Mike Sleath is one of the most talented drummers to come out of Canada who is currently about to embark on a yearlong world tour with artist Shawn Mendes. Other notable names Mike has worked with include Cody Simpson, Francesco Yates, Conor Maynard, Jessie McCartney and more. During his time with Shawn, there is little Mike hasn’t done. Shows in the United States like The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, The Ellen Degenerous Show, The American Music Awards, Saturday Night Live, The Late Late show with James Corden to name but a few. In the United Kingdom his list of shows played which include Wembley Stadium, The Voice UK, The Jonathan Ross show and returns for the final gig of his European tour. In this incredibly humble and unique look into Mike’s life and career we discuss how he got where he is, his advice and aspirations and the people he’s met along the way. Mike is also endorsed by some of the biggest names in drums – Yamaha Drum Makers, Sabian Cymbals and Remo Drum heads. We caught up just before he leaves for rehearsals for The Shawn Mendes Illuminate World Tour.
So you’ve just been on tour with Shawn Mendes, which included not only arena shows, but numerous talk and awards shows around the world. How did all that go?
It was really good. Yeah we kind of just finished a big promo run, I guess it was maybe at the end of last year. And we went all through Europe, and we did like you said, all those talk shows and stuff. It was really cool. And next week we’re going to be going to Japan and do the same thing. So we do a bit of promo in Japan and then we start his next world tour next month.
How long is that tour?
That goes...they’re still adding dates, but it’s going right into February of 2018. Yeah, it’s a very aggressive tour. [Laughs]
That’s a long time!
Yeah…we do pretty much the whole world, I mean minus, we don’t go to Africa, unfortunately, I’d love to do Africa. So other than that, we do like everything.
Amongst the shows you’ve now played in the UK, you’ve also played The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, The Late Late Show with James Corden, The Ellen Degenerous Show, The Teen Choice Awards, American Music Awards and also shared the stage with some of the greatest artists of this generation. Did any of you in the band, including Shawn, see him gaining the mass success he’s having around the world?
Yeah, he for sure. I’ve been working with him for about two years now and when we started, it was kind of, we’d do these shows and he’d be the opener, you know, or like a smaller kind of act, but they’re obviously large shows. And now it’s kind of, when we come through he’s one of the bigger artists. So we’ve noticed that. It’s gotten really cool. Also the amount of girls waiting outside hotels. [Laughs] It started off you get a couple, and now it’s like into the hundreds, to the point where he can’t leave the hotel.
I bet it’s quite a surreal life then right?
Yeah! It’s very cool just being kind of an outsider seeing what he goes through, the trials and stuff. It’s pretty interesting.
He just seems and comes across as a very normal kind of person…
Yeah, he’s extremely just normal down to earth. Almost like he thinks it’s normal. Almost like it’s just another day, kind of thing. Yeah it’s really interesting.
Leading on from the last questions - what were some of the major steps you took to get you to this point in your life?
Like as far as for myself to be able to do those?
Yeah? like there is never really a blueprint to things like that, but is there a kind of, this thing lead to that thing, and here you are?
Yeah! Like for me, I tried to get into school. We have a pretty good music program here in Toronto, it’s at a school called Humber. And right out of high school I auditioned. I didn’t get in that year. I worked so hard, so hard on everything I thought I should know – couldn’t get in, so I was heartbroken and was like, this is crazy. [Laughs] But I was touring with a band at the time and we were doing pretty well in Canada, so then I auditioned again the following year – still didn’t get in – like who was auditioning, like Neil Pert was on the panel [Laughs]. So I still didn’t get in, and I’m telling you, I worked like crazy. And then I auditioned a third year in a row and they denied me again. And so I was like you know, I can’t, I can’t do that.
So I was touring with this band, and the biggest kind of shows we were doing were maybe at most like 1000 people a night or something – 500 a night, in that kind of range. So I was very comfortable in that kind of world and then I randomly got a call from this larger Canadian artist called Jessie Labelle, and so then I went and did a gig with him, to like 2000-3000 people and it was like oh my god, I was so frightened. So each different step it’s kind of been like a stepping stone, there’s been stepping stones every single kind of way. There’s never been anything that necessarily totally prepared me, it’s just the previous thing I’d done had I guess prepared me for the…but there’s no good way to prepare for Saturday Night Live or like Jimmy Fallon. You just have to do it, that’s what I found at least.
