Australian Musicians (Feat. Benjamin Shannon)

I was fortunate enough to be undertaking my Bachelor of Music at the same school and same time as Ben – The Queensland Conservatorium. Having spent a number of years sharing the same learning environment, I gained a lot of respect for Ben’s approach to drumming and music making. Although I don’t get to see Ben in person as much these days, its a pleasure to see his music career grow (via digital mediums) and am continually learning from what he shares with the community as a person and musician.

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

Current projects are:

Kodiak Empire (Progressive, Experimental, Rock)
Milton Man Gogh (Jazz, Progressive, Experimental)
Brisbane Conduction Orchestra (Large Group Conducted Improvisation)
Valtozash Big Band (Jazz-Metal)
SHAMIN (Contemp Jazz Duo)
Schwing, Shannon, Tinkler (Free, Experimental)
Martin Kay’s Forage (Free, Experimental, Jazz)
Cowbird (Ambient, Jazz, Free, World)
Found In Trees (Progressive Metal)
Strangely Enough (Indie, Electronic)
Soul Mechanics (Improvised Hip-Hop)
Luke Dowsett (Instrumental)
The Douldie Men (Jazz, Odd Time)

Teaching at:

The Drum Cartel, Grace Lutheran Primary, The Lakes College, Minimbah SS, Mountain Creek SHS and Morayfield SHS

Since the start of 2018 I’ve been lucky enough jump on board with my favourite Australian label in Art As Catharsis. My roles have included organising events, liaising with artists and general label promotion. I love this side of music too and am excited to see where it will all go…….

I currently teach between 40-60 students a week depending on gigs, touring and such at The Drum Cartel and in various schools. I finished my Diploma of Education late last year so that’s helped a bunch with further teaching work.

Last year I was cast as a drummer in a full length feature film, I can’t say much more about it yet, but it will be out in cinemas in August. Super rare, but absolutely loved it.

Excited for the release of the debut SHAMIN album, 2nd Milton Man Gogh album, sophomore Kodiak Empire release, Found in Trees debut EP, 2nd Brisbane Conduction Orchestra album and debut Cowbird album all happening throughout 2019. Various other projects and such that will see the light of day soon!

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

I live by my diary and plan things well in advance, it’s the only way. Financial independence can be tricky with funding original bands, eating, living etc but the more I give musically the more the world seems to give back…..

I try to stretch a heap, run a few times a week and gym several times too. But this is not possible some weeks. I try to make the most of every spare hour, it all counts and they add up very quickly. Some weeks I’m exercising a stupid amount, others I may not be at all. It is what it is.

Some weeks I could practice 20 hours, others, maybe 2. I’m less concerned about these changing routines within the volatility of the profession and have complete faith in the process and path that is forming slowly in front of me. It’s got a heap of cracks in it some weeks, others it’s like a freshly laid shopping centre carpark. The juxtaposition of the two is an uncertain excitement that I thrive off. I love not knowing, it’s exciting.

Family and friends are paramount. I just can’t thank them enough. They’re a constant source of inspiration and perspiration.

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

No, if the people are mad and the music is too I’m keen!

Can you please explain your experiences majoring in Jazz Drums at the Queensland Conservatorium with a background primarily in metal drumming? For example, did you encounter any challenges due to your history as a drummer entering the “jazz” world?

I had a fantastic time at The Con. My drum teachers were unbelievably supportive and really believed in what I wanted to do. Paul Hudson was so honest and real with the lessons, I hadn’t experienced that before. If you did something shit, he’d tell you. I love that.

Not a lot of other people gave me a look in really, but this just made me want to work harder. I don’t think they realise how much I appreciated the direction and guidance and for this I am eternally grateful. John Parker especially was willing to show me all really cool bent shit and sent me down the rabbit hole which I’m currently lost in. Currently trying to modulate out.

Yep heaps of challenges, I still hit loud and suck at jazz so you can’t win them all. People not wanting to play your compositions because they look different, etc etc. Heaps of things. That’s enough to list though, you get the idea.

What motivated you to apply for the Banff program of Creative Music in 2017 and would you recommend it to other musicians?

I applied for the program 24 hours before the application was due. I had absolutely no intention of applying until this day. I remember a dear friend of mine Jack Walton talking about the program extensively during his time at Con but I had never really looked further into it.

I was at a stage musically (And still am) where I’m playing in so many different styles, projects and writing across these all. I remember reading an article the Program Curator Vijay Iyer had written online stressing diversity in ideas, perspectives and approach in regards to the program and in general. I felt like I had that, so I applied and completely forgot about it.

When I realised I had been accepted I thought it was a mistake, I had to ring up to make sure.

Damn, Vijay likes the Milton Man Gogh Bowie cover? He’s into heavy Kodiak with screams too….. Nice!

It was the best 3 weeks of my life and I’m so honoured to have gone. A truly indescribable experience I will treasure until I die. It felt like a dream that I didn’t deserve.

