Ryan Van Poederooyen: Talkin’ Heavy With The Drummer For Devy
Ryan Van Poederooyen, aka RVP, has been around the block a few times as long-time drummer of The Devin Townsend Project and is also a highly accomplished session player. Last week saw Ryan and Hevy Devy schleppin’ on down to Australia accompanied by new age kings Periphery, and now that this unmissable prog extravaganza has wrapped up, RVP will embark on his own series of drum and music industry clinics where the seasoned skinsman will share some serious knowledge bombs from his years on the road and in the studio. We sent our resident BLUNT drum dude Daniel Furnari to pick his brain.
Good to have you on the phone Ryan! I’d like to give you a big chance to plug this run of post-tour clinics that you’re hosting while you’re out here! I understand these are a little different to what we might be used to be seeing in a clinic. What exactly will you be going over in these workshops?
I’ve done drum clinics before and I’ve done the… I don’t wanna say “typical”, but I get bored when I go to a drum clinic and they kind of just talk about drumming exercises, then demonstrate them and give you a piece of sheet music and that’s basically it. I’ve done that, and I know a lot of people that do it like that, but this time, I didn’t want it to be a drummers-only clinic; I’m trying to gear it towards any musician or music lover. I’ll do some stuff about my life and career, but from there I’ll be delving towards things like how to prepare for what happens when you get that “big break”; talk about my endorsements and how they work and how to work towards getting them; my songwriting approach; and talk about touring and health and positivity and how to maintain those when you’re living that life. I want to educate and inspire people, and to have them feeling great when they leave.
It’s great to have musicians discussing the need for good mental health practices on tour. What kind of tips do you have for staying in a healthy state of mind when you’re on the road?
You know what, first and foremost, as cliché as it sounds, it’s just a matter of believing in yourself. People are always complaining that the music industry is tough; well you know what, if you say it’s tough, it’s gonna be tough. One of my friends said to me once that doing well in the music industry is like winning the lottery, but I realised the difference between me and him was that I never regarded music as a lottery and as a result I never stopped working my arse off, trying to work harder than everybody else.
Matt Halpern from Periphery has developed a really great name for himself as a drummer and drum clinician over the last few years as well. With you guys being on tour together, is there any chance of you collaborating on a clinic at some point in the future?
Oh yeah, Matt is an absolutely phenomenal drummer, and his knowledge of theory is so huge too – there’s so much that he can teach you! I have nothing but positive things to say about him and Periphery as musicians and as dudes too! And it’s funny you mention that, we were in Europe and we did some in-store appearances together, and he actually suggested us working out something together. It would be so cool if we can get the schedules and timing to match up. And the great part is that our styles are completely different, which means it would make an awesome clinic.
Let’s chat a bit about your history. For you as a drummer, who were some of your earliest influences?
Right away when I started playing as a kid my biggest influence was Neil Peart [Rush], and everyone at that time when I was growing up was like, “Oh, you gotta learn to play Neil Peart’s stuff!” Another big one was when I went to a Rush concert and opening for them was Primus, and I watched Tim Alexander taking things to a whole new level. Pantera and Vinnie Paul, who had this killer groove to all of his playing… Those three drummers really shaped me and I took things from them until I found my own thing, because of course you don’t want be like anyone else at the end of the day. There are plenty of other drummers still influencing me too – my favourite at the moment is Gavin Harrison from Porcupine Tree. He’s a freak of nature!
Agreed! Jumping forward a bit from there, how did your working relationship with Devin begin?