Like, Jimmy Fallon is the scariest because you’ve got Questlove watching you play [Laughs]. So we go and we sit down and we kind of rehearsed and Quest and everybody was in the building the whole day and I got to say hi to him and stuff, so my nerves were a little bit better. But then you sit down and you’re getting ready to play and The Roots play you out, so you’re sitting there, Jimmy Fallon’s on one side and then The Roots are on the other side and they’re playing you out and Jimmy Fallon says ‘Here’s Shawn Mendes’…and then Questlove like stares over at the drums and I’m like oh god [Laughs]. But then after doing that, now I feel like, that was like one of the most-high pressured things you could do.
I can imagine [Laughs]. So is it quite surreal for you as a musician too doing these type of gigs?
Absolutely! Yeah, it doesn’t get normal really. Like we did the European Music Awards and I was introduced to Trey Cool from Green Day, and I grew up listening to Green Day. And then so we started talking and we talked for maybe ten minutes or something and I left him and did some other stuff, and then I see him again, and he’s like ‘Mike, what’s happening?!’ and I’m like ‘Hey Trey Cool how are you?!’ [Laughs]. And then we went to this after party and I was just partying with him. And it’s like, you could never have told me that that would have happened when I was 14.
Was there always a desire to become a professional musician, and how did you plan on going about that journey?
From quite a young age?
Yeah, it was always like, I was always in bands because I think, when you’re just starting you can’t really get on these huge gigs right away, and I see it happening where like someone will come and get lucky, or not lucky, you know have the right chops and in the right place right time and you get on this huge gig. But it didn’t happen like that for me, I had to go from one gig to another gig and in Canada there’s not as much touring as there is elsewhere I find. You know like, we worked with a lot of people from the UK and I guess you’d know better than anybody but like there’s acts that like just tour in the UK. There’s maybe like 2 acts like that in Canada like right now and if you don’t get on one of those tours you’re screwed. So there’s literally two tours to get on, there’s not a lot of options. Where was I going with that…[Laughs]
So did you have a plan, or was it kind of one band to another?
Yeah, so I always just played in these bands, and my whole thing was I can’t make the band bigger, but all I can do, like personally I’m not much of a songwriter, so all I can do is build up my chops and make myself better. And in the back of my head ‘if I get really good then the bands goanna get really good’ but that’s clearly not the case. But I did all of the things that I could do to do that. So I just practiced constantly and then from playing loads you get these different opportunities and you either do a good job or a bad job, and luckily I was able to do an okay job and then get more and more opportunities.
So were you taught for any of those years?
Yeah! I studied privately with a lot of different people out here. And yeah they gave me the fundamentals, as far as playing. But I was touring a lot, so I got to, it was cool because I got to see a lot of these big acts up close and personal, and see what the drummers were doing, and then I would try to do exactly what they were doing. Like one day I would want to be this drummer [Laughs] you know, this was when I was like at 17,18,19 and then one day I would want to be this drummer so I would do everything that he would do, and would realize that’s not really right for me, and then I would be another drummer, and then yeah I kind of gave up on all that and just decided to be myself [Laughs].
So you get to see these guys up close, like you’ve just mentioned about Trey Cool. What have they all been like?
Like the other drummers?
They’ve been really cool! Like I was really into Blink 182 when I was growing up, I was like a Pop Punk kind of guy [Laughs]. So Shawn’s security guard used to be Travis Barkers security guard, and we played the American Music Awards with Shawn, and Travis was there playing with The Chainsmokers and so all along I kept on saying to his security guard ‘you have to introduce me to Travis Barker, this is so important to me’ [Laughs] so then, yeah I waited, not outside Travis’s trailer, but I kind of waited around the area, he’s like ‘if you’re around here, when the time is right, I’ll take you in to meet him’ to see Travis. So I just hung around, and then he’s like ‘alright let’s go’. But I went in and then, he brought me into Travis’s trailer and he’s like ‘oh I’ve got to go, I’ll be back’ and then so me and Travis are just in his trailer alone, and he had his practice set up, like in the trailer. You know those like practice pad drum sets with the Zildjian Z Gen quiet practice cymbals? And so he was just sat there practicing, and so I was like ‘just out of curiosity, like, what do you do to warm up?’ and he started showing me some different things, and I was like ‘This. Is. Unreal’ [Laughs]. But yeah, he was so nice so just down to show me stuff.
