Ahead of his tour of Australia, I jumped on the phone with drummer extraordinaire Luke Holland. For the uninitiated, Luke began his career by uploading drum covers to YouTube. A cover of Skrillex‘s “Cinema” caught the interest of The Word Alive, whom he then toured with internationally for years. Luke also tracked drums for bands like I See Stars (their Treehouse album), Starset, and has worked with Aaron Richards and other artists.
This month, Luke will be hitting venues in Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney, bringing his drumming prowess to our shores in a one-man show with a difference. This was our conversation.
You’re in America at the moment? Where abouts are you?
Yeah, I’m in Los Angeles. I live here, in a place called Silver Lake.
And you’re going to be in Australia next week. How’s that feeling? Have you been here before?
Yeah, I was there I think the end of 2015 with my old band The Word Alive. It’s been awhile! I’ve been everywhere else a million times, but it’s been awhile since I’ve been to Australia. Long overdue.
Cool! I was trying to picture how the shows would be like, with just yourself. How do they normally go? I’ve never been to a show with just a drummer on stage. How does it work?
It’s not very orthodox for sure, but there’s something called a drum clinic, which is typically what a solo drummer will do. Those are very few and far between. But people will show up to a drum clinic to learn and learn certain techniques, or essentially like a meet and greet or a Q & A, and also watch a performance. I wanted to try to do it a little bit different. Instead of like ‘Hey, I’m doing a drum clinic tour’, I wanted to book it more like a full blown show, to where I’m playing all sorts of different genres, from metal to K-pop, to trap, to EDM. And at the end, that’s kind of when I get personal with the audience rather than like play a song, do a Q & A, play a song, do a Q & A, you know what I mean? Keep the energy high and keep people engaged, and let them see all the stuff that they’re wanting to inquire about in action first.
Right, cool. So it sounds like you’re going to be covering a lot of the music that you’ve played in the YouTube videos. I was curious what kind of music you personally listen to. Do you naturally span those genres?
Yeah, I’m a huge advocate of ‘versatility is key’ in a musician, especially in almost 2020, where everybody has an iPhone and capabilities to put their music or their talents out on the internet for display, you have to be versatile with what you do to be successful. So I am like I said all over the place. I started my YouTube channel playing metal and some pop here and there, and then it expanded to EDM. But yeah I toured with The Word Alive for five years and I’ve done lots of metal records and things like that. Then I kind of burned myself out on metal to be honest.
So nowadays I’ve been just listening to… Like one of my favourite artists of all time for example is Majid Jordan, and I listen to them constantly. I’ve been listening to a lot of Dua Lipa. My friend Yvette Young, she has a piano EP. She plays guitar for a band called Covet. I’m just kind of all over the place with my music and constantly playing to new music as well. It keeps me on my toes.
Cool! Do you find when you’re listening to music, you’re taking it in as a drummer and you’re.. not critical, but really hyper-aware of what they’re doing beat or rhythm wise? Does it ruin the experience of listening to music a bit?
Yeah, it’s interesting. You would think. But for example with my YouTube channel, everything that’s on there, I always try to explain it to people like this: I have to find a song, first and foremost that moves me, that I can feel. Because if I don’t feel the song, one; you’re going to see it, the audience, they’re not stupid. They’re going to be like ‘Okay, he’s doing this for views’ or whatever. So I have to feel the song. Especially because THEN I have to book the studio time, I have to book my video guy, my audio engineer, I have to learn the material, I have to tear my drums down, take them to the studio, set up, audio check, video check [laughs], film, tear down, and then edit the audio separately, edit the video separately. It’s like a week long process, you know? It’s very time-consuming thing. So I really have to be feeling what I’m doing a video for.
But yeah, a lot of the stuff on my YouTube channel is… what drew me in first was typically melody, or just that feeling you get when you listen to a song for the first time, and you end up listening to that song a hundred times. You know what I mean?
Yep, I know what you mean! Yeah, that’s cool. One of the first things I noticed about you was how driven you are and how you have this desire to just get better and better. Have you always had that trait?
Yeah, definitely. Man, I had my first job when I was 12 years old. I was a janitor [laughs] at my junior high school, every day for an hour after school. I would clean three school buildings. So I’ve always been very driven, very motivated. Because I took that money and I put it toward drums. I started playing drums when I was 11, so I was obsessed. Without it I have no idea where I would be right now. Well, I have an idea, but you know what I mean.
Yep. So does that come into other parts of your life and not just drumming? Where you set your mind on something you want to do and you just go at it?
Yeah, pretty much. Definitely.
Does it come across as you being really hard on yourself?
I guess, yeah. I’m probably super hard on myself. For me it doesn’t feel that way. It just feels like drive. It’s constant drive. It’s waking up and if I have no plans or something, which is very rare, it’s like ‘Alright, well, practice something’, or I’m going to figure out what I’m doing next for my YouTube channel, or I’m going to get on the phone and.. you know. Every single day, I’m not wanting to waste anything. A lot of my friends are like ‘Man, you need to take a vacation!’. It’s like ‘No, I can vacation when [laughs] I’m content with everything’. It’s how I am naturally.
So you’ve never taken a vacation?
You know, [laughs] I’ve been all over the world a million times, but I’ve never… Not very often have I just got on a flight and gone somewhere just to go, you know what I mean? If I’m in Asia for four weeks or something, it’s because I’m touring out there. If I’m in Australia or South America or Europe, I’m always performing or I’m doing something drum related or that kind of stuff, but very seldom, yeah. I guess it’s kind of that natural drive that I’ve always had in full effect.
