I first met Tosh “The Drummer” at the NAMM show in Anaheim. He was playing at a bar/restaurant alongside another drummer. They were trading solos. I stood there and watched him play thinking “wow, this young kid is amazing.” His drumming had personality, flare and passion. His improv soloing with the other drummer was filled with nuance and power. His shirt was off, Tosh’s signature look, his sticks were noticeably larger than normal and he was playing his a** off. Throwing slow triplet fills in a fast groove, sounding Vinne Colaiuta like. Definitely memorable. At the time he was only 14 years old. Now, at 18, Tosh is a working pro musician who’s toured the world. I recently had the opportunity to catch him between tours for a great conversation.
Tosh “The Drummer”
Gary: It’s been quite awhile. You’re just getting back from touring?
Tosh: Yeah, man. It’s been awesome. It’s been a long time.
Gary: I’ll start by asking where the nickname “The Drummer” came from?
Tosh: It’s kinda funny. I was maybe 10 or 11 and I had an instagram account and it was “Tosh Drums” and all of my friends had underscores on their Instagram names and I was like, I want to put an underscore so let me just be Tosh_The Drummer. I think it’s pretty funny now but at the time I thought it was so cool.
Gary: Well, it’s great. Certainly no mistake what you do.
Tosh: Yeah, now every time I get recognized in public it’s like “oh, hey, it’s Tosh “The Drummer”. I’ve heard that so much.
Tosh with Carlie Hanson:
Gary: Where did you grow up? Los Angeles?
Tosh: Yeah. In the Los Angeles area. I’m in a city called Fullerton. Technically in Orange County. Close to L.A. but not right in the middle of everything.
Gary: I know you have a musical family. Your dad is a drummer and has played professionally, right?
Tosh: Yeah. He played drums for a band called the English Beat.
Gary: Oh, he played for the English Beat? I didn’t realize that. I used to listen to them a lot. Those guys are great!
Tosh: He was with them from about ‘95 to 2000. So I always had drums around. I was born in 2001 so it was after he finished playing for them but he was in other bands too and I’d go see him play when he was local. I’ve always had drums in the house.
Gary: So that started your love for drums. Did you ever or do you play other instruments?
Tosh: I try to now. But I’m just so one track. My mind is focused on drums and I can’t seem to fall in love with anything but drums. It’s really the only instrument I’m good at because I spend all my time playing drums.
Gary: Your passion certainly comes out in your drumming. I think you were 14 or 15 when I first met you. I saw you playing at a little bar across from NAMM and I was like, “holy cripe, this kid is amazing!” Your power, passion and energy was fantastic. And that was when you were 14! What age were you when you started playing the drums?
Tosh: I started playing drums when I was a baby. I don’t really remember starting but my parents got me a drum set when I was 2 and I fell in love then. No one could get me to stop playing drums. I would literally be playing all day. I was home schooled so I was able to play drums all the time. So yeah, that’s all I did. I started when I was 2 and haven’t stopped.
Gary: I’m sure your dad taught you a lot things. Did you ever take any formal lessons?
Tosh: Yeah, so my dad would teach me when I was younger but when I was 11 or 12 I started taking lessons with the drummer Thomas Pridgen. I took lessons with him pretty regularly for about 2 years then a little less frequently but still with him until I was 16 or so. It’s been about 2 years since my last lesson with him but we’re still really good friends. I would take more lessons but I’m always gone now.
Gary: Do you have a particular drumming style?
Tosh: I don’t know. I get called so many different things, different types of drummers. It’s really funny hearing all the different ones. I guess you could say I’m a rock drummer with a lot of hip hop influences. But when I was growing up my dad would always have me play along with different things. One second I’d be playing along to Parliament Funkadelic and then Snoop Dogg and Motley Crew. So much different stuff. Carlos Santana. My dad loved every type of music so that shaped me into liking every type of music. I guess since I hit pretty hard on the drums people call me a rock drummer.
Tosh with Nik West in Switzerland:
Gary: I can see with Carlie Hanson you’ve got a bit of hip hop and rock combined. You also have to have a very solid groove and hold down the beat. Not a lot of fills with Carlie.