But then the craziest thing, after that I was on a high, I was like ‘I’ve met my absolute idol, I could talk to anybody’ and Vinnie Colaiuta was there. He was with Sting, so he was just like hanging outside the backstage area, and just kind of standing there waiting, like we sound checked before Sting and then Sting was getting ready to sound check, and there was nobody around him and I was like ‘fuck it, I met Travis Barker, I’m not not going to meet this guy’ [Laughs]. So I went up and I was like ‘Hey, I’m goanna hate myself if I don’t at least say hi, my names Mike’ and introduced myself and we stood there and talked for like a good 20 minutes, it was unreal [Laughs]. Like Vinnie Colaiuta, he’s a Legend, like who hasn’t he played with? Yeah but even like shaking his hand I was like God. Yeah like literally in the course of two months I’ve met all of my idols, not all of my idols, but a good portion of them [Laughs].
Well I’m sure on the next world tour, if you haven’t, you will meet the rest at some point
This is a fairly difficult question, as you’re on the move a lot. But can you talk a bit about your average day, if there is an average one?
Like average day on the road?
Yeah, or like when you’re at home, it varies a lot depending on where you are right?
Yeah! So like, when I’m on the road I’m able to get a bit better of a routine happening than when I’m at home. So when I’m on the road, every single morning I try to wake up early, got to hit the gym, because all these other guys hit the gym too, so if I wasn’t to hit the gym, you don’t want a fat drummer [Laughs]. So I’ll hit the gym, and then practice for like as long as I can. I like to allot two hours in a hotel and I sort of put together like a mock drum set, like I take around a practice pad and stuff and I like to practice with big heavy sticks, at least to warm up. Then I put on a click, and sometimes bring around books and work through books, or at least to get an idea. There’s this one I’ve been working on, it’s called New Breed by Gary Chester, it’s cool, it’s great for independence! It just gives you great ideas as far as like what to do with your limbs. So I kind of put together that and do that for a couple of hours.
On show days, we don’t have to go in until like 3 or 4 usually, because they set everything up and that kind of thing, so it gives us a lot of time to just focus on your craft. It’s a lot more work if you’re touring with a smaller artist I would say, where you have to do a lot of your own setting up. But yeah so then we go to sound check, and then right after sound check I always just kind of have sticks just chilling in the green room and try to just stay warmed up you know. Sometimes we go sightsee a bit.
Do you get a lot of time to do that sort of thing?
Can Shawn do that too? I saw on your Instagram you posted a video of you all on a boat tour around Sydney Harbour.
Yeah, for the most part! He likes to snapchat, and do stuff like that so I notice a lot of the times, he’ll snapchat like he’s somewhere and then we’ll just be walking through the city and you’ll just see girls running around looking for all these different things they saw [Laughs]. We were rehearsing somewhere in the UK - we did all of our European tour production rehearsals in the UK last year - and I think the front of house guy was messing around with something and Shawn was filming him and right behind there was the sign for the rehearsal place and Shawn laughed and it was at the end of the day and we were packing up getting ready to move on, and about 10 girls run through the back of this place. They run in and are like ‘Is Shawn here?!’ I was like ‘how did you know we were here?’ and then I looked at his snapchat [Laughs]. So yeah to answer your question you can do that stuff.
So with routine, when you’re at home are you a bit less disciplined?
I would say like I practice…like I’m in front of my…these are my drums right here [Turns Camera Around] So like I’m getting ready for…I play with a bunch of different artists as well…
…Is that in your house? [Laughs]
Yeah [Laughs] I’ve got electronic drums here too! [Turns Camera Around] Dude those ones are crazy.
What a set up!
Yeah! Those are the… I did this US tour…you know Jessie McCartney? Yeah, so I did a tour with him maybe a year and a half ago, maybe it’s like two years, and they wanted me to play all electronics, so I had to get this ridiculous…I wasn’t going to go out and play kind of a lesser kind of electronic kit, so I had to get… I figured if I’m going to do this I need the best that Yamaha make.
