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Interview with Ben Davies - Vic Firth

Posted by Andy Anderson on 25th May 2012

Hi Guys, sorry it’s been so long since I have had chance to blog. It’s been really manic lately with gigs in the Lakes, Liverpool, London, Leeds, and anywhere beginning with 'L’ it seems!! Nearly getting run off the motorway at 4 in the morning by an on coming vehicle is always what you want after a gig!! It’s been a mixture of function gigs, pop gigs, percussion gigs, musicals, you name it, and it’s probably cropped up in the past month or so!! However, I have been working on a few things for the blogs, it’s just taking time to get them all typed in, and this is one of them.
After a few manic days of rehearsal for a musical showcase, with nearly every show on the planet in it, we managed to pull it off for one night only! The next morning at 6am I was on a flight to LA, which leads me to my first blog. While I was there I was lucky enough to visit the Vic Firth West Coast office and speak to Ben Davies (artist relations) to find out what goes on behind the scenes of the world’s biggest drum stick manufacturer!

What’s the reason for opening an office here in LA and what goes on?

The Vic Firth artist relations program consists of only two people for the entire world of artists, myself and Joe Testa who is in the Boston offices. I used to work out of that office and recently we opened up a west coast office and since I’m from AZ, it made the most sense to send me out here. There isn’t enough going on in MA for both AR guys to be located out there. A good amount of our artists live/rehearse in CA so it was an obvious decision to have someone located here. Its been about a year in this office and I love it! People come to pick up sticks, to just hang/talk; I have an open door policy here so anyone is welcome to just walk in.

Vic Firth Blog LAX

What are your most popular sticks?

5A and 5B, always has been, always will be. Out here though it seems the extreme 5A and extreme 5B have been the big ones, just a half inch longer. We don’t stock every stick here, just the most popular among our artists. I’m still figuring it out but it’s working well, we’ll never nail it perfectly but have a better selection.

You obviously have a lot of artists come through the doors here, who are the most regular and which has been your favourite and why?

Oh boy! Recently we got together with a guy named Jarrod Alexander, he’s now drumming for My Chemical Romance, we’re becoming good friends, he’s coming in a lot to hang. Other guys like Mike Fasano, Dave Elitch, Rex Hardy American idol, Aaron Spears, Jamal Moore, everybody comes in a lot! The most fun? That’s tough to say! Guys that are really positive and high on life I love, and one guy that’s definitely that guy, he’s only come in one time but it’s Abe Laboriel Jnr, nicest guy you’ll every meet!! The guys that we work with are all just really cool friendly dudes!!


Who’s the new up and coming artists to look out for?

Eric Hernadez ­ Bruno Mars’ drummer is finally getting the attention that he deserves, the dude can play. Elmo Lovano, he plays with Christina Perri and did some things with Skrillex. Another guy to definitely look out for is Jeff Friedl, he plays with everyone – A Perfect Circle, Devo, Ashes Divide, and Puscifer. Recently Jeff joined Filter and is touring a bit with them. There’ so much amazing talent on our roster I can’t name them all. These are just a few off the top of my head so the best thing to do is keep an eye on our twitter @Vic_Firth as we’re always tweeting about these guys.

Do you get any strange requests from artists?

This is probably the strangest but it makes sense – we got a call from Nicko McBrain from Iron Maiden. He has a restaurant in Florida, I think it’s a barbecue place, and he called Vic and just said “I need as much sawdust, or wood pellets for the floor, it would be cool to tell people these are Vic Firth wood pellets!!” He didn’t realize Vic Firth is a no waste company, so any time there is a bad stick or whatever it gets fed into the furnace which powers the facility, so sadly there was nothing that we could send him!

What would you say the LA music scene is like?

I haven’t lived in New York but I know that it is very cut throat as is Nashville with the recording scene. LA in my opinion is the same. There’s so much talent, you¹ve either gotta be on top of your game or just know everyone. There are so many crazy dudes that live out here like Ron Bruner Jr and Chris Coleman, so you’re competing with those guys and sometimes a guy like me who has no reason to get a gig, gets the gig! It could be a look thing, it could be all sorts of different things, so it’s tough out here for sure.

I notice you’ve got some Vic Firth pepper mills, what’s that all about!?

Yeah right!!! What I tell everybody – everybody’s gotta eat and everyone plays drums, it makes total sense!! The story behind that is Vic bought a factory up in Maine. They were producing a bunch of different wood products at the time in that factory. The town that our factory is in is very small; we employ a good amount of that town! So I think his idea behind it was “I could get rid of these people, and they’re gonna have to figure out what they’re gonna do in life, or I could just continue what they’re doing and make it better, and make it my own” And that’s what he did. I think that’s the only product we kept. We’ve been doing it about 10 years now, and it’s doing well. 90% of the time when people come in people go straight away “Oh, you guys do pepper mills? How do I get one?”, before we even talk drum sticks!! It’s something that you can bring home to your wife or girlfriend and they’re thinking, “Oh that’s cool”. You go home with a pair of 5A’s and they’re like, “Whatever!!”, so it’s an interesting thing. And the gourmet thing does pretty well!!

Vic Firth American Classic 85A drumsticks

Why do you think Vic Firth is the best stick manufacturer in the world, apart from the fact that the product is great!?

You’d be surprised at how many people are in Vic Firth. I think most people think it’s massive. There’s only like 15 people at the offices, and there’s like 100 people in the factory. I think the fact that it’s a small organization makes it easier to get your ideas across. When you have a big company it becomes a hurdle, because everyone wants to put there 2 cents in, and it complicates things. It all comes from the top, the way Vic is, everything he believes, it trickles down through all of us! He’s a player, he comes from a necessity rather than a business, he understands the needs of players, and other companies do it as a profit maker. I dunno if they even play drums or have ever played drums. Everything is great because of what he’s set the bar at, and we all strive to be at that level! I couldn’t have fallen into a better company and worked with better people.

It was great to see what happens there and how inspiring and focused they all are at Vic Firth. It’s nice to see that they have a great rapport with Vic. As I was interviewing Ben, the phone rang and I thought he was talking to his best mate having a laugh and then he was like “Dude, I gotta go, I’m in the middle of something here. Call me tomorrow about 10”. Then Ben turns to me and says, “That was Vic”, just as cool as that!!! “I meant to call him today and I forgot!”. I can see that this is a really great company, not just because of the great products but the whole ethos behind the company. It is so nice to see that although this is the biggest drum stick manufacturer and probably the biggest name in the drum world, it has a heart, and it isn’t just corporate! Ben’s dad even built the desk and cabinets in the office!! It really is a family business and has the players’ best interests at heart. It feels like I know Vic without even meeting him!!

Vic Firth has one of the best websites in the industry; it has a great educational resource center as well as some awesome videos of their artists and their extensive range of products. Check it out!!!

Thanks for reading. I have some blogs coming up on grids, in-ear monitors and some interviews with some great musicians. Keep checking back.