Tosh: For sure. I get to do a lot of that “trappy” hi hat stuff which I love.
Gary: Yeah, I was noticing that. Like a JoJo Maher kind of thing.
Tosh: Yeah. That’s so much fun. It’s fun because Carlie is a pop singer with some hip hop sounding stuff. She’s a pop singer but her favorite band is Nirvana so I get to rock out! She’s like, “yeah, do whatever you want, be crazy”. So she’s totally cool with that. And that’s how I play so I don’t have to hold back at all. I can just play like I want to.
Gary: That’s great. Funny, when I was watching the video I was thinking, “does she have a lot of sequenced parts? There’s probably not a lot of room for Tosh to cut loose.” But it seems you do get the opportunity to break out.
Tosh: Yeah. I definitely have the opportunity to break out. I play with a trigger on my kick drum and my snare drum so they sound just like the record.
Gary: Do you program different sounds on the trigger for every song?
Tosh: Yes. Every song has a different sound. It’s all just literally taken from the record. The producer will send it to our music director and he’ll chop it up and send it to me. Then I put it in my Roland SPDSX and trigger it to my snare. It’s a whole thing. It was a little weird to get use to because that’s the one place I can’t really stretch because I need to play only solid hits on the snare. I can’t do any fast stuff on the snare because if I try to do that the trigger will get messed up. So any of my fast fills are on the toms.
Gary: Do you have sequenced parts you have to stick to? Do you have to play with a click?
Tosh: Everything’s to a click track and we have some backing tracks because there’s only 3 of us on stage. Me, Carlie and Ryan who plays guitar and keyboards. We have backing tracks that have bass and different sounds from the records so we have to be on a click for that. Actually all of us are on a click. In some bands it’s just the drummer but in this case they all like having a click in their ears so that’s kind of cool.
Gary: Do you find it’s easier to play with everybody when they all have a click instead of only you having to manage the time.
Tosh: Yeah, it makes it less easier not to blame things on me. (laughs). It’s fun because I don’t have to tap my hi hat when there’s breaks. If I’m not playing a part I can just literally stop and not have to do anything. Where as if I was the only one with the click I’d have to be tapping the hi hat. When I was playing with Nik West that how it was. I was the only person on a click. I’d have to make sure and play really solid and tap the hi hat if I stopped playing to keep everyone on time. So with Carlie it’s a little easier that everyone has the click in their ear.
Gary: Do you use quarter notes with your click or do you find other subdivisions easier?
Tosh: I like it faster because it’s easier to follow. I’d rather use 8th notes. Also I need to have a sound that’s really loud and piercing because I turn it up so loud. Sometimes I need to have it completely maxed out. That’s why I ended up having a pretty loud sound, a cowbell. The rest of the band members clicks are all pretty low for them.
Gary: Are you concerned about that ruining your ears?
Tosh: No, it’s mainly because of the “in ear” monitors. I really like the sound of the MEE M6’s and for some reason that specific sound is a pretty quiet mix. So in taking the loudest click sound we could find I don’t have to max it out. I don’t have the mix super loud in my ears.
Gary: Those in ear monitors must be nice. In my band we still have the monitors on stage. I actually have been playing with a click for the last couple of years. I’m the only one in my band on the click. I put it through my iPhone headphones. It’s been an interesting challenge. I’ve definitely become more aware of where I and others speed up or slow down. Also, I now see who the worst offenders of speeding up in the band are….the guitar players! (laughs)
Tosh: I do it on the iPhone with a ska band I play with locally. I do it just because I tend to speed up and slow down a lot. I’m kind of all over the place so that’s why I love having a click track because it keeps me honest.
Gary: One more question about the click. Do you find being on a click prevents meshing in with the band or prevents a kind of flow…making it a little too stiff?
Tosh: I don’t really find that. I’ve been playing with a click my whole life. My dad would always turn on a click track for me to practice to. That’s something he always stressed to me. He would say, “I’m not good at playing to a click so you should be good at playing to a click.” So now it’s just kind of natural. I’m able to make it feel natural and still be on a click track. I personally like it a lot.
Gary: I know you’re touring so much lately but do you give drum lessons when you’re home?