And you’re endorsed with Yamaha right? Did they help you with that?
They helped yeah, like you don’t get anything for free. I mean maybe some people do [Laughs]
Do you have to pay for it?
Yeah, like I mean you don’t pay the full price, they definitely help you a lot. This thing retails for like 7 grand or something, it’s ridiculous [Laughs] it’s very good!
You’ve also played with other notable names such as Connor Maynard, Cody Simpson, Alyssa Reid and now Shawn Mendes to name a few, how did you go about getting those gigs?
With each one, it was just sort of… like to be honest, I haven’t done that many auditions, it’s all just been word of mouth and I’m pretty personable, I like to go out and talk to people. I love people in general, so I’m always friends with all of the stage hands and all of the techs, all of the management, you know like I just kind of like to talk to everybody. And yeah so through that I’ve been able to connect with a lot of people, and yeah like it’s just kind of been one gig leads to another gig. But I auditioned for Shawn. I used to work a lot with this guy called Francesco Yates, he’s got this song with Robert Shulz, I think it went number one in the UK, it’s called ‘Sugar’, it’s very dance’y, but I auditioned for him and then through that it was like we did The American Music Award’s last year and I was kind of playing with him and Shawn at the same time then Shawn kind of got very very busy so Shawn kind of took over everything. But yeah, it’s just literally been like one gig leads to another gig which leads to another gig you know. But hopefully you don’t burn any bridges.
Definitely! And its advice other musicians have given me the past…that you can be as good as you want, but if you’re completely un-personable, you’re going to struggle to get work. Also in correlation to the amount of time you spend actually playing music and how much time you spend with other people.
Absolutely! Yeah that’s the thing, like Nate, he plays on The Voice right? So he would probably play a lot more because he’s playing with all the contestants and everyone right? With us, we go and do, we maybe have an hour, hour and a half sound check. Like in the course of your average show day, we might have like an hour and a half sound check and the gig is only like 90 minutes or something like that, like an hour and a half as well. Everything outside of that is sitting. You’re on a bus, or you’re on a plane, in a green room, so you can’t be obnoxious, you just have to be like a normal person. And I’ve noticed that, like when I first started out there were so many dicks. People that I was just like ‘man I don’t want to have to gig with this guy’ and I thought that was just like normal. But then as I started to work a lot more and stuff like that, everybody just became so nice [Laughs]. I think it’s just because the nicer people are the ones that get more work and move on, and like, not to say everybody when I started out was a dick but there was definitely a lot.
Maybe there’s a correlation between attitudes of the lower level and higher level musicians…
Yeah! Like a good friend of mine Gerry Morgan, he plays with James Bay - Coolest guy man. That guy is an incredible player. Like what impresses me most about him, I don’t know if you watch any James Bay videos, have you seen him live?
Only what he’s done on AMA’s EMA’s where he probably has to be a bit more reserved...
Yeah! But that’s what’s so beautiful about his playing. And the way he tunes his kit, oh my god he’s got this snare and you know I’m pretty sure, he got this snare…he told me about this drum shop in Toronto I didn’t even know about, I was liked ‘I’ve lived in Toronto my entire life how do I not know about this drum shop’ [Laughs] But we mostly just did like award shows together and stuff like that with James Bay, so I only really got to see them do Let It Go, but he’s got this snare and he’s got it tuned so low it’s got that like… and he’s got such a nice gentle touch. I’ve tried picking his brain a bunch of times, we just ended up getting drinks.
What’s also amazing, is how enthusiastic you still are with these things too, and you take full advantage of every opportunity you have to talk with people…
Well I always think there’s so much to learn! I think like because I never went to school I kind of I was never given a piece of paper or I was never given something to say ‘now you’re a professional drummer’ or you know ‘now you’re qualified to do this’ so it’s always been a plight to get better and to do that kind of thing. Not to say that you lose that after you leave school, which I definitely don’t think is the case, but I’ve never had that validation. Like I woke up, I’ve already practiced for two hours today and it’s 11 o’clock. So like I try to really really practice a lot. Yeah and then you look at all these other guys, man I got stuck on Instagram watching videos of Eric Moore, like how could you ever be that good!? It doesn’t make any sense [Laughs]. So if you’ve got people like that out there you can’t afford to stop practicing. [Laughs]
One of my all-time idols has to be Steve Jordan…
Oh god. I’ve never met him. Shawn has though, Shawn and John Mayer are tight.
