Thomas Lang Interview
Written by Kevin Tanza on January 21, 2019
Thomas Lang has done it all, as far as drumming goes. Whether it’s big venues, small venues, complex musicianship, accessible tunes, clinics… he’s been there and he’s done it.. So it’s not surprising that he’s widely considered one of the finest drummers in the entire world and one whose career has the likes of Glenn Hughes, George Michael and many more. And he also happens to be one of Austria’s finest musicians.
I had an interview with Thomas and we discussed multiple topics, such as influences, playing so many different musical genres, his other interests, his projects and what he loves doing: drumming!
Thank you for doing this, Thomas. It’s a pleasure to have you here.
2018 is almost over. Was this a good year for you on a professional and personal level?
2018 was different from most years for me. I spent more time writing and producing last year than most years. I focused on my own music and on planning projects and new business deals for 2019. I toured a fair amount but less than I normally do. Overall it was a year of change, evolution and development.
I want to go back to the beginning. What inspired you to become a drummer? Which albums, which musicians?
When I was four years old, I saw a drummer on TV. I thought the drummer was the coolest guy in the band because he was the only one sitting down. He seemed to be in charge, seemed to lead the band. He counted off the songs, often started the song with a few bars of a cool beat or a big drum fill. I immediately thought that drums were cool. A few days later my parents took me to a local concert and for the first time in my life I experienced a drummer play live, right in front of me. I was fascinated and mesmerized. I was magnetically drawn towards the drum set and like in a trance walked right up onto the stage and towards the drum set. While the band was playing and the drummer was bashing away, I walked towards the drum kit from and held on to the bass drum from the front. I was barely as tall as the kick drum itself and I remember just being shocked and amazed by the sheer power of those drums. I felt the thud in my chest every time the drummer kicked that bass drum. All of the guys’ limbs were moving, playing different instruments, cymbals were shaking, his left foot was stomping on the HiHat pedal, the crack of the snare drum was like a slap in the face and the low-end punch of the bass drum made me dizzy. I was completely blown away and I was immediately hooked on drums, drumming and music. Right then and there at age 4 I was infected with the drum virus and I have had the drumming fever ever since!
What makes a drummer, according to you?
Passion and selfless dedication to the instrument and to music. Drummers have the toughest job of all musicians. From practicing to performing, from size and volume of the instrument to setting up and braking down the gear at shows,…drums are such a loud, clumsy, complex and bulky instrument that drummers have to have an extremely high amount of dedication and grit to make it to the process of years and years of overcoming hurdles and handicaps in order to play music. Drummers are very special people.
You were born and raised in Austria, but you have spent many years in England and a few more in the United States. Does living in other countries influence you as a musician?
Of course my environment influenced my music. Everything around us influences us artistically. I grew up around a lot of classical music and Austrian’ European Folk music. In the UK I was exposed to a lot more electronic music and manufactured Pop music, in the US there is a much larger Heavy Music Scene and a real “player’s” scene. All these different places where I lived and all the places I visited during decades of touring had an influence on my development as a musician. These experiences are key to staying inspired, to re-evaluating your approach, to keep an open mind, to learn and grow in regards to music history and theory, and to eventually finding your own voice and style.
You’re a musician that has played for a wide variety of artists and bands, covering multiple music styles, both on studio and in concerts. From George Michael to Paul Gilbert, passing by Glenn Hughes and so on. How do you teach yourself to play so many different styles that have so many different demands, playing-wise?
I was always interested in all styles of music. To me, music is ONE art form that can be created employing many different techniques. Just like fine art, or literature. In fine arts there are many techniques, materials and tools (charcoal, pencil, brush, oil, canvas, wood, oil, acrylic, spraypaint, airbrush…etc) that all result in the same thing when used creatively: Fine art. It’s the same in music and drumming. I just employ different techniques, materials and tools when working with different artists from different genres. I taught myself to keep an open mind simply by studying all the relevant techniques and by listening, playing and learning about different genres and understanding that ALL of them are just different dialects of the same language: Music
And what is the music style that you enjoy playing the most and why? Is there any band in which you would like to play in, if you had the chance?