Tosh: Yeah. I give them once in a while. I’ve been on the road pretty solid since September and I just got back. I’m now going to be home for a bit of time now, which I’m really happy about. So I might be giving more lessons during the summer. I just like to spend most of my time practicing. When I give lessons I don’t feel I’m that good of a teacher. It’s something I need to work on. I only want to give lessons if I feel I can really help someone or if it’s a friend of mine. Like last year I would give lessons to a friend at the church and he’s getting really good. That’s really cool for me to see. He was someone who never had touched a drum in his life and now I’ll have him jamming along to Michael Jackson. It’s just so cool, he can totally hold it down. So I love that. But I don’t teach a whole lot.
Gary: Do you have a routine or practice schedule for yourself?
Tosh: I have a bit of a routine. It’s not really thought out. It just tends to be how I play everyday. Being on the road it’s hard because there’s not a whole lot of time to practice. But when I’m at home I’ll play 10 to 12 hours every day. I play all day. I get up in the morning, eat breakfast, take a shower and then I’m out here, in my drum room, at my house, all day. So I don’t have super strict routine but I definitely warm up everyday. I do the same warm ups everyday that I have for the past 3 to 4 years now. It’s a warm up exercise I was shown by Thomas Pridgen but I kind of changed it a little bit. He showed me it as a fill. It’s singles between the hands and feet. Left – Kick, 4 times. Right – Kick 4 times. That’s how he showed it to me and he said, “you can put that in a fill”. Now it’s kind of become my warm ups. It’s kind of complicated. I start out at 8 on each drum. I have a snare, a rack and a floor so I go snare, rack, floor, rack. I do 8 on each drum then 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and then back up to 8. Then I switch and I do that with my left foot. Then I do that again with the hi hat on the upbeats instead of the downbeats. And then I do double stroke rolls between the hands and the feet. LLKK RRKK. I go 4 down to 1 back up to 4. Then I switch to left foot and upbeats on the hi hat. This is all at 160 BPM which is a comfortable speed for me. Not too fast and not to slow. After that I do single stroke rolls around the drums. Dunka, dunka, dunka, boom…(laughs), or I don’t know how you would type that…(laughs) but just single strokes around the drums. Going back and forth and changing up leads. Right hand lead then left hand lead. Then I play around at 160 BPM as well. I practice fills and soloing. I do whatever feels nice at the time. Linear kind of fills usually. Then I bump it up to 185 BPM and do a bunch of fills and then 200 and do a bunch of fills there. Then..I feel pretty warmed up. Also, recently I’ve been stretching more. I try to make my warm ups about an hour everyday. After doing fills I will do other pattern warm ups like paradidles and various exercises that come into my head. I’ll spend a lot of time playing to a click track. I’ll also play along to a lot of music. That’s kind of how I listen to music. When someone tells me to check out an album I’ll turn it on without listening to it first and jam along with it. That’s pretty much how my day goes. I’ll go back and forth between click track and exercises and playing along with music. The only thing that’s really consistent are the warm ups every day.
Gary: That’s great you have the opportunity to practice so much. Do you have a practice studio in your house?
Tosh: Yeah, it’s a room inside of a room. A good friend of my dad’s, Josh McHenry, he’s a really good engineer, he had this room in his house. He was moving and he said, “I need to get rid of this room. If you guys come take it apart you can have it.” So we went and took it apart and brought it back and built it at my house. It’s 8’ x 10’ so it’s pretty large. I can fit 2 drum sets in here no worries. We have a bunch of amps and guitars in here. It’s pretty packed but it’s enough space.
Gary: That’s cool. Sounds like one of those practice sheds they have at Berklee College of Music. 9 drummers playing next to each other and you can barely hear them.
Tosh: Yeah, it’s pretty cool because I can practice anytime. The other night I got home from a gig like at 11:30, not super late, but it was later than I could play drums if I didn’t have this. I came in here and could play an hour before I went to bed. I’m so happy I have this room.
Gary: I want to ask you a bit about playing professionally. Is Carlie Hanson the first professional band you’ve played with or when did you start playing live professionally?