Have you met him?
I sort of kind of walked passed him, no like I shook hands with him, so yeah I did meet him. But like when we were in LA, I forgot what we were doing there, like a couple of months ago. I sort of work with this electronic company called Dauz Pads like sort of triggers, it just like triggers from a Roland pad. So I was in the lobby of this hotel waiting for the rep to come pick me up and then I was talking with Shawn’s tour manager, and then Shawn walks down all dressed up and stuff and I was like ‘where are you going?’ [Laughs] and he’s like ‘oh John Mayer’s coming to pick me up’ and I look out and John Mayer’s sitting there in this nice Beemer. I was like ‘what’ [Laughs]. Then Shawn went by the studio and he told me…like John Mayer’s studio… and then Steve Jordan was just there hanging out in the studio. He’s another one, his drum sounds are just unreal. I tried to rip him off a lot on this kit here. I’ve got 16inch Hi- Hats but he uses 17inch Hi-Hats. At first I put together two 17inch crash cymbals, and I tried a rehearsal like that, but it was a little bit too much, so I got Sabian to put together some 16inch Hi-Hats, and it’s like almost that Steve Jordan vibe but like not as much of it. But I can’t play anywhere near like him so [Laughs] I’ll never be there. I’d love to meet Steve Jordan.
So when you’re on these gigs like Maddison Square Garden in NYC and The Greek Theatre in LA, would you prepare differently for each gig? Is there a different mindset going into these gigs, or is it you treat them the same?
I would say, for the most part, yeah pretty much the same. I mean like, obviously the scale is a lot larger on something like Maddison Square Garden, so I’m definitely a lot more aware of what I need in my in-ear mix and stuff. Like a big learning curve for me when I started playing with Shawn, I’ve played with a lot of pop artist and stuff, so I’m used to loud audiences but Shawn is a next level kind of loud, like, they’re crazy loud. And Shawn does a lot of things where he’ll hold out his mic and get the crowd to sing different parts and stuff. So if you’re in an arena or like a stadium or something like that and you hear it, you hear the crowd coming back, they can actually be like a beat behind where you actually are. So, Shawn’s got this song called Treat You Better and in the bridge there’s like a breakdown chorus, and in that part he always holds out the mic and lets the crowd hear it, and so literally every single time this happens when we’re in a big arena I sit there, and I’m like ‘1,2,3,4’ and I just tune out the crowd [Laughs]. But even so I have to get so little of his mic in my ears because they’re so loud. So I made the mistake the first gig. It was in production rehearsals, I got like a nice mix of his vocal and I was all happy going into the gig and then the crowd started screaming and I get on my talkback and it’s like ‘turn down his mic I can’t hear anything!’ [Laughs] and it like drowns out the click and so you have to be really aware of that kind of thing. So I guess yeah, that changes.
But then just the scale of things. Like playing Maddison Square Garden, we did a Jingle Ball there and we only did like a couple of tunes, but then doing his full show there, it was, yeah a little nerve-racking, because, it was also the first time we’d ever done that show, like that particular production with, and it was a very aggressive show. Like there was huge video walls and like all this crazy stuff that happened. So the production was really heavy, so that was very stressful. Right when we were sound checking, sound check was already late as it is because it took so long to set all this stuff up. And then things weren’t working when we were sound checking, so like I was stressing out but trying to keep my cool [Laughs] and then Shawn was like definitely feeling the pressure, but then the gig turned out awesome.
So nerves wise, you’ll still get nervous before these gigs right?
Oh yeah…yeah I find…you know what’s crazy, I find like, I never realized it before, but in the last couple of years like how powerful your brain is, and how powerful thought can be. And if I get really nervous it usually happens if I don’t feel prepared or something. But no matter how prepared you are you still obviously get nervous because there’s several thousands of people staring at you and they’ll know if you mess up [Laughs]. But I literally just kind of go to this spot where like I can see…I see everything going, and I play through every hit and I don’t even need sticks, you can just sort of envision…like meditation almost. You just kind of envision everything happening and I hear that’s what athletes do too.
