Australian Musicians (feat. Lachlan Hawkins)

During my time at The Queensland Conservatorium I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by some incredibly talented and creative musicians. Although we were in different “school years”, I had the pleasure of learning a lot from watching Lachlan perform, and from our conversations throughout the years. Anyone who has seen Lachlan perform knows he’s an extremely passionate music lover, who has clearly put in the work to develop his facility where his ideas fluidly translate to fit the music. If you’re a drummer looking for a diverse and fulfilling career path, Lachlan is someone to check out!

Can you please clearly outline all your current musical projects and professions which make up your life as a professional musician?

My current musical projects all fall under 3 different paths: my freelance drumming projects, my original handpan music, and my work with corporate drumming group SoundStruck, which I created a number of years ago with my best mate Tsoof Baras.

Drumming is still very much the main thing for me. I’m currently playing with a variety of groups and projects including Brazilian jazz group The View From Madeleine’s Couch, Kayleigh Pincott, the Min/Svoboda/Hawkins trio and the Nimble trio with Dave Galea and Sophie Min as well as freelancing with lots of other musicians in Brisbane. I’m also in the house band of the monthly jam night at Brooklyn Standard and currently I’m on tour with Harvest Rain Theatre’s ‘GREASE: The Arena Experience’ show. 

Away from performing, I teach drum kit at Just Percussion, and drum kit/percussion and direct two percussion ensembles at Sheldon College. I’m also a core member and administrator for the music therapy initiative known as the Stairwell Project together with Peter Breen.

My journey with the handpan is a whole other story, which we might get to a bit later on!

How do manage your time to make room for each of these commitments whilst keeping yourself financially independent and living a relatively balanced life?

Yeah, balance is very important for me and I’ve been very conscious over the last couple years as to what commitments I take on because when I take something on, I want to be able to give it my 100% focus. During uni, I really took on a lot of opportunities, which was great to develop myself and learn new experiences but I knew I would need to be more selective moving forward because I know what burnout feels like! My balance really comes back to scheduling and allocating time to work on what’s most important every week.

My creative mindset coach Mijo Biscan has helped me immensely over the last couple of years in relation to maintaining balance and helping me manage my time each week. We speak every Monday night and set up a commitment list of tasks and priorities that I need to focus on, and discuss my wins and challenges every week and strategies to help me keep the main thing the main thing!

Do you have a method or personalised criteria to help decide whether to take on a new project or opportunity?

Yeah, for me, time management is a big factor in making decisions to commit to musical projects. If I feel I have the time to allocate the focus and energy needed to a project or opportunity – and I really enjoy the music and the people involved – then I will take it on.

You may remember the masterclass with John Riley years ago here in Brisbane where he explained his criteria for taking a gig and the three main points he addresses: the music, the people and the money. If he finds two of those three factors match up, he’ll say yes to an opportunity. I’m a big fan of that and I feel the music and the people involved are hugely important because we do build relationships and trust through music and who we play with. And of course, as artists we deserve to be paid for what we offer and contribute; I try to be around musical situations where the financial side of things is transparent and everyone is on the same page.

I also think about whether it will challenge me in a positive way. There have been many times where I feel a musical opportunity is a really exciting one but also a bit outside my comfort zone, and for me that often is a sign to step up and take it on. A perfect example of that was when I was recommended to play drum kit and percussion for Broadway star Sierra Boggess and her national solo tour last year at QPAC Concert Hall. After looking at the score, I knew I had the ability and the past experience (playing in orchestras, musical theatre, etc) to be able to handle the occasion – and I knew I had the time to prepare well for the show – so I decided to take it on. It was an amazing concert, I received some constructive feedback from the MD during the rehearsals and I left with that little more belief and trust in myself that I can step up and perform in these sort of settings.

Where and when did your interest in learning the handpan begin?

I discovered the handpan (a.k.a the ‘Hang’) – like many have – through YouTube towards the end of high school. I remember listening to the handpan duo Hang Massive and their song “Once Again”, and I just felt really drawn to the sound of the instrument (completely a “I’ve got to take have one of these!” moment). It took me a good 6 years to finally get my hands on my first handpan but I haven’t looked back since. After teaching myself to play the handpan for a year or so, my interest peaked again when I attended the PanOz Festival and learnt all about the instrument’s history and playing techniques through Aussie master Adrian Portia, David Kuckhermann and all the other guest performers that were there. I feel it’s now a big part of my musical identity.

