Interview with Jason Sutter - Marilyn Manson
Interview with Jason Sutter - Marilyn Manson
Born in Potsdam, New York, Jason Sutter is one of L.A.’s fast rising working drummers and he''s just got the drumseat with Marilyn Manson.
While his name might be new to many, he''s had a busy career so far with acts such as New York Dolls, Juliana Hatfield, The Rembrandts, American Hi-Fi, Smashmouth, Chris Cornell and 80''s power rock monster band, Foreigner.
We caught up with him initially whilst on tour in the U.K. with Alice Cooper at Alexandra Palace, but subsequently talked to him after he landed the Marilyn Manson gig.
Let’s go back to the start. What''s your history?
I grew up in up-state New York and was into the rock scene with bands like Kiss. Now my dad had always wanted to play drums but his dad wouldn’t let him ‘cause he was a cop. So when I expressed an interest he just went out of his way to make it happen and got me drum lessons with a teacher called Jim Peterszak who was also teaching Dave Weckl and Vinnie Coliauta. He just happened to live up in the country where my dad lived.
At the time I really didn’t know how lucky I was. My dad was actually an artist and he traded a painting for drum lessons, so I got a great education right off the bat. There were a lot of bands because there were about three colleges in that area and college bands used to play every week. That inspired me to want to do that.
At around nine years old, I put a band together with three other friends and we were called ‘Paragon’. We played covers like Rolling Stones and tunes we could pull off. It was a novelty at the time but we got a lot of mileage out of it with all that practical experience. By the age of twelve we were performing at parties in neighbouring towns with a light show and a mini production thing going on. So from a very young age I had good training through that experience. I also negotiated contracts and dealt with personalities on the music front, so I experienced the music business as well as the playing side.
Being in a small town in the country I had a lot of free time to practice ‘cause there wasn’t much else to do. That led me to another teacher, Tony Verderosa who then became my jazz teacher and I just took advantage of that whole thing. But the main thing was that I was out at least three times a week gigging and making good money and the girls were there too (laughs). I played my first bar gig when I was around thirteen and with the help of my parents who chaperoned me, it wasn’t long before the bar owners would recognise me so I could go in and got to watch reggae bands and blues bands – I just ate all of that up.
From there I ended up going to the University of North Texas ‘cause Gregg Bissonette was blowing up big then and he went there, so I followed that path. I was in that college with Keith Carlock and Matt Chamberlain amongst many fine players. It was a wild experience but tough too so I had to kick my ass into gear; it was a case of either stepping up or just get swallowed up.
I then went to the University of Miami ‘cause I wanted to broaden my scope and I learnt marimba, orchestral and drum corp. When I was graduating for my Masters Degree in Orchestral Performance, I stepped up for an audition, after being persuaded through a friend of mine, and got the gig with Juliana Hatfield. It was strange, but for this gig I had to re-learn how to play rock and de-learn all the stuff from the college.
How and why did you move from New York to Los Angeles?
I knew I had to grow and at the back of my mind I knew that it had to be L.A. I moved there and I knew one girl who allowed me to sleep on the couch until I met up with an old college friend who showed me around and introduced me to a load of musicians. My first gig there was with a guy called Jason Faulkner (ex Jellyfish) and we played some shows around town. When I went for auditions in L.A. his name became an instant qualifier for me - as soon as his name was mentioned they instantly thought ''if you’ve played with him then you must have your shit together''.
In 2004, I got the gig with American Hi-Fi and they were my great buddies and I replaced their drummer Brian Nolan. We toured the world and spent a month, maybe two, in the U.K. alone.
From there I did The Rembrandts for a couple of months, and right after that the auditions for Smashmouth happened and spent a year with them. In the middle of that year I got a call from the agent saying that Chris Cornell was auditioning, he’d gone through about twenty drummers and he wasn''t happy with any of them but he thought I might have what he wants. Fifteen minutes after the audition whilst I was driving home I get a call from Chris Cornell’s management to say he wanted me in the band. So with that I joined him and toured with him for two records, over a three year period.
How did The New York Dolls happen?
I did the Foreigner gig for the last year and it was just winding up and didn’t know what was going to happen ‘cause I’d been out on the road. Then I got a call from drummer Brian Delaney who I went to North Texas with and he said ''I know you’re a fan of The Dolls, would you like to go out on the road with them?''.
Well, I flew in to New York from L.A. on my own dime ‘cause I didn’t want them to go with someone from New York. I also told Brian to tell them that I was a New Yorker ‘cause I knew that would put me in good favour. After they checked me out on my website and had Brian Delaney’s recommendation that was the gig pretty much wrapped. The other great thing for me is that I’m playing with Earl Slick - a mega (former David Bowie) guitarist.
The point here is that I flew in on my own dime and sometimes you need to ‘pay to play’; it’s a risk but in my case it paid off and here I am in London as support to Alice Cooper, but check all the angles before you make that decision if you’re faced with a similar situation.
Let’s talk about your drum equipment. You seem to have a vintage theme running through it.
