drums. Soundmen, as a rule, will turn the snare way down, and the guitar up. That’s why I try to hit the snare real hard, because I know soundmen will de-value it. On records the snare drum is as loud as the vocal and a lot of drummers aren’t aware of how quiet it is in the live mix because having good sound on stage is a luxury, not the norm. That’s a free tip for the drummers of Los Angeles: hit the snare hard.
Tell me about the Andy Clockwise show at the Roxy.
At that show we had been training all spring, we had been touring all spring and summer and we had a handful of really great shows in LA over the summer and fall, but we all felt like that was the one where it really came together in a cool way. It was almost like nothing could go wrong.
Andy’s band is great; it demands extremely high-energy drumming – that’s what he likes. He likes smashing, he likes that chaos, he feeds off it and I’m more than happy to provide it. As a drummer I’m not usually doing that, I’m not usually encouraged to do that so it takes a little bit of willpower to get out of your shell and go for it. But once you’re committed, you can’t really question it. A show like tonight: I’m always questioning is it feeling right, isn’t laying right, isn’t loud enough, is it soft enough, is it the right tempo, etc. But in a band like Andy’s, where it’s so intense, you don’t even have time to question anything, which is really nice and refreshing.
And you guys do the Shiva thing –
Right, with the double drummers-
– And when I saw that it was SO COOL, but Andy was totally in your space and I remember thinking, ‘Does the Drummer mind?’
Oh no, not at all. It’s great, because he’s a great drummer. That was his first instrument. I think that was his major in college. So no, it doesn’t bother me at all. We’ve played together a lot and traveled together a lot and were really copacetic musically, which I love. Those are the type of artists that I admire the most: they have a vision they can put it all together by themselves if they wanted to and their vision happens to coincide with something that I want to and l love to do. Its a blast.
Having the drums on the front of the stage for that is great too, because we’re all in a straight line, we’re all right there. A lot of the times Andy will go out into the crowd and it’s just up to me and Josh [the bassist] to run the show.
In a way we need to be out in front in order to have that … cheerleader energy going the whole time. It’s literally like directing a pep rally. We are breaking down the crowds … nervousness almost. The best shows we’ve ever done are the kind that start out one way and end with us entirely breaking down the barriers.
We did this one show at SXSW where we were out on the deck of this venue and by the end of it – first of all, in Andy’s bio it says something like “he will leave no stone unturned in his quest for musical nirvana” and I used to think that was a funny quote. But at the end of this show, in that moment it really made sense because the guy was laying on the ground and there were 50 other people laying on the ground all screaming, all convulsing while we are in the middle of this completely chaotic show and all barriers have been completely demolished, which is amazing.
What makes a show really special for you?
That moment when it becomes almost routine, where you get to the perfect level of communication with the people you’re playing with and everything just falls into place – that’s the magic, that’s what it’s really all about. It’s where music starts to seem not just like something that we are doing, but is something that exists and we just make a couple of controlled movements to let it happen. It has nothing to do with us, it has nothing to do with our willpower or desire, but that’s what I’m always trying to do whether the throwaway show at the dive bar or a festivals main stage somewhere.
Like Max Weinberg said, from Conan’s band, “have the same attitude whether it’s a bar mitzvah or a stadium.” It’s the spirit of love. It’s the spirit of love for the craft, love for your fellow musicians… At the end of the day, we’re in this to be leaders. We’re in this to guide the audience and the other musicians in a positive direction. If we come in with an angry attitude we destroy that. I’ve been there, I’ve been that angry musician a million times so I say this out of experience, as the reformed, recovering guy, “Bring a spirit of love to whatever it is you’re doing because this is magic.” You’re hired because they want magic, they want an amazing, memorable experience. That may be corny for us because were in this ivory tower, but at the end of the day they want magic, they want energy, they want love, they want beauty.
Have any shows turned into fiascos?
No, I’ve been pretty lucky, it’s been pretty drama free. I’ve gotten a little emotional a couple times, though. That’s more of a personal fiasco I guess.
Any special fan interactions?
I’ve definitely met a lot of people. I’ve never gotten attacked or anything like that, but I did almost get beat up one. We played a frat party in college and all the girls wanted to hang out with us but of course Frat houses don’t throw parties so that the chicks can be into the band, so that didn’t go over so great.
Really, I’m more interested in the people I’m playing on stage with these days than I am with the audience. That’s who I’m most focusing all of my energy on. Obviously you pay attention to who’s out there and you want to make them happy – that’s just a given, it doesn’t require thought.
But there can be difficulties in that, particularly with LA audiences. We’re all too-cool for school.
In some ways, focusing on the band insulates you from that and those questions: Do they like it; Did this industry person show up; Does this person I like or musician I want to play with like it – that can be a total mind-f**k. Especially when you’re on stage trying to execute something, you don’t want to be doubting, so looking to the other team members, the people you’re actually doing the work with is so much more helpful. It insulates you from all those silly questions so you can just put out the best product possible and judge it later. And that’s what turns it into an idealized team sport. For me this is the ideal team sport – there is no better team sport than playing music.
People may quibble with that but I really do think that this is the best form because it requires such a combination of skills, focus, intention, listening and empathy resulting in this group elevation, which is just rad, which I love.
What is the best part of being an artist?
Being healthy, happy and youthful at 35. Getting to work magic everyday. Having supernatural powers.
I just dig it, being around this stuff. Sometimes I’m just sitting back there doing this (mimes stomping out the bass drum) and I’m just looking around and I have the best seat in the house. These people are making this genius music and I think “I’m part of this – holy shit!” That’s the best thing about it.
What ridiculous gigs have you taken on in order to support herself as an artist?
Playing the cruise ships, weddings, old folks homes… There are a lot of weddings that went weird.
Is there any advice that you would like to share with other drummers?
Protect your heart. Be nice to the people you work with. Don’t complain. Learn how to adjust your way of saying things and playing things because not everybody does everything the same way and some people think theirs is the only way, and so if you can shift to what they are doing you will learn more and you’ll get more work.
It’s wonderful to have a vision, it’s wonderful to have your own way of doing things and if you can pull off doing it your way all time that’s great. For most of us, especially drummers, that’s not the way to go.
Gunpoint karaoke – what do you do?
Jamie’s Crying by Van Halen; Hard to Handle, Otis Redding style; Mama Tried by Merle Haggard. The song I really want to learn so that I can nail it in Karaoke is Eric B. & Rakim’s Follow The Leader – I’m so serious because that song had the sickest rhythm.
Name your Guilty Music Pleasure.
There are alot. Tiesto, and I love the baroque period. Musica Antiqua Cologne – thats one of my favorite bands. They’re really sick. I have this Bach orchestral suite recording – I’ve cried a couple times – it get’s absurd.
Learn more about Jamie on his Official Site: www.DrumsetArtist.com