Were you always planning on making original music using the handpan or did it happen organically?

No, it certainly wasn’t part of my vision years ago because I’ve always seen myself as primarily a drum kit player; the journey of releasing my original handpan music has happened very organically. I never thought my first album release would be centred on the handpan but you gotta follow your intuition! For a few years now, the handpan has really taken me on another path of self-exploration, and I’m really enjoying the sense of freedom and self-discovery it has given me.

How do you find creative ways to balance working on original material whilst maintaining consistent practice on the drum-set?

For me, this comes back to scheduling and time management, and making sure I set aside time each week to work on both aspects of the drums and the handpan because they are two very different mindsets and skillsets. This is something that Mijo has helped me to monitor and stay on top of through the lens of ‘daily practice’ (i.e. having a minimum amount of time that I practice each instrument every day). Some weeks I will focus more on the handpan and my singing practice whereas other weeks I will prioritise the drums – the process works well because it ensures I don’t subconsciously neglect one or the other.

Being structured like that seems logical but I have to make sure I keep practicing in a creative way as you mention otherwise you’re really not pushing yourself to get the most out of your practice. So in terms of the drums, for me that has meant less time on the practice pad (particularly over the last year) and in its place, I have been exploring new ideas and vocabulary (e.g. including lots of improvising exercises into my practice), playing along and listening to recordings that inspire me, practicing repertoire for upcoming gigs, etc.

Working on strengths and weaknesses is a whole other topic but it’s something I try to stay aware of in the practice room because I want to keep working on both. I feel that during ‘personal playing time’ – a phrase David Jones associates with ‘practice’ (practice can be a word that often has an element of stress and avoidance attached to it) – that’s the best time to work on weaknesses, whether that be certain techniques, faster tempos, odd time signatures, fill creativity, etc. I like to focus on these things as much as I can because when you get on the bandstand, I feel it’s too late to experiment and be in your own head.

At the same time, though, we are forever told “work on your weaknesses” and focus on what you’re not good during practice but I think it’s really important to hone in on the things you can do really well and come up with creative ways to develop and get more mileage out of your strengths (Steve Gadd and Nate Smith come to mind as I write this)

What would you say to drummer wishing to learn other instruments for compositional purposes?

I would say go for it! I wish I had delved deeper into composition and particularly piano playing earlier in my musical upbringing. The handpan has been an incredible vehicle for me to explore songwriting and composition; for others, I would just say experiment and find a sound/instrument that you feel comfortable exploring and see where your intuition takes you.

I’ve found writing original material (outside of the drums) can directly translate to the way I approach improvising on the drums. Have you found this to be the case since working on your handpan material?

Great question – yes, I believe it has! I can’t quite pinpoint what it is but I feel my approach to improvising on the drums and my touch on the instrument has adjusted slightly since playing the handpan. As you know, I’ve never been labelled a loud, in- your-face sort of drummer’ *laughs* If anything, I feel like the handpan has made me dial in further to the softer dynamics on the kit and particularly the sounds and colours of the cymbals. I’ve seen this most with my trio playing with Sophie Min & Helen Svoboda – I feel like I play with more space and more attention to the softer dynamics. The handpan is very much driven by clear melodic ideas so I feel that has had an effect on my phrasing too – just trying to be more clear and less ‘wishy-washy’ with my ideas.

How did you go about learning to sing for your original material?

Well, it’s interesting because I started singing through primary school choir before I ever touched the drums. It’s always been there but it has gone in and out of focus over the years. For instance, I had singing lessons and performed vocal recitals through the Young Con for 3-4 years (talk about getting outside your comfort zone!) but it did slip away during my undergrad at the Con. Thankfully, I’ve felt compelled to explore singing and lyric writing again through the handpan and I’m really enjoying it.

In terms of learning to sing my original material, this is something that has developed quite organically. I’ve had singing lessons on and off over the years so my goal now is feel comfortable and spend lots of time singing; that’s how I learn to sing my material best. The intention with my vocal songs is to tell a story through the lyric and feel the emotion of what I’m delivering to an audience.

What would you suggest a drummer should consider before learning to sing to add to their musical identity?

