NAME Nikki Glaspie
LIVES IN New Jersey
PAST BANDS Sam Kenninger Band, Martin Luther, Andre Ward, State Radio, Dave Fiucynski, Beyonce
CURRENT BANDS Dumpstaphunk
DAY JOB Drumming
Drum Kit Set up
DRUMS Yamaha Maple Absolute Custom
Yamaha 10, 12, 16, 18 inch toms, 22 inch Kick, 14 inch snare
By the time rhythm wunderkind Nikki Glaspie was eight years old, she was already the full-time drummer in her church. She continued on to study at the reputable Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, and she hasn’t slowed down since. While she has plenty of her own projects, Nikki has also toured with the likes of Beyoncé, Chaka Kahn, Jay-Z and George Michael, among many other star musicians. It is her keen ability to play across genres that makes her truly unique. This drummer, composer, producer took a moment from her busy schedule while at Jazz Fest in New Orleans to answer some questions for Tom Tom about what makes her tick.
Tom Tom Magazine: Something that grabs me when reading about you is your versatility; you’ve played with the best of all these worlds: pop, funk, gospel, jazz. I was wondering if you could tell me about where this versatility comes from.
Nikki Glaspie: I grew up playing in church and gospel music is very versatile. It has all sorts of genres included in it, you know? There’s funk, there’s some Latin stuff, there’s anything that you want, and that’s kind of the cool thing about gospel is that it doesn’t really matter what’s happening in the song. Because it’s about God or Jesus, that makes it gospel.
That must have been a perfect introduction into what would eventually become your career.
Totally. I’m just learning that you have to play everything because you get more work. I’ve been called for all sorts of gigs, and I’m like, is it paying? If it’s payin’ then I’m playin’.
Do you tend to gravitate towards one genre more than others?
Yes, definitely funk.
It must be a dream come true playing with Dumstaphunk then.
Yeah it is! Right now we’re at Jazz Fest in New Orleans. It’s probably the most hectic ten days of the year; my band’s playing down here, I’m doing a few all star things with Josh Porter Jr., Robert Walter, Eddie Roberts, Jennifer Hartswick. I’m playing with a bunch of cats, all from different bands.
I know you have so much experience playing with your idols at this point in your career, but are there still people you’re nervous to see on stage next to you or perhaps in the audience?
No, I just get a surreal feeling. It’s like, I’m on stage with Chaka Khan! She’s like my favorite singer in the world. It doesn’t make me nervous.
Improvising is one of your strong suits. Did that start at Berklee School of
Music where you were studying, or was it earlier?
It started in Berklee. There’s this club that I used to go to call Wally’s that was like the training ground, like a cesspool for musicians. Most of it was improvisational music. We would have an idea, like let’s play Watermelon Man, but we wouldn’t play it straight, we’d use a different beat or reharmonize it, or play something else under it and just use that melody.
I know you were exposed to rock later in life and remember reading that John Bonham of Led Zeppelin is one of your favorite drummers. What is it that attracts you to rock music, as it’s so different from your Berkley background of jazz improvisation?
Well that’s exactly it (laughing)! It’s so different from jazz; it’s the exact opposite. I like it because there’s a heartbeat, so to speak. With funk, it’s like a train that just keeps going. It’s like chugga-chugga-chugga and it does not stop. Rock is in your face and for a drummer it’s awesome to just bash the drums. I think Led Zeppelin is probably the greatest band of all time. I’m a big fan of Dave Grohl as well. He’s just an exceptional musician. You could bring him on stage and hand him a cowbell and he would make the whole musical experience better, because he’s just a musical kind of guy. He plays everything and it’s obvious that he just hears a bunch of crazy stuff in his head.
Maybe he’ll see this interview and play cowbell on your next album.
I would love that. You got to put it in there because I’m trying to find him, I don’t know where to find him!
What about the world tours you did with Beyonce; were they as glamorous as people think they would be?
No, they were definitely not as glamorous as people think. There’s the saying the grass is greener, you know. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world, well maybe three million dollars (laughs). I went to places that I didn’t even know existed, and the traveling was so awesome, but I was not home at all. My friends thought I’d dropped off the face of the planet and I’m like, yeah I’m on a year and a half tour.
What’s your idea of glamour then, as a musician?
Personally, my idea of glamour would be making music and money with the people that I want to play with and spreading peace and love through the music. There’s so much going on right now that people don’t even realize. We’re traumatized every day, when we turn on the news or hear about shootings, so if I can reach one person at a time and help them with my music, because we all need help, then that’s glamour to me.
That’s very well put. In general, do you feel like a role model? What about to female drummers specifically?
I do feel like a role model, which is really strange to hear coming from my mouth, but yeah, I am. And I hope that I’m the role model that their parents want them to have (laughs).
What advice do you give these young women?
I give them life advice, mostly. Just for the simple fact that women don’t even realize that we can do anything. If we can give birth, if we can have a human being pop out of our bodies, then we are capable of anything. And so I try to express that to young females because the imagery that they see on MTV and elsewhere is so messed up.
What’s next for you? What are your immediate and long-term goals as a drummer?
My immediate goal is just to keep doing what I’m doing; touring and getting in front of more audiences, to build a fan base. Long term, I want to tour with my band, which is difficult because of gas prices. Musicians are probably the only people besides truck drivers that sit in a car and just drive; like that’s our life (laughs). I’d like to tour with my own band and release my own music. More so than that, my goal is to spread the message of love and peace through music. If that becomes contagious, then the world will be fine.
By Nathan McKee
Photos by Bex Wade