Tosh: No.Carlie I’ve only been playing with recently. I’m 18 now. I started touring when I was 16. I got the job playing drums for an artist named Nik West. She’s a really great bassist. She’s played with Prince. So it was a lot of that type of stuff. Funk rock. That was really fun. It was my first time touring. We were playing in some crazy places. My first summer playing with her we did a few shows around the U.S. then we went to Russia. So I played in Russia, Serbia, Czech Republic, Austria, Spain. I was all over the place. I played with her for about a year and a half and in that time I got to go to some places I’ve never even heard of. I went to Azerbaijan, that’s right above Iran. That was so much fun. The people there are just so stoked. That really opened my eyes to how awesome music is. I’m playing for people who live somewhere that I didn’t even know existed and we can be best friends. Sometimes they don’t speak any English and we could become good friends through music. That’s just crazy to me. I thought that was so cool. So that was my first experience touring. Another great thing about that is we flew to every show. Which, for anyone who doesn’t know about touring, it’s not very likely you get to do that. It was very cool but it was also very hard. Because if you play two shows in a row and one day you’re in Russia and the next day you’re in Spain. I’d get back and get 3 hours sleep in the hotel then the lobby calls and I go to the airport and try to sleep on the plane and get to the next city and play the show. Luckily we were back-lining so everything would be set up. But we’d get there and I’d have to sound check then I’d go take a nap then play the show. It was crazy. But it really was so much fun. My first time touring. I was like “is this what touring is like?” And they said, “sometimes”…(laughs) I was the youngest in the band too so they were all really helpful. Our music director, he was like my big bro. He took care of me. He’d been touring for a very long time and it was my first time so whenever I had any questions I was like, “dude, help me” and he was always willing to help.
Gary: That’s great. Good to have someone like that to show you the ropes.
Tosh: Definitely. So aside from Nik West and Carlie Hanson I also did a pretty big tour with Mario Biondi. He’s an Italian pop jazz singer. That was crazy because we were playing sold out shows for 5000 to 10,000 people all over Italy. It was so nice. I had a drum tech that was taking care of everything. I got fed really well. It was just so cool. I was in an all Italian band so I really got to experience Italy. I was basically living in Italy for 6 weeks. We had rehearsal for 2 weeks and then we toured Italy for 4 weeks. It was great being in one country for that long and it’s not that huge. Every show was 1 hour from the last one so it was an amazing way to see Italy. Those were the 3 main touring bands I’ve played with.
Tosh with Nik West:
Gary: It seems at this point, being 18 years old, you’ve formed a career in music. Do you have any specific career goals or are you just going for whatever comes your way?
Tosh: Yeah. I’m a big dreamer. I’m always dreaming about what I want to do. But that changes all the time. I love playing with Carlie and she does well but I see so many different things. I’d love to be in a rock band…but I don’t know. I don’t really have a planned out thing of what I want to do. I just want to be able to keep playing the drums for the rest of my life and be able to support my family doing it.
Gary: Well, you’re certainly off to a good start with that. Do you write any music or have aspirations to form your own band?
Tosh: I don’t really write music but I do record drum parts that I think of. I’m always playing music with people and who knows what might happen. I love the drums though. I’m not really a singer or songwriter. And thinking of forming my own band is kind of intimidating. I would love to be in a band but I haven’t thought about how. I kind of go with the flow. Right now my biggest goal…I’d love to go tour with Bon Jovi, that’d be great. I’d love to play for a big rock band. Also, playing with Carlie as she gets bigger and bigger would be great. I don’t really have one main goal.
Gary: On this recent Carlie tour how long were you out for?
Tosh: Well, we’ve been going really solidly since September. We were on tour opening Troye Sivan, who’s really popular right now, so we were playing big theaters all over the U.S. I was doing that from beginning October to mid November and I only came home for a few days and then I flew to Italy to do the tour with Mario Beondi for 6 weeks. I missed Christmas and stuff. Then I came home for about a week then I left with Carlie again for another month. This last tour we were out for about six weeks. That’s been pretty much the schedule. Come home for 5 days then go back out then home for a few days then back out. After we finished this last tour we went to New York for a few days to film some stuff and do a label performance for Carlie’s new record label, Warner Brothers. Now that I’m home I kind of took the summer off. I’ve turned things down just so I can be at home and practice and be with my family. Obviously if Carlie asked me to do something I would do it. We have 2 festivals we’re doing this summer so not too much. So I’m chilling pretty much all summer.