It’s crazy how effective it can actually be to do that yeah. So talking drums, what’s your warm up routine? I know you were speaking earlier about how Travis Barker was giving you some tips...
I do the old classic stretches, you know, or kind of like stretch out your wrists. Then I just get on a pad and do like a bunch of different stuff. On the road I have a couple of different kick pedals, so usually I’ll just grab a pedal from stage and then bring it back in the green room and set up like a suitcase or a table or something, any surface, and then kind of work on my feet. And yeah, usually just toss on a click and do like a bunch of different rudiment stuff. I find I do a lot of different Flam exercises. You need to be warmed up to be able to like really Flam it. Like Patti-Fla-Fla’s that’s a difficult rudiment. [Laughs]
So do you get to exercise these rudiments when you’re playing with Shawn? Because I’ve seen a lot of your live stuff and in some songs you do actually get some space to let loose a bit.
Yeah whenever we’re in rehearsals, like as long as I feel it in the music but I always try to push a little bit further, so if there’s a shot coming up or something like that ‘aright let’s do a fill leading up to It’. I’m also a really big fan of accenting vocal lines. I feel like that’s really big and that not a lot of people necessarily talk about it. I’ve noticed with Pop artists they really really like this, but they don’t necessarily know it’s happening, but you know, if they’re saying something you can kind of like meet them somewhere with something. So if you’re kind of playing along amongst the groove and you know, it’s like little embellishments to make their vocal step up a little bit higher. Whether it’s like…I’m a big fan of Splashes, you know…
…Like Bruno Mars ‘24K Magic’ where his drummer will do that a lot. That’s why it’s cool to see the studio version in comparison to live, where the stabs are accented way more.
Yeah! Or they have like dance moves where they hit one of their dance moves with the stabs. Yeah the Francesco Yates guy that I used to play with, like he was more R&B kind of Pop so you can get away with a lot more of that kind of stuff, and he used to do things where he was like, he would do like, I don’t know I can’t dance [Laughs] but like a little dance move kind of thing and I would knock it with a couple splashes. And for the audience it becomes a huge moment.
That’s like Bruno Mars all the time [Laughs]
Yeah! Did you watch the Grammy’s?
They were crazy on there. I got to check out Eric Panda’s drum set at…we did a couple of workshops and he kind of had the same one. Beautiful, all gold hardware. Like when nobody was looking I jumped up on his drum stool and looked all around on it. I want gold hardware on my kit [Laughs] They won’t give them to me [Laughs] I’ve played them, because I usually use Maple Custom, the Maple Absolute Hybrid, it’s an awesome drum kit.
It’s really cool that you’re with a company like Yamaha, they’ve got so many incredible artists. Dave Weckl and also one of my favorite of all time Larnell Lewis is with them...
Dude! You know Larnell Lewis?!
He’s a friend of mine! He lives really close to me! We go to the same grocery store. I swear to god. [Laughs] He lives like maybe two major two intersections away. He went to the school I couldn’t get into.
He’s absolutely incredible…
Yeah, he’s insane. He plays at Jazz clubs here all the time. Did you see the Instagram video he posted the other day? and he was practicing tambourine and he’s doing a groove with his Bass Drum. It’s like mann I couldn’t do anything you’re doing. [Laughs] Like did you see all of those Snarky Puppy live videos when they were recording that record maybe last year?
The ‘We Like It Here’ album where the crowd all had headphones on?
Yeah! But the one where he has like kind of a long solo, like that weird thing where he’s got his snare on his right side and it’s like how does your mind go to that spot [Laughs]. Yeah you know, I did my first drum clinic at the end of January and I was so nervous leading up to it. Like you know, you never think you have anything to offer because there’s so many other people with all these amazing ideas and all this stuff. And it’s like ‘man I have no amazing ideas, all my ideas I’ve taken from other people’ and that kind of thing, and then…man who told me this…I think it was like Shawn’s MD or something, he’s like ‘you know what, you can try and be so many different people, they obviously want you for a reason, just go in and do exactly what you know how to do and that kind of thing, and they’ll love it!’ and it’s like you know, that’s true! Why the hell am I trying to like impress these people. I’ll just do exactly what I know.
