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Interview with Eric Hernandez

Posted by Maisie . on 2nd December 2012

Hi Guys hope all is well? It’s been a while I know! But believe me the wait is worth it!! Early on in the summer I was fortunate enough to meet up none other than Eric Hernandez, the fantastic sticks-man behind the likes of Bruno Mars, Taio Cruz, Travie McCoy etc… And he gave me an insight into just how gruelling it can be on tour with some of the worlds major artists, and how to be successful in the music business!

I read that you started playing professionally at the age of 10?

“Professionally yes, but started at 4. I come from a musical family, my dads a percussionist, Bruno is my little brother, and we grew up in Hawaii. In Hawaii tourism is huge obviously, and so my dad ran a show out there. It was called ‘The Love Notes Show’ and was a 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s review. It was a family operation, so when I started young he wouldn’t put me on the stage to play even though I was a drummer, but I would be either running lights or selling tickets for the show that night. Finally at the age of 10 after enough begging he put me on, and I was well received by the band as well as him and the audience, so it became a thing. He put me in and then later on down the line it was Bruno’s turn and he came as a vocalist/Impersonator.”

Was it your Dad who planted the seed for you becoming a drummer?

“Absolutely! As you know he was a percussionist, when I was growing up he had steady gigs 6 nights a week, as a percussionist before ‘The Love Notes Show’. He would take me to his gigs, and if you’re familiar with Hawaii, you know there’s Hula dancing and Tahitian dancing, so they have these percussion instruments called Toeres and every night I’d get to go with him to the gig I would sit under the stand of the instrument. However, I was always fixated on the traps drummer, I was watching the drummer the whole time, and he knew that and figured that I wasn’t into percussion. So at 4 he finally bought me a drum set, and its been that ever since!”

'the one thing I am proud of, is I play the music’

Wow, that’s awesome! So have you had any formal training? Did you go to college and study music, or is it all self taught?

“It’s all self-taught. I’m not proud of that, to an extent I am. What happened was for me being thrown into an opportunity to be a professional musician at 10, in a family business gave me a taste of that life. Therefore, I wouldn’t say I’d made it in my mind, but was like ‘OK I’m already doing this’. I developed as years went by, I got better and better, and so at the time it was ‘I’m too cool to go to jazz band class or take even high school marching band’. I regret that now, and I wish I had taken those courses, but if truth be told, at the time I really didn’t have time. It was either get my school work done, study and go work at night, get off at 11pm, sleep then get up for school again, so there really wasn’t time for the after school stuff, but I sure wish I did it. I sure wish I did college education and pursue music and I’d tell anybody to do that. Being self-taught is cool, but definitely everybody has different ideas and you learn from that. I mean I have lessons now, I’m behind a curve ball. Fortunately I’ve got a good gig and have always had good gigs so I’m not complaining, but it if I could do it over again, I would definitely take some higher education class!”

So who do you have lessons with?

“Right now, Dave Elitch. He’s become a friend but he’s also a phenomenal player, he’s very about proper technique. He’s taking me back to basics, as I’m doing everything ‘technically wrong’ but it works for me, so when I first had a lesson I remember telling him it felt like it was the first time I’d picked up a pair of drum sticks, because he’s that good! He’s definitely a mentor. I do a lot of YouTube research, because everything is on the Internet. There’s so many YouTube phenomena’s that are incredible drummers that I just watch and rewind, re-watch it, and attempt to do it myself, and just stuff like that. And on the business side Ben Davies from Vic Firth is very business savvy and always opens my eyes to self promotion. Oh, Brian Frasier Moore is a mentor of mine too, we have had great conversations, we did a couple of gigs together on a Christmas run and he kind of took me under his wing a bit and gave me some advice on self confidence and career longevity. So I definitely grab from different people!”

Is there any one particular thing, playing wise, that you concentrated on while growing up?

“I had pretty broad spectrum at the time. Growing up in Hawaii there’s a lot of reggae music, so I heard that a lot, that gets pounded into your head, not even if you’re listening to it, you’ll hear your neighbors playing it or in a truck passing by. It’s kind of an island way of life if you will. Then I did the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s soul review so I’d play the different r’n’b styles to the doo wop, then I started taking Latin gigs. I always kind of kept myself where I learned enough to touch on everything, I may not have been able to master it, I may not be able to sit in a true jazz drummers chair but I could get by without insulting the genre of music. Groove and pocket is definitely important to me. The reason being, being in the ‘Love Note Show’ at 10 through to 18, I was an excited young musician and here I am playing doo wop music which is basically ‘bum cha bum cha’ I would start to try and make it a little bit more funky, I’d see Steve Gadd or David Garibaldi do something so I wanted to try that, but then I had the older guys in the band and musical director say ‘hey! Wait! You’re not playing the music, that’s cool, but that’s not I want or need from you’. So I started getting scolded, I wasn’t playing with dynamics I was just playing loud and bashing on the snare, I used to get complaints to the point where I almost wanted to cry! All I wanted to do was play the drums! So one thing that I took from that gig, that molded me into the musician I am today, the one thing I am proud of, is I play the music! If Bruno has these songs on his album and he wants it interpreted in a certain way, I interpret the way he wants it, he’s my boss technically. Of course I hear fills or I wanna do stuff that me and guys experiment with and Bruno will look back and say ‘hey! That’s too much, play the song’. So the truth of the fact is, groove is important to me, pocket playing, and playing for the artist, building that foundation for the song and helping that song move you know, build from the verse to the pre to the chorus! It’s really all about the music. I’ve played with play back tracks and click tracks from a young age and that has taught me that you can’t really stray into the left field or right field, you gotta stay right down the middle. Honestly as many phenomenal drummer there are out there that play 32nd notes at every measure and licks and chops, its great and I think its fantastic for me to hear, but the audience doesn’t always care about that, they wanna hear the song!”

