Multi nominated ARIA Award, MO Award and Oz Music Award performer Chris Brien has performed and recorded with many of the biggest names in Australian music. A specialist in percussion art and education, he is best known for his versatile playing styles and “4-way Independence”. In 1990, he set up two drumming/percussion workshops in Sydney and has trained many successful drummers and teachers ever since.
On 28th April 2009, hundreds of local drumming enthusiasts gathered at Tom Lee Academy Hall, as Chris, the author of two highly-acclaimed instructional video titles “Independence” and “Independence Part Two: A Giant Step”, revealed how he takes his ambidextrous technique to levels that seem unimaginable to most drummers.
Intro: Description of his styles and kit description
To kick off, Chris whetted the audience’s appetite for more drum solo with “Trip Around the World”, a blazing composition that features an eclectic mix of Latin, African and progressive rock style. As Chris sunk into his drum kit, which has an equally blazing setup that includes 10 pedals, foot snare, conga, jam-blocks and cowbell etc., his soundscape sounded like as if four percussionists were playing simultaneously. He can play a full double-stroke on his feet and improvise; but the real magic is his ability to combine and make the most complicated rhythms, such as Claves, Turkish Mozambique sound and feel smooth and natural.
How he train himself
Chris prefers to call himself as ‘a percussionist who happens to play the drum kit’. He likes music with drum set in general, but instead of focusing on the drum track, he has always listened to percussionists, keyboard players, guitarists and saxophone players. That suggested why, when he returns to his drum kit to construct his own solos, he would adopt a melodic approach.
Chris’s sound is authentic. However, he and Thomas Lang, who is also noted for 4-way independence, do share some similarities. “Thomas Lang has said in various drum magazines that I’m one of his biggest influences. He and I have been friends for many years. One of the ideas he has used he’s got from me, and some of the ideas I use I got from him. We click as drummers, because we think very similar.”
Just when everyone thought the Australian expert’s solid technique is the result of years of formal training at some prestigious music institutions, Chris revealed that it is in fact, quite the opposite. “I’m a self-taught drummer, and I taught myself to play conga. Not because I didn’t want lessons, but because teachers in my area were terrible. So I had to watch videos and practice to catch up”. Drawing inspirations from Frank Zappa’s Terry Bozzio and Peruvian percussionist Alex Acuna, his journey of pursuing independence and inter-dependence began in the 1990s. He believes that determination, patience and persistence are the motivations for his vigorous practice regime. “That means 3 hours a day for 10 years. You can’t miss one day, otherwise your quality gets down.” explained Chris.
Without doubt, the 60,000 hours Chris spent on the kit is how he got his playing to where it is now. But objective circumstances, the lack of distractions such as video games is one of the contributing factors that lead to his technical proficiency. “I used to live by the beach. After school I only had 3 choices. I could either go surf, I could go to the beach or I could play the drums. Obviously I chose the drums. And I do it again, because I love it. The biggest challenge is you cannot lose the focus to the end result. However, in these days, I wouldn’t be a good drummer if I was a kid.”
Now a Hong Kong resident and a popular percussion educator at Tom Lee Popular Music Centre, on top of providing technical guidance to brush up learners’ rhythm vocabulary, what Chris tries to do is to give students more playing experiences and help them build their confidence. In the clinic, four budding musicians, Jason, Julian, Esther and Fortune who are studying under Chris’s drumming system, gave a spectacular performance that exceeded everyone’s expectation. Still in their early teens, the four took turns to jam with their tutor on stage and conquered some of the toughest, yet fun-to-play odd time signatures and rhythmic patterns. Following a round of applause, Chris added, “My advice to all young people would be “Do it, because it’s fun”. Don’t do it trying to make money. You’ll be greatly disappointed because you’re chasing the money instead of chasing the joy of playing music.”
When asked whether he would attempt to perform two musical instruments simultaneously like Kenwood Denard, Chris made the following reply: “No, I didn’t play any keyboards and I would leave that up to Kenwood because he is from another planet. Kenwood is another amazing musician. I love Kenwood Denard. He’s a very misunderstood drummer by drummers, particularly young drummers because they don’t get it. It’s too in-depth for them to understand, whereas Jazz musicians can really appreciate his work. He’s very special. I cannot play the songs, I can’t. He’s probably got the best independence that anyone has got.”
The Australian’s quest to refine his musical ability is never-ending. He feels good while he’s drumming, and that’s the primary reason why he keeps pushing his limits and strives to be different. “I’d still like to get a bit faster. For me, the main thing is to come up with compositional ideas and not to sound like someone else.”
Chris Brien’s Top-Five:
1. Santana - "Victories”
2. Santana - "Europa”
3. Jeff Buckley - "Grace”
4. Chick Corea - "Manhattan”
5. Michael Jackson - "Speed Demon”
- Francis Fu -