Featuring advice for electronic drumming and his rise to prominence.
In 2011 acclaimed hip hop trio Bliss n Eso embarked on a huge national tour in support of their acclaimed Running On Air LP.
It was a victory lap for the ages, with the crew performing to crowds in excess of 10,000 around the nation, in what would become the highest grossing hip-hop tour by an Australian artist.
For drummer Dan Kerby, who held things down on the skins for the tour, it was a far cry from his roots as a small-town drummer performing at Ballarat’s Karova Lounge.
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Of course, like any story, this wasn’t a matter of overnight success. Kerby had spent years touring with the likes of Behind Crimson Eyes and 28 Days – but as he tells us, nothing can quite prepare you for stepping out on stage with MC Bliss.
“I went from playing pub shows at the likes of Ferntree Gully Hotel to sold-out shows at The Riverstage in Brisbane, and The Domain in Sydney,” he recalls.
“I learnt so much as a drummer and a performer heading out on that trip – from things like how to deal with nerves, feeling comfortable playing on bigger stages, using smaller cymbals that had more of an ‘effect sound’… down to things like basic tour etiquette.”
“It was seriously the dream gig for me – I can’t think of anything better within Australia that I could have done.”
Growing up with a drum-teaching father, percussion was always going to feature in Dan’s life. “I was two years old when I started playing, and I never stopped”, he says.
“When I first started, dad would show me stuff by session guys he was into, like Steve Gadd … but high school was when I really started to get into my own stuff, like Travis Barker (Blink 182).”
“It has always been really important to me to play with artists that I really like – I didn’t ever want to be playing for an artist that I wouldn’t want to listen to.”
From there, Dan recalls years of gigging around Ballarat, his hometown, and eventually scoring a gig with 2000s emo stalwarts Behind Crimson Eyes, a job that allowed Dan to begin touring the country.
“They were coming to town and didn’t have a drummer at the time, so I reached out to them and showed them some videos that I had filmed.”
“I think a big part of me getting the job was that I had made these really quality videos of me playing, so they knew right away where I was at, and that I could perform on their level. It taught me early on that if you create good content and have a good portfolio early on, then you have such an in.”
The combination of visual content and initiative paid off in spades for Dan, who credits the Bliss n Eso gig as a result of his online content. He’s quick to point out, however, that he had to chase the job to get the opportunity.
“I had a mutual friend with the guys….and they showed Bliss a video of me playing. There was a position going for a drummer and they liked what I did, so they gave me four songs to audition with … I filmed them, made it sound exactly like the record, and sent it off – but I didn’t hear back.”
“After that, I decided to have another crack, so I redid the songs with a bit more energy, threw some extra fills in and played it more like how I would if it was up to me.”
“It was between me and another guy for that gig … he didn’t send over any video content, I sent over eight videos, and included some extra songs, so they knew that I was across the set. That taught me the importance of always pushing and taking the initiative in this world.”
In addition to putting in the hard yards to secure work at the audition phase, Dan notes the importance of staying across the electronic side of things – a crucial area often overlooked by budding session drummers.
“For the recent Bliss shows, I put in about 15-20 hours of work on my DAW doing things like mixing and mastering stems, assigning triggers to my trigger pads, assigning backing tracks to my Roland SPD – that stuff is so important, and I’m going to continue to go deeper on it, because it’s the best way to stay in the game.”
Dan’s advice to drummers looking to go down the electronic / drum hybrid route?
“Get your head around the literacy of it all – learn what stems are, how to pull the stems out of tracks in sessions on Ableton or whatever your preferred program is, get your head around building loop tracks and backing tracks and editing triggers – all of that stuff is so crucial if you want to work with artists.”
“From there, I’d recommend getting Roland hardware – so a Roland SPD-SX trigger pad set up. If you want more inputs, I’d recommend the Roland TD-17, which is what I’m currently running.”
“There’s lots of different drum trigger brands you can use – but I would really recommend Roland first and foremost. They are by far the most user-friendly and simple to use.”
To people looking in on his musical life, it would appear that Dan is living the dream. However, behind the big stages and amazing gigs are years of gruelling work, earmarked by a constant drive to improve and seize opportunities that are available.
“I’ve done so many shit gigs over the years to absolutely no one”, says Dan.
“Use those good gigs to give you the motivation to keep going – an amazing opportunity might be right around the corner.”
- Pearl Crystal Beat kit
- 10”, 14”, 16” toms
- 22” kick
- 13×6.5 Pearl Reference Pure snare
- Eliminator pedals
- 14” A K-custom hats
- 8” oriental splash
- 16”, 18” K-FX crash
- 18” A Crash
- 19”, 21” K-custom crash
- 21” K-custom ride
- STACK: 11”oriental x 14” A crash
- Coated Emperors
- P3 kick drum heads
- Roland TD 17 triggers
- Roland SPD-SX pads
Check out Dan on the drums with Bliss n Eso below.
Dan Kerby plays and endorses Pearl Drums, Zildjian Cymbals and Vic Firth Sticks, distributed in Australia by Dynamic Music.