How do you practice, do have any particular routine?

“I do practice, I’ve built a drum room here in the house, I like to sit in there by myself and watch YouTube and videos that I have of other drummers and I’ll see something that I like, and try and emulate that, and I’ll find something in that process that is kind of my own, my way of approaching that lick. Sometimes I put music on and I’ll play to music like I used to, that’s how I grew up. Then I’ll sometimes call friends over and do the shed thing and trade with other guys, I’ve learned a lot that way too!”

What’s it like working with your brother?

“It’s great! At the end of the day if you have family that gets along who wouldn’t want to have this type of experience with a family member? Fortunately for him and for me, his business, his music, has been successful. His music has become my vehicle for traveling the world, seeing and playing in beautiful places, playing in front of thousands of people, being on TV. I’m 10 years older than him, and I came out to California to pursue my dreams, he followed and now we’re living them together. I mean at the same time, sometimes it sucks that he’s my boss and he’s my little bother and I wanna punch him out! Ha ha! But, he’s smart, he knows what he’s talking about!”

'we all have to remember what we have to offer and be proud of what can do and accept that we can always keep learning’

I know your brother plays drums sometimes on stage. Who’s the better drummer?

“Oh me, hands down! He’s a good all-around musician; he can dabble in a lot of instruments where I can’t. As far as drums, he has the feel, but yea I’d kick his ass.”

Who’s the better singer?

“Definitely him!”

What set up do you use on the road with Bruno and how does it differ from other acts that you’ve worked with like Taio Cruz, etc.?

“With Bruno, it started as I was using a traditional 5-piece kit but with fusion sizes, I was even going as small as 8”, 10”, and 12”. But back then I was packing the wrong gear for the music; I was setting up like the fusion drummers and gospel guys. I quickly realized that with Bruno’s music was a certain look, so I swapped for a 12 inch rack and two floor toms. I gear my setup now towards what the sound of the record is. For example, I feel this next tour will be more driven music, more up tempo. So I might do two up top but offset – a 10 and a 12 – and then a 16/18 floor. Right now I’m using DW drums, Sabian cymbals, Vic Firth, and Remo.”

Is there any reason why you moved from Pearl to DW?

“Pearl’s been good to me. Pearl was probably my first drum set as a kid. However I had moved to LA with a DW kit I bought back in 1992, and I laid out my aspirations: “I’m gonna get an endorsement from Drum Workshop one day, an endorsement from Sabian cymbals one day, and Vic Firth sticks, I’m gonna be in Modern Drummer and play on Saturday Night Live, etc.” Well I didn’t have enough exposure at the time and Pearl took a leap of faith with me and gave me my first endorsement so I do appreciate them for that, and they make great products. But when the opportunity from DW presented itself, it was like a check off my bucket list. Plus DW is also a great product, and the best thing is that they’re located here in California!”

Do you use any electronics?

“Yes. With the Bruno show, there is no playback so I’m the drummer/percussionist/effects. We use a sampler pads and I trigger some samples from the record, some 808 sounds. We experimented some with triggers on the snare, but more so I just hit the pad. I may expand but I’m kind of a cave man when it comes to programming my electronics, thank God for my drum tech.”

How do you prepare for a tour in respects of gear and being away from the family?

“Gig/gear aspect, I try to get all the music together before tour rehearsals so that I have a working knowledge of the music; I like to hear where the album is going. I get in my room on my kit and learn the record verbatim. Then at tour rehearsals, changes are made but at least I’ve got a working knowledge of the record. Based on the sound of the record, we’ll choose the cymbals. Based on the kit set-up, we’ll choose the drum heads and it goes from there. Family is the hard part – my son is two years old now and figuring out that when the suitcase comes out, I’m leaving for a period of time. The last time, he sat on my suitcase and it just breaks my heart. We try to spend as much time as we can with each other and enjoy it and I wanna make sure I don’t miss things, but thank God for technology like Skype. I also have a great support system; my wife knows this is what we have to do for our family and its how I make a living, I’ve got a great family unit and that takes a lot of weight off me. But if it weren’t for Skype, and I couldn’t see my family, I probably would quit the business.”

So can touring get quite hectic?

