"Every single session and every gig that I've been on is a highlight."
Interview with Jason Hartless – August 29, 2018
By Jenna Williams “The Scream Queen”
You just got off of a tour with Ted Nugent.
Yep. We finished up our summer roundabout about 5 days ago.
I was watching some of your videos when I found out I was going to interview you and you look like you’re having a lot of fun while playing. What was the most magical feeling you had while you were playing on the tour?
I’m going to be honest with you, every moment. What’s strange about me, is I’ve been performing since a young age. I don’t really get the butterflies or jitters or anything like that, so to me, it’s just another gig.
And you recorded your first album when you were eight-years-old?
Yeah. Corky Laing from Mountain, he is a big mentor of mine… He was living in Toronto at the time and I was in Detroit, so he would drive back and fourth. And we would sit in the room with two drum sets, kind of woodshed and he’d mentor me and teach me. Then we eventually started working on a little solo project and really the only reason for that record was to kind of have an excuse for Corky to mentor me through a recording session, so he could teach me how to act in the studio, how to record in the studio, how to basically be a professional in that atmosphere.
When you were 8 years old, how do you feel like you brought your music to life then and since you’re 23 now, how has that changed over the years?
I’m not really a songwriter, never have been. I love being that hired gun studio or touring musician, what makes it so great doing that is basically every single artist, every client that I work with in the studio, every commercial I play on, every publishing [inaudible] I play on, every single thing is different. It definitely keeps it fresh in terms of– it’s funny, I’ve been telling this story a lot, earlier this year I was on the road with Joe Lynn Turner earlier this year, doing some dates in the Midwest, and we had a show in St. Louis and then the next day I had a recording session back in Detroit for a Big Band Christmas album -[laughs]- with Bob Seger’s horn section. This Classic Rock/Metal stuff with Joe Lynn Turner to 40s Big Band Jazz Christmas music.
That’s the beauty of music, there really are no boundaries.
Absolutely. And again, that’s why I love being a hired gun session musician so much because you never know what to expect, everything is going to be different. Most of the time during a session, I don’t hear this music until 5 minutes before I start tracking it. So, it’s literally right in your face, instant. You have to be on your A-game.
Let me ask you this then…. Being a session drummer, how do you feel like you’re bringing your drumming to life while playing with all of these different artists?
Every situation is different. With Ted Nugent, for instance, it’s a very intense, very in your face for an hour and a half…And for that hour and a half, we’re just plowing forward. [It’s] very, very hard-hitting, very intense, very crazy style. I just do whatever the gig calls for. I treat every situation different.
Since you do play with so many diverse artists, how do you feel you incorporate your own energy and style while playing?
It’s kind of a difficult questions because it’s one of those things where you’re always feeding off the audience and feeding off of what the other musicians on stage are pulling out. And again, with Ted [Nugent], he expects a certain level of, as he calls it, “insanity” on stage. Ted turned 70 in December, but he’s up there performing like he did when he was 20. He expects myself and the bass player to try to match, if not elevate the level of energy and insanity that he’s putting on stage. With him, it’s all about making sure that you can kind of be James Brown on the drums. [laughs]
I read where you’ve said that before.
Yeah. I say a lot, seeing Ted is like seeing James Brown on steroids because it’s true, the guy– there’s a reason why he’s called the Motor City Madman because on stage, he goes insane.
It’s amazing to me that guys like Ted Nugent and also Ozzy can still run around on stage like that.
Well, I mean, with Ted, that’s 70 years of clean and sober living gets you. He’s in impeccable shape and he’s playing better than ever.
You said that you’ve seen a lot happen in life, what drugs and alcohol can do to a person, therefore you choose to rise above and live a clean life also, which is very inspirational to see.
Yeah, especially in this business. There are so many extremely talented musicians that have either died or have thrown their lives or careers away to drugs and alcohol. Outside of music, I’ve definitely seen it first hand with my grandfather, he was a raging alcoholic. Seeing that, that also helped when I saw musicians that I looked up to and other aspects get in the way, and it just wasn’t for me.
It’s also inspiring to see somebody your age not only just touring with a legend like Ted Nugent and all of the artists you’ve worked with, but you’re also studying while you have Prudential Music Group too.
[laughs] My life is pretty crazy. When I– I graduated high school in 2013 and during that time, I was working with an artist called Pistol Day Parade, which had a lot of promise in the active Rock market. We had a lot of– we were kind of looked at as the next big, breakout band of active rock. And the record– people even compared the record to something like Rumors by Fleetwood Mac and the fact that every song was going to be a single eventually.
When I graduated high school, the album was getting ready to drop, so I was kind of like, “you know what, I’m going to take a little bit off before going to college and just kind of see where this goes.” We released the album in the Fall of 2013 and then in the Summer of 2014, we were going to release the lead single with a lot of financial and industry support behind it and a massive radio campaign and to coincide with that, we actually got on a tour opening for Ted Nugent. So, we did that single, which was shooting up quick, we were told it was projected to be number one by the end of 2014. But unfortunately, after the Ted Nugent tour, the band ended up dissolving due to band member disputes. The song only ended up peaking at 19 since the band broke up.