I have different favorite styles for different situations, a bit like clothing choices for the weather. You don’t want to wear winter clothing on a beach, right? I enjoy playing commercial music the most when I play in front of an audience, and I like playing more complex music in the studio and just for myself to learn and indulge. I have a long list of artists I admire and always wanted to work with, many of them have passed or disbanded: Genesis, Sting, Clapton, Zappa, Earth Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, Deep Purple and many more. However, I am a rational person and know that many of those dreams and ambitions to work with some of those idols of mine will not come true and will remain fantasies, but I have learned to enjoy playing with any other musician and band -of the same, or a lesser statue as the artists I mentioned-just as much. Today, the “band I would like to play in if I had the chance” is always the next band I am working with.
Considering your career, do you like working on multiple projects at the same time? Have you ever thought of stablishing yourself in a singular band or project?
I like working on multiple projects, but not at the same time! I am in fact establishing myself in a singular project and I have been working on that project for decades–it’s called “Project Thomas Lang”. I don’t believe in fame and credibility “by proxy” and I have always worked towards that particular goal. I have always worked both as a sideman and as a solo-artist. I have always played other people’s music and also my own. I worked as a session musician for decades but also as a solo-performer and artist in his own right. I had my own bands, wrote and produced my own music and music for other artists. I like the variety. I like the different challenges. My project is “me!”
You are obviously known for your drum clinics and a lot of young drummers look up to you because of that. Why did you decide to start doing clinics?
I did my first drum clinic in 2000. I hated the idea of a drum clinic before that. It felt pretentious and self-indulgent but that was my preconception before I knew anything about drum clinics. It didn’t take long for me to understand how important drum clinics are for young drummers and for the drumming community. I decided to do them regularly because I found them rewarding on many levels. It felt great to share information, to inform and to inspire, to entertain and motivate and by teaching I learned a lot about myself as well. It has been a very rewarding experience overall.
What is the most enjoyable part of teaching?
For me it is the feedback and the enthusiasm. I love seeing students have breakthroughs. I love demonstrating something complex in a very simple way and see the students’ faces when it “clicks”. I love the camaraderie in the drumming community and at drum camps and I find it enjoyable to play for and with other drummers and to “nerd out” over drums and drumming!
You’re obviously known for your work as a drummer, but you’re also capable of playing other instruments. What are the main differences of playing drums and playing other instruments, at least for you?
There are so many differences–some instruments cannot even be compared with each other. I also play piano, bass and a little guitar. Some differences are: the physical involvement and investment, and the percentages of analytical vs emotional effort while playing. There are also a lot of logistical differences–you can practice bass or guitar anywhere, anytime. That is not possible with drums. You can even take a small keyboard and practice with headphones anywhere, but a practice pad is never going to compete with a full drum set. Drums are big, bulky, loud and impossible to take on holiday with you! It is MUCH easier to learn another instrument. I always found that learning something on bass, piano or guitar happened much faster and it was easier than on the drums.
You have been playing professionally since the late 80s. How do you keep yourself motivated after all these years?
I don’t have to motivate myself. I still LOVE drums and music. I feel blessed and fulfilled every day of my life and I pinch myself almost every day thinking “how was I able to get away with this for so many years?” I never feel like I am working, I am always just playing, and that requires no motivation!
Do you have other interests outside music?
Of course. I read a lot about science, I love physics and astronomy. I am really into construction and home improvement and I love being active and sporty. I love spending time with my family and dog, I love art, movies, social gatherings, surprise parties, spending time with friends and all the other things we all enjoy! All the usual stuff!
I once read an interview of yours where you stated that you were happy that record companies were on the verge of extinction. What was your reasoning behind said statement? Do you still hold that view?
I think that must have been taken out of context. I am not happy about that fact. I think the general change in the music industry has good and bad aspects but I am not happy about the record companies becoming extinct. I think there were greedy and corrupt people in the record business for too many years, but there are greedy, unfair and corrupt people in the world of digital distribution now (i.e Spotify and other streaming services).
What plans do you have in the foreseeable future?
I am recording a solo-album, building a new studio here in LA, building a physical drum school, and I have a lot of touring and recording work lined up for 2019.
Thank you so much for this opportunity, Thomas. Any final message for our readers? Where can we follow you on social media?
Always be yourself. Don’t try to sound like everybody else and never forget to have fun playing music!
Instagram: @thomaslangdrum Twitter
Youtube: sticktix. Facebook: Official Thomas Lang