“When we played Carlisle we were on tour and we left the United States after a show in Arizona, flew to Newcastle, did the Radio One Big Weekend Show the next day and flew the next morning back on tour. So we went from the west coast here, did that one hit, came all the way back and got right back into it. That’s common so sometimes you’re like “Where am I?””

Are you very involved in molding a show, like an MD kind of role?

“Yes and no. We have a good MD, but there are times when I suggest something and they’re open to making it a part of the arrangement. We’re a nine piece band and we’re like a family and everyone has different musical backgrounds. At the end of the day though, Bruno works closely with the MD to create the show and not just relying on the MD. He’s very involved with everything, from the recording process to live performances, to what we wear, how we move, how we smile. He’s a good director and he’s good at what he does. There’s times he’s shot me down and there’s time that he’s said “Eric, that’s good, let’s do that”. Because we’re brothers and we played together as kids, we have a lot of chemistry together. I can anticipate what he’s gonna do, so sometimes we might do something at sound check that he’ll like, and so I’ll write a part of the show just at sound check based on feeling my little brother.”

What’s your most memorable gig and why?

“Probably Saturday Night Live because that was my first TV show and that was also my dream as a kid. I used to watch it every Saturday religiously and see my favorite bands and I used to say that I want to play on that train station set. To me, playing SNL was like I was making it in the business, and the Grammys, last year’s Grammys was so killer because the performance was flawless, the set looked awesome, and it was probably the best TV mix we’ve had. Playing on TV can be tough and live sound doesn’t always transpose properly, but that I can watch! that performance on TV or a laptop, you can hear all the different parts and it makes me proud of that performance.”

How do you arrange your schedule?

“Bruno comes first. I did a few spots between Taio Cruz and Bruno, but that was when Bruno was doing promo, so I had time to juggle both. Now that Bruno’s record has progressed and had its success, I haven’t had time to juggle. I could take some gigs when I’m down [from touring], but I’ve chosen to work on myself, to practice and spend time with my family. Right now Bruno is the priority and as long as we’re successful as a unit, it’s gonna stay the priority.”

What do you think is the most important aspect to be respected as a pop drummer?

“I like a good pocket. You know that John Roberts or Brian Frasier-Moore can rip, but the fact that they hold back and they play the songs, to me that’s killer. I love when a drummer’s groove is so fat and you’re so into it then all of a sudden he does this lick or chop and then he’s right back to it, to me that’s just amazing. Some guys can rip, but we all have to remember what we have to offer and be proud of what can do and accept that we can always keep learning.”

Who’s your biggest influence on the kit and generally in music?

“There’s so many. Let’s see, Jeff Precaro, Steve Gadd, Stewart Copeland, John Bonham, Vinnie Colaiuta, David Garibaldi and John Robinson. Continuing, Tony Royster Jr, Aaron Spears, David Elitch, Chris Coleman, John Roberts, Brian Frasier-Moore, Rex Hardy, Stanley Randolph, Gorden Campbell, Chris Dave, Questlove. Thats just off the top of my head there are really so many! I look at some cats for their playing, and some for their business. It’s one thing to be a great drummer, but to be a great musician means you’ve got to be business savvy. So I look at guys that market themselves properly – meaning they have great attitudes, the best gigs, their resume looks good. They’re working with top artists versus the guys that won’t get past YouTube.”

How did you find the LA music scene?

“Tough. It’s competitive, you got a lot of great players out here. You got Musician’s Institute here too. But there is opportunity. When I first moved out here, there was a music magazine that posted want ads and I found a band that was signed to RCA records and was seeking a drummer. I did an audition and got the gig, and we did tour rehearsals and were gonna tour with Duncan Sheek and Big Head Todd and Susana Hoffs. Somewhere their deal went south so I came home and started to get back into the circuit playing all the clubs in LA. The gigs are out there, you have to hustle. Nowadays you really have to be a package deal and have a look. The scene is good and it’s hard as hell but if this is what you want to do then you get yourself right in the middle of it. That’s what I did, I put myself here. It took 15 years but I never stopped.”

If you could choose one artist to play for, who would it be?

“Hmmm so many, The Police as a band would be awesome!”

What’s your favourite place that you’ve been to?

“I have a love for London, we’ve spent so much time there; the UK period. I really like Vienna, Austria. Australia is wonderful, and Brazil. Dublin is awesome. I’m so fortunate to see all these places; it’s beautiful to see all these countries.”

I have to ask, what’s the story behind your nickname, E-Panda?

“When we were on our first European tour, we used to joke around backstage. The former keyboard player was joking around with me and somehow got to me and I guess I have a trigger because he said “you’re just a big panda; you look cuddly but you’re a #@%* inside”. And our tour manager picked up on it and started calling me “Panda Bear” and it evolved to E-Panda from there.”

Do you have any other loves apart from the drums?

“Besides spending time with my family and my sons – barbequing!”

Check out Eric’s website to keep up to date with his whereabouts!

Thanks for reading


Eric Hernandez Interview with Drumshop UK

Eric Hernandez Interview with Drumshop UK

Eric Hernandez Interview with Drumshop UK

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