Musicians In The Spotlight: An Interview with drummer Elijah Wood on being an integral part of the Shania Twain Tour, the crazy and exciting stage production, advice to aspiring drummers and more

Photo by Jordan Pulmano

When you go to a show of a music icon, a legend if you will and experience what is for many a once in a lifetime opportunity event then it isn’t often that you come away blown away by one of the band members as much as you were the artist themselves. That is never to say that band members are not good enough or don’t leave an impact but simply because you are focused on the main act. However, during the Shania Now tour many of us left completely captivated and blown away by her drummer Elijah Wood.

Elijah from the very start of the show caught the attention of the audience with just one drum beat. As Elijah began to rock the drumkit our hearts beat to the rhythm and we were sold! Heck, I would pay just to see Elijah.

If you are yet to see the Shania Now tour and do not want any spoilers then stop reading now and come back and visit us again after the show.

I went to see Shania Twain in Birmingham, UK and since then I haven’t stopped watching videos of Elijah in action. Throughout the entire set they along with the drumset were dragged all over the place, it was crazy. From being pushed on a moving platform all over the stage to being elevated up high flying on a moving cube, you just couldn’t take your eyes off Elijah’s talent and skill. Elijah makes it look easy but guaranteed it isn’t but what was easy was seeing how much fun they were having!

Shania was generous with her time showcasing her band members and dancers and we got to see some awesome solo segments from Elijah in the show to keep the crowd going. There was a chorus of mad cheers throughout the arena on hearing and seeing Elijah’s mad skills. An awe inspiring performance, Elijah is a musician we are going to remember for years to come!

Because we were so taken by Elijah, we had to ask a few questions. The band members along with dancers, crew and more are such a huge part of the overall production of a show and we were so intrigued by the behind the scenes part. Elijah was very kind to answer some questions about being involved on the tour, landing a spot on the Shania Now tour,  starting out in the drumming world, advice to beginner drummers and more.

Hi Elijah – How are you?

Hi Hannah! I am doing just wonderfully!

How has your week been?

It’s been a whirlwind. Still trying to adjust to the time zones over here. The UK is 8 hours ahead of where I live. The shows have been going amazing!

I just caught The Shania show in Birmingham, UK and was clearly blown away by Shania but my goodness, I think we were all blown away by you too. I was second row and completely mesmerised.

Why thank you. I try to make an impact every show!

How have the shows been for you so far?

Absolutely stunning.

Any particular memorable moments? More energetic crowds?

As I am writing this, we just wrapped up our shows in Dublin and it’s certainly been a highlight. I am excited to see what London has in store for us in a few days at the O2.

How did joining the Shania tour come to be?

I auditioned for Shania’s ‘Rock This Country’ tour in March of 2015 when I was 19 years old. Through an unexpected series of events and networking, my drum videos and information got passed on to the musical director of the tour. A few days later, I got an email personally inviting me to audition in Los Angeles with the band. I soon found out that there were only five other drummers auditioning, which was such a shock to me that I was chosen at all. We were given six songs in Shania’s catalog to prepare for the audition. I started to spend countless hours perfecting these parts and digging through the songs with a fine tooth comb.

Since I found out I was going to the LA audition, I never thought in a million years I would get this. I mean, I had just performed with America’s Got Talent in Las Vegas and I had never done anything as big as an arena tour with an A list artist. Nevertheless, I gave it my all. I knew that even the chance of getting in front of the Shania band, musical director, and Shania herself was a dream all to itself. The day of the audition, I went in, played through the set twice with everyone and before I knew it I was done. Everything felt so right. I loved the music and the team and I did the best I could.

Long story short, three weeks after the audition, totally assuming I didn’t get it, I get an email from Shania’s team inviting me to play drums on Shania Twains’s “Rock This Country” tour. I audibly screamed. The rest is history.

Photo by Todd Kaplan

You are pretty much thrown about all over the stage. You are pulled up high, pushed across the stage – how did you feel when they told you that is what would be happening to you and your drumset whilst drumming?

Ha! When they first told me that they were thinking about having a drum set fly above the stage, I was like, “bring it on.” A part of me didn’t believe it until I actually saw it in person in Vancouver for production rehearsals. Even then, I’m like “this is crazy, but amazing.”

Was it scary at first or just exciting?

It was mostly excitement with a hair of “oh shit”! It took a few days to get used to the harness and the height. Because of how high I am, we had to take extra safety precautions. Everything on the kit is tethered to the platform. My drum sticks are even tethered around my wrists so I don’t drop them on the boss! Ha!

It must be pretty cool to start the show off too. Has it been easy to sneak onto the B Stage or have people always noticed?

