Nicholas Mason, the “Living Dead Drummer”, is a professional touring and studio drummer based out of Los Angeles. He has performed on countless albums, singles and movie soundtracks, appeared in several music videos, orchestrated drum clinics, co-hosted an international music TV show, and makes regular appearances in percussion trade magazines such as DRUM! & Modern Drummer.
He has a WIDE array of credits to his name from the likes of glam-rockers TUFF to country star Shania Twain to Corey Feldman. He’s appeared on GLEE, Cartoon Network, Fox, Showtime and more. We’d like to thank him for allowing us to dig a bit deeper into his rich and unique career.
Hello and thanks for the interview. Can we start by asking about who your initial drummer influences were and when did you start playing?
Thanks for having me! I started officially playing in the early 90’s. I had always had a Snare Drum and bucket of sticks at home. My Mother played a bit, as well as just about everyone in her family. So Drums were always around, but I didn’t start taking lessons until around 1993. The drummers who were super hot in that era are the ones that I was paying really close attention too. Metallica ruled the rock world, so Lars was a big influence on me, as well as John Tempesta, who at the time was playing for White and later Rob Zombie. Joey Kramer from Aerosmith was probably at the top of my list. Granted he already had a well-established career, but Aerosmith’s work in the 90’s is what turned me onto them.
How did you get the name, “Living Dead Drummer?”
Back in 2016 the Coffin Case Company was celebrating their 20th anniversary during the winter NAMM show. Jonny Coffin, the companies owner, called me about a month ahead of time as said he would like me to be involved. I wasn’t exactly sure how I could do that. While I do use plenty of Coffin Case products, they are primarily known for guitar accessories. For as long as I can remember the always did a heavy metal fashion show, with alternative models doing runway. The idea for my involvement ended up with me and another drummer flanking the runways stage playing live drums to all of the hard rock and metal music that the girls walk to. They had us all dressed up like these zombie corpses, it was really badass! It was backstage at that show where I was first referred to as “Living Dead Drummer.” The light bulb just went off over my head, and I took it and ran with it.
What were the differences in experiences like in some of the bands you’ve played with…like let’s say specifically TUFF and Shania Twain?
Those are two drastically different bands! TUFF is a group of really fun guys. They don’t take themselves too serious. They know the career peek is behind them, and they are thankful that enough people still love them enough to pack in some shows. I started out just filling in on a couple dates for a friend of mine who was the regular guy, but after that I’d get a call every so often asking if I could jump on a handful of dates. Low budget van tours, or local gigs, but always with a good turn out, and lots of fun.
Shania is a whole different entity. I only did some regional stuff, not extended touring. Years ago they had a segment in the show where they wanted additional percussionists. Rather than hiring a group of guys from Nashville or LA they decided to just hire local drummers in every area they went. I had to audition first, and the touring band hand selected whom they wanted. Shania never really interacted with anyone offstage. She was kind of kept in her dressing room, and the band had theirs. Only time I interacted with her was on stage. She didn’t even do sound check with us. But that’s how those big tours typically are. When I was in high school I used to hang around with the Goo Goo Dolls, and spend a lot of time backstage at their shows, and really observed how a large production worked. It gave me the insight, and knowledge to be prepared for the big machines. So I wasn’t surprised by Shania’s production how it all worked. It did give me my first experience playing an arena, and for many years that was the largest crowd I had been in front of.
You just signed a new management deal. How’d you hook up with them and what do you hope they accomplish for you?
Yes, Music Gallery International. It started with me going after a specific gig. I’ve always been good and finding out who is changing up drummer chairs. Be it the drummer of band “x” quits, or gets let go, or whatever. Problem is if you don’t already have a foot in the door with whatever artist, then it’s next to impossible to do anything about it. Personal recommendations are always how people land the best jobs. It’s not who you know, it’s who knows YOU! So I find out “drummer so, and so” quit band “x.” and I instantly jump on the phone calling everyone I know who might have an “in.” While speaking with an industry friend about it he says, “Ya know, I don’t know anyone in that camp, but my manager does, let me call him.” From that I was introduced to Shawn Barush at MGI and he expressed an interest in representing me, specifically with the intent of kind of headhunting these types of gigs.
I didn’t jump on it right away. I always like to be well informed of the situations first, so I did my research. Hit up everyone I knew that knew this Shawn guy, and thankfully we happen to have a lot of mutual friends. Everyone, every single person I spoke with, came back and told me he was a good dude, and would work hard for me. So I called him back up the next day and said, “let’s do it!”
I work best when I’m on the road. I genuinely enjoy traveling, and being on tour. Recording and Teaching are great, and I don’t dislike them, but living on a bus, and playing a different stage everything night is truly my happy place. MGI’s working to help build my brand, and make my name more well known and circulated among the right people, as well as try to land more touring opportunities. Because I’m not a “band” it’s a bit of a different aspect than how a typical management deal operates.
