Marco Minnemann talks about drums, tours and albums
By Stefan Trowbridge, June 16, 2015
Producer and multi-instrumentalist Marco Minnemann is best known for his drumming, allowing him over the years to have had tenures in several successful bands, while touring with many more alongside releases of 14 solo albums. Developing an advanced drum technique called interdependence that aims for independence between arms and legs to create complex patterns and make for more creativity, Minnemann is a seminal figure in a drummer’s world. Constantly pushing the drumming envelope, Minnemann truly embodies musicianship, and if I could further emphasize this statement, I’d add flashing lights and fireworks.
You’ve been a professional musician for over two decades. What do you consider to be milestones of your career so far?
There are a few bands and moments that definitely shaped my career or had an impact. Some of it was great, some a bit of a compromise, you learn to choose wisely with experience, I guess. [laughs]
Now, in Germany for example it was fantastic to have played with legendary artist Udo Lindenberg. Then, in the U.S., I think a big impact was to having played the Modern Drummer Festivals (as the first German artist I believe); that opened a lot of doors. Hmmm, let’s see, dropping a few names: Paul Gilbert, Kreator, Nina Hagen, Necrophagist, Adrian Belew, Eddie Jobson/ U.K., LMR (Levin Minnemann Rudess). Having the legendary Buddy Rich Big Band on one of my DVDs was amazing, too. And I must say that I’m very happy and in balance with the bands I’m recording and touring with right now. That is Joe Satriani, Steven Wilson and of course our band with Guthrie Govan and Bryan Beller, The Aristocrats.
You can pretty much play anything: you’ve been drumming for so many bands, you’ve been there, done that. Categorically speaking, what are your preferred genres? Or better yet, what musical style or styles allow you to express your creativity best?
Thank you first of all. Now, stylistically, I don’t really categorize. I believe that you can play anything that you like and are passionate about. I grew up listening to Queen, Zeppelin, The Police, Frank Zappa, Kraftwerk, Slayer, Prince, PIL, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Van Halen, to name a few. But when you listen to my albums, I guess that’s how you really find out about what directions I’m addressing. It’s not really about what “allows” you to be in a “comfort zone.” It’s more about expressing yourself freely with what needs to be addressed, topically. That’s sort of how my world turns, I guess.
Minnemann’s new solo album Celebration was released on June 1. This long player has him playing every instrument and composing all 18 tracks.
To purchase Marco Minnemann's albums and many other exclusive items, head on over to www.lazybones.com.
What do you regard as the toughest part of being a drummer? What is the gratifying side of the balance?
Well, touring as a drummer is great, I must say. Especially as a drummer, you at least get a bit of a workout, ha, because, apart from being onstage, you also sit around a lot in tour buses, planes and hotels. Also, it’s fun playing drums, because you basically “drive” the machine.
Referring to “Golden Dolphin” as played on your Extreme Drumming DVD: you talk about the competition between man and machine, and this was back in 2003. Being deliberately provocative, can well-programmed drum software replace the conventional drum kit in a band today?
That will never ever happen. So far, machines and humans have to work together. [laughs] As long as we can’t clone ourselves, there will be no possibility to replace a human because stage presence is what counts, too. However, if the concept allows, like in Kraftwerk’s case for example, then robot it away.
In the Dolphin case, it was more a challenge to see how far I could go programming that machine to death and then playing to it. By that time, there was the Atari ST with Cubase MIDI, you know. Holy cow! That thing ran solid, even back then.
I understand. You will however agree that today’s technologies provide a lot of advantages to musicians.
OMG, you have no idea how thankful I am for being able to take an amazing recording software with me on the road, loaded with fine VST plug ins and instruments. Everything packed inside a portable laptop. Now, that in connection with a great audio interface allows you to be able to make pristine sounding productions, from virtually anywhere on the planet. Isn’t that wonderful? So, thank you Steinberg guys for participating in creating and realizing that vision!