It’s always fun walking to the B stage. I like to get out there about 15 minutes before the show starts so I can warm up and watch the people. At the beginning of the show, most of the fans don’t know who I am yet, but as I walk back to the main stage after my intro, I get a wave of high fives and screams!

After the show is over, if I end up going through the audience at all, I get completely mobbed and people freak out. I like watching the same people who didn’t know me at all while I walked through the audience before the show now completely freak out when they see me. I love gaining new fans. I’m so honored.

Tell us about the drumset you used on the tour, what the whole set includes, what make it is and anything else that may be helpful.

Fun fact, I actually have two complete copies of my main drum set. One that rolls around on stage and another that flies in the air on a platform. The one in the air is hidden above the stage until I need it about half way through the show. At that point, the one on the floor is taken apart behind the stage and put into cases for the next show. I’ve proudly played Gretsch drums for all of my professional career. It’s a six piece drum kit with eight cymbals. My drum technician is Colin Strahm (aka Gravy), he sets up and tunes both of my main drum kits and the plethora of other drum hardware around the stage.

Is it your own equipment that you bring over?

Yes! I am endorsed by Gretsch drums, Ahead drum sticks, TRX cymbals, and Remo drum heads. They supply all the gear I need on tour.

Is there a certain pattern you stick to every night on the solo segments or is it completely improvised?

I was given a certain time period to fill with my drum solo, so at the beginning of rehearsals I wrote the two solos that you hear me play now. I pretty much stick to it, but I sometimes add things here and there if I’m feeling saucy. When I wrote it, it was important to me that it built up musically and also kept the audience entertained. Even I get bored sometimes during drum solos!

 

Photo by Tyler Lee Aubrey

Do you have any pre show rituals?

Yes! An hour before the show I go in “lock down.” I put my phone away and go in the band dressing room to start stretching. I stretch my whole body, focusing on my personal problem areas that are affected by drumming. I had pain in both of my wrists for almost two years prior to this tour. I ended up having carpal tunnel release surgery on both wrists and now I’m currently 100% pain free – I’ve never played better! I don’t take this for granted, so I make sure to continue to do the exercises that my physical therapist prescribed. After I feel limber and ready to do a show, I’ll get dressed in my wardrobe and meet my tech backstage about 15 minutes before show time. He escorts me to the B stage. Once I get there, I have a pair of drum sticks and a practice pad–I just basically run through my basic rudiments and get my hands ready to play for two hours! I get psyched up watching the people and talking to everyone that works at front of house.

Shania has such a great team on tour with her – the band, the dancers, everyone. It seems like a very close group of friends?

Everyone is like a big family on Shania! Since I joined in 2015, the band and crew have been just wonderful mentors, inspirations, and friends to me. The dancers were a new addition in the 2018 NOW tour and they’ve all been pretty bad ass. They are incredible. I also happen to be dating one of them. Ha!

What have the responses been like for you after the shows via social media? I keep seeing people rave about you. That must be a nice feeling because the musicians are such an integral part of a live show but fans can often just focus on the main artist.

It’s been incredible. I could’ve never imagined the response I’ve been getting. For this show, Shania has put me out front and trusted me a lot more than last tour and I think people are noticing. I give my all and try to make Shania and her fans proud every night. I know that many people in the audience have never seen Shania live or will never see her again so it’s a big responsibility and very humbling.

Have you had a chance to site see over here? If so where have you been?

Yes! Thankfully we’ve had a few off days while in the UK. We spent quite a bit of time in London last summer when we were doing the promo run for the NOW album and tour. I love it.

Have you been to the UK before?

I’ve been to the UK many times working with various artists over the years. I’ve done all the classic tourist-y London things, but I’ve enjoyed more simply exploring the city. I’ve also visited surrounding castles like Windsor. Apart from work, I still haven’t explored all of the UK, though. I plan on coming back at some point for sure.

What do you do in your down time between shows?

Ah, it depends! I try to take it easy before a show, always. That comes number one. Sometimes, we have days off in the middle of nowhere, but often times we find ourselves smack in the city center. I’ll look up on my phone to see what’s around and just go walking, do some shopping, find some amazing food, and have a relaxing day off.

Tell us a little bit about your background – Where you are from and what made you want to become a drummer? How long have you been playing?

I was born and raised about 30 minutes outside of New York City in the small town of Port Washington in the United States. Both of my parents are professional musicians so I was surrounded by it my whole life. Originally my Dad, who’s an electric violinist (Mark Wood, worth a google), wanted me to play violin. That lasted all of five seconds. I gravitated towards the drums pretty early on after watching the drummer in my Dad’s band. I jammed on pots and pans and made a bunch of noise. I started officially playing at age 7. So as of writing this, it’s been 15 years behind the kit. I’m mostly self taught but I did have several key teaching moments from mentors over the years.

Can you play any other instruments? Sing? Write music?

