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By Jarrod Dicker
New Brunswick, NJ, USA
Images courtesy of Adam Deitch
If drumming was royalty, Adam Deitch would be king.
A product of musical matrimony--both literally and figuratively—Deitch is the son of two professional funk drummers whose musical lineage extends all the way back to the early 1940’s. At five months old he was attending his father’s live concerts; at eight years old he was sitting in on them. I’d say that it’s fate that led him to where he is today, but that seemed too simple. Like Appius Claudius I believe each man is the architect of his own fate. So to be analogous, Deitch is the Frank Loyd Wright of drumming.
(credit: Zach Denis)
Like Wright—who designed over 1,000 projects and 500 completed works—Deitch is prolific. A Berklee college graduate, he was (and is) an integral part of Royal Family Records, Average White Band, Lettuce, Fyre Dept., Chapter 2, John Scofield Band, Adam Deitch Project and Break Science. He has produced tracks for a mob of artists including Soulive, Green Lantern, Talib Kweli, 50 Cent and Justin Timberlake as well as an active member of the popular live/sampling movement with Borahm Lee in Break Science.
“For the first time rock music is settling and becoming fully influenced by hip hop,” Deitch explains to me animatedly. And the ‘king’ of drumming is only strengthening to effort.
Jarrod Dicker spoke with Adam Deitch about his roots in music, four upcoming record releases, the art of producing, Pretty Lights, Royal Family Records, Brooklyn and why he’s in the music game for life.
THIRSTY: You’re by far one of the most versatile drummers/producers in the music scene right now. You’ve collaborated with too many artists to mention, produced rappers from 50 Cent to Justin Timberlake, and share a ‘home’ with the funkiest family in music (Royal Family Records). With such an impressive resume, I’m inclined to ask how you got into drumming in the first place.
Adam Deitch: It all started with my father’s uncle. He was a famous Big Band drummer and actually led a drum band in the late 1940’s/1950’s. He was a working drummer, had his own radio show and was doing all different things. So he was the first drummer of the family. My mom’s grandfather was also a drummer. So by the time it got to my parents; they both inevitably became lifelong drummers. My dad was playing in a seven-piece Earth, Wind and Fire cover band, playing all this funk and soul stuff when I was an infant. I was going to the shows at five months old. That was the beginning of it and it just blossomed into meeting my parent’s friends, and discovering all these amazing vinyl records like Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, a lot of soul/jazz like John Coltrane, Miles Davis and that kind of stuff. I would play along with those records and soon enough I was going strong with the music thing.
THIRSTY: Since you’re from a blue blood line of drumming “royalty” (for lack of a better term), did you ever feel compelled to become a professional drummer?
Adam Deitch: [Laughs] Good question. My parents weren’t the kind of people that forced anything on me musically. In fact, they were really quite the opposite. We had a drum room downstairs right next to the ping pong table, dad’s keyboards-- he was also a producer and a songwriter--synthesizers and drum machines. So it was basically the fun room. They made it look fun and that’s what got me hooked on doing it. Plus, all my friends growing up liked rap and their parents had all the same soul records that my parents had. So there was an instant connection between understanding samples and the records they derived from. We would make rap records from that standpoint. It’s more than grabbing a loop of something; not only am I grabbing a loop of the original recording, but I’m aware who played on it and I know who the drummer is. So it’s more about sampling intelligibly.
THIRSTY: Regarding your career as a producer, can you pinpoint the exact moment that launched you onto that side of the business? And besides being a drummer, what other influences led you to embark on a career as a producer?
Adam Deitch: Like I said, my dad always had the studio. Before I even knew how to use his gear, I was on a double cassette deck recording drums on one mic and then looping back and forth to add extra instruments on the other [laughs]. Like, “press record, hold it down,” that kind of crazy shit. And then my boy got an Emphonic and a few of my friends had MPCs and were starting to get into that shit and understand it. I produced for a rap crew that was about ten guys deep, and that’s about all I did in high school. I just made beats for these guys and it was some heavy underground hardcore shit. I always separated my live thing, talking about being eclectic--it’s like all the way opposite. Jazz gigs and playing in gospel church on Sundays is way different. So it’s all a big mix of everything.
