Drummer and percussionist Meg Thomas has performed in musical realms that range from rock to calypso, avant-garde to spoken word, latin-jazz to punk, and dance ensembles to percussion ensembles. Meg has toured the U.S. and Europe and has performed on local and national TV and, additionally, has been on radio stations and internet radio. Her drum and percussion set-ups range from the traditional ideas to unique set-ups that incorporate a vast range of percussion instruments. She received her degree in Music from Millikin University and writes a Drum and Percussion Tips column for the Chicago Music Guide. Meg is a Vic Firth Private Drum Teacher and teaches lessons out of her studio in Chicago. She plays recording sessions and performs with an array of bands and ensembles in several different genres of music. Meg won runner-up “Rising Star Percussionist” in Drum! Magazine’s 2010 Drummie Awards and is endorsed by Sabian Cymbals, Vic Firth Sticks and Mallets, Evans Drumheads, LP Percussion, and PureSound Percussion.
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DK: Happy New Year Meg! How was 2012 for you?
MT: It was good, busy, a lot of different things kind of thrown at me, but overall a very good year.
DK: Excellent, glad to hear it! Ya know this time of year you tend to get very retrospective looking back over the year gone by and on that note, why don’t we start off talking about where you got your start in music. Where did it all begin with you, Meg?
MT: Yeah sure, I started out with my parents enrolling me in piano lessons early on to get a good foundation and we already had a piano at home and my mom had played a tiny bit. So, I had started out with that, my sister was playing flute at the time, so I was always hearing that in the house.
DK: This is an older sister?
MT: Yes, she is 8 years older than I am.
MT: She was a lot further along in her musical development so it was cool to see her going through the different bands and stuff at school and that kind of thing and I knew I wanted to be involved in music, I just wasn’t really sure what it was yet. My dad was always listening to a lot of ‘50s and ‘60s Rock ‘n Roll out in the garage and I usually hung out with him so that was a big influence. There’s a lot of great music that came from that time period and then my mom was always listening to what was current on the radio and she loved stuff that had a great beat she could dance to and I liked that too because there was some good drumming involved as well. My sister got into the ‘80s Metal stuff and Metal in general, she also had some interest in the Disco stuff and a touch of the New Wave stuff so I had a good smattering of popular music growing up. I started playing drums in 5th grade at a band program at school and that’s when (I think) the drums chose me. I don’t necessarily… I guess it was the instrument that I was drawn to and I don’t really have a good idea why; let’s just say that we chose each other, lol.
DK: Completely understood, and I myself have experienced that same situation in my short musical career as a drummer for the band The Killer Kitchen Utensils where the drums always seemed to take the forefront of my attention in music I heard.
MT: Yeah, and I think the other thing with percussion in general and not all drummers feel this way and not all percussionists feel this way but for me percussion is such a broad realm of instruments it’s really not just drum set or congas or timbales, it’s really a broad category of instruments. It’s sort of like saying if you play guitar, do you play all stringed instruments? Probably not. As a percussionist, you’re kind of required to play at least a good smattering of percussion instruments, as a drummer, you’re required to play a drum set. It’s kind of an interesting thing as you study music in college, what percussion majors are required to study is a pretty vast amount of instruments, which I think is overlooked a lot of times when talking about percussionists. There are so many different techniques involved with each drum and then there is history and all that kind of thing that goes along with it not to mention traditional patterns and all that as well. I think that is what drew me to percussion was just that there was, it was so intriguing to me that there were so many different types of instruments, what’s their connection to each other? How has that influenced different types of music? I think that was probably what I was drawn to the most. Of course at the time, being a kid in 5th grade, that’s not what I was going for at the time, I didn’t really know what it was about it that I was in love with. But later I certainly realized that that’s why I love percussion so much. That’s really a large category of instruments.
DK: At what point did you realize that you wanted to take drumming to the band level?
MT: Well I played in all the different orchestras and concert bands throughout school and college and some ensembles and things like that but outside of school the first real band that I played in I guess was, actually there were two and I’m not sure which one came first. There was an acoustic group that I played with that was just guitar and vocals and then myself on congas and occasionally we’d have a female vocalist who would sit in sometimes as well. I also played with a Blues band and played drums. They did go on simultaneously and then while I was in college there were a few other bands I’d play with outside of that that would come to town that I would get a call to sit in with them or whatnot, but those were the first two that I played with.