If you’re new to singing, I would say definitely reach out to a colleague or a vocal professional who can work with your voice and identify your strengths and weaknesses, give you exercises to work on, etc. And just be really clear about why you want to sing and why you feel it’s important to your musical identity. For me, I was very nervous at first and lacked courage 3-4 years ago but something inside me kept telling me that my voice needed to be heard and the messages of my songs were worthy of being out there in the world. And I’m glad I stuck to that because I’ve been able to reach out and help uplift quite a few people now through my handpan music and that means so much. “Don’t die with your music still in you” as I heard Wayne Dyer say many years ago…

Various styles of music call for a number of different hand and feet techniques/positions in order to create the appropriate “feel” or “sound”. Do you ever find yourself reaching for the wrong “tools” in regards to your techniques given that you play such a wide variety of music?

Great question. I do find myself in a large variety of musical situations but I wouldn’t say I ever find myself reaching for the wrong tools. Technically, I often know which tools I need to make the music sound a certain way but having the right feel and sound is a whole other ballgame. The main thing for me is awareness; if I find myself approaching a tune with the wrong feel or approach then I feel I can adjust my playing as long as I’m being open and honest with myself.

Recording my own playing has greatly assisted with things as well as listening to a variety of recordings from all kinds of artists. Ultimately, I want to have my own voice on the drums when I play so if, for example, I’m approaching a pop tune with too much of a jazz aesthetic, I can make changes and adjust my playing but I never want to lose the qualities that make my approach original. The jam night at Brooklyn Standard has been a great environment for me to explore this balance of playing the music the way it was originally recorded vs my interpretation.

Every musical situation is going to be different but I believe each time I have a specific role in shaping the music, and it’s really important for me to go into the situation knowing what that is. The GREASE tour is a perfect example of that. Everything is performed with a click track and I feel my role is to lay down solid time, keep fills simple, keep the energy up and play at a certain intensity. Compared to say the recent Nimble show with Dave and Sophie, where the music is more open and shaped by each members’ interpretation. I had to approach things more intuitively (e.g. more of a focus on textural playing and colours, reacting to the soloist and contributing to a group sound, more subtle dynamics and extreme changes in the intensity, etc).

But going into each situation, I try to focus on getting in the right headspace, knowing my role and what I need to bring to the table, and from there my intention is just to stay open and listen to what’s happening around me.

It’s very important for me to be honest behind the drums, particularly when improvising. A challenge is always finding the balance between being honest, serving the music and being appropriate to the environment. Given that you perform in such a wide range of drum “roles”, how do you go about remaining honest to your expression on the drums in different environments?

Heavy questions, man! *laughs*

I think you’ve nailed it with “a challenge is always finding the balance between being honest, serving the music and being appropriate to the environment.” I know we approach music-making in a similar way because those three things are probably what I think about most when I play.

Honesty is hugely important for me when I play, especially within jazz and improvised music. It’s something that I see in every single moment of Brian Blade’s playing (my idol as you know!) and it’s something I never want to lose in my own playing. Sometimes, though, the music will require me to play in a certain way – perhaps in a way that doesn’t come that naturally to me – so things can shift. It’s all quite variable to

the situation but the main thing is to have confidence in your own playing and to approach each role with the intention of supporting whatever is going on musically.

You have a fantastic approach to brush playing and creating legato sounds on the drums. What would you say to a drummer wishing to improve this area of their playing?

Thank you mate. Brush playing really is a whole other artform and it’s an area I still feel I could dive into further. My approach really stems from the playing of Jeff Hamilton and his philosophy of legato phrasing, which I really identify with. Listening to him over the years and getting to spend a week with him in 2016 help shaped my approach as well as the lessons I learnt through teachers like Paul Hudson, John Parker, Marcio Bahia and David Jones, and guys like Philly Joe Jones and Mel Lewis.

I have discovered a lot through experimentation as well so my advice to others would be to listen and learn the vocabulary of the masters; but at the same time, don’t lose sight of your own ideas. When you have a pair of brushes in your hand, your touch, your musical decisions really create a sound that is uniquely yours. Although I’m sure Elvin, Philly Joe, Tony Williams, Mel Lewis, Lewis Nash (to name a few) all learnt similar vocabulary, they each approach the brushes in their own unique way; it would be very boring and uninspiring if they all sounded the same!

Can you share your experience at Centrum Jazz Port Townsend Workshop and who you would recommend applying?

Yeah, wow. The Centrum workshop in Port Townsend was absolutely fantastic, and I would recommend it to any instrumentalist or vocalist would like to develop their craft as a jazz musician; I would love to go back and participate again.

