Words and Photos By Mark Schierholz
Mark: First off, Congratulations on getting the Trans-Siberian Orchestra drumming gig, how is it going so far, playing two shows a day, with very little rest?
Blas: I’m having an amazing time on this tour! The tour has been going great, I really love playing this music as well as performing with this group of people. The amount of talent in this organization from the band and singers, to the crew who put on this amazing production is mind blowing! It is a tough schedule and playing two 2 ½ hour shows a day is physically demanding but I am having so much fun it makes it seem easy. I try to stay fit and workout regularly so that helps. I also try to stick to a healthy diet and absolutely no drugs or alcohol for me.
M: How did this gig come about for you? Because it's a pretty big deal to play with such a big production.
B: Yes it absolutely is a big deal to me and I am very grateful for this opportunity! I was contacted last spring and asked if I was interested and having been a longtime fan of TSO I was super excited about it. I first sent in a video of me playing a TSO song and then was invited to play with them and things seemed to go great. We clicked musically and personally and they thought I would be a good fit so thankfully here I am!
M: How long did it take you to learn all the songs, and, did you add anything to any song?
B: It took me a couple of months to learn the songs. The first thing I did was just listen to the music a lot and memorize the song structures. I charted a few more complex pieces to help me learn them but I really wanted to know the songs by heart so I just immersed myself in the music. Most of the songs we try to keep as close to the recorded versions as possible but there are some with different arrangements and parts live. Al Pitrelli, the music director/guitar player, worked with me on finalizing parts in rehearsal and Jeff Plate from the East Coast band was a great help as well.
M: From a drummer's perspective, you added an over the top flair to this show, from the drumming side, something I really noticed, after 12 years of attending TSO myself, you were nonstop twirling the sticks, always had something to add to every second, like the metal Blas was let loose. How did you manage to put all that together, with the songs you had to work with?
B: Thanks! If you’ve seen the show you know the production is huge and the music is epic so that’s just how I feel it. I’ve always played that way and luckily for me it seems to work with TSO. I like to play with my whole body. I keep my arms and hands as relaxed as possible and play from my core. I’ve always been a fan of Taiko drumming and really feeling the space between the notes. I’ve used that approach with Slaughter as well as Blue Man Group and I think it works well with TSO’s music.
M: For drum gear, you are using the Roland V drums, double bass set up, with live Sabian cymbals, and you are working with the best sound engineers in the biz, how do you like using the Rolands and the live Sabian combination? Obviously you are used to the acoustic drum kits, was it an easy transformation? The Roland set up is nice, it's clean, and looks great.
B: The Roland V-drums are great and I’m enjoying playing them. The acoustic cymbals work in great harmony with them and it makes it easy to get a great consistent sound and still retain feel and dynamics. With the size of the production and having two shows a day with long drives in between it would be very difficult to mic and sound check acoustic drums every day. Plus, I use them to play Tympani and other percussion sounds so it helps being able to access those different samples.
M: As far as gear, who are you currently endorsed by, you have Roland, Sabian, Promark, and Gibraltar?
B: I’m currently endorsed by Sabian Cymbals, Promark sticks and DW drums pedals and hardware. Most of the gear I’m using on this tour is owned by TSO and it was easy for me to step in and play what was already there.
M: Do you have a drum tech for TSO? Setting up electric drums and live cymbals would be a challenge, two different beasts, and is it front of house nightmare? If so, who is your tech? Techs are the glue that give you guys the ability to do your job.
B: Yes, Ronnie Hise is the drum tech on this tour. He’s been with TSO for a long time and does a phenomenal job. He has definitely helped me get accustomed to using this setup. Our front of the house engineer Michi is also great and has this setup dialed in very well. Having the V-drums keeps the stage volume low which helps with the fact that we have ten singers who sing very dynamically on stage as well as a string section to the right of me.
M: In a normal TSO two shows a day, you do get a couple breaks within the shows, do you have a warm up routine, is it by yourself or with other band members?
B: Some of the band members do an insanely inspired warmup. It varies for me. I’ll usually do some jumping jacks to get my blood flowing and some dynamic stretching and warm-ups. Then some easy rudimental stick work. Sometimes I find doing a morning run actually gives me more energy for the shows but I usually don’t work out on two show days.
M: You are on a drum riser, that riser actually rises for certain songs, do you like that? It looks pretty cool when you do that.
B: Yes, I love the riser! It was pretty scary the first time I went up because at times including the start on the show it’s near the top of the arena! And when you get moving, the riser does swing a bit. That took some getting used to especially when the lasers, fire, pyro, smoke and moving lights are all going it can get a little disorienting!
M: What inspired you to play drums? Did you have lessons, or learn on your own?
B: I started playing guitar in a band with friends in elementary school but we couldn’t find a drummer. In middle school if you joined the school band as the drummer you could learn drum set so I signed up and realized that was my calling. I played in Orchestra, Marching band and Jazz band, and I tried just to learn as much as I could about a lot of different styles. I took private lessons from a few people including Tim Root and Bobby Rock. I was playing in clubs in roc and jazz bands while still in high school. I never did any sports or went to parties in school, I just played music all the time.
M: What has kept you playing all these years, and still doing it? What drives you?
B: I just love playing music and I’m extremely fortunate that I’ve been able to make a living at it my whole life. I’ve made great friends through music and it’s given me positive things to focus on. Especially early on I think my drive to play music helped me stay away from drugs and alcohol. I’ve seen so many friends over the years lose their lives or health from substance abuse.
M: What is your favorite project or band you have worked with, everything you have done has been inspirational to other drummers, and your accomplishments are phenomenal, anything really stand out to you in your career?
B: I honestly can’t pick a favorite as I’ve been fortunate to work with so many incredible people. I do try to live in the moment though and right now I am enjoying this time with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I love the people and the music and what it does for the people who listen and come to the shows. It is definitely an honor to be a part of it!
M: TSO is a pretty full time gig, do you have any other projects you are, or were working on?
B: Yes, I will go back with Blue Man Group in Vegas when this tour winds down. There are a few other shows I play with and I always love making new music with friends.
M: When you do have free time, what do you do? Do you have any hobbies? If you have a travel day with TSO, do you explore that city you are in?
B: Yes, I love to run, hike and explore! One of the things I love about touring is seeing new and cool places. I love running in different places and I’ve been able to get out to some national state parks on this tour as well as some cool historic places. In my off time I love endurance sports and love triathlons as well as obstacle racing like the Spartan Race series. Also, I love spending time with my family traveling.
M: Out of all the shows and gigs you've done, is there one show that you remember thinking to yourself "Wow, this is awesome!"?
B: There have been many! One that comes to mind is playing Madison Square Garden opening for Kiss. I was a big Kiss and Led Zeppelin fan growing up and I remember the scene from “The Song Remains the Same” movie where Zeppelin played MSG. Driving up the ramp and playing that place was a surreal experience!
M: Do you ever get nervous? With TSO, it's usually a sold out arena, and you have played many times in front of huge crowds, do you have a routine to control your nerves?
B: I do get nervous sometimes as I’m sure we all do but so far on this show it’s been mostly excitement and appreciation rather than nerves. I just think about being a kid and going to shows and dreaming of being on the big stage so I really enjoy and appreciate the moment. I love playing for large crowds and a lot of times when I look out in the audience I’m thinking about the people way up in the balcony and playing to them. The whole TSO experience is designed to give everyone a good show no matter where you’re sitting.
M: How have the members of the band and crew been to work with, a lot of them have been together for a long time, relations are built, you obviously stepped in there like a team player, with your own style?
B: I just can’t say enough about how cool this group of people is! They have been extremely welcoming and supportive. I know this has been a very hard year for all of them with the loss of their founder Paul O’Neal as well as their bass player Dave Z. Having a new person come in such a tight knit group has to be hard but they have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome.
M: Last one: Who is your favorite or inspirational drummer, what is your favorite band, to listen to and play live?
B: I have many favorite drummers that have inspired me in many different ways. Ringo Starr was one of my early favorites as well as Bun E. Carlos. They wrote great pars and helped create the unique sound of their bands. John Bonham was another big influence as well as Neil Peart, Simon Phillips, Buddy Rich, Eric Carr, Tommy Aldridge, Frankie Banali, Tommy Lee, Bobby Rondinelli, I could go on for days! The same would go for favorite bands there are far too many to name but probably my all-time favorite is the Beatles.