I always compare it to the movie, That Thing You Do, because the story is almost identical to the situation that I went through. After that hole went down, I regrouped and thought about what I was going to do next and I decided, I had two options for college. It was either stop my career for 4-6 years to work on my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, or go through Berkeley’s great online program– luckily, I chose that because two months after I started my Bachelor’s degree, I got the call to join Ted Nugent.
That’s amazing. What was your initial feeling when you got that call?
Well, you know, it was great, but in early 2016, right when I started my degree, I sent a bunch of e-mails out to industry folks that I knew and was like, “hey, I’m available this summer, if you need a drummer, touring guy, yada-yada-yada.” I got an e-mail back from Nugent’s manager and he was like, “Ted’s going to call you in a few days.” I was like, “Ok!” [laughs] Ted called me, and he- being from Detroit as well- we talked Detroit music and my roots and what I was influenced by, and all of that stuff, and really hit it off. I auditioned, got the gig, and here we are 3 years later.
My next question is, what have been some of the most meaningful moments of your career? With what you just told me, I would imagine that would be at the very top.
Absolutely. Honestly, I’ve been very, very lucky to have had so many. It’s hard to answer. Really, every single session and every gig that I’ve been on is a highlight because it’s again, like I mentioned earlier, it’s all very different. If you look at Ted, when we tour, our setlist is even different every single night. [laughs] He changes out one or two songs and keeps it fresh. Like even this year, mid-set he calls out a song we hadn’t played in almost a year–over a year! [laughs] So, things like that, you’re always supposed to be on your feet and on tour toes and ready to go.
I know a few bands, like Hatebreed, they don’t really have set lists, they just call out every song just because they love being on their toes like that.
Absolutely. I know the guy from Cheap Trick, they have like a completely different set list like every single night and they swap out about 20 songs in different order, every single night for every show because it just keeps it different. Even for the fans, it allows them to see a completely different show if they come to multiple gigs.
I work with Guitars For Vets, a non-profit organization giving guitars and guitar lessons to our Veterans. We truly believe in the healing power of music… My question for you is, what have been some moments, like hard times, dark moments in your life that have happened where music has really been there for you, brought you out of that mindset?
After Pistol Day Parade ended up exploding, I did go through a small depression and it was very much like, I didn’t even know if I wanted to continue in music. I was forcing myself into different situations in this business and then I started– what kept me through this whole thing was working in a studio, working as an engineer for records, and also playing on records really, really helped me out of that. It showed me that, “I’ve been doing this for this long, why would I give up now?”
That was one of the biggest things. Other than that, I haven’t really had– I am a very positive person and am very dedicated in what I do. I’ve been very lucky to have not had dark moments. In terms of trying to motivate me…Hell, I remember my senior year of high school for English class, I had to write an 18 or 20 page report on something. [laughs]
It was just a crazy report with all of the research and all of this crap. I listed to Quadrophenia by The Who probably 100 times during that situation! [laughs] That’s one of the records that definitely, during that time, I was on rotate.
Being a session drummer, as you were talking about earlier, you’re exposed to so many different kinds of music, from Classic Rock to Big Band Christmas album, how do you feel like all of those influences have evolved your style of drumming?
My whole career I’ve kind of tailored it after just being the guy that can just say “yes” in a situation. I’ve studied almost every single genre and style of music, everything from drum-line marching band style stuff to Afro-Cuban to Metal because you never know what situations will come up. You don’t want to be in a position to where you get contacted by an artist or you’re in the studio for a session and they’re like, “alright, we’re going to do this” And you’re like, “uhh….I can’t do that today…” And they’ll end up calling someone else. Again, this kind of goes to what the session musicians from the 70s and 80s and even 60s…
Drummers like Hal Blaine and Jeff Porcaro and Jim Keltner and Jim Gordon, all of these guys that played on 80% of the records that came out in the 60s and 70s in LA, that’s what they did. Unfortunately, the music industry is completely different than it was back in the 60s and 70s. Nowadays, session musicians aren’t as hot of a commodity because everybody has their drummer and their band and/or has got a buddy that can play drums so that [inaudible] while we hire a session musician. I still try to take the old-school motto and kind of thinking as how I approach my job.
The old school mentality had an honesty within the music, it’s completely different now than in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and even some of the 90s. I remember watching Dimevision a long time ago and he was talking in the mirror with his video camera about the honesty within music, how it has those imperfect moments where the riff he’s playing could go out of tune or something, that the vocalist’s voice may crack, or something like that…It may make you, the artist totally cringe when that happens, but it may be the most favorite part of the song to the fan.
Absolutely. One of my favorite stories of the studio is, Hal Blaine was recording a Hert Albert & The Tijuana Brass songs, it’s his big song, I want to say Spanish Fly, but either way, it was a Hert Albert song, his big one, and there’s this kick-drum part in the middle of the song where there was a break and the kick-drum had to count off four beats to keep the rest of the band in, so it was really kind of a mistake, and it ended up being the more memorable part of the song.