It was pleasant to see the humility of a person who knows so much but portrays himself as one who has only scratched the surface of his ability, compared to other drummers in the world, although he is probably on par with them.
Matthew Garstka, 26, a relative unknown, has already been ranked as one of the top drummers in the world. He was on the cover of Modern Drummer in the magazine’s March issue this year. The youngster plays for American progressive rock band, Animals As Leaders, which includes guitarists Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes. He recently completed a seven-clinic tour in eight days, starting with Singapore, followed by Malaysia and then a number of locations in China.
“I refrain from judging others based on race, religion, or class. I will, however, judge people on their character, heart, and honour,” says Garstka on his website, www.therealmattgarsthka.com.
A Polish American from Western Massachusetts, United States, Garstka grew up listening to music while being mentored by his guitarist father Greg “Wolfgang” Garstka, as well as fellow musician and close family friend, Jo Sallins. He took up drums age the age of eight , and was offered a scholarship at the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston. After graduating, he moved to Los Angeles where he met Tosin Abasi and began touring with Animals as Leaders. The band released the album The Joy Of Motion in March, which reached 23 on the Billboard Charts.
What is progressive rock music/drumming all about, in layman’s terms?
It is a technical method of playing drums, which is mathematical. It challenges the listener and drummer, and takes them to the next level of intelligence.
What is your advice to a drummer who is stuck in a rut?
Challenge yourself to shake things up, so that you do not plateau. Listen to new music, read up on new concepts, attend drum clinics, try different teachers and vary your peers. Practise new ideas to express yourself, not just to see what level you’re at. It’s a balancing act … you have to be at peace with yourself at where you are, don’t be pressured. Drumming is a journey.
What do you think of the movie Whiplash?
Man, I don’t like that movie. It does not portray the journey of a drummer. There is no way you can achieve that in just one practice session. If you practise six hours a day for three years straight, then you can tell me if that happens. Like I said, drumming is a journey. It’s the 10,000 hour rule – to be an expert in anything, so the wise say. If you practise an hour a day, 365 days a year, you will reach it in 30 years. If you practise three hours a day, that’s 10 years. I did the math.
How many hours of practice have you done?
I have done 25,000 hours to date. When I touched 10,000 hours, I discovered that it was only the first step. You have to do far more than that. I wonder how many hours did great drummers like Simon Philips (of Toto) or Dave Weckl (of Chick Corea’s band) put in? Probably 100,000 hours of practice. I don’t know how many more hours I need to put in, man.
Drumming is scientifically recognised as the second most intellectually demanding musical discipline. Neurosurgeons are taking up drumming, as it helps build fine finger muscles required during surgery. How do you think drumming helps a person?
I completely agree with that. Drumming is like a sport, it helps one keep time and involves intense physicality. It’s an exercise which helps develop your mathematical skills and gives you hand-eye coordination. It’s like doing a dance … you are basically doing a dance on the drum set. Drumming is good for everyone. Rhythm is everywhere … in the lights, in the atmosphere, in the universe, in your heart beat.
What is a good age to start playing?
I started drumming when I was eight. When I was five, I learnt to play the piano, guitar at seven and began drumming at eight. I felt I was old enough to decide and know what I really wanted. I believe parents should allow their children to choose their instruments.
What was your worst experience while playing?
(laughs) Oh well, there was a time when the band was playing to a song and not to the click track (metronome). Everyone was out of sync. But the click track was not wrong, it never is. So, we had to figure out how to bluff our way through, and get back on track. Oh God!
When do you most enjoy playing?
It’s when I practise, because I discover new things. There is also no pressure. You can make mistakes in a room because you have the freedom to go out on a limb and not worry about messing up.
What is your best advice to drummers?
Slow down your practice, where your brain can understand, and then you can take it to a higher, faster level later. You can’t play fast if you haven’t first learnt it slow.
What kind of drum set do you use?
I use Tama drums, which are made of maple, which is top-of-the-line material for drum construction.