Craig Reynolds saying “going fast doesn’t do it for me anymore” already suggests that he is part of a new era of metal drummers.
During his career Craig has experienced being both a band member and a session player. After touring the world with bands like Viatrophy, The Haarp Machine, Deaf Havana, Vision Of Disorder and many others, he eventually found his place in the drum chair for Stray From The Path.
When he’s not touring he is not only a busy drum teacher but also maintaining an in-demand YouTube channel offering play-through and educational videos.
I caught up with Craig via Skype to chat about his upbringing, how he puts the Weckl into metal and his success on YouTube.
When I was in year 6 (I must have been 11), the drum teacher from the high school next to my primary school came into the assembly and explained that they would open up the music lessons to primary school students. It was drums, guitar or piano. I thought drums were cool and that was it.
From then I just went through the motions – I see it in my students. Kids between 10 and 13 just think “This is cool, I’m gonna do it”. At about 13 you actually get into music and it becomes a “Actually, I love this”. I was lucky enough to get relatively good during those three years to a point where when I got into music I could actually play those things. That was it. Nothing else ever since.
So you had drum lessons all throughout your school career?
Yes, up until I was 16 and then the whole conversation about what you’re gonna do with your life started. I just had no other idea than music. I was in a band at that time and I just wanted to do this, so I had to pick a college. I applied to get into ACM, got in but I was actually one of the worst in my class which was a good thing. I thought I was really good but when I got there the caliber of not only the teachers but the students basically showed me that I sucked. I kind of got all my partying out of the way when I was younger, so I got to this college at the party age 18 but just went: “You know what? I’m gonna go nuts on getting good”.
I worked a job at the same time as college so I could buy a Roland TD 12 on finance and I just played all the time. As the years went by I managed to get not so bad. I remember when I did the degree some of the teachers just couldn’t believe how much I had changed. If I had done the whole Uni party thing, it wouldn’t have happened. I always tell my students who get to that age: by all means go to parties, that’s where you meet people, but give yourself a few hours every day and have a practise plan. If you get it out of the way, there is no guilt in going out and socialising. The two polar opposites are; one parties too much and doesn’t practise; the other practises too much but doesn’t go to meet anyone to then do music with.
You had your first pro gig at the age of 17 playing in China. How did that come about?
Just from playing in bands around my area (Reading, Newbury, London) I had a friend who’s friends band had landed this Chinese festival gig, their drummer couldn’t make it and this guy recommended me, this 17 year-old kid. In such an industry of recommendations they just went: yeah, go on then. I went to practise with them, they liked it and so I went to China with them. It was crazy.
I actually failed an exam at Uni because I was in China. I never understood that because I was out there doing what they were training me for. They let me retake it in the end but it was kept at a pass. That sucked.
Your main thing is metal. Has that always been the passion?
Always. I loved Beavis and Butt-Head on MTV when I was a kid, simply because it was a cartoon and it was rude. The music they used on it was Anthrax and stuff like that. I really liked it and it just went from there. But I have polar opposites though, my neighbours must think I’m crazy. I either listen to death metal or fusion. So it’s either screaming and intense blast beats or the music from a 90s sitcom.
How was being a metal drummer at heart and studying a ‘pop’ course at ACM?
I didn’t really do any metal while I was at ACM. I still had my metal band but I never brought it to the class room. Like I didn’t stick a blast beat in when we were playing Pink on the live day. There were people who did that but I just always thought I had to play for the song.
I did get thrown out of Kensington Roof Gardens on a session once though. I was playing for a Grime MC. It was just drums, DJ and the MC. We did the soundcheck and the venue went: “You’re in Kensington on a roof, there is no way you can play that loud”.
I understood and said I would play quietly but the artist, Chozen his name was, was adamant and went: “You play as loud as you want. In fact, I want you to play louder!”. We got thrown out. I still got paid, it was great.
You’ve mentioned fusion already and I have Dave Weckl written down as one of your main influences?
He is probably my number one influence. Which is crazy because I’m a metal drummer. Other than the new guys like Alex Rüdinger and Matt Garstka, metal drums don’t really appeal to me. Going fast doesn’t do it for me anymore but bringing some ‘fusiony’ elements into metal interests me loads more.