THIRSTY: Who were the first “major” recording artists you produced?
Adam Deitch: The production thing really started with my rapper friend’s, The Secret Service. And then after awhile, 50 Cent’s people heard about me through my live stuff. They said, “He makes beats but he’s also a drummer so you should check him out.” So I hooked up with 50 and then Talib Kweli met my friend and business partner Eric Krasno through Soulive. So the live game ended up feeding the production game and vice versa.
THIRSTY: Break Science is one of the major acts you’re involved with; one that you seem to be focusing on heavily at the moment. For those that are unfamiliar, (and if you are, get familiar) you collaborate with producer Borahm Lee to create live house mixing/sampling; he mans the tables and you play the kit. How did this relationship materialize?
Adam Deitch: Borahm has a heavy resume. He’s currently doing the craziest shit with Lee “Scratch” Perry and his new band. He does all sorts of hip hop; he did a tribute to Raekwon and featured all the Cuban Lynx mashes for that. He plays with the Gza as well as a lot of hardcore rap and theatre cats. I’ve had my eye on him for a while as far as starting a group. We’ve played in various bands together. When I had a solo project going on, he was the one in the band that was the most into it; he was the most ready to rehearse, the most ready to show up and the most ready to create. So I just said, “Let’s do this, me and you.” And we both also love basketball and ping pong, so you know, it just works out [laughs].
THIRSTY: Now that all these live mixing bands are starting to catch fire like Pretty Lights…
Adam Deitch: I just want to send a shout out to Pretty Lights first of all for opening up the game. He’s definitely allowing more hip hop inspired stuff to become more main stream. It was a dream of mine ten years ago--when nothing like this was happening--and I’ve been fighting to get it happening, but he has this certain touch that’s really accessible. Plus the girls love it. I just wanted to put that out there, big shout out to Pretty Lights!
THIRSTY: [Laughs] Nice, I’m actually featuring both yourself and Derek this month, so we can double intensify the urgency to get on this music. On the topic of popularity, is there anything else that can be done to press on this young genre?
Adam Deitch: My favorite acts in the scene like Pretty Lights, Two Fresh and Big Gigantic all play with bands that feature the drums. I think when you have a real artist on the Appleton or the MPC that’s freaking them out; it works really well to include a live drum set that gives the audience an organic element to what they’re dancing to. And I think that’s the future way to get it poppin’, is people like you telling people about it and letting them know that this is the new shit. It’s not main stream yet, but hopefully soon enough it will be ‘cause there’s some good music waiting to get out.
THIRSTY: The Royal Family Ball went down last weekend at Cervantes’ Masterpiece in Denver, Colorado. The groups of musicians under this label seem like a literal “family” rather than associate recording artists. How did you get into this intimate and affluent “family?”
Adam Deitch: Eric Krasno and I have been friends since we were 15 years old. Everyone else from the crew went and did their own thing, but me and Krasno ended up starting a company together called Fyre Dept--which is how we got to do the 50 Cent and Talib Kweli thing. While we were doing tracks for all these people, he had this vision of making a mark with live style soul records and creating a true soul label. He wanted to put out his own records and start a bunch of bands with a bunch of different players. So he said to me, “I need you to write for five bands.” I took this as a challenge and wrote a bunch of music and he wrote a bunch of tunes as well and it ended up being four albums worth of material. So we just started from that and it just built…now it’s in full force.
John Scofield, Adam Deitch
THIRSTY: One of your first (and still going) “big” bands is Lettuce, which features your Berklee College of Music peers. How did this band get together? Were you all friends or was it more a means of grouping together talented musicians to create a skilled set?