Yeah! There’s a reason you’re on that gig, so if you went in there and did something other than what you do, I think people would be like what?
Yeah! I feel like that’s so important in music, you just have to like be yourself.
For sure. So with Shawn’s music, it’s a kind of heavier Pop than most stuff around at the moment. You spend a lot of songs just using the lower tones of the drums on the Floor Toms for example…
Yeah! On the road I blow through heads like all the time, it’s unreal [Laughs]
Especially because there is such a huge performance aspect in live shows of the magnitude you’ve been doing right? Larger movements for example.
Yeah, that’s the whole thing like, you’ve got to play to the person in the back. Like the person all the way out back, that kind of thing. So it’s not as if you’re playing in a club, like if I were playing these songs in a club, or whenever we have done like smaller TV things, you definitely hold back at times, well, not hold back, but just not giving it as much. We don’t do a lot of little shows, but every now and again there’s like a smaller one and it would be weird if the guitar player is way over-performing and so are you.[Laughs]
But yeah it’s kind of interesting, like with those Shawn songs, because there’s so many things happening, there’s no real live drums on any of it, it’s all just programmed stuff so like we had to come up with all these weird ways to kind of like perform the song and keep the integrity but then still make it feel a bit more live and stuff. But there’s so many things…like in ‘Stiches’ there’s like a clap trick going the whole time, and then all these Tom kind of things, but there’s so many different ways to interpret the song. Like we started playing it more Pop Punk’y and then Shawn went and did it on Jimmy Fallon with The Roots and Questlove took this way more Tribal kind of way. And then everybody was like ‘you need to go and rework it to play it more like The Roots’. So we went back and reworked the song and I just pretty much just watched the Fallon video, you know, Questlove probably listened to the song like twice and was like ‘alright let’s go’ and played it incredibly [Laughs] but I had to like study what Quest was doing. So then we reworked the song like that. And then when we started working on ‘Treat You Better’ we played it, and then he played it with The Roots again on Fallon and then they were like ‘yeah we like your version better that The Roots, you guys play your version’ I was like sick [Laughs]. I stole things off Questlove to be better than him [Laughs]
[Laughs] That’s quite the achievement! So on topic of the future, obviously with the next world tour you’re going to be pretty busy, but where you can see yourself further down the line?
I’m definitely trying to do a lot more clinic stuff!
Did you enjoy it?
Man, I loved it. I have another one coming up at the top of April and I’m starting to do like masterclass kind of stuff. So I’m doing a masterclass here in Toronto at this high school next week. I want to be deeper in the drumming community. I’m so about drums, I have this really…I mean this pretty aggressive goal, but I want everyone to play the drums [Laughs]. Because it’s done so much for me as far as like…it’s the same thing with you, you know, what are you right now? You’re a musician, you’re a drummer, that’s your identity. It’s such a fulfilling experience, it’s not like ’oh what do you do?’ ‘oh I do IT relations at like this thing’ you know and you just kind of work then you come home. Like everything about you, you’re a musician, that’s how you approach life, that’s how you approach business, that’s how you approach all this stuff. So like I would love to really help show kids that, show everybody how it can change your life. So yeah that’s a big focus for me coming up. I want to do that and be…yeah try and grow the drumming community.
Well I think you’re definitely going in to it with the best standings. Your experience is only going to grow, so you have substance to back up what you’re talking about.
Yeah! A big drummer that I really idolize is Rich Redman! He’s like…it’s like a Country kind of thing, I’m not so into Country music but it’s his…well he plays with this Jason Aldean guy, I don’t know what he does in Europe but in the states he does stadiums all summer, you know, he’s huge. But this guy, he always pushes to work more. So he plays with this artist but he’s also like an actor, and he also has a DVD out for like drumming for kids and like, you know, there’s always something. He does everything. I definitely want to be more on that end. Like even though you’re on tour doing really big shows, also have other things on the go. There’s so much down time. And these things all help each other. You know like this is, you probably get to meet…like I’m in a different continent right now [Laughs] and we’re just talking. That’s really special.