How do you implement Weckl into metal drumming?
Six stroke rolls and a mullet! [laughs]
But yeah, mainly six stroke rolls and the finesse in fills Dave Weckl has. Trying to get away from putting the snare on 2 & 4. There is a lot of displacement in his playing. Not really crazy over the bar line displacement but the snare would be on an ‘and’ or an ‘a’ and it just makes it more interesting. I try to bring that in but there is only so much you can get away with. I’ve definitely had bands in the past where I tried to put it in and they just went: No!
On the album we just recorded with Stray From The Path I got away with every single fill I wanted to put in. The producer axed one because it was way too mental but that was ok.
Viatrophy used to be your main band for years. The band falling apart triggered your decision to go into a more session side of things?
Yes, that was 2007 – 2011, and it was everything. I remember where I was when it happened as well. Our guitarist quit, me and him wrote everything so that was it. He was a really great and unique guitarist and I simply didn’t have the heart in me to find another guy.
So I decided to just do session stuff for a while and did that for about five years. It went pretty well and I played for a bunch of different bands and then found a band that started off as a session but then offered me to join.
And that was your current band Stray From The Path? How did that come about? After all they’re an American band.
During this session phase I played for a band called The Haarp Machine but that fell apart. I was desperate to stay in music and a band called Architects was in need of a drum tech and asked me if I wanted to do it. I was like: I have no experience. They just went: Well, you’ve been on tour setting up your own drums. it’s exactly the same, you’re just setting up my drums. I did that for two years and the band became like my best friends, it was a great time. We toured with Stray From The Path in 2012. In 2015 they lost their drummer. I hadn’t really stayed in touch with them but randomly commented on something their guitarist had posted on Facebook. Five minutes later I get an email of them asking of I wanna play for Stray From The Path and I just replied: Yes. That was it.
I later found out that there were other guys in the running to get it who were from America, so it would have been much easier for them, but once we had a chat it was all sorted. You know, it’s 10% your playing but it’s 90% personality. You’re gonna spend more time with these guys than you do with your wife and family. Over the last two years I’ve seen these guys more often than my niece and nephew. You need to be able to get on with those people. That’s what it all came down to. They went: We toured with him before, we know he’s not a psycho, we know he doesn’t snore, he doesn’t smell, he’s not creepy with girls… there are so many things you can’t have. That was it.
The only thing that sucks is visas. The touring is equally America, Europe and everywhere else, so when they come to Europe it’s just one less flight.
The band is New York based, you’re in England, how do you manage rehearsals and stuff like that?
Well, here is the thing, Tom the guitarist lives in Los Angeles. We’re all halfway across the world but we just turn up to tour early and practise there. We do less practise than we should though. I always want to practise way more but it’s a band full of Punks. The first time I went over was the day before the first show. I had been playing the songs at home practising my ass off, then they went: oh, we don’t play to a click, this song is faster, this one is slower, we do different endings on these songs and so on. We ran through the songs once and when I asked to do it again they just went: Nah, we’re hungry. So I played a sold out show in front of 2000 people the next day and I messed something up. It was one of the different endings that I wanted to practise twice. Instead of going “ah sorry man, that was our fault”, they just all flipped me off on stage. But it was funny. I messed up the biggest song and they just go: Yeah, it’s kind of our fault, but it’s funny.
We go on tour next week but we haven’t figured anything out yet. We have a show on Friday so I just assume we’ll practise on Thursday or at soundcheck in the morning, which sucks. I wish we would play to a click for exactly this reason – because I know I’ll be the same playing at home or with the guys.
You started with them as a session player but then quickly became a member. What made you change your mind to committing to one band again?
I was actually teaching full time, 20 – 30 lessons a week. The money was really good, the security was really good and I had just gotten a flat with my ‘soon-to-be’ wife so I had to make sure I had money coming in. In my head I had stopped touring because I didn’t think it was financially viable and I wasn’t sure if it was what I wanted because till then I had only been on tour with people I didn’t like too much.
I told them I would help them out for this tour for x amount of money. Because they were friends I asked them for the minimum figure I could do it for which was basically just the money I would miss out on because I couldn’t teach for those three weeks. It was so much fun touring with the guys and I just had the time of my life. About two weeks in they told me that the sum I had asked them for was actually less than they each make on the tour and went: “The job is there if you want it”. Of course I said yes.