Adam Deitch: When we went to Berklee in the early 90’s, a lot of people were into the impressing part of music--as opposed to the dancing and funky part of music. It was like how many time signatures you can add in one song and that kind of mentality. And the guys from Lettuce were all friends because we rebelled from that. We’d say, what about those records from the ‘70s that just loop, and feel good--required great players--but still had that thing that would make people dance? So we just gravitated towards each other because of that. We would go to parties together before we had a band and some Grateful Dead cover band would just be slacking. We’d say, “Can you let us sit in, can you let us play one song?” and slowly we would all get up there and make it a funk party. So it was there where we decided we had to start a band—that’s how we got the name Lettuce. Can you ‘Lettuce’ sit in [laughs]?
THIRSTY: Brooklyn seems to be the music capital now a day. Personally, what is it about Brooklyn that makes it such a desirable place to live, create and perform music?
Adam Deitch: For me Brooklyn’s close to home. I have had a lot of opportunities to live in other places like L.A. and such, but I honestly like being on the east coast. I love N.Y.; we have a serious family over here and when people are on tour we tell them to come to our spot in Brooklyn. I grew up half an hour from here. It’s where we grow--it makes sense. There’s a vibe here. Where we live is the hipster-ish area with MGMT and that whole thing. I love it because for the first time rock music is settling and becoming fully influenced by hip hop. You see Jay-Z and Beyonce going to these hipster shows in Brooklyn and it’s like you know they’re here because these young bands know what’s up. They’re doing really creative shit. So it’s good to be around that energy with bands popping up everywhere. You can actually hear a good band with a good drummer where it used to be--in the 90’s and 80’s--this whole separate thing; everyone was trying to be Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots. But now bands like MGMT are influenced by hip hop, and so is Grizzly Bear and the Dap Kings, Sharon Jones and them. That’s major, having those guys out here. It’s definitely a big royal family.
THIRSTY: On a relevant note, Jazz Fest just came and went; what were your favorite and/or most exciting moments in NOLA?
Adam Deitch: I was blown away that people came to see Break Science at 4am after Pretty Lights and Rusko. I wanted to be opening or playing at the same venue with those guys but I was doing the Royal Family events for the soul and funk crowd. I live it all, but sometimes the crowds don’t really get into each other’s music. My goal is to bring all those crowds together, despite an age gap, despite whatever. It always makes me smile when I see people that actually show up that late to see a performance.
THIRSTY: Blue Collar, Blue Blood: As stated before, you’re always in the studio working on something. What’s currently in the works? Upcoming albums, collaborations, productions?
Adam Deitch: Right now I’m looking to release at least four albums this year. I have the Break Science album that Borahm and I took a lot of time on to make sure it’s as dope as it could possibly be. That’s the number one focus. We want to do a Lettuce record once we could get everyone in the studio at the same time [laughs]. The songs are already written and saved on my laptop. All the guys have about two tunes each. We have a Chapter 2 record which is a Royal Family release. Nigel Hall, the singer of Lettuce and Soulive, is doing a solo record. He’s the new Donny Hatahway or Stevie Wonder, he’s IT for our generation and people just have to understand that [laughs]. We have Dr. Claw which is Ian Neville and Mick Daniels from Dumpstafunk who are phenomenal New Orleans funk musicians. I have a new artist coming up right now named Jermaine Paul. He’s phenomenal and has been on tour with Alicia Keys as one of her backup singers.
Adam Deitch: Yea man, he’s a 6’5 dude who sings his ass off. I’m also doing the Modern Drummer Festival this weekend. They pick five drummers a year to do an hour long clinic each, so I’m going to bring Borahm to do Break Science and it’s gonna be insane.
THIRSTY: So is it safe to say that you’ll be drumming the rest of your life?
Adam Deitch: I’m a lifer, no doubt. Since I’ve started this I’ve been in it for life. My parents are in it for life and I’m here to stay. There’s a lot of music coming and I just hope people support it and come out and dance because I’m doing it for them. My music is a combination for me and the people. I just don’t make music for myself. I’m working hard all day everyday to get this music out there so people could hear it.