It was interesting because I was not a Strapping Young Lad fan at all, it was so noisy, and Gene [Hoglan] is an amazing drummer but I couldn’t even tell what he was doing half the time, it was so hard to listen to for me. But then the bassist of my band at the time, who was a huge Strapping fan and loved Devin, showed me Ocean Machine and I fell in love with it and I was like, “Who IS this?” and I couldn’t believe it when he told me this was the guy from Strapping! And then you wouldn’t believe this, literally a week later, Devin called me, a week after I’d started listening to his solo work. And he was looking for new members to be the Devin Townsend Band. He’d gone around to a bunch of players and producers to ask for recommendations for drummers and apparently my name kept coming up. We jammed, and I remember we hadn’t even finished a whole song and he told me, “You’re the guy”. The connection between the drums and him and the way he wanted the song to groove was just right, and that’s where it all started and the rest as they say is history!
How does the writing of drums work in The Devin Townsend Project? Does Devin write a lot of the drum parts himself or is a lot of it left up to you to interpret?
Well Devin basically demos everything, with rough kick and snare ideas of how he wants it to go. From there I write parts around that, using his stuff as a basis. But there are other times where I’ve written central parts for songs and had songwriting credits or where I’ve come in and suggested a new drum part for a section Devin had previously written quite differently. Devin has a great mind for drums though and we work really well together.
A lot of the compositions in the band are very ambitious and require a very dynamic approach to the drums to complement the instrumentation of different sections. What’s your mission statement when it comes to playing drums for TDTP?
It’s very simple: always play for the song. I feel I’m a very musical drummer, and I’m always listening to vocal parts and the bassline and guitar lines. That’s part of the reason why I have a large number of cymbals too, they have different tone colours and pitches and intensity levels that I use to match a certain part of a song. I’m always looking to complement the music, rather than just blow my load and do fills every 10 seconds.
You have a pretty strong resumé of session work under your belt too – how did you first become involved in session playing?
It just came naturally because I wanted to do more, and not just playing as a member of bands. So what I did was I offered myself to studios in my city for work as a session drummer, and they brushed me off and said, “Yeah, you and a hundred other drummers…” and I said, “I’ll tell you what, I’ll come in and do a session for free. And if you like it and the band likes it, then you hire me.” So one studio took me up on that, and I nailed it, and that’s basically how my session career began.
What are some of the benefits to you as a player from doing session playing?
It’s the diversity – I’ve done country, I’ve done metal, I’ve done pop and rock. So having to learn different styles of music is such a good thing. A lot of metal drummers are incredible drummers, but struggle to play pop music because they want to keep busy and add fills everywhere but all that’s required is to play four-on-the-floor beats.
For people who want to get into that line of work, what are the most important attributes for a good session drummer?
First thing I would say is learn to play to a click – every job is gonna require you to play with a click and you’d be surprised how many drummers have a problem with that. That’s why I make my drum students do every lesson with a click. Another thing is to come in prepared with what I call a “bag of tricks” – and what that means is a big bank of fills that can work with different styles of music. Sometimes a part calls for you to add a fill of your own and the producer will basically ask, “What’s your bag-of-tricks fill?” And listen to every kind of music – listen to it casually, study it, learn it, play it, all of that. Figure out why a certain drum part was right for that song and that genre.
You’ve been doing progressive metal with Devin for over 13 years, and obviously for a good time before that, so you’ve seen a lot of trends come and go. What do you think the factors are in this band staying ahead of the curve?
I’ve gotta give all credit to Devin there because he writes most of the music, and the answer is similar to what I was just saying about session work – it’s about diversity, and Devin listens to such a wide variety of music. He’ll listen to classical, blues, reggae, metal, everything, and as a result he is always coming up with different music. He loves music so much that he’s always trying to put all of his loves into his different projects. I have to give credit to him for just not giving a shit and always doing what he’s gonna do! We’re set to do an album early next year and most of us have no idea what it will even sound like yet! He keeps us on our toes like that [laughs].
Ryan Van Poederooyen Drum Masterclass Tour Dates
Mon Nov 2nd – The Gov, Adelaide
Tue Nov 3rd – Wesley Conference Centre, Sydney
Wed Nov 4th – Princess Theatre, Brisbane
Fri Nov 6th – Gasworks Theatre, Melbourne
Sun Nov 8th – John Inverarity Theatre, Perth