DK: OK, that’s cool. At least coming from my background, it seems the typical scenario for musicians would be to find a band and play in that band exclusively, but this is not the case here with you…
MT: Well, I think now I feel that I have bands that are mine, that I certainly am a permanent member in and then there are bands where I’ll sit in if I’m available, I will certainly do the gig. Then there are some where I will get a call to do a recording session and I don’t know them, I just come in, I do my thing and then I might get called to play a show to support their CD release show after that or something like that. So there’s a lot of different areas where I’ll flow in and out of, but I do have bands that I am invested in that are my own…
DK: True and I apologize, I should have worded that differently because yes, I know The Wanton Looks, Birdy and I’m not sure with Gingabop…
MT: Gingabop has disbanded as two of the musicians have moved, but that was a good one too. Tropixplosion is another good one I feel is one of mine and more recently I’m getting a little more involved with the Hannah Frank Group, I’m really liking what’s going on with that as well. Lifeaftersix, we haven’t played a show out yet, we’re still in the writing process. More and more I find myself feeling the connection, a lot of times, is with the people in the band and liking the music of course, but really liking who you’re working with is so important, that’s longevity.
DK: How has working with the variety of musicians helped you in your career overall?
MT: Yeah, I think because I’ve worked within so many genres, it’s really expanded my playing and my ear for things. I really am so grateful to have played with so many different musicians. Obviously playing with anybody, you pick up something from everybody that you play with. It can be subtle, it can be huge it can be just a personality thing, something, a good attitude, a good vibe or approach, it can be a multitude of things and I really feel like playing with as many different people as possible has really expanded my playing and my skill level; my skill set. Also because I play in so many different types of setups, they really range a lot that it helps me think outside of the traditional approach to things because sometimes I’m planning a setup where my bass drum sound, if we’re thinking of it as a drum set, my bass drum sound would be played by my left hand and my right foot is going to be playing more of a tom sound, so trying to think outside of just what we think of when we sit behind the drum kit. Right foot, bass drum, left foot is the hi-hat or other pedal of the bass drum and the top half takes care of toms and cymbals and snare drum and stuff. So, thinking outside of that has really expanded how I look at a traditional setup, but also just being involved in different styles has made me think outside of “OK, I’m playing this Rock tune, I will play a Rock beat now” trying to think outside of that and make it more interesting and take something from a different genre or different culture and try to put that into a different genre that you wouldn’t normally find it in but subtly enough that it works but it gives it a different flavor to it. But the exposure has been tremendous and I look forward to more and more of it.
DK: How would you say being in Chicago has facilitated your ability to work with so many different talented musicians?
MT: Well I guess I’ve been fortunate to play within the Rock realm and gotten to know a lot of people within that, but because I play somewhat subtly in a few different genres it’s really linked me to different people and I’ll get a call from different people and even the recording sessions have linked me to different genres that way. So, it’s a large city but it’s musicians, somebody seems to be in touch with somebody in another genre just by knowing a friend of a friend or something like that “oh hey I know so-in-so and maybe they can help you out with this gig” so a lot of word-of-mouth that way ya know certainly has helped. It’s a smaller knit community than we think and even breaking those communities down where we’ve got the Folk community, the Singer/Songwriter community, more of a world thing, we have the Jazz community, Latin Jazz, we have Rock, we have Metal. They can have a small group of people within each of those, but there are people who cross over to multiple genres.
DK: That’s what I love about Chicago and its music!
MT: I love Chicago, I love the people here, and I love the weather even when it’s snowy and crazy. The city is great; there is really a lot culturally here that I feel has not been put on the map well enough for the rest of the world to know about. There are a lot of extremely good musicians in Chicago and artists that are certainly overlooked because for whatever reason we’ve got the stigma of the Midwest and for some reason that’s bad. But I do feel like we are progressive here certainly with our music.
DK: How were you able to make the transition from the day job to making music full time?
MT: Well it was certainly difficult. I had somewhat of a plan, then things kind of happened sooner than I had expected them to happen. So, I did quit my job, I had just planned on it being a little bit later so I had a little bit more in my savings account to kind of back me up, but it ended up working out fine. It was a really rough first few months, I won’t lie about that, I certainly second guessed what I was doing, why I was doing it and I didn’t eat very well the first few months for sure. But, I stuck it out long enough and during that stint of being forced to stay in due to money constraints, I didn’t have a lot of work coming in, I did spend it focused on writing teaching curriculums so I did a lot of research during that time and made use of the time and looking back on it I am like “wow that was super productive, I wish I could find that now” LOL.
