Seven Against Thebes (7AT) drummer Bruce Burgess recently teamed up with Seattle percussionists Arturo Rodriguez, Marco Zonka & film composer Kevin Christensen for Drum Dynasty. Drum Dynasty is a radical drum CD that showcases advanced odd measure drum rhythms meshed with ambient world music. The (double) CD was mixed by Sam Hofstedt of Studio-X who has worked with the likes of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden & R.E.M. The double CD set is divided up into 2 separate albums. DISK I: Mystic Sunrise explores Middle Eastern type rhymes, while DISK II: Dark Continent explores Africa. During this interview Bruce explains among other things his Drum Dynasty project, 3 headed monsters,& a passion for all things primal. Here is out interview



So tell us about your Drum Dynasty project, how did it all come about?  Well over the years I had composed many different drum compositions mainly to be used as drum exercises for many of my students. Many of these drum rhythms explored odd time signatures from basic  2/4, 3/4 rhythms to more advanced 13/8, & even 26/16 rhythms. After a while I realized I had accumulated between 30 to 40 of these really cool off-time drum pieces so why not record them on a CD & use it as a teaching aid. Well it wasn't too long after that Producer Cyrus Rhodes suggested I record all of these songs & present it as a full length drum CD with Arturo & Marco backing me up on percussion. The next thing you know Kevin got involved with some of the the background music, & the rest is pretty much history. Somtimes in life good things just have a way of falling into place without any effort. I remember thinking to myself wow this is evolving into something really cool. I'm very pleased at how well 'Drum Dynasty" turned out, it's an amazing musical journey & one hell of a production.   


Drum Dynasty



What was it like teaming up with Seattle percussionists Arturo Rodriguez, & Marco Zonka?  Man these chaps are awesome players! It was such a blast coloring outside the lines a little musically with them. - I mean to be able to create something primarily drum oriented, & having such a wide range of percussion styles to play around with - truly an incredible experience. I look forward to working with these guys again in the future.




MARCO ZONKA                                                        ARTURO RODRIGUEZ



How do they differ as percussionists? Marco definitely brings many of the the Eastern & Indian influences to the table, & let me tell you he one brilliant Tabla player, while Arturo brings a lot of the the Caribbean style percussion styles, like Merange, Salsa, Hemiola, & Santeria. Arturo has a lot of passion & experience, & he has also studied many traditional African rhythms which gives this drum project a wide range of musical latitude.


What specific types of worldly rhythms did you guys explore on Drum Dynasty? We explored traditional African, Algerian, Moroccan, Haitian, Greek, India, & Arabic rhythms. More specifically - Yanvanlou, Elleggue, Samba, Bembe, Masmoudi, Adowa, Hemiola, Santeria, just to name a few. As far as time signatures we dabble in 2/4, 2/3, 4/4. 5/4, 6/4, 7/8, 11/8, 13/8, 12/8, & even 26/16. But honesty "Drum Dynasty" isn't really about a bunch of crazy time signature,  it's about a spiritual journey. I like to get away from all those numbers, put away the textbooks for a while,  & just lose myself spiritually in some of these rhythms.




"Drum Dynasty isn't about a bunch of crazy time signatures,

it's about a spiritual journey,"




As a drummer, or a listener how easy is it for you to lose yourself spiritually during some of the performances? It really depends on how much of an open mind you have as a listener. For me it's easy to listen to this as music. I like to think of these songs an an open dialogue not only between drums, but between cultures. If you think about it drumming is a very primal language mankind has been speaking for centuries, that's why the drum is such a spiritual instrument. I believe the first song ever written was on a membrane drum somewhere..






Give us a step-by-step approach on how you compose drum parts for a piece of music. Does your approach change when composing drum parts for Drum Dynasty? When writing drum parts for Seven Against Thebes I create musical boundaries that correlate with the music. When I compose a drum part I actually overplay my parts & over time I gradually cut & edit my performances until ultimately I get to a place where I feel comfortable about the composition. I was delighted to find out players like Terry Bozio & Neil Peart (RUSH) write their drum parts in a similar fashion. Of course I also listen for dynamics & fill in the peaks & valleys properly. I like pushing natural accents, & I always try hard to deliver something that fits yet is totally unique. For "Drum Dynasty" though I actually did the reverse, because I had absolutely no musical boundaries I wrote all my drum parts conservatively & kind of built a musical foundation from that vantage point. 


What was it like working with Film Composer Kevin Christensen? Kevin definitely brings allot of musical variety & theatrical ambience to the table. He is a brilliant composer & a perfect candidate for a project as diverse as Drum Dynasty. Simply put -  he can take you literally anywhere around the world with his writing. I am a big fan of Chill-out, Dub, & Ambient Score, but my biggest complaint with most of it is the lack of world class drumming to accompany these truly brilliant compositions. This was my vision to combine Kevin's world with mine. I think it's safe to say we made it possible for worlds to exist together all the while complimenting each other along the way. 