You’ve mentioned you guys just recorded a new album too. When can we expect that?
It hasn’t been announced yet so I can’t really say anything, but it’s gonna be towards the end of the year. We recorded at in New Jersey at Graphic Nature with a guy called Will Putney who is amazing. He was great to work with. I never got a mix back from an album where I’ve never had to say anything. On these I can hear everything, even ghost notes that I didn’t know I was doing. It sounds amazing.
As we’ve talked about earlier, you teach a lot as well. Has that always been a passion?
I think it’s vital for a musician to teach at the moment because when your band is on the up and coming, you’re not making any money. I just turned 30, I’ve been making money from a band for maybe four years. I had about ten years of playing and touring but not getting paid at all. Teaching allows you to still be doing the thing you love while still earning money and at the same time impart some knowledge.
The lessons I had at school didn’t push me enough and that was probably my fault. Technically I had the grades to get there but I was just a bad drummer. When I got to ACM I realised that there was a whole new skill level of drummers that I had never been introduced to before for whatever reason. Maybe it was me not researching enough or not being surrounded by people who were at this elite level like the teachers at ACM – I have to shout out to Pete Riley and Mike Sturgis. There was stuff we did on day one at ACM that I had never done before in six years of drum lessons. That’s the day I decided I wanted to teach. This is not to disrespect my old teacher but I decided I want to make sure that any rudiment I teach, I also show the students how to apply it when they’ve mastered it. The first day I teach a paradiddle I tell my students to get really get at it on the pad and then show them a cool way they will be able to apply it on the drum kit later on. I never had that and I think I never pushed myself because I never saw that elite level until I got to ACM. That got me to wanting to teach kids and getting them hooked straight away. I recognise myself in a lot students and see their bored face when we get the practise pad out. It blows their mind seeing the ‘boring’ paradiddle or flam applied in a cool fill and they come back the next lesson and nail it.
You have a huge YouTube following and just reached 1 million views. How did that all start?
It started when Viatrophy split up. That was like 2010 when YouTube was still pretty young. We had the second album written, the drums were way better than on the first album and I was really proud of it. When the band split up I knew nobody would ever hear it so I went to a friends studio to record a drum play-through of one of the unreleased songs. Of course because the band had split up people were eager to hear anything new, so it had a great response. I started doing more videos and my biggest one is actually a fusion video. It’s weird because there is nothing metal in it apart from the T-shirt I’m wearing.
Back to the teaching thing: I started teaching some older students and we talked about Moeller. I went online and just couldn’t find a single video that had all the information about it. There were some old videos of Joe Morello and the Push Pull stuff, but nothing the way I taught it. So I made a 15 minute video about it for my students to reference it when they got home. When I put it on the internet it got 15 thousand views in one day. That was cool. Lots of people asked me to do more lessons, so whenever I had some free time I would put up a little lesson. At some point Vic Firth message me – I was already a Vic Firth performance artist – and asked me to be part of their education team and make videos for them. I started doing that and through that also did a tuition article for Drummer magazine.
I’ve had some ideas for new videos but just have to find the time to do it. It’s very time consuming and I’m just touring so much but I love and definitely want to get back into the clinic scene.
I was just about to ask if you could imagine taking all this content live by doing clinics?
Yeah, last year I did one in Swindon and somewhere else and absolutely loved it. I performed some tracks I played on and did quite a lot of talking about how to get gigs, royalties and stuff like that.
Mike actually asked me to do one in his Masterclass room at the UK Drum Show in Manchester but unfortunately I’m away on tour.
Finally, what’s next?
Off on a European tour next week. I have three days off in the middle of it which I’m getting married in, then I go back on tour.
We then have all summer off, which is the first time I’ve been off for more than a month in two years so I’m looking forward to that. Maybe I’ll get some new students in, do some more online stuff and then the album comes out in autumn. Once this is out there is two years of solid touring. So I have like this calm before the storm and then I know everything I’m doing up until 2019.
Thanks a lot for your time Craig!
Interview by Tobias Miorin