Want A Little More Cowbell? Let One Local Stomp-er Tell You How.
Percussionist-athlete John Angeles spent his entire childhood in Fort Worth and studied music every step of the way, drumming in the Nolan Catholic High School marching band and majoring in music at Texas Christian University.
After college he joined a touring percussion group, and got hooked on the traveling lifestyle. Now he’s with the touring production of Stomp, and every now and then he gets back to the Dallas area -- to steal his parents' pots and pans and cruise the local junkyards. He's here now for one such visit, a week-long run at the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, presented by Casa Mañana. The show runs tonight through Sunday. After the jump, bang out a Q&A with Angeles.
Coming from your traditional music background, how was the adjustment to the, you know, unconventional kind of playing you do in Stomp?
I’ve been playing the drums for 18 years, so that was very important part of my life, as far as music goes. It’s been a huge adjustment for me. I’d done a little bit of performing, but for most of the percussion stuff I’ve done before, I’m in the background. As the drummer, you’re not the front man, you’re the guy in back.
So now, some people think I’m a dancer and some think I’m just a drummer. The physicality of it takes a toll on the body. I was used to playing with drumsticks before, and now it’s poles, trashcan lids, things I never developed the muscles to use. Over the last year and a half I’ve gotten stronger in ways I never would have imagined.
We use everything in the show, starting off with brooms, or matchboxes. We actually use our own bodies, stomping our feet, clapping our hands. Zippo lighters, water bottles, hammer handles. We actually use kitchen sinks -- everything that’s not an actual percussion instrument.
?So where you are now, how much do you think you owe to the traditional music training?
The thing is, it very much is like a musical ensemble. I have to use all the formal training I went though in school, even marching with a marching band. It’s the same stuff, listening to the people you’re playing with -- but it’s at a higher level, because the instruments we use aren’t necessarily the most beautiful. There’s a correct way to hit a water bottle, a correct way to hit a matchbox to produce the most efficient sound. You have to develop your own technique to get the sound you want.
For instance, on a water bottle, there’s a seam. You don’t want to hit it on the seam; you want to hit it on the end. It’s a flick of the wrist, and you’re basically pulling the sound out of the water bottle. It sounds crazy, but it works. With a flick of the wrist and one finger, you pull away as quick as you can and you get a fairly resonant sound.
So Stomp has been around for a while now [since 1991] -- is there anything new about the show this time?
It’s actually the first time they’ve changed the show in 15 years. There’s two new pieces in the show this time -- I’d say the whole show is 60 to 70 percent different from our last time through town. Two of the numbers are brand new. One is called "Donuts" -- it’s tractor tires, the inner tubes of tractor tires. They’re five and a half feet wide. The other one is "Paint Cans" -- that one was hard for me. It’s actually kind of a juggling act.
Of course, our solos we always get to write ourselves -- I do a broom solo at the end of the first number. We feel more like a rock band or a jazz band sometimes -- we can actually communicate with each other onstage.
As a drummer, you probably were always hitting things to make noise, but now that you’re in Stomp do you look for potential instruments in any new places?
Totally. When you go to a new place, somebody’ll say, “Hey there’s a junkyard over here,” and we’ll find stuff there to play. I’ll go through a kitchen and take a pot and pan if I like the sound of it. I try not to use my own stuff or things from my parents’ place.
We’re always trying to find new ideas for us. There’s a lot of stuff out there that doesn’t sound cool. There are trashcans that just sound horrible, a lot of the metal ones, actually. Most of our trash cans actually come from the U.K. The ones made here don’t have a good tone. The best rubber trashcans for us are Rubbermaid.
Anything that can sound like a bass drum or a snare drum, we try to pick up. At a kitchen supply store in Dallas a while back, I bought a wok that sounds like a really deep cowbell. It really is that whole thing -- one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. --Patrick Michels
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.