Interview with Jacob Armen in september 2006

- At what age did you start drumming? Was the drum kit your first instrument? Do you play other instruments? Did you get any support by your family?

At 8 months old, my father held my hand and made me feel the pulse of the rhythm. I started to tap my hand to the downbeat of music. As my father explains to me, it would take 6 to 8 consecutive quarter beats for my timing to become shaky. At 18 months, my father had me sit behind a full 5-piece drum kit where he taught me how to play 2/4, 4/4, 6/8, 12/8, 5/4, 7/4, 9/4 and swing. I still feel a little weird watching myself play at that age in the video clips. If it weren't for my father, I probably would have not discovered drums at 8 months old or at any age for that matter. Since he is such an educated musician and an accomplished composer/keyboardist, I still have a lot to learn from him.

To answer your next question, yes, I do play various instruments. I will be presenting a few of them in my next upcoming album.

- In former times like Tony Royster jr. you were called an infant prodigy - did you enjoy that or was it a burdon?

After my performance at a Percussive Arts Society convention in 1988, I was introduced as the next Lionel Hampton and Mozart. Which at the time, I neither understood or paid attention to because I didn't know the difference. I was 7 years old - a child who loved to play the drums much like a child who loves to play his/her toys.

- Do you think your enormous technical abilities are a gift or was it hard work?

Well, if I call it a gift and thank the Man upstairs, you also need to religiously dedicate your time to it. So I think it's both.

- What inspirations do you have musically and apart from music?

Music is and will always be my greatest inspiration and apart from that, true people will always inspire me. Friendship is very important to me.

- Most of the drummers are either good in groove playing in 4/4 or in - a little stiff sounding - odd times - only a few like Vinnie Colaiuta or you can play "groovy" in odd times! How did you develop this ability? Can you recommend special exercises to improve grooving in odd times?

My being polyrhythmic has a lot to do with my cultural background because I don't think or attempt to play in any special way - it all comes naturally to me. My best advice to play "odd times" is to rather feel the pulse and not primarily focus on the count as much. Then it becomes natural.

- Where are the differences between your solo-CDs "Drum Fever" and "Breakthrough"? Do you think "Breakthrough" was your breakthrough?

My first solo album is something that I'll always be proud of. I was 12 at the time and it was under Prince's Paisley Park label, which later became NPG. My father produced the album and I had a chance to work with Alphonso Johnson, Alex Acuña, Freddie Ravel, Larry Steelman and Eric Leeds on sax. Of course, not to forget the members of my band at the time and good friends Dusty Barber on guitar and Christopher Maloney on bass. Two of the tracks on the album were recorded with a 17-piece jazz ensemble, which was conducted by my mentor and dear family friend, Professor Joel Leach. "Breakthrough" was actually a CD released for a concert in LA. That concert was a breakthrough for me.

- What do you like better - playing live or recording?

I am a performer and I love to play in front of an audience. But when I record music in an isolated studio atmosphere, instead of imagining people around me, I actually like to invite people during recording sessions. So I don't think of constructing rhythms and I just allow everything to fall in its place naturally.

- Can you list your setup in detail (each instrument)?

It depends on the size of the room, type of music and band. But my set-up mostly consists of five rack toms (8" by 8"), (9" by 10"), (11" by 12"), (12" by 13"), (13" by 14"), two floor toms (16" by 16"), (16" by 18"), two bass drums (16" by 22") and one (16" by 18") bass drum, Edge snare drum (5" by 14"), a solid shell snare drum (5.5" by 10"), two sets of Roto Toms (6", 8" and 10"), a set of bongos (7" and 8.5"), one Percussion block, 7 Session Line cowbells of various sizes for different harmonics and two sets of timbales (13" and 14"), (14" and 15"), which is set behind my drum kit and throughout the years has become a trademark of my set-up. An 8" K splash, 15" and 16" K Dark crash, 16" Medium Thin crash, 17" and 18" A custom crash, 19" K China Boy, 14" K Mini China, 13" New Beat Hi-Hats, 10" ZHT Mini Hats, 18" and 20" China Boy High, and a 22" K Custom Ride.
I use Drum Workshop hardware and perform on DW drums, Zildjian cymbals, REMO drumheads and Roto Toms, and Meinl Percussion. I also endorse with Shure microphones and Yamaha Keyboards. Although this set-up is quite different from the picture above, I generally don't discuss much about it because I change it all the time.

- You are playing many drums, but only a few cymbals? What do you think of incorporating more cymbals, especially bells, cymbal stacks, hi-hats (more than one pair), rides (more than one), splashes (more than two) and chinas (more than two) in your drumset? Also other metal sounds like crashers, sound bowls (hanging upside down on a rope) or gongs?

There is no special reason for that but I believe I can express a lot on the drums. With that said, I am very open-minded in finding ways to implement new ideas and that's why I love to change my drum set-up frequently. I always add and subtract various instruments from my kit. It keeps my mind fresh and it allows me to be creative.

- Do you know the products of FACTORY METAL? What do you think of them?

Yes I do. Just as a single triangle has its place in a symphonic orchestra, if applied tastefully, I think Factory Metal can be very useful for the modern drum kit.

- You play/record with the keyboard legend Patrick Moraz at the moment; how did you get in contact with him? Do you like Progressive Rock?

Our first meeting was at a convention center. I was 9 at the time and I was doing a drum clinic. Patrick Moraz came over and played one of his compositions with me and we instantly connected. The next day Patrick invited me over to his keyboard clinic and asked me to join him. That's where I took my electronic drum kit, KAT drums, which at the time I was endorsed with and was a very popular name, and we played a whole set together. We've been friends ever since. It's always a great pleasure to work with such a legend and a great human being. Because to me he is not an ordinary composer, I believe that Patrick Moraz's music has an identity that will always remain. Our collaboration in one of the tracks in my next upcoming album will show the depth of our connection in music.
As far as my passion for Progressive Rock, I've been playing it from a very young age - it's in my blood.

- What musicians - dead or alive - would play in your "dream band" apart from you? What style would this band play?

Any accomplished musician who listens and absorbs other musicians without copying and has his/her signature in music is a type of musician I would like to form a band with. This will eventually evolve to a unique style, which will incorporate a lot of musical anticipations from all styles.

- If you got the chance to ask a deceased drum hero one question - whom would you ask and what would be your question?

I would ask Gene Krupa about his experience battling with Buddy Rich. "So who really was the intimidator?"

- What are your plans for the future? What things do you want to learn rhythmically and in general in your further life?

Life itself is a rhythm. Everyday you learn from nature. Everyday new discoveries are made with medicine. In other words, every discovery has a sequence, which creates its own rhythm. To me rhythm is such a deep, interesting, and endless topic that cannot be expressed in a couple of sentence. With this understanding, my goal in life is to take the level of my drumming as far as I can. And last but not least, to make my father proud.

Frank Bender