MT: I wouldn’t take it back at all; the struggle was totally worth it. Of course there is always a constant struggle being self employed with anything, a small business owner feels the same way. Business kind of ebbs and flows and you just have to do the same with it.
DK: I know what you mean! LOL. You’ve had a lot of successes though that we should definitely highlight as well over the past few years. You’ve been a runner up for a Drummie award in 2010, was it?
MT: Yeah, that was a surprise and super cool and I’m very honored to have been nominated for that and it is kind of a big deal in the drumming community so it was something that gave me a little pat on the back and said you’re doing something right.
DK: True, yes, it is always great to get some level of recognition, it is always very helpful. Then of course the endorsements you’ve procured over the years as well. For younger musicians, how do you get endorsements?
MT: Well, you have to think about how business works to begin with to make sure you have something to offer them to be able to spread the name of their product around and you have to really believe in that product. It can’t be just I want an endorsement because I want an endorsement, you have to think like I don’t want to use any other product but this, I think that this is great. Think about, what is it that I have that can help other people to know it exists. So, it’s not necessarily a game of how much you want it, it’s a matter of how much you can help the company out also. Sheer exposure certainly helps with that. I can’t really say, I’ve been fortunate in getting the endorsements and I think a good portion of that is I am a busy player in the area. I guess that is probably the main reason. If I think about it, I am like “I don’t know why I really have them” I am really happy that I do and I really do believe in everything I use. I don’t really have any advise on how to get them, its just work really hard in what you believe in and things will go your way. Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.
DK: So, they pretty much come to you then?
MT: Yes and no. Certainly, it did for a couple of them but for some I approached a company and had a promo package that I put together. They give you forms to fill out; you do have to do some paperwork; promo things. But it is nothing that is completely abnormal from getting your band a gig somewhere. It’s the same concept of showing what your product is (so to speak) and presenting it to them.
DK: For 2013, what do you have lined up so far?
MT: Well I am currently working with the Hannah Frank Group getting some recordings together for an album with that. I think the Wanton Looks will be working on a new album probably starting over the winter as well.
DK: Actually, I apologize, Birdy just had an album come out a few months ago, correct?
MT: Yeah we had the CD release show on that and had a nice turnout for that show. Oddly enough we’ve had a lot of CD sales abroad in Europe and Australia from the first album and our sophomore album as well. It’s strange that it’s all seemingly Australia, New Zealand and then random places in Europe. Pretty cool though. We always joke around about “Well looks like we’re not going to be touring the United States, we’ll just go to Australia and New Zealand” and that would be fine with me too… LOL.
DK: Exactly, you find your market and you adapt!
MT: Yeah, right. Exactly! The new Birdy album we’ll be working on getting that album promoted and some different things going on with video and hopefully I’ll be playing out with Lifeaftersix coming up fairly soon as well. We’re starting to get that material together enough to get out and do our thing and then Tropixplosion should be starting to record pretty soon also. Yeah there’s gonna be a lot in the works for 2013, different bands, more recording, more albums and more touring. I’m looking forward to it!
DK: Awesome! I’ve been so happy to see that everything has been going so well for you and your career and I look forward to more of the same for you for years to come! Thank you so much for sharing your time with me today!
MT: OK Dennis, thank you very much!!
Also visit these websites:
Meg won runner-up “Rising Star Percussionist” in Drum! Magazine’s 2010 Drummie Awards
Meg endorses Sabian Cymbals
Meg is a Vic Firth Private Drum Teacher and endorses Vic Firth Sticks and Mallets
Meg has an Evans Drumhead endorsement
Meg has an endorsement with LP
Meg has a PureSound Percussion endorsement
Tropixplosion! – www.tropixplosion.com
The Wanton Looks – http://www.wantonlooks.com
Birdy – http://www.birdytunes.org
Hannah Frank Group – www.hannahfrank.net
Lifeaftersix – www.lifeaftersix.com/Site/Welcome.html
In The Flesh – Echoes of Floyd – www.pinkfloydintheflesh.com
Meg’s Favorite General Store – www.mansfieldgeneralstore.biz
Great artist and photographer – www.michelleheyden.com