Piano has turned into my second musical love. During my off time, I’ll break out my keyboard and just play. I love the electronic aspect of it, so I also like designing sounds and using the keyboard to execute ideas in my head.

Despite what my Mom says, I am not a very good singer. But, I did happen to sing on a swimming commercial for a company called Safety Swim when I was a kid. Currently I’ve been singing the soundtrack to Hamilton non-stop. It’s on my list though to improve at some point…

I do write music! I’ve only released one song to date though! It’s called “Somnium.” It’s a little gem of mine that I wrote back in 2012 when I was 16. It’s heavy metal. This is also something on my list to continue doing. Eventually I’d love to release an EP of my own music, but I’ve been busy, which I can’t complain about!

Learning to play the drums is hard to be quiet, did you ever practise at home? Pull all nighters?

This is true. While I couldn’t play drums at all hours, I watched videos, played on a quiet practice pad, or thought about drums almost 24/7. I discovered who I liked to listen to and what I aspired to be like during this time. When I was old enough and began getting serious, my parents surprised me with an electronic drum set. I preferred to make noise on my acoustic drums though.

I love my parents for dealing with my sucking…very loudly…for many years. But their auditory investment has paid off, I’d say.

Photo by Todd Kaplan


Tell us about some of your other projects as you were part of America’s Got Talent team?

I’ve been so lucky. Other than Shania, some of my more notable projects have been working with Gwen Stefani, America’s Got Talent, and Grace VanderWaal, who I worked with before and after she won America’s Got Talent in 2016.

America’s Got Talent was my official first professional opportunity in 2014 after working for many years with my parents. I played for the more edgy “rock” musical contestants and was featured quite a bit. I just went crazy on stage, performing my ass off, and no one ever told me to tone it down. I think someone commented online once “is this drummer super happy or on drugs?” I suppose that’s a compliment! I think it’s kind of funny!

After the season ended that year, I went on to be in the house band for the AGT Live! Las Vegas residency. Of course Shania happened in 2015, but I continue to work with America’s Got Talent on their live season when I’m available.

How does it differ from playing for TV and live shows?

Oh man, it’s a different beast. Playing on live TV in front of 5-10 million people is an incomparable rush. Especially when hearing the director say “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 applause applause applause” and the camera indicators turn red indicating we are live. Because it’s a talent show, the acts are limited to 90 seconds, so it goes by pretty quickly. Sometimes I’d do several acts a night depending on who went through and what they needed. After I left the stage, I would return to the dressing room with a flood of texts from my friends asking “were you just on TV?” Or “I was flipping through the channels and I was like hey that’s Elijah!” It’s also such a tremendously wonderful group of people, I would be honored to work for them again.

Have you ever been a part of any session playing or recorded music?

I personally prefer the live medium so I haven’t really done too many session recordings outside of my personal projects. But I have some new music I’ve played on that I am excited to share soon….

What have you planned after Shania Now?

Sleep. Ha! I plan to take a little bit of time off then I’m gearing up for whatever 2019 holds for me. It’s always exciting as I have irons in the fire.

What is on your bucket list?

Playing drums for Paul McCartney is at the top of the list. He’s been such a musical catalyst for me and his drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr. is also a huge inspiration to me.

Also going to space. Elon Musk, if you’re reading this; I’m in.

 

Photo by Tyler Lee Aubrey

If you could have a live stage “Drum off” with one or more drummers, who is in the dream team? I hope Animal from the muppets is on the list haha.

As I’ve been compared to Animal from the Muppets, let’s do it. I also see the headline… “Dave Grohl and Elijah Wood drum off.”

What advice would you give to any aspiring drummers out there? What is a good affordable start off drum set?

Just keep playing, listening, watching, and learning. Practicing is not just behind the kit. To be a good drummer, you also have to be a good musician. It’s important to note that you don’t have to have dreams of becoming a professional musician to take up music. Music makes you smarter and helps in all aspects of life. I think everyone should have a creative outlet, regardless of their career path.

Gretsch offers some affordable options, but I’d always say your local music store is the best bet. It’s great to have someone in person that can direct you to the right instrument for you. Because sometimes the sound level can be prohibitive, electronic drums have become cheaper and is definitely worth the research if you live in an apartment or where noise is an issue.

I always tell serious up and coming musicians and artists that it takes 10,000 hours to master your craft. Don’t let this number scare you, but instead let it inspire you to constantly work towards it.

Thanks so much for chatting today. It is so nice to come away from a show and be taken by the musicians as they are of course such an integral part of the show. I keep hearing people rave about you too which is brilliant.

Take care and hope to see you play again soon. Enjoy O2 Arena.

Find out more about Elijah here https://www.elijahwood.pro

Follow Elijah on Socials @elijahwoodmusic

 

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