Hey thanks Marco! Picking up on portability: you’ve been touring heavily and I’m sure you have heaps of hilarious anecdotes. Care to share one with us?
This here describes maybe not a funny, but rather deep situation: I remember the very first show I played with Udo Lindenberg. It was at a festival in the eastern part of Germany, not too long after the Wall came down. And we played the song “Maedchen aus Ostberlin” (Girl from East Berlin), which he originally released in the ’70s, when times were different. The song deals with someone from the west being in love with a girl from the east, both parties being unable to have a relationship due to the travel restrictions that came with the former Wall situation. So now imagine the reaction of 20,000 people in front of a stage in the now open eastern part, hearing that song again after finally being reconnected. The last line of that song is: “We only want to be together.” It was emotional to say the least.
It’s obvious that you play a non-standard, complex drum setup. How do you handle logistics when on tour?
Well, it has to be arranged of course. Usually that happens a few months ahead of a tour when the tour management contacts my gear companies with detailed equipment specs. Then in agreement that particular gear will be shipped to the tour starting location, where the drum set sets off on its vacation to join us in form of truck travels and on stages.
You’re currently touring the globe with Steve Wilson. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is taking up pretty much the whole of 2015. How do you find the time to fit in album releases or even this interview?
Yes, please let me correct you. I’m juggling around the tour schedule with the different acts I’m working with. So with Steven the latest albums was released February 2015 and I did the first tour leg, which was in March/April. Then my other commitments with Aristocrats took over, which means preparing for our new release, Tres Caballeros, followed by a U.S./Canada summer tour. And then the new album we did with Joe Satriani will come out and we’ll tour Europe in Fall 2015 with that. Besides, my new album Celebration just hit the markets as well.
Yes, let’s talk about your latest solo album this month. How did it all come together?
Celebration contains 18 pieces, and like on my previous albums, I wrote, recorded and performed and mixed pretty much everything. That’s why it’s called solo album I guess. [laughs] But yeah, the songs and compositions you hear on my albums really are coming together, structured in the way I want to hear them, without any interference or compromise. That’s the beautiful thing about doing a solo album and working basically just to turn your vision into a reality. Celebration starts off with a few almost metal/hardcore driven pieces, to then drift into some long, atmospheric, elaborate compositions which feature various moods.
Later, it returns to some more compact, shorter, but also complex rock songs to basically close the album.
You know, there are some albums you re-listen to and think that maybe one or another part could’ve been done differently. But with Celebration, after revisiting it a few times, I must say that I’m very happy on how it turned out. And I can’t wait for you readers to hear it. [smiles]
You played all the instruments on Celebration. You sing too, right?
That is correct. I played guitar, bass, keys and other instruments needed for the songs. I also tried to bring a message across with my voice here and there. [laughs]
Being primarily a drummer, is it also beneficial to be able to play a melodic instrument, especially in a compositional setting?
Growing up playing different instruments, I can only talk from personal experience, but I do think that playing a few instruments comes in very handy, since you start thinking, especially on stage, with a different mind set or overview. This leads to a more musical approach and way of thinking, in my opinion.
From solo to trio: your band The Aristocrats released two studio albums in the past four years and there’s the third scheduled for this summer. You’re performing to an extremely high standard and yet I have the feeling that you don’t take yourself very seriously. Is The Aristocrats about having fun, about enjoying yourselves and the music you play?
Thanks for noticing. You know, at The Aristocrats shows you usually get a few people in the first rows, staring at our hands and feet, to observe or analyze technicalities. But that’s not what The Aristocrats is really only about. There are songs to project a certain vibe, and yes, also a lot of fun and interaction is involved. I guess that’s the reason why people come to see us: there’s an entertainment factor involved.
What advice do you have for young drummers who aspire to make a living with their skills and creativity?
For drummers I would advise to play musical, which means, listen and make a choice of what the song needs most, and that focus and feature, that aspect. It might be based around groove, sound, complexity or style. Or it could be all of them together!
Visit Marco Minnemann on his website at www.marcominnemann.com.