You talked about practicing. How often would you practice?
It totally depends. Sometimes I’ll go a week or two weeks without practicing, but if I’m in practice mode or I’ve got a couple weeks at home before I go back out on the road, I’ll practice minimum three hours a day.
Some days I’ll straight up go eight hours just on drums. I’ll go into my studio and I’ll come out and it’s dark, you know.
Crazy. So driven! Do you have anything that you do that you make sure you’re not having any problems with your wrists or other joints and things?
[laughs] It’s funny. I did a tour with one of my colleagues Jason Richardson, he’s a guitar player. We have this duo project that we do together. We did a tour with Dream Theatre and Animals As Leaders in Europe earlier this year in June. And the material with Jason is very technical, very physically demanding. We were playing almost every single day, you know, and I was totally fine.
I got home [laughs] from that tour and I was on my couch, on my laptop doing some emails, and I stretched and my shoulder pops out the back, and I’ve dislocated it, and I tore a tendon, and it threw me into this two month spiral of not really being able to do anything and it really sucked. It was just so ironic that I was just playing non-stop, non-stop, and I just stretched on the couch and totally screwed my shoulder up.
But I’m pretty like… I’ll stretch my wrists, my forearms and stuff before I’ll play, but I feel like being young right now is definitely on my side. [laughs] Probably can’t be playing eight hours a day when I’m in my fifties, that’s for sure.
Yeah, and probably playing keeps you supple in that way as well.
So I read that you were mostly self-taught, is that correct?
I was wondering if you had any mentors that you lean on? Are you kind of like a lone wolf or do you have people that you turn to for support?
There’s been people over the years that I’ve definitely been drawn to their playing and taken influence from. And that’s changed a lot since I was young. I’ve been playing since I was 11. Like when I was 14 for example, guys like Matt Greiner who plays for August Burns Red, or Adam Gray who plays for Texas In July. I was very into their playing and it’s influenced me heavily. I started getting into guys like Matt Halpern from Periphery, Matt Garstka from Animals As Leaders. The same thing. They influenced me.
Lately in the last few years it’s been a conscious effort of kind of not trying to take influence from anybody and just completely immerse myself in my own sound. And I’ve definitely been doing that and I think a lot of that comes from just getting down and just going on Spotify and just hitting New Releases and browsing through music and just playing to everything. Like ‘I don’t even know who this artist is, I’m going to play this whole song right now’. That keeps my skills sharp and my improv game sharp. That’s kind of where I’m at now.
But I have guys like Thomas Lang, Benny Greb and people like that who have been really good mentors for me. They’re huge drummers in the drumming world in a different way. They’re like the clinicians or the educational side of things, and they’ve been great mentors to me on that side. So I have a healthy blend of folk, performance and educational.
Yeah, awesome. I only have one more question on my list and it relates to the performance flair that you do. How does that come about? Is it something that you just go ‘What would happen if I did this?’ and kind of like an experimental thing?
The showmanship aspect of it? So that, I saw a guy… Actually I brought him up earlier. Adam Gray from Texas in July. I saw him when I was 15 in a YouTube video. I’m 26 now, so that was a long time ago. And I saw him throwing his sticks around while he was playing this really intricate metal stuff and it influenced me so heavily. I just started doing it myself and I started this YouTube channel a decade ago, and I started covering August Burns Red and Texas In July and I was throwing my sticks around.
Back then I had no idea what I was doing, but that’s what kind of drew in this not only drummer audience – because I was nailing the notes on a technical aspect – but I drew in a non-drummer audience because non-drummers could be entertained watching me spin my sticks behind my back or under my leg or whatever it was. So it was an accidental thing that was influenced by Adam Gray, but I made it my own as well.
I haven’t seen the under the leg one. That’s pretty cool.
Yeah! I’ve done it a couple times. I did a BTS “Fake Love” cover. I do it in that, and also I do it in a Chris Brown one “Look At Me Now”, which I was like 17, so it was a long time ago.
I guess the only other thing I have in mind is how important is the production of these videos as well? You have the lighting and the angles and the smooth movement and stuff. How has that come about? You just wanted more of that professionalism as you’ve gone?
Yeah. It’s funny, I was just doing drum lessons through Skype before this call, and I was talking with a student. He was very concerned with the quality of his videos. He was like ‘I need it to be your quality that you have now. It has to be great cameras, great gear, great sound’. I just reminded him, like ‘Listen man, 10 years ago I started this… Granted it was a different time and nobody had smartphones or anything. Everyone was on desktop, but I started this with my friend – Justin Bartram his name is – standing in the corner of the room, his living room, on a stool, with a DSLR camera, no mics, broken cymbals.’ It was very raw, but that was the first video I put up and that got a bunch of traction. It goes to show, you can have the nicest gear in the world, but if the content isn’t there, it doesn’t matter. I think that’s really important for people to know.
That would be your recommendation, for people just to go for it and build on that great content?
Obviously it doesn’t hurt by any means to have nicer stuff, but I just want to always remind people that it’s the content that comes first. It’s the passion you’re exuding, the notes you’re playing, and your energy that will always supersede the quality of your gear.
Catch Luke Holland on his Australia tour next week. Dates and details: