Featured Artist: Thomas Pridgen Talks Drumming, The Mars Volta, and The Memorials

Thomas Pridgen is a former child prodigy who grew up playing drum clinics and events. Now, he lives the musician’s dream. His career and education from youth has been music, or more specifically, drumming. Thomas Pridgen began drumming at the tender age of 3, nestled next to the church piano player which was his grandma. It wasn’t long before Thomas knew that the calling on his life would be the drums.

Thomas is a 26 year old native of Alameda County, California. You might know him as the former drummer of The Mars Volta, and if you know his work, you know what makes his playing so great. He’s technical, progressive, and had the best hold on grooving than any drummer The Mars Volta had. Bedlam In Goliath is a perfect example of his capabilities and talent. He’s a drummer that can accomplish fast, otherworldly beats while maintaining a fun groove, almost effortlessly. I remember the first time I saw The Mars Volta. It was my 19th birthday and my boyfriend bought tickets for us to see them at the University of Irvine in California. It still remains one of the best experiences of my life. Thomas plays with a laid back, yet ferocious tenacity that one only gets from experience, skill, and love of what he’s putting forth. His arms go all over the place  and that uh oh feeling you get when watching drummers play at ridiculous speeds, as if any moment those sticks are gonna fly, it happens. But you’d probably be too busy tapping and dancing along for it to affect you as much. He knows what he’s doing. And you can tell he has a blast doing it. Any complicated polyrhythmic progressive time signature changes you throw at him, he can do, with one pedal, mind you, and still find a pocket for us to groove in. Now that’s a drummer.
In this interview I chat with Thomas about his beginnings as a drummer, leaving The Mars Volta, and his very own new band called The Memorials.

When did you start drumming? What got you into it and what made you pursue it as a career?

I started playing drums at around the age of 3. I started mainly because my family grew up in church and my grandma is a piano player. I’d always end up close to her which was by the drums. I guess the drum area in church was the most entertaining at my young age.

What were you listening to when you decided you had to play music for a living? Was there any artist in particular that you drew from?

I think I knew I wanted to play music for a living when I was like 5. I never wanted to do anything this much. I guess the moment I met millionaires who were drummers it clicked that I could be kinda big. I never started playing drums for money and fame. I started playing because I loved it. Children do things out of pure adventure, when your grown and old you start knowing too much, you think extra hard about shit and get bitter. It’s almost like hesitating to shoot the ball when someone is about to block you..lol. Children don’t always care about the outcome they care about adventure and the fun of it.

How did you get involved with The Mars Volta?

Omar called me and wanted to hang out, so I inclined. My hang out in Cleveland, Ohio ended up being my surprise first show with them. They didn’t have a drummer for the night, we played and jammed on 1 song for like 40 minutes and I guess it was history. It was one of the completely insane moments in my life. Then, it was nothing, I be jamming all my life.

And now you’re heard on Xenophane. What was recording that like? It’s one of my favorites now.

I thought that record was going to be a Mars Volta record honestly. We did that at Electric Lady Land which is a historic place. I played these badass 60′s Gretsch drums. Of course I’d want that stuff to be a Mars Volta record. A lot of times I never knew what project I was recording on, but I trusted Omar’s creative flow and I always felt like we could come up with better material, so it didn’t really bother me too much to just keep smashin’.

How about Wicked Wisdom?  After I saw TMV got a new drummer, “Whoa” there you were on TMVs album Bedlam, so I looked up who you were and saw I had an album given to me that you were on with Wicked Wisdom.

I never did a record with Wicked Wisdom. Fish from Fishbone played all that stuff. I came in late just for the tour. People just blew that out of proportion. I had fun playing that stuff though, ‘cause it allowed me to show my double bass chops, and play with some cool people. Jada always kept it cool with me.
I’ve been using mostly single pedal for a while now, it kind of freaks people out that I can play such weird things with one pedal. I dig the weirdness.
I try to enhance it more and more. I always had and played double pedal, but
being in a gospel background, drummers used to rag each other about it; what he or she is using and double pedal this and that. But I’ve noticed that most good church drummers have crazy foot action and now some are using more double pedal.

Playing the church music, especially traditional gospel, is a great start. Drum beats on the “shoutin” music were always fun and had to be fast and loud. One thing that drew me to your style is that it’s superbly technical, fast and heavy, but you never lose the groove. Maybe this had something to do with your church background? Where do you get it from?

I’ve always been “the little kid on the drums”, the youngest on stage getting yelled at for playing a 8 bar fill or speeding up. It never really stunted me; more like motivated me. I saw a lot of drummers and musicians very early. Some were young like me, other “prodigies.” I went to tons of drum events, clinics, and I guess it comes down to having good taste. I learned what I like to listen to. I don’t wanna see the same fill that everyone does exactly [like] the next guy. I wanna see your soul on a plate. It’s always easy to play things you know how to play. It looks cool, but how fun is that. I love the excitement of almost flying off the edge and fucking up or fucking someone up. I like when people cringe on the side of the stage when I do something crazy. I almost feel like Tony Hawk doin’ a 180.