Over the last couple of years we've seen various rock artists like Tool, Rush, Sting, & Peter Gabriel explore more indigenous forms of music, what's it like for you to explore "the other side" of music with a band like Seven Against Thebes (7AT)? Well playing drums in a band like 7AT definitely gives me the freedom to visit "the other side." It's great to have that much musical freedom when composing my drum parts. I guess I'm pretty spoiled as a drummer if you think about it, not many bands can give you that kind of musical freedom. 7AT gives me plenty of room to swim around in. I don't think I could ever learn to lose all that freedom.




"The day I realized America was only a small part of the world

 it opened my eyes as a musician."






As a drummer itís obvious youíve had a lot of multicultural exposure to music, what specific cultures have you studied musically, & how has that helped you develop as a drummer over the course of your career? I listen to a lot of different kinds music from all around the world, Caribbean, Brazilian, Middle Eastern, & African. The day I realized that America is only a small part of this world it opened my eyes a little to all the music I was missing out on. Most people in the US will never get exposed to music abroad because our record industry just doesn't work that way. It's unfortunate because they are missing out. Take Africa for instance - depending on what region your talking about there are literally thousands of different musical styles, & rhythms to get into, & that's just one continent. As a musician I that kind of musical exposure can only make you a better player overall.


Over the years youíve had the privilege of studying under some impressive names like Louie Belson, Bob McKey (Tonight Show Band) Mark Rozier (Cleveland Symphony Orchestra) and Jazz great Jim Payne, but tell us what was it like being a pupil of Nigerian Drum Master Babatunde Olatunji? Well the first thing that surprised me was how short Baba is, he's only 5' foot 4 inches tall. I guess I expected an African giant (LAUGHS). But studying under Baba is something I'll never forget. Learning techniques from a drummer who grew up in Western Africa was amazing, and sort of a culture shock. For example most western drummers count rhythms on 8th and 16th note tablature written on paper, but in Africa, drummers like Baba counted off these notes in a "One Mississippi Two" style fashion. I guess they didn't have a whole lot of paper in Western Africa when he was growing up so playing and counting off these rhythms made perfect sense. But the actual doing it like Baba did wasn't as easy as it sounded. It took a lot of work, but after a while I it turned out to be quite exhilarating. Another thing he thought a lot of us modern, western drummers was to not only slow down, but calm down. I can't explain it but compared to Baba most drummers look tense when they play. For Baba playing the drums was a very calming and therapeutic thing, as he looked totally relaxed and at ease. Ironically enough you would think playing percussion would have the opposite effect, but watching Baba playing even some hi-energy rhythms while he was in this totally relaxed state taught me something. He believed that playing from this totally relaxed state over time a drummer could discover and develop a true self expression. We call it playing from the soul. This was something I never really thought about before I met him, but performing over the years I've discovered this to be a gratifying philosophy.  






Who have been some of your major drum influences over the years? (LAUGHS) Thereís no way I can boil it down to just one guy. (PAUSES) If weíre talking strictly rock music I have to say Neil Peart (RUSH) is one of my all time favorite rock drummers. Anyone that listens to RUSH knows how spoiled one can get listening to his drumming compared to other drummers out there. Heís an extremely dynamic player, always changing, constantly moving, and never playing the same rhythm for very long. Rather than play just a beat, he plays drums in a very dynamic fashion. For me I could listen to just Neil Peartís drumming alone without any music in the background and be totally entertained as a listener. He's a total perfectionist, constantly evolving and looking at new innovative ways to re-inventing his playing style. Another rock drummer I really admire is Terry Bozio (Missing Persons, Frank Zappa). As far as Jazz drummers go I have to say Tony Williams is my all time favorite. Anyone who has ever heard Tony play either live or in the studio knows exactly what Iím talking about. There are only a small handful of drummers in the world that can literally do what this man does behind a set of drums. Tony Williams is a totally passionate performer, and really plays the drums like the instrument is meant to be played...


What's next for Drum Dynasty I have already started working on the follow up Drum Dynasty album entitled World Cathedral. World Cathedral is shaping up to be a cutting edge catalogue of music combining both orchestral ambience with classical drumming. I am working hard with Executive Producer & Cyrus Rhodes & Film Composer Ben Kopec, who has written musical scores  for the likes of SONY, FOX Sports, A&E & MTV over the years. Steering the Drum Dynasty ship into European waters is proving to be an adventure. Also in the works is an Instructional DVD entitled  "Drum Language" where we explore a wide range of topics for both the Intermediate to advanced players.









interview conducted by Kendall Cross. Property of Indie Music Media Copyright © 2009