Nick Mason is a professional touring and studio drummer based out of sunny California, but with a twist: horror themed. He’s known for featuring on numerous albums and singles, and movie soundtracks. You can also find him in several music videos, orchestrated drum clinics, and get this – he even co-hosted an international music TV show! He’s a professional when it comes to his craft of percussion.
When first coming across Nick, I found it super fascinating to find a horror themed drummer, not a full band, and I think that’s what I find so unique about him other than his pure talent. Nick actually received the stage name through a side comment at a show a few years back. He was asked to perform for the Coffin Case Company’s 20th Anniversary party, usually doing a metal themed fashion show at the infamous NAMM convention. Him and another drummer were dressed as corpses on both sides of the stage performing music the models can walk the runway to, and that’s how the name was started backstage.
Nick was a senior drum instructor and show director at the School of Rock for 5 years. He also has taken the time to teach drum lessons whether it’s online or even at a small music store, or even other schools similar to School of Rock. He worked up his way through the ranks in a short amount of time ranging in a large roaster of students, and within about a year he was directing shows for them. They have a fantastic program that puts the students on stage, and gives them a real world experience with what it would be like to be a working musician. Nick uses an old school teaching method with a blend of today’s methods, and some of them have gone on to great success
I had the pleasure of interviewing with The Living Dead Drummer Nick Mason. The interview can be seen down below:
What first got you into music?
My family, I grew up always having instruments in the house. My father plays guitar, and owns a prominent repair business in Western New York. I used to go to work with him once and a while on weekends and was just surrounded by guitars all day. On the other side of the family it was all drums. My mother plays, her brother, their father, and the bulk of all my cousins. All drums, all the time! My uncle gave me a Snare when I was two years old, so I always had one in the house, and it was around nine or ten that I decided to “take up the family business.”
How did you get into “The Rhythm Coffin”, and some of the other session work you do for other bands?
I first auditioned for The Rhythm Coffin years ago, probably 5 at this point. I loved the music, it was so much fun, and loved the whole theatrical stage show. Unfortunately at the time of my audition I was already committed to a tour that took me through the “haunt season.” As you can imagine, a band called The Rhythm Coffin is most active in October, and if the drummer isn’t available that sort of halts things. So I couldn’t accept the gig. We remained friendly, and I was a legit fan. I even booked them to perform at Scare LA one year with my School of Rock students. Fast forward a year or two, and I randomly got an email from them saying they once again found themselves in need of a drummer. They made it clear that they knew I was busy, but wanted to see if I could recommend someone for them. I was just like, “STOP! Stop looking, I’ll do it, I’m your drummer now! Don’t worry about the schedule, I’ll figure it out.”
When it comes to session work that’s a little tricky. I’ve spent the last twenty plus years building a reputation for myself, networking, and trying to be in the forefront of people’s minds. It’s really not “who you know, it’s who knows you.” I try to showcase the quality of the work I’ve done on websites, and social media, and the hope is that when people are looking to record they’ve heard this work and it’s enough for them to want to hire me. So far it’s been going well, especially during this year when live music is shut down. Now everyone has time on his or her hands to write and produce new material.
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
I’ve been given a few different gems of advice over the years. One that stuck with me is “don’t have a plan B.” It doesn’t sound logical, but it’s the truth, and I’ve heard it many times from different people. If you have a backup plan, you will inevitably fall back on it.
Tell me what your podcast is about. What are your goals to achieve with each episode?
The podcast is called Batter Heads. It’s a one on one chat between myself and another drummer. Thus far it’s only been personal friends. I try to keep the conversations casual. Prior to the pandemic I would often go out to lunch or for coffee with these people. We would talk for hours about drums, gear, or the music industry. It was so much fun! I missed that, so I kind of thought what if I just called everyone up, and we did it online, and what if I recorded it? What if I posted it after?
The overall goal, really, is to just chat with my friends and catch up. See how everyone’s doing, what they’ve been up to since we last saw one another, and of course, nerd out on drums.
Were you influenced by old records & tapes or CD’s? If so, which ones?
Always! I can pinpoint specific moments when I heard a new band or song, and have been able to draw a straight line to where I am today. Metallica’s Black Album was a game changer for me. That took me from being a boy to being a man, hahaha. Prior to seeing the music video for Enter Sandman in 1991 I was listening to kids music. Soundtracks to Disney movies, stuff like that. Then Metallica destroyed the fabric of my musical existence. After that moment I was listening to bands like Jane’s Addiction, Guns and Roses, Dangerous Toys, heavy stuff!