I love how you’re all over the place. In regards to genres of course. Why is this? Is it a case where you’re approached by people of all genres because you’re so well known in the drumming field?

I’m into a lot of different music.  Gospel has some R&B and funk type influences, so I got that. I got stuffed full of music really. My high school was down the street from Ameoba Records, and I always knew I wanted to play music, so I surrounded myself around musicians who listened to crazy shit. So we pass it along like baseball cards and here I am..lol. I lived in the hood, my homies don’t even listen to rock, they listen to hip hop and rap shit straight up gutta gansta rap type shit and I’m their local beat maker homie, like radio raheem or some shit….lol. So I listen to that stuff a lot. I always loved Latin music, and I always would listen to it and buy salsa records even though I didn’t know who half of the artists were.
In high school, I got more into jazz because I played in the big bands and jazz combos. All the jazz heads made me listen to people and would be anal about it, but I really wanted to rock out and play heavier music. I love that energy. I got stuffed full of music. All styles.

Talk to me about your new project, The Memorials. How did it start?

The Memorials got started after my departure from TMV. TMV was a good experience. I learned so much from touring and recording with them, but after the whole split thing, I still wanted to play and kill shit. I wanted to be around people who were actually family on stage and off, good or bad… people who cared about their fans, people who cared about what I care about; the love of playing music, traveling eating good food, partying and getting paid for it. I ended up calling the killingest muthafuckas i knew and put it together. Viveca is my homegirl forever and ever, music or no music, and Nick and I had a band when we were in college. I never tried to be a part of the Mars Volta, but I gave my all and never do I regret it. This is way crazier because the good and bad has changed me. I understand a lot more than I did 3 years ago about people, about music, about this industry. I’m ready.

You sound like you’re ready. What kinds of things did you have to learn to understand? Care to enlighten me?

I’ve learned to appreciate the people who appreciate your work. I’ve never felt like some super star drummer. I didn’t even talk about what I did to people in high school.  I even lied to my ex girlfriend about my occupation when I played in TMV.  I learn to remember where you come from and how to treat people. I’ve learned that you can lose everything as fast as you got it and that everything comes full circle. I just feel like more of a man, so that’s the reason I feel ready
put me on the drums and let me go.

What does your new group sound like? Who did you draw inspiration from?

My group sounds like everything. All of us can play any style of music, honestly. But, we drew inspiration from relationships, where we come from, anger, feelings of being took advantage of, pain, being drunk, smoking weed, happiness, all kinds of shit. We had a good friend pass while we were making the record. He was a bass player named Dewey Tucker. It really hit everyone in the city hard. We wrote a song from him. I’d throw crazy shit at Viv like, what if you was a natural disaster what would you destroy, and she’s so dope that she can write about almost anything. I love that she cares about what she’s saying. She makes sense and you can understand her. So her words hit you a lot more, especially with fucked up time signature flying by your face.

So it sounds like it’ll be a pretty lyrically potent album then? So you do try to strike a balance between being technical and keeping things melodic and listenable?

Yeah, Viv can write about a donkey on the porch. But after I went out with TMV,
I watched people wig the fuck out. It was on and crackin.’ I was holding back playing in all my other situations. I just felt like a kid again when I saw kids wigging out. I needed to see that. I was missing the adventure of creating music that didn’t have some idiotic template. That made me crazy and made me fearless.

Who are you currently listening to now?

Right now I’m listening to this band called Poison the Well. I like the drummer. I listen to Lamb of God, a lot of Tony Allen and Paco Serry, Squarepusher. I’ve been also listening to Steve Coleman and Messhuggah . I listen to everything….but mostly shit that boggles the mind.

I must ask you of course about the picture I see with Mr. Zach Hill. What the hell are you two geniuses about to come up with next? I know he’s always involved in a zillion projects, is there a chance you might have a side project with him? Do you see yourself just jumping from one creative project to another, or is The Memorials your main focus right now?

Yes. My main focus is The Memorials at this time. I’m having such a blast being so involved in every aspect of creating this band. Art, music, business, performance, merch. It’s fun. I never understood why I liked to draw on walls, make beats, run pro tools sessions and talk shit. lol.
I just did a record with Jordan Ferriera. He’s a young guitar/vocal killer. The music is pretty goddamn wild. I did another record with a rapper named Currensy from New Orleans; he’s a force for real. He has bars, I had fun doin’ some back beat driven songs with him, but it’s getting crazy. Everyone throws such fucked-up material at me, it almost scares me sometimes. I dig into it. I love walking in the studio and knowing I’m not goin’ to play some corny ass disco beat. I’m also doin’ other projects but they are hush hush.
In my last situation, I was encouraged not to do as much with other musicians outside the circle. So now that I’m free, I’m doing as much as possible. I wanna play with anyone and everyone that’s progressive and original.

You can find three sample songs of The Memorials through their myspace. They’re keeping things pretty “hush hush” right now about their future label, but should have a release sometime this summer.

Kristin Thomas, Indie Contributor

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