I spent a week in the U.S. with over 200 participants and 45 faculty members (including names like Jeff Hamilton, Joe LaBarbera, John Clayton, Terrell Stafford, Sean Jones, Bob Mintzer, Benny Green, George Cables, Graham Dechter, Matt Wilson – I could go on and on, it was ridiculous!) True pioneers of contemporary jazz, particularly in the US. They all came together at the end of week concert and formed an All Star Faculty Big Band (can you imagine!?)

Each member was assigned to an ensemble and coach for the week, and I was fortunate enough to also be selected in the Big Band which was an incredible experience, given my love for playing big band music. Terrell Stafford was my ensemble coach and it was easily the most intense week of music-making I’ve experienced. We learnt and memorised a challenging program of music but Terrell really taught us to care about every single moment of the music, to never switch off; it was exhausting but very exhilarating at the same time. His personal feedback still resonates with me today and he gave me pieces of advice that no-one had ever told me before. Things like, “man when you get excited, your bass drum gets louder and you have no idea it’s happening!” as well as big-picture things on how to accompany a soloist and play musically. It was a real kick in the butt to keep learning and moving forward.

Can you share any other workshops you’ve attended or would recommend other musicians consider applying for?

That’s the only performance intensive workshop I’ve attended besides the Juilliard / New York Jazz Symposium at the University of Melbourne, which sadly is no longer being offered. I’ve heard a lot of amazing things about the BANFF program and many of my peers have gone through their programs, so that would be another workshop I would recommend.

Are you currently getting lessons from any other musicians? Or plan to?

No I’m not taking regular lessons aside from attending workshops and spending time occasionally with interstate mentors like David Jones, who I’ve studied with on and off since high school. At the moment, I’m enjoying my time working with Mijo Biscan (who I mentioned before), who is an established singer-songwriter based in Melbourne. He helps me to direct my own musical practice and together we have the trust and the time to discuss my deepest challenges relating to time management, which keeps me on track. I’m finding the time to listen to more music these days which is always a great lesson and something I wish I did more of when I was younger.

If you could simply create more time for yourself, how would you use it? For example, would you invest in more music related skills or study, or spend more time at home etc..

If I could create more time for myself, I would definitely amp up the hours dedicated to creative practice – whether that be writing new songs, new collaborations, more time in the studio, documenting and releasing content, etc. But I would also like to prioritise spending more time with close friends and also engaging in hobbies that I’m passionate about (e.g. tennis, learning the piano, film and photography).

Did you ever have an 8 hour a day practice schedule before working full-time?

No I never had a consistent period of that much individual practice. Work ethic has always been a huge part of my family and my upbringing, and so when I finished high school, I started teaching and once university started, I found myself juggling three, four, sometimes five jobs (mostly teaching but also casual work representing the uni as an ambassador). I never created the schedule to lock myself in a room to practice 8 hours a day and I have no regrets about that because I was playing a lot with other musicians every day at uni and exposing myself to lots of different musical situations. I had many serious issues with forearm tendinitis during my early years at uni and this affected the amount of time I could spend on the instrument too.

Do you/did you spend much time transcribing other musicians?

Yes I do transcribe but as I’m sure many would say, not enough! Transcribing was a part of our assessment requirements at the Con and I’m glad they were because they were a great learning experience. I’m starting to get back into consciously transcribing and documenting the ideas of the drummers I idolise and I’m enjoying the challenge of getting new vocab under my hands. The main thing for me with transcription is take

things a step further and to practice shaping the ideas I learn into new ideas; that’s one thing I’m working on at the moment.

If you could only practice three things what would they be?

What immediately comes to mind is time, vocabulary and imagination.

If you had to play in one band only, who would it be?

If I could only play in one band, it would have to be my original music. At the moment, that’s where I feel the greatest level of connection and fulfilment.

Where would you like to be in 5 years?

I love where things are at the moment and all the amazing people, music and opportunities I’m surrounded by so my vision moving forward is to remain based in Brisbane but I would love to travel more, tour more and reach more people with my handpan music and my drumming projects. I would love to play bigger shows and festivals around the world, sharing stages and collaborating with artists I really look up to. And ultimately, I just want to keep developing myself as a musician and as a person, maintain the passion and energy for what I’m doing, and focus on realising my creative potential.

 

For more information on Lachlan head to:

http://lachlanhawkins.com

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