The rock music of the early 90’s still plays a huge influence on me as a player. The style, the sounds and tones drummers were getting at that time. It shaped my musical tastes a lot.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
Give the Bass player a dirty, look like they’re the one who effed up! Kidding, honestly if a mistake happens live I try to ignore it. Unless it was a MAJOR mistake, odds are no one noticed. The worst thing you can do is bring attention to it. Keep the poker face, and don’t let anyone know. If it is a big screw up, then the best way to handle it is to laugh it off with the band, like “yep, we messed up!” and no one will think less of you. It just looks like you’re having fun on stage, and isn’t that the whole point?
Have you ever dealt with performance anxiety? How do you get over the nerves?
Sure, I think most people have. I always get nervous the first time I step on stage with a new artist I’ve never worked with before. I have this little voice in my head that likes to tell me “You need to nail this, or you’ll never get hired by this person again.” It really sucks. I handle it the only way I know how. I try to be as prepared as possible. I practice and practice and practice until I can’t get it wrong. Typically by the 3rd song in the set I’m comfortable on stage, and the nerves go away. I need to just get through those first two.
What is your favorite part about this line of work? Your least favorite? Why?
I don’t know if I can properly express the joy I get from playing my drums. It does something for me that’s beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before. It’s like trying to wrap your head around how large the universe is, and what’s beyond. I love being able to record or perform on a stage and have that song evoke an emotion out of another human. Be it joy, sadness, anger, excitement, the power to bring that out of someone else, especially a stranger you don’t know, simply by taking a stick and hitting a drum is monumental.
I think one of my least favorite aspects has to deal with other people, hahaha. This is a business that can be make or break based on another individual’s “feelings.” You can loose a job faster than you can get one, all based on how a particular artist “feels” that day. It’s all extraordinarily superficial. How you look, can stereotype the kinds of work people will consider you for, and one off day can end a career.
How has Covid affected you and your work? How have you overcome the obstacles due to the pandemic?
Well it effectively took live performance off the table, and that’s the bulk of how I earn a living. All tours, and local gigs have been cancelled. I also teach private lessons, and while I have a handful of students who were online from other states, the majority of them were in person. Suddenly that was no longer allowed.
I had to think quickly and adapt even quicker. Right at the moment of shut down I switched all my in person lessons to an online platform. Some of them were reluctant, and rightfully so. Online lessons will never be as good as in person. It’s a hard sell, so I did loose a handful of students in the transfer, but those that have stuck it out have been able to make some great progress, despite the obstacles online presents. To help curb as many of those obstacles I invested in some upgrades to my personal studio. Multiple cameras, aimed at different angles of my drums, flat screen monitors, and some new preamps to mic, mix, and send a clean audio signal to the students.
Without being able to get on a stage to pay the rent, I also have to make a larger put on the studio aspect of being a musician. In the past, studio work was kind of low on the totem pole for me. Not that I chose that, it’s just that naturally live performance and teaching snowballed faster and thus became dominant in my career. I would still do a hand full of sessions, and have maybe five or so releases a year. I think that’s a respectable amount, but it’s not like some of these other studio guys that and 9-5 in a studio recording all day, everyday.
If I wanted to keep myself firmly strapped into my kit in order to keep a roof over my head that had to change, and fast! Like teaching, I did a bunch of upgrades to my studio and got it set up to do full multi-tracking sessions. I also have to learn all the in’s and out’s of recording software, and start making a huge push on the marketing end to let people know I could handle remote recording.
I feel extremely lucky in that I’ve had a steady stream of session work this entire time. There’s always a session on the calendar, and people seem to generally be happy with the product I’m producing. Of course, I’m always learning, always improving my recording techniques, and always trying to get better at it.
Please explain your creative process.
Well, when it comes to developing parts for a song it can happen many ways. Sometimes I’ll be provided a finished drum part, and expected to learn it as is. Other time’s I’m given more free reign to play what I want. In those cases I listen to the music provided. The melodies, the natural rhythm formed by those parts. I also listen to the mood of the lyrics. Not necessarily the words being sung, but the emotion behind those words. Is the singer happy, or angry, or whatever? That greatly influences my approach to the drum parts. What this song makes me feel is what I want to translate into percussion. Sometimes outside influence will seep in as well. If a particular song sounds like something from another familiar artist, I often allow myself to draw influence from the type of drumming done by that artist or band.
What is one message you would give to your fans?
In the immortal words of Bill and Ted, “Be excellent to each other!” I mean that, there is a lot of divisive attitudes in the world today, and a whole lot of “If you don’t agree with my opinion you are the enemy” mentality. I think it’s terrible, and I genuinely want to see people learn to get along again despite what differences they have.
What’s next for you?
Well, it seems as if some of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic are starting to be alleviated. I’m slowly going to baby step myself back onto stages, and while doing so I plan on continuing to do as many recording sessions as I can handle. I’m going to of course continue teaching lessons, and hopefully this podcast thing takes off too. I don’t want to become a full time podcaster or anything, but if I can do it here or there on the side I think it could be a lot of fun.