What are some of the brands you endorsed? And what’s your recommendation for drummers seeking endorsements?
I currently endorse Yamaha Acoustic & DTX Drums, Paiste Cymbals, Regal Tip Drumsticks, Aquarian Drumheads, Coffin Case, Cympad, Zombie Killer Clothing, Ahead Accessories, and Kick Pro Bass Drum Pillows.
If I could give one single piece of advice, its play what you love. Don’t go and contact ten drumstick companies hoping to strike a deal with one of them. Contact the one you love and want to play, your ride or die. If it’s a no, don’t move onto the next. Stay with it, stay with them. A no right now doesn’t always mean a no forever, and as you’re career grows doors may be opened.
I do consultations on the side for artists looking to partner with companies in a professional manner. Helping them to have the best presentation possible, but also managing expectations of what these music companies are looking for in an endorsing artist. And YOU, the artist, endorse the brand, not the other way around. No one is “endorsed” by brand “x.”
How have you been dealing with the corona virus situation? Virtual drum lessons perhaps? What else?
Yes, virtual drum lessons have been going strong. I had already been doing a handful of online drum lessons the last few years anyway, but as soon as they shut things down in LA I immediately got on it for all my other students. Did a full upgrade to my private studio with webcams, and mics.
I’ve also been doing a lot of remote recording sessions and some collaboration videos. I’m set up for full multi tracking, and am in the middle of production on five different records with artists from all over North America. Artists email me demos, and scratch tracks. I do all the drum tracks at my place, recording, editing, and EQing, then I just Email them back.
A lot of people have also been into doing virtual performances on Social Media. I’ve done a bunch of them, some are out now, and a few others are still getting the finishing touches added. They are more for fun in what little spare time I have.
What’s unique about your stage and studio set-up that perhaps other artists may not have?
Well my studio setup is more or less the same for every record I do. I have a beautiful Yamaha Recording Custom from the late 80’s that I use on probably 98% of everything I do. My cymbal setup for recording stays the same the majority of the time too, Paiste 2002’s. I will change out my Snare Drums up depending on the needs of the song. I have a good variety of snares to choose from, most of them custom.
My live setups are truly unique. I got on this kick a couple years ago with color-coding my kits. My main set is black. Like, all black. Black shells, black heads, black hardware, back cymbals, and even black drumsticks. Only the brand logos are white, giving it a nice contrast.
And I just got a new kit that’s even more unique. It’s all white, with blood spatter and bloody hand-prints all over the shells. Paiste makes these red cymbals, and I got a set in the same models as my black ones. It’s a really beautiful bright red. We gave one of them to Yamaha and asked them to color match them for the red paint we were going to use for the blood. So the carpets match the drapes! The kit was finished this past February, and I’ve been dying to get it on a stage. The only time I’ve played them was for the promotional photo shoot. Since they’ve just been sitting on the shelf in my studio due to the Corona lock-down.
What’s the plan for the forthcoming months given we might see much change in the current climate?
I plan on further expanding my teaching practice; being that it’s all remote I can potentially accept students from anyplace. As mentioned before I’m in the middle of a bunch of recording projects, those will probably keep me occupied for a while, but I’m always looking for more. I like having a really full schedule, and because everyone’s tours have been cancelled there isn’t really an option for live performance. Recording has become the dominant means of staying active with your instrument, so I’m leaning into it hard.
Have you ever had any funny stage mishaps and if so, how did you deal with them?
Oh, I have a few. I’ve got a buddy who I frequently perform with in Street Drum Corps, Jared; he’s the drummer for the Guana Batz. Jared likes to goes out of his way to mess with me on stage. There was one time in particular I could easily write a book on just our misadventures. Form the time we dragged rusty oil drums and trash cans dripping with neon paint through the lobby of a 5 Star Hotel, to being dressed like clowns in 8” platform boots and falling over multiple times in a crowd of 100,000 people.
But the time that sticks out as one of my favorites came about 5 years ago. We were doing an annual Halloween show. It’s supposed to be super edgy punk rock. Full makeup, Mohawks, and really aggressive industrial music. We had a song in the show that featured a didgeridoo. None of us know how to really play one, so we had to fake it. The actual audio was a sample, and placed on a backing track. Jared had made a Didge out of PVC pipe as a prop, and during the song he would mime it. However, he liked to do more than just mime, he would come up to me and make horse noises thought it right in my ear! Every single time, I would have to put my head down and turn away from the audience because I was laughing so hard. Like, cry laughing, right in the middle of the song while I’m supposed to be acting all hard and rock star.
Thank you Jared for the memories.