I just love playing so many things; writing, sharing, collaborating, discussing, arguing, all the words. I didn’t know what to expect or how I would go there. I did my thing and that’s all we can do. Some people hate it, some people like it. Sweet, groovy, happy days. I formed friendships and bonds with participants that venture far beyond a combination of sounds. The program was so much more than music and I encourage absolutely everyone to apply! If I can go there you can.

I highly recommend that Australia Art Orchestra Creative Intensive program too. (Applications closing soon!) That was absolutely extraordinary and another live changing experience for sure.

Have you considered/are you considering relocating outside of Brisbane or Australia for your career in music?

I’ve got plans to study a Masters and Doctorate down the track, but it’s just a matter of where and when. There’s some super nerdy drum shit I want to delve into that I’ve started mapping out with regards to ratios and micro rhythms but I also want to look at Northern Indian Rhythmic application from the Tabla across to Drum Kit.

I haven’t planned anything in concrete yet but I’d the time I’m late 20’s I’d love to be in Europe or The States. Brisbane is fantastic though, I love this place.

What would you say to a drummer considering studying jazz drums or applying for the Banff program?

Do it.

Do you play/practice any other instruments other than the drumset?

Yeah I’m working on Bass, Guitar, Piano and Tabla. Give me a lifetime and I’ll be okay at all of them except Tabla. (Need several lifetimes…..)

Do you find composing music translates to how you approach the drums?

Yes I do! I love composing music and am writing 1-3 tunes a week to further this process. Most of them suck but it’s about the doing and seeing where these skills will go.

Do you see value in drummers learning another instrument and/or composing music?

Yes, I can’t really comment on the value of drummers learning another instrument as I’m really, really average at all of them. It’s obviously beneficial, but in what regard and what exactly you’re trying to quantify as value?

Composing has allowed me to express various emotions/feelings/moods/events previously unattainable through the drum kit. Inadvertently, when I perform the composition on the drum kit (within whatever group/instrumentation) I’m able to reach for musical ideas that felt previously inaccessible or haven’t presented themselves to me. Or I just haven’t known how to find them. Compositions are are an incredibly fulfilling way for me to explore life through music.

Favourite Drummers?

Mark Guiliana, Tyshawn Sorey, Dan Mayo, Tony Williams, Max Roach, Dan Weiss, Nick Yacyshyn, Joseph Arrington, John Theodore, Kate Gentile, Chris Allison, Ken Edie, Zack Hill, Matt Mingus, Nasheet Waits. Too many! I’m leaving so many out.

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

I’ll always grab lessons with Andy Gander, Simon Barker, Steve Judd when they’re in town. I’ve recently had a couple of Skype lessons with some of my favourites, specifically Joseph Arrington from A Lot Like Birds/Sianvar. He’s fantastic! Something I need to do more often. I’m always trying to catch my favourite local drummers/percussionists and learn from them at gigs. (Dane Pulverenti, Nate Macgregor, Vanessa Tomlinson, Andy Doo, Lachlan Hawkins, Charles Hill, Mitch Bellert, to list just a few!)

I’ve just picked up a new book called ‘The Book of Rhythm’ by Blake Fleming that I highly recommend any musician check out; it’s a rhythmic primer with all the possible beat combinations and permutations between 3-12. You can then run all these through various table of time exercises, etc etc. It’s essentially an endless resource, I’ll be engrossed in this for quite some time.

Over the last few months I’ve been working through transcribing some of Ken Edie’s playing from various recordings/live videos he’s done. He’s an unsung hero in the drumming world! Ridiculously beautiful player. The intent and conviction is just ludicrous.

Did you ever have an 8 hour a day practice schedule before working full time? Do you/did you spend much time transcribing other musicians?

I tried it at uni for a good 3-6 months and it just sucked. Was playing way too much and ignoring other things (outside of music) in life that are just as important, if not more.

If you could only practice three things what would they be? If you had to play in one band only, who would it be?

Singles, Doubles and Paradiddles.

You could guess this one Isaac. The Mars Volta, haha.

If you could pivot to another occupation, what would it be?

Graphic Designer.

Have you ever wished you weren’t a musician or felt stuck?

Never wished to not do the music.

Felt stuck plenty of times over the years.

Where would you like to be in 5 years?

Great questions! I don’t know, I’ll have to wait and see where I end up.

Do you have any other hobbies or interests outside of music?

Fishing, drawing, writing, football, (soccer ha) reading, cars, writing, sports in general really. Love when the Olympics comes round and you can check out all the obscure slightly less palatable (but just as valid) sports. Love spinning yarns, love learning from everyone about everything.

Any other comments or insights you wish to share?

Be nice. Be honest. Be disruptive.

Do what people don’t want you to do.

A quote from my wonderful Mother that’s always stuck from a young age:

Do what you love and you’ll love what you do.

For more information on Ben head to:

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