With a fresh start in Nashville and a deep rooted desire to move forward and create, Billy Ward enters a new chapter.
I have always discovered new music through my favorite drummers. Billy Ward has led me to some great artists over the last twenty seven years. Ward brings the whole package to the table with a grace and style all his own. A world-class player, educator and author who, after suffering some deep wounds over the past few years is easing his way back to life. With a fresh start in Nashville and a deep rooted desire to move forward and create, Billy Ward enters a new chapter. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Billy over the past few months and the thing that becomes obvious is not only can Ward do the music thing, but he is all about the heart thing.
What inspires and motivates you Billy? "I love people who are giving their all to an endeavor. People who are able to live their lives honestly and are not takers but givers. Within the music community excellence pretty much kills me. People who have worked hard and have an original or personal approach to their music are my favorites along with those who flow naturally within the voices of their instrument. Also, with drummers in particular, I love drummers who play interesting parts to their songs."
Outside music what are you passionate about? "Baseball first and foremost. There is no sport to my knowledge that displays personal achievement and team play combined with a zen-like insistence upon immediacy as baseball. The ball leaves the pitcher's hand and the ballet begins".
If you weren't a musician how do you see yourself paying the bills? "I'm into people and always entertained by the diversity so it would be something that has to do with interaction. I became a car salesman in Texas at one point after dropping out of North Texas University's music school and was good at it. I know I could earn a living selling things but hopefully I would be doing something that offers a much needed service. I would like to think that I would've found a way to express art in some way no matter what I was doing. I would likely be a drummer no matter what. I'm a believer in the camp that says that drummers are born and not made."Do you have a "Spinal Tap" moment to share with us?"Well, I toured with Ace Frehley in '86 and I felt I was in Spinal Tap. In the beginning, they thought it would work and so did I.
It was exciting making the videos and fun being a minor rock star for a few months. In truth, I was too young and ignorant of the genre to respectfully play the songs the way they deserved to be played. Mostly, I played too much and morphed heavy metal with loud crazy jazz chops. My drummer friends who heard that tour felt differently about my playing - they thought it was great, but I think we drummers are pretty easy on each other - especially when we are friends. I was relieved when I was fired. Times and people change, though… Oh, back to topic, I was told to suck in my cheeks during a photo shoot because it makes me look thinner. Yep."
What sort of "tweaks" do you use to obtain unique sounds and textures?"I have spent ages of time tuning and experimenting, so I am very adept at changing the sound of my drums for a particular song in a studio- whether it should be a more dry sound with less top end or crispy sound… or more sustain or less sustain. I tune in the studio to best match the song and the other instruments. This includes various objects in my hands or in my shoe or ankle (shakers - bells..) and also includes towels, duct tape. It helps further to understand how microphones hear what I am doing and my engineering experience helps me to translate to the engineer what I am looking for."
Any words of advice for players who are pursuing a life in music? "I'm happy you said "life in music" as opposed to "career in music". I think careers in music have lessened - but interaction with youtube and such websites has made it easier to communicate. People can make a record in their home now! My only advice is to do it because you HAVE to and can't live without it. If somebody does it for fame and fortune they will be sorely disappointed. Be as best a musician as possible - study MUSIC, not just drumming. The other aspect is to understand that every single person that crosses your musical path may be that someone who champions you later, enabling you to have a shot at that gig you covet. If you can show that you can pass "IQ tests" (such as learning a show quickly) then you will receive more calls for work than those who cannot read music and don't understand song forms."
Billy on getting out of musical trouble from Modern Drummer Fest 08 : "In private you can practice how to get out of the trouble you just got into, therefore you've got a lot of ways to escape trouble, like Houdini. I think that's the way I play. I'm sneaky that way. I'm in trouble constantly, but I get out of trouble because I have been practicing that my whole life because I really always want my ears to be in charge."
How do you warm up before playing? Do you have a pre-show routine?"I tried warming up furiously with rudiments a long time ago and that ended up with me playing way too many notes when I hit the stage. It made me too "drummy". So the important thing for me is to stretch a bit and walk around and jump up and down in place; get some blood circulating. The mental aspect is more important to me because I try to not be too psyched for the show (again, that can also lead to too many notes, too much exuberance) so I try to deceive myself as best I can by entering into conversations or distractions with other people. The end result is suddenly it's time to go on and I'm as surprised as perhaps some of the people in the audience! Those first notes sound and feel so good and sweet when I prepare this way".