Gary: Do you have any tips for young drummers who want to establish a career in music? Any advice?
Tosh: My whole thing is that I practice all the time and I still do practice all the time. All day every day. And I just wanted to be so good that I could play anything. I think that’s really important. And it’s also really important to have your own style. If you just try to be someone else that may be cool but that’s not going to get you noticed or get people to want you to play drums for them. A lot of times when you’re a hired gun you’re in the back and you’re wearing all black and you’re playing this part. Most the time a person wants to be in a band so they don’t have to do that. I’ve been really lucky where I’ve never had to that, ever. I’ve always gotten calls from bands that say, “okay, you can wear your crazy colors. You can be shirtless. You can be totally crazy and play like you play.” And so I’ve always got that call because I’ve got my own style. It’s me. When people hire me they know they’re getting my style. They’re not getting some guy whose going to just sit in the back. Many times people do want someone who just sits in the back and play a part. But for me, how it’s worked, is that they hired me because they knew what they were getting. They wanted that crazy, shirtless, maniac drummer. With every gig, Mario, Nik West and Carlie it’s all been like that. Me doing my thing.
Gary: What is your drum set up?
Tosh: My set up changes a lot. Recently it’s been the same longer that it has been in the past. (laughs) I’ve been playing a 12” rack and 16” floor. One up one down. A 14” snare. And then the kick drum changes a lot. Right now my favorite is 26” x 13” Buddy Love drum. I’m playing a whole Love kit right now. Buddy Love is just so cool and he makes amazing drums. This kit, I’m actually sitting behind it right now as I’m talking to you, is a 12” x 7” rack tom, 16” x 14” floor tom and a 26” x 13” bass drum. It’s all aluminum, which is really cool. It just sounds amazing. And then I’m playing this Diamond piccolo snare. It’s been my favorite snare since I got it, about a year ago. It’s so bad ass. It’s 14” x 5” maple snare. It’s the best sounding drum I’ve ever played. I’ve used it on all my touring. I’ve played this snare drum all over the world. Also, recently the guys at DW got me a PDP Concept kit for this last tour that we just did and it’s awesome. It’s 3 racks and 2 floor toms, which is way more than I ever play but I was way fun to set it up at home and play with it. On the tour I just brought the 12” rack tom and 16” floor tom and a 22” bass drum which I’m not used to because I love really big bass drums, so it was fun to get use to the 22”. But my set up is always pretty similar with 1 rack, 1 floor, kick and snare.
Gary: I have to ask you what sticks your use. I know you use to use extra long sticks?
Tosh: Yeah. When I was younger I played super big sticks. I played the metal end sticks by Vic Firth, they’re 18” and bigger than a 2B. They’re huge. But I downsized about 2 years ago. My good friend De’Mar Hamilton, he’s such a good drummer. He said, “man, aren’t you getting tired playing those drum sticks?” I said, “yeah, I am.” and he was like, “try mine”. He has a signature drum stick which is just an extreme 5B. So I tried those and I loved them. So I called up my rep and Vic Firth and I said, “dude, I’m not getting metal ends anymore. I want to try these new ones.” I got a whole brick of them and tried for a month and I’m never going back. So now I play the Vic Firth Extreme 5B.
Tosh: And cymbals I forgot to talk about. I’m always switching up my cymbals. It’s always Zildjan. I don’t play anything but Zildjian. I like somewhat bigger cymbals. 19” crashes. I really like the 23” A Suite Ride. A New Beat 15” Hi Hats. I like brighter cymbals so A’s and A customs.
Gary: Anything else you want to add?
Tosh: Not really. I’m just loving what I’m doing. It’s just so cool. This is so weird, I get paid to travel and play drums. It’s like, that doesn’t make any sense. It’s just so much fun for me.
Gary: Thanks Tosh for taking the time to talk with me today. You’re career in drumming is very exciting and I’ll forward to hearing from you soon!
Essential links: (Tosh’s Instagram is the best place to see his drumming)
Carlie Hanson with Tosh “The Drummer”