It definitely is! Lastly…What advice would you have for musicians aspiring to the same heights you’re achieving and have achieved and no doubt will continue to do?
I’ve always heard that there’s like two schools of thought on this. I always go for the side of, you have to work with absolutely everybody, especially when you’re starting out, you have to work with absolutely everybody that will have you, whether it pays a lot, whether it’s fun, even if you don’t like the music, even if you don’t like anything about it, you need to do all of those kind of things. Like I have some friends who say ‘I’ve just got out of school’ and a teacher was telling them this… that ‘they should be getting paid $350 a show or something like that’s bare minimum, like that’s entry level’. You just went through school, like nobody’s going to pay you $350 unless you’ve done all these things, and you can show up at the gig and you can troubleshoot. Like things often don’t go right and it’s how you handle these situations. So yeah, the way I was able to get things happening was to work with all these random people.
I used to search Cragislist for ‘Drummer Wanted’ ads and from all…like I can’t tell you how many times I’ve searched looking for drummers. I maybe got like one good gig out of it, and it wasn’t even that good of a gig, but I was able to meet all of these different people and then when I met those people, who knew these people, then they know me because I work with this guy, and it’s like ‘oh he’s good’, you’ve worked with that guy even though it was a shitty gig and I hated it [Laughs]. Then you start getting the better gigs because it leads to that that leads to this and then you don’t have to do as many of those other ones. But I still do. [Laughs] I still would. It’s better to work than not work I think. And take the opportunities, take chances, because like we were talking about, if you don’t take this chance, it could seem like a horrible opportunity and it ends up incredible. But you don’t know. You don’t know what’s goanna pop and what’s not going to.
And even if you’re just nice. Like these people can smell right away if you’re trying to get something from them. I stopped asking people that I liked for pictures [Laughs] and if you just talk to somebody and then say bye to them, and don’t ask them for a picture then right away they’re like ‘oh he just wanted to talk to me’. Like I met Tony Royster Jr. not too long ago, I posted it on my Instagram [Laughs] and I was just hanging out with him, and said bye, and then we were getting ready to go on stage and he was playing with Charlie Puth and he walks away and Shawn’s photographer taps me and he’s like ‘oh some guy’s yelling your name’ and I looked over and Tony Royster Jr. was there and he was like ‘Mike! Good luck bro, I’ll be watching’ and I was like ‘what, holy shit’ [Laughs]. I got off stage and went right up and talked to him and he was like ‘yo call me next time you’re in LA’ and he gives me his number and then he’s like ‘let’s take a picture together’ and then he asked me, and so I was like sick I didn’t even have to ask him for a picture, but I obviously wanted one [Laughs]. He was so cool. Then I got to watch him as Charlie Puth was playing right before us. I’ve got all these videos on my phone of just filming his playing. But yeah he’s almost like so good that it looks weird. It’s not like he’s playing anything crazy. Those level of guys can just be gentle but aggressive. I guess it just comes from time. I wonder how many hours behind the drums these guys have you know.
Yeah, in some cases it could be up to 10 years more practice than you. That’s definitely a mentality I’ve tried to push for is that everyone is at different stages. Like some players get these stadium tours at 23 and I was like I want that, I want to be young playing these gigs, but it doesn’t work like that. You have to realise it will come when it’s right.
Yeah but I wish I was 19 and doing this. I thought at 19 I could be like ‘I’m probably not going to finish high school because I’m going to be touring so much and doing all these TV shows and don’t have time to finish’ I was all prepared when I started high school, and then it didn’t happen. Not that I was sad, I was still living life [Laughs]. All in good time. Like it will happen sometime.
Definitely. That’s all my questions thank you so much. We’ll have to meet up when you’re over on tour
Yeah! We’re there for a while. I think we finish the tour in London. Like the European leg in London. We’re doing like Wembley stadium for the Summer Ball, and I’m also planning on jumping over to Ireland as I have family over there.
Thank you so much again for one of the best most down to earth conversations I’ve had about your career and aspirations.
Great talking to you man
A huge thank you to Mike for his insights and cooperation throughout the process of this interview! You can find Mikes website Here
Thanks for reading!
© Dan Lewis 2017
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