I really dig your book "Inside Out." Many musicians self destruct because they don't know what it means to be present and in the moment. fyour term, "present". Really great! A small but in some ways influential part of my musical past is playing so-called "free jazz", where everything is made up right on the spot. In all honesty, one thing that I try to do is enter into a kind of zoned out daydream, where I'm not really playing the drums but simply witnessing me playing them - as if I am an audience member. Sometimes it is the feel of the sticks in my hands that can take me there and other times it is something visual, like staring at some shadow from the lights. The goal for me is to step aside and let a greater higherspirit guide me. I always try to find a way to have that feeling of immediate current moments. Anticipating a future note or judging a past note is something I try to avoid, though I am as human as the next guy so at times I repeat things that have worked before. There is a notable exception to always winging it: No matter what kind of music, I go through a process where if I decide that what is on the record or what I have played previously is the absolute best for that song, then I repeat it as faithfully as I can and try to make it sound as if I just then thought of it. It is tricky stuff, but let’s face it, it’s stupid to overdub on Mozart, James Brown or The Beatles.One of the most important things to do if you are going to play "fresh" music is to advance your musical tastes or aesthetic. Listen to LOTS of music and figure out how and why it is good – single out which elements exist to make that moment so beautiful. Is it the guitar rhythm or the pace of the lead vocal? If you are going to fly from the seat of your pants, you'd better have good taste. Nobody writes a song and says "I can't wait to hear some drummer urinate his fills all over my song." I used to play a song with the sole purpose of demonstrating all the things that I am capable of doing to it. It’s amazing that I ever got a job! I am proof that if you love music enough, that love can even overcome an overactive ego!
You recently moved from NY to Nashville. Why the move? "It dawned on me that people in Nashville still play together. I had previously spent most of my time at my studio doing tracks or producing for people who I’d never played with in person. John Patitucci and I had played on two records before we ever met each other! So my move to Nashville was, and still is, an effort to heal my broken heart and rebuild my life.
I have so many friends in New York City and I still call it “my city” but I can’t be there now because there are too many memories there. I now look forward and hope to find a new life" I had to do something different because life threw a change at me. For years, my life was perfectly figured out and wonderful beyond my own belief! Then my wife took ill with Leukemia right after I played at the Modern Drummer Festival in ’08. One of my very best friends also was dying at the same time and in 2010 they were gone. I had stopped playing and was care-giving throughout the process, yet one or two playing things came up; one of which was a Chris Shinn record in Nashville, with incredible musicians and it was very healing for me to work on that."
What were your head and heart going through during that session?"That particular record brought me back. It was an extraordinary experience. Everyone was very open to whatever I wanted to do. The producer basically set it up as "let's see what Billy does and then we'll take it from there." Given so much carte blanche, I was pretty rowdy on some of the songs - playing tracks with my hands and miking my left ankle for clicking sounds from a tambourine! That experience reminded me that enjoying music can be an incredible experience."
You have achieved some monumental highs and been dealt some heavy blows in the last few years that are capable of taking many players out of the game all-together. Im grateful to have your spirit back in the game. Whats next for Billy Ward? "The main thing I'm trying to do is to regain momentum in experiencing discipline in my life. My home life is now very joyful again so I will build upon that.Those "boot camps" such as what Thomas Lang is doing are getting popular and I've been wanting to build a course in groove - song forms - drum parts… all the stuff that matters when you are in a band. I will always feel great satisfaction and fulfillment in teaching so among the rest of my activities, I hope to continue doing clinics and masterclasses. To me, sharing all I've got, it's the highest thing I can do."
YOU CAN KEEP UP WITH ALL HIS LATEST HAPPENINGS BY CHECKING OUT BILLYWARD.COM
Big Time (DVD) (written, produced and featuring Billy Ward) - produced by Billy Ward and distributed by Hal LeonardVoices In My Head (DVD) (Billy Ward) – produced by DW DVD and distributed by DW DVD and Alfred MusicModern Drummer Festival 2000 (DVD) - produced by Hudson Music and distributed by Hudson/Hal LeonardModern Drummer Festival 2008 (DVD) - produced by Hudson Music and distributed by Hudson/Hal Leonard