I’ve been using the same drum sizes for the past eight years. It’s basically a Ludwig 26” x 14” with a 14” rack tom and a 16” and 18” floor toms. It’s a Bonham vintage kinda set which I got to design, which is called the Classic Legacy and is what I call a ''70’s hotrod vintage set''. It''s what Ian Paice, Simon Kirke and Cozy Powell used. I also wanted the blue/olive badge which they stopped making back in the 70’s with 3-ply poplar maple shells with reinforcement rings, and for the snare it’s a Black Beauty.
For cymbals, I use Paiste cymbals which are generally two 20” Medium 2002 and a 22” Custom Medium. A 24” Medium ride and 15” Medium Hats with a Medium bottom on the top and a Sound Edge on the bottom.
That’s basically my set-up - that’s what I use for The Dolls gig. For other gigs they might go smaller like 14” Hats for The Rembrandts or Vertical Horizon.
I use Puresound 30” strand snares. Drumheads are Remo Emperor Coated on the top and Ambassador Coated on the bottom for that vintage rock vibe and an Emperor X for my snare. Finally my bass drum has Powerstroke 3 and for hardware it’s DW 9000 series.
Protection Racket cases have saved my life. When you’re on the road and everything’s looked after that’s great but when you have to haul your equipment around for a local gig, man, those cases are a lifesaver and it does make quite a difference.
Back to business. How important is it to become a ‘social animal’ in this business?
It comes with the territory. I’m out every night when I’m in town. Out of sight is out of mind. When I’m out on tour, there are interviews, there’s TV and radio and it’s a chance to talk about what you’re up to.
Now the reality is when I get back to L.A., it’s like a ghost town, so I have to go out every night to let people know that I’m back. The more I socialise the more I put myself back in the frame and it’s best doing this ‘face to face’ rather than via email in most cases. Otherwise, you’ll be labelled as a just touring guy and that limits you. So you need to offer some sort of balance especially in the early stages.
What are the main lessons that you''ve learnt in your career so far? What would be your advice to upcoming drummers at this point?
To be in the right place at the right time is so vital. For me, L.A. is the right place and that’s worked for me; it’s been hard but it’s paid off, I’ve never wandered too far away from my focus.
While you can practice, practice now!! Don’t wait ‘til you get an opportunity or when you get older. When you’re younger with less responsibilities that’s the time to get practising and take advantage of that time and practice your ass off.
More importantly, play with as many bands and musicians as possible. It doesn’t matter what the gig is, I guarantee it will make you a better player. Take on any gig. For me, whether its cruise ships, Disney World, Busch Gardens Fun Park, weddings, bar mitzvahs... the funny thing about it is I still do it. When I’m back in L.A. and someone calls me and it pays, I’ll do the gig. ‘Cause, especially in L.A., I’m going to get exposure and that gets me the turnover of gigs.
Then it’s a matter of the right time. Now when that time comes you better be ready.
Diversity is important, so learn to play a load of different styles ‘cause you don’t know what you’re going to be hit with.
Now this is another thing, it may sound silly but verbalise what you want to do. The musicians around you will help you get where you wanna get to but you must let them know what you want; it certainly is the case in L.A. Don’t be afraid to do that, put the word out.
Also remember, you are your best advertiser. You know who you are better than anyone else; you know what your talents are and you know what your strengths are.
Get a website built, even if it’s just a holding page with a simple biog and develop it adding your recorded tracks, video clips and tell everyone about it; that way everyone will want to dial in.
Put yourself in the best position to enable you to roll with easily - if you don’t do it, nobody else will.
Most importantly, do this in a tactful manner; you don’t want to be a heavy self promoting machine and throw your energies in that direction; in social environments, most musicians will be put off by it, plus you’ll take the concentration away from developing your talent.
However, you have to get to grips with who you are as a player or most importantly, who do you want to be?
In my case, my niche is that I’m a rock drummer. I’ve studied jazz, marimba,
percussion and I can sight read for big band but at heart I’m a rock drummer and
most musicians recognise me as one.
Don’t let that stress you out, there is no doubt that it’s going to be hard work but have fun with it.
You've been deep in rehearsals with Marilyn Manson. How did you land that gig?
I had befriended the head of production for Marilyn Manson on the Foreigner/ Styx/ Kansas tour of 2010. She was head of production on that tour and we hit it off. She knew the New York Dolls tour was winding down and gave me a call right before the New Year. Chris Vrenna decided he wasn’t going to do the gig and a few drummers came and went so she suggested they check me out.
They had another drummer they’d seen and liked and he was coming back for a call back on a Friday and they slid me in at the last minute on the Thursday before. I only found out that day that I had an audition. I had already started learning songs just in case but I still only had a few hours to learn three more songs and get my drums to the audition when I found out. It was one of the more hectic ones I’ve experienced!
I played through the five tunes and after the first one Manson was up and standing right over my drums digging it. We jammed for a bit and Manson invited me over to his house to hear the new record that night. We had a great hang and he said he loved how I played but they still had to hear the guy on Friday just to be fair.
Needless to say I got the call Friday night that I got the gig and had a great chat with Manson himself who said how stoked he was. We have been in rehearsals for the last three weeks and it’s a riot! The tour is starting in Australia, Japan and Taiwan in support of the new record "Born Villain".
Check out my site for tour dates – www.jasonsutter.com
Drums: Ludwig Maple Classics (with custom High Tension lugs)
Drum Heads: Remo
For more information: www.jasonsutter.com
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